“Transformation can come in many modalities, but few include the physical, like yoga,” states Craig Villani, teacher extraordinaire, at the beginning of our leadership intensive weekend with BYSJ teachers. This comment struck a chord with me. I’ve often wondered why this yoga is so powerful, even beyond the obvious of what does physically and mentally. It’s transforming us. Hmm.

What is ‘Transformation’? It’s such a big word. Conversation can be flowing nicely in your brain, and then you get to this word and your mind gets a bit stuck. It’s a loaded word, filled with several meanings. What I’ve come to learn is this: it’s your journey of opening of your heart. The word itself is rooted in ‘trans,’ meaning ‘across’, and ‘form,’ meaning ‘structure’ or ‘across the structure’. Transformation occurs beyond the constructs of your mind, your patterns, and your habits – it can sound hard, scary, and messy.  In my experience, that’s why we are here on this earth. Not only is it essential, but it’s also our nature, to transform.

Missing Connections, Making Choices

The church I attend has opened up a new series called “Roadside Assistance.” In the past few weeks, they shared the statistics of loneliness in America. The numbers are alarming, with half of those surveyed stating that none of their friends really know who they are. Ugh.

My church decided to look at scripture and inquire God how to handle this loneliness. In two of the highlighted stories, each character illustrated a frustration with situations in which they had no control. They lacked connection to any family member or friend, causing them to run away. They were exhausted and ready to resign to anything other than the life they had. Then God swept in to ask of them, “Where did you come from, and where are you running to?”

Our lives will begin to fully mature when we get to that point, with courage and consciousness, where we ask ourselves the same question: “Where did I come from, and where am I running to?”

My life took a significant hit when my mom passed away from the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed with early onset, so her degradation was fast, and she passed away at age 54. I lost my best friend and my mom. It felt like I was an orphan and couldn’t connect to anything. There was anger in me that wanted to shout to everyone I talked to: “Don’t you know my mom died?!”

Our True Heart’s Desire

In listening to my inner voice that told me to try yoga, I instantly found a connection to myself so powerful that I stopped running. I went back to the life that was waiting for me. If you’re in my class, you might notice that I look new students directly in the eye and recognize them for being there that day. I often say: “Listen to that voice that brought you here.” I know that the question of “Where did you come from and where are you running to?” popped up in their psyche in some way, at some point, whether they were aware of it or not.

Here’s the deal: our ability to love ourselves as we are is only part of the story written in our hearts. The love in you isn’t merely a full acceptance of who you are, it’s also a love that urges you to live out the fullness of your destiny. But when we dismiss this calling, soon enough we will feel disconnected. Stressors like loneliness take over the flow of our lives. Summarizing the scriptures, God is saying “go back and acknowledge your situation,” knowing you have everything in you to TRANSFORM.

How wonderful it is to know that this yoga harnesses the physical to help you transform. It brings you to receive yourself and open up your heart, saying: “Just practice and evolve.” Or, as Craig said, “Just show up and breathe.”

Craig’s workshop was not about reviewing the dialog and any discussion on what word to use or not to use. Reviewing our instructional materials is of great value, but of more impact is the meaning behind and beyond the words. The “what to say” is there, but Craig’s mastery is his insight into the intangibles that happen in the room. He affirms how the teacher, when genuinely present, can connect to students, much like a conductor connects to the orchestra. Craig will say: “The teacher and the taught create the teaching, much like the conductor and the orchestra create the music.”

Craig and Michele embrace and smile for the camera.

Craig and Michele kick off the recent teacher training weekend with a class for the community led by Craig.

An Exercise in Appreciation

At the start of May, we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. Members, thank you so much for the beautiful sentiments you wrote to your teachers here at BYSJ. I had a chance to read many of them. They were not comments mired in the noise of personal preferences – competing on who says the best dialog, who you understand the most, whose voice you prefer, or whose timing you like best. Instead, your comments reveal how a teacher holds space for you as you process the pose technique; how the teacher respects your hard work; the compassion you feel when the teacher believes in you; how inspired you are to work hard because you feel like the teachers care about your success. We deliver these comments to each respective teacher, and to say this means a lot to them underestimates the impact it carries. Why? Connection.

Therein lies the work we did for three days with Craig, learning how to drop from the mind and down into the heart, where real connection resides. Connection, when engendered, says, “I see you, I hear you, I value you.” With this, we’ll gladly do the work it takes to transform, as we are inspired by it. Without connection, we will enlarge our doubts and question our worthiness. We’ll fall into the dark places that dull the spirit of our beautiful existence.

Teachers from BYSJ gather in the garden.

Teachers from BYSJ and beyond gathered for three days to explore Transformational Leadership.

Craig used me as an example of how we, as teachers, can create a connection. We reflected on the patterns of my behavior during a class I taught earlier that day. Craig and the teachers gave me feedback by asking me questions. How did I show up today? Did I have an intention? Was there a word that I commonly used in many of the poses? Did I observe how the words landed and the impact they conveyed in the room? How did I address necessary corrections?

All of this was guided by Craig’s kind insistence that I answer from the heart. A curtain of vulnerability opened up for me, and after about four hours of engaging conversation, I felt relief and ease, accepted and loved. I felt transformed! My peers created with me a space of connection, and together, we created a frequency of higher levels of understanding – music! I felt the love of Self and was inspired to take on more of me that’s been yearning to come out.

Thank you, Craig, for dislodging my blind spots, and opening up for all of us as teachers the powers a yoga practice invites. Powers that can’t be harnessed by thinking, only ignited by the heart. Teachers, take the risk to transform! Work within yourself and with each other, using the tools Craig so passionately taught you, to do the inner work of transformation. In so doing, you’ll strengthen your connection to your students. As a direct result, they too will be brave enough to do their work of transformation. Together, this music can eliminate the statistics of loneliness, when we are too busy living wholeheartedly and enjoying our precious life.