6 Valuable Lessons From the Mat
By Justine Crompton
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” The Bhagavad Gita
My intention in sharing my story, so far, is not to create a feeling of sadness in you, my reader, but to inspire feelings of hope, love and an awareness of just how amazing life can be despite the struggles.
My yoga journey began about 12 years ago when my Mum took me to her local yoga class (pretty sure I went just so my husband could supervise our three teenage children and I’d get a break). My Mum was a beginner and I was of the opinion mostly old people and alternative lifestylers did yoga but I went along anyway just to humour her. I quickly discovered being on the mat was a place I could be silent and still (Lesson #1). These two adjectives were quite foreign to my way of life back then because I was school teaching full time, playing soccer, training for Tough Mudder obstacle course, studying a degree and running my kids around. I did not return to the mat for three years but the memory of the calm, quiet stillness stayed with me until I needed to recall it at a time I needed saving from myself.
When my younger brother, Troy, got pancreatic cancer I struggled with the fact I couldn’t do anything to make him better and for a control freak like myself that was an unimaginable suffering. For three months my Mum, Dad, sister and I cared for him only to stand by his bedside as he took his last breath. Attending to my brother in his final hour was a Buddhist Nun whose compassion, calm and strength were palpable. I couldn’t get her out of my thoughts for months and was so grateful for her presence at the time. This contact led me to start reading mindfulness and meditation texts to help me cope with my grief. Yoga was frequently mentioned in these books and, as I had put on a lot of weight, I found a class in my town to improve my physical health. The moment I started bending, moving and strengthening my body on my mat I also started feeling mentally and emotionally better (Lesson #2).
The following year my younger sister, Stacie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was more equipped to support my sister. I think this was because I was regularly practicing gratitude and acceptance and learning about yogic philosophy in classes. I understood I could not control her health, or the situation she was in but I could be there whenever, and however, she needed me. This included when her energy left her physical body before my eyes, three years later. Through the support I gave I exhausted myself caring for her four children, my parents and everyone else except myself. I decided to attend counseling, largely around breathing and being present, to help me cope with the grief and to lessen my anxiety about the future. Fortunately, I kept up my yoga and my yoga teacher at the time taught me varied Pranayama techniques and the importance of breath control in maintaining presence. (Lesson #3).
The next phase of my yoga journey arose because I felt passionate about my practice and based on my experience of the healing power of yoga I wanted to pass the benefits of yoga onto others. I completed a 12-Day, Level 1, teacher training course however, I never followed up on the contact hour log to complete the training. Over the 18 months following the training block, my Nan had a stroke so, I helped Mum care for her until her death. A year later Mum got ovarian cancer and passed away not long after diagnosis. Our connection (she was holding my hand till the end) did not stop with her passing, it just changed. Something I have learned on the mat is how our connection with other beings does not need to be physical. We are all of something greater than ourselves and we are all connected (Lesson #4). Through feeling the presence of other yogis whilst in Savasana (including those I have not met), and the spirit of those I can no longer touch, I believe connection to truly valuable.
“Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.” (Yoda, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, 1980)
I have “dropped the ball a few times” and neglected my yoga off and on over the last 12 years. This has sometimes been for weeks, sometimes months and on one occasion a year. Thank goodness my passion of “HAV” (Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa) yoga ways is strong, and after each break I have been drawn back into the philosophy, disciplines and physical practices. When I’ve been “away” for a bit being welcomed back into the “yoga tribe” is like being back with family. To me the ethical principals (Yamas and Niyamas) that guide yogis on and off the mat are like a team code of conduct uniting the players, making the team stronger and more compassionate. Team sports have always factored significantly in my life and that of my extended family. I love the tribal like connection of yogis, it appeals to my very core and it’s a safe space I can always be part of (Lesson #5).
Yoga Teacher Level 1 training (take two) is the most recent path of my yoga journey. I think I have learnt more about yoga in the last six months than I have over the last 10 or so years and I know this is just a glimpse of what I can learn. The training has been hugely enjoyable but certainly not easy. Plenty of laughter and tears, pretty intense really. It has required, and enabled me to, look much more deeply within and reflect on what I see, think and feel at any given time. The value of looking within, through practising the three limbs of yoga Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) is something that is now clearer to me (Lesson #6). In fact, clear enough that I want to share this learning with others.
The journey and lessons certainly don’t end here. Knowing there is no end point in my yoga journey is actually quite liberating. This is particularly true for someone like me who has always been so driven to achieve end point goals. I don’t even know where the yoga goal posts are, just that they are ahead of me somewhere and always will be. I have been a teacher my WHOLE life (playing “school” with my little brother and sister as a kid, a PE teacher, aerobics instructor, classroom and online teacher and a Teacher Librarian). Of course this has meant I have been a student my whole life, too. I have a calling to share knowledge, skills and compassion to, and with, others. Despite some of my more difficult life experiences this need to teach has never wavered. The way forward in my yoga journey is to remain a student in the here and now. Continuing to learn lessons from the yoga mat is my strategy for being able to teach lessons from the yoga mat.
Congratulatios Justine from all the crew at Yoga NRG & Mindfulness Training Australia and your awesome team of Teacher Trainees for completing your 200 hour Yoga NRG Teacher Training Program