my time away from teaching – image, grief and the big d

by michelle on November 30, 2011

One thing has become very clear in the past month – my schemas around being “a yoga teacher.”

Yoga teachers don’t have rage or shame.
Yoga teachers don’t do things that are vain and selfish.
Yoga teachers don’t… get divorced.

Well… of course they do.

And even though I thought I’d explored it, this schema was hiding very very deep in my belief system.

If you’ve ever come to my class you know that I tend to share personal stories in a way that I hope supports the understanding and larger context of Yoga.

When I signed up to teach yoga, and later when I decided to create a physical space for the practice, I made a commitment to be real. To be appropriately transparent and honest about my flaws and struggles on this path (and there are oh-so many!).

Even though I talk about my life, one of my main tenets as a yoga teacher is never make the class about you. This can be a delicate line to navigate. How much to share? How personal to get? How to stay off the strange Yoga Teacher Pedestal?

Naturally, I offer only parts of myself. Only the parts I want to be seen. Of course — we all do this, all day! But in the past month I’ve become aware of how strong a motivator “image” is, and how I want to be perceived in a warm glow of “yogic” light.

So friends, in the spirit of honesty, I share here that I am getting divorced. More than sharing that flat detail, I humbly offer pieces of my experience from the past months. The beautiful mercies that have been offered… which are less about me and more about all of us.

  • Grief is a physical experience. Poet Linda Pastan describes, “How heavy it is/displacing with its volume/your very breath.” For those of you who have experienced death or great loss in your life, you are nodding. You know. I did not.
  • We are not alone in our grief and pain. A friend of mine just had intense surgery and is in a wheelchair, another’s husband lost his job a week after they had their second baby, another had a mastectomy and is going through chemo. And you — you have your story of battle, your secrets, your fears that speak only in the night. Even in the most painful moments of self-absorption and aloneness, I knew I was touching something that is universal. This knowing led to how…
  • The heart can break open to vast skies of compassion and feelings of connectedness. One Sunday morning I saw a young man in the park who appeared to be homeless, and I thought ‘the line between us is so very thin…’
  • Beauty exists even amid deep pain. Simple moments, the breath, light through the leaves.
  • It is easier to give than to receive. The amount of love and support, spoken and unspoken, that I have received has been overwhelming and at times unbearable. It takes courage and strength to be vulnerable, to accept care, to open the heart. And for many of us, most challenging is to receive self-love and self-forgiveness.
  • There is no beginning and there is no end. The erosion and unravelling of a relationship doesn’t just happen, just as healing is a process. After what seemed to be the darkest time in my heart, I had several consecutive “good days” and thought, Oh, I’m better! I’m done grieving!  I was quickly reminded this is not a linear process.
  • We each have to follow our own way. For me, that was isolating. For others it might be processing through work or activity, or by being in groups. I recognize how blessed I have been to be able to step back from my life during this enormous transition (though we should all be able to do that as a practice of self care, even without a major life event).
  • There’s something to this yoga thing. While much of my Yoga in the past month has not included asana, as I venture back into my body, I am in utter awe of the innate healing power within. I feel increased sensitivity to grounding, gratitude, and intuition.

Being away from It’s All Yoga has ironically shown me what a true and rare gift the space and community are. How precious and essential it is to have a place you can go to just be with yourself. To just be yourself. As one of our gifted teachers, Bob, put it:

Every day there are people who come to the studio for refuge.  None of us is exempt from the pain that life events sometimes bring us.  This space is special because it offers a place of safety for restoring the body, mind, and soul.  This doesn’t just happen.  It happens because we each contribute to creating this supportive, safe, and respectful environment.  Today, the person on the mat next to you may be seeking a bit of refuge and a chance to heal.  Tomorrow, you may be here for the same purpose.  The pain that each of us feel is not individual pain, but shared pain.  The healing that each of us find is also shared.  Thank you all for helping to make this space, and this community, sacred and special.

After not being at the studio for a month, I look forward to shedding my cocoon and coming home.

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Tina Jones November 30, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Thank you Michelle, the work you are doing is not just for you. I feel touched by your honesty and openess.

I love you,

Tina

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm

thank you so much, tina. i love you too.

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Jon Scott November 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Ah dearest Michelle…Thanks for sharing your humanity and beautiful soul with us. This experience here on this planet is so full of twists and turns and it is people like you who share from their heart with such examples of strength & courage that make it possible for the rest of us to trudge on. With much Love, Jon

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

oh jon, how sweet your message is. it is a twisty road, isn’t it!? thank you for your bright presence at the studio and in my life. xo

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Amy November 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm

This is so eloquently written. I’ve said it all in person, but I know this pain. I’m here. I love you.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

your support has meant so much to me, amy. endless thanks and love.

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Tami -- Teacher Goes Back to School November 30, 2011 at 4:42 pm

thank you for your honesty.

and i love you.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

i.love.you.

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Lorie Cress November 30, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Michelle; your words brought back similar pain in my life and I know if I had a yoga practice then the hurt/healing/growing would have been so much easier. I missed you and so look forward to seeing your wonderful presence very soon.
xo xo, Lorie

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

lorie, yes, i can imagine these deep wounds being easily touched in the memory and body. i AM grateful for yoga practice and the INCREDIBLE support of people like you. thank you so much for your kindness… xo

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Liz November 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

i struggle with finding the right thing to say or the right way to respond. like you mentioned, we all think and worry too much about how we are perceived by others or how we present ourselves. but i’ll keep it simple. thank you for being a part of my life. you inspire me with your courage and honesty. your willingness to share your struggles and flaws make you all the more real. i love you too.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm

thanks, liz. thank you for not knowing what to say :) i don’t know what to say either. i value the friendship we’ve developed and am grateful for your love. and sending right back to you…

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Heather November 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I look forward to coming back to practice myself. See you soon
Much love!!
Heather

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm

look forward to seeing you too, heather!

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Aparna November 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Michelle,
I admire & honor you so much! Thank you for sharing your story, and allowing me to reflect on my divorce with your perspective. Your thoughts bring the It’s All Yoga family perceptions’ to light, and know you will only get stronger as you use every experience good or bad as an opportunity for growth!

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

oh aparna, i know this must bring back a lot for you. it’s hard (maybe impossible) to know what this is like unless you’ve gone through it. thanks for the note and the support! and yes, it’s all growth! xo

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Ryan November 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Big, big, big, very present, Michelle-Marlahan-style hugs.

<3 <3 <3

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

oh man… i’ll take one of those! xoxoxo

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Jennifer Souza November 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Awww, honey. I’m so sorry. I’ve watched friends go through divorces, and I know it is not for weenies. Sending love to you, your ex, your step-daughter…..everyone. God bless.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

to *everyone*…. thanks, jennifer.

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Jessica Heskin November 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Michelle, you are amazing. I love you. You are still my absolute hero. Please let me know if you need anything.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

you sweetie… thanks, jess. xoxox

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Rachel November 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Love you, Michelle.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm

thanks, rachel :) love you back.

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Candace November 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

I love you.

Big, big hugs.

~Candace

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm

big ones…. thanks candace. love you

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gillian November 30, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Hi Michelle. My name is Gillian and I’ve been in your class a couple of times. I just have to say that in addition to be really comfortable around and impressed by what you described as the “warm glow of ‘yogic’ light,” that surrounds you (I couldn’t have described it better), my friends and I also think you are the most beautiful woman ever and so in shape, you are our “goal!” :) Reading this I can see that you’re going thru a trial and are worried about the perception that will come along with it… but my gut tells me that the positive yogic power and energy that you possess is just going to get better and shine brighter as time passes and you continue to heal. Also, most of us have been thru a trial or two ourselves…and I think this makes us less inclined to judge others, and more certain (after the fact, at least) that the challenges in life can happen for a reason. Sending a hug and good thoughts your way! -Gillian

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm

gillian – you are so sweet and adorable. thank you for this kind message… it makes me smile. yes, less judgy/more compassion is definitely a benefit here! look forward to seeing you soon… xoxo

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Alison November 30, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I’m so sorry you are going through such a tough time. I am sending you hugs. You have been in my thoughts often this month. I miss you!
Don’t forget Ahimsa.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm

thanks, alison. “don’t forget ahimsa”… right!?!?! thanks :)

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Kate November 30, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Michelle, I knew something was “wrong” when I didn’t see you at the studio, thought “she must be recuperating from the NY trip” or “she’s busy with something new” but when you said you were taking a break from sitting, I figured something big had interrupted your own flow, your life, your being. I’m sad because I can only imagine your sadness. As others have said, I’m inspired by you, as always, by your honesty and truth seeking, even if…no…especially if it’s a hard truth. Life is change. I know you will emerge whole because it’s who you are-trusting the process of self examination and care, and also trusting that hope and light will carry you. Sending hugs and love, Kate

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm

kate, so intuitive…. thank you for being so easy about giving me that space. yes, as you said, this is part of the process and i trust it deeply. thank you so much for your support and presence in my life. xoxo

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Kelley November 30, 2011 at 10:09 pm

On more than one occasion you have been there for me. I am here for you with those long supportive hugs with a little sway. XOXO. I know you have lots of support and the holidays are upon us but I would love to meet you out sometime for anything that sounds great to you. Mani/Pedi, facial, coffee, walk, grocery shopping….whatever floats your boat. It will be fun. I’m funny and it’s hard not to be happy around me. Or OMG you could go to Bali with us in the Spring. Just buy a plane ticket and your own food, activities, etc and you can stay in our rental homes with us for free. They are big and have folks all about to take care of us. Talk about a fabulously awesome time with yoga, culture, food, adventure, etc.

P.S. Seriously wondered where you’ve been lately and was just about to send you a note. Sorry I didn’t reach out sooner.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm

kels. i’ve been thinking of you too. wondering how to tell you. let’s get together soon… cuz girl, you are FUNNY. xoxox

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jamie p. November 30, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Thank you for sharing. Yoga has been a healing space for me many times in my life journey. I am thankful for the honesty in your post, as it reminds me we are all in this together. Sending love and light to you….

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm

dearest jamie. oh how grateful we are for this healing practice, right? we are “all in this together.” i love you, friend.

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Anna Guest-Jelley November 30, 2011 at 11:01 pm

What a beautiful piece, Michelle. I continually find it incredible how much yoga serves us in our lives, especially during times of loss. I am so thankful that your practice can be a guidepost for you. And I’m thankful to you for sharing your process; you’re right that there is something so human, so universal about that, regardless of the circumstances.

Sending you much, much love.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

thanks, anna. i know you relate in a whole other way, and still… yes, the human quality is universal and there’s nothing to do but love it. sending love back….

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Jeannie November 30, 2011 at 11:56 pm

sweet lady, thank you for sharing your heart with us all. I hope to see you soon, dear. xoxo

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

thanks jeannie…. i hope to see you soon, too. xoxox

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Brittany December 1, 2011 at 12:45 am

Michelle,

I am sorry to hear about this major life change and all of the pain associated with it. I wish I was still in Sacramento to give you one of your amazing hugs back. I think about you often, and I will continue to do so. You are a really special person and knowing you and being part of your Sacramento studio made my life there so much better.

Sending you love – xoxo

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm

thanks brittany. i’m glad the studio could be a special place for you while you were here. i get to experience a bit of that myself now :) come and see me if you’re back in town over the holidays. take care of yourself… xoxo

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Michelle. J. December 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

I first read this piece today on a break, in a conference room filled with professional and family caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as some individuals in the early stages of the disease. The pieces about connectedness and not being alone in one’s grief seemed so fitting in that environment. And reading Bob’s quote about the power of the studio brought tears to my eyes. I too think that we have all brought our pain of various forms to the studio; I know I have. Especially after time away, I appreciate It’s All Yoga even more.

Thanks for sharing your story. Thanks for creating such an amazing space for all of us with such an amazing group of teachers. And please know personal challenges or a lack of perfection doesn’t prevent me from continuing to perceive you in the “warm glow of yogic light.”

Big hugs to you – I look forward to seeing you back in the studio!

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm

michelle – i love this so much. YES. that humanness is everywhere. no one is exempt. and recognizing it is powerful and sometimes mind-blowing. bob’s piece is amazing… he wrote it as something that i might want the teachers to say about my absence… but it was so beautiful that i knew i had to share it with all. look forward to seeing you soon… loves…

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Suzanne December 1, 2011 at 1:44 am

Michelle I am touched by your beauty inside and out and know that there are no expectations on how you are “supposed to be or act” You always seem to be coming from a place of honesty and you definitely inspire me. I am sorry for your pain and as you can see there are so many people’s lives you have touched and who care deeply about your well-being. I have missed you at the studio and hope to see you soon.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:07 pm

thank you, suzanne. thank you for this lovely message — i am inspired by your courage and strength as well… look forward to seeing you soon. xox

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Susan December 1, 2011 at 2:10 am

I went through this myself not too long ago. I admire your strength and honesty. Wishing you peace and love…
Susan :)

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm

thanks susan – peace and love back…

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Geanette December 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

My dear friend and teacher I wish I was there to wrap my arms around you. Gosh I remember the ache inside when the “big d” becomes present. Thank you for sharing and openly allowing the love to flow toward you right night. You are a very courageous woman for cracking open the vault to begin the healing process.

I just posted this quote today… “Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent. Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”- Rumi

I love you and everything you are!

XOXO
Geanette

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

thanks, g. i know you know. much to share… soon. that’s a gorgeous quote — going right in the journal! xoxo

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Cyndra Krogen-Morton December 1, 2011 at 11:19 am

Thank you for your honesty, and more importantly, your humanity. You continually inspire me and my teaching and are so often with me, in my practice and my life. Sending love and hugs from Texas. XO

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

oh cyndra… thank you. so ironic after our last skype call… didn’t know how/what to say. i hope to see you when you’re in here this month. xoxox

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Karla Pirruccello December 1, 2011 at 11:19 am

Michelle,
You have the strength and the skills to work your way through this difficult phase in your life. You are blessed with a broad base of love and support. Trust yourself!
To a new year and new beginnings!
Love Always, Karla

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm

thank you, karla… so sweet to hear from you. yes, to a new year and new beginnings!! take care… xo

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Sandy Kaufman December 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm

so good to see you today….perhaps the brightest aspect of your warm glow of “yogic” light is simply your authenticity. Without that lovely willingness to show up and be real, your light would slowly diminish…and not exist. May your journey of grieving be a gentle one.
much love,
Sandy

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm

sandy… so wonderful to see you as well. i have missed you. thank you for the note and i look forward to being together in practice soon. love…

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Pam Jenne December 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Michelle,

Thank you for the very human and heartful way that you have shared all of this. I am sending you compassionate thoughts, and a wish for the unfolding of many new blessings in your life.

Pam (your neighbor)

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm

thanks so much, pam. and thank you for holding the most positive outcome (i do too :). see you in the ‘hood…

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Jan Lee December 1, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Dear Michelle,
Like so many others have written, I admire your honesty, your strength, and your humility. My heart goes out to you as you move through this time of grief and revision.
You have given so much to me, so I wish to share the following excerpt from a poem by Adrienne Rich, one of my favorite poets.

Vision begins to happen in such a life
as if a woman quietly walked away
from the argument and jargon in a room
and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap
bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps,

pulling the tenets of a life together
with no mere will to mastery,
only care for the many-lived, unending
forms in which she finds herself.

Best,
Jan

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm

jan, wow – what a gorgeous poem. thank you so much — right to the heart. i love your word “revision”…. i’m going to mull that a big. it’s a good fit. look forward to seeing you soon…. with love.

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Adele Ohs December 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Michelle;

I am so sorry–for both of you. And I grieve that you are in the midst of this grief.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm

thanks, adele. for us both, for us all. xoxo

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Holly Holt December 1, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Michelle,

How brave and inspiring you are in you honesty. I feel very blessed to know you. I look forward to knowing you more in the future.

Love your fellow flawed human being,
Holly

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm

fellow flawed human being — no one i’d rather know more :) thanks, holly.

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Melissa B December 2, 2011 at 12:12 am

Ms Michelle -
Thank you for sharing your story. I love how open you are with your life, the challenges and the blessings.

So sorry to hear that you are going through this. I have been thinking about you often over the past few weeks. When I did, I would send good wishes your way. Sending my love and good thoughts to you and Ron.

You have such a great support system with your practice as well as with all the people that surround you. It’s great that you were able to take some time to yourself. Continue to take care of yourself.
Love and kisses,
Melissa

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm

thanks, melissa – i think i got those good wishes :) i look forward to seeing you soon… have missed you. xoxo

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Luke December 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Thanks for sharing. This place you have created has been special in my time of need. Now it is for you.

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michelle December 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm

that’s right, luke. and i’m in awe of the power it holds, i believe in part because of people like you who have let it hold your deep trust and truths. peace to you and rhonda…

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Elizabeth December 3, 2011 at 2:13 am

This is one of those moments where I struggle, not knowing what to say .. just know that I admire your courage and your honesty and your vulnerability. And I am so glad that you have the love and the support and your community and practice as you move through this. Sending a hug and love and a prayer south on the wind.

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Leili Learning Life December 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I completely echo what Luke said: “This place you have created has been special in my time of need. Now it is for you.” So many times I’ve spread my fingers out wide on those bamboo floors, just to give thanks for a space to be, a place to connect. Giving thanks not solely for the physical space, but for the community that reverberates within and through the studio — thank you for that. And I hope/know that you feel that same love coming back to you. I wish you love, and lightness, and clarity, and space, and warmth.

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Jamie Joe Reed December 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

My time at the studio a few years ago was brief. Just what I needed at a time of transition in my life. I still feel the benefits of that environment the class and mostly
the teacher. You. Thank You Michelle.
Onward and upward

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Leslie McFadden December 6, 2011 at 2:34 am

Oh Michelle, I am searching for the right thing to say and am overcome with emotion right now. I have been there. And yoga would have helped me heal if your studio had been open when I was going through my divorce! so welcome back and your IAY Family is here for you. Leslie xoxox

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Jenna December 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm

I’m late adding this comment even though I read this post soon after you put it up. I hope you got the card I left for you at the studio in the meantime. My heart aches for you (we all go through this in one way or another), though I know there is much healing and positivity both already happening and just around the corner. Thank you for being honest and for letting everyone love you when you may need that extra love. I smiled at what Leili and Luke wrote above, about the space you created being for you, too. It is so special. I look forward to seeing you there soon. Big virtual hugs.

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Marguerite Oates December 16, 2011 at 12:08 am

Yoga has made such a difference in my life. Having a haven to go to, to be who you are and to join in with so many amazing fellow yogis. I have you to thank you for your vision. Having taken the enhancement yoga course with you, I was inspired to go beyond asana and explore more. I look forward to 2012.

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