Autodidacts, Unite!

autodidact: (n) a self-taught person

Q: If you don’t have a teacher, a mentor,  or a guru, how do you learn?

A: Svadhyaya! (And a lot of books.)


In the past I’ve had yogis essentially tell me that I can’t know/live/teach/practice yoga  because I didn’t have a guru. I didn’t have a mentor or a senior teacher. I guess I’ve always had a slight issue with authority figures (you get my respect when you earn it and show it). The way I saw it, if I had committed to a life of practicing the 8 Limbs of Yoga, that was going to be a very personal journey between myself, the Divine and my relationship with the people I met on my path. I recognized early on in life that lessons can be learned through self, children, adults, animals and the earth. I was not about to give reverence to a Guru via a framed photo.

Dialing back to 1998, one had the Yellow Pages and the small little ads at the back of Yoga Journal to seek trainings and workshops. I believe it was 1998-99 that the Yoga Alliance started the whole 200 hour training standards, much to the ire of senior teachers and long time practitioners. These folks recognized that 200 hours didn’t give much time to address the depth and breadth of yoga knowledge and learning needed to be considered a teacher. Being stuck in the Midwest as a young married waitress to a young, hardworking laborer didn’t allow for me to pack up my life and attend an immersion training (those were just starting to come on the scene) in Costa Rica or Bali. And going to India? Forget about it!

I read what I could. I practiced asana and pranayama in my living room. I prayed and meditated at a little altar next to my bed (and almost set fire to my entire house when I dozed off, allowing a spent candle to become a massive, flaming wax puddle. Fortunately, the heat and light woke me.) I became a better version of myself. I familiarized myself with the Yamas and Niyamas and began to understand and un-do some of the family and cultural habits that didn’t jive with my goals of being a more ethical, kind human.

I grew a lot. 

And then some.

I grew so much that I got pregnant (huzzah!) with our first daughter just 5 months into my yoga journey. As soon as I began to tell family and coworkers of my pregnancy, I began to realize that everyone wanted to be my Expectant Mother Guru. I tried to be nice and listen, but I soon realized other women’s unsolicited advice was actually a way for them to verbally process their own pregnancies and birth stories. Like watching terrible, sensationalist news stories with a cute kitty-in-a-tree tale thrown in just to lighten the mood, I had to discern if what I was hearing was helping me learn about my changing growing body, or filling me with anxiety that like my Grandmother, my baby would “tear me from stem to stern”. Respectfully, I learned to stop the many well-meaning women and say, “Does this story have a good ending that’s going to encourage me? No? I’m good, thanks.”

This being the late 90s, we didn’t get internet (which was a husk of what it is now) until I was 7 months pregnant. Wanting more information, I went back to the book store. Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears co-authored the Birth Book. This book became my new sutras as I read and re-read about my changing body, my growing baby, and most importantly, my options. Whenever I asked my mother or sister a particular questions about labor and birth, I was often met with a standard answer like, “The doctor will do X to you.” Like an annoying toddler, I asked Why a lot and pitched a fit about procedures that didn’t seem to make sense. It was through the Birth Book that I learned that ditching my obstetrician and finding a midwife would be more in line with the autonomy I sought. This would lead me to a very different path than I was currently on. We’ll save that for another day.

I have a lot of students ask me if I continued my asana practice during pregnancy. Yes, I did. I also waited tables six days a week and was exhausted much of the time. I wasn’t doing inversions on the beach with a glowing pregnant belly. I had massively swollen ankles from walking for 8 hours. I had carpal tunnel from carrying heavy loads of food on my extended left arm. I had weird rotator cuff stuff in my right shoulder from pouring from heavy pitchers and coffee pots. In short, I was a mess. I meditated, prayed, breathed, did a few sun salutations and did Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana / Pigeon Pose to work the sciatica out of my ass. I often smelled like ranch dressing and maple syrup as I practiced immediately after work and usually fell asleep during Savasana.

Yoga came to me just in time. It taught me that while I was the only one who could walk in my shoes (with absurdly large cankles), I wasn’t the first person to walk this path. My pranayama practice calmed my nerves when all the What Ifs came out to play. Knowing that literally millions of women have been giving birth for a bazillion years reminded me that I too, could do this birth thing. Isvarapranidhana, the fifth Niyama: Surrender to the Divine. Let go and let be.

No one can teach you that. You have to experience it first hand. On your mat and in your life. My inspiration and faith was drawn from reading positive birth stories that weren’t all easy, but showed the strength, endurance and yielding required to be a vessel for another being to pass through. I realized I was standing on the shoulders of my ancestors and they were cheering me on. Isvarapranidhana was a very new concept that became my new way of life during those 9 months.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s