The One Question that Changed my Practice Forever

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When I was new to yoga, I wanted to know how to do yoga postures correctly.

I graduated with a degree in Economics, which means that I love when situations are complicated. I indulge in clean and clear answers that I can practically apply for predictable outcomes.

Systems, graphs, logic? I’m all about it.

As a brand new yoga student who couldn’t even touch my toes, the yoga postures seemed complicated. So, I was determined to find the perfect alignment. Ideally, one that I could apply to every yoga student, ever.

Like any good Economist, I began to research.  

I became a yoga instructor and had formal training on posture alignment. 

I practiced with almost every influential teacher in Chicago and Seattle. I studied with some of our nation’s Masters in asana. I learned anatomy from doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists. I taught 3,000+ classes. I adored dogmatic yoga teachers who seemed to know all of the answers.

My desire for the perfect pose was incredibly fruitful.

When I believed in posture “alignment,” my yoga classes sold out. I created the foundational sequence and cues for a wildly popular yoga app. I created a youtube channel to tell you how to practice the poses “right.”

I created a yoga style and teaching methodology that became the foundation of my teacher training.

I can whip out an original sequence, with perfect alignment cues, without thinking twice about it. I know excellent hands-on adjustments to shift my students into the perfect shape. I can easily demonstrate postures with precise alignment, to resemble the models on the cover of Yoga Journal.

I did it! I solved the yoga asana puzzle.

But then I got bored.

In the months leading up to Embodied Flow teacher training in Bali, I must admit that I was pretty tired of teaching yoga asana.

Why? Well, because I figured it out. It’s so easy, and predictable, to teach a good asana-based class once you know the patterns, follow intuitive anatomy pathways and understand the basic alignment of every pose. 

But then, in a shala in Bali, Tara Judelle and Scott Lyons asked a simple question that rattled me to my core: 

Where is the energy flowing in this posture?

“Uh, what?” was my response.

My entire yoga career I was trained to see angles, lines, and shapes. I knew what muscles were stretching, what bones were involved, and what muscles were firing, and now they were asking an Economist, who built her career on perfecting asana alignment, to see “energy flow”?

Shit.

But.. with practice, I saw it.

More importantly, I felt it.

In my practice before this question, yoga postures felt like putting on a sweater that didn’t quite fit. I tried and tried to squeeze myself into the shapes, point my bones in the right direction, engage the right muscles, and practice all the cues correctly, simultaneously, just like the teacher said. 

If I’m honest about it, it felt like crap.

To be transparent, I’ll admit that I got injured, practicing perfectly, more than once.

Where is the energy flowing in this posture?

This is the question that I ask myself in every pose I practice. It is the question that I ask when watching my yoga students’ practice. 

When energy is not stagnant, and it is flowing throughout your entire being, the sthira (steadiness) and the sukha (sweetness) shines through in a beautiful way that one can clearly witness.

Postures, taught from this non-alignment perspective, appear entirely different; energy is flowing throughout every limb and every joint in the entire being. The posture is glowing

Perhaps this is what Patanjali meant when he wrote the sutra: stira sukham asanam (the posture is steady and sweet).

Nothing is overly tense. No joints are locked out. There is no collapsing into flexibility. There is no striving. The Yogi is moving from a deeper place, a more in-depth alignment...

There is just presence

There is a palpable connection of the practitioner to their body. There is real reciprocation between the practitioner and the earth. There is an interplay between the yogi and the air and the music...

The entire expression is ALIVE and breathing with the life force!

My posture practice, as a result, has changed.

Poses are now just a facilitator for movement. The poses are a source of inspiration for the direction my body-mind desires to grow, but the postures are not the destination.

When I teach now, I no longer seek shapes.

Instead, I empower my students to be active participants in their yoga journey. I no longer instruct students how to do things correctly, or which way their foot is supposed to point because I learned—through experience and science—that yoga alignment cues don’t make sense in the majority of bodies. 

Yogis cannot attain alignment through logic. There are too many variables to consider.

Since this revelation, I invite yogis in my class to find an expression that is life-nourishing and not stressful.

Alignment is something you feel. 

It’s something you experience when you root into the fabric of your body. And because every single body is different, this means that every student will look different practicing yoga.

The only perfect pose is a pose that is fully embodied, alive, pulsing with presence.

So, the next time you step on a mat, close your eyes and ask yourself: 

Where is my energy flowing in this posture? Where is it stagnant? How can I bring more life to my entire being in this shape?

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Adrienne Kimberley Rabena is a 500 E-RYT yoga instructor, barre method founder, entrepreneur and studio owner based in Seattle, WA.

She is committed to inspiring instructors to bring spirit, intuition, critical thinking & philosophy into the art of teaching yoga & barre.

Adrienne leads teacher training, workshops, retreats and mentorship programs.

Practice with Adrienne
The Craft of Teaching Yoga 200 RYT
Earth Mystic Retreat in Bali

Summer Soulstice

- { “the awakened yogi experiences freedom not only within her own body, but also outside it. For she realizes that the source of her own freedom is the same power which drives the entire universe with the spontaneity of its outpouring.” } -

 

every day the sun rises,
she reminds us how little and insignificant we are in this tiny body, on this tiny planet,
just a speck in the universe...

 

every day the sun rises,
she reminds us how vast and infinite we are, with
starstuff literally interwoven with the fabric of our bones, we are
just as big as the cosmos...

 

What shall we do with such bigness in such a seemingly limited existence?

Body armor

“We control emotions by freezing our body movement. We stiffen our jaw, tighten our neck and belly, inhibit our breathing, and generally contract.

...Just as releasing emotions frees the body, the converse is also true; we can free emotions by consciously moving the body.

The way we hold our body tells us a lot about what kind of emotions are stored beneath our awareness. Encouraging movement where the body is frozen helps to free the emotions and restore aliveness and motility.” —Anodea Judith

*This* has been guiding my yoga practice. I am less concerned with achieving postures, and more interested in *how* I experience my body as I practice... I want to know the emotions, the intuition, and the wisdom that lies deep within my tissues.

Have you experienced emotional releases or revelations in your practice, or with movement?

How the river flows

Sometimes the universe SO obviously wants me to go a specific direction...

But I resist, or I ignore all the cues being sent my direction.

Can you relate to this?

Lately, I’ve thought of my life as a flowing river. The body of the river is my heart-felt intention and what I desire to share with the world. The tributaries flowing into my river (or away from my river) are all the different aspects of my life: how I spend my time, my relationships, where I focus my energy...

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the things that “drain” me. These things are the people, places and habits that take me away from my core intention and the natural flow of my life.

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about the things that help me gain momentum and voracity, that help me get stronger and flow faster... and sometimes, it’s the aspects of my life that I least expect, or I give very little attention.

Sometimes, I gotta just drop what I’ve been working-my-ass-off to accomplish in order to surrender to the inevitable, quite obvious flow of my life...

Swimming with the current is the key.

What do you think? What in your life flows with ease?

What’s surprisingly gaining momentum?

Is anything draining you that you can let go?

Intuition swims in our unconscious mind.

> intuition <

swims in our unconscious mind.

It is not something you can will into existence. You cannot access it with your thinking-mind...

It can only be unlocked through sensation, feeling and surrender.

When we favor logic over intuition, we discount our inner knowing.

Like the baby turtles that know to walk towards the light of the moon when they hatch, like the baby wildebeest that can sprint within hours of being born, like the baby human turning towards its mother’s breast, we were born with intuition to not only survive, but to thrive.

Once upon a time there were no professionals that told us what success looks like, what food we should eat, or how we should live... we just *knew,* intuitively. We survived without science and tests that “proved” what was healthy or not.

When the noise of the thinking-mind is quieted, there is a infinite well of health-giving secrets within us... How will you drop in?

Authentic Power

"Power is not really ours if it stems from an outside source. That’s privilege. That’s luck. That’s not what lasts.

Power must be claimed as our own.

On our own terms. In our own way. Reflecting our own authentic expression of it."

—Chiani Nichols

As a (thin, straight) white girl teaching yoga, I’m reflecting hard on this quote... Finding authenticity without appropriating, and leveraging my privilege to bring *good* in the world is something I meditate on often.

What are your thoughts?

I will forgo being “liked” to continue this work

After a particularly challenging day of teacher training in Bali, we were all exhausted and a bit testy. And, Tara Judelle said to us:

“I will forgo being liked by you to continue to do this work.”

This work is showing ourselves TO ourselves, which isn’t always pretty. This work is important because before we can heal our world, we gotta heal the bullshit we create for ourselves.

What’s not-so-surprising is that, when our bullshit comes up, we want to lash out at other people and say they are the cause of our pain.

Yet, when we feel and embody how free, self-actualized, and connected to infinity we actually are, then we no longer lead our lives from a place of ego and fear. We realized that we are the source of our own awakening.

This means that working on ourselves, and being agitated by our habits and paradigms, is paramount.

The contraction that we experience is the gateway to our next expansion.

Before we grow, we resist.

So, the work is getting curious (instead of defensive) when the resistance comes... Have no doubt, the resistance is coming. You know you’re on the right path when it surfaces.

For much of my life, I’ve been in the habit of blaming other people for my experience. Or, judging them, based on the limited shit that I think I know. For much of my life, I’ve been complaining about everything, a victim to it. The work that Tara is talking about is recognizing that no one is responsible for my life and my experience of it, but me

This became especially loud and apparent one day during meditation in Bali.

Every morning, we’d get up at 4:00am, eat breakfast, scoot to the yoga shala, set up our meditation nest, and spend two hours in breath, stillness and contemplation.

What I noticed one day during meditation was that EVERY day, I would complain (either in my head, or aloud) about everything. I would make excuses why today wasn’t the day that I had to show up: the heat, the bugs, I'm tired, my back/shoulders hurt, I don't feel like it, I have shit to do...

I realized that this life-sucking mantra had painted my entire experience, EVERY SINGLE DAY, and so, this was/is my life. This was never going to change, unless I started to change the mantra and look at my life and my experience of my life differently.

Then, the resistance hit: but my back DOES hurt, and the bugs ARE annoying, and I AM tired.

The magic in the yoga comes right in the resistance. Does my back *really* hurt, or is that a distraction I create to pull myself away from the current moment? Are the bugs *really* annoying, or could I settle down and choose not to be irritated by them? Was I REALLY tired, after having 9 hours of sleep the night before?

I sat in meditation that day, and concentrated on allowing all my irritations to fall to the wayside. Thought by thought, I calmed my energy, I stopped myself from my reactivity, and you would never guess what happened...

My back stopped hurting. The bugs stopped bugging me. I was no longer tired. Oh, and I resolved a conflict I was holding deep in my heart with a friend...

This is the work.

“The posture is steady and comfortable.”

Stira Sukam Asanam — “The posture is steady and comfortable.”

I keep coming back to this yoga sutra, Stira Sukam Asanam, because I experience anything BUT steadiness and comfort in most yoga spaces...

When we enter a yoga space, our mind is racing, our bodies are antsy, and we typically have high expectations for ourselves and our teacher. We try to perfectly assimilate every bone and muscle to align how the teacher commands, regardless of how we feel or our body type.

We try to get a workout and therapy in the one hour yoga session, but we don’t *really* wanna do the work of resolving our problems and seeing our shadows, we just kinda "need" to escape from our problems for a little bit. Then, we leave the class, and we're rushed assholes again as soon as we step in our car to drive home...

amiright?

And herein lies the opportunity: what does steadiness and ease *feel* like to you?

How do we get there, fully? I’m talking body, mind, and soul, friends. I’m talking on the mat and off the mat, too.

This is the practice.

These questions, if deeply considered and embodied, will take you into a rabbit hole of fascination with your yoga practice, and as they say, “the only way out, is through.”

If you look at your yoga practice (and your mental state, while you’re practicing) with this lens: "where am I steady? where am I easeful?"

What do you discover?

If you look at your life, your relationships, your job, with this lens: "where am I steady? where am I easeful?"

What do you discover?

Your bubble.

Consider this lens:

Your reality is a reflection of you.

You’re swimming in a bubble that you create with every thought you have.

I grew up in Muncie, Indiana, and I was blessed with a momma who let us be wild. She let us explore with our imaginations, and we would spend the entire day outside, just running a muck.

I would make mud pies and climb trees and dig up animal bones and bike around with no shoes. When it snowed, we would get bundled up and pretend we were arctic explorers... such a blast!

We didn't have much money, but we could care less. It was the happiest we ever were as a family.

I want to see the world like I saw Muncie as a kid. There are endless possibilities, if you believe in the mystery, you know?

Sometimes our fear of scarcity blocks us from treating life like the playground it is. But really, as self-actualized adults, our lives are truly our playground.

So, what is *your* reality like?

Reciprocity

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the practice of :: reciprocity ::

The latin root of this word is ‘reciprocus,’ which means to move backward and forward at the same time.

I love that.

Move forward *and* move backward at the exact same time. It means that I must give and receive, simultaneously.

I ask myself, how does reciprocity look and feel on the yoga mat?

How does every finger, every toe, every hair on my body receive the earth, receive the air, receive the music, receive the instructions and the destination, and then respond in its own unique way? How does my body give back and move forward at the same time?

This practice requires entire body listening.

It requires every body part, fully attentive, aware of itself and fully present.

Try speaking from your heart

Try speaking from your heart.

No, literally.

Place your consciousness in the throbbing, tender tissue behind the shield of your sternum. Every breath you take becomes a pillow, a hug, as your lungs wrap around your heart, infusing it with prana.

From this place of soft, poetic vulnerability,
From this place of heartache and heart throb and deep compassion and self-less love,

What does the vibration of your words sound like, feel like, look like, when they leave your lips?

No one is you, and that is your superpower.

It is said that when the Buddha was seeking a skilled physician, he sent the best doctors into the forest with the task of finding as many items as they could that had no medicinal value.

After many came back with a few items that could not be used as medicine, Jivaka came back empty-handed, and said, “I am afraid I have failed you, I have spent much time in the company of all of the plants in the forest but their is none that I can find with no value to someone.”

And, upon hearing this, the Buddha appointed Jivaka as his physician - -

... What if we looked at other human beings, and the animals, and ourselves, in the same way that Jivaka looks at plants? Everything is medicine. While some medicines are sweet and feel soothing, others sting and burn and teach us to be strong, to protect ourselves.

What medicine are you sharing with your world?

Advice for Powerful Women

Don't stop when they steal from you. Learn from it, then forgive them.

Don't stop when they lie to you. Learn from it, and forgive them.

Don't stop when they attempt to shut you up. Be an even *louder* and a more powerful and present you, and forgive them.

Don't stop when they lie about you. It is not about you, it's about them. Learn from it, and forgive them.

People are going to be uncomfortable with your power, learn to be okay with that.

People are going to challenge your power, learn to be okay with that.

Never, ever forget your intention.

Your intention is your mission and the source of your power.

With every ounce of resilience you build, every lesson you learn, and every person you forgive, you become a stronger and more powerful and more potent YOU.

Just Keep Going: refuse to compete

Last week, an experienced yoga teacher took my class.

In the middle of my class, this teacher felt compelled to share with my students something she believed I should be teaching them at that moment. She interrupted my teaching, and for a hot second, taught what she thought was important for my students to know.

I was belittled in front of my class, and with my confidence stolen, I tried my best to humbly accept the interjection. 

This kind of thing happens to me all the time.

It is a subtle form of aggression and competition, and you are sure to experience this as a teacher, especially if you become an influential teacher.

When an instructor is insecure or lacks compassion for herself, she will take it out on you and your teaching. When we feel like we are lacking, we steal from others. This is a prime example.

In this situation, the teacher had a strong desire to be seen and heard. She needed to convince herself and my students that she is more knowledgable than I, for the sake of her own ego. In a moment of my vulnerability, she stole my autonomy as a teacher, instead of witnessing her own insecurities.

I used to be an asshole, too.

Ironically, I was the biggest jerk when I was the most inexperienced at teaching yoga. Shortly after I graduated from yoga teacher training, I was super catty and judgmental of popular teachers because I, too, wanted to be a popular teacher. It was tough not getting the attention I wanted.

I subconsciously tore down teachers in my own head. I talked bad about their classes to other teachers, and I generally gave off the worst vibes when I was in their yoga classes.

I was not secure enough in who I was as a yoga teacher, and because of that, I was aggressive and competitive with other teachers around me.

But, I have since evolved.

As more students resonate with my teaching, and as I become clear on how my style is different from other styles, I more readily see the benefit in all levels of yoga teachers and all styles of yoga.

These days, I attend yoga classes as a way to gain inspiration, not as a way to prove to myself that I am better than other teachers.

More and more teachers from all backgrounds are coming into my classes to check me out. Many of them blatantly dislike my classes, and this is where my practice really begins. Through their eyes, I get a peek at my old insecure self, and I have an important opportunity:

I get to choose the path of compassion and refuse to compete.

When a teacher interjects in my class, or offers unsolicited advice, or talks bad about my class, it’s not about me. 

This powerful realization liberates me from letting other teachers’ opinions drown out my own unique and divine contributions to the practice of yoga. 

Many instructors are uncompromising in their beliefs about how yoga should be taught, and it is this yoga dogma that pits teachers against teachers. It is a rigid adherence to “what-I-was-taught” that fragments us from seeing the beauty of diversity in every yoga teacher.

Where are you lacking?

Can you remember a time that you were aggressive (either in thought or action) to another yoga instructor? Did you suggest how things “should” be taught or slander his/her style because it does not resonate with you? 

This is the practice, ask yourself: what am I trying to prove and to whom?

When you trust that what you offer is unique and powerful in its own way, you have no need to compare yourself to others. When you focus on filling up yourself and improving your teaching, how others teach becomes a source of inspiration, not competition.

Refuse to compete with other teachers, even the ones who want so badly to compete with you. Take the path of abundance. Shower that teacher (and yourself) in reassurance. Humbly listen. And most importantly,

just keep going.

This raw life: my journey into teaching yoga.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go?" Alice asked.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," replied the cat.
"I don’t much care where –"
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” 

I remember the day I decided to chase after this yoga profession... 

I was working for an insurance company in Chicago’s financial district, and I genuinely enjoyed my job. I adored my bosses. My entire life, I sought stability, and here it was, finally. I felt like I could breathe again. I was safe.

Yet, my career in business left me feeling deeply directionless. I often questioned why I blindly pursued larger profit margins for this company, why I wore stifling business clothes, and why many of my co-workers sauntered around the office, chronically lifeless...

I was on a business trip in Connecticut when it hit me.

I suddenly realized that if I wanted a life that feels like me, a life grounded in reality, through humble bare feet and no makeup, a life that reflects my heart and aspirations... I must chase after it with my whole heart.

It was the middle of my yoga instructor training, and I felt a deep, unbudging desire to pursue yoga as a career. Some people say, “You are called to teach yoga.” I definitely felt called. It felt as if there were no other option. I recall feeling scared, and, well... a bit annoyed.

I had a degree in Economics and was on the fast-track to management. Teaching yoga was not the plan! I had a beautiful (read: expensive) apartment in Lincoln Park, Chicago. I got off work every day at 4:00pm, then indulged in yoga and cooking dinner with my roommate. I also had a really cute (read: expensive) tonkinese kitten.

Life was so good....

So, some context is important here:

When I was little, my family survived on cereal, food stamps and a lot of laughing. Being a kid was great. My mom let us run around barefoot, climb trees and just be wild. But, we were dirt poor and certainly under nourished. As we matured, my mom re-married an alcoholic, which lit up her own alcoholic tendencies. Sadly, I inherited these tendencies and I still battle with moderation.

My teen siblings and rebellious mom began doing drugs and drinking together. My house morphed into a teenage party house, full of sex, drugs and 90s music. There was never peace, and there were many violent fights between my mom, siblings and step dad—blood, punching, the whole lot.

I recall coming home and stepping over kids passed out all over our place—cigarette holes every where in the carpet, toilets broke for days, pet feces in every corner, watching my pre-teen siblings on acid, hallucinating.

When I was 15, the madness stopped because my mom died of breast cancer.

My mother’s death was, ironically, the birth of my potential. When she died, the chaos was gone, but more than that, I was liberated from the limitations of my family dysfunction, in a way. I was free to not only dream, but to do.

My family was fractured and dispersed. I was a good kid, so my grandparents took me in. Thank the universe. My poor 18 year old brother and 16 year old sister (with a new baby) were forced to just figure it out, find jobs, and make a life from nothing. They still are finding their way, and doing an exceptional job.

My aunt and uncle later stepped up, and so generously offered me the gift of college. I am forever grateful for this gift! It changed my life. I knew it was a big deal and dedicated myself to making it worth their investment. I wanted to leave Indiana, see the world, make a difference, and never depend on anyone for money ever again.

In college, I struggled. I worked twice (or thrice?) as hard to catch up to the educated kids around me. Moreover, I worked through a mean eating disorder as I learned how to take care of myself and process the past. I busted my ass for my degree, to prove to my family (and myself) that I could do it.

...and now here I was, living this great “ideal” life, working in a towering sky scraper with a view of the Willis Tower. Yet, suddenly, I was willing to throw myself back into a world of instability and poverty?

My inner critic was like: “Really? You’re going to take a 75% pay cut and live life like a frugal gypsy, with no guarantee that you will ever make a living doing this?

And my bashful heart had big ol’ puppy dog eyes and said:

um, yes.

I did not realize that this would would be just one of endless leaps of faith I would need to take to bring me to where I am today. This journey of teaching yoga is just a series of leaps, risks and failures long before stability and reward.

I digress, back to the airport in Connecticut:

I crunched numbers, scribbled potential, and drafted my website. I imagined revenue streams and built myself a timeline. I thought of all the possibilities and desperately tried to figure out how I could make a living teaching yoga every single day. The numbers added up in only a few scenarios, so I knew that if I really wanted this, it was going to be tough.

I learned quickly how this journey would test me, and almost break me, but I told myself to give it just one year.

If, after a year, I did not see a sustainable way to make a career I love work, then I would just go back to the desk. There was nothing to lose, and yet, everything to lose. 

So, I went the way of my heart. I took the leap. I saved money, left my job, and just went for it.


This is part one of a three-part series of Adrienne Kimberley’s journey into yoga as a lifestyle and full time profession.

Adrienne now leads her own 200 hour Teacher Training program: The Craft of Teaching Yoga. The next program begins January 28, 2016.

You should take a break

My stomach was in knots all month. I had trouble sleeping because of tension in my shoulders and neck. I used coffee to wake me up, and wine to put me to sleep... Let’s just say that stress and I were so into each other.

And, on a Friday night, after teaching two classes, I was exhausted and already thinking about the three classes awaiting me in the morning. I went home, poured a drink and thought: man, I really need a break. I need a physical break, but I have no idea how I could ever afford that... 

At 7:01 the next morning, I broke my wrist after crashing my bike.

I was going too fast, not thinking about the consequences, couldn’t stop, and just like that my career—dependent on my wrist—came to a screeching halt. No, I can’t afford this break, but I asked for it, and the universe delivered. I’m out for six to ten weeks. No yoga, no barre, no sweating. Just time to think.

I’m generally an optimistic person. I see opportunity for growth in virtually every struggle and hardship, and I recognize this positivity in myself now more than ever. But, some very real, scary questions are emerging.

Is my current trajectory sustainable or healthy? Who am I when my physicality and athletic expression are removed? Am I taking the time I truly need to invest in my long-term ambitions?

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe everything happens with a lesson. When circumstances force me outside of my comfort zone, I have two choices: to cling to the past, scared and hopeful that things will return as they once were, OR to lean in to the unexpected, previously uninvited insights of the present moment. 

What, on the surface, looks like a setback is really just a catalyst to living each day with a deeper purpose and focused intention.

I don’t want to be who I was before the accident—the woman too stressed to enjoy her life, too busy to connect with friends and family, too overwhelmed to focus on learning and self-growth. I want to let that person pass away, even though I don’t know what that means. Something has to give.