I began teaching Yoga in 1999, and never looked back. My life has informed my practice, and my practice is constantly informing my choices of how I live and make my way in the world today (if you know me and my love of spontaneous life-karyoke, insert the theme song to Cheers and sing along to the current “Ash soundtrack”). In 2000, I was a younger and more naive version of myself, running in a million different directions, filling every ounce of my day with work and education, trying to teach while working as an occupational therapist in an environment that was against everything I believed in. I felt and knew at that point, I would be dead by the age of 33 if I continued on the trajectory that was pointing me further towards a 401K program and health insurance.
So, I jumped. I emptied my 401K, and didn’t even look to see what “penalty” was imposed on me. I saw it instead as my payoff, my ticket out of an early grave. I left my job because underneath it all, I knew I was not helping as many people as I could in the biggest way possible. At the moment of the leap, I didn’t know what the outcome would look like, but I had an idea of what it might feel like. I did know that it wouldn’t feel like it was feeling as I slowly suffocated in my blue hospital scrubs that designated my position on the Acute Care Rehabilitation team. I would set my own rules, create my own space and groove and follow my heart in the pursuit towards healing the world. (Insert, “I Believe I Can Fly” here…and don’t forget the magical air microphone.) And, I did just that.
At the end of the 8 year run of birthing and nurturing a Yoga studio that flourished into a community through the ebbs and flows of it all, I felt it again: the sense of death. Year 8 was a slow drowning, and at times, I didn’t think I would ever find the surface to suck fresh oxygen into my lungs. But sure enough, the wave pummeled me to a new shore on the Pacific Ocean, as my house sold and the keys of the Yoga studio were handed back over to the landlord on April Fools day of 2010. In the light of the high, dry season in Nosara, Costa Rica, I finally gave myself the chance to take a breath. But, I needed much more than that. (If you are following along with music, Welcome to the Jungle goes here…)
Now, 4 years later, I am working tirelessly on savasana. To the non-yogi’s out there, savasana is the pose of the corpse, where the practitioner lays down in the center of the mat at the end of all of the work of the other asanas, pranayamas and contemplations and lets everything go. This is what I am doing yet again, practicing death.
I have just made the announcement that I am retiring from Yoga Teacher Training, a role that I unexpectedly accepted when my partner and I first opened our Yoga studio in 2002. We needed more teachers in our studio, and the most intelligent thing to do was create our own program. I didn’t feel ready, but Amy assured me it was the thing to do. And again, I never looked back. It became a passion of mine to support new teachers on their initial steps to becoming and being a support to others. It served my purpose of reaching more people by indirectly meeting them through the lineage of the hundreds of developing teachers I have guided in the past 12 years.
Now, my passions are driving me in different directions. My students are now the teachers of teachers, fulfilling their dharmas and call to teach in their own communities and spaces of their creation. As my fire is prompting me to dive into my writer, artist and medicine woman grooves of my archetypes, I realize it is time to retire my role of being a Yoga Teacher of Teachers as my main “thing”.
I looked up the word retirement on my other guru, Google, today, and there were all sorts of charts pointing to
retirement ratios and savings suggestions, and I realized that I am not necessarily retiring, like the rest of the western world understands retiring.
I scrolled down the page past the retirement stats and found a link to see also, downshifting. “Downshifting is a social behavior or trend in which individuals live simpler lives to escape from the rat race of obsessive materialism and to reduce the “stress, overtime, and psychological expense that may accompany it”. It emphasizes finding an improved balance between leisure and work and focusing life goals on personal fulfillment and relationship building instead of the all-consuming pursuit of economic success.”
For sure, this is what I am doing. In all of the hours of savasana and hammock time I have been giving myself lately (which I equate to paying into my health insurance premium monthly), I have realized how much I am still unwinding from my days of running a million miles a minute and holding onto grudges and judging myself too harshly for a mistake I made, or..or…the list goes on and on. In the stillness and the dissolution, on the other side, there is an opportunity to rise again.
Before this recent realization happened in my conscious mind, I dreamt about it. I was standing on the edge of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, on the shores of the Lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes. I went there for the first time after I began my road trip to California from the east coast a few years back. I began dreaming in both nighttime and daytime so deeply on that trip, in a magical retreat center whose name, Villa Sumaya, means, “long-awaited dream.” I was looking for the next place to call home, and at the same time, I wasn’t completely sold on the fact that life could be different than the way and the culture in which I was raised. I didn’t completely believe that I could live in another country and take the million things off of my to do list, and slow it down so much that I see the glimpses of spirit in every animal, plant and stone. I didn’t think I would live at the end of a dirt road at the edge of the jungle with the tribe that has chosen to live and create with one another within the context of a larger intention. In my dream most recently, I stood at the edge of the Lake and saw a white water phoenix emerge from under the water’s surface. As the power animal was emerging, I felt myself gasp in awe of it’s magnificence, and I turned to see if anyone was there watching what I was watching. And then, it happened again.
A second phoenix arose from the edge of the Lake and followed its consort to the north, where the Mayan altars and secret tunnels hold the Highland’s rich history of the Lake. I awoke absorbing the message of the two phoenixes, and know that it is time to take the breath and the space to fly into the bigger actions of my intention to heal myself and the world around me.
Taking off the roles, responsibilities and titles have given me the opportunity to see that it doesn’t matter what I call “it” that I do. My genre is the healing arts, and there are many tools in my toolbag, and I have many bags that hold many things. I know now that I am reincarnating, being born again, like the Phoenixes of my dream.
Again, I bow to the hundreds (ok maybe thousands by now) students who have trusted me to offer guidance and support from my experience. There is definitely more to come, and I am now inspired and deeply humbled by my work and experiences with the plants that have their own voice and teach us how to truly live in harmony with ourselves, with each other and with the earth.
And for those of you who know me, I always go out on a high note, so I am quite sure that my LAST YTT here at the Costa Rica Yoga Spa will be the most rocking, expansive experience. Ready for a catapult to the next level of your existence? Vámonos!
If you can’t see me in person, follow me on instagram here. Until then…enjoy every breath. Hasta entonces…distruta cada aliento!
3 thoughts on “Downshifting, Retirement and Reincarnation”
Aloha Ash, I loved your blog. I too have been “downshifting” since we moved back to Hawai’i last summer. Ahhh…. Home at last!!! I resonate with all you shared and have been paying into my “health insurance premium” daily as well! Cheers to whole-hearted, mindful living in a hammock!!!
I have no doubt your last teacher training will be epic. Having been in one of your earliest teacher trainings, oh how I’d LOVE to witness the last one unfold! I am eternally grateful for your presence in my life and for being a significant beacon of Light on my own wild and wonderful journey.
P.S. I DO indeed look forward to experiencing your Home one day!
Aloha, Susan…It is beautiful to follow your journey from afar as well, and watch you contribute to the communities you call home. I am always here, and would love to see you in my backyard when the time is right! With deep love and gratitude…Ash