My transition from maiden to mother came at me the hardest late last night, where beneath the glow of a setting urban sun, and against the faces of 43 friends, colleagues and students, I taught my final yoga class at YYOGA. At nearly eight months pregnant, I wobbled around the room checking in with my students prior to class, accepting a series of hand written notes and heartfelt comments that later showed me just how powerful this yoga practice really is. From processing grief, to overcoming sexual assault, to learning to love oneself, to navigating the wrath of corporate Bay Street life, to surviving motherhood, to helping students manage the many stressors of downtown Toronto life, the words that they gave me on my last day teaching displayed how therapeutic and powerful the simplest acts of breathing, meditating and moving amongst a likeminded community truly is. I walked home with tears in my eyes for the work that I do, the courage and practice that my students embody, and the community that we compassionately built together over the past four years.
I know that yoga has changed over the decades – that it has been peeled and pulled apart and transformed into something so entirely distinct from where it came from. But through these letters and the conversations that defined my final week of teaching, I wonder whether or not it matters. Does it matter if we stick to tradition or recite the Yoga Sutras or memorize supposedly ‘right’ alignment cues and regurgitate them at our students?
Maybe all that really matters is that we create space. That we create space for people to come together in a collective and intentional and safe place, in an otherwise threatening world.
Maybe all that really matters is that we sit and breathe and perhaps experience a millisecond of quiet and take a well deserved vacation from the chaos of everyday existence.
Maybe all that really matters is that we move, after sitting stagnant for hours on end, after gazing down at our cell phones obsessively, after binding our bodies in skintight yoga clothes, maybe all that matters is that we remember how to move and how to play in these beautiful bodies.
Maybe all that really matters is that we slow down. That we let go of the never-ending lists of commitments and responsibilities that we have and take time to just be and feel the essence of being human, free from the judgement of others, the buzzing of our phones and the guilt of not being busy that plagues so many of us.
In my own life, yoga was never a strictly physical practice. During different periods of my life, I came to my mat for different reasons – I spent an entire winter attending Lana Sugarman’s yin yoga classes because they served as one of the few spaces of solstice and inner calm when I was going through a bad relationship. I spent two long summers obsessed with Serah Ruth Goldberg and her core yoga and vinyasa yoga classes that miraculously fused spirituality with strength in a way I never imagined possible. I was single in the big city and wholeheartedly committed to running a successful business as an female entrepreneur – her classes reminded me that everything was sacred, that abundance was deserved, and that strength grew from the inside out. I spent an entire year totally devoted to the stories and sequences creatively crafted by Juvumukti teacher Yumee Chung, falling into a state of pure bliss each time we slid from shoulderstand to savanasa. I spent the early days of my pregnancy hooked on Lisa Messina’s meticulous, patient and detail-oriented hatha yoga classes, where I finally felt safe to really, and curiously, listen to and honour my ever-changing body.
I credit those women, alongside my teacher trainees and my students, for helping me reconnect to my purpose, my sense of worthiness, my divine femininity and my purest form of joy. It was not their alignment cues, it was not their readings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it was not their honouring of tradition, that transformed me from darkness to light – it was the space they created and held and honoured. It was their patience, their compassion, their devotion to something so much grander and wiser than the stressors of everyday life. It was their commitment to study continuously so that they could always teach us students more. I am forever grateful to them, and to every other teacher who has courageously sat in front of a room a strangers offering their gifts, their stories and their teachings. Moreover, I am so grateful to lead various yoga teacher trainings over the past few years and to share the lessons my own teachers have offered me with new, curious, wonderful, bright eyed yogi’s. The students in my trainings felt like family and the dearest of friends to me. I am thankful to all of you.
The pace of my life changes now. For the next 1.5 months, I will continue practicing yoga, albeit pre-natal specific classes. I will write incessantly. I will learn to cook every nourishing stew imaginable. I will snack and nap and prepare for the birth of this little boy and the rebirth of me. Alas, no matter how distant I am from the community that brought me to tears last night, no matter how many months I spend away from this role, I want each and every one of you to know, to really really really know, and to feel, how incredibly grateful I am to have been blessed with your presence along my path.
Thank you. Thank you for the conversations, the classes, the giggles, the intentions, the dreams, the schemes, the questions, the french fries, the coffee, the walks through the park, the advice, the wisdom, the patience, the practice and beyond. We really do have the most incredible “job” in the world. Sometimes it takes walking away from it to really realize that blessing.
I’ll continue scheming and dreaming new little hustles from the comfort of my home (with my feet propped up and a delicious snack in hand). Stay tuned into my website www.ashleyholly.com for an online prenatal yoga series, lots of blogs, access to my yogapreneur e-book, and whatever else this baby brain imagines into reality. If you want to continue practicing with me, you can use the promo code ‘gratitude’ for $10.00 off my online yin yoga program, which includes 12 yin yoga sessions online.
The light in me thinks the light in you is amazing. Namaste.