esther m palmer

my teaching journey, part one

pain moved me to try yoga

At first I was a yoga skeptic. Or really, I just wanted nothing to do with any stylized movement that wasn’t dance. Then my years of dancing began to show up in my body as pain, pain that limited my capacity to move how I wanted. Dancing -- moving my body freely -- is at the core of who I am. The pain holding me back was a bit soul-crushing.

It wasn't long before I was ready to find a solution, and in that search my skepticism of yoga gave way to hope and I gave it a try with some DVDs at home. My experience surprised me, my joy within yoga grew, and I decided to find a studio for deeper learning and teacher training.


finding a yoga home

When I walked through the door of ISHTA, I felt immediately comfortable. It was only the second studio I had tried, and I wanted to stop my search there, but due diligence made me try the other spots I had on my list. But everywhere else seemingly small things made me feel judged and othered -- and when you’re looking to heal, seemingly small things can make a big difference.

I stayed with ISHTA where I felt at home with the place and the people. It’s my hope for everyone, that when yoga becomes something you love, there is a community of people who are part of that experience. For me, yoga and ISHTA were pretty synonymous. In a word, I felt safe in yoga/ISHTA.

the heart of teaching yoga

In the beginning, it was just about me and my practice. But quickly it became about teaching or sharing yoga. Like all young teachers, I grappled with how to be a “good” teacher and still be true to my own practice. During my early years, I didn’t always land on the best ways to help people feel safe, but it was a concern that bumped up against all my efforts; often my instincts to hold space and what I thought I “should” do to be a “good” teacher were deeply at odds. But it was a while before I knew what exactly I was struggling with.

Part of discovering clarity in my teaching came with time and experience. A bigger part came through the tools I learned through a trauma-sensitive yoga training (with Jenn Turner of TCTSY), ) that extended the spirit of the ISHTA approach with more concrete information.

The more I learned about creating an environment of safety, the more I recognized that this environment was what I had needed. Times when that feeling has been missing, times when I felt on edge, out of ease, and afraid, have gotten in the way of being true to myself --of doing all sorts of things, from simple everyday actions to bold risks that require courage.

the need for trauma-sensitive yoga

In my study of trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed approaches, I have also recognized the process of healing that is akin to what yoga/ISHTA has been for me. My own traumas have been either physical injury or relatively minor events (all related to someone in a position of authority taking away my agency) that nonetheless have created a deeper scar than "makes sense." And stumbling into the world of healing trauma has shown me that once the trauma is experienced as such, it’s not how severe the cause was that is relevant in the present. It’s how we experience it in our lives that stays with us and has power.

The experiences in my life that have hurt me are the kind that most of us have lived through and deal with. I don’t consider myself as having experienced what would be diagnosed as trauma, neither PTSD nor complex trauma, and yet, like most (all?) people, I’ve still lived through stuff that I’ve had to sort through and heal --and am still figuring out. When first introduced to trauma-sensitive yoga, I recognized how the process and the tools of trauma-sensitive care could have immense value as part of standard care. This is what motivates me to create safe spaces in the ways that I can, with movement and meditation and learning to know yourself through them.

learning to trust

My area of work is in trusting the body. The body is an area that I understand, and I love helping others learn to understand and trust their own body, too. I have learned to trust the body, even though I don’t know the cause of every signal. I know that what we feel can be confusing. I know most of us need to learn to trust the body --and unlearn ignoring or dismissing it. Trusting our bodies can require hard work and take a long time, but one movement at a time, one curiosity at a time, one conversation at a time, we can find our way there.

Be moving, be true, be you,

photo credit ninno jack jr, found on unsplash

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