I feel like I just ran a marathon. It’s not the best analogy of how I feel right now but it’s the closest I can think of. If you have ever ran a marathon, then you know how much you were changed after running your first marathon. Crossing the finish line, you may have broken down in tears, like I did, with the overwhelming joy and pain you felt as the weeks and months of training and sacrifice that lead up to the last 26.2 miles you ran, rushed over you. Walking, as best as you could, in the finishers’ chute, someone says congratulations, another person puts the medal around your neck, another wraps an aluminum looking Heat Sheet around you. You continue to walk on your unstable legs, still a little delirious, still not knowing what the hell just happened. This is kind of what I’m going through right now but more, if you can imagine.
It’s Friday the 13th and I feel like it’s an auspicious time for me, like the beginning of a new chapter. Two days ago, on November 11, 2020, I graduated from the 300 hour Jivamukti Teacher Training. To some outsiders, it may sound like just a training… thousands of people do some sort of training every single day. I too have done hundreds of trainings over my lifetime. No big deal. However, this training was not just a training to me. It’s been an experience I will NEVER forget. I knew it was going to be challenging and demanding, but what I hadn’t expect was how much I would change mentally, physically, and most importantly, spiritually.
After the short 4 weeks the program spanned, I have emerged a completely different person into a different chapter in my life. It was like unknowingly going into a cocoon in the beginning, then realizing you’re in the cocoon midway through, then coming out the butterfly at the end. I’m still letting my wings unfold and dry right now but be sure, I’m not the same person I was 4 weeks ago. Friends and family may not notice it; it’s pretty subtle. But it’s there; mentally and spiritually, I have just leveled up, big time! I was injected with a massive dose of knowledge, spirituality, and love that I can feel running through my veins and in every atom of my body. I feel connected to the earth, the trees, the air, …. the person sitting at the table on the other side of Starbucks… the person driving in the car in front of me… everything and everyone. It’s like someone turned on the light switch…. I’m walking out of the black and white Kansas farmhouse and walking into the technicolor wonderfulness of Oz.
For 23 long days, my training days started at 12:00am at the sound of my alarm… I got up, had a few minutes of gratitude, dressed, made tea, then went to my “spiritual space”, sat down next to my puja (my little spiritual altar) and attended, live by zoom, the training that started promptly at 1:00AM (8:00am Italian Time, CET). When my husband’s alarm would go off, anytime between 4:30am or 5:30am (depending on the day), I would have already participated in chanting, 20-30 minutes of meditation, a 1.5 hour asana practice, broken down and interpreted a few yoga sutras, learned how to read Sanskrit (roughly), gone over difficult postures, learned alot about the human anatomy, or covered one of the many other topics we had to cover.
Then, when it was time for us to have “lunch”, it was time for me to have a very quick breakfast, if I was lucky enough to have the time, and then get my girls up and ready for school. Apo was already off to work by this time. This was at 5:00am – 7:00am in the morning. If we didn’t have our mentor meetings, then I had some time to get a quick breakfast, but if we DID have a mentor meeting during this time, then chances were that I would not be having breakfast at that time. Waking up two 6-year-olds at 5:30am or 6:00am was a task and thankfully the girls were up to the challenge. They were always cooperative and got dressed quickly only to wait for their ride to school. They waited and played downstairs while I ran upstairs to be back for the next session after “lunch” at 7:00am. A little while later, I would get a text that their ride was on her way to pick them up to take them to school that started at 8:00am. I’d run back downstairs, usher the girls out to their ride, buckle them in and see them off.
I’d continue with the afternoon sessions by my puja in an empty house but never alone. I was mentally in Italy with my fellow zoom and on-site trainees every time, every day. The afternoon sessions would be filled with yoga philosophy, breaking down more asanas, practicing, and so much more. Dinner would then come at 11:00am (6:00pm – 7:30pm CET). But before dinner, I had to check in with my study group I was assigned to. After my group meeting and dinner/lunch, then it was back online to attend our evening session of Satsang and anything else they had for us that night. Some nights it was a dharma talk, other nights it was a pop quiz, some nights it was a spiritual documentary, other nights it was japa meditation. One night, I was even given the opportunity to lead in chanting one of my favorite mantras, the Ashtanga Invocation mantra. That alone was surreal.
My training day would end for me at 4:00pm (11:00pm CET). And as my fellow trainees headed off to bed, I stayed up a few more hours because it was still 4:00PM for me. I still had to pick up my kids from school; I still had to touch base with my assistant at my office; I still had office work and cases to do; I still had to make dinner for the girls; I still had to be mom and life partner. So, most nights I only slept 3-4 hours, sometimes even less, before I had to wake up and repeat my training day all over again. It was a struggle, have no doubt, yet I never woke up late and never woke up not wanting to do this. I may have yawned… a lot… a few times here and there, but that’s what the “turn off camera” button on zoom is for, right?
On November 11th, we had our graduation and it was bittersweet. Unfortunately, because of the time difference, many people I cared about could not watch it live on zoom. I know they all wanted to watch, and I completely understand that it was just not feasible at the time. However, I did have three special individuals hop onto zoom to watch me graduate. Michelle, my Jivamukti teacher here in Texas, logged on for as long as she could and seeing her name as one of the participants on zoom gave me the chills. Another name I saw on zoom was that of my own mother. My mother, who has had plenty of practice getting on zoom while at-home schooling continued for the grandchildren she babysat for, logged on and watched the whole ceremony. Seeing her name on the screen, made me feel like a kid on a basketball team looking up into the stands to see their mom cheering them on. I was giddy and wanted to cry I was so happy to see her logged on. Thank-you mom for doing that small gesture of getting online. It may not make any sense to you now or ever, but to me you simply logging on was like you flying to Chicago and watching me accept my law school diploma. This wasn’t just about completing a yoga training; it was the beginning of a new life and soul for me. I’m so thankful that you were there to witness that.
Now that this training is completed, I’m looking at things much more differently. Things don’t look the same, don’t feel the same, don’t sound the same, or even taste the same. But before I venture on to the next step on this journey of mine, I want to give my deepest thanks to a few people who supported me throughout this journey. No matter if it was financial support or even just a text message here and there asking me how it’s going. I could NOT have done this without you. Out of respect for privacy, I will not list everyone’s name however there are a few that I want to call out specifically and I hope they don’t mind:
Camilla, Olga, Ian, and Jutta…
Thank you for facilitating, mentoring, and holding this training, in person and online. I know it was tough teaching, being it was the first time Jivamukti Yoga offered a 300 hour training completely online, but you all were able to pass on the yogic teachings so very well to not only to those in the same room but to all of us around the world, including to this student in a small city in the very bottom tip of Texas, 7 time zones away. I greatly appreciate the opportunity you all gave me to join the Jivamukti Yoga family.
Anne-Sophie and Darko…
I don’t know how I got so lucky to be assigned to you two holy beings, but I’m so happy I was. Anne-Sophie of Switzerland and Darko of France were my partners throughout the whole training. They kept me calm when I started to stress out about the load of work and homework we had to complete. They encouraged me and supported me when I felt so inadequate and unworthy to be in the training. They were the only ones I would confess this to and they both showed me that I did deserve to be there, and I was more than adequate. They also knew how to laugh and made me laugh, alot…. I will always think of you both whenever I hear or say the words “Seat of Isis” or “Kadusha’s Spiral Sequence” or listen to the Beatles’ “Let It Be”…. I wouldn’t not have made it through without your continued support, jokes and warm smiles. I hope you both know that in the short 4 weeks I spent with you, all by zoom, I came to care for you both very much and consider you my close sister and brother yogins. You will both have a special place in my Jivamukti heart.
Thank you so much for taking my girls to school every day for the last four weeks. I needed that help so much and I’m so in your debt for that help. Thank-you for checking on me here and there even though you had your plate just as full. You truly know how to show your love and support. Thank you so much my dear friend.
Thank you so much for preparing delicious vegan meals for me during my training so I didn’t have to worry about cooking in the very, VERY, short time I had away from my training. Thank you also so very much for being my “student” when I had to teach and record myself teaching the infamous Class 6 & Class 7 for my final teaching practicum. I thank Ishvara for making our paths cross so that your hand could be one of many I would hold on this spiritual path.
All those who donated/purchased something from me to help me pay for the training….
NONE of this would have come to fruition had it not been for your generosity and kindness. I’m guessing many of you had never heard of Jivamukti Yoga but that didn’t matter to you. I know that your donation/purchase was for me and your love and interest in me. May Karma bless you all 100 times more.
To my teachers Michelle and Gretchen…
Thank you for supporting me and keeping me in your thoughts as you allowed me the time and space I needed to complete this training. Thank you for introducing me to Sharonji and Davidji and the Jivamukti Yoga Method. I’ve reached an altitude where I’m high enough to see the bigger part of the picture and to know you both were also placed on my path to lead me along the way. Michelle, I see it more now. I can clearly see the Jivamukti in you and in your heart. Thank-you for lighting the way.
Lastly, but certainly not least… I want to thank that third special person that got on zoom to watch me graduate, my dear husband, Apo. Technically, he sat by me and didn’t have to log on. When I told him that I wanted to do this training, he was a bit hesitant because of the time it would take away from me to give to other things in my life. However, from the very beginning, he was supportive. Besides taking over all parental responsibilities, not just his own but mine as well while I was in my training, he also gladly agreed to wake up at 3:00 am twice just so I could have someone to practice my asana assists on. Having no advanced or even beginner yoga experience, Apo went through TWO advanced, 1.5 hours long, yoga sequences without knowing what it would be like prior, and without complaint. I will always remember hearing one of my training Facilitators while looking at all the zoom students and their partners, say “Ana? …. Ana Villegas…? Ana Villegas’ partner…? try straightening his leg…” or some other alignment or assist cue she tried to give. It made me so happy that I was able to participate in those sessions even though it would be at 3:00 am because I had a life partner that had my back. Thank you, Apo for supporting me every single day through this journey, for listening to me go on and on about how blown my mind was every day of the training, and for embracing the new me and all the new that is to come. Thank-you Apo for your unwavering support.
This will not be the last you hear from me…. I can’t wait to start helping those I’ve promised to help. I will be starting on that process right away and I look forward to sharing that with you as well.
Thank you to God, The Divine, Ishvara. I’ve hit the reincarnation jackpot and I’m learning more and more about just how big my Karmic boon is for this lifetime. I pray that I’m able to take full advantage of this. May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. Make me an instrument for Thy will; not mine but Thine be done. Free me from anger, jealousy and fear; fill my heart with joy and compassion.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Shantih, Shantih, Shantih, Hari OM
Certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher