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This post is the 4th in a series of posts detailing my struggle with chronic back pain and my journey to the path of Iyengar Yoga.

Looking back, I can say with confidence that pursuing Teacher Training under the tutelage of Marlene Mawhinney was hands down, the best thing I could have  done.  She runs a tight ship and her teachers undergo rigorous training.  My yoga schedule during Teacher Training involved 2 asana classes and 1 Teacher Training class per week, apprenticing in weekly therapeutic classes, monthly asana workshops, monthly Teacher Training workshops, and a diligent home practice.  In addition, there were special workshops, intensives, and a suite of written assignments.  I delved right in.

Utthita Parsvakonasana

Over the next 2 years, my practice improved significantly and my understanding of what it really meant to be a yoga teacher came to light.  This was a deep and  rich field of study.  I began to realize that the combination of practice and  teaching could satisfy me on many levels. Physically, yes of course, but to my surprise the study of Yoga could also satisfy me creatively as well as intellectually.   It was really a beautiful thing.  I felt myself becoming human again.  With all this also came continued improvements to my health.   The intensity of my pain was definitely decreasing and by the end of my second year of Teacher Training, I remember thinking that yes, I still have pain, but it’s different than before.  We’re not even in the same ball park anymore – this is way more manageable.

Reflecting back, I see it kind of like this: The first 3 years of practice were instrumental.  I was laying the groundwork for what would eventually follow.  During that time, I practiced diligently regardless of not feeling relief from pain.  I believe that during that time, my body was, in its way, stockpiling the benefits of Yoga, and until it reached some sort of critical mass I wouldn’t fully experience these benefits.  At about the 3-year mark something clicked, I was all of a sudden ‘ready’ to receive the benefits that this tremendous practice had to offer.  Once that happened, the benefits snowballed.  My health improved dramatically, and to be honest, I feel I have been riding that wave ever since.  I remember thinking that I better enjoy this stage while it lasts, because inevitably my progress will plateau.  I was all too familiar with the ebb and flow of progress.  That said, to this day, the benefits are still snowballing, gathering steam the deeper I go into my practice.  But before I go into more detail about my present day…

It’s the summer of 2010.  I have completed 2 years of Teacher Training and I’m feeling better than I have in years.  My pain is considerably more manageable and the fact that I’m clearly moving in the right direction has done wonders for my state of mind.  Things are looking up, and dare I say…good.  I decide the time is right to segue back into the working world.  I lined up a few months worth of consulting work for myself.  I worked from home and was diligent about taking breaks from the computer (not sitting for too long at a time) and of course, continuing will all my Yoga commitments.  During this time, I also began more aggressively networking in my field and applying for other more permanent positions.  This was a very exciting time for me, but also nerve racking.  I so desired to ‘get back on track’ but at the same time I was fearful of undoing any of the progress I had worked so hard to make.   The thought of ending up where I was a couple years back terrified me.  I faced my fear however, armed with the tools of Yoga, and forged ahead.

Despite the progress I had made to date, it didn’t take much for the unraveling to begin.  I was about 4 months back in that world when I had a major setback.  It was by no means as bad as post-Berkeley, but it was still bad.  It’s weird, it must have happened gradually but it felt like it came on sudden.  My pain level skyrocketed.  Focusing on my work had become increasingly difficult, and the shame that this brought me was emotionally debilitating.  This was the last straw.  I needed to really examine what I was doing and why.  I was clearly passionate about urban issues but if being engaged in these issues meant I ended up sacrificing my health, was it really worth it?  And besides, at this point I was also passionate about Yoga.  How lucky could I be? To have 2 such passions and the privilege to pursue them both in one lifetime?  Why was I fighting what was so obviously the right path for me to choose?

Next Week: Why I am Undeniably Yoga Bound