In this spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving we are reminded to give thanks for our friends and family. At Bristol Yoga our Sangha (community) is our yoga family. We have thirteen instructors and each of us play a part in creating a sacred space for healing and personal growth. All of us come to the mat from different places and for different reasons, each of us seeking refuge in the practice while we continue in the journey of exploration. Regardless of our purpose in the journey, yoga provides the tools for us to continue on our path. As our journey unfolds we learn that without the presence of community and support there is no foundation for evolution.
The word yoga is Sanskrit, coming from the root yug which literally means to join or hitch together. This joining or union in the practice of yoga refers to building a bridge between our mind and body, a practice of building presence or one pointed concentration. The discipline of yoga is a solitary practice to maintain, however, the magic that happens when you practice in a community with like-minded individuals is an unfolding. This unfolding happens as we become each other’s sideline cheerleaders. You may have experienced this yourself when practicing in community, as the sound of breath from the person next to you becomes a mantra or affirmation to keep going, dig in and uncover. This allows for a heightened awareness, encouraging each other to peel back the carefully placed layers guarding our metaphorical heart. Through the communion of movement, breath and meditation in a supportive environment we find ourselves together on the path to self-discovery. This work must take root in the place of love as it requires courage and vulnerability to uncover the deepest parts of ourselves. Those parts that we keep hidden out of fear and shame as well as those we have buried in pain. The Sangha is our well spring of support for this process, providing kindness, compassion and understanding. The empathetic shoulder for which we learn to lean in to. For when we look at our journey, we realize we cannot walk alone…As Ram Dass says: “We are all just walking each other home.”
One of our sideline cheerleaders, Marcy Hullander, has been with us since September of 2014. She quickly became an integral part in creating a compassionate space for the Bristol Yoga Community to unfold. Her openness and willingness to hold the space for her students shows in her every day presence. If you haven’t heard by now she has an affinity for post–it notes and is well known around the studio for littering love notes for all to find. She recently has taken her love for the arts to new heights, exploring herself and her personal journey on paper through intentional artistic expression. Recently she co-founded Appalachian Luna Love, a company with the intention of sharing products of self – love, healing and inspiration. Check out her latest blog post on the new venture here. Whether she is on the mat or off the mat, she has shown us all the importance of embodying the practice of yoga.
What brought you to the mat?
I originally came to yoga in 2011 when I was living in Georgia. I had just graduated from college, finishing up my 13th and final year as a competitive swimmer and moved outside of Atlanta to start grad school. It wasn't really a choice I had made for myself; I was more or less on auto pilot, just following the path I thought I was supposed to, so, naturally, my second week into school I dropped out. I honestly had no clue where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, much less who I was. Swimming was a huge source of stability and confidence for me growing up, so in this time of uncertainty, I was seeking stability on an emotional and mental level, but I only knew how to obtain that in the physical sense. So I gravitated towards what I was comfortable with and that was working with my body, but because of a knee and hip injury I had incurred in my last year of competing, my body couldn't withstand anything high impact. That was when I found a groupon for a Bikram studio in Marietta, Georgia offering 10 classes for 20 bucks. The Bikram tradition was EXACTLY what I needed at that time in my life. The 100 degree rooms brought the intensity I missed from training at the collegiate level, the format of the classes challenged me to better myself each round satisfying my competitive impulses, and the sequence brought my body into an alignment it had never even come close to before helping to rehab my injuries. After that, I was sold on yoga.
What does Yoga mean to you and how has that evolved since you came to the practice?
Yoga to me now is very different from what yoga was to me when I first found the practice. When I first came to the mat, my relationship with yoga was purely physical. I wanted to push, I wanted to sweat, I wanted to be the best; more than anything, I wanted to wring myself out so completely that I could barely walk out of the studio. I laugh SO hard at myself when I look back at those days, because now it is the TOTAL opposite. Each day my practice becomes less and less about the asana. Yes, I do still practice asanas regularly, and yes, I do care very much about my physical practice, but now, my yoga is less about "how far can I fold here," and more about "how much can I unfold here." There is a big difference there. Before, I would go deeply into postures, but still remain very much on the surface of things. Now, I find myself gravitating more towards meditation, craving stillness, so I can bear witness to my own being and come to see and recognize myself. Yoga to me is a practice of unfolding, unfolding the layers of experience that pile up over time and cover the light of our hearts. Yoga is being humble enough to acknowledge how far you have strayed from your true nature and being brave enough to dig through the junk until you find it again. Yoga, to me, is coming home.
What inspires you to teach?
What inspires me are those moments in the classroom when everyone comes together, all are present, and all are practicing with intention. You know it because you can hear it in the breathing and you can feel it in the room. It is amazing what happens when people come together in the energy of mindfulness, and then, watching how it permeates into their lives off of the mat. It really gets me jazzed. Witnessing the way mindfulness so completely transforms and softens people is what inspires me.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Ultimately, I would define my style as my own; I incorporate many different schools of practice when teaching, so you could even call it a blend. When I have small groups, I tend to geek out on alignment principles of the Iyengar and Anusara traditions of practice and focus on specific postures, but I love the freedom and expression of Vinyasa. Yin and Restorative are definitely my favorite styles to teach, because I love to watch what happens when people get still. But in every class my main focus is always breath. I love being a witness to breath.
How do you like to spend your time off the mat?
My time off of the mat is spent pretty actively! I maintain a daily morning meditation and journaling practice, after which follows some combination of exercise be it swimming, running, or asana. If you know me, or have even seen my left arm, you know I have a sweet-angel-muffin-face (AKA dog) named Karma that I love to smother with love. Thankfully, she loves to do the same to me. I love the outdoors and enjoy hiking, camping, or just lying in the grass. I also spend a lot of time reading, writing blog posts for Bristol Yoga and painting, which you can now find my art in the reception area of Bristol Yoga. Most of all, I spend my time with family. I am very close to my family and love them all dearly, so I like to make the most of the time that I have with them.
What's been your biggest lesson since your yoga journey began?
My biggest lesson so far has been ESTABLISHING BOUNDARIES. I feel like I am beating my head against the wall of this lesson at this point. And I know it will not go away until it has taught me what I am meant to learn. As a teacher, I am learning how absolutely necessary it is to take care of myself so that I may better take care of others. I am learning that boundaries are an ESSENTIAL part of self-care. Without proper boundaries, I have found I continue to make allowances for relationships in my life that completely deplete me and then I am left empty. Oh, and, ALWAYS TRUST YOUR GUT.
What do you want your students to know?
More than anything, I want my students to know that the practice never ends. Yes, we step on to the mat, and we step off of the mat, but the practice goes on beyond what we do on the mat. It is never ending. What we do on the mat is a metaphor for what we do off of the mat. One of my fellow classmates in Teacher Training said this to me and I will never forget it, "We put ourselves in these uncomfortable positions on the mat, so we can learn to get comfortable in the uncomfortable situations that arise on and off of the mat." And with that, the most important thing to remember is to breathe.
Feature Teacher presented by Shelly Bullock