When I first started teaching, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I’d spend the whole class trying to pretend to be someone else. I remember something Kathryn Budig once said. She said that in the beginning of her practice she was doing “a bad Maty Ezraty” (her teacher). And I felt like I was doing the poor man’s Joe Taft, another yoga teacher who’s had a huge influence on me—to the point where a student actually asked me, “Is Joe Taft your teacher?”
So, you go from this feeling of, I must emulate somebody else, to thinking, I just gotta figure out how to be myself. I’m just going to try to be me in this practice and see what happens. That evolution, really looking within myself and digging deeper into my own practice, has had such a positive impact on my teaching. I think that’s all teaching is, ultimately: It’s just finding yourself, living your own practice, and then reflecting that to other people. It’s as if in finding my own practice and finding a linking of the light and the dark, I found an instrument inside me. I actually think of it like a trumpet.
To access it, I reach inside of my body. (It’s very Walking Dead.) I reach in and I find my trumpet. I pull it out and I clean it off. I get all the gunk and guts off of it, and then I put it to my lips, and I start trying to play it. I’ve never played this instrument before. I don’t know how to play the trumpet. So, I’m just experimenting randomly, making sounds. But I’m having fun ’cause it’s my instrument, and it seems natural to play it.
As I’m playing, somebody walks by. They’re like, “Where’d you get that instrument?” And I say, “I found it inside myself!” They’re like, “Word!” And I’m like, “Yes.” Then they ask, “Do you think I have an instrument inside of me?” And I say, “I know you do. Just look.”
They start looking for an instrument. And they find one. They pull it out, and it’s not the same instrument as the one that I’m playing. It’s some other instrument, but they’ve never played it before either. And they start cleaning it off, pulling off the gunk, and then they start to play.
And then we’re playing together. We’re not playing the same song. We don’t even know what we’re playing. We’re just trying to find our instruments, our own voices, but we’re doing it around each other. And then more people see us, and they come over, and they start finding their instruments. And before you know it, we have a whole orchestra. So many voices. This is not Jessamyn’s orchestra, where everyone has to play in time. Come through, pull out your instrument, play it for yourself. We’ll make a safe space to do that—to be yourself. I think community building is the best form of leadership. It’s empowering other people to believe in themselves, as opposed to trying to get them to believe in something else outside of themselves.
Try this sequence to help you embody this exploration and find your own instrument.
Thunderbolt Pose (Ajrasana)
Start by grounding. Sit in a comfortable position, eyes closed, and tune in to yourself. Try to relax, feeling no pressure, fear, or judgment. Start to notice your breath moving through your body. Give yourself permission to feel where your inhalations might be tight and where your exhalations might be a little ragged. Allow yourself to develop clear, deep inhalations through your nose, released by clear, deep exhalations through your nose. Stay 5 minutes.
Cat Pose and Cow Pose (Arjaryasana and Bitlasana)
These two poses together will help you warm up your spine and get energy flowing. On an inhalation, rock off your seat and come to hands and knees. From here, rock it out a little—forward on the inhalations, back on the exhalations. Eventually, pause when your shoulders are over your wrists and your hips are above your knees. Spread your fingers wide. Then inhale and drop your belly, lifting your gaze, tail, and chest. Exhale and round your upper back as you drop your head and tail. Keep going at your own pace, figuring out what you need.
Extended Puppy Pose (Nahatasana)
When you’re ready, come back to a neutral spine, then walk your arms out in front of you, sliding your chest and throat toward the ground. Press into your fingertips or palms, going as far down as is comfortable. Wrap your outer upper arms in, and allow your neck to release. Eventually, to come out, walk back to all fours. Go slow.
Warrior Pose II (Virabhadrasana II)
Start to ground through your legs: Curl your toes under and walk your hands back, coming into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Bring hands to your hips, cinch your shoulder blades together, and, with a long spine, come to standing. Step one leg out, opening into a wide stance. Your feet should be under your hands when you extend your arms out to your sides. Turn your right foot parallel to the long edge of your mat, and try to line up your front heel with your back arch. Press into the back edge of your back foot and into your front big toe. Bend into your right leg, bringing knee over ankle. With your arms extended, relax your shoulders. Hold here for as long as you’d like.
Reverse Warrior Pose (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
From Warrior Pose II, drop your back arm down your back leg, and extend your top arm up. As you are reaching, you can draw the knife edge of your top arm around, toward your body, and walk your left (bottom hand) down your left leg. Again, stay as long as you’d like, then inhale to come up.
Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Straighten your front knee and shift your right hip back. Reach forward with your right arm and down with your right hand to the floor. Then reach up with your left hand. Draw your right thigh under, and try to drop your top ribs down a little. You can bring your hands to the top of your ribs as a reminder. Breathe. Then, when ready, inhale to come up.
Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
Find your balance: Pivot on your back toes and tip forward as you bring your left leg parallel to the ground. Press through your standing big toe and set your gaze to the left, or 6–8 inches in front of you, on the ground. Flex your left toes, like you’re kicking behind you. Exhale, and release into a Standing Forward Bend.
Warrior Pose III (Virabhadrasana III)
Step off the ball of your left foot, keeping your hips squared to the ground. Press through the ball of the big toe of your standing leg, scissor your thighs together, and turn the toes of your left foot down as you kick through the ball of your foot. Play with exhaling your palms to your chest, staying as long as you’d like. Then inhale to come up.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
Bring it in: Pivot your feet so they are a little wider than hip-distance apart and turn your toes out, heels in. Sink your hips down into a deep squat. Bring your upper arms to the insides of your thighs and your palms together. Draw your chest up. Pump your heart toward your thumbs. Breathe. Relax your shoulders, taking movements that feel good. Stay here as long as you’d like.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Express yourself, embracing vulnerability but knowing you are safe, rooted in your truth. From Garland Pose, come to sit on your heels. Rest and take this opportunity to reconnect with your breath. When you are ready, move your hips over your knees and bring your hands to your waist, fingertips pointing down and elbows drawing together behind you with your heart pumping up. Stay here, supporting your lower back, or start to move the head back and chest up—heart and throat open. As you move deeper into the backbend, you can place your hands on your heels. Move your pelvis forward, and let your heart open to the sky. Keep drawing your thighs together. To come up, bring your hands to your lower back again, slowly rolling up, head last. Come back to sitting on your heels. Take it in. Breathe. This is such a big opener that it deserves your presence and absorption as you take a moment to reflect.
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, variation (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
To counter this big pose, draw your left shin forward and extend your right leg back. Keep the toes of your left foot flexed and tucked under. Inhale to sit up tall; exhale and walk your arms out in front of you, relax your shoulders, and release your back foot. Breathe. You can bring your head all the way down or rest it on blocks. Hold here for several breaths, taking a moment to observe your truth. Then inhale to come up, and switch sides.
Thunderbolt Pose (Ajrasana)
Come back to a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and bring your palms together over your heart, bowing to the spirit always present within, the strength always riding within. Deeply inhale through your nose, and deeply exhale through your mouth. Gaze up, open your eyes. Namaste.