On Being Yourself

I found this in the annals of my notes from the end of my internship year during my masters degree. It still feel relevant now.


As clinicians and yoga teachers we must show up fully embodied as who we are and not push away or deny parts of ourselves. The more we can show up in our absolute fullness with the entire mixed bag of our life experience--past, present and future--inside of us and then regulate ourselves, the more we become a literal healing BODY for the client or student to experience.

People learn by reading books. They read the information and they also have an experience of reading the information. People learn by hearing words, sounds, instructions, stories etc. And they learn from having the experience of hearing and listening to the sound. One of the reasons poetry and myth work as they do is because the literal vibration created by all the sounds strung together creates an orchestral impact on the person listening. (Some of you know this as that whole mantra, matrika, thing.) People also learn by seeing. They learn through watching someone do the pose they are struggling with or their therapist model feeling and expressing an emotion they have not yet been able to feel.

I believe that so much of the work of being a good clinician and teacher is in the practice of showing up fully and present in my own embodied experience as Myself, not just as Therapist or Teacher. And in this showing up authentically, I am also doing the work of helping regulate the client in front of me or support the student in the classroom. In essence the very manner in which I teach or provide counseling is the healing much more so than any cool intervention or teaching nugget I give. 

If you want to help someone, be yourself. 

We spend a lot of time trying to access all the Siddhis of yoga. But in my opinion the greatest Siddhi is that of being human to one’s fullest capacity. It is the mantra of “How can I regulate you by regulating me”.  And so we empower, learn and heal by being together.

As I look outward from Naropa towards the future I am mostly working on building educational programs for yoga teachers bringing them valuable applicable information from the world of somatic psychology. It is not that I am looking to fuse the two. I think yoga is inherently therapeutic and it does not have to be psychotherapy. I also believe that the practice of yoga can be one of the most eliciting and cathartic practices one can do. In essence, doing yoga can really stir the pot of our emotional bodies. In my opinion this is a tremendously valuable byproduct of practicing yoga. Not many people though when they begin this path understand the potential of catharsis and so when it arises they feel shocked, disappointed, angry, sad or annoyed. (Just to name a few emotions).

Sometimes this leads to people no longer practicing. There is a big misnomer that yoga practice should, because it elevates your conscious, only afford the experience of greater happiness with ore smiles and laughs. Just because something affords an increased opportunity for more joy doesn’t mean the experience will always be just that. I named my business Ecstatic Unfoldment because both yoga and psychotherapy in essence involve the expansion of one’s repertoire. We come to our yoga mats and our therapist’s office often times limited to a small range of motion and/or emotion. Over time through, the practice of exercising the muscles of our body, stretching our mind, and expanding our hearts, yields a kind of expansion and growth into all the old-shut-down corners of our being.  This experience may not always be that pleasant. Though the process of expanding in this way is inherently benevolent at the core, it is not always pleasant in the process.

If you read about various mystical experiences across cultures they all talk about the awe, grandeur, splendor, laughter, and terror of touching god. If yoga is about finding god in ourselves then good psychotherapy bestows back upon us the capacity to act that out skillfully and feel it coming in whole-heartedly. So to me, it is indeed ecstatic. Not happy or catchy or anything like that.

So my intention is to use my skills gained from Naropa primarily as means for education. The skills of therapist I have cultivated I want to bring into my role as yoga teacher so that I can stand with my students in their processes without getting completely triggered myself. One of the biggest teachings I received while at Naropa which has been solidified through internship is the concept that success in psychotherapy is not dependent on the interventions the therapist utilizes but rather it is the connection with the therapist that supports the clients healing.

I live by this understanding as a teacher of yoga. I have plenty of skills in teaching asana. In fact I make a living off of those skills. I am proud of them. I am always trying to grow and expand them. The understanding of yoga asana, well yoga in all its varied forms for that matter, is not some steady target. It is a moving aim, a fluid arrow, an ever-shifting technology or device to expand awareness.

I was watching an old master class video of BKS Iyengar the other day and what struck me the most was this teaching on ‘waking up’ the muscles of the outer thigh. His whole shtick (at least at that specific moment in time) was about not being dull. “How to awaken every cell in the body to its own aliveness.” Frankly I think that’s a pretty awesome aim and like I said above always a moving target. What was dull in the relationship to the body a year ago might not be now. What seemed a tremendous feat a year ago might be easily stimulated now.

We are always growing, always expanding and always unfolding. Its not easy or always pleasant. On the loom of life sometimes we do feel as though we are being stretched, stitched and worn. And sometimes we are able to wrap ourselves in our own warmth of the life we have woven. And so we continue on I suppose. We show up. We do our work. We become ourselves even more.

And if we are really in that, those around us benefit deeply. We give them someone to lean into; a real person, a real human being, a real woven entity.

Livia ShapiroComment