Starting something new, changing something old, can feel like stepping into a dark place–the kind of darkness that often freezes the body, or in which we fumble into confused movement. Like deciding to start a new habit or change something long lived, the body and mind may resist this shift. Some wisdom holds that this is because the ego clings to all the outer patterns and habits and ways of living, because without those ways, the ego believes, there is no self at all. Letting go of old habits or beginning new ones can feel, to the ego, like a kind of death. Yet, each new year unfolds in January with such a burst of fresh desire. It’s hard not to be captivated by the idea of entering this new space of time with all the wisdom and energy that a fresh start requires.

A few years ago, I realized that I was a fresh start junkie and loved to set out into the new year with my list of ways that year would be different than the last. And by different, I really mean better. Each year unfolded, though, much the same as the last. The events may have changed, but the me greeting those events was so often quite the same. Yet I continued to relish the idea of a fresh start and to giving birth to new possibilities.

I’ve been leading a Winter Solstice celebration for years, but only just heard for the first time recently it referred to as a time of birth. The origination of the winter solstice was to mark the time when the old sun dies, and the sun of the New Year is born. The image is beautiful to me, seeing this as a season of birth. So perhaps it is inherent to feel the call toward birthing some new light into our lives at this time of year. What I forget sometimes is that, inherent in every birth is a death, and in order for birth to be there isn’t just light. It is also necessary that there is darkness. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes in Learning to Walk in the Dark, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” She writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”

I like to see this time when there is less sunlight as a reminder that, like nature, perhaps if I allow myself to nurture the darkness, the birth of new light will arise within me much like all new life is birthed–in its proper time. I sense this time of year as a wonderful one to allow some old ways to die, for without death there can’t be new life. Knowing that this can be especially scary to my poor clinging ego, though, I try to take my time. Like the practice of yoga that is meant to unfold over a lifetime, I remember the richness of letting something good and important take the time it needs. I remember, too, how scary it was to venture into this new practice, and how scary it is each time I discover there’s something I can no longer do–a kind of death of a certain way–and then have to discover another new beginning. So I plant and tend small seeds of acceptance, surrender, and consistency, to help soothe the fears that arise in this time of birth.

This is what I loved so much about a recent story written by our teacher Melissa Groves. Melissa finished the 200 hour teacher training with us in October. Through the training, I watched as she traversed new and unfamiliar ground, became a beginner all over again, and had to relearn her body and practice in different ways. Honoring the fear of getting to know a new self, yet seeing that within the fear is also a birth of discovery, is the heart of her story. I am so grateful for her gift to the community:

Melissa GrovesIt took very stubborn and very young Melissa 27 years and two intense deep heart breaks to learn, “You can’t fix people, people have to fix themselves.”  As I stumbled upon the practice of yoga in 2013 with a freshly broken heart, I was curious and hungry for more of the lightness I felt after class. I found my way home again, back to young Melissa with a solid and strong unbroken heart and so much spirit for life, but I was only getting a taste of this young pure melissa-ness. I wanted more.

I began to practice regularly with a friend who is a certified Yoga instructor and very educated on the practice. We found a small group of dedicated people that would show up and practice with us weekly in an old school house.  As we all deepened our practices and grew together, beautiful bonds were formed and a lovely foundation was formed. When the amazing teacher had to move out of the area, the group looked to me to lead them.  I was terrified, excited, honored, nervous, happy, intimidated–all of the feels, I was feeling them.  I said yes, and instantly began diving deep into all the sources I could find.  So many great books, magazines, online videos, and my personal practice helped shape me into a pretty decent, but not certified, Yoga teacher.  I was almost in disbelief how much this practice was helping me personally. In a small amount of time, I was being asked to teach at a second location, in a different nearby small town’s Community Center.  The quick expansion of my teaching was, again, intimidating and so exciting.  I had to learn more about teaching.  I wanted to find a way to get certified and deepen my knowledge and practice, but this was not available in the small town I was living in.  Over time, I too, moved out of the area.  I was sad to leave the two facilities and my students but excited to expand and grow as I moved forward.  Over the next few years I turned my focus to my full time job to try to save money for Yoga Teacher Training at Yogaville in Charlottesville VA.  I continued to lead (free) yoga practices once to twice a week at my house with close friends and neighbors.  I also taught Yoga at a few local music festivals where I lived in Virginia Beach.  No matter what life sent my way, I still had my practice of Yoga and the drive and ability to share this with others.

As I continued to ride the wave of life, I fell in love,  which guided me to move to the lovely mountains of Winchester VA.  The first year was very hard and challenging.  This was the furthest I had ever moved from home and from the ocean.  I was no longer practicing regularly and slowly falling into a dark place.  I felt alone and lost, very far away from everyone and everything I had known for my entire life.  My mantra during this time was “Change is Growth.” These great words were said to me from a dear friend in Virginia Beach while I was struggling to find my happiness within in my new home.  After the first very challenging year was coming to an end, I began to accept the new growth in my life.  I realized the beauty of the mountains around me can be just as impactful as the beauty of the Ocean.  Beauty is everywhere, if we can see it.  As the acceptance of my new place in life took over and my outlook became positive, the rest just fell in to place like magic!  I met a wonderful friend here in Winchester who practices regularly at Jala and offered to take me to a class.

As I walked in to my very first Yoga studio, I was greeted with smiles, hugs, and such welcoming energy, I felt like I was home.  People that just met me, already knew my name!  The teacher/studio owner made time to talk with me before and after class.  I felt so important and welcome, like I had already been a part of this studio for years and it was only my first day. This was exactly what I needed. Change is Growth. 

My practice deepened and I found my way back to myself.  I felt more myself that I had felt in over a year.  In time, I learned that Jala Yoga Studio has a wonderful Yoga Teacher Training Program. I took home a pamphlet and read it, over and over and over.  I kept it in my journal or on my coffee table, and pondered how I could make this work financially.  After much thought and meditation, and encouragement from my Love, I submitted my heartfelt entry for a scholarship and was granted a wonderful sum of money to help me proceed forward to sign up for the Yoga Teacher Training. Finally, it was finally happening and I could not have been more ecstatic! 

The day after I made my first payment and put my name on the list, I broke my right foot.  This was less than a month before training began.  I was absolutely devastated.  I sat in my sadness and watched my foot change colors and size and pondered how to email the Studio and explain that I could no longer do the training program this year.  After all this hard work to get here, “Why?!” I angrily asked the Universe.  I finally emailed my mentor, who is also the studio owner, Christa.  She kindly and compassionately welcomed my broken foot and, in time, came to call it a gift.  All I felt, though, was completely confused, doubtful, and hesitant to proceed forward with the yoga teacher training program and a broken foot.  With a lot of support and encouragement, I began the 8 month Yoga Teacher Training Program with my right foot broken in 3 places and my regular practice completely and abruptly altered.  I began to feel quite lost and insecure again, spiraling back in to that dark place.    

My broken foot forced me to slow down, in so many ways.  I really saw myself slow down in my yoga practice and blossom in ways I had never experienced.  I used to want to take the most challenging class in the studio, and then afterwards go hike up the side of a mountain.  At this point, that was not an option.  I began to truly enjoy restorative yoga classes and energy work like never before.  Three different amazing healers came across my path, right on time.  I barely even knew what “energy work” was and now I had three different healers willing to help me.  My broken foot forced me to slow down and be present.  What a gift indeed!  Among many, many more lessons my foot taught me, it also helped me relearn yoga postures with modifications, bringing an awareness to my entire body like never before.  I had to pay attention to how I was distributing my weight throughout my entire body to ensure I would not harm my broken foot or the rest of my body by compensating for my foot injury.  My fellow trainees also learned from my broken foot when we had to do partner work and hands on assists.  They had to maintain an awareness of my injury and modify their assists when needed, which was great practice for us in offering assists to students with injuries. 

I too, came to call my broken foot a gift.  My foot taught me very much but some of the best lessons from the experience were; learning to slow down, learning to let go and begin new, learning to never lose hope, and finding gratitude in everything. 

During training, I remember Christa sharing a story with us about a rock in a river.  She described a beautiful flowing river, with a nice strong current.  You could hear the river flowing as you imagined its beauty and strength.  At some point throughout that river, a rock will fall into the river.  This rock could be large or small, but no matter the size or the ripples it creates, the river still continues to flow, strong and beautiful, around the rock. I am so grateful that through my practice of Yoga and the support of my Yoga Community, I was able to gracefully flow around my rock and gain strength in the process.

After much healing and many lessons learned, 8 months later I completed my Yoga Teacher Training Program and received my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Certification.  I now teach yoga at Jala Yoga Studio in Winchester VA.  Every day feels like a dream come true.  At the end of class, as I bow and say “Namaste” and these beautiful peaceful souls bow and say “Namaste” in return, a smile spreads across my face like no other.  My heart overflows with happiness as the calming vibrations throughout the room bathe my soul. I am grateful, I am love, and I am home.