This week, I had the distinct pleasure of teaching yoga for Dream Trips’ Dream Body retreat at AmaTierra. It was a full house, with guests from Texas, Colorado and Alabama, Baltimore and Orlando, France, Japan, China and Curacao. Men and women, young to middle-aged, both tall and short, some super stick-skinny, others athletic-build strong, and a few deliciously curvaceous. Minds, bodies, hearts and spirits from a world of different backgrounds came together in the name of wellness to experience this special slice of jungle in the heart of Costa Rica. For many, it was a willing step outside their comfort zone to explore a primarily plant-based organic diet, brave the creepy crawly critters of the tropical forest, and get active outside the gym. And as serendipity would have it, for most, it was their first ever exposure to the practice of yoga.
As a seasoned yogini – with seventeen years of regular practice and counting, plus growing up with a yoga mom who started teaching all the way back when yoga was still weird – my asana practice has come to feel like second nature to me. Airports, tiny hotel rooms, ocean-view yoga decks, penthouse city studios, campgrounds and roadside picnic tables – wherever I go, my yoga mat is sure to follow. So instilled into my lifestyle, yoga has become a part of my core identity, a self-care ritual for spiritual connection, and my thirty-one year-old body’s essential saving grace. Yet while the practice and lifestyle philosophy of yoga have come to play an integral role in my everyday world, the experience of teaching yoga has been quite the opposite, I must confess. While I’ve taught both regularly and sporadically for years, it’s never felt completely natural to be the one in charge of guiding others through their yoga practice. And while the Yoga Alliance – the internationally accepted accreditation body for yoga instructors – seems to have very few qualms about churning out yoga teachers with unbelievably little experience on the daily, I’ve found it hard to describe myself as a yoga teacher despite my experience practicing and living yoga for more than half of my life – mostly because of the deep responsibility I believe such a title both entails and deserves. So, needless to say, being confronted with the opportunity to share my practice as a teacher with twelve souls from around the world, many new to yoga, I embraced both the honor of such an experience and the self-inflicted pressure of doing justice to the ancient spirit of yoga and its powerful manifestation through all of our modern little bodies.
Nerves were collective on our first morning together, eager hearts open and willing to explore; some seeking to give yoga another go after traumatic experiences with instructors who pushed too hard and instilled a sense of shame around injury and physical limitations; others taking their at-home video-led practice to the next level in a real live studio far from home; and still others completely brand new, like the day-old baby goat we saw at the farm near the local waterfall, finding his legs for the very first time. I welcomed the challenge and taught a gentle Hatha class, warming up slowly and sticking mostly to the basics, while my mom helped with adjustments when needed. I wanted the new and traumatized yogis in the room to experience yoga as accessible despite any physical limitations in their bodies, and encourage them to explore the essence of yoga – the profoundly spiritual practice of peace, mindfulness, connection and lasting well-being that often gets left out of corporate-style yoga gyms in the Western world.
Bodies flowed and bellies breathed and our shared vibration felt peaceful and by the time savasana rolled around, I found a deep satisfaction in knowing that perhaps I don’t need to self-identify as a yoga instructor to share the gift of yoga that lives in my heart and flows through my veins. That I don’t need to feel superhuman for bodies and hearts and minds and souls to benefit from the yoga I’ve cultivated into my being over the course of half a lifetime. That doing what I showed up to do – to teach a mellow yoga class to a rainbow of people on wellness retreat in the Costa Rican jungle – doesn’t need to be anything more or less than exactly what it is; exactly what I was meant to be doing in exactly that moment. And finally, that in sharing the gift that has made me who I am with those who have never experienced it before, I find profound humility in the warrior-like honor of passing on the light of peace, itself a gift to behold.
So I thank you, new yogis, for your practice. For your willingness. And I thank you for sharing with me on this journey, together.
Tara Ruttenberg, M.A., is a writer, surfer and graduate student of sustainable surf tourism. To read more of Tara’s work, visit her web site atwww.tarantulasurf.comand follow her on Instagram: @tarantulasurf.
Jill Ruttenberg, RH, Co-Owner & Wellness Director of AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Costa Rica, is a professional nutritionist, certified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and clinical herbalist registered with the American Herbalist Guild. She is also an experienced massage therapist, energy healer and Hatha yoga instructor. The Wellness Center at AmaTierra is Jill’s living dream, the fruition of decades of training, practice and experience in natural medicine and the healing arts.