Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
A balm of cayenne dark chocolate melted in my mouth as nerves pattered inside. “You are here to facilitate your yoga experience,” my teacher, Yogini, had said moments before I taught my first hour yoga class. She assured me my only responsibility was to stay true to myself and teach from within, a main point highlighted in the Shoshoni Yoga Teacher Training.
Meditating on the chocolate, I honored the 200 hours of training I had just completed. I softened my shoulders from my ears and danced into my final with confidence. Channelling my inner poet, I breathed cues from a decorated place inside my head and transcribed onto fellow students’ mats why I practice yoga, and in doing so, helped illuminate to them why they may as well.
Tracing back three weeks, my skin smelled of a hot yoga studio and library textbook concoction — I was eager as ever for a change of pace. Shoshoni has been a sacred space for me ever since moving to Colorado, so when I felt ready to deepen my practice with teacher training, it was no question that I would be learning from the yogis at Shoshoni.
Shoshoni Yoga Retreat is a yoga ashram nestled deep in the mountains of Rollinsville, Colorado. Whether you’re there for a weekend getaway or earning a teacher training, Shambhava Yoga will be sure to transform your perception of yoga. Personally, it transformed my perception of what it means to be human.
Shambhava yoga is a holistic practice that encompasses asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath), meditation, seva (service) and daily rituals for conscious living. Yoga is more than mere physical postures, but all one does to unify the mind, body and spirit. This philosophy resonated in the deepest parts of myself when I first visited two years ago; so to delve into this calling sensation, I immersed myself in the practice so I could better share with others all yoga can offer.
200 hours in three weeks requires a rigorous schedule, which turned out to be the most nourishing part of this experience. Waking up with the chickens and watching the sun fall to its knees over the Rockies each night kept me focused and centered on my personal growth. Being able to digest what I was learning by fully living in it aided in making this experience as transformative as it came to be.
Starting at 5:30 a.m. each day, I flowed to the tune of my heart. In the next hour and a half I’d practice teach asanas in Sanskrit to fellow trainees, and end with a 30-minute guided meditation led by a Shoshoni resident. We chanted Ganesh mantra, experienced visualization exercises, and were given freedom to silently meditate with whatever knots needed loosening in our brains — all while being hugged by the majestic studio layered with paintings of yoga deities.
By 7 a.m., a glorious vegetarian breakfast would be waiting for us: tofu scramble, vegan jam muffins, apple and date oats — oh my! Letting each flavor simmer in my mouth was part of the conscious living I was practicing. Many of the vegetables we ate for our meals were grown in the garden just a few feet away, deepening the intimate connection of the energy I fed my body.
While the hearty meal digested, it was seva, or selfless service, hour. I cleaned the yoga space we spent our days in, enjoying the nurturing quality of treating the space with the respect it in turn gave to me. The harmony existing in my living space, my eating and my yoga practice allowed me to turn my focus to the inner self, which is the ultimate purpose of practicing any form of yoga — to connect inside.
My days at Shoshoni required an open mind and heart to be vulnerable in a new environment. My training group swam in laughter, letting it coat any nerves or reservations. This planted the seed for my growth, as I felt ready to shed light on a passion waiting to sprout: teaching. Seeing this divinity grow inside myself allowed it to shine through everything I did, but it took a moment of darkness to discover this.
My training group swam in laughter, letting it coat any nerves or reservations. This planted the seed for my growth, as I felt ready to shed light on a passion waiting to sprout: teaching.
The scattered aspens of Rollinsville, Colorado, can make any hiker feel helplessly disoriented. No matter how many cairns mark a trailhead, I still feel swallowed by the endless lanes of trees. Shoshoni hikes are not impossible to map, but their overall lack of direction is everything I needed it to be — the no-cell-service vibe fits perfectly with the solitude of a slightly-paved path leading to nature in its purest, forested form.
Secure from the hustle of urban life, wildlife shares this space with Shoshoni residents. I’ve been told there’s nothing to fear, but as I am not native to Colorado, living close to bears and moose is not something I’m attuned to — and while I’d prefer not to admit, does scare me.
I embarked on an adventure up Rollins Peak early one evening and spent my ascent scanning for signs of life. While I knew I was alone, my eyes kept tricking me into seeing outlines of bears behind trees. In combination with the rapid incline, high elevation and utter fear for my life, my breath was uneven and short.
I’ve been taught pranayama to control the breath during challenging asanas, which in turn centers the mind. Pranayama is an intimate connection to the inner self, and is practiced through manipulating the breath in exercises that affect the nervous system. All that was in the classroom. This was a real-life situation with which I could apply this lesson.
I ran the projected 90-minute hike in less than half that, and was crawling by the time I reached the rocks that would escort me to the magnificent view.
I cried and bellowed “I am a yoga teacher!” to the rapid stream below me.
Then I let the silence absorb my voice. I turned my attention inward to my chest, noticing the shortness between each inhale and exhale. Engaging my diaphragm, I massaged my breath deeper into my tummy, creating a circle of breath from my third eye to the pit of my stomach. This flow of energy coexisting in my body rooted me in the present moment. Warmth expanded in my heart space and I felt light as mountain air.
This is the power of yoga, I thought to myself.
My favorite way to end the packed days at Shoshoni was with Kirtan and meditation in the sacred temple. To illustrate, Kirtan looks like a lot of yogis dressed in temple attire chanting mantra and dancing, honoring yoga deities on the temple’s stage. The statues represent the divinity already existing in each one of us. My meditations were always the deepest after the flow of Kirtan: the people, the space and the time all aligned perfectly with my energy to truly delve inside with more ease.
I practice yoga to tap in to my truest self. With knowledge of proper alignment and body awareness, focusing on the breath and the inner self never felt more accessible. The human experience is one of connection to others and the self, and yoga teachers can act as guides to illuminate the divinity we all have within us; it just takes a moment of trust and surrender to let it shine through.
Photos by Devi Stone Chung.