Freedom from Our Stories

Learning in any capacity is such a gift. So when I have the opportunity and the funds permit it, I soak up as much as I can so that I can continue to grow and evolve. This past weekend at my yoga studio One Down Dog we hosted Gaiam yoga instructor Clara Roberts-Oss. Currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia Clara is a gift to the yoga world; leading retreats, workshops, and teacher trainings all over the world. Her no-nonsense approaches to educating teachers and realism with respects to yoga make Clara special.

Exactly one year ago, I met Clara when she visited LA to lead a weekend-long workshop. It was a transformative 3-days for me. Surrounded by friends and fellow instructors from the studio we soaked up Clara’s knowledge and enthusiastically brought it back to share with the students in our classes. But it’s not just Clara’s knowledge that makes her so special. Often, workshops and trainings for yoga instructors turn into a ‘look at me’ display of complicated asana and inaccessible poses. Not with Clara. While we explored and learned all about how to teach fancy arm balances and challenging poses like scorpion and variations of forearm stand, never did Clara post up for us to gaze upon her practice. As needed, Clara showed us things. But this workshop, as with the one I took one year ago was about our learning, MY learning—how to master these poses for myself and how to incorporate them into my classes.

Clara is a breath of real fresh air in a community that is saturated with yogi’s that were dancers, gymnasts, and contortionists modeling poses that most could only dream about. Her social media outlets are humble and rarely updated. Clara doesn’t play the game so many of us [myself included] get sucked into of posting yoga pictures with the hopes of being Instagram famous. But she’s no shrinking violet either. Real, gritty, and fearless, Clara speaks to each and every participant on their level. Simply, Clara is Clara

For me, someone like Clara is what I need in my life and my practice. I wish more than anything she were based here in LA because right now, I don’t have a teacher and I haven’t had one in YEARS. I feel so lost right now, fumbling through my professional life as teacher and not having a stable yoga home to practice or a teacher to guide me. This instability within my heart at work and on my mat only compounds my listlessness. I am desperately seeking some sort of peace juxtaposed with growth and I don’t know where to find it—at least for a weekend I was able to soak in as much of Clara as I could to recharge for some time. Click here to check out something awesome I learned this weekend, or watch the video below.

Clara isn’t like a stereotypical yoga instructor inviting you to dump your life’s shit on her so she can help you rediscover yourself. She makes you do all the work. Basically, Clara’s approach:

Here’s the work you need to do, do it.


Clara assisting me in a forearm stand variation: look closely–my palms are turned up as opposed to down

Specifically, while Clara was teaching us how to fall out of forearm stand I raised my hand and told her I can’t kick up on my bad leg since I’m missing my meniscus. Clara looked at me and in front of the group says “I don’t see why you can’t kick up with that leg. You’re just choosing not to.” Touché. So, while my right leg is not my strong side or pretty side, I practiced both sides where normally in my own practice, I don’t. I don’t practice much of my asana on my right side not because I am physically unable, but because it’s not seamless, pretty, or easy. Clara’s directness shoots straight to my heart. She knows that I don’t need soft coddling. I am an athlete. I don’t respond to hugs and gentle nudging. I need to be barked at, pushed, and sometimes shit talked. Don’t coach or stroke my ego—tell me I can do it, and I will; which is exactly what happened shortly thereafter.

Falling is scary. It’s horrible enough when you don’t expect it, but actually trying to fall?! Now, that’s a whole new experience. We learned how to fall out of forearm stand—split the legs, bend the leg that’s over your head, and TA-DA! You’re over! WHOA. NO WAY. I don’t have the shoulder mobility, I have an ugly wheel practice, my body just won’t bend that way.

As a yogi, I am incredibly fear based and petrified of falling. I started rambling audibly about my fears—rattling off every injury I have had from my zillion knee surgeries to the narrowing in my L4 & L5…

Clara overheard me and from across the room matter-of-factly states:

“We get so caught up in our story. Stop thinking. You’re thinking way too much. Combat your fears and just do it. Go. Now. We are all watching.”

I didn’t think. Clara told me to do it, she knew I could do it, and I did. Forearm stand, legs split, and down I went and pretty darn gracefully too. I could have cried right in that very movement for I cannot recall in a long while feeling as victorious as I did in that moment.

While I am certain Clara is unaware of her effect on me; her direct, shut up and do it, approach is precisely the kind of yoga love I need and desperately crave. While we don’t know each other well and I know virtually nothing about Clara personally, I feel very connected to her, safe, and empowered.

unnamedI learned so much about myself in the weekend I spent with Clara. But for me the most influential lessons I am taking away with me is to not get too caught up in “Our Story.” As people, we use our stories to define us, victimize ourselves, rationalize behavior, or as excuses. We give ourselves the permission to opt out by using our stories as a hindrance. Unfortunately, we use our stories to imprison ourselves and that needs to stop. As my mother put it when I shared this anecdote with her, “It’s human nature”. And I agree with my mother it’s human nature, but it doesn’t have to be. We have the ability to change our mindset and ultimately change our lives should we want.

It’s time we all start writing a different story, one where you’re the hero of the story and nothing stands in your way. Are you ready to join me? Because I know I want this story to have a very different ending and I have already started rewriting my tale. You hold the pen, together we can tell a different story—now, don’t just start writing, start DOING.