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Michelle Shipley for Elephant Journal
This apology could be for my entire life before yoga.
Do you remember your life before yoga? I do, clear as a bell. I was ambitious, hard and ego driven. This served me really well as I propelled through college and out into a competitive career in television.
Four weeks after landing a dream job at The Comedy Network, my mother died. She had finally lost her long battle with breast cancer. It was December 12th—I gave myself three weeks away from the office to get over it.
In the wake of my mother’s death, our family disintegrated. My father, sister and I were left completely alone in our grief and at a time when we should have held on tighter, we were separated. Lost and acting out in ways that ultimately were completely detrimental to our well-being, we alienated each other.
Not a day went by that I didn’t deflect the sad looks inadvertently sent in my direction by quickly making a dead mom joke.
Haha, let’s laugh and get rid of the uncomfortable look and the awkwardness of people who have no f*cking idea what to do or say to the bereaved. This tactic worked so well I used it for seven years. Seven years! And then it didn’t work anymore.
Comedy has always been my muse. In fact it was also my mask and armor. Everything said in comedy, no matter how blue or distasteful, comes from a basis of truth—that’s what makes it funny. If I can make a joke of the painful, the awkward, the downright frightening, then I can shove the feelings part down into the abyss of my psyche.
Around the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing, I decided to attend a month-long yoga teacher training, not because I wanted to become a yoga teacher, but because I had hit bottom.
After two solid years of production work—first in creating, producing, directing and starring in my own comedy television series, then joining the Canadian launch of a major television brand, I was burnt out, uninspired and making terrible choices for my health. I was only making it to my yoga mat once every other week, and usually my work acquaintances and the bar won out more often than not. My love relationship was stagnant and my quick-witted, comedic, happy-go-lucky personality had become surly.
The only place I felt any real relief was on my yoga mat. And I’m very Type A, so I figured if I was going to invest in a month on my yoga mat I should land the proper credentials to go with my time. I needed to go to a place where I could step off the airplane and exhale deeply. That place was Nosara, Costa Rica. Over the years I had spent a fair amount of time in this little beach town. For me it was healing and magical—and they had a yoga school.
My first week in the Nosara Yoga Institute 200-Hour Interdisciplinary Teacher Training Intensive was just plain weird.
The chanting and Om-ing made me slightly worried that I had joined a cult. I kept looking around the room at the facilitators: their eyes clear and sparkly, their bodies relaxed and open, their smiles easy. I gave in—whatever they were doing was working for them and what I was doing was clearly not. I began to chant. By the end of the first week I was chanting and Om-ing along with the 60 other yogis.
I made friends with a lovely British woman who was running to her yoga mat after a devastating divorce. She was cheeky, and together we were able to find our feet in the weirdness of that first week. Sometimes we would giggle and chant “Porrrrrrrrnnn” while the rest of the yogis chanted Om. Comedy gold!
I didn’t see any grace in my life; I didn’t even know what that meant in relation to myself. A fellow yogi said; “Michelle I see so much grace in your relationship with your new divorcee yogi friend!” Gah. Wow. We sing porn instead of Om, we’re naughty and a little defiant and resistant and cheeky…and maybe filled with grace?
One quiet day while sitting on my mat listening to a lecture, I heard my mother’s voice. She said, “Hi Shell.” It was as clear as though she was sitting behind me whispering in my ear. I looked around the ranch at the people’s faces. Had they heard her too?
This was the first and only time she came to me. It was then that I realized the weight of what I had been holding onto. Every dead mom joke I had made dishonored her memory.
The whole teacher training thing broke me open—my heart, my head, my body. I always say that if I’d know what was going to happen, I never would have registered for teacher training. My yoga guru said each morning, “Look around the room and see where you’ve landed.”
I had landed exactly where I was meant to.
My journal was filled cover to cover. I cried—I mean really cried. The tears of seven years of grief, along with the tears of six years of being strong for my then-dying mother, flowed like freaking Niagara Falls. I’m pretty certain I was known as “The Crying Girl” at training. When you haven’t dropped a tear in 13 years, a dam breaks.
I wasn’t left exhausted by all the tears, rather I was feeling lighter with each spill. Release!
In the nine years since that first yoga teacher training, under the tutelage of the most amazing human beings, there have been many more lessons. I consider yoga my 12-step program.
I meditated on responsibility, which had always had a negative connotation for me because I had too much. I meditated on ego, enough, forgiveness and letting go. I learned to be a kind person, first toward myself and then toward others. I learned compassion. I learned patience. I learned love.
But most of all, I learned that while comedy is a part of me, dead mom jokes are not.
Author: Michelle Shipley
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Author’s own
The Washington Daily News
Published this terrific article about Michelle Shipley’s
Kid’s Yoga Class at the Washington NC,
Children take on the posture Upward Dog in yoga class at Washington Montessori’s after-school program.
VAIL STEWART RUMLEY | DAILY NEWS
By Vail Stewart Rumley
HEALTHY MINDS: Montessori brings yoga to afterschool
Published 7:24pm Saturday, November 2, 2013
On a given Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, walk into Building 4 of Washington Montessori Public Charter School and what you’ll find is children reaching, stretching, doing backbends and testing the boundaries of their flexibility. It’s not a gymnastics class, however. It’s yoga.
In October, the Montessori School added yoga to its long list of activities offered in their private afterschool program. The 45-minute classes were added at the behest of parents.
“PTO sent out letters to our community members to see if there was interest and then proposed it to administration as an option,” said Head of School Jen Hales. “Due to the high degree of interest and parental involvement, we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our students.”
Pennie Ireland, head of Montessori Parent Teacher Organization, spearheaded the drive to put yoga on the list of afterschool activities, alongside chess club, cross-country, music lessons, painting and drawing classes. When she polled parents as to whether they’d like to see yoga added to the available activities, the response was very positive. Now two of Ireland’s four children look forward to yoga every week and are disappointed if scheduling conflicts mean they miss a class, she said.
According to Ireland, what started as an alternative exercise class has produced other benefits for her children — mainly the ability to take a step back and breathe before reacting with negative behavior. Breathing exercises are fundamental part of yoga.
“When I started this, I wasn’t really thinking about (them learning) coping skills,” Ireland said. “But it’s teaching them coping skills.”
Hales is looking at a broader picture for the Montessori afterschool participants, in keeping with the Montessori philosophy.
“One of the main priorities at Washington Montessori is to expose our students to a wide variety of activities and experiences that they may not normally encounter in their day-to-day lives,” Hales said. “We believe that exposing our children to such unique experiences begins to light a flame of interest in each child, which is the first step of learning.”
It also gives children the opportunity to interact with children of different age groups, and in some classes, their parents. Parents are invited to attend with their children and participate in the yoga classes. Some come as observers, sitting on the sidelines as their children move through upward dog, downward dog, cobra and child’s pose; others bring a mat and participate alongside their children.
According to school officials, instructor Michelle Shipley’s classes are beneficial to the kids, offering them a non-sport option for exercise and fostering healthy lifestyle choices — in all, a way to promote the relationship between healthy bodies and minds.
This is Michelle Shipley in the grey and yogi friend Lilly Jones in the purple.
Article written by: Vail Stewart Rumley
Photography by Meredith Laughlin
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