To Nancy Gilgoff

Dear Nancy,

You don’t know me … and yet, I believe you do.

It’s taken me a long time to have the courage to truly share what I’ve been going through since the fall of last year. Sure, I touched upon it in a blog post from January and then again, in my most recent podcast with Christine Hoar, but to actually put into words my experience from then until now was not something I felt fully prepared to do …

Until now.

Not until this morning, when I did a quick early morning scan of my FB feed and find a letter from you.  Apparently there was some skuttlebutt about the way you teach or have taught your students – as if anyone would have the right to question … but still, your response was clear:

“Out of the deepest love, gratitude and respect, I teach the way he (Guruji) told me to. The way he taught ME.”

I’ve heard the stories, but none so personally conveyed as when I met Christine, your long time student. Perhaps it’s also that before now, your story wouldn’t have resonated. Let me explain:

This past fall, my energy level began to plummet. Not a slow dwindling, more like pushed off a fucken cliff. At first, I tried to just push through it because that’s just what I know how to do. Until my third series practice began to feel like a chore leaving me with nothing for the rest of my day.

Quite frankly, this scared the hell out of me. I had no experience with this level of fatigue. None.

Even scarier, I figured this was the great change of life I’d been warned about. Saving grace #1 was my meditation teacher, John Churchill, who had already begun opening the doors of another practice – one that didn’t care if all I could do was sit and breathe and actually, that was ALL it asked me to do.

But despite everything going on, I wasn’t prepared to give up on my physical practice. I missed what it was, only because I had no idea what it could look like any other way. Still, I began feeling very much like an outsider. You see, I’m not injured. I have no disease. I’m not old and I’m not lazy.

I’m just really tired. And yet, sometimes that feels and looks like all of the above.

Now, I’m also very fortunate. I remember the week I needed desperately to get away and be cared for – David Robson took me in and held space for me. He and his family were so kind – as my other friends and family have been. And I promise you this:  there isn’t a community around more loving and supportive than my own, here in DC and throughout my extended Ashtanga Dispatch family. They are not concerned with what my practice is, or even was.

And probably why I decided to make it up myself. I chose to take care of me – for them.

I was especially determined to do this for other women, to figure it out so they wouldn’t feel alienated like I was. I started a women’s group in our community and we began gathering resources. I learned from so many that they too were also experiencing various fluctuations that went well beyond the only two topics we seem comfortable in approaching with women: Pregnancy and Menstruation (though even this one we give the euphemism of “Ladies’ Holiday, as if … )

Some days it was primary, others I would work my way through intermediate. I consulted no one because there wasn’t anyone I knew of to consult. I mean, what would they say other than what I already was doing: listen to your body and do what you can do?

So why the hell did I feel like I’d just been kicked out of the club? Like my place at the table was gone? Or worse, a fraud. 

The reality is, my authenticity had already come under question by a small but vocal few in some underground, closed Facebook group of authorized teachers. At least in the past, I could always say I was a good student and that I was committed to my practice.

But now, I wasn’t sure if what I was practicing was “correct” or good. And my commitment came more from that to others than it was to the practice. The practice itself was slowly starting to feel like the enemy, if I were to be honest.

Then I met Christine Hoar. And I interviewed Christine Hoar – a podcast hundreds have already listened to and dozens have written me about. But here’s what I didn’t say …

I also practiced with Christine Hoar. Game changer.

You see, Nancy, this is where you stepped in.

“We each can only teach what we know to have worked for us, from inside out. There will always be different people who need different approaches depending on their physical, mental and spiritual condition.”

Christine sat down next to my mat and took my hand in hers. She read my pulse and said what I already knew: Your endurance is low. She told me how she went to you when her energy and endurance had also plummeted … she told me how scared she was and how you reassured her … and then she told me the practice you prescribed her during this time.

The very one Guruji once prescribed for you.

Oh dear God, just to know I’m not alone. That others have experienced what I am experiencing and are still around – PRACTICING! And with joy. Like I said, game changer.

Even better, I didn’t have to make it up. In fact, I never had to! Guruji, in all his wisdom and compassion, had always made a place for me at the table. It was never his intention for me to leave and figure it out on my own. He told you: Teach the way I taught YOU.

And you have. Despite changes and criticisms, you continue to do as your teacher asked of you.

So Nancy, let me now bring you up to speed …

For the past few weeks, I have practiced as Christine showed me … as you showed her … as Guruji taught you. For the first time in 8 months, I feel part of something I love and can love again. I feel held and supported in my practice. And the practice that once stole energy, now gives.

 “The correct method is finding that in our own practice, and our role as “teacher” is to help others to find it.”

Thank you Nancy, Christine, and Louise Jolly from Ashtanga Brighton – whose original post sparked this discussion – for continuing to share perhaps Guruji’s greatest teaching: that of acceptance, patience, and love.

As another woman said to me recently, “Thank you for seeing me.” You have no idea (or I guess you do!) how assuring it is to know, Guruji saw me too – through you.

With gratitude,

Peg

Links to relevant articles:

Why I practise full intermediate, by Louise Jolly.

Nancy Gilgoff’s response to a comment on Louise Jolly’s blog.

Ashtanga Yoga, As it Was by Nancy Gilgoff

Ashtanga Dispatch podcast with Christine Hoar