Mysore is a traditional method of training Ashtanga yoga. It's not the typical instructor-led homogenized yoga class you get from a Bikram studio or gym chain. Mysore remains pure to the intended roots of yogic study. Mysore classes have start and end times so you know when the room is open, but it's run like I'd expect from a traditional studio or dojo. If yoga were The Karate Kid, Mr. Han teaches Dre Ashtanga to compete with Master Li's Bikram protégé (Mr. Miyagi, Daniel San, and Cobra Kai, respectively, if you're stuck in the '80s).
I showed up for my first Mysore session at White Orchid in Tampa Bay. As I sat in the hall, mentally preparing to begin my training, a surprise greeted me in the form of Ally Ford. The instant I felt her energy, I knew I was in the right place. I felt a genuine warmth and kindness in her that told me everything I needed to know in order to traverse the grueling path I'm facing over the next six months. Ally believes in what she does, and she's passionate about guiding others along her path of enlightenment. There's no way our story ends that doesn't include her becoming one of the great teachers of my life's journey. It's an important role, so I casted it carefully. We'd only spoken online and over email thus far, but meeting Ally in person felt like meeting an old friend I'd known my whole life. I instinctively look for the strengths and weaknesses in people. Ally is a soldier. I can see it in her eyes.
That incidental meeting was all it took to drop the weight off my shoulders as I walked barefoot into the studio to lay out my mat and begin my practice. I sat, gazed at the orange wall in front of me, and lost myself in the dreams I had of this wall years ago. This is the place I'm going to balance my center and tap into the power of my true potential. I had a vision of myself crumbling in front of this wall. That's when Jessica Lynne knelt beside me to greet me.
I could already tell Jessica is going to be fun to study under. She has an aura of reassuring kindness about her. She's very soft spoken in the studio, but there's power in both her voice and words. Jessica is so in control of her center, she can focus her presence directly on you without disturbing the energy in the rest of the room. It's like watching a diver slice into the pool without rippling the surface of the water. After a brief chat, she asked what I knew and started guiding me through the sun salutations and Ashtanga fundamentals. Her teaching style is so effortless I could barely tell the difference between what I already know and what she's teaching me. Everything went very smoothly up until the point of why I'm there in the first place: trying to find my balance.
As we reached the part I had to balance on one foot, I fell immediately out of my zone. Jessica wasn't the least bit phased. At this point it's important to understand I grew up on Army bases. I attended grade school on these Army bases. I went through Army basic training. I went skydiving with an Army jump instructor. I own a lot of government-issued clothes. The majority of my learning experiences were in very Army environments, and unless you're reading this from a cave you lived your entire life in... on Mars... facing backward... with your hands over your ears, your eyes closed, and humming, there's a good chance you're aware that the U.S. Army isn't the most nurturing environment. Jessica was not a drill sergeant, but I soon learned she's every bit as disciplined and quite possibly more powerful.
After explaining, demonstrating, seeing the look on my face, smiling, and explaining again, Jessica let me push myself as far as I'm willing to go (which wasn't very far, since I pulled myself out of my zone). The instant I gave up, she immediately grabbed me to gently guide me through the pose. This is when I lost all control. In that moment, Jessica activated every defense mechanism I have, and trust me when I tell you I have defenses aplenty. The feeling of losing control is a very scary thing for a survivor of trauma, and I'm still dealing with the trauma of blowing the whistle on Bank of America's fraudulent force-placed insurance practices. Failure is frowned upon in military environments, and giving up is a form of failure. In my personal history, falling out of line led to a beating. On the base, lives are always at risk. I grew up in a society of people who wage war for a living. My instinct is to fight for survival, but it's not in me to harm a female, and as I collapsed into the shell of my every insecurity, I buckled.
Jessica came back into my field of consciousness, and I realized I was shivering and struggling. She was still bracing me, still smiling. I couldn't help but notice how calm and serene she was while focusing her energy to hold me steady. She was exerting enough strength to compensate for the fluctuations caused by my jerkiness without so much as flinching. There was no negative energy outside of my own frustration. I struggled through the guided motions, grasping Jessica's shoulder almost out of desperation. Not once did she break, and before I knew it, it was over... and I was drained.
I'm sad to admit I don't remember much from the rest of my practice that morning. When I revert into my shell, I'm pretty much dazed for a few hours. I remember at one point making her laugh when she was balancing so I could see the look in her eyes she got to see in mine. Even with the two-second tape delay between my brain and my outer reality, I managed to catch her before she fell.
So what I learned from this experience is that in order to find my balance, I have to confront my intimacy and trust issues head on. My fight against corruption hinges on my ability to stand through the storm. My ability to stand depends on my balance. My center lies behind those walls Jessica's spirit guided mine along... and I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to get there.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower who spent the last two years helping regulators and attorneys uncover the largest bank and insurance fraud in history. He documents his experiences working with Anonymous and fighting the banks on his blog. He's currently in the Tampa Bay area preparing to live in a van and training to be a yogi under Ally Ford.
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