Contributed by Chris Byford
My journey to Baptiste Yoga wasn’t a smooth one. I had just injured my knee playing basketball. I was depressed by the idea that my time playing basketball might be coming to an end and worried about what that meant for my physical and mental well-being. My first Baptiste class, I left the room several times and had some choice words for the instructor and the practice. But there was something there; underneath the anger at not being good at something, underneath the ocean of sweat on my mat, there was a voice beckoning me, an inner, inherent knowing of what I needed and what was possible if I committed to the practice, to my practice.
I want to be clear that it was my first Baptiste Yoga class that cracked my shell. I had already been dabbling with yoga and meditation since 2000. It could never keep my attention. The yoga classes I took before were either buried in eastern mysticism or not physically challenging enough to make me feel connected to what was happening in the room. Finally, I had found a class that kicked me square in the asana and left enough space in the room for me to begin my own path of discovery.
My Baptiste practice soon yielded some unexpected results. Yes, I lost weight and gained some muscle, better balance, and stamina. And, yes, I was also able to come off of my arthritis and cholesterol medications. But the most powerful part of my new practice was what the physicality and focus allowed to me to discover mentally and emotionally. I was healing as a whole being, not just physically.
My practice was growing beyond my mat. My relationships started to improve as I became more comfortable with honesty and sharing myself with others. My self-esteem and self-worth started to improve as I became more comfortable being honest with myself. I started reading about yoga and picked up the book Journey Into Power (JIP). It was like Baron was speaking directly to me and directly to what I was experiencing. JIP helped me create a solid foundation for my practice and inspired me to dig deeper.
My path to teaching started at the Art of Assisting program. Brandon Compagnone completely shattered the ideas that I had about yoga teachers. He was a “real” guy, grounded and approachable, and spoke in a direct way that both challenged you to find more and accepted you where you were at. I cried in front of 80 brand new friends because I finally accepted that being of service was not only okay, it was my purpose in this life. I decided that I had to share this practice with the world.
Baron said to us at the Certified Teacher Summit in Park City, UT that it wasn’t enough to have a practice that just worked, that we needed to have a practice that mattered. That is the foundation of my practice and of my teaching. We need to have a practice that extends beyond our own skin, beyond the asana, beyond our own mat. We cannot save other people. They do not need saving. But we can share the power of this practice with them. We can give others the tools and space to realize that they do not need saving. They just need to take ownership of their lives, right here, right now.
My life work is sharing the tools and lessons I have learned through my Baptiste practice and trainings. Outside of my studio classes and private clients, I work with Nashville Metro Public Schools to bring yoga to the students and faculty of our educational community through the nonprofit Small World Yoga (SWY). I also teach at the men’s jail and have taught at other outreach locations like the Rescue Mission and local breweries for SWY. But it is my work with the students and teachers of Nashville that most feeds my soul and inspires my vision of the future.
I first got connected to the public school system when a student of mine, who is an amazing teacher at a local high school in a socio-economically challenged area, asked me to lead a pre-ACT testing yoga class. That class led to the creation of a yoga club. The stories of how the yoga club impacted students inspired me to push further, to dream bigger! Kids were not just getting a good physical yoga practice. They were starting to make better personal and social decisions. The students were taking their practice off of their mats and into their lives! I knew I had to take this idea to all the schools in Nashville.
When I started dreaming bigger, the universe started opening bigger doors. I knew Small World Yoga was in full support of this dream. SWY already had some teachers in the school system. I knew the city was in full support, the local Lululemon started giving us grant money to make it happen, people were showing up in droves to fundraisers and creating contacts and connections for us in the school system. This past summer with SWY, I trained 46 teachers to teach yoga in their classrooms. Since then, we have had a steady influx of educators and administrators reaching out to bring yoga and mindfulness to their communities.
I am currently working with Small World Yoga to create yoga teacher training for students that would be a part of their school curriculum and give them a 200 hour YTT certification. The process is slow. Each hurdle we clear brings a new one to our path. AND it brings us one step closer to being able to transform our educational communities, to inspire transformation in the lives of students and teachers, and to creating transformation in the communities surrounding the schools. Personal transformation happens from the inside out; from our being to our bone marrow to our lives. Transforming our communities happens in the same way, from the inside out.
In three years, I see a successful Small World Yoga/MNPS teacher training program in several of our high schools. I see other school schools and school systems being inspired by the program and by the young teachers it is producing. Each class of graduates will not only go out and inspire transformation in their communities, they will be teaching and inspiring students in the YTT programs at other schools. The shift will begin one heart at a time, one school at a time, and one community at a time, and continue until all of our children are empowered to create a more powerful and fulfilling life, full of possibility for themselves and for their communities.