During Level Two Teacher Training at CorePower Yoga in Chicago, one of the co-leads, Joel Klausler, pointed something crucial out to the group of yogis who were lotus-seated in front of him –
“What your yoga students don’t know is that you end up learning more than they do when you teach a yoga class.”
This is one of the many reasons why I worship yoga as an actual job. I’m okay to admit that, in a selfish way, I learn more and more every time I step in and out of this hot and humid sanctuary. Every class is different, with it’s own pair of eyes and a breathing-pulse that can not be duplicated. Students come in many sizes and shapes, both physically and mentally, and the temperature of energy in the room depends on factors like – the time of day, the type of music playing and if you remembered to turn airplane mode on or not on your phone…
The moments where I learn the most are when students, like Jorie Gillis, break down their walls and laugh during challenging postures like Half Moon. You see, I learned in only a few seconds of watching Jorie cramp up and laugh her way down from Half Moon that yoga for her is not just a daily/weekly routine that gives her an hour of peace of mind and a nice sweat after a long day behind the desk. No, in fact, yoga for Jorie is synonymous with “making life happen.” Her light-hearted and courageous nature during challenging poses gave off the immediate vibe that Jorie understands that life happens when she take risks.
When class ended, Jorie called me aside, thanked me for class, and told me that she was an artist and that her art work was currently on display just outside the studio walls where I had just taught class and where she had just taken class. With a white towel wrapped around my sweaty yoga uniform, I slowly scaled her work where Jorie’s paintings and photographs illuminated the wall. On the surface, I could tell Jorie has incredible talent – the way she brought color and light to life in the different mediums she used, whether that be in the form of processing film, dripping wax or distributing oil across canvas.
I was quickly taken back by one photograph in particular that documented Jorie at the many different stages of her battle with breast cancer. After witnessing her light-hearted and courageous nature in class, it was no surprise to me that the different pictures were accompanied with her smiling face and glowing aura. I came to learn that Jorie’s creativity was a expression of what she called “the dramatic shift” in her late thirties when she was diagnosed with the Big C.
Her story struck home. In just the past five years I have witnessed both my parents receive news of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer (I’m sure someone if not all who are reading this can relate some how). Her artwork took on a whole new meaning that I could relate to and spoke to the fear, courage, and moments of victory that my sister and I felt when we got the news that my mom and dad would be okay.
I mentioned earlier how I learned from Jorie’s laugh and fumble during Half Moon that “life happens” for Jorie when she takes risks. Not until after class when I viewed her art work and heard her story did I learn that, in fact, through the dramatic shifts she endured during her battle with cancer, Jorie was rewarded with what she calls her new super power: the super power of perspective.
It’s in moments like these where teaching yoga becomes a lesson, where I become the student and my student’s become the teacher.
“Now more than ever I want to shake things up and make life happen.” – Jorie Gillis
A special thanks to Jorie Gillis for allowing me to share her incredible life story with anyone who comes across this post. Jorie’s original life expressions can be found on the wall at the CorePower Yoga Bucktown Studio located at 1704 N. Milwaukee in Chicago, IL. All proceeds go directly to the non-profit she started called The Arts of Courage Project. Below are links to her non-profit website and facebook page, as well as her own personal website.