Exploring Softness Within My Strength

Name: Kristi Johnson
Location: London, England
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Teacher

I remember my first yoga teacher training like it was yesterday. I didn’t feel like I was flexible enough to be a yoga teacher. I was struggling my way through the morning intensives, surrounded by ex-dancers, flinging themselves in and out of everything without a decent warm-up. My body chugged and screeched alongside them as I muscled my way through. Signing up for the training felt like a decision I had made against my own best judgment.

At some stage during the training I was called to the centre of the group and asked to demonstrate Chataranga. I went in and held it, strongly. As everyone ooohh-ed and aahhh-ed I continued to hold it. My muscles were pumped and my mind determined to keep the shape for as long as it took, to demonstrate “perfection.”

It was in this moment that I acknowledged my “strength,” and identified with it as my driving force.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Within my first year of teaching, I was partaking in a class and got badly injured. The teacher stood on my back leg in a lunge, pressing down hard and fast, which resulted in a herniated disc in my low back. I was in absolute agony. I couldn’t even stand up straight in the beginning. Every footstep sent nerve pain down my entire left leg for almost a year.

Being so firmly routed in my quest to be strong, and hold everything together, I pushed myself through it. I was teaching on average 22 yoga classes per week, practicing intensely every day, and indulged in spinning classes, boxing classes, and boot camp classes several times a week as well.

My practice sucked. I would grit my teeth through Wheel Pose after Wheel Pose, as my teacher barked at me to use my legs more, tuck my tailbone more, to trust him, it was the only way to heal. I was feeling pretty burnt out, in my practice, in my teaching, and in my life. I literally felt like I was on a treadmill, running hard and fast, but going nowhere. I knew that something had to change, and I truly questioned whether to go on and hone my skills as a teacher, or walk away from teaching all together.

Many of my friends and fellow teachers had studied with Ana Forrest and raved about her. I wasn’t convinced that holding a pose for a long time, being still, and breathing into my genitals was really my thing. Regardless, I took their advice and signed up for her Advanced Teacher Training in Hong Kong, where I was living and teaching at the time.

On day one of the Advanced Teaching Training, I introduced myself to the circle of trainees in such a bubbly, confident, and convincing manner; even I was fooled. As soon as I began to share my injuries with the group I fell apart, unexpectedly, into a puddle of tears, while mildly hyperventilating. Everything that I had bottled up, even my fear of crying in public, came to a head all at once. I went from not having cried for a very long time, to a blubbering mess for nine days straight.

I can’t explain exactly what happened, but something had shifted, in a big way.

My journey from then on became an exploration of softening—a huge learning curve for all things in my life. Forrest Yoga was a pillar of support in this sense, and as I have discovered, feeling supported plays a crucial role in my ability to soften and be vulnerable. The intents woven into the Forrest teachings like “Work Struggle Free,” and “Feed Your Spirit” became solid building blocks in my quest to embrace and honor softness and vulnerability.

I had always seen softness and vulnerability as a great weakness.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Forrest Yoga being strong, grounding and intense, fed the intensity junkie in me, but required deep feeling breath, and an element of softness to hold the poses for any length of time. Without these ingredients, I found, it is just a great big struggle.

Simple exercises like sitting on the side of my bed each morning as soon as I had woken up, with closed eyes, and a deep breath, were golden. To feel into what my spirit needed that day, reconnected me with my intuition, and knitted my spirit back together—a spirit that felt like it had been left somewhat in tatters.

Moving on, my personal mission to embrace softness and vulnerability, has shone a great big light on the immense power that comes from weaving in these elements. I feel super strong, but in a different way.

I can hold a solid Chataranga, but that strength no longer fully defines who I am.

I feel my power, and know that it lives in my spirit, my intuition, my heart, and in my vulnerabilities as much as it does in my legs, arms, or abs.

Finding softness within my strength is still a daily practice. I move much more slowly, in all areas of my life. I teach much less. I don’t numb myself out with ridiculous amounts of exercise, and I am no longer getting burnt out from my teaching. My teaching feeds me greatly, and I am hugely grateful that I did not walk away from it.

The place where my softness and strength meet is where I am committed to sharing from right now. I feel stronger, more grounded, and more vibrant than I ever have and I’m committed to empowering others in the same way.

Kristi Johnson Bio picKristi first discovered yoga in her native country of New Zealand. She traveled to Hong Kong and China in 2003 where she explored more deeply the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of yoga. Kristi taught at PURE Yoga in Hong Kong, gathering a rich amount of experience teaching group classes, privates, and workshops, while furthering her training with teachers from all over the world. She experienced her first Forrest Yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest in 2010 and from then has never looked back. Kristi currently lives and teaches in yoga studios in London and Europe, and assists Ana Forrest in trainings and workshops around the world. You can also find Kristi’s Forrest Yoga classes online at Movement For Modern Life. Connect with Kristi here:

Website: www.kristimaeyoga.com
Blog: www.kristimaejohnson.tumblr.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Kristi-Mae-Yoga/100011147582087
Instagram: www.instagram.com/kristimaeyoga/

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The Journey Back From Drug Abuse

Name: Anonymous
Location: Waitakere, New Zealand
Occupation: Graphic Designer

A close friend, who was training to become a teacher, first introduced me to yoga when I was about 20 years old.

I had grown up learning ballet, so my body responded quite quickly to the stretches and I soon became a guinea pig for my friend’s teaching practice. What first struck me was the reconnection to my body, and in particular, my legs.

As a typically self-conscious teenager, I realized that I had disconnected so entirely from my body (sadly out of sheer disgust), that I had not really looked at, touched, or engaged with my legs for about 10 years. It was quite a revelation to reacquaint myself with the lower half of my body and I’ll never forget how it felt when I realized the neglect that I had subjected on myself.

I had been through seven years of drug abuse, the last three of which were pretty significant and were getting gradually more and more dangerous in regard to me finding an escape route. Without question, yoga was that escape.

The breath refocused my desires and intentions. Motion and stretching released toxins and lifted my energy. Gradual progression taught me the metaphor of steady success. Everything together gave me the clarity I needed to know there was more out there for me, and helped me to see how attainable and achievable a better life could be.

After this initial introduction to yoga, I began practicing Hatha and Iyengar Yoga, and later Ashtanga Yoga at the Yoga Academy in Auckland City. And just this year I was fortunate to have found a wonderful teacher who has brought in subtle spiritual elements that have extended my practice even further to a deeper and even more fulfilling place; drawing prana from the earth to engage longer and deeper poses, opening and closing the practices with meditation and breathing exercises. It is truly beautiful and I am grateful every day for having found the yogic path and for the methods and guidance that continue to help me along my path today.

I am a 35-year old Mum of four incredible children living in Waitakere, New Zealand. I am married to a beautiful, awesome man and we have a cool dog. I am an artist and work part-time as a graphic designer, but love getting involved in voluntary community work wherever I can. Yoga is an important part of my life and although there are periods of time where I fall out of my practice, whenever I return it fills my heart with immense joy. I sincerely believe that if the world practiced this vital art, we would be a very peaceful, happy (stress-free!) and compassionate world indeed.

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