Wonderland Adventure #1: TeriAliceLeigh's Wonderland (22:31 audio)
Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
I was nine years old when I tried my first yoga pose, not much older than Alice was when she followed her white rabbit. My body was still limber enough to put my foot behind my head and stick my tongue out at my parents while pretending to be a turtle. Yoga was a game I played on the family room floor in the mid 1980s, looking to a simple black and white picture book as my teacher. By the time I hit adolescence, I outgrew the game and shelved my copies of The Children’s Garden of Yoga and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, picking up Carrie by Stephen King and Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews instead.
Fifteen years later, I fell down the yoga rabbit hole once again. My white rabbit, masquerading as my cardio-kickboxing instructor, invited me to try her yoga stretch class that was scheduled after my favorite Wednesday night cardio-kickboxing class. Twenty minutes after punching and kicking an invisible opponent, I found myself playing like a dog, soaring like an eagle, and standing atop the world’s highest mountain. I tumbled, quite literally, head over knees over shoulders, down the yoga rabbit hole. Less than halfway through that very first yoga class, I knew I couldn’t climb my way back out, nor did I want to. Yoga was far more fun than right hooks, upper-cuts, and roundhouse kicks. I wasn’t fighting anymore. I was playing!
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.
For me, chasing a white rabbit down the yoga rabbit hole was a swift fall into a lifelong passion that is now so deeply knitted into the threads of my bone marrow that it is now a part of my being.
Very quickly after my first class with my kickboxing instructor, a second white rabbit came hopping through the tunnels. I followed that second yoga instructor to my first class in an actual yoga studio to a world where upside-down is natural, left feels like right, and backward is the same as forward.
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book- shelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs.
Presently she began again. “I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards!
As Alice felt the hole might not have a bottom, I wondered if the ninety-minute class might never end. Like Alice mused about the various oddities on the shelves of the rabbit hole walls, I mused about the strange atmosphere of the yoga studio: the statue of the man with an elephant head, the unique scent of nag champa incense, and the foreign sounds of Sanskrit chanting.
But most of all, I was fascinated by the colors.
That first yoga class in a yoga studio was like the white rabbit took me down a tunnel that led to the yellow brick road of technicolor dream world. Perhaps it was the delirium from the over-hot room, but I remembered something else about being a child, I remembered a sight I’d had that I’d spent most of my grow-up years ignoring.
Around the time I was playing with tortoise pose on the living room floor with my parents, I discovered I had a rare ability to see auras. My parents had been taking a series of intuitive development self-awareness courses. When my dad described to my ten-year-old self that people have colors dancing around them as expressions of their moods and thoughts, I laughed and described his to him in great detail. For much of my teenage years, long after I’d given up yoga after being teased about my passion for it at summer camp, my dad and I played a different game. A game of “what color do you see.” Throughout my adolescence, I practiced and developed this third eye sight as just something fun I did with my dad. But once I got to college, I put that game on the same shelf in the back of my bedroom closet with a handmade ouija board.
In that Bikram yoga class in 2001, for ninety-minutes of twenty-six poses, each performed twice, I watched a laser light show of auras beam around the room like a kaleidoscope. With each pose, the light show changed. I watched bubbles and arrows escape my instructors mouth and float around the room landing in and on the students, changing their colors into clearer images. My yoga instructor kept prodding me to look at my own eyes in the mirror, but I was having too much fun chasing the light beams through the looking glass to pay her much mind.
. . .when suddenly, thump! thump! down she came upon a heap of stick sea dry leaves, and the fall was over.
She was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: she found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof.
There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.
She came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!
What makes my tumble down the yoga rabbit hole unique to most is that while I initially followed a white rabbit down the hole, my rabbit disappeared quicker than I could follow. And finding another rabbit to follow was more difficult in 2001 than it was in 2005 or 2015 or even today. The nearest yoga studio was a two-hour drive away, and I couldn’t get there more than once or twice a month. I yearned to take class every day, or even twice a day. The more I made that two-hour drive to class, the more excited and more frustrated I got.
I wanted MORE!
While I loved the classes and the laser light shows they brought to my third-eye-sight, I quickly tired of the teacher reprimanding me for looking around the room too much and not paying attention to just myself. I bored of the same monologue coming out of the teacher’s mouth every class. I wanted a teacher who could explain to me what I was seeing in the auras. I wanted someone to show me the deeper spiritual wisdom of the practice.
I took class from all the teachers in the studio, and none of them had my sight, nor did they stray far enough from the prescribed monologue to offer me the spiritual insights I craved. All of the teachers I met spoke only of the mental and physical benefits of yoga. Honestly, I didn’t entirely love my white rabbit, or the couple of his friends he introduced me to. Where, or where, would I find someone who could see what I could see AND teach me yoga?
Like Alice, and any yoga practitioner who has committed to a several-times-a-week practice, I was far beyond the point of no return. I couldn’t climb back up the rabbit hole and go back to my world as it was before. I couldn’t unsee what I saw. I couldn’t close my third-eye and put it back to sleep again. I couldn’t un-do the poses I had done, or the effect they had on my system.
I found myself without a yoga teacher, facing a hall of locked doors, and there were no other white rabbits to be found. Besides, I really wouldn’t be content chasing an occasional white rabbit through another dark tunnel. I had to find a way through one of those doors.
If I learned anything from my childhood play in The Children’s Garden of Yoga, I learned that there is a whole wonderland of yoga. My inner child yogi knew that no white rabbit yoga instructor or rabbit hole class could show me the wonderland that exists on the other side of the tiny door behind the curtain.
Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw.
How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway.
I had already frolicked in Yoga Wonderland, long ago, as a child diving into the pages of The Children’s Garden of Yoga. I knew what lies behind that tiny door. Intuitively, I knew that kind of wonder and play, and no white rabbit or yoga studio class could give me that.
Behind that tiny door was a vast limitless land called Imagination. As a nine-year-old, Imagination is a very real place. When I went into mountain pose, I didn’t just pretend, I became Morla, the giant tortoise/mountain in The Never-ending Story. When I took eagle pose, I found myself riding the Luck Dragon, Falcor. In tree pose, I gathered berries and strung bows with the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi. Of course, my favorite pose, rabbit pose brought me to the Mad-Hatter’s tea table and the Queen’s croquet match in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
But as a grown up, the tiny door was too small for me to squeeze through. I remembered what that wonderland was like, but adulting had severely atrophied my sense of wonder. I didn’t believe Imagination was a real place anymore. The every day menial to-do lists of being a grown-up infected me with the serious bug that squashed my sense of wonder like a potato bug on the sidewalk.
I thought I needed a teacher to show me how, to teach me the rules, to give me the step-by-step instruction on what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and also what NOT to do. I had surrendered my imagination and wonder to an almighty power, Authority.
I was stuck. I didn’t like the yoga teachers around me, they scolded me for watching my laser light show in the mirrors. Like military drill sergeants, they drew very clear lines between right and wrong and made me walk the tightrope, leaving absolutely no room for meandering into wonderment. At the bottom of that rabbit hole, facing the tiny door, I didn’t want to go follow another rabbit. They weren’t fun.
“Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could if I only knew how to begin.” For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things were really impossible.
There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it (“which certainly was not here before,” said Alice), and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words “DRINK ME” beautifully printed on it in large letters.
Like Alice found no use in waiting by the little door any longer, I found no use making the two-hour drive to take the same classes over and over again. I laid out my mat, and sat down next to it, afraid of what might happen if I stepped onto it without the guidance of a teacher. I went searching for a book of rules.
Being 2001, the days before podcasting and online video streaming, I bought a bunch of yoga books, CDs and DVDs. I left them on the floor next to my mat. I read them, highlighted them, watched the DVDs and listened to the CDs. But I didn’t get on my mat. Like Alice, I was hesitant to drink the potion. Would it poison me? If I did a yoga practice alone without a teacher watching me, would I hurt myself? Would I do it wrong?
I left my mat there in the middle of my living room. It beckoned to me every day. And every day, I sat down next to it, contemplating all the unpleasant things that might happen.
However, this bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.
But my mat wasn’t poison. Finally, one day I couldn’t take it anymore. I stepped on the mat, pressed play on the the old cassette tape player and let a man with a heavy Indian accent tell me what to do. With several deep breaths, I sucked down the potion. I drank my breath. And it felt rather nice, and odd, and weird, and curious, and pleasant, and not-pleasant all at the same time.
“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “I must be shutting up like a telescope!”
After that first home practice, I too had a very curious feeling. While the practice itself was rather nice, the overall feeling afterward wasn’t so nice. I felt very small. Too small.
I felt like a kid again, but not in the sense of wonderment and imagination I remembered from The Children’s Garden of Yoga. Rather, I felt like a kid who didn’t know the rules, who didn’t know what I was doing. I wore out that cassette tape, playing it every day I couldn’t get to a studio. But there were lots of parts of it that I just didn’t completely understand. The more I practiced to the CDs and DVDs and books, the more I realized I didn’t know.
After a while, finding that nothing more happened, she decided on going into the garden at once; but, alas for poor Alice! when she got to the door, she found she had forgotten the little golden key, and when she went back to the table for it, she found she could not possibly reach it: she could see it quite plainly through the glass, and she tried her best to climb up one of the legs of the table, but it was too slippery; and when she had tired herself out with trying, the poor little thing sat down and cried.
I was small enough to fit through the door. But alas, like Alice, the key (my imagination) was still out of my reach. I couldn’t play in the laser light show of chakras and auras when I was alone. So I turned away from the tiny door, and went chasing after another white rabbit, all the way to a resort in Mexico.
My next white rabbit took me to places I didn’t think I wanted to go. I went straight from stepping over puddles of sweat (ew, gross) in the carpeted halls of a hot studio to an eight-day yoga teacher training bootcamp on the beaches of Mexico. And a bootcamp it was! This white rabbit squeezed me through corners that weren’t exactly comfortable. Some of them even hurt, a lot.
Balance on my hands in crow pose, AND jump back to plank?
Are you serious? um…okay, maybe?…
Six wheel poses, you don’t need the rest in between!
Huff….Puff….I forgot HOW to breathe…Holy shit this is HARD!
Frog Pose for 30 minutes…
Owie…Ow…OW…Ouch….OUCH! (sobbing like a baby)
Um, okay. Really? I guess so…
So I taught. I put on my own white rabbit costume and led students through the tunnels, describing to them as I taught the brilliant kaleidoscopic colors and laser lights I saw along the way. I admit, I liked playing the center of the stage, commanding a class to do what I told them, when I told them, and how I told them to do it. I felt like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia conducting my own armies of animals through the galaxies of colors. I enjoyed the power (and the ego that came with it) of leading a large group of people to move synchronistically, breathe simultaneously, and flow in unison. And I studied what happened. I kept a detailed log of the results that occurred in each class. I became a yoga-scientist coordinating my own mad-tea-parties.
Whenever I could, I’d go back to my white rabbit, doing more trainings and bootcamps, practicing with him via CD and DVD every day. I got to the highest level of training and certification. Heck, I even certified many white rabbits to lead students through the same tunnels I showed them.
The longer I taught, the more the labyrinth of tunnels grew, and the more rabbits populated those tunnels. All of them wanting more and more people to follow them, and many of them wanting to train even more rabbits.
Yoga teachers multiplied, like. . . well, rabbits!
The more rabbits there were, the more tunnels were dug, the darker those tunnels felt to me. Too many white rabbits were becoming not just significant characters, but the main characters in the adventures.
But I wasn’t the main character in anyone’s rabbit hole. I was only an occasional one. Just like my white rabbits were for me, flitting through from time to time. But mostly, I just followed their mirages in the form of CD and DVD practices.
For the bulk of my yoga teaching career, I traveled across America, guest presenting. I sprinkled my fairy dust insights in a studio space for a week or two, and then ventured off to another place. Some students would continue to follow me (my mirage), virtually, via my podcasts. Others waited for me to return once or twice a year.
The rabbit holes got more crowded, and yet I still couldn’t find a rabbit who could see what I could see or teach me what I wanted to learn. I always walked away from class with a longing. A deeper craving that couldn’t be filled by another class. I kept coming back to the tiny door, but it couldn’t be unlatched by any podcast or video, other teacher, master class, specialty workshop, or intensive training.
Ultimately, all the classes and teachers said the same thing.
The answer lies within.
“Come, there’s no use in crying like that!” said Alice to her- self rather sharply. “I advise you to leave off this minute!”
She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. “But it’s no use now,” thought poor Alice, “to pretend to be two people! Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!”
I had to give myself my own advice, and (gulp) take it. I couldn’t look to someone else to be my guide. I couldn’t pretend to be a white rabbit for everyone else, and also be the one chasing white rabbits of my own. Pretending to be two people was no longer of any use to me. I had to be myself, just me, and my home practice was the only way to teach myself how. I had to be my own teacher.
Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words “EAT ME” were beautifully marked in currants. “Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice, “and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!”
The cake had been there along, my yoga mat unrolled in the middle of the living room, just patiently waiting for me to put away the CDs and DVDs. The mysterious wonders of my imagination and my inner child self did not exist in the words of a yoga teacher, or within the walls of yoga class with other students. While I could see hints of it there, just like Alice could see the garden through the tiny doorway, I couldn’t really experience the wonders of the garden until I got on my mat by myself, without the guidance of a teacher. To limit myself to class with a teacher was to stay at the bottom of the rabbit hole and never venture beyond the tiny door behind the curtain.
She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself “Which way? Which way?”, holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size. To be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way. So she set to work, and very soon finished off the cake.
So I ate. At first I took tiny little nibbles. And then larger bites. At first nothing out-of-the-way seemed to be happening. So I kept eating. When I committed to finishing the whole cake, that’s when the magic really started happening.
What I realized in my first efforts at a solo home yoga practice was that turning within myself, looking to myself to be my own teacher was like shutting myself up like a telescope to see the truth inside myself. This is what yoga is all about. A telescope is used to see (scope) far away (tele). Turning the telescope in on myself is to see far inside myself!
So now, I step alone on my mat and turn in on myself at least five times a week. My home yoga practice is my adventure through that wonderland on the other side of a tiny door into the loveliest garden I have ever seen.
What is your Fall Down the Rabbit Hole story? Feel free to share in the comments below.