As Life Changing as the Peace Corps By Rachel Wallace, Soma Yoga Institute Graduate

An alumna of the United States Peace Corps, a life-changing program, I doubted I would promptly experience anything else so profound. The Soma Yoga Institute proved me wrong. This past July, in what was the most intense 21 days of my life, I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii to train as an Integrative Therapeutic Yoga Instructor.

To many Americans, yoga is mainly a physical practice that one does at a gym or alongside a DVD. In short, it is another workout. I, myself, was initially drawn to yoga because of the tangible stretches, but as I practiced, my senses were opened to the intangible aspects as well. I couldn’t quite articulate what I felt, but it touched me to the core. Soma Yoga Institute provided me with the history and vocabulary to better understand what I was feeling. Soma’s impressively well-rounded teacher training program painted a richer, more contextual portrait: the physical practice, known as asanas, is but one small element in the intricate and complex web of yoga. With its many limbs, yoga is not limited to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5:30-6:30pm in a studio…yoga is indeed a lifestyle. Through the weeks of study, I did not simply earn a certificate to teach others yoga. I began an enriching, new chapter of my life.

To backtrack for a moment, I first moved to Japan this April, and was hopeful that I would smoothly transition into a satisfying job–I had updated my resume, practiced my interview skills, had been studying basic Japanese, and was networking. However, I kept running into closed doors. Nearly everyone I met told me my search for a job was next to futile. “Just volunteer,” they said. Highly discouraged, I sought the advice of the other spouses, and they introduced me to the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarship program (https://aiportal.acc.af.mil/mycaa/), an initiative of the Department of Defense. MyCAA offers up to $4,000 in tuition assistance for eligible military spouses (E-1 through E-5, W-1, W-2, O-1, and O-2) over the span of two years.

The premise of the programs that MyCAA sponsors is that they lead to portable careers, ideal for the ever-moving military spouse, and that the education requirements can be met in a short amount of time, so the scholarship focuses on certifications, licensures, and associate’s degrees. The website is straightforward, the application process is easy, and MyCAA career counselors are available, by phone, to cordially and concisely respond to any queries. In the span of only one week, I searched the MyCAA site, found the Soma Yoga Institute Yoga Teacher Training, was admitted to the program, and had my scholarship money approved. In the wake of the dismal employment outlook in Japan, MyCAA and Soma gave me much needed hope.

Two months later, I flew to Hawaii to begin my training, and amidst a breathtaking backdrop of craggy lava cliffs and pounding waves, my heart was opened to the deep joy and healing power of yoga. Liz Heffernan and Molly Masaoka, the two veteran yoginis of Soma Yoga Institute, complemented one another with a beautiful balance of teaching styles in an incredibly versatile, intensive, and nurturing program. Alongside a class of inspiring peers, I learned the anatomy and alignment principles that one would expect, so as to craft safe sequences for both my students and myself. I also studied sanskrit, discussed philosophy from texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, and engaged in practice teaching every day, allowing me to internalize the practice and build up my confidence as a budding yoga teacher.

As a therapeutic program, the Soma Yoga Institute emphasized the ability to use yoga as a tool on the healing journey from imbalance to balance within our lives, be it an injured shoulder or depression. Many of us who were drawn to the program came with physical and/or emotional scars and, having already seen the effects of yoga on those wounds, wished to deepen our knowledge. From pranayama, the control of the breath, to ayurveda, the holistic sister science of yoga that explores our relationship with our environment, I learned countless techniques to tune into the subtle language of my being and listen to the needs of my body. In many ways, yoga is a journey of self-acquaintance, and only once we know ourselves, truly, can we heal.

Soma also accentuated the importance of self-empowerment and taking care of the body while practicing yoga. Having dealt with chronic knee pain for the past two years, this permission to make myself comfortable was monumental. Too often we strive to match our posture to that which we might see in a book, perceiving any other iteration of the pose as some kind of failure. Not wishing to hurt our pride, we ignore the signs of our body and push ourselves into a place of pain. As opposed to the standard American workout motto, “No Pain, No Gain,” which can lead to injury, yoga’s mantra is simply “No Pain.” This does not diminish the ability to have a sweaty, challenging practice, but the goal of yoga is to never move into a place of pain. Soma encouraged me to listen to the signs of my body and modify my poses to make them more realistic, and ultimately, more enjoyable. Similarly, I used to think that meditation was arduous, but I was allowed to tailor my experience and now I truly look forward to it. Our bodies and moods are constantly shifting, so we must remember to grant ourselves permission to be just as fluid with our practice to accommodate our needs, day to day.

As a military spouse, yoga not only offers a new means of flexible employment that is independent of a single geographical location, but the lessons it teaches are invaluable to me. Yoga is all about living in the present moment. It encourages us to slow down the endless stream of our busy minds, observe our breath, and develop an awareness of the ever-changing sensations that arise in our body. Through the practice of yoga, we come to understand the connection between our physical, emotional, and psychological states, and this recognition of unity, both within ourselves and our world, is the very essence of yoga. During the time that I practice yoga, my mind shifts from worrying about finances or missing my husband to my breath pattern and the physical sensations in my body. A soothing peace washes over me and, if only for a minute, I can live fully in the joy of the moment.

Many thanks to MyCAA for their financial support and to Liz Heffernan and Molly Masaoka at the Soma Yoga Institute for their masterful introduction to yoga. I am truly excited to be on this journey of curiosity, self-love, and flexibility (both literally and figuratively), and that I may now share the path of yoga with others.

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