The Loveliest Garden
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 the magic 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 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.
It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not’
Alice’s drink didn’t have a list of ingredients or nutritional information. She didn’t know what side effects she might experience. Just as Alice is hesitant to drink the potion, I suspect you are also rather hesitant about practicing alone. I promise you won’t shrink to the size of a mouse, nor will you “get burnt and eaten up by wild beasts or other unpleasant things.” Practicing alone is not poison, but rather, it is an enlightening elixir. It is a process of wonder and curiosity.
I invite you to join me in this grand and mysterious garden with your own taste buds as your tour guide. Drink the potion and eat the cakes. Swallow the ones that taste good, and spit out the ones that don’t. See what unexpected things happen.
As with any program, you get out of it what you put into it. In order to fully experience the wonders of Yoga Wonderland, you need to commit to yourself and your practice. I hope that you keep it small and simple, especially in the beginning. Can you give yourself just five minutes a day? Just five minutes a day and you will access some of the most powerful wisdoms that live inside yourself. If you commit to five minutes, you’ll find yourself craving and wanting more.
Commit to 5-minutes a day, 5 poses a day, 5 breaths a pose, for 5 days a week.
What You Will Learn
Access Your Imagination
“Imagination is EVERYTHING. It is the preview to life’s coming attractions.” ~Albert Einstein
Should you choose to drink the potion and commit to this Yoga Wonderland Program you will unlock the tiny door to the mysterious wonders of your inner-child self, and tap into your most abundant and infinite resource, YOUR IMAGINATION. The more you practice, the more out-of-the-way-unexpected things will happen. You will remember the joy and play of a child exploring new lands.
And one day, I hope, your Yoga Wonderland, as mine did for me, will start to spill itself like colored sand and glitter into the every day workings of your normal life. The greater life lessons you explore on your mat start to highlight themselves with rainbow twinkling in your day-to-day occurrences. When that happens, everyday life can no longer be dull and boring. Rather, it becomes a kaleidoscope of adventures in the people you meet, the places you go, the things you do, and the feelings you feel.
By the end of the program, I hope your imagination opens up wide like mine did. Perhaps you will even allow yourself to become a unique character who contributes to the curious world of Yoga Wonderland.
Be Your Own Teacher
“The answers lie within ourselves. If we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside.” ~Tenzin Palmo
Without a White Rabbit as a tour guide, every day in Yoga Wonderland is a challenge of your ego to look inside yourself rather than look to an authority. When you step onto your mat without the guidance of a teacher, you force yourself to be your own teacher.
The characters in Alice’s Wonderland are the teachers that live inside yourself. They never offer Alice direct answers to her questions. Rather, more often than not, they answer her questions with more questions, always turning the discovery process back to her.
If you let the characters of Alice’s Wonderland serve as your mentors, or better yet, as your own voice talking to you, they challenge you to ask yourself more questions. They will inspire you to be curious, to open your mind to wonder, and to dig deep inside yourself to find your own answers.
Listen to Your Body
“When you listen to your body when it whispers, You will never have to hear it scream.” ~Unknown
When a teacher is telling you what to do, you ears are too full of your teacher’s words to hear the quiet whispers of your own body. But, when you practice alone, the soft wise voice of your body gets loud. When you step onto your mat without a teacher, you are forced to pay attention to the language of your body as it tells you what to do, how to do it, and where to go next.
While Yoga Wonderland does offer you a simple sequence of (about) five poses per module, it does not offer any instruction on alignment or modifications. This lack of instruction is intentional because yoga poses are not stock one-size-fits-all for every body. Everyone has certain poses that just don’t work in their bodies. And, everyone has poses that work really well in their bodies.
In addition, every day the poses manifest differently than the day before. Some days your body may feel strong and solid, while other days it is more flexible. Some days you may feel balanced, while other days you feel creaky and tight. Sometimes you feel big, and other times you feel small. Yoga Wonderland challenges you to pay attention to these shifts and changes and to respond accordingly. No one can tell you what is best for your body because you are the only one who can feel it.
Ultimately, in our every day lives, it is easy to go about doing and experiencing things without ever really paying attention to how your actions really feel in your body. Yoga Wonderland is your time every day to move, pause, and listen to what your body is saying with each action (or inaction). Yoga Wonderland teaches you how to be body aware.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle
When you commit to doing something everyday, and make it a repetitive habit in your life, it becomes a practice. That practice becomes progress. Progress creates change. When we do something simple, in repetition, over and over, it becomes our reality.
One of the greatest magical side effects of this program is the activation of discipline in your system. Discipline of doing small things many times as part of your every day routine effects the most drastic and powerful changes (for the better) in your world. You will find that once you commit to this program and it becomes a part of your natural life habits, discipline toward other things in your life will evolve as well.
Why You Should Practice Alone
Whether you are a seasoned yoga practitioner, a trained and certified yoga teacher, or relatively new to this mystifying and magical practice, you somehow followed a white rabbit down a yoga rabbit hole and found yourself in a world where upside-down is natural, inside out is outside in, left feels like right, and backwards is the same as forwards. In taking classes at studios, studying with teachers, or going through workshops and trainings, you have explored a labyrinth that exists down the yoga rabbit hole.
You Want MORE
There comes a time in every yogi’s practice, given you have been practicing somewhat consistently (if even just a couple times a month) when you will hit a plateau. Yoga studios and classes offer a slew of workshops, trainings, and teacher trainings to “take your practice to the next level.” You can spend thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands) on further training, and you will likely still hit another plateau.
But, there is one level of the practice that no workshop, seminar, training, or certification program can offer. That level comes with the commitment to practice alone on your mat without the guidance of a teacher. And if you commit fully to that level of practice, a self-guided personal practice, you may never have to experience a significant plateau in your practice again. (I certainly haven’t).
If you pay attention, every yoga teacher, class, workshop or training will tell you that ultimately the answers you seek lie within yourself. Yoga is a practice in turning within to find those answers. But, if you are listening to a teacher tell you how, that teacher is holding you back from the ultimate expression of your own answers and truth, because their voice is not, and cannot ever be your own still small voice within. Once you access that still small voice within, and really listen to it, its wisdom is limitless. The still small voice inside you has a lot to say, so much that you will never run out of new things to learn and experience on your mat again.
I suggest you let the white rabbit hop along without you. Step onto the looking glass of your yoga mat. Shut yourself up like a telescope and turn in on yourself. Unlock the tiny door behind the curtain to the most glorious YOGA WONDERLAND that can only be found by practicing alone, without a teacher.
Save Time & Money
Studying yoga with teachers is expensive, both in your money and your time. Yoga is a very expensive hobby. But it doesn’t have to be.
According to a recent study examining yoga trends and habits of over 2,000 Americans was conducted by OnePoll and Eventbrite, dedicated yoga practitioners will spend on average $1044 a year on yoga classes. Add to that expense the additional costs of apparel, equipment, workshops, and trainings, the average committed yogi will spend upwards of $34,000 in yoga in a lifetime.
At the same time, the average yoga student claims that taking a regular one-hour class can eat up an average of 2-3 hours a day. By the time they get dressed and packed for class, drive to class, take class, drive home, and get showered and changed, yoga takes up a good chunk of your day. If you practice 4-5 times a week, your time commitment to yoga can be anywhere from 8 to 15 hours a week. This does not count the additional time spent for longer workshops and intensive trainings.
In 2018, when I retired from teaching yoga, I conducted a personal statistical analysis of my practice cost in time and money. As a small business owner, I keep track of my yoga expenditures as business write-offs each year. I also keep track of my time spent on the mat in my yogi’s log journal. From my first tumble down the yoga rabbit hole to date, I have spent over $75,000 and 40,000 hours, resulting in a per year average of $4400 and 2,350 hours.
After retiring from teaching, I committed 100% to my Yoga Wonderland home practice. I now spend on average 20-30 minutes on my mat, 5 days a week, totaling 2.5 hours a week. Because my practice is at home, there is no time spent commuting, arriving early to get my spot, or staying late to socialize. My total financial investment is no $0.
What’s most intriguing to me, however, is not the statistics of numbers of hours or cost in dollars, but rather the notes in my yogi’s journals. When I flip through my journals since November 2018, the insights, excitements, ahas, and expressions of joy have multiplied exponentially! While I am practicing less, and spending nothing, my experience of the practice is the best it has ever been!
I taught yoga full-time for nearly fifteen years. In that time, I took thousands of classes from hundreds of teachers nationwide. I trained and certified hundreds of teachers myself. What I have come to understand in my experience is that without a doubt, the absolute best teachers are the ones who are committed to a self-guided home practice. Within just 3-5 minutes of any class I take, I can tell by the energy and aura of the teacher whether they are committed to their own self-guided home practice.
The number one problem yoga teachers face is burn-out. Almost every teacher, at some time in their career, sacrifices their own practice for their teaching. When they do, their teaching tanks. As yoga teachers, our time is limited because (like most teachers) you are running all over town to teach too many classes a week for not enough income and managing a home and family, and possibly even a day job, you simply don’t have the leftover 2-3 hours a day to get on your mat in a class.
When burnout happens, you lose your love and passion for the practice, and you have nothing left to share with your students. Your teaching becomes mundane. Your voice becomes a monotonous parrot of quotes and overdone cues you have heard, used, and recycled in hundreds of classes.
As a yoga teacher, you absolutely MUST practice what you teach in order to effectively serve your community. It’s simple. If you aren’t practicing, your teaching loses its power. The ONLY way to combat teacher burnout is to practice. Take care of yourself and your own needs before giving to your students or you will suffer depletion. Self-guided home practice makes battling teacher burnout even easier because you are not strapped by the conditions of time and expense.
If you commit to a home practice, your skill and impact as a teacher will improve exponentially. Most yoga teachers do not have a home practice. Therefore, if you commit to a home practice, you will significantly set yourself apart from the vast sea of multiplying White Rabbits in the yoga rabbit hole tunnels. Because you will be teaching the insights that you discovered inside yourself on your own, your classes will present a fresh perspective, a completely authentic voice, unique cueing based on what you have felt in your own tissues, and creative approaches that are not available in the recycled classes taught by everyone who is teaching what everyone else teaches. Your class sizes will increase, and your students will rave about your wisdom and insight more than you ever knew possible.
Alice in Wonderland
Perhaps you are drawn to this program for no other reason than because you love Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The beloved children’s story is timeless, and its wisdoms are abundant and true. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of yoga, perhaps you just love reading interpretations of this sacred spiritual text to discover the deeper meanings hidden inside the nonsensical wonderland. Please, come play with me in Yoga Wonderland and let the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and the Moral Duchess be your new insightful friends.Your Yoga Wonderland Mentor
Somewhere along my own ventures in Yoga Wonderland, I allowed my imagination to open up wide like a telescope so I could become one of the creatures. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Teri Alice Leigh, your not-white-rabbit. I believe so much in Yoga Wonderland and all the adventures that happen there that in November of 2018 I retired from teaching public classes and workshops. I hung up my white rabbit waistcoat and threw away my timepiece, shutting the door back into the rabbit hole. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an owl in Yoga Wonderland, and I got myself a crooked purple mortar board and a strawberry flavored tootsie pop.
I invite you to join me in Yoga Wonderland where we can play together, in our imaginations, and make magical-unexpected things come true any time we want. Cuz here in wonderland, why lick the tootsie pop when we can chew!
If you need, I’ll loan my my polka dotted pointing stick, and you can use it as a magic wand, or a wizard staff, or a walking stick, or whatever you want it to be. My hope for you is that eventually you’ll become your own magical creature and play amongst us all in your own way too.
As the tootsie-pop owl, your not-white-rabbit, I refuse to be a main character in your yoga story. Because, that’s not what wonderland is about!
Wonderland is about looking INSIDE YOURSELF. YOU are the main character in your story.
White Rabbits Hop Away
In yoga and in life, the best teachers are those like Alice’s White Rabbit. Not because they show you all the twists and turns of the rabbit hole tunnels, but because they hop away. They abandon you. They leave you to find your way through the tiny door, by yourself. The best teachers expect that we learned what they had to teach and leave us to find our own way with our acquired skills. We call that graduation.
Heck, I was never all that great at getting people to follow me through the rabbit hole for long anyway. The few times I did try to establish myself as a consistent and regular teacher, my residency didn’t last more than 6-9 months. At some point, with all my students, I wanted them to GRADUATE.
Teacher vs Mentor
I changed my title from teacher (authority) to mentor (peer). My job as mentor is to encourage you to be your own teacher, to listen to your own insights, and discover things on your own, in your body, and in your heart that no one else can show you. I am vigilant that I will NOT tell you what to do or when to do it. I’ll only share with you little tea-cup tidbits I have found in my wonderland, all the while, encouraging you to break any and all rules you’ve ever had to follow.
Mentorship is a simple game of questions, and curiosity, and more questions, and more curiosity. And encouraging you to bite the tootsie pop and chew the gooey center. My goal as your mentor is to help spark more questions, to trigger more curiosity. Along the way, I’ll show you some of the things I figured out without the help of a teacher or instructor. But moreso, I’m hoping YOU will show ME and everyone else in the program, the wonder-filled things that YOU discover without a teacher telling you how. And hopefully, somewhere amidst all those questions and explorations and adventures and discoveries, you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of your most infinite resource, your IMAGINATION!
How To Get the Most From Yoga Wonderland
. . . 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 flavor of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.
Yoga Wonderland is a Choose Your Own Adventure program. There are no rules here, except the ones you create for yourself. Whether you you already have a solid home yoga practice or you are wanting to start one, there are many paths you can take through Yoga Wonderland.
The best way to approach this program is with that same sense of wonder and adventure as Alice. Feel free to add a dash of joy and a pinch of laughter. In yoga, much of the magic that occurs lies in the unexpected. I invite you to allow your yoga practice to help you, like Alice, to expect “nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen.”