Peter, Possibility, and the Art of Being Present

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth. ~Dan Rather

The dream is to be present and breathe. The teacher is Peter Crowley.

My yoga journey with Peter started with his Freedom Joy Yoga class at BBY (it was one of my first blog posts here at Grateful Yogi). I was soon hooked on dancing it out on Friday nights. I will freely admit that I am a rather intense, structured person. Turn the lights out and help me give myself permission to dance like a crazy person - and something fun (and funny) happens.

I really connected with Peter, though, when I started attending several of his weekly Forrest classes. We weren't dancing in the dark. We were doing intense poses - for long periods - without music. I was fascinated by the Forrest practice in general. I was even more fascinated by Peter's directness, and with how he held space in a room.The practice asked so much of me - it demanded my presence in my body for 90 minutes. It meant that I had to breathe - bigger and better than I had been doing for most of my life. If I was really going to surrender to the practice, I needed a teacher that was going to support me in that. And Peter, more than any other Forrest teacher I've practiced with, gives Ana Forrest a run for her money at her own style.



So what makes Peter a special teacher?

Technical Skill

Peter knows how the body works. He has an architect's attention to detail with regards to anatomy and alignment. He has an excellent sense of what small, almost imperceptible movements can do to make a very large difference in opening up a muscle or a particular pose. His diverse and varied yoga background, coupled with a deep focus on Forrest, gives him all sorts of options for moving people in the right direction. He works with you in a pose for 20 minutes if that is what it takes to find the key to making it feel better. He happily answers silly anatomy and muscle questions that I probably should remember from high school. He puts up with a fairly constant string of my "okay, show that to me again" or "please do it with me" requests. I am a learn-by-seeing then learn-by-doing type of person. I had been struggling with triangle for several weeks, and emerged from a one-on-one session with Peter this week actually excited to do the pose again. It will look different from the way my peers are doing it, but it is a pose that has now been tweaked for my body - so that it works just for me.

When you step into a class with Peter, you can tell that he has thought a great deal about the sequencing he is going to use for that particular class. He often shares glimpses throughout the class of why it's linked together. Students don't necessarily need to know the "whys," but it does make you feel involved in the yoga vignette, as they are sometimes referred to in Forrest. His classes are planned with pinnacle poses that appeal to both the intermediate and advanced practitioner. Another "something for everyone" offering that is very typical of his style.

Presence

There are many qualities that make Peter a great teacher, but far and away his most amazing attribute is his ability to stay present for his students - whether in a one-on-one session, or in a class full of 70 yogis. This presence allows him to ask the right questions and make smart, appropriate adjustments. I have never once seen Peter "mail it in" and even when the energy in the room is slightly off for the evening, Peter brings everyone back in by refocusing the class back into the practice. He can be simultaneously adjusting someone individually - and leading the class into the next part of the sequence - and everyone still feels like he is talking just to them.

Peter is not afraid to bring you back into the moment if you have gone off somewhere, or if you are housekeeping with your clothes or if you have lost your breath. Part of being present for students is gently leading them back to being present with themselves.

I have many favorite moments with Peter, but perhaps the one moment that best sums up why I love practicing with him occurred in a Forrest class in February. I had been struggling with my breath during the entire class - and I was letting myself get a tad frustrated. We were doing a breathing exercise as part of cooling down. I was having trouble getting a full breath in while holding my chest up at the same time. Peter didn't say anything. He simply sat down with his back next to my back so that I had something to lean against to breathe better. It was so...kind. It remains the most compassionate assist that I have ever received.

Possibility

I started practicing individually with Peter just as I was leaving Boston. I literally asked him to help me learn how to breathe. Sort of a tall order. I thought I would never get rid of the incredible tightness that I had when I tried to breathe "big" into my poses.

He got to work right away and things changed immediately. He wisely helped me get through a number of small milestones that gave me confidence for the bigger challenges that I was facing with my breathing. I wasn't the easiest student. It was frustrating, and emotional, and physically difficult. It took me a while to get comfortable. He stuck with me - with a compassion so heartfelt that I can't put into words. I never felt like I was working through it by myself.

Peter sees the possible. He doesn't dwell on can'ts or won'ts. He honors that you might have those thoughts, but he isn't going to let you use them. Peter isn't afraid to push you to where he thinks your edge is - and maybe a tad further than that when he knows you are up for it. Trust in another person opens up worlds of possibility. I feel like he believes in me, and so I begin to believe it for myself. Great teachers help you see the possibility that they see in you. He has done wonders for my confidence in what my body is capable of and that I will get where I want to be - when I am ready and when it is time. Possibility - like yoga - takes a lot of patience.

Teaching that you take with you always.

Being back in Boston this week and practicing with Peter again has reminded me how lucky I am that our mats have crossed. I could say that I wish I had met him earlier in my journey - but I won't. I'm glad that our journey together began with crazy dancing and ended up sitting down in a room simply breathing. That is how it was supposed to be. I don't take it for granted as a result. I wish I could beam Peter over to San Francisco once a week. But I take him to class every day in some way. Great teachers stay with you.

Thank you, Peter, for being a truly influential soul on my yoga journey. For giving me the tools to breathe into my practice, and for teaching me patience and presence. But perhaps most importantly, for loving and embracing my practice exactly where it is right now.

It is an honor to practice with you.

From the bottom of my heart - Namaste.
----------------------
Yoga P.S. - Listen to Peter and some FJY regulars talk about Freedom Joy here in a great video produced by Laura Nelson. Or even better, run to BBY and take a class with Peter. You have plenty of options on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.