Face your Darkness by being Still with Paisley Close

On the first day of yoga teacher training, I had many doubts about this young, beautiful, and fit yoga teacher, Paisley Close, who seems just too young and happy to teach me about yoga, a sacred practice that always makes me feel peaceful.  Yoga, to me, is a spiritual way to calm my mind, body and soul.  I always associate wise women with grey-hair and soft spoken yogini tone.  Can this “younger” woman help me to be a great yoga practitioner? After a month of putting my doubts aside and surrendering myself to the training with Paisley, I found peace and child-like happiness.  Her powerful practice, instinctive intuition, calming mediation captured my heart. Her openness to her students with beautiful vulnerability allowed me to learn more about myself, my fellow student-trainees, and Paisley as who we are.

Paisley Close is a E-RYT 500 certified yoga teacher who trains with Iyenga and Anusra yoga schools since she was a teenager, and is a dedicated rock climber who enjoys the physical challenge and being close to the beautify of nature.   I met Paisley when I was doing E-RYT 200 yoga teacher certification class at San Diego.  She was my primary yoga instructor for the training and we spent every day together during the hot days of summer in this very “eco conscious” yoga room with no air condition at southern California.

Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve Photo by Aaron Cassebeer

Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve
Photo by Aaron Cassebeer

SMM: Paisley, can you tell us who you are?

I am a full-time yoga teacher. Originally from San Diego, I now live in the small town of Mojave, California, where my husband is a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry.”

SMM: You are an E-RYT 500 yoga teacher and I was honored to train with you.  How did you get into yoga?

My earliest memories of yoga are from the TV show Lilias Yoga & You. Lilias Folan would wear a full body leotard while practicing in a soft (lighting) room. It always looked and felt peaceful, but as a little girl I didn’t know much else about it. Then, when I was just out of college, I joined an all-women’s gym and they offered yoga. That’s when I took my first actual class.”

Joshua Tree Photo by Steve Cox

Joshua Tree
Photo by Steve Cox

Paisley’s experience with mindfulness tradition started early in her youth, however, she suffered dark days throughout her youth to early adulthood due to her mother’s illness.  It was not until her decision to surrender and facing her true inner fear of her mother’s suffering, she finally found freedom.

SMM: You mentioned your upbringing, how has yoga and other activities helped you as your life’s journey unfolded?

My mother had cancer five times, the first of those when I was 14. Being forced into adulthood by needing to take on family responsibilities, like cooking and cleaning, was a true loss of my innocence and freedom. Seeing my mom on the edge of death for such an extended time was incredibly stressful. Initially, rock climbing gave me an outlet. You need to truly be present when you climb, and I found when I focused in the moment, all my problems seemed to fade away.

What I didn’t realize, though, was I wasn’t actually facing the emotion; I was ignoring it. No amount of presence could unpack the deep well of emotion I had been stuffing.

When I began practicing yoga, I carried that same pattern with me. It wasn’t until my mom’s last three years fighting cancer that I finally turned to the deeper teachings of yoga. Simultaneously, I had a severe neck injury. Both the injury, and being with my mom as she was dying, forced me to sit still, stop practicing asana and stop rock climbing. That’s when I really began the true and deep work of yoga —a full 8 years after I began practicing.

I found that yoga gave me the space to show up, be present and process my emotions. I still use yoga as a place to nourish myself, be still and move through all the pain I felt, instead of holding it within. It takes so much courage and vulnerability to show up consistently for myself, but I’m so much more confident and happy because of it.”

Glacier Point.   Photo by Aaron Cassebeer

Glacier Point.
Photo by Aaron Cassebeer

Paisley always used outdoor activities as her outlet to heal and find freedom.  Rock climbing was the only place she could consistently connect with her Self/Source which became a big part of her life.  For her, climbing is “one of its many gifts is that it forces you to be present. In the moment, I felt empowered and my “problems” fell away.”

SMM: As we talked about before, you are also very into rock climbing.  How does that feel when you climb and how has this passion shaped your life?

Whatever fears or patterns you have, climbing will amplify them. When I’m climbing, whatever is going on in my subconscious is right up in my face. I find it a great mirror to reflect and examine my habits and patterns.

Moving my body over stone feels like dancing. That, combined with the athletic physicality are what I am most in love with about climbing. There is so much freedom to be in nature, to go where only a few do. I get to go to the most gorgeous locations!

It can be empowering, but also down-right scary to rely only on myself and my partner to summit, and then get down safely. Climbing builds incredibly strong relationships —your life is literally in your partner’s hands. It teaches trust. It builds camaraderie and community. Climbers are real people, nothing fake about them. As a group, we care about our environment, our food, our impact. It dovetails perfectly with the yoga community!”

Tuolumne River Photo by Aaron Cassebeer

Tuolumne River
Photo by Aaron Cassebeer

As a seasonal yogini working in corporate world before Surf Mei Mei came into my life, my practice for yoga was purely a physical workout 1 to 2 times a week with minimal spiritual meditation practice.  Paisley has this ability to sense what I need when I was in different emotion states, and teaches different meditation techniques accordingly.

SMM: I love all of your meditation techniques. Can you teach us a meditation method for surfers/climbers to calm ourselves down when we face extreme and dangerous situations? 

When we face danger and extreme conditions, we tend to contract and hold our breath. The limbs tend to tense in preparation for flight or fight. A practice that works in the moment, is to consciously relax. Start with your face, especially the eyes and the tongue. This encourages slow and deep breathing, which calms the mind. Allow your vision to expand; it will open up a deeper awareness that allows you to see key holds if you’re climbing or better read the wave if you’re surfing. Next, relax your limbs, especially your hands and feet, so your energy can return to the core of your body. Of course, practicing relaxation and deep breathing when you are not stressed is always a great idea. It builds the awareness and helps you get back to that calm state more easily, even under duress.”

"Dharma Chakra" hand position from @paisleyanneyoga Instagram account.  The hand position is to deepen life purpose within our hearts and our higher self.  How: 1. Right palm face sforward and is slightly higher than left.  2.Left palm faces towards your chest, pointing towards your heart.  3. Both hands form wheels, like ok symbol.  4. Tip of left ring fingers touches the tips of thumb and index fingers of right hand. Enjoy

“Dharma Chakra” hand position from @paisleyanneyoga Instagram account. The hand position is to deepen life purpose within our hearts and our higher self.
How: 1. Right palm face sforward and is slightly higher than left. 2.Left palm faces towards your chest, pointing towards your heart. 3. Both hands form wheels, like ok symbol. 4. Tip of left ring fingers touches the tips of thumb and index fingers of right hand.

SMM: Can you recommend any advice for all Surf Mei Mei out there on how can we deal with emotional and physical trauma? As you said it best, “Everyone wants to be happy. No one needs to be in pain. And we all deserve to live our dreams.”

I believe happiness is our natural state. Reaching it is more of a process of uncovering than anything else. Often, we have to sift through really difficult emotions, troubling memories and other people’s belief systems that we’ve inherited to find that inherent joy we were born with. We have to undo old, unhealthy habits—be they physical or mental—and create new ones. It’s a paradox, because we want to feel happy but we have to sit with a lot of discomfort to get there. In both the physical and mental case, it requires a great amount of presence and dedicated effort. You don’t just do it once and you’re done, you keep doing it your whole life.”

Paisley Close_Owens River Gorge

All images are originated by Paisley Close

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