31. EB Ferdig. I first met EB when she was a student on our Samarya Yoga teacher training two week retreat many years ago. I remember so many things about her from back then – she is hard to forget, with her short blonde hair, her super model presence, her great sense of humor and insight and her adventurous spirit. All of those things were apparent from the get-go and I felt immediately connected to EB. She had just come back to the states after living in Indonesia, being in the peace corps, and teaching yoga to some of the families where she lived. I remember that every time she would teach in those early days, she would punctuate her flows with this very Bikram-esque flourish, reminding me of something between a gymnast “sticking it” and a soldier saluting. It always made me smile, and in fact, it turns out, EB’s got more than a bit of both of those personality types wrapped up into the stunningly beautiful total package that she is. EB is powerful, physically strong, full of energy and resiliency like a gymnast, and she is just as powerful, intellectually focused, strategic and able to determine what needs to get done, and then enlist the people around her to make sure it does get done, but in the most firm and encouraging way, like a really good captain.
I remember EB also being the first of what would turn out to be many students over the years, who came to me on YTT, concerned that she was talking too much, answering too many questions, maybe not giving others the time to participate. This was clearly something that had been reflected to her at some point in her life, and she was in that place of being sensitive to it, while really wanting to participate. This was way before people were using the “move up, move back” paradigm now so common in social justice conversations, but EB was already deeply attuned to the delicate balance of participation and our individual roles in inviting diverse voices into the conversation. I remember telling EB then, and now have said the same thing to so many people, that her awareness of the need for everyone to be heard already showed her desire and capacity to not dominate a conversation and that in my mind she always gave the right amount of time and encouragement to allow all voices to be heard. And at the same time, with that in mind, EB has a lot of important things to say – she is a visionary and a leader, and for me, as the person leading the retreat, having EB readily step up when so often there would be no response to a particular question, or when I would ask for a volunteer, having EB ready to jump in was actually a huge gift and relief. EB knows her power, and we all benefit from her exercising it, specifically in the way that she does – with humility, discernment, and true dedicated desire to include as many people as she possibly can – whatever the context.
EB continued to study with me, and in fact, became the first person I supervised in IMT from afar, carrying out many of our supervisory sessions over email between Seattle, Portland and Mexico. EB is a tech wiz and is always ahead of the curve, or at least the very long curve that I move on, and has always inspired and helped me into the current model of information sharing. I know it was those early days of working with EB over email and skype that helped me to get used to using these new channels and allowed me to connect further than I might have.
EB is way ahead of the curve, way ahead of me, in so many ways. When she completed her certification in IMT, she, along with a small group of fellow IMT practitioners, started a therapy collective in Portland, working seamlessly together to support each other and to get their work out into the world. When the opportunity to take over a yoga studio in Portland came up, EB, along with her collective (all equally beloved students and friends of mine) jumped on the chance, and after mulling over several ideas for names, asked permission to call it “Unfold Yoga Studio – a samarya studio.” I loved so many things about that process including EB’s strength and advocacy – she wanted it to be called something in English so that it didn’t alienate any potential students who might be uncomfortable with a Sanskrit name, and she wanted to make sure it was absolutely “unconditionally welcoming.” But I also was floored by her humility and deference – she wanted to use the Samarya name and branding because she believed what we had already created mattered, and that she (they) could reach even more people by tapping into the larger, and already established Samarya community, that indeed, we are all in this together, and using our recognized name would only increase our power – as agents of love, inclusion, advocacy and acceptance – in numbers. She also did something that I may have never done on my own. While I only hired teachers who were trained by me, EB and her group had a different idea. They were the ones who really saw Samarya as a movement, a way of being in the world, and not just a way to teach yoga. To that end, they invited not only other yoga teachers, but other teachers of varied subjects – meditation, qi gong -to teach “in the Samarya way,” and it’s that captain like task master aspect of EB that can allow something to be both so expansive while at the same time maintaining a powerful internal structure and integrity. As I have heard EB say so many times over the years, “This is a team. Anybody can be on it, but you better play for the whole team. If not, you will be asked to leave.” Or something along those lines. When i grow up, I want to be EB Ferdig.
Our friendship continued to blossom over the years, and in fact, one year, when I was staying at EB’s house during an IMT workshop in Portland, EB overheard her daughter Salaam “bragging” about me – apparently the Samarya Yoga Deck was enough to make me like a famous person in Salaam’s then 6 r 7 year old (?) eyes. She said, “Yeah, she is one of my mom’s best adult friends.” We still laugh at that and I often refer to EB as one of my “best adult friends.”
In the years since, EB has visited me in Mexico, and more-over has traveled with me to India. I tell you, there is no better way to get to know a person, and particularly how you gel with them, than by traveling with them. Of the many things I learned from EB on that trip, was consideration (and rejection) of the oft-repeated phrase, “This is like play money” when referring to another country’s currency. She reminded all of us that in fact, this is real money, for real people, with real lives. It’s too easy to diminish another culture by pretending that everything is a show, an act, a play, for us. By the end of our India trip, i remember giving EB a card that said, “I would travel anywhere with you, anytime.” Because for me, here are some of the things you find out about a person when you travel with them: how easy they are when things change, how needy they are, how scrappy they are in difficult situations, how generous they are, how they treat other people, how they treat service workers, how adaptable they are, how they deal under pressure, how easily they can let shit go. And for me, EB was the poster child for the best of all of that. I know we have more travel together in our future.
EB is also the coolest mom ever. Her kids adore her and she will do anything for them, but in a very matter of fact way. She creates real friendships with them and has so much respect for them, and they for her. She exposes them to all kinds of opportunities, from international travel, to Justin Timberlake (daaaaaaaaaaaamp girl!) to MC yogi,to road trips and carpool Karaoke, to the entire McMinamins dynasty – my girl loves a good IPA as much as I do. And here’s probably at least one reason why her kids (and everyone else) love her so much too: she never stops surprising you with her different sides. One day, years after our friendship had begun, i was at her house and I saw her kids sitting at their table with a tutor practicing a foreign language. I assumed, because they are little blondies from Portland, that is was some Scandinavian language or something. But no, it was Mandarin, and all of a sudden here comes EB busting out speaking Mandarin too. “Oh, you didn’t know I spoke Chinese?” No, but then again, I didn’t know for a couple of years that you used to be a breakdancer, yes, that’s right a breakdancer, even with a breakdancer name, “Whiplash!” We used to get to see EB throw down on the floor, rocking the caterpillar in the middle of our epic YTT dance parties. Now she says she can’t do it anymore because it hurts her body, but if we are really really lucky, and the stars have aligned just so……..who knows?
EB has been a huge influence on my life in so many ways – the most obvious one is probably her stewardship of unfold, Samarya Yoga and IMT. But there is one that is far less obvious, in fact, probably only obvious to me, but so deeply meaningful, I almost cry thinking about it sometimes. EB is one of my best adult friends. She is a colleague and peer. She is incredibly brilliant and strong and inspired and enterprising. She has taught side by side with me for years and is every bit as capable and creative as anyone I have ever worked with. And yet, EB continues to call me her teacher, without any feeling that it somehow diminishes her or puts her on a different level than me. I believe this is because EB already knows her own worth, her own independence and agency, and does not fear diminishing that by calling me her teacher. I think it is also a deliberate and generous gift that EB chooses to continue to offer me – her friend and colleague, her peer, knowing that it is something important and meaningful to me. It is my professional identity and something I have built my whole life around and worked really hard to create, and EB chooses again and again, to give me the gift of that title of respect, to really see me and acknowledge my work, and our relationship in that work. It is a gift that, while she may not “need” it in the same way I do, I equally give her.
That one choice, that one consistent gift, sums up much of what I adore about EB. That act, to me, is a perfect and powerful demonstration of who EB is in this world – deeply, deeply kind and caring, thoughtful and discerning, immensely powerful, and powerfully humble. I can’t even count the times I have leaned on those qualities from EB in times when I myself have felt down or lost or insecure. As I approach my 50th birthday – just six days to go (and 19 more people!) – and I think about how I have become who I am now, and what else I want to become in the next 50 years, I have to think of EB as one of my greatest influences and role models. You go, Whiplash. Rock on with your bad self, and I’ll be right there beside you.