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Happy Diwali (& the backstory of BTGY)

(Taken from an e-mail I sent out to my e-mail list)

Today marks a really cool day. In the Hindu calendar it is known as Diwali, otherwise known as the festival of the lights. A five day celebration where lamps are lit to call into our homes the spiritual energies representing the "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance".

This also coincides with other cultural traditions of Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, Halloween and other significant celebrations honoring this particular passage of time.

In addition to these celebrations we are celebrating the (official) birthday of Bridge the Gap Yoga, our Arizona-based yoga school. Many of you are familiar with this place. It is where the journey started for me. Nowadays Kayleigh is on-the-ground and running the show, while Grant (myself) gallivants around in Costa Rica and elsewhere.

I feel like sharing just a little story of BTGY in honor of its birthday and of this week of celebration. Read through to the end for a discount coupon towards the next Chocolate Chant in my upcoming trip to AZ ;)

It was 2016. I had just returned home after spending more than 7 months abroad, traveling through Central America, India, and then ending up in the UK where I was studying with my Hatha Yoga teacher Steve Harrison. I had no plans and all I wanted to do was take walks around my neighborhood (in Chandler) and practice yoga all day.

I got a call from a yoga studio owner who asked if I wanted to come teach a few classes. No idea how she found out I was home. I didn't really announce my return. Anyways, it was an honor to receive the invitation and so I said yes and started teaching yoga at their studio. It was a great opportunity but I felt a little "boxed in" due to the politics of teaching in someone else's space, having to play by yoga studio politics (if you've been to a yoga studio, you might know what I mean). I got reprimanded one time for burning incense in class, and another time for "teaching too slow".

I do want to say that I absolutely loved the community there and the opportunity was indeed an honor. It was a great studio with great people and it was well run by the owners, who have my respect. All my love to this studio for it really helped me develop and grow as a young leader and teacher. I guess I was already starting to envision something different for myself.

In the early part of 2017 I received the inspiration to begin teaching a weekly, donation-based class at my local park in Chandler. (Spring time in Arizona is incredible.) I wanted to be outdoors, I wanted to teach in a way that was radically authentic for me, and I wanted to make yoga accessible to people who may not have been so far into the whole yoga scene that they would purchase classes at a studio. So I started teaching at the park and put up a few ads on the community bulletin boards and Facebook, attracting crowds of 10, 15 and sometimes 20 people on a Wednesday evening.

A few old friends from my previous life (when I worked my corporate job at State Farm) began attending the classes, including a few noticeable ones who began attending all of my sessions.

I saw the interest growing at the park and when it got too warm to be outside (summer in AZ is brutal), I decided to move the yoga classes indoors at my home. I could fit 10 people pretty comfortably with their mats inside of what was to become the Bridge the Gap Yoga shala -- my front living room.

I taught all summer long on donations and into the fall and winter of that year. By 2018 I had developed a small handful of dedicated students and people who I could tell were sincerely interested in the path of yoga and not just seeking an escape from their life. They were using the practices and teachings that were being shared to properly deal with and confront their personal situations. We practiced several times throughout the week right there in my home. I felt the community grow stronger, and myself with it.

A few individuals stood out to me during this time, which I will name here as they deserve credit and appreciation for the energy that they put into the early BTGY. One individual was the young man Jaden Ramsey who attended literally every one of the sessions I was offering from the time I started at the park. I quickly saw in him the same sort of fire and drive that I had when I began really diving into Yoga. It is a special flame, this flame of devotion. Jaden had it. Just by his attendance and sincerity I knew he was seeking and wanting to go deeper, so it felt right to ask him if he wanted to join me for morning sadhana. Jaden began coming every morning at 5 AM before he went to work at Intel. He eventually moved in and was a critical piece of the puzzle for the inception of Bridge the Gap Yoga. So much love and respect to this soul brother. Jaden now resides in Costa Rica and is one of the most devoted practitioners I know.

The second person was Kayleigh Crough. Kayleigh was attending all the park sessions as well and also came to the sessions at the house when we moved classes there. Her and Jaden were both in my life from back in the State Farm days, so we had that bond going for us. In those days, I didn't really connect much with her outside of the our shared yoga experience but I could tell she was going through a lot in her personal life. I saw her working in every session that we had, really digging deep, and making progress over the weeks. Kayleigh was losing weight, standing up stronger, and inhabiting her body more; her dedication was obvious and her progress mirrored it. Her confidence levels were growing and her life was changing. It was beautiful to witness Kayleigh's transformation early on. Props to her for doing the work! (Years later, unbeknownst to anyone, Kayleigh was to take over the whole BTGY world when I went to Costa Rica during the pandemic and decided that it was time for me to move my life here.)

By the time 2019 rolled around, the little shala space in my living room was becoming a buzz of yogic activity. We were doing song circles, pujas, hours-long practices, different rituals & sadhanas, and just generally & genuinely working hard on ourselves to make a difference in our lives and the lives of our friends & families. They were the "golden years". Multiple times a week the door was open and anyone from any background could come in and practice with us. The whole operation was still donation-based and I had a "turn no one away" attitude. If they wanted to work, then I wanted to work with them.

Then, one of my early students, an older woman by the name of Kolleen (a neighbor of mine), who was coming to all the classes for more than a year, decided to donate a large sum of money to BTGY. She was moving away to California and she wanted to see BTGY grow and succeed to touch more people's lives. I took this donation as a sign from the Universe to get more professional and serious about what we were doing, so I invested it into the "business" of my "yoga studio". Before then, it was just a guy (Grant) teaching yoga out of his home, basically for free. Now I had the money to get a website, have a professionally designed logo, and create a legitimate business out of what had become my life.

This leads us to exactly three years ago (2019) during this very week (Diwali), when there was an official "grand opening" of Bridge the Gap Yoga. There'd already been dozens of people who'd come through and practiced with me at that point, but this "grand opening week" was like the official consecration of my living room space and dedication of it to this idea, this entity "Bridge the Gap Yoga". Some of you may have been around for this, or attended some of the activities that week. What memories! We had activities every day starting from morning to evening, including practices, rituals, planting in the garden, dancing, singing, and celebrating.

Thus, our first yoga school and a long-time dream of mine had its official birth, and (obviously) not without a tremendous amount of support, care and love from the community. The people who'd practiced with me regularly up to that point had all infused the space with their shakti and now the declaration was made. BTGY was a "thing"!

We were off to a wonderful start, with the launch of a few programs "Yoga Deepening" which helped us all expand and grow into our practices even more. Then we took a group to Costa Rica for the first time, in 2020, for our first ever BTGY Immersion/ Retreat. Then the world shut down.

The pandemic shifted everything. Truly, it expanded everything, I believe. It forced my hand. I'd been talking about moving to Costa Rica for years and I knew it would be my home some day. But I didn't feel like I could leave my beloved BTGY. When the world shut down, I got the nudge from the Universe that it was time. "Toss it all up and see where the chips land" was the message I got. As in, "let go completely, and trust." So I did.

A little more than two years ago -- in the middle of the pandemic -- I left Arizona and came to Costa Rica. I thought I would return "home" to AZ after a few months in Costa. However, after arriving here, I experienced a distinct and memorable "knowing" that I wouldn't be going back. That's when I texted Kayleigh with the question -- "do you want to move in and take over BTGY?"

So here we are, more than two years later, contemplating and reflecting on what a journey Bridge the Gap Yoga and all involved have been through. Wow. Can we ever predict these things? I feel so grateful to be thinking about and writing about these experiences and I hope you find something here for you as well. The journey of life is filled with unexpected twists and turns and if there is a lesson in this, it's simply "follow your heart and surround yourself with people who are doing the same." Now Kayleigh is in full-swing with operations at BTGY, teaching yoga and running other entrepreneurial ventures, while also stepping up to support with Keepers of the Earth, my latest project and dream-come-true. Jaden is jungle-living and surely deep in his sadhana. Other early BTGY'ers such as our friends Rick, Michelle, Jack and others are attending our first Yoga Teacher Training course happening here in Costa Rica (finally!).

What more can we say?

The adventure continues. Next month (November) I'll be back in Arizona for a brief visit to share some magick ("the Chocolate Chant" and "The Art of Deep Listening") with the AZ tribe ..... then its full-swing back in Costa Rica with our YTT in January and our April retreat.

Thank you all so much for your energy, attention, and contribution over the months and years of our journey together. I feel incredibly blessed to have such wonderful people in my life that I get to do this work with and I look forward to the next time I get to share sacred space with you, .

May the light of Diwali burn bright in your heart, and this time serve as a reminder that good things are always possible for anyone dedicated to this reality.

A final word of gratitude to each of the characters in the story, whether their names have been said or unsaid. Each person plays a part. For that, I am thankful.

With love and prana,

Grant Ifflander

PS - To get a feel for "Voices of the Earth", our week-long immersion happening at The Sanctuary April 2-8, 2023:

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