Yogi lifestyle a lifelong commitment for Aiea woman

Yoga teacher Sheryl Hashimoto is a thin thing, a wisp of a woman who floats into a class on a bright weekday morning to a room full-to-bursting with enthusiastic students. She always opens class with an inspirational reading, and this week’s quote is the final in a series of the eight yamas, which are yoga’s ethical precepts; the Ten Commandments for Hinduism, if you will.

“Aparigraha teaches you to not hold on to things. The resistance to change, and tenaciously holding on to things, causes great suffering and prevents us from growing and living life in a more vital, pleasurable way… There never was anything permanent to begin with that we could hold on to,” she presents for our digestion. 

Impermanence. Nonattachment.

We marinate on that for a few breaths before she directs us to the asana part of class – that’s the part Westerners normally think of as yoga because it’s the physical doing, the exercise, the poses. There are then 57 more minutes of asana that start small and slow, but build in difficulty and pace until the body is heated up in a nice, awakened way. 

I’m a regular. I try very hard to be mentally present during yoga, feeling what my body feels, and remembering to breathe regularly and deeply. 

“Chair pose. Big toes together, weight on the heels, and sit back.”

This becomes hard on my thighs after a few breaths. I want to tighten up. Let go, I think. Breathe and let the energy flow.

“Balancing poses now. Grab your big toe and extend your leg straight out. If you can’t, it’s OK to use your strap.”

She’s doing it perfectly, and I’m about to fall over while attempting this without the strap to extend my reach. Why are you attached to the idea of doing it just like the teacher?, I ask myself. I let go of my expectation and do what I’m able.

Impermanence. Nonattachment.

Yoga is a lifestyle, and Hashimoto uses her platform to impart pieces of that lifestyle on her students, to help them find the joy that it’s brought to her. “If it’s exercise and stretching, great. If it’s more, great,” she says, with the faith that the student will take what he or she needs out of the session. 

The people who need her will find her, she believes. I found her, and I like her lightness of being, her positive energy, her radiance. I like the messages she delivers in class. It’s like those inspiration calendars that remind you to do one specific nice thing a day. 

I’m not the only one who sees this. Her friend and fellow yogi Sarah Connelly reflects on her first impressions of Hashimoto: “What impressed me [at the start of the friendship], and continues to do so, is her calm presence and discipline in her practice… Sheryl's gifts include her ability to connect deeply through listening and witnessing without judgment. In her presence, we feel truly seen, heard, and nurtured.”

Hashimoto was once exactly the kind of person she would have wanted to reach. The Aiea native spent years of her life searching for fulfillment, yet never finding. “I was always seeking happiness from the outside: the right degree, the right job – all those external validators,” she explains. 

Hashimoto earned a Bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and worked in retail for a few years, before realizing she needed more than a love of clothing to make this a viable career choice. She went back to school to earn her Master’s of Arts in clinical psychology because she is fascinated by the science of the human mind, but after six or seven years as a behavioral therapist, she admits theory and real practice were unpleasantly incongruous for her.

Hashimoto found yoga – and herself- in 2011. “I started doing yoga as a physical outlet. It was a release – and a relief. My husband pushed me to try this because he saw my increasing unhappiness. From that first class, I knew there was no turning back,” she recalls.

Husband Wallan Hashimoto says, “I thought yoga would be a healthy way to deal with the negative emotions Sheryl was dealing with from her job as a behavioral specialist.  I remember getting her a yoga mat to give Sheryl one of the tools she needed to get started with yoga. …Sheryl came to yoga at time of her own choosing, without being prompted by some external motivation. I think that was so important that Sheryl made a conscious choice to start taking yoga classes.”

It was the right time and the right reason; those classes provided Hashimoto the connection between her mind and her body. “I was so disconnected. They were both separate to me,” she describes of a time that feels so far away now. 

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, whom Hashimoto has also shared with the class, wrote that when you’re open to flowing with Life, the Universe supports you. “Circumstances and people then become helpful. Coincidences happen,” he asserts in A New Earth. 

Hashimoto dedicated herself to a consistent practice, met more people in the yoga community, and before long, found herself nudged in the direction of a yoga immersion program. In 2013, she went to 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona for a month-long course. It was new and scary, but “it felt right,” so she followed through.

Her instinct was not wrong. This 200-hour teacher-training course in Hatha yoga was everything she was looking for, and more. “It changed my life. I found that sense of peace that I’d never felt. I was looking for it from jobs and external sources, but never found it. It was right in me the whole time,” she marvels.

She’s talking about the joy of self-love and acceptance that blossomed within her. “I was so connected with myself, because we weren’t allowed distractions like tech devices. I had 30 days to focus on me. The scary thing is, I also had to face my fears. I had pushed things down. Things came up that I had to look at and deal with,” she details. “Yoga forces you to really look at yourself and notice patterns you have. They even show up on the mat, sometimes.”

When she returned home, her husband exclaimed he’d never seen her like this before. “I was peaceful, calm, and full of love for all people. It was amazing. I could go on for hours about this course,” reflects Hashimoto. “To think, I did so much searching and it all led me back to the same place within myself.”

Wallan describes her as “a person who smiled easier and was more in touch with her inner self. Her confidence had grown and that inner strength that was always there had risen to the surface. …it seemed like a physical weight had been lifted from her.”

She was the embodiment of this Tolle quote, another one of her classroom meditations: “Truth is not something outside to be discovered, it is something inside to be realized. Love is a state of Being. Your love is not outside; it is deep within you. You can never lose it, and it cannot leave you. On a deeper level you are already complete. When you realize that, there is a joyous energy behind what you do.”

Despite this incredible new attitude and awareness, it took her a year to become a teacher. Her epiphany: “I was afraid. I wasn’t ready. I kept saying that. Then, one day, I realized I was never going to be fully ready. When you’re new, people have to give you a chance. But I had to give myself a chance, too!”

Connelly, who was already a yoga teacher, encouraged Hashimoto. “I remembered a similar fear in my own transition from student into the role of teacher. I was lucky during that transition in my own journey to have met and become mentored by a teacher and friend who nourished my potential, helping me understand that we can all be simultaneously teachers and students, and often our ‘mistakes’ are what connect us to our students more deeply.”

Connelly likens Hashimoto to the rose in W. Timothy Gallway's "The Inner Game of Tennis":

"When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it for being rootless and stemless. We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped, nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. 

We stand in wonder at the process that's taking place, and give the plant the care it needs at each stage in its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains life’s full potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet, at each moment, in each stage, it's perfectly alright, perfectly okay, just as it is."

Hashimoto watered her seed and is now that rose in bloom. She wants to teach to share what she knows, to reach others, to make a difference. 

Her husband proudly supports her metamorphosis. “Sheryl radiates positive energy and her students receive that positive energy. They in turn give off their energy, which then comes back to Sheryl, forming a continuous loop of positive energy that is a safe and nurturing place to grow as human beings,” he contemplates.

“I encourage people to let go of their expectations and just go deeper in the body,” Hashimoto maintains. “I look at my students’ faces. Sometimes I can see they’re frustrated because they can’t do the full pose. I want them to know, It’s OK! Your practice may not look like other peoples’, but this is your experience!”

Her advice to them? “Keep breathing, and let go.” That’s what she’s doing, and she’s happier for it.

More on Sheryl Hashimoto or her classes at http://sherylhashimoto.wixsite.com/yogawithsheryl. Reach her at sheryl.hashimoto@icloud.com or (808) 221-3278.

Courtesy: Sheryl Hashimoto

Courtesy: Sheryl Hashimoto