May 13, 2011

My Yoga Teacher Training Saga.

Why I Did It

To this day, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up for yoga teacher training (I tend to be impulsive, perhaps a product of my newly-discovered vata nature?). A seed had been planted many years ago, when my very first teacher suggested I consider this path. Perhaps I was flattered, believing that someone saw something in me that I did not, something that was worth pursuing.

The teacher training email arrived at a turning point in my life: recently divorced, with changed and increased responsibilities that allowed me very little “me” time. I could feel myself slipping away, being replaced by a spiritless robot whose routine was kids-work-cook-shop-chauffeur-clean-sleep. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum. I won’t even mention the cat boxes, bane of my existence (I guess I just did).

The email appealed to me in many ways: the teachers offering the training had sterling reputations; training could take place on the weekends; and it was billed as a way to deepen one’s own practice, even if that person didn’t intend to teach.

As someone with a very limited budget, my yoga practice has always been hit or miss, depending upon classes that were free or cheap. I was insecure about my practice; I felt I was never fully grounded in the basics or trained properly. I knew, from years of improper clarinet playing, how tough unlearning bad habits could be. I believed this could be my chance to start from the ground up (so to speak), a way to learn the postures, breathing and intent correctly.

But most importantly, I yearned to find my authentic soul again, the one that got buried in the clutter of uncoupling, solo parenting three children (even if half-time), rejoining the scary single world, working full- and part-time and embarking upon newly-minted homeownership (replete with overflowing cat boxes).

I literally and figuratively needed to escape my shit.  I longed to deepen, desperately.

The Universe Is Calling

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of the Universe and in manifesting one’s desires. I wanted to do the training. My only sticking point: How to pay.

I had $1,000 tucked away, a mere pittance to some, but it represented my entire nest egg. I was willing to deplete that source. But I had no idea how to cobble together the difference. And was I being completely foolhardy in spending money I didn’t really have when I could barely afford to cover my bills?

My boss, of all people, convinced me to go for it. “Break it down,” he said. “It’s $10 an hour. You pay more than that for one class. And you’ll come out with your teaching certificate.”

So I swallowed hard and sent in the paperwork. I would worry about how to pay the difference later  I would trust the Universe.

This is where the story gets interesting.

The day after I fully committed to the training, my director visited my office. He began by apologizing for the lack of raises this fiscal year. But then, he added, brightening, I would be received a “cost savings” stipend instead.  And he handed me a check that covered the tuition difference almost exactly (short $30).

After he left, I closed my office door and cried.

It was a sign. The Universe didn’t simply knock; it whacked me on the head with a two-by-four.

And So It Begins

I approached Day 1 with equal parts enthusiasm, intense nervousness, and total insecurity. The radiance, spirituality — and confidence level — in the room felt overwhelming. I am not being disingenuous when I say this: I truly did wonder what I was doing in the midst of such an accomplished group.

The Group: Day 1. Photo: Lisa Pumper

The good:

I immediately loved learning and growing, even though my overloaded brain didn’t store everything I learned.  The instructors were amazing; I learned something fresh and exciting from every single one of them.  The variety of teachers and styles engaged me, expanded my boundaries, often drew me to my edge. My classmates were fun, encouraging, and (sometimes unintentionally) inspiring.

The bad:

Teaching really frightened me.  I could not push aside my ego when I stepped to the front of the class. Each time I became ever more acutely aware of how little I knew. As time passed, my awareness of my shortcomings heightened rather than receded. How could I feel comfortable and confident explaining anatomy, modifications, cueing, making adjustments after only 200 hours?

The ugly:

As weeks, then months passed, the responsibility of imparting knowledge to others continued to feel overwhelming and daunting. I finally suffered an embarrassing emotional meltdown in a student teaching class, dissolving into tears, helplessly unable to rise from my mat to stand in the front of the room. I recovered enough to force myself onward a short while later, knowing I would never forgive myself otherwise.

But that night, I seriously thought about quitting.

The Mid-Point Rant

Uncertain, stressed and confused, I wrote this in my blog:

I began yoga teacher training with the notion of deepening my own practice, not with a vision of teaching. It was probably foolishness on my part, because of course this training focuses on learning and deepening…to inspire others…to teach others. Duh.

True confession: I dislike teaching.

I know that when I teach, I am learning in a different way, clarifying my hazy thoughts and concepts and putting words to actions.

Okay, completely honest confession: I really hate it. The teaching part, that is.

Talking through my thoughts is the polar opposite from what comes naturally to me: I prefer to ponder silently, to deliberate mentally, to put theoretical pen to paper. When I write down my hazy thoughts and concepts, they clarify, solidify and make sense to me. I usually explain myself rather well in writing.

But when I have to verbalize to my thoughts, my mind freezes, my thoughts congeal, my words stumble.

Obviously, then, public speaking in any forum is something I’ve always pushed myself through. Whenever I have to do it, I’m able to manage as long as I’m mentally prepared and I don’t veer too far off script.

Of course, being a good teacher, especially in yoga, is all about feeling the pulse of the class and veering off script.

What I’m discovering is that yoga remains an intensely personal experience for me, one that I find incredibly difficult to share and to convey orally. I cannot seem to push my ego aside and simply be still within the teaching moment.

And in truth, I confess shamefacedly: sometimes I don’t want to push the ego aside; sometimes I simply don’t want to share.

In this instance, at least, I’m the kid wearing the sign: Does Not Play Well With Others.

Because in typically selfish fashion, I love taking, in glorious abundance: taking what others have to teach to me…learning, absorbing, growing, consuming.

Loving the taking, hating the giving. Is this fair?

I am grappling with conflicting emotions.

First and foremost, I’ve always believed I can do anything.

I am used to pushing my boundaries, taking those leaps, testing myself. I do it all the time, in big ways and in small, and I am a stronger, more fulfilled person for it.

So I know I can do this. The question becomes: Do I want to?  I don’t want my highly personal journey to become something I have to “get through.” I want my yoga to remain my sacred space, a place of joy, of peace, of unfolding. Too many elements in my life contain lessons I have to learn, moments I have to “get through.” Yoga has been my safe haven, my peace, my stillness, the practice that “gets me through” the challenging “get throughs.”

Now it’s becoming one more item on my to-do list. Every time I have to take a deep breath and step up to teach, it becomes one more daunting task to “get through.”

But I also realize, should I emerge on the other side, I will have grown spiritually, emotionally, physically, every which way, feeling unprecedented fulfillment and great personal satisfaction…and if I don’t want to, I will never have to teach a day in my life afterwards.

I love my incredible teachers, my extraordinary classmates, the lessons and wisdom being imparted. I love way my mind and body feel after sessions; I love the positive vibrations and good energy radiating from this beautiful group.

Maybe, just maybe, that will be enough to “get me through” my personal “get throughs.”

And who knows?…somewhere along my path, I may even learn to love teaching.

I wrote myself into circles that night, exhausting myself with over-thinking and over-reasoning. And I did not quit.

The End of the Ride…The Continuation of the Journey

And now training has come to an end…and somehow I’ve made it to graduation, looking back in awe and wonder at all that’s transpired over the past five + months. I’m still not sure how I arrived in this place, but I am humbled and grateful to have made it here intact, with the generous help of my extraordinary classmates and outstanding teachers.
It’s been a tough road, and not solely because of teacher training. Woven into the fabric of teacher training were the highs and lows of my everyday life, to wit:

I discovered a lump in my throat that has been scanned, radioactively imaged, poked, prodded, and biopsied throughout training, with no definitive answer as of this writing. The process — and the sometimes-frightening thoughts accompanying it — has left me shaky and a bit too conscious of the fragility of life.

Work was shifted and reorganized on the day I was biopsied. I’m lucky; I still have a job, but another small layer of security was sanded away, another brick was yanked from what often seems to be the tenuous Jenga game of my work world.

I fell madly in love and said a bittersweet farewell to him all within the confines of training.

My sweet 12-year old daughter morphed into a foreign creature: a full-blown, mood-shifting adolescent. Dealing with the changes has been wearing, requiring extra time and attention, but the struggle has been worth it; her beautiful soul continues to shine through her exterior toughness.

My 14-year old son co-won a national chess title and captured the Florida state high school title. I felt twinges of guilt over missing teacher training to take him to two tournaments, including the national one. I felt major guilt over being in teacher training on the day he was crowned the high school state champion.

My 17-year old son began and completed the endless, torturous, sometimes-complicated process of preparing college applications and filing financial aid and housing forms; we worked late into the night far too often. It was worth the effort: he was accepted everywhere he applied.

(And of course, my one true constant kept me humble: my cat boxes continued to need cleaning.)

Throughout the ups and downs, my teacher training brought a stability, focus and comfort that made me wonder how I ever survived without my yoga weekends. I look back at who I was at the beginning of training and I’m amazed to realize how I’ve already carried the lessons learned on the mat into my everyday world. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve learned:

I’ve learned that letting it be is far easier than letting it go.

I’ve learned to speak up for myself a little bit more, handle meetings slightly more confidently. I’m beginning to say no to or to walk away from situations or people that aren’t good for me.

I’ve learned I have a heck of a lot more to learn. I am, and always will be, a lifelong student, for this is what nourishes me and provides the impetus for me to share with others.

I’ve learned my yoga comfort zone exists outside a formal studio. I don’t plan to cultivate an established teaching practice, but when and if I do teach, it will be to underserved populations, those who need the strength and peace that yoga imparts but who, like me, can’t afford studios.

I’ve learned to compromise: I cannot do it all, on or off the mat.

I’ve learned humility; I’ve learned I am my own worst critic, the only one who measures my worth in success and failure.

I’ve learned I have extraordinary children, smart, strong, capable beings who watched out for each other while I was in training sessions, who heated up leftovers and did their homework unprompted and rarely complained about my being missing-in-action.

I’ve learned that love comes in many forms: when my classmates encourage me, when my teacher brings me a plant and sends me uplifting messages, when a simple pat or unexpected hug suddenly shift my mood, when I guiltily (but gustily) share fried ice cream with a new friend, when the Facebook messages become inspirational shout-outs.I’ve always known that I can be strong.

I’ve learned it’s okay to be weak sometimes, too, and that the greatest lessons often spring from perceived weakness.

I’ve learned that my body can move in ways I never thought possible.

I’ve also learned that of course, my body has limitations, but my only real limitations exist in my mind. I will always have fears and doubts. It’s how I confront them that matters.

I’ve learned that I alone am responsible for staying grounded or for soaring free and unfettered. And there is a balance: sometimes grounding is more important than flying and vice versa. There will be times when I simply have to take that leap of faith and hurtle myself into the vast unknown. There will be times when I have to stop, sit back, reflect and wait patiently for the answers.

I cannot imagine what the past five months would have been like without my teacher training, source of strength and knowledge, wisdom and courage, doubt and tears. Over the course of training, the full gamut of emotions, positive and negative, yin and yang, flowed through my practice, my heart, my soul…and I would not have had it any other way.

I am grateful for the lessons learned and to those who imparted them, both knowingly and unaware. I am blessed to have my feet pointed down a new path, looking toward an exciting future, delighting in the unfolding journey.


The group at graduation.


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