A teacher training odyssey in six parts.
Part 1: In which I arrive with great expectations and they are dashed almost immediately
There were eight of us there that first evening on the balcony at Why Nam restaurant on the south-eastern edge of Ko Pha-ngan, Thailand: an elegant 30-ish German physiotherapist; the laid-back Californian she met on the ferry coming over; a soft-spoken British journalist; a massage therapist from New Jersey; a South African graphic designer; a spritely German girl; and a 19-year old Brazilian with long limbs and a pitch-perfect American accent.
And me, a 38-year old native Californian. We were there, ostensibly, to learn how to teach yoga, but I had bigger problems. I was in the midst of quite a crisis, actually.
“Did everyone bring the books on the reading list?” queried the yoga program director, a stoic 30-something woman with latte-colored skin and dark ringlet curls piled high in a bun.
“Nope!” California said.
“Me neither,” quipped Pitch-Perfect.
“The books were too heavy,” shrugged Sea Sprite. “I’ve been traveling for six months.”
“Well,” she sighed, eyeing them disdainfully. “I have an extra copy of the anatomy book, but you are on your own for the rest. Work it out, yeah? Share. Whatever.”
“You can borrow mine,” I told Sea Sprite. My suitcase weighed sixty pounds.
“Ah, good!” she said, thankfully.
Director stood and gathered her things. “You are on your own until Monday,” Director advised us. “Don’t be late.”
And so it was with that tepid welcome that I eschewed the restaurant and began the trek up the stone path with my suitcase, contemplating the spiraling whirlpool of my life.
Twelve years prior I had graduated from law school, my head high and filled with hope. I married my best friend the following year. The world had been an oyster, a silky pond full of lotus flowers, the horizon glimmering in the distance. You know what I mean.
Now, here I was, the silkiness no longer so silky, the glimmering seas of promise having dried up like raindrops on hot skin. I had quit a series of plush (or semi-plush) law firm jobs, realizing the glare of the computer screen and the continuous manufactured chill of an office could not be overcome by any number of glorious moments in or out of court. I had grasped for happiness, abundance, knowledge and contentment in every way I could imagine, and it had sifted like sand through my fingers. Was every decision I had made in my twenties terribly wrong, or did it just seem that way? I left a perfectly decent job for one I hated, moved twice, torn my knee in a ridiculous skiing accident, been attacked by a pitbull, contracted the chicken pox, learned my favorite person in the world had cancer and nearly drowned in a river.
And then something happened and I realized my husband had been lying to me for our entire fucking marriage. I mean, thousands of lies, many right to my face.
In the end, right to my face, AS I WAS TELLING HIM I KNEW HE WAS LYING.
I had been going sideways for a while.
And so, it was in January of this year, having finally left him six weeks prior, that I was sitting alone in the dim, gray light of the early morning, staring at the wall, the air so still I could hear the drum of my pulse.
I needed to get away, I decided. I needed a break.
I had always wanted to go to Thailand. And it was, probably, the farthest point away from where I was then, other than, say, Jupiter. That was appealing.
Within an hour on the web I had found a yoga retreat/teacher training program on a tiny island called Ko Pha-ngan. It was four weeks. Longer than I was thinking, but I love yoga. I could come back a yoga teacher.
I could come back A YOGA TEACHER.
I booked my ticket.
I was not going just for the yoga; you should know that going in. I was to practice asana and meditate and snorkel in the Bay of Thailand. I was to study Buddhism and Sanskrit and learn to chant and for once, talk in yoga class. I was to depart from my past life, explore the exotic, have a slice of adventure, and search for enlightenment and wisdom. I would leave my past and move forward into the untold riches of my future (ideally). Failing all of that, the trip would at least temporarily distract me from the crumpled ruins of my life. I was also hoping it would be fun.
And that I would be able to teach a yoga class by the end.
There was a lot riding on this.
By the time I set off for Hong Kong six weeks later in a lonely coach seat in the back of the plane, I felt on the brink of a new life.
And so you can imagine my anticipation when I tread softly up the steps to Bungalow No. 7 that late evening in February 2011. I had waited six weeks and flown eight thousand miles to see this place, to move in, for my life to change. A lot was going to happen here, in this little bungalow that held my future.
I thrust the banana fronds out of the way, twisted the key in the lock and swung the door open with a magnificent, raunchy CREAAAAAAAK…
Stay tuned for part 2.
Kristina Chandler is a lawyer and certified yoga teacher who began practicing yoga in 1994 to rehab an injury, fell in love and has been hitting the mat ever since. She’s practiced yoga all over the globe, from Bali to Sweden and many places in between. Check out her other musings on yoga here.