My teacher training experience not only taught me how to safely guide my students through the yoga asanas (physical postures)—it made me a better person.
The month I spent training was one of the most important experiences of my life, with ripples and reverberations that I still feel strongly today.
Now that I’ve moved into the role of hosting my own teacher training programs, I wanted to reflect and share the lessons I learned that have had such a profound effect on my life and the way I present myself to the world.
Before my training, I had been casually practicing yoga for a few years and loved the calm and slow vibration I felt after each practice, that would stay with me for the remainder of the day. During my summers, I worked at a holistic retreat center in Greece where I was lucky to practice with various yoga teachers, each with a unique background.
I especially loved one of the regular teachers, who was for me the embodiment of femininity, ecstatic dance and flow. One evening, during a deep conversation sitting on the stone porch, overlooking the tranquil Greek sea, I asked for her advice about starting my journey as a yoga teacher. The enthusiasm and great advice that came from her was enough for me—I started to plan my future.
I waitressed. I saved. I booked my flight.
I decided to join a month-long intensive so I could be fully immersed in the program, without the distraction of work and “real life” in the way.
The night before I left for my training, I said farewell to my vices and committed myself to the new, healthy life unfolding before me. I arrived nervous and awkward, but ready to jump right in and start learning.
Over the course of the month, I was tested in ways unfamiliar to me and played the edge of my comfort zone (gently and with love, of course.) But never in the weeks leading up to the training did I realize how profoundly the training would change my life.
Here are five things I learned during my training that have made me a better person today:
1. I learned not to attach myself to my “story.” One of the most painful, revealing lessons came during a group sharing session, where we went around in a small group sharing what was bubbling up for us. When it was my turn, I started to talk about a particular issue that had been troubling me. My teacher stopped me and gently pointed out that what I was talking about seemed rehearsed and maybe I wasn’t speaking from my heart.
This was absolutely true; I had come to the circle with a prepared topic and was just following my own rehearsed dialog. But in that moment, I felt frustrated and not heard. Hot, angry, embarrassed tears boiled over in my eyes.
Why couldn’t I just tell my story the way I wanted to tell it?
The answer: because I’m not my story. I’m not the pain that happened in the past. I’m not my achievements. I’m not the story of suffering and joy I attach myself to.
Revelation. Game changer. I’m not my story.
2. I learned how to love everyone around me (even the ones that pissed me off.) When you put 25 people together all day, every day for 30 days, you’re bound to find some personalities challenging and even triggering. My yoga teacher training was no exception.
Some of the same dramas of grade school played out in the yoga classroom, complete with a drama queen or two and cliques. But damn if I didn’t LOVE everyone in the whole class. And I mean LOVE with capital letters intentionally.
I loved everyone in my class unconditionally; I allowed myself to be loved back without question.
I cultivated a serious sense of loving-kindness for every person on the course—even the ones that challenged me. The all-day, every day yoga classes, meditations and yogic philosophy lessons created a little incubator for developing so much love for the people around me.
I was floating around on a little love cloud and whenever I’m feeling particularly judgmental here in “real life world,” I remember this.
3. I learned how to enjoy my own company and sit in silence.
I grew up on a busy city block in Philadelphia, with row home stacked upon row home and at least 30 kids on my block. I shared a teeny tiny room with my younger sister until I was 18…then shared a room again in college. My opportunities for privacy and silence were few and I usually filled the gaps with people, places, music, movies, things, noises. Until my training, I had very few moments of true silence.
When my teacher instructed us to find a quiet spot every morning to meditate before class, I felt uncertain and almost resentful. But I want to use my quiet time to “think”, not to “not think.”I wanted to use that quiet time to plan my day, life, future, next meal, anything really.
But being ever the good student, I agreed and slowly learned how to enjoy sitting in silence with myself.
4. I learned that what I perceived as big, bad, boogeyman flaws in myself were no big deal to anyone else. The biggest of these revelations concerned my clammy hands.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always had clammy, sweaty hands. Even now, while I type this, they’re a little bit damp for no good reason.
When I arrived at my training, little did I know that almost every night I’d be holding hands with my fellow students dancing around in a circle and singing. Shit. I don’t want to. But I DO want to. I love holding hands and dancing, but I don’t want people to think I’m weird because my hands are always clammy and I’m insecure about it.
So, I held hands and danced and felt insecure, but the more I did it, the better I felt. When I confessed my insecurity to the rest of the class, most of the people had never even noticed and my friends told me it really was no big deal.
It felt great to hear this and at the end of the training, I was right in the center of the circle dancing, my clammy hands holding the hands of my dear friends.
5. I learned that being a yoga teacher isn’t about mastering all of the most difficult yoga poses or sitting in meditation for hours per day. It’s about inspiring others to be kinder, more patient, happier and loving beings.
To create a safe space for others to explore their edge and as they shed their layers of self-doubt and uncertainty, to show them how to revel in their awesome strength. I see this as one of the greatest gifts I’ve received and now the greatest gift that I can give.
By training other teachers, I get to indirectly alter the lives of so many others, making the world a better, more awesome place!
If you are thinking about embarking on the journey to become a yoga teacher, know that so many transformational lessons are waiting for you. Many of my closest and dearest friends are also yoga teachers and while we didn’t all attend the same program, the one truth that links all of our training experience is that it changed each of our lives for the better.
Each teacher’s eyes light up with joy as she describes her own magical, life-altering journey; I’ve yet to meet a yoga teacher who shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly and describes her training experience as “meh.”
I know that when choosing a yoga teacher training program, there are important logistical (in your home city vs. abroad), timing (accelerated or occasional weekends) and style (hatha, vinyasa, power, etc.) choices to be made, but I believe the most important factor is the internal, resounding “Yes!”
When you look at the website, syllabus or connect with the teachers, do you feel a deep sense of excitement? An internal knowing that this is the course that will change your life and the lives of others for the better?
If the answer is a resounding “Yes!,” it’s time to start making plans to kickstart your new life as a yoga teacher and let the positive transformation begin!
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives