Discovering the Ugly Truth: What I Really Learned in Yoga Teacher Training. ~ Annie Au

get elephant's newsletter

Child's Pose

Coming to a yoga teacher training can be a life transforming experience.

Beneath the facade of expensive yoga wear and props, you’re stripped emotionally bare where going within is the only way to seek the true-self.

I signed up for an Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga teacher training in Thailand when I was still living in Canada. At 27, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend (again) and just quit my job. Life at the time seemed like fragments of devastation and frustration. Feeling defeated and emotionally drained, I was in need of some serious soul searching.

Hence, after a week of extensive Google searching, I sent off half of my life savings and flew over the Pacific Ocean to embark on this spiritual journey.

What I learned was this: in a 200hr yoga teacher training, there is no sauntering for a skinny latte after a “feel-good” yoga session. A typical schedule at It’s Yoga Thailand teacher training starts at 7am and ends at 7:30pm. Racking up two to three practices and numerous hours of lectures a day, most of us left muttering in Sanskrit as our new common language by the end of the day.

In the first week of training, I couldn’t believe half of the postures I had to endure. What? You want me to put my leg behind my neck…oh both legs? Hm…Oh I knew it…had I practiced more power yoga back home and less Hatha…

Nothing was easy—it certainly felt like I was training for Cirque du Soleil’s latest production, Ash-Tan-Ga. 

After a series of postures that somewhat resembled Olympic gymnastic stunts, I was dying to get into child’s pose.Wait—the teacher trainer is near me now. Dang it! There goes my child’s pose…as she continuously urged us on, holding five breaths in a pose suddenly seemed like an eternity.

In 24 days, I was pushed to the limits and then some more.

Under the hot sun in an untouched jungle, I lived, breathed, stretched, cried, and laughed with 20 other yogis who were just like me.

Foremost, a yoga teacher training is a costly investment. Unless your wealthy and generous parents have paid for the course, air flights and accommodations, you simply just don’t walk out and quit.

Moreover, there seems to be a greater moral lesson when one quits a yoga teacher training. Come to think of it, it reminds me of my university days when I failed my morality paper in a social psych course. (Never did my parents find out and I intend it to stay that way.)

After all, I thought I was ready for a better me: a more honest, spiritual, accepting, enduring and loving person. Yet the ugly truth that we all hate to admit is: It’s easier to lounge back and read the latest edition by Echkart Tolle while sipping tea than to buckle up that yogi strap and walk the talk.

Could it be my high-strung Scorpio personality combined with the years of militant ballet training and the need to own up to my Asian ethnicity and all that are expected of from my Asian parents?

Quitting just isn’t an option.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against people who do quit. There are many legitimate reasons to do so. I understand and acknowledge them all. However, I would only hope that one would not overestimate the legitimacy of these reasons and under evaluate their own shortcomings.

The bottom line is: be truthful to yourself.

Alright…so I sucked it up and kept going. I reached further past my toes and twisted deeper down my spine.

Let’s get this done.

As I lay in Savasana one morning, I found tears streaming down my trembling cheeks. In a split second, I was shriveled back into that insecure, vulnerable self.

What? I thought I was doing great?

Wrapped in emotional turmoil, my fogged up and restless mind was in complete overdrive. Failure, shame, vulnerability, guilt and all the other uninvited negative emotions I tried so hard to suppress quickly slipped right back to the top of my consciousness.

So what happens now?

Well…after resisting the temptation to sob in my lonely room until my pillow was soaked with salty tears, I chose a more spiritual healing method.

On my knees and hands, I crawled onto my yoga mat, my salvation and solitude. There I positioned in padmasana, closed my dampened and swollen eyes…and had a nice long talk with myself.

An internal dialogue is the first step of introspection. How do you speak to yourself? Blame, guilt, victimize? Who is talking other than the over-ridden ego? Recognize that nobody other than yourself can trap your free will and make you feel small, insecure and invaluable.

I took a deep breathe in, held it briefly and let it all out.

Tomorrow is another day.

As a yoga teacher, I’m my first and ever-lasting student. Aside from the technicalities of yoga postures and philosophies, a yoga teacher training taught me self-discipline, forgiveness, patience, and most importantly being present.

All the guilt one possesses is burdens from the past and all the worries one beholds are projections of the future. While the past is gone and the future hasn’t arrived yet, neither guilt nor worries will make the present any better.

The true self signifies the person without past and future.

Loving for the sake of loving, being for the sake of being.

One of my favorite quotes is: “Be here now.”~ Ram Dass.

Who is living in the present, if not you?

Cherish each moment because there are no replicas of it.

On the day of graduation, as I walked up to retrieve my 200hr yoga teacher certification I couldn’t resist a little smirk.

For the truth is, at that moment, I knew I was receiving something much, much more.




Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

Assist.Ed.: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Bryonie Wise

is a new feature on Elephant Journal—enabling you to instantly share your mindful ideas, photos, art, YouTube videos/Instagram links & writings with our 5 million readers. Try it Now.

Write Now

About Annie Au

Annie Au is program director and yoga teacher at All Yoga Thailand & Bali. A former professional dancer and teacher for over 10 years, she traded heavy stage make-up and fake eyelashes for yoga pants and mala beads after her 200hr yoga teacher training in Thailand. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada. Annie moved across provinces, lived/worked on a cruise ship; resided back in Hong Kong briefly before settling in Bangkok. She absolutely enjoys her time with new aspiring yoga teachers and often awestruck by the transformation she witnesses in each individual. She is also a blogger, avid traveler, vegan and girlfriend to a yogi/handstands addict. Having gone without coffee for 4 months, she was lured into having a soy latte a week ago. Check out her blog!


29 Responses to “Discovering the Ugly Truth: What I Really Learned in Yoga Teacher Training. ~ Annie Au”

  1. This is great, Annie. Inspiring stuff.

    Just posted to "Best of Yoga Philosophy" ​, as well as facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

    Bob W.

  2. Tomasz Goetel [Hot Yoga] says:

    Thank you – a great read, Annie! I'm happy for you… Good luck teaching – it doesn't get easier 🙂

  3. Thank you Bob! It's the first article I wrote since school really! I used to write for grades, credits, teachers. This is truly the first article I wrote for myself! I'm glad you like it. 🙂 Feeling happy & humble

  4. Thank you Bob and Tomasz! It's the first article I wrote since school really! I used to write for grades, credits, teachers. This is truly the first article I wrote for myself! I'm glad you like it. 🙂 Will take note and continuously be grateful for having yoga as my career now. Feeling happy & humble

  5. Thank you Bob! It's the first article I wrote since school really! I used to write for grades, credits, teachers. This is truly the first article I wrote for myself! I'm glad you like it. 🙂 Feeling happy & humble

  6. Mindi Bee says:

    EXCELLENT piece! I'm doing my teacher training at the moment, and can TOTALLY relate to what you say, and like you I'm a highly strung Scorpio and also broke out of a longterm relationship! But who knows, maybe those factors actually ADD to the amazing journey!

  7. Eryka says:

    Thank you Annie, really inspiring post… teary eyed reading this. I'll join the TT on November with It's Yoga, hopefully I can get the experience as you had 🙂 thank you for sharing this story .. cheers from Jakarta

  8. Moshi says:

    I couldn't help but tear a little. I did the 100hour and am in the middle of my 200hour… Happiness around you 🙂

  9. Regi VDW says:

    looking forward to meet u annie! 🙂 sound isnspiritng to me! 🙂 (y)

  10. Brooke says:

    I am doing my 200 hour training in Spain this September.. I am super excited and this has just added to that excitement. 0:)

  11. kimberlylowriter says:

    This was great. I did my 200 hour RYT training 2 years ago and was amazed how emotionally grueling it was. (It was physically as well, but I went deep.)

  12. Lalana says:

    I am posting this to my FB page and also sending to my students in email. Love it! Reading it at this time for me was perfect timing. I have been expressing my coming off a very intense weekend workshop that was both mentally and physically challenging. Many seem puzzled why something like that would be something I would sign up for time and time again in my spare time (and as you mentioned the prices are not cheap). This article is wonderful on expressing it. Is it tough? Sure is! Can we walk away with something much more and keep growing and learning?…….Yes!

    • Hello Lalana, Thank you so much sharing this article on your FB and to your students! As I now attend 200hr YTT as assistant trainers and organizers, I realize even I, who is not a student anymore go through many mental and physical challenges as well! They're always times of learning and I keep on growing! I'm glad you're experiencing the same too! 🙂 Annie Au Yoga (FB)

  13. Lily Marino says:

    I am so moved by the vulnerability in this beautiful essay….and I needed to hear and be reminded of all of these things today. Sat Nam, Lily

  14. Deb says:

    What an absolutely amazing article! I have to tell you Annie, this struck so many nerves in me. You see I actually quit basic hatha 1 yoga teacher training just a couple of months ago. I was going through the process, meanwhile practicing Ashtanga/Mysore yoga every day since January. So as I went through the motions of this very basic training, I had a sense of not belonging and wanting and searching for something more. Talk about Vulnerability. So as I still continue to practice my Mysore every single day at 6:30 am, I’m reminded every single day that I indeed did make the right choice. I struggled with my decision with many a sleepless night, and chewed up fingernails. It all became apparent when I spoke with other teachers, friends that I had to be true to myself and honor what was on the inside. I didn’t want to feel like a failure. Hopefully by January of next year I will embark upon my 200hr Ashtanga yoga teacher training. Thanks for such an inspiring and beautiful look at your journey. Namaste ~ Deborah

    • Hi Deborah, thank you for the kind words:) It's good to hear that you listened to your heart and acted on what was genuine from within. I am a strong believer in moving on when the deed doesn't serve you anymore. Focus your energy on what you truly holds dear to! Feel free to find me on Facebook (Annie Au Yoga) and update me your yoga journey! Namaste~ A

      • Deb says:

        Annie I certainly will look for you on FB, and thank you so much for what you have shared with myself and so many others. I will certainly keep you posted on my yoga journey and discovery of self. It’s evolving.

  15. myrna says:

    Really liked this article – Namaste!

    • Chris says:

      Glad you had such an amazing experience. It seems as though you went beyond the physical training. I think a lot of aspiring yogis though physically well conditioned still just don’t get there. I personally had to realize that physical yoga often fails to do its job. You could be the least physically flexible and conditioned person in the world and be an amazing yogi. Don’t you think?

      • Completely agree with you Chris! I once saw a David Swenson video on YouTube and he said the same thing. Often really flexible yogis don't get into the mental state to their non-flexible counterparts! To me now, the true yoga is in the mental state, asana is the channel to get there!

  16. Dearbhla says:

    Great article, but I'm confused by one thing: you talk about putting both feet behind your head…that sounds like dwipada sirsasana, which is in the intermediate ashtanga series. Would be very suprised to learn you did this in your initial training…but could be I'm wrong?

    • You're right! It's not part of the Full Primary series. At It's Yoga Thailand we also practice the Rocket series invented by the founder-Larry Schultz. There we practice some postures from the intermediate series! 🙂 * Still can't put my feet behind my head! xx

  17. Leigh says:

    Couldn't have said it better myself! 🙂

  18. Reuben Begin says:

    Hi Annie! Thanks for articulating your ytt experience for us! Would you be able to recommend a good yoga school in Thailand? Namaste

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.