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

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.




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

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Reuben Begin Nov 10, 2014 11:19am

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

Leigh Oct 18, 2013 9:28pm

Couldn't have said it better myself! 🙂

Dearbhla Jul 10, 2013 10:31pm

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?

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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!