October 8, 2013

What Yoga Teacher Training is Really Like.

When I signed up for yoga teacher training, it was because I loved yoga. And also because, let’s be blunt, I needed to make some money.

My husband’s business was perilously close to dissolving, and we were both trying to explore any other means to increase our cash flow. So I wasn’t walking into the whole experience with the heart of a yogi, but more the mind of a mother bear trying to help protect her cubs.

If I had known that I would earn very little for my labors on the mat, given my original motives, would I still have trained to be a yoga instructor? Especially since we could ill afford the cost of the training itself?

Absolutely. Teacher training ranks up there with child birth in terms of the total positive transformation it sparked inside me.

When I look back at my pre-mom, pre-yogi self, I wonder how I even managed to slog through my days. Life seemed so pointless and painful. Other than writing, I had no idea what my purpose was. Lost and immature, I looked in all the wrong places to fill up my heart.

After five years with a horrifically abusive boyfriend, my entire savings spent on drugs, I was a barely functioning shell of a woman.

I thought of suicide casually. Why not? What difference would it make?

In many ways, motherhood was my first lesson in yoga.

The word yoga itself means “to yoke” or join together. In a practical sense, it refers to joining the movements of the body to the breath, but there is so much more to it than that. When you join those two ordinarily disparate elements of yourself together, the other disparate pieces of you begin to fall in place as well.

Having children broke my heart wide open, and for the first time, my heart and my mind were working in tandem; yoked together. Holding your sleeping baby and listening to him breathe, feeling him breathe, knowing that his breath is your breath, is a profound joining together of your ancient self and your mundane self.

For me, it woke my sleeping spirit.

Studying to be a yoga teacher brought me to an even deeper level of spiritual awareness. Becoming a mother brought me back to life, but becoming a teacher helped me understand the life that I’d been given.

I’m not sure if this is typical, but I walked into training completely ignorant. All I knew about this mysterious practice was that it made me feel good (sometimes it frustrated me), and all my teachers seemed to be sipping happy juice. I wanted to know the secret to their calm, munificent demeanor.

I would soon discover a simple philosophy that made everything fall into place.

We are all one.

As an agnostic raised by an atheist and a non-practicing Protestant, I grew up with a deeply ingrained suspicion of religion. I believed it was nothing more than a way for one group of people to control another group of people. I was grateful to live in a place and a time when religion wasn’t shoved down my throat.

At the same time, I did feel spiritually bereft. Like many people, I suspected, I hoped, that there was something more. But what exactly was it?

Yoga. It is not a religion. It is a philosophy, very similar to Buddhism. This philosophy simply states that everything is connected to everything else.

On the surface, that may seem obvious. But think about it. If everything is part of one thing, then our attitude must radically change. We can no longer justify violence. That would be like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer. We can no longer justify cruelty to animals. That would be like locking yourself  in a dirty cage, waiting for the moment when you will slit your own throat and partake of your own flesh. We can no longer justify arrogance. That would be non-sensical. You can’t be better (or worse) than anybody else if they are all you.

If you believe this, then you also believe you are a custodian of the earth and all it’s inhabitants. That puts you on a path of great compassion. A challenging path, because we are merely human, programmed to think in terms of “us” and “them.” But a beautiful path, because in striving for kindness, you can truly do no wrong.

When I sat on my mat for the first day of teacher training I watched with curiosity as my teacher walked into the room. A tiny woman, brimming with energy, she sat silently on her mat and rang her bell. We new students gazed at her, waiting.

“Let’s meditate,” she simply said.

I closed my eyes and felt the oddly intimate sensation of a roomful of strangers all breathing together. I didn’t yet know the Yogic philosophy, but sitting there that day was one of the first times I experienced it. When my teacher later put it into words, it clicked. All the loneliness and the struggling in my life had been totally unnecessary—except, perhaps, as a means to get to the present moment.

As I learned more, I came to regard things like reincarnation, chakras and Ayurvedic healing as legitimate ideas. It felt as if the universe was expanding inside me. I began to understand that our purpose here on earth is to learn how to love, and whatever framework promotes that lesson is valid. There are other belief systems which, if not twisted by a dictator’s tongue, have the same exact message.

I happened to find it in yoga.

When I went to yoga teacher training, all I really expected was to refine my downward facing dog and learn how to stand in front of a class while calling out Sanskrit words. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know that the language of yoga is Sanskrit!

Over the course of six months, I was guided into spiritual adulthood, and given the tools I will need for the rest of my life to continue to grow.

I am always surprised to learn when I ask about other people’s experience with teacher training that they felt the exact same way I did. How can that be? There are so many different programs, so many different styles of teaching—yet they all offer the same basic philosophy—and boy, is it powerful.

If you are considering becoming a yoga teacher yourself, you are already halfway there. You are ready to learn.

It’s time to open your arms and embrace your journey.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Tom Mooring

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