Not unlike most practitioners, I came to yoga because of my own suffering.
I wanted to quiet the chatter in my head and attempt to find some stillness in the chaos of daily life. And if I got toned abs and arms out of the deal, great. But as I learned, the physical practice is just dipping a teeny toe into the giant ocean of a yogic lifestyle.
After several years of regular asana practice (with some mindfulness and meditation sprinkled in) my teachers began to ask on a regular basis, “So when are you starting teacher training?” I had a litany of excuses at hand as to why I couldn’t (“I don’t have the time!” “Graduate school is a priority!” “I already know all there is to know!”).
Without realizing it, my life became more and more dedicated to learning about yoga, to the point where most of my conversations always circled back to my yoga practice. People began to ask me when and where I taught classes (even though I never mentioned anything about teaching).
If I showed up early to class, people would often assume (for a reason unbeknownst to me) I was the teacher.
I took a hint from the universe, and dove in to a 200-hour yoga teacher training.
A few months have passed since I completed yoga teacher training (YTT). Looking back on my experience, I realize that I learned a hell of a lot more than just physical postures. Yes, I can now stand in front of a room for 75 minutes and lead an asana practice, but that is just a fraction of the knowledge I gained along the way. So, aside from the asana, here are five things I learned in YTT.
1. Having a pranayama practice is essential.
First of all, I didn’t know anything about Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras on the day I set foot into my first teacher training session. I quickly learned that asana (physical postures) is just one of eight limbs on the yogic path. Pranayama, or breath control, is the step that comes after asana practice, and is something that eludes the casual yoga practitioner.
Think about the last time you were in a packed yoga class; how many people were actually employing the ujjayi breath? Pranayama is a vital practice that we should have on and off the mat. If we truly want to work towards the goal of yoga (cessation of the turnings of the mind, or “vritti”), breath control is an essential step in the process. Quality of breath is directly related to vital energy in the body; so next time you find your self in a pose or situation that seems out of control, pause and pay attention to your breath. It can work miracles three-quarters of the way through a 90-minute sweaty, kick ass yoga practice.
2. We all have our own unique dharma, which can be revealed to us through a dedicated yoga and mindfulness practice.
It was during my YTT journey that I truly learned the importance of sitting with myself and getting my Ego to shut the hell up. “Dharma” is our purpose in life that is in line with the greater collective, our place in the universe. Too often this purpose is clouded by who we think we “should” be, an identity created by our Ego.
Up until this point, I dedicated my life to achievement in the academic world. I excelled in high school and college, which led me into a competitive Ph.D. program in Biomedical research. These accomplishments look great on paper, but boy was I miserable. I identified with being a “good student;” but I knew deep down that it was a façade. Through the self-examination and discussions about dharma/karma with my YTT community, I realized that I was not bound to my previous course in life, and to trust my intuition in taking steps to align myself with my true purpose.
3. The secret to being happy is having compassion for others.
Quite frankly, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I remember the first day of training, I looked around the room, making my little judgments about everyone (including myself). Apparently, I decided I knew everything about everyone in that room, end of discussion. How silly of me.
That day, each of us got a chance to tell our story. I learned that we all came from a common place; we all suffered in some way and our yoga practice helped us find a bit of peace and serenity in our lives. This taught me that I should be compassionate to those who cross my path; I know nothing about what the other person is going through, and I have no business but to be kind. I found that this practice of compassion towards others increased feelings of happiness and abundance in every day life.
4. There are relationships in life that do not serve you, and it’s okay to let them go.
I was dumped during the last month of my teacher training. My boyfriend ended our two-year relationship; one that I thought was leading towards marriage. After processing the initial feelings of hurt and anger, I can clearly see that I was going through an intense period of self-discovery, and the person I was becoming no longer jived with the identity I created for myself in that relationship. I also learned the importance of being your authentic self in each moment of your life. The truth is going to come out sooner or later, so why not let it prevail now?
In addition, I noticed a shift in the activities I chose and the people I surrounded myself with. More and more often I would find myself in a yoga class at five pm on a Friday, rather than heading straight to happy hour after work to commiserate with fellow students from graduate school. I felt energized and nourished by the relationships I made within the yoga community.
Of course, I still love my non-yogi friends dearly, I’m just saying that I have redefined what the word “friendship” means to me, and that I have a more open mind when I consider who I want to form relationships with.
5. Loving and accepting yourself for who you are is one of the greatest gifts in life.
A close friend and teacher of mine always reminds me that wherever you are in your physical practice, and in life, is perfect. You are perfect, just as you are. It doesn’t matter if you can’t float up into a handstand, or if the thought of meditating for an hour scares the shit out of you, you are beautiful and perfect. Yoga teacher training taught me to love and accept the body and mind that I have, and to be grateful for the mindfulness practices that bring us closer to that which is our highest Self.
In those wonderful 200 hours that you spend on the yoga studio floor, you will certainly learn how to teach a yoga class. But the personal growth and self-discovery that unfolds is truly something to behold. On the last day of training, my teacher said, “Once you know, you can’t un-know.”
And knowing is a beautiful thing.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Jay Erikson at Flickr