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December 29, 2021

Yoga Teacher Training: How we End up Healing Ourselves First.

After my relationship ended, an unhealthy dynamic that had lingered for far too long—I decided to join an immersive yoga teacher training.

Back in my adopted hometown, the town where I went to college, I had been trying desperately for months to reconnect with old friends from the days before the fighting, fatigue, overwhelm, and achingly slow acceptance that goes hand-in-hand with an unhealthy relationship dynamic. 

I was slowly coming to the realization that I no longer had much in common with my old party pals, and becoming a yoga teacher seemed like a painless way to focus my energies on something other than the disappointment I felt of no longer feeling at home or part of a community. 

I had spent what little I had in savings to attend the immersive teacher training at a local yoga studio, one that I loved as a college student. 

During the introductory portion of the training, I mumbled a vague reason why I was there—to “help others.” I guess my goal at the time, had I stopped to consider my greater motivations, was to reach a higher level of understanding of my own messed-up life experiences. 

The vague, lofty ideal that was building in my mind at the time was to take trauma I hadn’t even begun to process, slap a yoga Band-Aid on it, and suddenly become a beacon of light for other women experiencing their own traumas. Maybe a little too ambitious.

The yoga studio had changed ownership in the seemingly vast expanse of time between the last class I’d attended as a student and when I stepped back through the doors as a trainee. 

In reality, it had only been a couple of years, but my life was so different that it felt like eons. The studio’s energy had shifted from something loving and wholesome from the original owners to something less warm and a little too glossy. 

The space had undergone renovations and was slicker, more commercial. The students gliding through the doors of the new bleached pine studio spaces were way more polished than I remembered from my college days, and I felt unsure and out of place before I’d even taken the first step into the classroom.

In the tiny, dark, basement apartment that I’d shared with my ex, there hadn’t been space for both of us, our problems, and an at-home yoga practice. I walked into yoga teacher training that first day with a new, five-dollar Wal-Mart yoga mat and what I thought of as a mysterious air, which was really just nerves wound too tightly for too long, complemented by a slight twinge of panic. 

I hadn’t practiced since I’d started dating my ex, but I saw some sort of lifeline in the program and the “yoga as service to others” foundation. I was convinced this experience would be the fast-track to feeling connected to a world that I believed had left me behind years before, a world where I was a whole, healed, and evolved woman. 

A woman who was no longer a victim. A woman who was going to lead other women on a journey of self-discovery through yoga. Like I said, lofty ideals.

Sitting on my mat, struggling to open my mind and heart to the service-based yoga curriculum, I quickly came to understand that life had jaded me in the years away from the studio and regular yoga practice. The other yoga trainees were a bright and bubbly mix of recent college grads and well-to-do housewives from the nearby country club. 

Outfitted in designer yoga ensembles, paired with pricy blonde highlights and the kind of perfectly toned arms one can only get from hundreds of regular chaturangas, it was clear that this would not be the new “earthy girl power friend” group I’d imagined. 

For context: one girl had been an American Eagle model during the same time I’d been getting part-time hours at a bookstore while working full-time juggling the drama in my personal life. I was hyper-aware of how different I was, even if, on the surface, I was doing a decent job of faking having the kind of breezy, active lifestyle of my fellow trainees. 

My vision of a room full of fellow survivors who would down-dog our way into becoming powerful warriors of wisdom was melting away. Instead, I met the insecurity that was building inside me with the type of bone-deep cynicism that would have scared everyone in the class had they known.

In those first few days of basic anatomy and intro to the yamas and niyamas of yoga, I came to the abrupt conclusion that having actual problems as my inspiration for becoming a yoga teacher was not the norm for this particular studio. 

As I listened to the perfectly coiffed housewives describe their “amazing” husbands—men who had purchased the training course as anniversary or “just because” gifts—and the chatter of the eager younger women about side hustles and upcoming jobs in finance or healthcare, I began to feel a disjointed sense of anger at their seemingly easy existences. 

By the time we were stretching and twisting our way into week two of intermediate yoga flows and pranayamas, I was entirely over the experience. I was genuinely shocked that I didn’t feel more healed or evolved. I had scrimped and saved money to be there, and instead of floating on a cloud of enlightenment as I’d imagined, I was sore, tired, hungry, and irritated. I learned that no amount of heart-opening backbends could provide the easy fix I had hoped for before joining the training.

The thing about coming out of an unhealthy relationship that no one talks about is how “apart” you feel from other people and even your own experiences, especially during the first few months of re-entering the world. 

The cynical attitude and judgment I was casting on my classmates had less to do with them and everything to do with me. I had so much pain inside that disconnecting from people felt easier than opening myself up to feeling my emotions. The mountain of emotional processing I saw ahead of me felt impossible to overcome. 

Lost in my own overwhelming problems, I had wholly missed every social cue, every attempt at conversation. I was spaced out during meditations and group sharing. I’d been throwing my body into every yoga pose imaginable instead of sitting with myself. In short, I’d missed the point of yoga teacher training.

If the foundation of yoga is to establish a connection between the mind and body, then there must be a willingness to present the physical and emotional self during practice. I wasn’t bringing my whole, flawed spirit to my mat during the first half of the training, and it reflected in my experience and my actual practice. 

The biggest lesson from yoga teacher training wasn’t the individual poses, breathing exercises, or meditation techniques, but the willingness to connect, to stay present. I was fortunate to have instructors who gently guided me to this epiphany during preparations for the final task of training, leading the entire class, including instructors, in a flow of my own design. 

When I finally allowed myself to feel nervous and excited, and I engaged with the women in the program, I realized we were all more alike than I’d guessed. We felt the same nervousness about teaching our first class; we’d experienced the same struggle with challenging poses and staying focused during opening meditations. 

I had never been as alone as I felt. There had always been a group of powerful warriors of wisdom whose knowledge and support had been right next to me had I been more present.

In the years since I taught that first sweaty, stumbling yoga class, I’ve been privileged to hear the stories of so many warriors. It’s been a pleasure to offer moments of genuine connection during meditations to guide the stressed-out and broken-hearted through a challenging class. 

I’ve also seen the same hesitation and struggle to stay present that I felt in those early days of training and teaching. As a yoga teacher, the goal isn’t just to guide students through a flow but to hold space for what they bring to the mat. Sometimes that’s as simple as a smile or a gentle suggestion to take an early savasana. Sometimes the mind and body connection is just that—rest for the body and a moment of peace for the mind.


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