The 200 hour yoga teacher training program I recently completed lasted nine months, about the time it takes for a human to grow in the womb before entering the world. The journey through teacher training led my life on a series of deaths and rebirths, growth and transformations, as I was born more truly unto my Self. Being awake is not about perfection and blissful nirvana but rather acknowledging life’s imperfections, allowing and accepting them while being aware of the consequences of my actions and finding peace with them. It is about doing all that I can with a loving and honest heart knowing that I will make mistakes but trusting and loving myself despite these imperfections.
I began the teacher training journey grasping at something, though I am not sure exactly what it was I wanted anymore. I knew that yoga had helped me heal through various difficult times, family relationship difficulties and losing our home to the flood, and I wanted more of it. I wanted to “deepen my practice” as I have heard many others say about entering such a program. I had no intention of teaching, I just wanted to dive into the world of yoga and bathe myself in whatever it was that was so healing… I wanted to understand and define it.
In April 2014, we lost our home to the flood. It was only in the last few months that I began to see the beauty in that event. It took me a long time to heal, I had so much sadness, confusion and anger inside of me. The flood forced me to let go of comfort and security and trust that what I needed, whatever that may be, would show up; that is, if I show up. My teacher and friend told me only days post-flood after a particularly emotionally painful yoga class where I sobbed in savasana as she held my head in her hands, that the best thing we can do for ourselves is show up during our most difficult times. Those times offer so much richness if we are open to the magic. Michael DeMaria explained to our teacher training group at a meditation workshop that the magic happens when we are suspended, as trapeze artists letting go of one bar and reaching for the next. I am not grateful that the flood happened, I am grateful for the magic in the suspension. That suspension is where strength and character really come out even when we feel the lowest and furthest from magical.
In October 2014, having practically just begun my training, I doubted the process and skepticism showed its ugly face.
The newness of the program was wearing off and I began to wonder why I was doing it at all. This is a pattern I wanted to break, ending a new project once the novelty wore off but this time I also wanted to analyze why I tended to lose interest. What I loved so passionately suddenly looked different. Parts of it looked phony, parts of it seemed unnecessary, and the part that was so powerful and bright at one time suddenly felt dim.
Somewhere in October I started seeing yoga as inauthentic – even in the midst of visiting a beautiful and sacred Hare Krishna farm in Mississippi. The money aspect of yoga, the exploitation, and what I called “the yoga face” or “spiritual materialism” as others call it…the persona that some adopt along the path. I found it all irritating and I projected it onto my family telling myself that I should be with them on the teacher training weekends instead of in a studio with 12 other women. I told myself that I did not need to be a yoga teacher to have a deep yoga practice, which is absolutely true…but apparently not for me, or maybe I needed something bigger from the process. I labored over the decision and came to the conclusion by the end of a long night of talking with my husband that it was best for me and my family to quit. After sleeping on my decision, I awoke with a knowing that I could not do it, the word “quit” just did not settle inside. Maybe it was pride or a need to prove something to myself, but I felt in the very least that I needed to finish what I had started. So I tiptoed by the bed in the early morning, lightly tapped my sleeping husband on the shoulder and whispered, “I think I’m gonna go back to the training.” Sit with what is difficult, this was one of the most powerful lessons of yoga for me, the magic and beauty often opens from there. The deepest experiences in our practice are when we stay with our difficult times and truly question what is going on.
Late fall, I taught my first yoga class to a friend and I remember feeling intensely vulnerable the rest of the day. I could not figure out why except that the seat of the teacher felt very open, too open, and at the time I was not ready for that. I felt so scattered in myself and did not understand the full meaning of my practice yet. The weight of responsibility felt heavy and I did not think I had anything to offer if I did not understand it all myself.
Over the next few months of teaching small portions of classes at the studio, that vulnerability and sense of responsibility eased.
I no longer felt uncomfortable in my vulnerability and openness, I actually felt at ease in that place, almost embracing it. The responsibility to teach yoga is there because we must keep our students safe in asana but as for my need to know it all, I realized that the pressure was from myself alone and from my need to understand it all myself. I came to acknowledge that nobody expects me to have all the answers or to lead them spiritually. Sharing my knowledge, my struggles and what comforts and supports me may comfort and support others and that is what I hope to give.
When I look back over the nine months and where I have come, there is a list of positive changes in my life that I attribute to my yoga practice and more directly to being part of yoga teacher training. The process was so much more than learning to teach yoga, although I did learn that and feel confident teaching now. More importantly, I grew so much as an individual. I gained confidence and resolve to make what I wanted to come true, come true. I trusted in myself knowing that God, the One, the Universe, the Self, whatever you want to call It, is within and I am supported; that ultimately I can do anything with a loving and passionate heart. When I focus my energy on what matters most, it is all easy from there. It is about sorting through the clutter in our heads to see more clearly what is important; breath concentration and meditation help me clear that clutter.
I listened to a healing mantra song, “Om Shre Devantre Namaha” and tears flowed down my cheeks
But it wasn’t a drastic change, as most important life-changes are not. There was no sudden bolt of lightening or thunder crash telling me and everyone around me that I have evolved but rather it was a slow unfolding and one day I noticed that I felt more awake. It is like back pain; you notice it daily because it hurts. Then you receive treatment and it slowly gets better. But you never notice the day it heals, maybe you just realize one day far in the future, “Wow, I’m no longer in pain. When did that happen?” One day driving to a yoga class, I listened to a healing mantra song, “Om Shre Devantre Namaha” and tears flowed down my cheeks as I suddenly realized that I was healed from my most recent difficulty, grief from the flood, that I did trust my Self and yoga again and that I had immense love inside of me.
Loving kindness grew organically along with acceptance of the way things are. I now understand that any spiritual practice, for me yoga, can often stir things up inside of us, some good and some not so good. I have seen it happen to others and have seen the detriment of the choice to quit when the bad is stirred inside. The process of yoga removes layers of our small self, our ego, and as we shed this skin, there is a death of what we are leaving behind, sometimes it is hard to let it go. Sometimes it is painful but sometimes it is beautiful. If we halt the process in the midst of shedding, then our growth is stunted and all that we have shaken up is left at the surface with no place to go and old wounds are open again.
As Ram Dass says, Don’t begin the practice. Don’t do it. But if you do, you must finish it.
Since beginning yoga teacher training, not only did I heal my grief from the flood, I learned to examine my judgement of others as what it truly is, insecurity and some misunderstanding within myself. Once I acknowledged it, it easily dissipated. This led to loving kindness toward others which in turn led to meaningful and loving exchanges with many people, some strangers. Connection with others made me feel happier, my world/karma began to shift because of those connections and its resulting happiness. I grew confident in who I am. I lost weight I had been holding onto. I quit regular alcohol drinking that had become a crutch. I started a business. I adopted a healthier diet. I still say the wrong thing at times and make mistakes, of course, but I acknowledge where they may come from, work on figuring out how I can do better, and accept that I mess up and will continue to do so. I was born again into Self love, something I was not aware I had lost and for that, I will always be grateful. The yoga teacher training program helped me to pause in the suspension and it was magical.