It was the 4’th of January, 2020, the day before the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training program was scheduled to begin. Myself and 11 other people were gathered together at an affiliate yoga studio in Paris, waiting for the bus that would convey us three hours away, to an Ashram in the countryside of France. At that Ashram I would attend my first ever training to be a yoga teacher.
My stomach was a ball of nerves. To be transparent, part of me was afraid to somehow be discovered as a “fraud.” There was this self-imposed presumption that since I was enrolled to attend a Yoga Teacher Training (a YTT), I should somehow already have a good level of knowledge about meditation, human anatomy, and be living that vegetarian life (which I didn’t, and wasn’t). I write that to encourage anyone else out there who may be feeling scared of enrolling in a YTT program- because the reality in the end, was that none of that mattered even a little bit, and all I needed was my interest in yoga and a willingness to learn.
As the twelve of us waited for the bus and exchanged awkward introductions, my heart was a mix of excited and sad. Excited because I was finally this close to being able to teach a yoga class, and sad because I would be leaving my partner at home for the next four weeks. My head was concentrated on trying to remember the names of all of these people I’d be sharing close quarters with for the next month. They seemed just as friendly and pleasant as I had expected.
It had taken me a while to finally decide which training program I would attend (because there are hundreds of possibilities). But once I arrived at my choice of YTT, and met my fellow future-teachers-in-training, I was surprised to learn that the majority of them were not there because they wanted to actually teach yoga, but because they wanted to deepen their own personal development. At the time, my understanding of what a yoga teacher training would look like included: learning which poses affect which body parts, learning how to sequence a class correctly, and probably learning lots of stuff about Chakras. I ended up being very surprised by everything I did (and didn't) learn during those four weeks of training, and my real-life experience was quite different from what I'd imagined it would be.
I now know that first-time trainees are often surprised by what does and doesn’t end up being part of a YTT. So one of the reasons I’m writing this article is to help potential yoga teachers in training have a better idea of what yoga training can look like. Another reason is so that I can share ways in which I would’ve prepared for/lived through the experience differently, and hopefully spare others from making those same mistakes. 😜 I'm sticking to these points to keep this article relatively brief but what’s written here only skims the surface of my first Yoga Teacher Training experience. As I was taught the basics of how to teach yoga during that first month of 2020, I lived through a beautifully transformative adventure that deepened my self-awareness and self-love in a way that nothing else ever had before.
As the sun was setting and the bus we'd waited for was carrying a load of sleeping people between two more fields of bare grape vines, it hit me. It felt like someone had poured something heavy into the back of my head, while the front of my head tightened in an effort to keep balance. To this day, I think that was the worst non-migraine-headache I have ever experienced. Unfortunately, it would only get worse for two more days, with no fix in sight. And by “fix,” I mean caffeine. Which brings me to my first little piece of advice for someone looking into attending a yoga teacher training- which is to gradually wean yourself off caffeine ahead of time. Of course, if you’re not a coffee lover as I am, or if your particular yoga training program doesn’t prohibit partaking in caffeinated beverages, then you probably don’t have anything to worry about. This is the first tip I’m sharing for the reason that it wasn’t something I would’ve realized beforehand, because although I do love coffee, very rarely do I drink more than one cup a day. Sipping on a warm cup’a joe is an enjoyable part of my morning routine, but I generally feel the same before and after I’ve finished my single daily cup. And thus, I didn’t consider that I would go through any kind of “withdrawal” symptoms from not having that single daily cup. Well, I was wrong. And I would’ve enjoyed those first two days so much more, had I lived them headache-free.
The first day we all met at 6 a.m. sharp for 30 minutes of meditation. Following that, we spent a half an hour singing some Kirtan chants (which took me at least two weeks to feel like I wasn't completely butchering), then there was the reading of a passage from a spiritual text, and lastly, we listened to one of the Swamis (a teacher) talk about applying the text to everyday life. This would be our daily, caffeine-free, ritual for starting each morning.
The most important personal experience I had during my YTT, occurred during one of these morning rituals. After leaving the highly religious (and unfortunately, guilt-heavy) atmosphere I'd grown up in, I’d decided to take a break from all religious and spiritual practices in order to give myself a chance to figure out which beliefs I wanted to change, hold onto, or adopt. Part of that decision came from my lack of understanding that religion and spirituality can be mutually exclusive.
I remember sitting in one of our morning meditations and feeling the minutes tick by while I used every last ounce of willpower to keep myself from disturbing the breathless silence of the room by wiggling to relieve my back pain and let out a fart. Then the perfect silence was unexpectedly broken by a Swami. The Swami felt moved to offer some guidance during the meditation. They encouraged us to turn our attention inward, observe the presence of our inner-self, and envision a light at the core of who we are. They told us to imagine that this light inside represents perfect love and goodness, and to imagine ourselves being completely filled with this love and goodness. It was such a gentle suggestion, simple and yet so powerful. As I observed the feelings of my inner self and tried to sense my spirit, I began to realize that for years I had been afraid of not being “nice enough,” or being “good enough.” As I continued observing my spirit, I began feeling this deep sense of light and love inside which had actually been my guiding force all along, but which hadn’t been given the space or appreciation needed to be louder than others’ judgment and expectations. The truth of what was at my core had spent years being drowned out by the finger-wagging voices of others who’d never even taken the time to try and get to know me. Through that observation, I realized that although I’d thought to have put everything spiritual “on hold” in my life, my spirit had continued working to sense and share love and kindness with myself and others all along. That’s when it became clear to me I could give attention to my inner-self and sense of spirituality, without needing to connect them to a set of organized religious beliefs. This realization was so liberating for me, and ever since I've enjoyed deepening my sense of spirituality and connecting more with my own spiritual intuition. I'm so happy to have been liberated in my understanding of spirituality so that I can now connect with my spirit in a way that aligns with my own personal beliefs, rather than neglecting that part of me even exists just because I didn’t agree with one particular organized religion.
Those morning rituals changed my life in many positive ways, but being able to wake up at the crack of dawn and sit quietly with your eyes closed for a half an hour without falling asleep, requires getting a minimum of restorative sleep. And the one physical object I had wished for most during my YTT was a set of earplugs. If you plan to share a room/cabin with another person or persons, then make sure you have some earplugs! Why not be extra safe, and add a pair of back-up earplugs?! In-person yoga teacher trainings tend to keep an intense pace because there's so much you need to learn in a short amount of time. From sunup to sundown you're being trained in the foundations of yoga, meditation, human anatomy, asanas, and more. And when you're finally able to get some shut-eye at the end of a 17 hour day, I can tell you from experience, it's essential that another person's snoring doesn't keep you awake all night. So equip yourself to receive a maximum amount of restorative sleep each night by taking earplugs, an eye-mask, some lavender essential oil, chamomile tea, or whatever you rely on to assure yourself a good night of deep sleep (potential snoring bunk mates notwithstanding).
How exactly was my first YTT different from what I was expecting? Well for starters, it had never occurred to me that people could attend a yoga teacher training for the sole purpose of deepening their own personal growth. But each day, as we were encouraged to take a deeper look into the relationship between our bodies, minds, and spirits, it became clear to me that the main thing we were learning during the training was how to listen to, and connect with ourselves. In this way, we would be able to teach others how to do the same. In fact, I would finish my training feeling like the biggest things I learned weren’t actually about yoga, but about my own relationship with myself and with other living beings. The word Yoga actually means “to unite.” And in a yoga practice, it could be argued that "the main goal" is to help unite your mind, body, and soul by observing each of them and allowing your breath to guide your movement. So if you’re planning to guide others through this kind of practice it makes sense that you need to have a strong sense of unity between all the parts of your own being.
Along with wishing for a pair of earplugs, I also wished that I would’ve packed a stash of snacks. Thank goodness some of my roommates had a car, and offered to make regular snack runs to a nearby grocery store! If your current diet isn’t already meat-free and sattvic, then you will likely find yourself getting quite hungry after a week or so. Of course if you bring any snacks, you need to make sure they respect any rules of what is and isn’t allowed on the premises, but I would highly recommend bringing some nuts, dried fruit, rice crackers, and maybe even a bit of chocolate. Although the sattvic diet is incredibly beneficial to cleansing and sustaining your body’s energy, during an intense mental and physical training it can be hard to feel like you’re getting enough fuel if you’re not already used to eating that way. But please don’t get me wrong, the food we did eat was incredibly delicious and well prepared. We also had plenty of it, even if there were only two meals a day. I think though, that the long stretches in between meals, plus the fact that most of what we ate was easily digestible, meant that those of us who were used to having more in the tank on a regular basis, would start feeling a bit too tired to concentrate as well as we wanted to during class. But even with those regular snack runs to the local grocery store, I ended up losing 5 kilos within the month, so I think the four plus hours of yoga a day still did a great job of helping my body get in shape.
There is so, so much more I could say about my first, 200hr yoga teacher training, but since this article is already a bit long, I’ll share one more thing. If you’ve read other blog articles describing a YTT experience, chances are you’ve already read that it was surprising how little human anatomy made it into the training. And I would have to say that my experience included this same surprise. I went in expecting to have a minimum of something like an hour a day devoted just to learning about our bone structure, muscles, and how each possible yoga pose affects specific parts of the body. But in reality, if you’re hoping to offer comprehensive yoga classes that are adaptable to various body types, or customizable to focus on specific parts of the body, or a particular chakra, there’s just way too much information to cram into a four week, 200 hour program. So at my first teacher training we spent about five days max that where devoted to human anatomy. During that time we were given a basic instruction on the constitution and capacity of muscles and bones, as well as several classes on the function of the lungs, the nervous system, and ligaments. But I think most any yoga teacher would tell you- no matter which YTT you decide to take, you’ll need to continue your training once it’s over. Whether you continue learning by reading books, attending more advanced teacher trainings, or by in-class trial and error, the important thing is to realize that you don’t need to know everything before you can start teaching. Once you start teaching, you’ll have a more clear idea of the different areas in which you need to increase your knowledge, and you’ll also learn through the process of teaching. And yes, you will end up teaching some classes where one or another student just simply isn’t able to bring their body into one of the poses you’re guiding the class into, and no, you won’t know exactly how to guide them to make the necessary adjustments. I think this happens to just about every yoga teacher at one point or another, but there’s no reason to be scared of that. Learn from it. Make sure your stuents know that child's pose or savasana is always an option. Ask for advice from a more advanced yoga teacher once the class is over so you’ll know how to better guide your students next time, or do some research for appropriate adaptations. Remember that even if you’re a teacher, you’re allowed to not know everything at the start, and to learn as you go.
After I had been teaching yoga for about a year, I learned one of the most important things I’ve ever learned about yoga, which is that you're sharing a practice with someone, yes, but you’re also sharing yourself. Teaching Yoga is an opportunity to reflect back to your students what it looks like to love, accept and embrace yourself in a way that allows the light and goodness at your core to shine its brightest. When you teach yoga, you have a chance to not only share amazing physical benefits with your students, but to also help open up their spirits to find unity between their minds and bodies.
Thanks for letting me share my first yoga teacher training with you! If you have any questions, I would be happy to respond to them in a comment below or via email! You can find my contact info here.
If you're interested in finding out the biggest ways in which becoming a yoga teacher changed my life, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here where I'll be posting a VLOG on that soon.