Earlier this month I completed a ten-week Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) course to become a certified instructor through Yoga Alliance.
While I’ve done yoga on and off for over 10 years, I’m was never someone who had a very regular yoga practice, or someone who could stick their foot behind their head (still can’t), so I never thought of YTT as an option for myself. However, yoga offers so many things that I wanted to bring into my life (healing, balance, moving muscles beyond those on my keyboard…) and so I decided to sign up for the training, even though I definitely felt very nervous and insecure about it.
The Yoga Alliance 200 hour courses are available in a huge selection of countries and formats, from intensive 30-day retreats in totally fabulous resort locations, to local classes a few days a month. Since I have a (very) full-time job as the owner of Bead & Reel, jetting off for 30 days was not an option, and there are (not yet) training in my darling rural town, so I signed up for the weekend course at True Self Yoga in Olympia, WA, a beautiful studio about two hours away.
There are certain requirements for any Yoga Alliance 200 hour YTT course (like completing 20 hours of anatomy and physiology) however there is also a lot of flexibility (yoga pun not intended) in what and how things are taught. I felt that my course had a wonderful blend of the physical, spiritual, philosophical, and business side of yoga, which I have since learned is actually rather rare. Many trainings focus strictly on the asanas (poses), but my curriculum included topics like dharma, tantra, decolonization, meditation, chanting, and trauma-informed techniques as well.
Several people had told me beforehand that YTT would change my life, and I always thought that seemed a bit dramatic, but… I am now definitely one of those people that goes around telling people that YTT will change your life, because it did change my life. Getting to dedicate so much time to diving into my body, my mind, my heart, and my spirit is an incredible, challenging, confrontational, expansive experience, and while much of what I learned was deeply personal and specific to my own journey, I hope some of my lessons are helpful to you as well.
Yoga isn’t really about your body
Yoga, at its core, is actually not about your core, but instead is about creating a more balanced mind (or, a more balanced relationship with your mind). While here in America we often see yoga as the pursuit of flexible hamstrings and toned limbs, the physical aspects of yoga were originally created as a way to prepare you body to comfortably sit for long periods of meditation (opening the hips, strengthening the spine). It’s wonderful to enjoy handstands (I totally do) and there are huge benefits to a nice sweaty flow, but, ultimately our ability to observe our mind is much more important than our ability to do the splits.
Actually, yoga isn’t really about most bodies
Most major yoga lineages practiced in America today grew out of the poses and traditions created by Krishnamacharya in the first half of the 20th century. His students were almost exclusively male (young boys, to be exact), and therefore his postures and teachings were aimed towards the bodies and energy levels of…. young boys. So if you’ve ever felt totally confused or challenged with the poses or sequences in some classes, it could possibly be that you’re not a young Indian boy living in 1930 (just a guess).
This isn’t to say that you should give up on yoga – instead, it might be helpful to learn to modify poses to more appropriately fit your age, body, and gender.
One of my favorite simple tricks for women: since many women tend to have hips that are set wider then many men, try keeping your feet about 6” (or more) apart when in standing poses like Tadasana. This can help create a lot more stability and grounding (and doesn’t change the benefits of the pose at all!).
Yoga is more than exercise
While most of us think of Downward Facing Dog when we think about yoga, the physical (or asana) aspect of yoga is just one of the many branches of this ancient tradition. Raja yoga is the yoga of meditation, Karma yoga is the yoga of ethical living, and Mantra yoga is the yoga of sound. In total there are eight different paths of yoga (and within those paths, countless routes as well!), all of which can work together or individually, so if Hatha (physical) yoga isn’t your thing, don’t be discouraged! Instead explore the other forms of yoga until you find one that truly speaks to you – there really is something for everyone.
You are welcome in yoga
Yoga can seem really daunting to most people. So often we see thin, young, white women with big personalities and incredibly strong and flexible bodies, and we think that if we don’t meet those criteria, then we aren’t cut out for yoga (I’m a thin, young, white woman, and still find myself feeling totally intimidated). However, if you have a body, then you can do yoga. In fact, not feeling flexible and strong is a perfect reason to do yoga, and I’ve been thrilled to see a growing number of teachers and students that are trans, plus size, POC, men with respectful boundaries, and people with various injuries showing up and showing studios that yoga is for everyone.
Whatever your body and message and unique attributes, there is a space – in fact, a need – for you in yoga.
When your life starts falling apart, the yoga is working
A serious yoga practice is going to bring to light the things in your life that aren’t working. Throughout my training, several people were going through break ups (raises hand), moving (raises hand), quitting their jobs (okay, I didn’t do that one), and finding themselves in all sorts of unexpected, uncomfortable, and challenging situations as their passions and priorities and ideals started to awaken and shift. And while most of us prefer to avoid these kinds of difficulties (raises hand), as Pema Chödrön so brilliantly shares, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
So if you’re feeling annihilated, then, trust that the yoga is working, and on the other side of it is something far more beautiful – and far more indestructible – then you could have ever imagined.
Practicing yoga beyond the mat
The very first Yama – or guide – of yoga is Ahimsa, meaning non-violence, so it seems like veganism and ethical fashion would be pretty standard aspects of the yoga lifestyle, however, I’ve found both to be extremely uncommon in the yoga world (at least the yoga world I’m running in right now).
I actually view this as an exciting opportunity, especially for new yoga teachers. While many cities are saturated with studios and teachers offering vinyasa classes, there aren’t as many offering a more holistic and complete approach to yoga. If you’re thinking of taking YTT, there’s almost no competition for yoga teachers who want to teach sun salutations with vegan recipes, or share postures to help relax the neck along with brands that help change the world.
So I encourage you to find ways to bring yoga into your life, and bring your life into yoga.
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