Completing a yoga teacher training (YTT) program has been on my bucket list for a long time. I have been practicing yoga on and off for over a decade and have long been interested in taking the next step in deepening my understanding and practice.
After my first tussle with cancer treatments and eventual return to health, it felt like the perfect time to tackle that goal. I had no idea what I was in for.
The decision to do a YTT came hand-in-hand with my decision to move to California (a story for another time). I had never been to California, didn’t know many people there, and wanted to find a recurring commitment where I could meet a group of (hopefully) like-minded people right away. I Googled “Los Angeles yoga teacher training September 2016” and enrolled in the first program I found that started closest to my arrival date. I did not go in with the intention to become a teacher (which I found out is pretty common), and aside from becoming more flexible and finding out how to instruct a class, I had no idea what I would learn. What I ended up learning was, in a word, unexpected.
1. The purpose of yoga is not to serve as a physical escape.
I learned that practicing yoga goes far beyond working up a sweat, and each pose is merely a vehicle for achieving a higher level of peace. My approach to yoga had always been the exact opposite. I struggled with confronting my inner self and had always reveled in a sweaty practice that allowed me to focus on my body, not my thoughts. Little did I know how counterproductive this was. Through our study of yoga philosophy, mainly the Yamas and Niyamas (the ethical and moral codes of yoga), my whole mindset changed. My teachers defined yoga as “the removal of all disturbances from the mind.” There were a lot of disturbances to be removed from my consciousness and through yoga I have been able to make a lot of progress in my pursuit of peace. The physical benefits are now merely a bonus.
*Book recommendation: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
2. The relationships I cultivated with my fellow yogis became far more important than my cultivation or mastering of any pose.
As one of my teachers said, “the right group of people always comes together in a training.” It certainly felt true in my case. When I clicked that register button and hoped for the best, I really didn’t know if I was choosing a program that I would jive with. Luckily it turned out to be the perfect choice and I was surrounded by people who were just as eager and vulnerable as I was. It was a wonderfully supportive and bonding experience. I suppose it is inevitable to bond with those you touch regularly (safe, hands-on adjustments are important!). You watch each other succeed, fail, and grow immeasurably. I left with a support system that will never disappear.
3. The things you resist are the things you need the most.
For me the most challenging aspects of training were the facets of yoga that don’t involve any intense physical movements. Practices like meditation, kirtan (singing of praise), chanting, breathing exercises, yin yoga, etc., were simply tortuous for me. I found these practices very confronting as they forced me to turn my focus inward, which I deemed quite a scary place. I was assured that what I resisted was probably exactly what I needed so I eventually gave in and it started to pay off. I now meditate regularly and try to incorporate the other practices I mentioned, which each provide their own positive benefits.
4. Your body holds on to emotions in places you didn’t know were possible.
The physical practice of yoga can help you access and release those feelings. In other words: you may find yourself unexpectedly crying. There are certain poses that can unlock emotions and you’ll know it when it happens. It’s the strangest experience but also quite cathartic and freeing.
*Book recommendation: The Body Keeps the Score
5. Yin Yoga is the worst but also the absolute best.
Holding deep stretches for 3 – 5 minutes at a time? That’s it? All while you’re stuck in your own head, unable to escape? Needless to say I resisted yin from the start (see #3) and had to really force myself to stick with it. Eventually I felt the amazing benefits of the practice and the promise of the “fountain of youth” was enough to make me a huge fan. I still struggle with my yin practice but I always keep in mind that the end will justify the means. I even made a custom shirt to wear while I taught my final which read “yinspired.”
6. I thought Restorative Yoga would be boring, but it’s heaven.
No sweating? Lots of props? Basically just lying around? Ugh. My first impression of restorative yoga was that it’d be one big snooze-fest and a waste of time for me but boy was I wrong (see #3, again). My first experience with a restorative practice was like giving my entire body a gentle hug. Having the knowledge of this type of practice came in very handy during recovery from my second surgery. Instead of feeling resigned to the couch, I was able to gently move my body through restorative poses. This aided in a faster, more comfortable recovery.
7. I no longer care about mastering inversions or bending into a human pretzel.
Yoga used to be much more of a competitive and visual practice for me. I wanted to master every advanced pose with a sculpted body and fashionable outfit to boot. Did I become stronger and more flexible throughout training? Yes. Did I master a slew of new, impressive poses? No. It wasn’t about that. I realized that the benefits of yoga would be experienced in my mind above any superficial place on my body. That doesn’t mean I don’t work to improve my abilities with difficult poses, but it’s not my highest priority on the mat anymore.
8. Sun Salutations are the foundation of a great practice.
When describing her own practice, my teacher said, “I always feel a bit cheated when I don’t get my A’s and B’s in a class” (referring to the Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B series). I’d never been very concerned with these series before, but now I feel the same way. One day early on in training we completed 108 sun salutations as a group, each teaching 10 or so rounds as practice. At the end we stood in silence, listening to the sound of sweat dripping off our 15 bodies. It sounded like one big rain stick and it still makes me smile to think about how we all accomplished that intimidating feat.
9. There is so much to learn and a 200-hour training is only the tip of the iceberg.
During my first weekend of training, our group was asked to list out all the different types of yoga that exist. We filled up an entire whiteboard and there were many kinds I’d never even heard of. Before training my exposure to yoga was quite limited to vinyasa flow and I quickly realized that I barely knew anything at all. I learned that there are so many facets of philosophy, different approaches to physical practice, musical integrations, varieties of meditation, a wide world of anatomy… and we would only scratch the surface of each during training. As Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” It’s an overwhelming but also exciting realization. There is no end or pinnacle to a yoga practice, should you choose to fully dive in to expanding your experience with it.
Receiving my certification was only the beginning of my journey with yoga and being in training was the easy part. Every week included a full 12 hours of inspiration, camaraderie, and motivation. I left with a toolbox full of knowledge that’s now up to me to implement and continue to nurture. What I learned has aided in my continual soul searching, my pursuit of body image acceptance, and my recovery from intense cancer treatments (to name a few).
If yoga is your jam, I cannot recommend a YTT program enough. I also must recommend the book my two instructors released in the midst of our training, Holistic Yoga Flow: The Path of Practice. Lauren and Travis are such an inspirational couple (who also got married in the middle of our training!) and I feel so lucky to call them my mentors.
I thought a YTT would change the way I move my body and the way it looks, but it has changed the way I think and I find that to be far more valuable. Namaste.
*I have purchased all the items mentioned but this post contains affiliate links