It is apropos that the 200 hour yoga teacher training program I recently completed lasted nine months. Like growing in the womb, the process was a series of transformations leading ultimately, to the ability to teach yoga and so much more, with still so much to learn yet. The journey has come to an end and it has led my life on a series of deaths and rebirths as I awakened more truly to my Self. Becoming awakened is not the same as enlightenment but is certainly a step in the right direction. Being awake, to me, is not about perfection and blissful nirvana but rather acknowledging life’s imperfections, allowing and accepting them while being aware of my actions and how I can remedy or be at peace with them. It is about doing all that I can with a loving and honest heart knowing that I will blunder but trusting and loving myself despite my imperfections.
I began this journey with a bit of grasping. I am not even sure what it was I wanted anymore. I knew that yoga had helped me to heal through various difficult times, family relationship difficulties, 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 starting 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 it.
Shortly after I began down the path, skepticism showed its ugly face. What I loved so passionately all of a sudden looked different. Parts of it looked phony, parts of it seemed unnecessary, and the part that was so powerful at one time suddenly felt dim. I felt weak with my practice and almost walked away. I labored over the decision and eventually talked myself into deciding it was best for me and my family to end it…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 I needed something from this process because after sleeping on my decision to walk away from teacher training, I awoke with a knowing that I could not do it, I felt in the very least that I needed to finish what I had started. That was one of the most powerful lessons of yoga for me, to stay with what is difficult. The beauty often opens from there.
It wasn’t a drastic change, as most important life-changes do not happen suddenly. There was no sudden bolt of lightening or thunder crash letting me and everyone know I have evolved but rather it was a slow unfolding and one day I noticed that suddenly I felt more awake. It is like when you have back pain and you notice it daily because it hurts. Then you receive treatment and it slowly gets better. But you never remember the one day that it was healed, 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 face as I suddenly realized that I was healed from my grief of the flood, that I did trust my Self and yoga again and that I had immense love inside of me.
Loving kindness grew naturally 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 painful and sometimes it is beautiful. If we halt the process in the midst of shedding, then our growth is stunted and all that we have stirred up is left at the surface with no place to go. Now all of that pain is right there 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.”
I can define my transformation through a series of events. April 2014, we lost our home to the flood. It was only in the last few months that I have begun to see the beauty in that event. It took me a long time to heal but recently a friend told me that she thought that event was the beginning of my evolution and what a joy it was for her to watch. This resonates deep within because as Michael DeMaria explained to our teacher training group at a recent meditation workshop that magic happens when we are suspended as if we are 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. The flood forced me to let go of one thing and trust that what I needed would show up. That suspension is where our strength and character really come through even when we feel the lowest and far from magical.
In October 2014, having practically just begun my training, I doubted the process. Something was being stirred inside of me and I could not recognize it. The newness of the program was wearing off and I began to wonder why I was doing it at all. Somewhere in October I started seeing yoga as phony and inauthentic even in the midst of visiting a beautiful and sacred Hare Krishna farm in Mississippi. The money aspect of yoga, the exploitation, what I called “the yoga face” which to me was a persona that people adopted when they got into yoga; all of a sudden they had to be these all-loving fake hippies. I found it all really irritating and then I partly projected it onto my family telling myself that I should be with them instead of this phony practice. But I decided to stick with it, something inside of me knew that even though I felt these things, I needed to stick it out. I began to see that humans exploits most things that can make money and it can make our most sacred practices seem trite. Many religions are exploited but it does not matter what anyone else does with it. What I learned is that what is not mainstream is the true meaning of yoga and spiritual practice. I think the deepest experiences in our practice are when we sit through these difficult times and truly question what is going on.
The first class I taught was 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 honest and at the time I was not ready for that. Also, I felt so scattered in myself and did not understand everything about my spiritual practice. The weight of responsibility was heavy for me and I did not feel I had anything to offer if I did not understand it all myself. Over months of teaching small portions of classes, 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 needing to know it all, I realized that the pressure was from myself alone. Nobody expects me to have all the answers or to lead them spiritually, and my offering of what I do know as well as what I struggle with may help others. Sharing what comforts and supports me may comfort and support others and that is what I hope to give.
When I stand back and look over the last year 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 a 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 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 clears that clutter.
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 within. 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 these connections and this happiness. I grew confident in who I am. I lost weight I had been wanting to lose. I quit regular alcohol drinking. I started a business. I adopted a healthier diet. I still blunder and say the wrong thing at times. But I acknowledge where those blunders may come from, work on figuring out how I can do better, and accept that I make mistakes and will continue to do so. I have earned self love, something I was not aware I was lacking and for that, I will always be grateful.