What Nobody Tells You About Yoga Teacher Training
I am two months into leading another group through their 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. It is always an incredible privilege to watch a class of beautiful yogis and yoginis dive deeper into their practice, face their insecurities, embrace their new roles with courage and authenticity and connect with each other, but each time we take this journey, I also feel their frustration as they struggle in ways that they never anticipated.
Most of us go into Yoga teacher training because we have been deeply touched by our practice, we have been inspired by a wonderful teacher, we want to learn more, and we want to share what we learn with others. We expect the training to offer all that we currently enjoy in yoga and more, and the truth is, for the most part, that is what we get, but some things about YTT are never told to us. This is my list of the top 3:
#1. Yoga Teacher Training Will Change Your Life: Yes, I know you are thinking that you’ve heard that a million times. I did too sometime before I embarked on my first training. But I never really questioned what that would mean. I assumed it meant that I would live more mindfully, that I would be more spiritual, that I would connect to a cool group of people. What I didn’t know was that my life would be thrown into utter upheaval. When I went into teacher training, I was married and content, living a very stable and suburban (and superficial) lifestyle with my 2 children, beautiful home and 2 dogs. It was everything we are told to believe we should want and need. Having completed that training and another, I found myself divorced and raising 2 teenagers and 3 dogs alone. Most of my former friends are not in my life anymore. I own a yoga studio, live with enormous financial instability, travel all over the world to teach and practice yoga, and can hardly fathom my previous life. My story is not unusual. I meet people all the time who have had a similar experience. Chrys Kub published an article in Elephant Journal in February 2012 while I was deep in the muck of separation and an unraveling marriage that resonated profoundly with me. The title is “Question of the Day: Does Practicing Yoga Cause Divorce?” In it she divulges her own experience that bears a striking similarity to my own, and she concludes that “as women begin this process of rediscovering themselves [through yoga], many times the husbands do not come along for the ride. They just sit idly by, saying we are “crazy” and too into that “yoga stuff.” Meanwhile, their wives are slipping away, and probably never coming back.” In reclaiming your authentic self as we do in yoga and particularly in the hard work of teacher training, you risk losing those who have fallen in love with the false persona that you may have been wearing for years. Sometimes that may be husbands or wives, sometimes friends or family members. The deeper practices of yoga may be incomprehensible to many of the people in your life, and many of them will walk out as a result. This kind of “change” can be extraordinarily painful and unexpected, but it can lead to a life of abundant and authentic connection because the ones who stick around will be those who truly care about you.
#2 There Will Be Times When Yoga Teacher Training Will Make You Hate Yoga: When I began training, I thought I would relish the opportunity to practice everyday, but I was accustomed to practicing primarily in a studio, with a beloved teacher, surrounded by friends. My pre-YTT yoga practice didn’t require me to think at all. I showed up, and all was carefully prepared and crafted for me. In training, I had to develop a personal practice, and I had to do it amidst all of the other brain-stretching, overwhelming information I was trying to digest. Most days I loved rising at 5:30 and stumbling into the adjoining room in my pajamas to work through my sadhana, but occasionally, I held a visceral hatred for my early morning alarm. I was frustrated by trying to do my practice and learn sanskrit names for postures at the same time. My own sequencing didn’t feel as seamless and fluid as the classes I had attended for years. I longed for the days when a class was served up perfectly balanced for me to savor and enjoy. The same was true of the many hours spent in training. For the first few sessions, I sat wide-eyed and delighted. I wanted to remember every moment, every word, every nuance of what my teachers were sharing, but eventually, I found myself getting annoyed with some of my fellow students’ questions, watching the clock to see when the anatomy lesson would end, feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin if I had to listen for one more minute. I chastised myself for that reaction and I felt like an inadequate yogi for my lack of attention and interest. What I know now is that those reactions to both my personal practice and the class sessions were common, and that in many ways they were a sign of my resistance to incredible changes that were awakening in me. Yoga is first and foremost a tool to awakening self-realization, and self-realization ultimately means a deep awareness of one-ness with all. This kind of emotional and Spiritual growth is hard, and your ego-identity has a stake in resisting. As you begin to shake off the part of the mind that keeps you separate from and in competition with other beings, as you begin to recognize the unity and divinity of all, resistance shows up in subtle but powerful ways, as boredom, as irritation, as doubt, or as any number of other things. There is safety in staying small, and part of your consciousness fears growth and transformation. The practice is to begin to recognize these states in yourself so that you can move past them mindfully and enjoy the full depth of your experience.
3. You Will Graduate from Yoga Teacher Training Feeling Like You Know Very Little. When I registered for training, I assumed that I would complete it with a similar body of knowledge to that of my favorite teachers. I eally had no idea what, exactly, I would learn, but I figured it couldn’t be too much. Ha! How little I knew! Yoga is an ancient practice, and the body of information around philosophy, language, energy, anatomy, history, traditions and myriad other categories is almost incomprehensibly large. Even after completing 500 hours of training and attending dozens of workshops, I feel like I am still at the very surface. I have learned a great deal, but there is much that I still long to know. At the end of your 200 hour training, you will probably feel as if you have been offered a glimpse into this seemingly inexhaustible supply of information, but it will feel slippery at best. It will take more depth, time and training to really grasp some of what you are taught initially, and some of it will elude you for years. See this as a blessing, not a source of frustration. Yoga offers the opportunity to grow and learn ad infinitum. You get to explore your own vast inner experience even as you absorb the ancient wisdom and knowledge of those who have traveled before you. Each workshop and training you do, each book that you read, each wise teacher who inspires you, will enrich not only your ability to teach, but your ability to realize your full human potential. You will likely NEVER exhaust this well of knowledge.
If someone had shared this list with me before I began my first training, I probably would have completely disregarded it. In my hubris, I would have thought it may apply to a lot of people, but I would be different. Perhaps that is your reaction too, and perhaps that is a good thing. How many of us would still sign on if we knew what really lay before us? Despite it all, though, the experience of becoming a yoga teacher has been one of the best of my life (second only to being a mother). I live my life with a full open heart and enormous gratitude for the richness of my experience and for the beautiful souls who have shared the journey with me. For me, there really was no choice. Though I didn’t understand what was happening, a part of my soul was crying out for something more than the way I was living my life. In the words of Anaïs Nin:
“the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
If that day has come for you, welcome it and enjoy the ride!