‘What you seek is seeking you.’ I’m sure you’ve read that before- at least I hope you have.
I remember when the thought of becoming a yoga teacher crossed my mind. It was after a class at one of the first studios I ever practiced at. I thought about how it must feel to be a teacher, how hard it must be and all of the wisdom they hold and harness within. But I quickly let the idea pass and the story I told myself began: ‘I didn’t begin this practice to become a yoga teacher.’
The deeper into my practice I got, the more I understood the meaning of being a student and how that is translated on and off of my mat. As a student, I soaked up everything my teachers were offering. Eventually, I ended the story of ‘I didn’t begin this practice to become a yoga teacher’ – because I realized that is exactly why I started practicing. To lead me to a place in which I could offer such sacredness.
I couldn’t shake the thought of being connected to this ancient community; being deeply rooted in a practice that has withstood the test of time and learning a philosophy so spiritual it feels like a religion- the path was obvious thus a new story began.
I’ve found most of us are constantly seeking but sometimes we don’t even realize exactly what it is until it is right in front of us.
The journey to becoming a yoga teacher was multifaceted with many different chapters and versions of myself. But I had no idea how the series of events discussed below would be truly life changing in every sense of the saying. Let’s start at the very beginning.
The Beginning Of My Yoga Journey
I started practicing yoga in 2011. I was a freshman in college in search of something I couldn’t quite recognize. Yoga was a tool for me to move my body and my mind was everywhere but on my mat. However, I always noticed how good I felt after a class- mentally and physically. But, I used it as a weight loss tool to meet my fitness goals and to get a ‘good stretch’ in after running intervals for an hour. When I finished running, I would hit the sauna and then head into the studio in my colleges rec center.
Fast forward a couple of years. I lost my practice. I stretched on my own, I ran a ton, and again my mind was everywhere (monkey mind as we yogis call it). As time passed, my practice remained sporadic but then I managed to make it into a local studio. This is when a page turned in my practice.
There is something about the atmosphere of a yoga studio; practicing alongside other students from all walks of life, listening to sacred music while being guided by a teacher that has explored depths I had never heard of. I held on to the beginnings of this practice and the sacredness I found on my mat for as long as I could until ‘life got in the way’- (in quotes because in hindsight, life didn’t get in the way – I just wasn’t ready).
By now it’s 2016, I lost the practice again because I started traveling… a lot. Some months I was only home for a couple of weeks and during that I would be juggling work, family, my boyfriend and whatever else came up. Yoga was never in the mix of things to juggle, it was never a priority. I went to the gym before work (at 6am) and there was typically no yoga class that early. By the time I got out of work the last thing I wanted to do was practice. So, the cycle continued. Excuses even after knowing and witnessing how yoga made me feel.
I would practice off and on over the next couple of years. Visiting my studio once or twice a month because it was expensive, and by this time I had quit my full-time job so saving my pennies for far off lands was essential. I visited Asia a couple of times which awakened the spiritual journey within, along with this sense of curiosity for a deeper knowing of Self. Bali and Thailand are both deeply spiritual places, if you’ve been you know this. Witnessing people worship in a way so different than what my upbringing demonstrated, was life changing to be quite honest.
Then, in February 2018, I went to India. This is a place I’d always wanted to visit simply because it was significantly different than anything, any place I ever experienced. A different world, entirely. This was my first pilgrimage. India chewed me up and spit me out. I bared witness to the seed of the Earth and in those moments, I was changed. How can you not be?
When The Student Is Ready The Teacher Appears
I wasn’t in India to practice yoga but somehow, I returned to America with a deeper appreciation for the practice. I carried this appreciation with me daily and when I practiced yoga I felt close to the motherland, India, and closer to myself. The next year and a half was monumental. I discovered a much deeper yoga practice, deeper than asana (physical practice), I would find my teachers, I would explore depths of my soul through questioning everything and through seeking reason, mindfulness snuck into every facet of my life, and I experimented with meditation.
Days, weeks, and months would pass. I was traveling more than previous years but now I had this practice. This practice became my anchor, it became engrained in my being, in my existence. I found, ‘as long as I practice I am at home,’ regardless of where I am geographically. Because home became my body, the house of my soul. I no longer had an excuse not to practice- even if I was thousands of miles from my studio.
Yoga became a practice of the Self and through it I came to know myself, at my core. And each time I show up to honor this ancient way of living, this ancient practice, I learn something new about myself, about life, about whatever is transcended through my body during the time I spend on my mat.
You Think You Know Yourself
I started to seek things that no one else had the answers for, not even my teachers. It was then that I knew yoga teacher training (YTT) was the next part of my journey. I searched far and wide for the right teacher training. My studio (The Portland Yoga Project ILYSM) was offering a training over a 6-month timeframe, but I knew with the amount I travel, that I would not be able to commit to that. So, I began looking elsewhere, for a one month intensive RYT200.
What is RYT200
Before we get any further, there are several options when choosing a yoga teacher training. RYT stands for ‘Registered Yoga Teacher’ and the number following it is the number of hours of content within the course. RYT200 is the ‘entry’ level training, it’s the minimum you need to become a yoga teacher. But if you’re reading this, chances are you knew that already. Like I said, there are so many different options when choosing a training:
- Style of yoga (hatha, yin, Kundalini, etc.)
- Duration of training
- Method of training (online vs. in person)
- One on one
- Yoga instructor vs. yoga teacher
The Course Search
I began my one month, RYT200 course search looking at schools within the US. Kripalu in Massachusetts, is widely recognized as one of the best centers for yoga in the country. Kripalu is the first school I applied to. I didn’t receive the scholarship I needed to attend. So the search continued.
When I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the US I expanded my search. I began looking in Central America which eventually led to looking at schools in the birthplace of yoga, Rishikesh, India. I found a couple of schools that seemed credible for Hatha (Vinyasa) yoga teacher training so I decided to reach out to a few students that graduated from the school. It was unanimous that they had a wonderful experience practicing and learning in Rishikesh however, they didn’t feel totally prepared to teach yoga once graduating.
At this point, I knew I wanted to teach after YTT but I was also open to the possibility of that mindset changing. Regardless, I wanted the opportunity to be as prepared as possible to teach should I still choose that path. I decided Rishikesh would be a better option down the road, after I completed my initial RYT200. How incredible would it be to practice yoga in the birthplace of the philosophy, of the practice? In a place that my mind, body and soul have known far longer than this life.
I’ll spare you the rest of the mundane search process. I finally narrowed it down to two schools. One in Goa, India and the other in Ubud, Bali. Both were within the same price range but ultimately it came down to the familiarity of my surroundings. Knowing Bali, having been twice before, and knowing there is a huge English-speaking expat community I knew I would be more comfortable in this environment. I knew the process of yoga teacher training would be one of the hardest things I would ever experience, so I wanted to have as comfortable of surroundings as I could.
Leading Up to Departure
After I made the decision to go for my RYT200 at Shades of Yoga in Ubud, Bali, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Was I good enough? Who do I think I am? Am I smart enough to be a yoga teacher? What if I quit? Why do I deserve this privilege? You name it, I asked it. I don’t think I’ve ever doubted myself so much. Kind of like those feelings you get when you first show up to a studio to practice – self-doubt and insecurities run rampant.
I chose to focus my energy on getting stronger physically for my practice. Running when I could, I hired a trainer I’d worked with in the past, and I was practicing yoga at least 1-2 times a day (Hatha – Vinyasa) and supplementing with yin/restorative 2-3 times a week. I maintained a clean diet regularly. For me that means red meat once a week (if that) and consuming white meat (chicken/fish) elsewhere through the week, dense greens and nutrient rich vegetables, protein rich legumes like lentils, gluten free and dairy free foods. I upped my supplements, drank heaps of water and mitigated inflammation where I could.
Instead of focusing on the self-doubt and things I had no control over, I chose to focus on what was within my control. The lessons of yoga teacher training were already beginning- surrendering the need to control the story and letting the story BE the story, as it is and as it would be.
September 2019, only a 24-hour journey and two flights stood between me and mama Bali. I boarded the Cathay Pacific flight with 3 suitcases and my Manduka yoga mat without hesitation. I knew I made the right choice. It felt like a homecoming when I touched down at Ngurah Rai International Airport. A sweet return to a place I love. This journey was going to be much different than journeys passed, I knew it would only add to my deep appreciation for Bali.
With an extra few days before the training started, I got to know the neighborhood I was living in for all of October and hiked Mt. Batur, something I always wanted to do on trips passed! I also wanted to find all of the delicious cafes because I LOVE FOOD.
Day One of Yoga Teacher Training
By this time, I could walk to the shala with my eyes closed. My home away from home was a homestay one street over from the shala. I walked the route every day so I would become familiar with it.
Day one arrived so quickly. I woke up at 6am. Ate a granola bar I brought from home. Drank some instant coffee. Packed my bag. Changed into my leggings. Put my Airpods in to listen to Trevor Hall (Jagadeesha to be exact) for my 10-minute walk. And was on my way to the shala for day one.
I arrived, signed in with Charlotte – our teacher, and entered the shala. At the center of the shala was a beautiful flower mandala with our mats surrounding it. The first couple of hours were spent introducing ourselves and our very first practice until breakfast at 10am. We returned to the shala for morning lecture, familiarizing ourselves with Ubud followed by a Meditation + Pranayama lecture. At 12 we had a two-hour break for lunch. Our afternoon lecture followed, History of Yoga, and the day closed with another practice. Eventually Charlotte would work in posture clinics and practice teaching sessions. This would be the routine for our 11 hour days for the next 24 days. All with the exception of Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was an abbreviated version of class (half day) and Sunday was our day off.
Each morning following the first day, we would practice what is called Noble Silence. Noble Silence is the practice of keeping energy contained, keeping it inward. This meant: not checking my phone, not listening to music, not eating or drinking, and not speaking to anyone- until 10am. Beginning each morning with meditation, followed by pranayama (breath work) and asana (physical practice of yoga, only one of the eight limbs of yoga). While Noble Silence sounds hard (it is at first) it is a true blessing to keep energy inward. So often our cups are overflowing and we never take the time to replenish ourselves. I carry a branch of this practice with me today.
Moments in Between
The moments in between were some of the sweetest moments of my life. Getting to know 14 other people that chose to be in the same position as me, going through a similar life experience but from different walks of life. Through the lectures not only do you learn from great scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, but you get to learn different viewpoints from everyone in the room. When you hear theses stories, they will remain in your heart and on your mind long after they’ve been told.
I took on a worldly view of topics I was once closed minded about, I began to think more deeply about my actions and words, I harnessed patience in a way I never had before and, most of all, through these conversations and texts I became more intentional with my existence (through words, actions and thoughts).
Through all of the intensity between the academia and the Self inquiry, focusing on the lighthearted moments helped me. The weekend adventures with souls that became family. The early dinners at the ‘usual spot,’ the sweet vegan treats, the morning tea after asana, the days that came to a close with a gentle yin class to the sweet sound of beetles, the sweaty lunches spent cooling off with a fresh coconut, Saturday night sleepovers, Sunday morning adventures, movie nights, daily matcha- all of the little moments. Another moment in between was the day trip we took to a local water temple during the last week of training where we experienced how the Balinese worship, their culture and their sacred spirituality- I was enamored by their devotion.
This entire journey unfolded without me recognizing it. That is the beauty of it. All of sudden 24 days pass and I’m on the other side of yoga teacher training as a completely different person. It’s a transformational experience and it’s the experience as a whole that influences the teacher you will become. It goes far deeper, far beyond the academia, the practice teaching, and the exams. Yes, the academia, practice teaching and exams (the technical knowledge) matters, it is important to be a safe and smart teacher of yoga should you choose that path. But while going through that you are inquiring, digging deep and searching for understanding.
Learning the scriptures, learning the yogic philosophy, learning how to look at things with a new set of eyes, the self-inquiry, and the self-discovery you explore is the real work. You face your shadows, you face your ego, you face everything you’ve ever tucked away. And, you decide to face all of that when you choose to go to yoga teacher training.
Day Twenty Four of Yoga Teacher Training
In the blink of an eye I arrived. As you will too, to day 24 of my RYT200 yoga teacher training. The last morning was spent as the 23 previous. Noble silence, meditation, pranayama, morning asana and breakfast followed by Chakra presentations, our typical lunch break and final exams that afternoon. Once exams finished we had some free time to get ready before the ceremony and our final dinner.
In the hours before the ceremony, once the stress of the final exam melted away, I reflected on the reasons I chose to go to yoga teacher training:
- To experience and be a part of something bigger than myself
- To explore spirituality
- Deepen my asana practice
- Deepen my understanding of how my body moves and works
- Harness an understanding of the yogic philosophy- beyond asana
- To surround myself with likeminded people, the seekers
I wanted to reflect to see if what I was seeking at the beginning was what I gained at the end of the 24 days. I gained every single thing I went to yoga teacher training for, and so much more. A new chapter in the story was beginning. On the other side of my yoga teacher training, I am still a student with so much to learn but while learning, I have so much to offer.
The Life Changing Part of Yoga
I hate to break it to you, but there is no single defining moment that makes a yoga teacher training life changing. It is a combination of what you bring to the table, what you surrender, what you open your heart up to during the experience, and how you digest and learn the yogic philosophy. And it all begins on day one.
Everything I’ve discussed above is a collection of moments that, when added together, created this life changing experience for me. I opened up my mind, body, heart and soul every single day. I remained vulnerable and open in order to receive. I devoured my teachers’ words and teachings and felt my body, the home of my soul, find alignment. I came to know the Self deeply while resetting to factory settings completely.
Everyone’s experience of yoga teacher training is different and this is mine. And life changing it was. Where are you in your journey? Lest you forget, what you seek is seeking you and you must always be open to it.