More Than Just a Good Stretch
Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Over four years and 500 hours of yoga teacher training. Here's what I would go back and tell my beginner self.
In May of 2017, I graduated from a local teacher training in Atlanta. Prior to completing this training, I had very little experience with yoga. I mostly was into strength and weight training, and couldn't touch my toes. I took yoga classes at the gym and a couple studios. I did Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and I found what felt good. Looking back, it's hard to remember why I signed up for the training in the first place. I wasn't sure if teaching yoga was for me, but I certainly was curious to learn more and dive deeper into the practice. Little did I know, I was in for a life changing awakening.
I learned the history, lineages, and philosophy of yoga. I learned the physical practice and sequencing. I learned more anatomy than I ever thought I would. I learned about breath work and meditation. I explored the Eight Limbs. Most of all, I learned about myself. More than I ever had in years.
I was being honest about who I was in this world for the first time in a long time and my life changed--dramatically and for the better.
Ask any 200 hour yoga teacher trainee--it's intense. There's exhaustion, crying, confessions, and more chaturangas than you can count. You hold space for others and practice great patience as you listen to their experiences and stories. You also practice being vulnerable and share your own.
Then you graduate. It feels like you know nothing and so much more all at once. I felt raw and intense. I was being honest about who I was in this world for the first time in a long time and my life changed--dramatically and for the better.
Fast forward to now and I've just completed my 300 hour yoga teacher training. Still very intense, but with much less crying and fewer dramatic life changes. I feel more confident and knowledgeable, but again, know that there is so much more to learn on my journey with yoga.
In my teaching, I love teaching beginners. Even after all this time, I oftentimes recall being a beginner many years ago before my training. I remember feeling inflexible and nervous. I definitely felt self-conscious in a yoga studio and couldn't understand for the life of me why teachers would say to rest in downward facing dog. (To be fair, downward dog is NOT a resting pose!) If I could go back and give my beginner self some advice, it would be this:
1. Learn and embrace yoga as more than physical exercise.
Asana, or the physical postures of yoga, are just one of the Eight Limbs. The Limbs work together and methodically to bring you to peace and bliss. The more you embrace the Eight Limbs, the easier it is to access this bliss and with greater frequency.
2. Stop competing with yourself and others. It's not worth it.
I have two points here. First is the standard I held myself to and the achievement mindset that went along with it. I must advance. My body should be able to do this. Push harder. Go deeper. The best thing I learned and a mindset I still work on is that not everything is for me nor healthy for me. Some poses do not honor my unique body and actually harm it. It's okay if my feet never touch my head.
Second, "show-ga" is a thing. We see it everywhere--picture perfect bodies doing picture perfect poses. I'll be the first to admit, I do take pictures of myself doing yoga. What I learned though, is that this is not a goal for me, rather a creative expression. There is a beauty in yoga and I love capturing it. Am I doing yoga when I take photos--sometimes, but usually not. I'm posing for the camera, not experiencing the essence of a pose. I don't need to compare my body, poses, or art to another person's.
3. Break the rules.
After teacher training, I was stuck in a yoga template for years. This is what should be done. This is what teaching and practicing should look like. As soon as I learned to break free from the "shoulds" I became a happier teacher and practitioner. Keeping alignment and safety as a cornerstone, I challenge what I think I know and do the research around it. I feel and create different movements in my body. And most important, I explore and grant myself the grace to do so without unhealthy criticism.
4. Stay curious.
Some of the best advice my first teacher gave to her trainees was to keep the "beginner's mind." She said oftentimes when we become more knowledgeable we think we know everything and close ourselves off to learning. I have carried this advice with me and it has served me well--not just as a yoga teacher, but as a lifetime yoga student. Staying humble and curious has allowed me to become even more knowledgeable over the years, as well as cultivate that same curiosity in the community I teach in.