What teacher training taught me about Yoga

As I completed the application for the two year Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teacher Training, I was excited about two things: 1. Deepening my physical practice and 2. Graduating with the ability to stand on my head. Little did I know that while I’d certainly reach the first goal, I wouldn’t so much ‘stand on my head’ as ‘completely unravel my psyche.’

“It’s like peeling an onion,” said one of the teachers on our first day. “You slowly strip back your ego to reveal your authentic self.”  And wherever there are onions being peeled, there are tears. LOTS of tears!

Three months into training my Sacro-iliac joint flared up (more on this later). This meant agonising pain, the inability to sit for any length of time and sometimes twice daily visits to my chiropractor. On sobbing down the phone to my mentor, he joyfully announced “this is marvelous! It will make you a much better teacher.” Unconvinced, I would turn up to class every other Sunday and watch my classmates contort their bodies into human pretzels while I performed endless Cat/Cows and sat with my feelings of inadequacy. 

Six months into my training I accepted a demanding role in the high pressure environment of sports marketing. Every minute of my life became accounted for; from rushing early to work in the morning to finishing late. On weekends I tried to balance working from home with studying while convincing friends and family I hadn’t been kidnapped/disappeared off the face of the earth. But, I still turned up to teacher training religiously - every Thursday evening and alternate Sundays. Sure, I was barely keeping it together and frequently on automatic pilot – but my bare minimum commitment to Yoga was to keep showing up.

As fortune would have it, my anatomy teacher asked me to be a guinea pig for a study she was doing on sacroiliac pain and Yoga. Also a Yoga therapist, she designed a program that would strengthen my core and back, encourage the correct muscles to work for each movement while instructing the muscles that were over-working to take a chill pill. I have a type A personality, and the practice was so slow it was excruciating. Day after day I moved only with my breath to “inhale slowly and raise the arms 2,3,4, exhale and lower 2,3,4.” I’d committed to this study and couldn’t let my teacher down although my mind and body would find every excuse in the book not to practice. “I just need to check my emails,” I’d tell myself. “Deadlines are looming, I need to get into work early today, I don’t have time to practice.” My ego railed against the time in silence with myself.

But over time, something shifted. I started to WANT to get on the mat every day and would feel ‘off’ if I didn’t. My back became stronger and my pain lessened. I felt more connected to my body and respected its limitations instead of trying to push myself or self-flagellating for the things I couldn’t do. More importantly, the way I treated myself on the mat started to reflect off the mat. I slowed down and became more present. I got stronger. I respected myself and my body. My relationships changed and priorities shifted. I was finally practicing Yoga and it had absolutely nothing to do with standing on my head.

Those two years of training were intense, challenging, rewarding and ultimately life-changing. More importantly, they taught me that the most valuable training comes from your own experience and embodiment of the practice.