About 3 months ago I started a CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) 200+ hour training, and am about halfway through the 6-month long program. Throughout this time I’ve been getting lots of questions from friends, fellow yogis, and family about my experience thus far.
Whether you’re considering beginning or deepening your own personal practice, or just curious about what I’m up to; I thought I’d share a bit about what teacher training has shown me up to this halfway point. As a side note, I should emphasize that I am only 3 months into the program, and have been practicing for just a small number of years — I’m in NO way a yoga expert, but am simply sharing my personal learnings at this point in my journey with the practice. This is likely to change and evolve in the months and years to come, but I’m coming to understand that that’s alright.
With that being said, I’ll share what I’ve learned thus far.
I grew up in a rather Christian environment. This came with wonderful teachings, many virtues that guide one toward a relatively healthy lifestyle, and all around hopeful messaging and ideology. However, I was also told on more than one occasion that yoga was “of the devil,” and should be avoided at all costs. And even if I dared to step foot in a yoga studio, I better be sure it’s one of those “athletically-focused” ones with none of that “spiritual woo-woo” and chanting.
To be completely honest, I had my own reservations coming into the teacher training. I’d been a part of the studio for a few months at that point, and in the years leading up to now I’d spent most of my time in hot yoga classes that seemed to focus on the physical practice, rather than spiritual and personal meditation. Having been heavily conditioned to reject anything that didn’t fit into my evangelical-church-cultured experience, I was nervous that we’d be getting into the aspects of yoga that addressed more than just that of the physical practice.
And well, I was right.
We’ve spent quite a few hours workshopping and building strength in our “asanas” (physical movement/practice), but we’ve spent even more of our time getting into the nitty gritty of our souls — spirituality included. And I confess that I was really on guard when we first started talking about this. I have my own baggage with evangelical Christianity, but that didn’t mean I was ready to throw that all out there and process it with a group of strangers I’d met only a week prior.
But a couple weeks before the training began, I’d received a word in prayer and sensed God nudging me to just be open. Be open to these strangers that were shockingly more vulnerable than any small group I’d ever been a part of. Be open to learning about a history, a culture, and a philosophy extremely different (yet surprisingly similar) to all that I’d grown up knowing. Be open to the personal transformation that He might have for me in the process of facing my own preconceived judgements of the practice, and other ways of thinking and doing life. And for the first time in years, I felt safe being open to that transformation.
And so I’ve stayed open, and engaged. And I’ve been learning so much.
Did you know that yoga began not as a physical practice, but as a way of life that positioned the individual to be in a constant state of learning?
Amongst the varying definitions of the Sanskrit term, “yoga” simply meant “to yoke,” referencing the union of the mind and body (which in today’s highly cerebral society, we could really use that unification).
Did you know that the meditations, mantras, and practices were meant not to replace ones religion, but to enhance it?
Although there are certainly yoga practitioners that will emphasize specific world religions in their teachings, much of the mantras (or “chanting”) lead in (especially western) studios contain phrases that are simply meant to wish others well-being, or give the student the opportunity to ask God for wisdom, health, or love for the world around them. It’s much like Sunday morning worship, but less specific, and in another location and language. Obviously when practicing, you can make your own meditation or mantra specific to a particular religious figure; but it’s not required.
Did you know that even yoga as a physical practice, actually addresses the whole self?
At the beginning of each class we tend to either set an intention, or spend a few minutes sharing about our week. This is a pretty simple practice, but tends to go pretty deep. Some weeks my intention is to simply “build strength”. This may sound superficial, but what I’ve found is that throughout our 2.5 hour class, I’m regularly reflecting on where I’m building strength emotionally, spiritually, and personally while in the physical postures. In a balance posture for example, I may start to get frustrated that the object or person in front of me is moving, making it difficult for me to keep my own body balanced. As I reflect back on my intention to “build strength,” I’m reminded that learning to stay personally focused and emotionally centered despite external situations or factors is an on-going process. No, I don’t have the strength yet — but it’s worth it to invest time and energy into building it. There’s something about learning from a physical posture that leaves a lasting impression on my heart and mind.
Did you know that yoga is not a means to merely escape the reality of the world, but to be better equipped to engage with it?
This one is interesting, and there may be others that disagree with me…however, one of the “yoga stereotypes” out there that I’d heard prior to practicing was that yoga was a means of escapism. I’d heard that when on the mat — nothing else matters. No one else matters but you, and your body, your safety. It’s all about you — you. you. you.
But what I’ve come to find, is that yoga is actually a discipline. It’s the setting aside of time to be present to yourself. But being present to yourself doesn’t mean escaping the realities of the world around you. It means seeing yourself clearly within that reality, and honoring your effort, your limitations, and your areas of growth yet to come to fruition — both personally, and interpersonally. There’s something to be said about the importance of boundaries and healthy rhythms. We live in such a fast-paced, achievement based society that we need to consciously implement healthy lifestyle practices in our everyday lives. However, if the rhythms that we’re implementing bring us further into isolation and self-preservation — one might question if these rhythms are truly healthy to begin with.
The physical practice of yoga is meant to bring strength, flexibility, and healing to the body, mind, and soul. This should equip one to better engage with the people and world around them. When we’re aware of our limitations, we can humbly ask for help — and we know that we’re not the solution to all the world’s problems. When we’re aware of our strengths, we can utilize them for the good of others. When we’re aware of what we’re currently working through – be it physical, emotional, or interpersonal — we begin to find the ability to control what we once negatively projected onto others. The list goes on and on, but the point is simple – the practice of yoga creates opportunity to even better engage outside of ourselves.
So I share these findings not to shame anyone for not knowing these things, or misunderstanding aspects the practice — but to humbly confess my own misperceptions, and how I’ve been (and continue to be) transformed through the process of simply being open, and taking a teachable posture. The best part is that I’m only halfway through! I can’t tell you how excited I am to see what further growth will take place as the training continues. But I’m honestly just grateful that in my own achievement-motivated being, I’ve found a practice that simply can’t be achieved. Because yoga is an ever-evolving personal practice and mentality, I’ll never quite “arrive.” And being on a journey to challenge my own discomfort with that is a gift that I’m learning to embrace.