“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
When I first started my yoga teacher training journey, I had one goal in mind: knowledge. Driven by a pursuit of curiosity and a desire to know the ins and outs of why we do what we do on our mats and why I love this practice in these intangible ways, I ventured forth with the mind of an eager, hungry student. I had been practicing yoga on and off for about four years but only with extreme consistency for the last year before I started my training.
Before my training, I could tell you what I liked about yoga but I could only scratch the surface behind the beautiful question of ‘why’ it made me feel so good. You see, one major thing I learned over these past nine months, is that being a good yoga teacher is not nearly as simple as it might sound at first. Being a good yoga teacher involves wearing many hats at once. You are the director, the producer, the sound guy, the writer, the safety coordinator [hello, anatomy!] and you’re responsible for lighting and temperature control. You set the tone. You set the pace. You create the atmosphere. No pressure, right? And, if you do it right, you’re still wearing the hat of student. Always a student.
I started this training in a unique position as one of Flow’s co-manager’s. The pressure’s I faced, internal and external, were different than anyone else. The exposure I already had to the behind-the-scenes at a yoga studio gave me different knowledge than my fellow trainees. Yet, more than anything in the world, I wanted to wear only one hat during my training. I simply wanted to embody the role of student. I wanted to walk through those doors, once a month, on Friday night and stop being one of Flow’s managers. I wanted to become just like everyone else. Just another student who loved yoga and wanted to know more about this practice. I wanted anonymity. To fit in. Which is of course, impossible. My light shines too brightly to be contained for long and my curious, fiery nature often means I speak up and ask questions more than most. I stand out; might as well embrace it. Still, I tried hard to separate the two roles. I tried my best to be simply another student.
Balancing two jobs and a 200hr training is no easy feat. I’ll give myself credit for that. My multi-tasking skills were sharpened. My type A, let’s make a schedule, personality thrived. I had to be extremely organized. Time management was always in the back of my mind. I have a career background in logistics so this felt like a natural extension of my skills; a refinement of sorts, in the most personal way. I learned how to ask for help and to say this is too much right now. I found strength in my limitations. I learned the art of graciously saying no because my priorities had to shift. I leaned into the concept of this is only temporary. I relished in the deliberate nature of my movements, of my life.
At first, I was in denial about how much creativity and flexibility working two jobs and my training would require. I tried to convince myself, ‘I got this!’, every single time someone asked me ‘how’s your training going?’ or any time I started to feel completely overwhelmed. Mind over matter. Then I listened to an audiobook called ‘The Year of Yes’ by Shonda Rhimes. One message in particular stood out to me. A message about the concept of doing it all and how that’s impossible because when we succeed in one area of our life, we’re often failing in another. And so I gave myself permission to fail. The perfectionist in me rallied hard against this idea, of course.
At times, I felt like the universe sent me much needed signs of encouragement along the way. A class where our teacher, Tori Lundock, shared the nugget of wisdom to celebrate what we’re doing right. Mind-blowing. I was so used to setting goals and focusing on what I could be doing better which meant I was focusing my energy on my perceived shortcomings. This simple, against the grain, concept helped me transform my perspective. Yes, I was failing in some areas of my life, but I made the deliberate choice to seek out the areas I was succeeding in. I surrendered into this simple wisdom. Celebrate what you are doing right. Now this phrase has become a regular, anchoring mantra for me. Truly, it’s not what you’re looking at, but what you’re seeing that matters. Once I shifted my perspective away from my failures I really started to enjoy the process.
So at what point in my training did I decide that I wanted to teach? Because yes, I do want to be a [good/intelligent/encouraging] yoga teacher, and yes, there was a definitive turning point for me. A moment when I no longer wanted to only wear the hat of student. A time when I decided, I want to be a yoga teacher.
Early on in our training, we broke into small groups to practice cuing into various postures. Still relative strangers at this point, I was paired with a trainee who was relatively new to yoga. One of the poses we had to cue was side crow; a pose my body knows and loves very much. As we were discussing cuing strategies and setting up, my fellow trainee casually mentioned she had never done side crow before. My instinctual reaction was, ‘I’ll teach you!’ and I dropped down beside her and started cuing her into the pose. This was my lightbulb moment. My aha! The moment my heart spoke and I listened. To teach. That was my first instinct. How could I ignore that calling? I couldn’t. So I didn’t. No longer did I simply want knowledge. From that point on, I started wearing two hats to training, student and future yoga teacher.
Don’t get me wrong. There were moments of complete frustration, of doubt, of wanting to give up. I cried. A lot. I confessed to my best friends some of my deepest fears, ‘what if I’ll never be good at this?’ ‘I suck.’ ‘This is hard.’ and then I started telling others when they’d ask. I started this revolutionary movement of answering the age old question of ‘how’s it going?’ with a delicate balance of vulnerability and raw honesty. My willingness to share my authentic experience was always met with validation and support.
The internal pressure to succeed and do well in my training was always very strong inside of me because, despite my best efforts, I was always wearing more than two hats during my training: yoga teacher trainee and Flow’s co-manager, and like I said, I’m a [recovering] perfectionist. Sometimes the internal pressure felt strongest when it came from others; implied in their well-meaning words of encouragement: ‘you’ll be great’ or ‘can’t wait to take your class’ or ‘don’t be nervous’. My heart racing as I replied ‘thank you’ while my mind shouted ‘what if you suck!’ Thus began the chapter of trusting myself and my abilities. Of learning to sit with my insecurities.
What I valued most was the space to explore my fears and my doubts. To voice them and take away their power. I remember very distinctly sending a text to Jamie Markle before one of my particularly doubtful training weekends, ‘Show up and suck, right?’ ‘Yep.’ she replied, and then later ‘How’d it go?’ It’s not my phrase, show up and suck. I’m not even 100% sure where I got it from at this point, I think it’s from Jamie’s mentor, Marcia Hoffeins and it’s slowly made it’s way down to me or maybe it’s from Brene Brown. Hard to say. Nevertheless, that phrase popped into my head just as I was feeling like I’d hit my rock bottom of doubt and insecurity. There was no judgement in Jamie’s response. No condemnation. No stifling words of ‘you’ll be fine.’ Just space. Space to have my doubts and to be scared. Maybe that’s why I sent the message to her, because I knew she would get it. I knew she would give me space to have my authentic, terrifying experience because that’s what good yoga teachers do; they hold the space. To have your fears acknowledged and accepted is a very powerful tool for overcoming them. Show up and suck. I’ve heard it many times, in many different ways. For me, it gets to the heart of what we learn through our yoga practice: surrendering to the present moment and accepting yourself.
People tell you yoga teacher training brings up a lot of stuff. ‘Stuff’ is different for everyone. For me: perfectionism, a need to control, feelings of not being good enough, a continual battle about my body shape and my relationship with food [stress eating 101]. What no one could have ever prepared me for was the lessons I would learn along the way. The ability to let go. The courage to look my demons in the eyes and say ‘not today’. The self acceptance. The strength to pursue my dreams. The bravery to show up, and to sometimes suck. The patience for my asana practice and for myself. Determination. Resiliency. Persistence. Forgiveness. Surrender.
Last month, I taught my teach out sequence. Consider this the peak of my training. The moment I had been working towards for the last nine months. The apex of everything I had learned in my training coming together to create a beautiful symphony of movement and breath. After this moment, it would all be counterposing, inversions, backbends, and my beloved Savasana [a little sequencing humor for any of my yoga teachers still reading this; see Kelli and Tori I was paying attention]. I stood at the front of a room of my fellow trainees and my teachers, and with a shaking voice and an open heart, I started my teach out class with a heavy dose of vulnerability and raw honesty. After asking everyone to connect with their breath, to come into the room, to be here right now I shared my heart with the group:
And every time I tell people I’m nervous, they tell me ‘don’t be.’
But I don’t agree with that.
Nerves are a good thing.
It means you care.
It means something is important to you.
And as I sit here and look out at all of you, I realize I’m in good company.
Because you’re nervous too.’
There were other words spoken, other thoughts shared. Once I started, my thoughts just flowed. Things I wanted all of us to carry through to the next chapter of our lives. I led these beautiful souls through a sequence I wrote. I taught my largest group of students yet. People I’ve spent one weekend a month for the past 9 months with. Strangers who have become friends, a support system, kindred spirits. People I admire, respect, and care for. I made mistakes, I improvised, I learned from my students, things didn’t go exactly the way I had planned. I was scared, I was excited, I was moved. What a humbling, fierce, grounding experience. I left them with one final quote:
We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves. [Galileo]
After my teach out I felt breathless, euphoric. I intentionally made eye contact with every single one of my fellow trainees. My heart said thank you as my mouth tried to convey the message. That was by far one of the most humbling, gratifying moments of my training. We all came to our training for different reasons. Yet, we all shared one common thread, the root of what brought us here: we love yoga.
Yoga teacher training is about so much more than learning how to lead a class through postures. It’s more than learning history or philosophy or anatomy. Yoga teacher training is an experience. You can be transformed. If you let yourself be. If you surrender.
I know for some of my fellow trainees, our training was an anchor during some of the stormiest times of their lives. My heart is full for all of them. Sometimes when I’m sitting in our classroom, surrounded by these amazing people who are showing up and doing the work, despite every obstacle and battle they’re running up against, I wonder, do they know how much strength is in this room? I do. I see your strength. I hold the space for your battles, your doubts, your struggles.
As I approach the end of my training, my heart is full of love and gratitude. Thank you my fellow trainees for embarking on this journey with me. Thank you to my amazing teachers for sharing their wisdom and knowledge. Thank you to every single person who lent me their ear, offered me a hug or a kind word of encouragement and understanding. Thank you Flow for, once again, being a place of transformation and growth for me. Thank you, Megan, for holding the space to let all of this magic unfold.
I learned some of my biggest life lessons from this training experience: lead with your heart, speak your truth and trust yourself. Lessons I will continue to carry into my classes.
From my heart to yours,