Yoga Teacher Training: My Experience
Warning: long post ahead!
As I sit and reflect back on 2018 (how are we already halfway through December?!), I’m trying to recognize what accomplishments I achieved - big and small. One of the big ones from this year? Completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training program.
I’ve received so many questions about the entire life-changing experience…so, let’s break it down.
It’s impossible to tell this story without explaining how I started practicing yoga, but I’ll try to keep it brief.
I started practicing yoga about once a week or so at LA Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness when I was in high school, simply as a way to stretch out my legs after running. When I shipped out to college, I continued to practice (typically, hatha/gentle stretch style) at the student rec center and eventually nabbed a membership at a hot studio a few blocks away from campus (Hot Yoga Plus, for those of you in Nashville!). While I’d liked hatha classes, I really fell in love with hot yoga - both power flow and hot 26 (Bikram) style classes. I left every class feeling sweaty, awesome, empowered, light and alive. The post-yoga high felt comparable to runner’s high.
Come sophomore or junior year of college (it feels so long ago - it’s hard to remember!), I decided to up the ante and learn more. I wanted to improve my physical asana practice - and understand a little more about the “why” behind the postures. So, I enrolled in a semester-long series of weekly private classes. I credit this as the "beginning" of my journey, though I suppose I had been on a journey of some kind all along.
Anyways, post-private classes, I continued to go to Hot Yoga Plus, and while abroad, I took classes at a local Bikram studio (Yo Yoga, for those in Cape Town!). During summers, I'd find studios either in Rancho Cucamonga or in Los Angeles to pass the time and practice.
When I moved to San Diego, my practice dramatically intensified. I was practicing at home before bed, doing a few sun salutations in the morning and bouncing between yoga studios on Classpass. Eventually, I settled with class packs at Indie Yoga, House of Yogi and Spirit Yoga...eventually, just pursuing a membership at Spirit Yoga. And, I fell more in love with yoga everyday - both physically and spiritually. I was practicing around 4-5 times a week - even on crutches.
Somewhere along this journey, I knew I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to understand the way my body worked in postures, the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga, why and how classes were constructed and the history of the practice. I can't explain it other than an innate desire and a deep pull from the universe. But, between money and time, it never felt like the right time to pursue a teacher training program.
Just over a year ago, though, I received the news I could no longer run anymore with the EDS diagnosis. In an attempt to remain positive, I texted a friend saying: “Well, maybe this is the universe telling me I now have time to take a yoga teacher training.”
Said friend agreed and lo and behold, she and a few other gals organized the greatest gift of grace and love that I have ever received and am still extremely humbled by: a secret fundraiser to raise money so that I could pursue my next chapter after running - anything that made my heart happy in a pretty soul-crushing period of life. Beyond that, my friends realized it might help me understand and rebuild a better relationship with my physical body, which I hated at that point for being “flawed” and prohibiting me from pursuing running any longer. This isn’t the point of this story, but I am still incredibly touched and honored (and tearing up as I write this).
Leading up to the surprise donation, I had assumed that when I decided to commit to teacher training, it would be at Spirit Yoga. Not only was it my home base studio, I knew that they had a great yoga teacher training (YTT) program.
Then, two things changed:
1. My friend Jamie took me to a class at Golden Hill’s Mosaic Yoga...and I had an instantaneous feeling that said “yes.” It's hard to describe, but simply put: my gut was telling me to take a training here.
2. I made the decision that if I was going to commit to a program that already terrified me (long hours, learning after being out of a classroom for awhile, going deep into spirituality and mental health, etc.), I was going to really commit to facing fears. In this case, I knew I needed to go to a space where I didn’t know many people and really push myself out of my comfort zone so I could really maximize my learning.
So, I signed up for a spring training at Mosaic before I even had a ton of time to think about it. It was definitely a now or never thing.
The program ran from February 6 to May 6 on Sundays and Tuesdays. We were in the space from 5-9 PM on Tuesday evenings and Sundays from 8 AM - 5 PM. All classes were held at the Mosaic studio in Golden Hill - in the small room behind the front desk.
Sunday classes were primarily led by Mosaic co-founder and teacher, Ryan, while Tuesday evenings were primarily led by Mosaic teacher, Sophie. We had a few classes led by additional co-founders, Melissa and Ryan, and a class led by studio teacher, Erin. I loved the diversity in leaders throughout the program.
I knew the program would be a big time commitment, but I honestly didn’t realize how big. Beyond just classroom time, we also were encouraged to commit to 3-5 classes a week in the studio (the most regular practice I've ever had!). The program also included required reading and homework and practice teaching. Mosaic really felt like a second home with how much I was there.
The program’s curriculum was completely comprehensive and spanned the entire gamut - which I loved. We began with the history and philosophy of yoga, moved into breathing practices and anatomy and then moved into leadership development and spirituality. We eventually moved on to asana breakdown and adjustments. The latter quarter of the training was spent on teaching - best practices for cueing and adjusting, the business of yoga, ethics of teaching, music selection, sequencing formats and so on. The entire program built on itself throughout its duration.
Mosaic’s YTT program concluded with a very special evening: Light the Night. Everyone enrolled in our program (10 of us, including me) co-taught a donation-based class at the studio. We each took on sequencing and teaching our sections. It was special to finish out the program as a collective (There was a test, too, but Light the Night felt like more of the conclusion to me!) surrounded by our loved ones that were invited.
Now that I’ve covered off the basics, I wanted to share some of my personal experience, though it’s admittedly hard to articulate in a way that fully conveys how special and unique this experience was.
On the first Tuesday evening, both Sophie and Ryan explained that it wasn’t uncommon for the program to feel like a rollercoaster for us - up and down and up and down. I assumed I’d retain my excitement throughout the entire program, but I was proven wrong. The rollercoaster effect was definitely real for me.
When YTT began, I was both nervous and excited. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was really excited to begin the journey into a deeper exploration of yoga. During the first half of YTT, classes flew by, and I was completely absorbed by the material, the reading and classes. Somewhere around the middle of the program, though, I hit a lull. It was increasingly difficult to deny every Sunday hangout invitation, to go to class for essentially another half-day after getting up early to put in a full eight hours at the office (especially knowing I still had to make dinner…and more often than not, finish work, after) and to rush to make a yoga class so I was keeping up my practice and learning how to integrate what we were learning in class. Moreover, as an introvert, I was struggling to find a ton of time to recharge in solitude. I yearned for alone time, but between work and teacher training, it was hard to find - and I felt pretty mentally taxed. After a brief few weeks of this low, I hit another uphill of the rollercoaster that lasted the remainder of the program. I was finally grasping some of the philosophical and anatomical principles that confused me early on, I felt increasingly more comfortable joining the discussion in class (#ShyPeopleProblems), I was growing closer with the people in the class and I felt like I was getting to know myself more and more each day. When YTT graduation finally arrived, I was so sad! I wasn’t ready for the program to be over. Don’t get me wrong - I was definitely ready for my weekends back, but I had grown accustomed to love the new routine of learning, practice and community.
I expected to learn about the practice of yoga, but I’m not sure if I expected to learn so much about myself. During YTT, I was called to explore my motivations, my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears, my religious/spiritual practices and what/how/why I was doing certain things. The training brought about so many moments of tears, revelations and epiphanies and so many beautiful realizations. This practice of self-inquiry and exploration of the path and my highest potential has only continued since the conclusion of YTT.
Not only did I really begin to discover who I was at my core, I began to discover who I was as a teacher and leader. I had always seen myself as a follower, a member and a participant - in almost every aspect of my life. I went into YTT with this attitude - zero desire to teach. However, by the end of the program, I began to find my voice as a teacher and leader. I grew more and more comfortable with confidently holding space and instructing. I have a lot to learn, but the experience showed me my potential as a teacher and leader - whether it’s in a yoga studio or at work or in my personal life.
Quite a few of my friends had gone through YTT programs without making any new friends, so I wasn’t initially expecting a close bond with the group I was enrolled with. But, over the course of the program, I found myself growing closer to the people in the program. Between spending so much time with these individuals and sharing your greatest fears, strengths, thoughts and dreams…it was incredibly hard not to! While we were all extremely different (backgrounds, personalities, interests, etc.), we were all sharing this common path of self-discovery and learning more and more about yoga, which brought us all together. Months later, I am still close with the individuals I was certified with.
Interestingly enough, I think the program actually distanced me from some friends outside of the space. I had an increasingly challenging time relating to friends that weren’t on any path at all, and I made the conscious decision to cut a few draining friendships that were no longer serving me out.
YTT also helped me build a better relationship with and understanding of my body in a few ways:
I learned quite a bit of anatomy and physiology - specifically around joints and mobility. This helped me understand quite a bit about my hip fractures - in ways that doctors couldn’t explain it to me. Moreover, it helped me understand what poses may or may not be good on my hypermobile joints.
As I committed to my physical practice, I grew stronger and stronger. It helped me rebuild muscle around my hip - and helped me feel more at ease with my body. I felt graceful (even while falling in and out of poses!) and appreciate of what my body could do.
One of yoga’s eight limbs - the niyamas - relates to self-practices for a meaningful life. One of the niyamas - Santosha - became a big focus for me. My energy and focus on santosha, the practice of acceptance and contentment, helped me learn to accept a path shifting away from running and towards something new. I began to accept my body as it was.
It’s been a few months since I graduated yoga teacher training, and I’m still learning. I’ve taught a few times - donation classes in the park, at a conference, with friends and family - and I love it in a way I never thought I would. It’s energizing and fulfilling. I’m still finding my voice and how to differentiate my sequences, but I’m enjoying being a beginner and relishing in every new learning opportunity as a perpetual student of the practice.
I can’t say I know where my RYT status will take me, but I am enjoying the post-training journey.