I am currently two weeks into a month-long RYT 200 yoga teacher training program at the Yoga Garden in San Francisco. I had about five weeks to sort out my relocation back to Asia, so thought to myself: if not now, when? I’m half way through the program and it has been intense, exhausting, but extremely engaging and I’m learning tons about “Yoga” and making new friends along the way: I am so happy with the decision to do my RYT 200 training at this particular school, and have some thoughts on things to take into consideration when you’re trying to choose where to do your YTT. Stay tuned for more on that particular topic.
I have learned a lot from practicing yoga, but what I really wanted to do today was to share some of the things I’ve learned so far from the six-days-a-week, intensive and challenging program, as well as thoughts and reflections from the first two weeks of my yoga teacher training, in no particular order:
1. Yoga is more than the yoga as we know it
There is so much more to “Yoga” than asanas and meditation, and most people (including myself) come into contact with yoga primarily because of the more physical aspects of the practice. I had this strange idea in my head that we’d be spending eight hours a day practicing asanas, and I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse set of lecturers and lecture topics: yoga anatomy, philosophy, history, teaching skills, ethics, sequencing and much much more; we have two-hour long guided practice four times a week, and do some practicing during teaching/asana clinics.
“Modern postural yoga”, or yoga as we know it, is something that hasn’t been around since the beginning of time, and is actually a blend of gymnastics and the “classic” asanas. At the beginning, physical asanas revolved mainly around sitting comfortably, for the purpose of meditation, and preparing the body in order to deepen meditative practice. What I thought was a “simple” breathing exercise, chanting Om at the beginning and end of class, is more than just a competition to see who can Om for longer: it signifies and represents so much more – creation, preservation, destruction; unconscious, subconscious, conscious and so on.
I’ve also learned that I love yoga anatomy and didn’t fully understand the importance of understanding how the bones, joints, ligaments and muscles all work together in yoga. Understanding these aspects of the practice helps people to get more out of the practice, prevents injury and has serious emotional impact as well. If you have any interest in learning more about yoga anatomy, follow Cora Wen: Cora was our anatomy lecturer and is an incredible teacher and yoga therapist.
2. You don’t have to want to teach yoga to do a yoga teacher training course
In fact, I would say that approximately 50% of our group of 18 students are not yet 100% certain that teaching yoga is in the cards (myself included). Regardless of whether you want to teach yoga or not, the training course is a great way to deepen your personal practice, meet other yogis in the community, learn more about the world of yoga and to challenge yourself.
Everyone who practices yoga comes from a different background and found yoga in different ways, and yoga teacher training truly highlights this. Not every yoga teacher started as one (some of our lecturers used to be preschool teachers, one used to be a banker, and another was a former monk!) and teacher training shows that yoga is not necessarily just for the Lululemon, splits-loving, super-fit models you often see in the magazines and Instagram (not that there’s anything wrong with that either!).
3. Teacher training is exhausting
Physically and mentally. I’ve practiced asanas several times a week, consistently, for at least a year now, and while this prepared me well for the physical aspects of training, an intensive month-long course still takes a toll. We meet six times a week from Tuesday to Sunday and get Mondays off. While we only have guided asana practice four times a week, there are readings, worksheets and lots of, how should I put this, digestion from the information overload. I’m fairly certain our class contributes to more than half of the coffee shop next to the studio’s business.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been living, breathing and even dreaming about yoga. When I’m not in class, I’m either doing my readings and worksheets or thinking about sequencing and I have now had several dreams about internal and external thigh rotation, though I’m told this is fairly normal. Sometimes, I find myself reciting the Gayatri mantra when I’m walking down the street or doing my grocery shopping. Beyond this, there is a lot of thinking, reflection and study of the self that happens as a natural result of learning about yoga philosophy and theory; in particular, yamas and niyamas have really hit close to home for me in terms of how I think about relationships with others and myself.
Long story short: I’ve consumed way too much coffee over these past two weeks, but am loving every minute.
4. Teaching is hard
One thing I love about this training program is that you learn teaching skills from day one. Teaching is harder than it seems, and we haven’t even learned about hands-on modifications, sequenced a full class or talked about creating themes, setting intentions or playing music (or not) during class yet! The Yoga Garden, in particular, focuses on helping each individual to find their unique teaching voice and not working off of “scripts”.
On day one, we practiced cuing our fellow classmates into Tadasana, mountain pose. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. I’ve gained so much more respect for teachers and completely understand when a teacher trips up on their words in class and tells us to “step your right hand in between your hands”. It happens to everyone and I can only hope that it gets easier with more practice. Don’t even get me started on mirroring and trying to cue (and mirror) more complicated poses like twists and garudasana (eagle pose, pictured above) or gomukhasana. For mirroring tips check out this article here!
5. Why compare and compete?
Coming from a background of competitive sports, it was only natural to want to constantly compete with myself and others: be better, faster, stronger. Over the past two weeks, I’ve learned that asanas are an important part of yoga, but that yoga is so much more. Does achieving pincha mayurasana make me a better yoga practitioner than the next person? Does it help to beat myself over not being able to hold crow pose for longer?
Everyone’s body is different and not everyone’s asanas (or meditation or pranayama – breathing) will look or feel the same. Our bodies are also different every day and it’s important to be able to accept and understand this, not only to avoid injury but also because non-acceptance creates tension and negativity. I’m far more willing, now, to accept that I may need a prop for my asana practice on a particular day, and stick to supported bridge pose instead of trying to force myself into wheel pose.
The RYT 200 program is just the foundation and I can’t wait to dive even deeper into the subject over the next two weeks, and know that the learning process may never end. I’ll keep you all updated on how the rest of the program goes, and I’d love to hear about your experience doing similar programs, please comment below or e-mail me!
Yoga is like music. The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul creates the symphony of life. – B.K.S. Iyengar