When I started a 200 hour yoga teacher training program, I had no idea at the time just how influential this experience was going to be for me.
I have been practicing yoga for the past five years fairly consistently and have thought for many years about doing a training, but held myself back as I had the misguided belief that I had to be an advanced yogi capable of doing every pose with ease. It was a spontaneous decision to start the training that I made less than a week before the program started, inspired by a relative who had passed away that triggered a sense of urgency in my life.
Now I still cannot do a handstand or wheel, and struggle to do a headstand without the support of the wall or a teacher. Yoga teacher training had less to do with my physical abilities and more to do with my attitude. Like me, most of my fellow yogis went into the program not to become yoga teachers but rather and simply, to learn about the practice. It is really is a preparation for life and could be renamed from teacher training to life training.
Here are 3 ways that the yoga training has influenced my life over the past year.
1. Yoga training has changed the way that I sit, stand and walk
After practicing yoga with the same teachers and at the same studios for several years, I noticed that my mind would easily wander during class. My yoga mat became my office, where I could go to sort through things, organize my life, and feel ready to re-enter my world.
Yoga training has changed all of this.
We spent a few hours on each yoga pose. Yes, imagine dissecting, learning, teaching, practicing each of downward dog, warrior 2 or tree pose for a few hours. I quickly learned what is happening to each part of my body, in each pose. And there is a lot more than meets the eye.
Learning about the specific alignment and adjustments of body parts during each pose brought a whole new level of depth to my practice. So much so that I wish I had done the training five years ago when I had first started practicing yoga.
Now that I have an understanding of each muscle in my body during each pose, my attention does not wander anymore. I am far more mindful now of lifting my knee cap in triangle pose, pressing firmly into the floor or blocks in a forward fold, externally rotating my upper arms in downward dog, pressing into my toes in upward facing dog, and I could go on.
Yoga anatomy blew my mind. I have been fortunate to be healthy in life thus far and not face any serious medical injuries or emergencies. I had not previously been exposed to anatomy and largely thought of my body as a black box. Yoga training changed that.
Learning about the differences between my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, the regions of my spine and how they are meant (and not meant) to move, and about individual muscles - my relationship with my body has changed forever.
The level of awareness of my body in everyday situations, be it walking to the office, sitting on the subway, in a meeting room, while brushing my teeth or cooking in the kitchen, I now sit, stand and walk differently.
2. Yoga training has made me more effective in business
My admiration for yoga teachers skyrocketed after we were asked to start practice teaching. It felt like we forgot how to speak English once each of us stood up in front of the class to instruct. Although I am no stranger to public speaking, I learned quickly that instructing a yoga class with movement, unpredictability and a sequence is a completely different game.
Clarity is critical, as people are trusting me to guide their movements safely. Brevity is paramount, to keep the class flowing and students engaged. This challenge stimulated me.
Now what I was most surprised about was how transferable these skills were to my business. How I showed up in business, with clients and my team, changed. My emails became shorter. My instructions more direct. I paid more attention to what people were saying. It took me a while to attribute this shift that I had been experiencing professionally to my yoga training.
For example, in training we learned how to give demos. Here is how I could instruct tree pose:
Shift your weight into your right foot
With the help of your left hand, place your left foot on the inside of your right thigh
Avoid placing your left foot on your right knee, place it above or below your right knee
Bring your hands to your hips and level your hips
Tuck your tailbone and lengthen your spine
Engage your core, gather your ribs and broaden your chest
Energetically point both of your hip points forward
Lift and engage your right knee cap, lower your right hamstring
Bring your hands into a prayer in front of your chest
Raise your arms to the sky and focus on your hips for stability
Continue to press into your inner right leg for greater balance
Externally rotate your upper arms so that your triceps face forward
Lower your shoulder blades down your back and unclench your jaw
Focus your gaze forward and relax your facial muscles
If a student was new to yoga or tree pose, the above instruction is incredibly intimidating (although mostly accurate and complete).
Here is a different way to instruct the same pose:
Shift your weight into your right foot and place your left foot above or below your right knee
Bring your hands to your hips
Bring your hands into a prayer in front of your chest and gather your hips together
Raise your arms to the sky and continue to focus on your hips for stability
We were taught to focus on “the one thing” we want the students to learn instead of reciting a textbook of instructions that cover every possible piece of information about the pose. (The one thing in the second example is clearly a focus on the hips).
I remember my next day in the office, I wrote an email to a client explaining the value of our product and listing seven benefits. I paused and then asked myself, “what’s the one thing that I really would like to communicate?” and re-wrote the email to focus on 1 benefit instead.
My sales presentations, blog posts, product strategy, 1-1 feedback and general prioritization all began to anchor on “one thing” instead of a list of 17 things. As a yoga teacher or business leader, being clear, direct and focused is what those around me expect from me.
3. Yoga philosophy is a handbook on living well
Yoga in the West has been popularized as a physical workout alongside other fitness routines. Most yoga studios, teachers and students focus exclusively on the physical practice.
The reality is that yoga is much more than a physical practice and the poses are a tiny part of the teaching. The purpose of yoga poses is to prepare the body to be able to sit in meditation for an extended period of time. Why? So that we can go deeper within without being distracted by physical discomforts in our body.
I’ll repeat. The primary reason yoga poses were developed was to prepare the body to sit in meditation. To have a physical yoga practice without a meditation practice is equivalent to taking cooking classes, but never cooking a meal; or practicing a sport, without ever playing the game; or learning to drive, without ever getting behind the wheel.
Yoga philosophy is my jam and I really loved learning more about ayurveda (Indian medicine from 5,000 years ago), the Bhagavad Gita (the ancient yoga text full of knowledge and teaching), Pranayama (breathing practices), Bhakti (the yoga of devotion and service) and the Koshas (the many layers to our existence) among other aspects of the practice.
Yoga is full of frameworks, teachings and theories that continue to help me make sense of my relationship with myself, others and the world at large. I have drawn a lot of inspiration on how to life live with a little more ease and a little less friction.
And, one more thing
Practicing at several studios in New York over the years, I often heard teacher training programs being advertised and would think quietly to myself “who in their right mind would do a teacher training in New York? I’m going to do it in Thailand or Bali”. And of course, I ended up doing a teacher training in New York.
The most influential part of this experience, more than the above three points, was the community that I built. I am so glad I chose to do it in New York, where I now live, as I have a yoga crew that continues to support, teach and encourage me along my journey. This includes the many teachers and friends that I feel so much gratitude towards for guiding me, especially over the past year.
Yogamaya is where I did my training.