Well you guys, I can hardly believe I’m saying this… I’m officially a 200 hr registered yoga teacher! (*insert major happy dance here). It’s been one challenging and inspiring month of yoga teacher training at Yoga Vida. My body was pushed to it’s limits and I’m pretty mentally exhausted from it all. And yet, I’m SO sad that it’s over.
After four intense weeks, it was nearly impossible to narrow everything I’ve learned down to 5 specific highlights — but I did my best! Most of the program was centered around alignment, adjustments, cuing and sequencing; but I’d prefer if you come experience all that first hand when I start teaching classes of my own. 😉
Luckily there’s plenty more to share. One of the reasons why I really appreciated the Yoga Vida program was because we not only got to learn from six excellent mentors but they also made a point to bring in various subject matter experts for specific lectures. (To name a few) We learned about bandhas from Guy Donahaye; had an anatomy crash course from Tracy Maltz; discussed hours of yoga philosophy with Robert Lindsey; and went through multiple “posture clinic” style workshops with Adam Vitolo. Everyday there was something new to learn and I can honestly say I was never bored.
I would love nothing more than to share everything that resonated with me, but I feel like the majority of it will come out in my future classes and blog posts. For now, please read on for five key learnings that have forever changed the way I think and feel about yoga practice.
1. Yoga is more than asana practice
Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah. (Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind). – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
During YTT we studied a few different texts, but the primary focus was on the first two chapters of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. For someone who had never studied yoga philosophy before, I found this particular topic to be really eye-opening… and somewhat confusing! There’s a lot to take in and most of our lectures sounded like a completely foreign language. (i.e. “It’s just a play of the gunas.” or “You’re creating new samskaras.”)
New vocabulary aside, the most important takeaway from Patanjali’s Sutras is that there are multiple “paths” to stilling the mind. Thanks to Pattabhi Jois, the big one you’ve probably heard of is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Ashtanga is an 8 limbed path to Yoga and HERE’s a quick guide if you’re interested in reading more details about each of the below:
Yamas (Universal Truths) / Niyamas (Observances) / Asana (Physical Postures) / Pranayama (Breath Control) / Pratyahara (Sensory Withdrawal) / Dharana (Concentration) / Dhyana (Meditation) / Samadhi (Absorption)
Now that I’ve experienced it, I want to incorporate Pranayama and Dhyana into my daily yoga practice… and I’ll save the details on that for a future post.
2. The way a pose feels is more important than how it looks
If there was one big takeaway in regards to asana practice, it’s that I was doing the majority of the poses incorrectly. But not in the way you may think. Most of the poses “looked” correct… but the way a pose looks is very different from how a pose feels. We may be able to contort our bodies into beautiful positions that look fantastic on Instagram but if we aren’t engaging specific muscles then we could be doing some subtle damage to our joints in the process.
So how can you test things out for yourself? Start by trying to do an asana practice with your toes lifted off the ground. Weird right? Well, when you lift your toes your quadriceps automatically engage and you’ll probably notice that poses like forward fold and Trikonasana feel 100% different. (Eventually you’ll be able to activate your quads without lifting your toes).
Bottom line: If you’re feeling the pose in one muscle group, you’re doing it wrong! That means if your arms are shaky in downward facing dog, or your legs feel super heavy in headstand, or if your front leg is burning in Warrior II, then you’re letting one group of muscles do all the work. Don’t let the rest of your body sit out! This is why yoga teachers always give a billion cues during each pose 😝.
3. Yoga practice can be incredibly devotional
As a Christian, I always shied away from the “spiritual” aspects of yoga because it was something I didn’t really understand. More specifically, I felt uncomfortable with chanting “Om” in class. It felt weird… like I was participating in some other kind of religion. Thankfully, after chanting in class with my fellow students and teachers every single day (sometimes multiple times a day), I started to love it. In fact there were many times when the collective sound felt so powerful that I was overwhelmed with emotion. Trust me you guys, saying that feels so strange to me but it’s 100% true.
Om is the “sonic representation of Ishvara.” Which basically means, Om is a manifestation of whatever your higher power is. Whether that’s Shiva, Allah, or Jesus… the intention behind Om is entirely up to you. Yoga is not a religion. But it can be a nice complement to whatever religion you practice.
Each movement can be an offering, each breath can be done with intention and devotion behind it. Of course it doesn’t have to be and I’m not suggesting that it’ll be like that every single time I go on my mat. Somedays I really just want to flow to Drake, but having experienced the more devotional side of practice makes me want to bring those peaceful intentions and prayers to my mat on a regular basis.
4. Home yoga practice is crucial to becoming a good teacher
The one thing any new (or seasoned) yoga teacher should know is that you need to practice yoga on your own. Of course being a member at a yoga studio or trying new classes all the time is an amazing way to become a part of a community, learn from others and push yourself harder. However, practicing at a yoga studio should be a complement to your consistent home yoga practice, not vice versa.
The point of creating a consistent home yoga practice was drilled into our heads over and over again, and for good reason! When you’re alone you’re forced to used more discipline. You need to motivate yourself to keep going and you need to utilize your knowledge of asana to practice your own sequences. How can you expect to discover your own unique teaching style if you don’t first teach yourself?
It’s funny because when I first started practicing yoga in Florida, 99% of my practice was by myself at home. Since moving to NYC, maybe 5% of my practice has been in my apartment while the other 95% has been in various studios or events. I guess it goes without saying that I have some major plans to switch that up. 🙂
5. There’s always more to learn
Perhaps the most life-changing thing I took away from this program is that there is still so much more knowledge to be gained. I went in thinking that after 200 hours I would feel confident that I would know everything I needed to be a good teacher. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
The more we learned the more I realized that this couldn’t possibly be the last training that I do. If you think about it, this really is the same mentality that can be applied to any profession… you can’t expect to take a crash course on something and come out an expert. We should make learning a constant in our life, because as soon as you figure out one thing there will be a million more things to discover.
So what does that mean for me? For now, I’ll simply be trying to gain more knowledge from personal study and teaching. But you can bet that I will be signing up for various workshops whenever the opportunity arises and maybe after a year or so will do a 300 hr teacher training.
This 200 hour TT program was just the first step in what I hope to be a lifetime of learning, growing and practicing. I went in with a love for asana and left with a love for yoga… and that’s all I could have ever hoped for.
Thanks to Athleta and Yoga Vida for partnering with me on this post. And a huge thank you shout out to one of my mentors (and fellow Athleta ambassador), Aditi Shah, who spent her Saturday afternoon taking these fun, twinning partner yoga snaps with me!
If you’re interested in learning more about Yoga Vida, I highly recommend taking a class with one of my Teacher Training mentors: Nathan Lowry, Danielle Horowitz, Aditi Shah, Lindsey Hilscher, Laura Brandel and Eileen Goddard. You can view all their schedules HERE.