Before I started my yoga teacher training course, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d read the syllabus, the schedule and the description, but there were plenty of gaps that couldn’t be filled. What would my fellow students be like? Why would they be doing the course? Would I be the least proficient? How would my body cope with so much yoga? How would it feel to be in retreat for a whole month, cut off from the outside world? The unanswerable questions were plenty.
So, now safely out the other side, here’s a breakdown of my experience…
The yoga teacher training took place at Tailwind Jungle Lodge, a gorgeous complex of bungalows, about an hour’s walk outside San Pancho in Mexico. I shared a room with fellow student Julia. We could see and hear the ocean from our beds and were surrounded by lush greenery. Safely under our mosquito nets, we saw different visitors every night – from geckos to an awesome preying mantis. A semi-private beach could be reached via a ten-minute walk through the jungle, and there were hiking trails too. The jewel in the crown of Tailwind was the yoga platform, surrounded by jungle and looking out onto the ocean. It was a treat to spend so much time there.
The food was provided by local chef Abigail who is a wizard in the kitchen. Every morning we’d get homemade porridge or granola with fresh fruit and seeds. Occasionally we’d be given eggs, cooked in various Mexican styles. Lunchtime was a grand affair, sometimes with three courses, and always made with the freshest ingredients. My favourite meal was a stuffed poblano chilli with rice and salsa. Abigail went home in the evenings but would leave food for us to heat ourselves – perhaps enchiladas or a chunky soup.
I expected from my correspondence with one of the teachers, Carri, prior to the course that we’d get along and I was right. Fellow teacher, Sarah, was equally excellent – both being wonderfully down-to-earth people that sparkle with mischief. Best of all they were excellent teachers and practitioners. They gently but firmly coaxed all of us into being better yoga teachers, and made us realize we could do it. I also spent a fair bit of time with Carri and Sarah outside of class and am delighted to now call them friends.
Luckily for us, we were a very small group (three students in total) meaning we got lots of personal attention. It also meant that it could, at times, be quite intense as personalities inevitably clashed – but that was all part of the journey. My fellow students were Julia, who is in her thirties, and Ruth, who is 60 years young. Julia is a trained health coach and has practiced Anusara yoga for years. She had already done an Anusara immersion programme and was taking the Drishti Yoga course to add more strings to her bow, with the view of setting up a yoga/health coaching practice in her new home, Puerta Vallarta.
Ruth had also practiced yoga for years, and it had helped her overcome some serious health problems. At one point in her life she couldn’t walk, but can now do a head stand and full wheel with no problem. She lives on a tiny island in Panama and was doing the course to deepen her practice, and to be able to teach yoga to some of the local community. Both Ruth and Julia could do tons of things I couldn’t do and I felt intimidated to begin with, but slowly opened up when I realized my teaching could match theirs. All of us had different strengths and it was great to learn from one another.
10am-12:30pm: Yoga teaching practice
12:30-3pm: Lunch and Break time
3-4pm: Restorative yoga
4-6pm Yoga theory (Anatomy/Philosophy)
6pm onwards Dinner and sometimes yoga movies
We had one full day off per week, and an afternoon off on three occasions. On one of those afternoons, we volunteered at the local community centre Entre Amigos. I was asleep by 10pm each day if not earlier.
In the two weeks prior to the training, I had done hardly any yoga at all while I waited for my mole scar to heal. I was very out of shape, and it was a shock to the system to start practicing for hours every day. For the first ten days, we did the Ashtanga series every morning, which is very vigorous. Thereafter, we did Vinyasa, alternating between Sarah and Carri each day. Happily, my body soon got used to it and the morning practice left me feeling invigorated for the day. That’s not to say it wasn’t tiring, and at the beginning especially, I was exhausted by the end of the day.
When you look at the schedule, it may seem as though we had just two yoga practices a day – the early morning session and the restorative in the afternoon. This wasn’t the case as during the 2.5 hour yoga teaching practice, we were often students for the practicing teacher. In that session, we started by going through all the different poses and breaking them down in detail. We then had a chance to practice teaching them ourselves. As the weeks went on, we started to devise our own sequences, starting at 5 minutes and building up to 30 minutes, working with different themes such as a particular body part, a chakra or one of the yamas.
In the afternoons, we did a one-and-a-half-hour restorative practice, which is a relaxing, passive form of yoga that uses lots of props, and where positions are held for up to ten minutes. At first I found this quite slow, but soon learned to enjoy that meditative part of the day, lying beneath the blue sky and listening to the birds and waves.
Every afternoon, after restorative yoga, we would have a two-hour theory class, starting for the first two weeks with anatomy, and the following two weeks with philosophy. I knew next to nothing about anatomy to begin with and was amazed by how much I learned, and how much it interested me. I’m tempted to do some further study into the subject, especially seen as I think it’s an integral aspect of being a great yoga teacher.
I already knew that I was interested in yoga philosophy and it was awesome to go deeper into the subject. I especially loved reading and talking about the yoga sutras, and delving into the chakras. It’s opened the doors to a subject I think I’ll study for my entire lifetime.
The big one – how did it feel? It was certainly intense, and I experienced a roller-coaster of emotions over the month. Some days I was euphoric, felling immensely connected to my body, nature and the world around me. Other days, I felt frustrated and lost, on the brink of, or in, tears throughout the day. One thing was for sure – the way I felt on the mat mirrored how I felt off the mat. If I struggled and got frustrated in my practice, the likelihood was I would struggle in my thoughts and actions too. Some of the yoga sessions, for example when we worked on the hips, left me feeling emotional for the rest of day – interesting because it’s said we hold a lot of pent up emotion in our hip area.
I had days when I hated the course and days when I wished it would never end. As it progressed, I felt my moods balance out a little as I started to observe and respond, rather than react as things came up. Even in the moments of struggle, I appreciated that it was part of the journey. I always knew it was what I needed. That said, I relished the days off and enjoyed letting go with a cocktail or two in town. Before the course started, I wasn’t sure if that would be allowed, and was pleased by the relaxed outlook of the teachers. Yoga is something I want to integrate into my life, and I don’t want that to be at the expense of all fun and games. It’s really all about balance.
Most important about ‘the feeling’ part of the course is that the effects have lasted well beyond it. I started the course truly believing that I was doing it to deepen my own practice. Perhaps I’d be a teacher one day but definitely not immediately after. As it turns out, I started teaching a week later. As the course progressed, my confidence grew and I realized, with the encouragement of my teachers, that I had what it takes to be a yoga teacher. That transformation has changed my life. I love teaching, I’m hungry to know more and I look forward to my lessons every day. It’s set me on a new, healthier and happy path in life. I nearly didn’t do the teacher training, thinking that I didn’t have the time, money or ability. Steve encouraged me to go for it, and I’m ever thankful for it. It’s one of the best moves I’ve ever made.
I did a 200-hour Vinyasa Yoga teacher training course with Drishti International Yoga Teacher Training. They also offer 500-hour teaching, which I’m going to take sometime in 2013 or 2014.