By: Brielle Erickson
If someone had told me a year ago that I would be graduating from Yoga Teacher Training just 12 short months later, I probably would have dismissed them as…well, a little crazy. At the time, I had really just begun to dabble in the physical practice of asana, exploring Yin yoga as an avenue for self-healing. In my eyes, yoga was a way to soothe and relax the muscles that were causing me excruciating pain at the time, and was something that might eventually turn into a great way to stay in shape. I never could have imagined that, in January 2014, I would take on the enormous task of becoming a certified yoga teacher. My hopes are simple: to share this incredibly powerful practice with anyone wishing to learn it, and to show each and every one of my students that yoga is truly for every body – regardless of age, gender, size, strength, flexibility, etc. Yoga has the power to transform – and for me, Teacher Training has proven to be a catalyst for that personal transformation.
If I tried to detail all of the ways in which this training has changed me, you’d be reading this for days. It’s one of those experiences that is difficult to even put into words. As I approach the end of this journey with my 11 classmates and two amazing teachers, though, my reflections have revealed seven profound ways in which Yoga Teacher Training has changed me.
1. It has deepened my physical practice.
Alright, so I’m starting with the painfully obvious here, but my current physical practice has changed dramatically in the past few months. I’ve come to realize that movement can be medicine (when used appropriately, of course), and I’ve significantly developed my ability to listen to my body’s needs and engage in the type of practice that will be most beneficial on that given day. Some days I feel stagnant and need a Vinyasa, while on others I feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel and need some Yin to slow things down. I’ve also learned to let go of judgment and comparison; touching my toes one day is not a guarantee that I’ll be able to do so tomorrow (and that’s okay!), and just because my neighbor is in a Bird of Paradise does not mean that I have to yank my leg off the ground if I don’t feel like it! Yoga is meant to heal, not to harm – so proper alignment, along with an understanding of human anatomy and its application within the practice are major keys to accessing that healing power.
2. It has inspired me to re-start my meditation practice.
I tried to start a meditation practice in 2013, and failed miserably. Every time I would sit down to begin, my brain would kick into overdrive and remind me of all the little things I had forgotten that day: “Inhale…shoot, I forgot to grab marinara at the grocery store…exhale…oh, I need to remember to schedule my dentist appointment…inhale…do I have stamps in the house?…exhale…I really don’t want to give my presentation tomorrow…” Sound familiar? I got frustrated and eventually just stopped, using my physical practice as my meditation time – at least there, I had the movement to keep my mind focused. Teacher Training highlights the importance of a true meditation practice – even if it’s just sitting for 15 minutes and struggling to slow down your thoughts! It’s not perfect – it’s called a practice for a reason.
3. It has rekindled my love of reading.
Learning how to teach yoga is an interesting process. Sure, you need to know the sequence of a practice, the names of the poses, and how to lead students from one posture to the next – but it’s so much more than that. Asana can answer the question of “what,” but it takes some serious study of history and philosophy to answer the “why” and “how.” This is where reading becomes a huge part of Teacher Training, and you start to dive in to the practice in a more holistic sense. Over the past few months, I have done more reading on yoga than I have probably done on all other subjects combined for the last year (at least). I have a stack of yoga-related books on my coffee table that’s half my height, and I find myself unable to resist adding to it whenever I have the chance. I remember reading a lot as a kid, but the last time I remember being this passionate about reading was during the Harry Potter craze of my elementary and middle school years. At least these days I’m too old to worry about being grounded from reading…yeah, I was one of those kids.
4. It has changed my relationship with myself.
You know that classic phrase, “know thyself”? That’s a part of yoga, too. Granted, it’s a little more exotic-sounding when it’s introduced as Svadhyaya (“self-study”), but the basic idea is the same. Think of it this way: if you’re going to delve into this holistic practice – what some might call a spiritual journey – how can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re starting? Teacher Training challenges you to truly get to know yourself. You might have to confront some things that make you pretty darn uncomfortable – maybe a past event or relationship that’s unresolved, maybe something in your present that you realize is no longer a healthy part of your life, maybe something else entirely. It goes back to the on-the-mat practice of sitting with discomfort, and once you learn to face those discomforts without fear, you’ll discover that they no longer have any power over you – and get to know your true self just a little bit better in the process.
5. It has changed my relationships with others.
I’ve always been a rather emotionally-oriented person. My Zodiac sign is Cancer, it’s in my nature. But I was not prepared for the depth to which I would begin to connect with others as I began to embrace that part of me. Since starting Teacher Training, I’ve hugged people I barely knew, I’ve cried for others’ pain, I’ve shared in others’ excitement and joy, and I’ve forged a deeper connection with those to whom I’m already connected. It’s kind of amazing, really, to look back at the transformation that has taken place. We live in a society that praises fierce individuality, places it on a pedestal. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with individuality – this world would be pretty boring if we were all carbon-copies of the same person – but at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We’re all sharing this human experience together, with all of its highs and lows, and our burdens can become just a little easier to bear if we open ourselves up to those connections that are available to us.
6. It has changed my diet.
I won’t mince words here: I used to love fast food. McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s…you name it, I ate it regularly. At one point, I’m fairly positive that I was eating McDonald’s at least three times a week without even realizing it. As I began to deepen my physical practice about six months ago, though, I would perform little experiments – avoid fast food for a week and see how I felt, avoid soda for a week, avoid candy bars (another weakness of mine) for a week, and so on. Eventually, without even realizing it, I just stopped eating fast food – and began to feel better than I had in years! I’ve phased meat out of my diet as well – both because I have more energy without it, and for ethical reasons. Nutritional training is an integral part of any holistic Teacher Training, and the training my classmates and I received reinforced my choices that much more. Just like so many things, I’ve learned that nutrition is all about balance and moderation. I still love sweets, but if I’m going to indulge, I make sure it’s with quality products – not some over-processed and chemical-rich garbage.
7. It has changed my perception of my own abilities.
If I’m being completely honest – I had my doubts about my ability to successfully complete Teacher Training. The opportunity was in front of me, but I had serious concerns about keeping up with two jobs, my college coursework, and 200 hours of Teacher Training. Despite my doubts, that little voice of intuition told me to go for it…so I did. Was it difficult? Absolutely! The past few months have challenged my limits and pushed me close to exhaustion, but have also shown me just how capable I am. I’m proud to say that I finished my college course with a 97% in the class, didn’t miss a beat at either of my jobs, maintained time for my loved ones, and am now just a few days away from completion of Teacher Training. It’s surreal and overwhelming and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am truly going to miss this experience when it ends, though it will remain a cherished memory for the rest of my life.