Sunday, April 20, 2014

What Nobody Tells You About Yoga Teacher Training

This year I co-taught my first 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. It was an incredible privilege to watch a group of beautiful yogis and yoginis dive deeper into their practice, face their insecurities, embrace their new roles with courage and authenticity and connect with each other, but I also felt their frustration as they struggled in ways that they never anticipated.

At the same time, I completed my own 500 hour training. I was a bit more prepared for the roller coaster ride that it would be, but even so, I found the same issues emerging for myself that were happening in my students. Most of us go into Yoga teacher training because we have been deeply touched by our practice, we have been inspired by a wonderful teacher, we want to learn more, and we want to share what we learn with others. We expect the training to offer all that we currently enjoy in yoga and more, and the truth is, for the most part, that is what we get, but some things about YTT are never told to us.  This is my list of the top 3:

#1. Yoga Teacher Training Will Change Your Life:  Oh, I know you are all thinking that you've heard that a million times.  I did too sometime before I embarked on my first training. But I never really questioned what that would mean. I assumed it meant that I would live more mindfully, that I would be more spiritual, that I would connect to a cool group of people. What I didn't know was that my life would be thrown into utter upheaval. When I went into teacher training, I was married and content, living a very stable and suburban (and superficial) lifestyle with my 2 children, beautiful home and 2 dogs. It was everything we are told to believe we should want and need. Having completed that training and another, I am divorced. I am raising 2 teenagers and 3 dogs alone. Most of my former friends are not in my life anymore. I have opened a yoga studio, live with enormous financial instability, travel all over the world to teach and practice yoga, and can hardly fathom my previous life. My story is not unusual. I meet people all the time who have had a similar experience. Chrys Kub published an article in Elephant Journal in February 2012 while I was deep in the muck of separation and an unraveling marriage that resonated profoundly with me. The title is "Question of the Day: Does Practicing Yoga Cause Divorce?"  In it she divulges her own experience that bears a striking similarity to my own, and she concludes that "as women begin this process of rediscovering themselves [through yoga], many times the husbands do not come along for the ride. They just sit idly by, saying we are "crazy" and too into that "yoga stuff." Meanwhile, their wives are slipping away, and probably never coming back." In reclaiming your authentic self as we do in yoga and particularly in the hard work of teacher training, you risk losing those who have fallen in love with the false persona that you may have been wearing for years. Sometimes that may be husbands or wives, sometimes friends or family members. The deeper practices of yoga may be incomprehensible to many of the people in your life, and many of them will walk out as a result. This kind of "change" can be extraordinarily painful and unexpected, but it can lead to a life of abundant and authentic connection because the ones who stick around will be those who truly care about you.

#2 There Will Be Times When Yoga Teacher Training Will MakeYou Hate Yoga:  When I began training, I thought I would relish the opportunity to practice everyday, but I was accustomed to practicing primarily in a studio, with a beloved teacher, surrounded by friends. My pre-YTT yoga practice didn't require me to think at all. I showed up, and all was carefully prepared and crafted for me. In training, I had to develop a personal practice, and I had to do it amidst all of the other brain-stretching, overwhelming information I was trying to digest. Most days I loved rising at 5:30 and stumbling into the adjoining room in my pajamas to work through my sadhana (a fully engrained morning ritual now), but occasionally, I held a visceral hatred for my early morning alarm. I was frustrated by trying to do my practice and learn sanskrit names for postures at the same time. My own sequencing didn't feel as seamless and fluid as the classes I had attended for years. I longed for the days when a class was served up perfectly balanced for me to savor and enjoy. The same was true of the many hours spent in training. For the first few sessions, I sat wide-eyed and delighted. I wanted to remember every moment, every word, every nuance of what my teachers were sharing, but eventually, I found myself getting annoyed with some of my fellow students' questions, watching the clock to see when the anatomy lesson would end, feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin if I had to listen for one more minute. I chastised myself for that reaction and I felt like an inadequate yogi for my lack of attention and interest. What I know now is that those reactions to both my personal practice and the class sessions were common, and that in many ways they were a sign of my resistance to incredible changes that were awakening in me. Yoga is first and foremost a tool to awakening self-realization, and self-realization ultimately means a deep awareness of one-ness with all. This kind of emotional and Spiritual growth is hard, and your ego-identity has a stake in resisting. As you begin to shake off the part of the mind that keeps you separate from and in competition with other beings, as you begin to recognize the unity and divinity of all, resistance shows up in subtle but powerful ways, as boredom, as irritation, as doubt, or as any number of other things. There is safety in staying small, and part of your consciousness fears growth and transformation.  The practice is to begin to recognize these states in yourself so that you can move past them mindfully and enjoy the full depth of your experience. 

3. You Will Graduate from Yoga Teacher Training Feeling Like You Know Very Little.  When I registered for training, I assumed that I would complete it with a similar body of knowledge to that of my favorite teachers. I  really had no idea what, exactly, I would learn, but I figured it couldn't be too much.  Ha!  How little I knew!  Yoga is an ancient practice, and the body of information around philosophy, language, energy, anatomy, history, traditions and myriad other categories is almost incomprehensibly large. Even after completing 500 hours of training, I feel like I am still at the very surface. I have learned a great deal, but there is much that I still long to know. At the end of your 200 hour training, you will probably feel as if you have been offered a glimpse into this seemingly inexhaustible supply of information, but it will feel slippery at best. It will take more depth, time and training to really grasp some of what you are taught initially, and some of it will elude you for years. See this as a blessing, not a source of frustration. Yoga offers the opportunity to grow and learn ad infinitum. You get to explore your own vast inner experience even as you absorb the ancient wisdom and knowledge of those who have traveled before you. Each workshop and training you do, each book that you read, each wise teacher who inspires you, will enrich not only your ability to teach, but your ability to realize your full human potential. You will likely NEVER exhaust this well of knowledge. 

If someone had shared this list with me before I began my first training, I probably would have completely disregarded it. In my hubris, I would have thought it may apply to a lot of people, but I would be different. Perhaps that is your reaction too, and perhaps that is a good thing. How many of us would still sign on if we knew what really lay before us? Despite it all, though, the experience of becoming a yoga teacher has been one of the best of my life (second only to being a mother). I live my life with a full open heart and enormous gratitude for the richness of my experience and for the beautiful souls who have shared the journey with me.  For me, there really was no choice. Though I didn't understand what was happening, a part of my soul was crying out for something more than the way I was living my life.  In the words of Ana├»s Nin:

"the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 

If that day has also come for you. welcome it and enjoy the ride!

A Lifetime of Easters

I grew up Catholic. I attended Catholic School for 16 years, all the way through college. I faithfully attended Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. My mother was a former Catholic Nun. My father was a lector, a choir member and a leader on the parish council, my brother was an altar boy. My Grandparents belonged to an elite Catholic society called the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. I practiced piano in a convent, held my first job in a rectory, and had my first kiss in the choir loft of the church. My entire childhood revolved around the church, and most of my friends' lives did too, especially during Holy Week.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, the Catholic Church shifts into high ceremonial gear. Over the course of one week, the devout Catholic will experience and often participate personally in processions, the waving of palm fronds, foot washing ceremonies, veneration of inanimate objects, candlelight incantations, public baptisms and confirmations, elaborate hymns, multicolored vestments and altar cloths, incense, trumpets and exuberant exhortations in an unrivaled ritualistic feast.

As a young girl with a devout heart and a flair for pageantry and drama, I loved most of the Holy Week ceremony. It offered a change from the usual Sunday routine, and the many hours sitting in the pew were generally offset by free time to romp with friends afterwards while our parents talked or readied the Church for the next event. The only exception, for me, was Good Friday. After the Holy Thursday Mass commemorating Jesus' Last Supper, the altar was stripped bare, the instruments were silenced, and the candles were snuffed. The Friday service was solemn and devoid of all of the trappings that spoke to my soul. It was a cold and lifeless routine in which I was asked, along with the rest of the congregation to play a role in the reading of the passion, reciting, on cue, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" as we shouldered our responsibility for the death of our God. I cringed every time I uttered those words. I believed that had I lived at that time, I would not have been one of the crowd calling for death, that I would have gone against the grain and defended goodness and Truth.

Would I ever have "Crucified Him?"

All these years later, things have changed for me.  I don't participate in the Catholic Holy Week ritual anymore, but it is never far from my mind as these days come each year, and I have given a lot of thought to what it all means and to how I feel the stories of Jesus' Glorification, Death and Resurrection relate to me. What I have learned through my yoga is that we don't need to seek God in any Church or authority because the light of divinity resides in each one of us. It is the part of us that remains unaffected by outside circumstance, that is constant, whole and infinite, unchanged even when our smaller self, the one that holds tight to our constructs of ourselves as individuals with unique and important identities convinces us otherwise. Through the practices of yoga, and specifically meditation, we learn to empower that Higher Consciousness in ourselves, and by doing so, we learn to embody it in our lives and relationships. Even further, we learn to recognize it in all other beings.

Nonetheless, we can never escape the endless cycle of oscillation between the ego self and the Divine Self. This is the human experience, and it shows up in much the same way as Easter Week. When we choose a path of spirituality, we are like Jesus' entering the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, prepared to lead, greeted as wise, in control of the moment and radiating goodness. We cultivate meaningful friendships. We choose our sangha, or spiritual community, carefully and surrender to our intuition and spirit as he did at the Last Supper. We claim our place in the community of Higher Consciousness.

But Good Friday comes for us all, and even when we have identified that "still, small voice within" that guides us to Truth and uplifts our spirit, the fact is, that, for the most part, we all CHOOSE to crucify it. We numb ourselves with unhealthy relationships, with substances, with media, or with any one of dozens of other degrading options. We kill the "Christ," the anointed or highest part of ourselves again and again. Sometimes we fall short of our ideal and do this on a daily basis, sometimes just now and then, but it is part of the experience of being human. And because it is, we need not label it as bad, or evil, or shameful, because the real "Good News" is that no matter how far we bury the light within, no matter how heavy the stone we roll over the tomb, it still shines. When we have faith in the truth of our own light, when we find our way back again and again to its source in our heart, Easter comes, and our highest self triumphs, at least until the cycle begins again: We find the light, we crucify it, it is reborn brighter than before. Many who espouse Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Hinduism would say that the cycle continues not just in this lifetime but into the next and the next and the next.

And so this year, though I will miss the rituals of my youth, I will still choose to celebrate Easter...the triumph of light over dark, of goodness over evil. I will create my own pageantry as I light candles, do yoga, and meditate. I will offer my gratitude for the fully human aspect of Jesus who showed us the path to our own divinity through his enlightenment, and I will resolve, once again, to roll back the stone and free the light in my own soul.

Kate Mullane Robertson says it so much more beautifully.....treat yourself to a full read of this poem. It is well worth it:

“I am a 
a Phoenix,
a sweet 
never born 
and never dying 

only self-immolation 
and resurrection 

and resurrection 

self-immolation and 

over, and over,
and over
and again.. 

but, I am ready. 

Sometimes it is the 
heart that burns, 
white hot and 
eager for the resurrection 

and sometimes 
it is the body... 

the body of selfish desires,
the body of spectred dreams,
the body of wants and woes, 
sorrows and imaginings 

I am not afraid 
of the 
bring it on...


refuse to 
live in the vestibule of
in between, 
the space 
where the ego 
still stands 
by the 
letting go 

I welcome the 
Phoenix fire,
let it burn 
hot and 
scrupulously --
incineration of 
whatever would 
keep me from 
loving without reason, 
and with abandon 

Let its flames engulf 
the me, 
the my, 
the mine 
and failure, 

of what I think I've earned... 
and what I'll 
never be... 

let the veneer, 
the scarred paint,
the flash of self 
blister and 
in the 
heat of unselfed 

I am weary of 
carrying around 
not quite
incinerated ashes 
of resistance, 
the almost immolated shards
of sharpness and arrogance,
the pulverized
still peppered 
with bits of bone 
and broken incisors,
the bitter fragments of 
that once 
gnashed and gnawed 
at the details of 
who's to blame,
of he said/she said,
of human choices made, 
and what went wrong... 

a limboed 
state of 
regret and pride, 
of what we wanted, 
what could have been... 

I want

no, more! 

I long for, 
I ache to know 
dissolution of 
the veiled ego, 
the clouded past, 
the "what never was" 
and is 
and really 
shouldn't be... 

I can do this,
I know I can

I can walk so fully into the 
that there is nothing 
to carry back out 
but the gold, 
the silver, 
the whatever is essential, 
what lives beyond and 
never dies

no rust... 
no dross... 
no smell of fire... 
just a sweet nestling me
as pure 
as the 
"form of the fourth"* 

There is no flickering ember of 
the past's tinseled 
moments of selfish 
indulgence and accomplishment, 
the genetic grime 
of dark alleys 
filled with ghosts 
sorrows waiting 
to pull me down,
and yet
still further 

no bits and pieces of 
another time, 
a former me, 
a maybe him,
or "what if her" 
left to cling 
to new 
downy feathers,
soft and wet 
as we 
emerge from the 
clean, white 
ash of 

Just dust and 
fine as silt 
to soften the journey 
like a powdery 
just a dusting, 
quickly blown away by 
Spirit --
fresh winds of 
I am --

I am! 

I am 

I am 
the I AM 
that never was a 
and seeks no promise 
will be. 
But sings the 
sweet silver 
song of 
I am,
I am,
I am,
I am 
all that 
right now, 
in this moment 
of grace... 

"here am I, 
send me...” 
― Kate Mullane Robertson