So you finally took the plunge and signed up for a teacher training? Awesome. Or maybe you’re still mulling it over, doing your research, waiting for the right moment to escape daily life for a few weeks. Whether you’re already all in or still in planning mode, you’re probably curious as to what it’s really like to dedicate three to four weeks entirely to yoga. The Zuna Yoga team has spent a lot of time at yoga teacher trainings, both as participants and facilitators, and we’re pretty sure we’ve seen it all by now. Here are a few things we’ve learned to help you know what to expect from this life changing experience.
1. It’s really hard work
We don’t mean to scare anyone off, but let’s be real: a yoga teacher training is tough. It is not a leisurely holiday, nor is it a spa and wellness oriented yoga retreat. The days at a teacher training are long: you’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn, if not earlier. Your body will be sore from hours of practice. Your back will ache from hours of seated meditation that you’re not used to. Your butt will feel like lead from hours of sitting at lectures, trying to absorb new information. You might get cranky and feel bossed around, reminiscent of earlier school trauma. And your brain will be crammed with information - strange vocabulary, philosophy, science - and it will feel like you’re trying to drink from a firehose. You might even get sick, and have a hard time getting out of bed one day.
Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Superficial or half-hearted engagement in the work will produce lackluster results. There’s an upside to all that effort. You’ll get well acquainted with that magical time of day when the dark stillness of night gives way to an incandescent morning. You’ll bask in the calm energy and bright chatter that are unique to the dawn. You’ll have accomplished more before breakfast than most people do all day. You’ll learn more about the vast science of yoga than you ever dreamed possible. Your asana practice will become steadier and more focused. You’ll find that the passage of time becomes irrelevant during meditation, that an hour suddenly feels like five minutes and all your senses come alive. In short, you’ll be able to really make dramatic progress that could never be made at home.
2. Meet your new BFFs
A yoga teacher training, especially a residential intensive, can feel like an exhilarating mashup of sleepover party, boot camp, freshman year at college, group therapy, and TED talk. You’ll meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have, supporting those new relationships with powerful, life-changing experiences. These people will likely remain your friends for the rest of your life, bonded by revelations and moments you share together. You’ll suddenly have a bevy of spiritual sistren and brethren, bright souls from all over the world who were total strangers just a couple weeks prior.
That being said, you’re not going to love absolutely everyone. There will be some students in the mix who are decidedly not destined to be your best friend. As with any gathering of humans, some interpersonal friction will arise. You’ll realize that the people you like the least also have important lessons to teach you. You’ll have to face your own judgmental tendencies, observe your impatience, your knee-jerk reactions. You’ll have to manage any conflicts or tensions like the cool, detached, disciplined professional you aspire to be. After all, you’re going to have all types of students coming to your classes once you start teaching. And you’re going to need to develop the compassion to show to everyone, especially the ones who rub you the wrong way.
3. And now, here’s yoga….
This is a rough translation of Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (1.1), atha yoga anushasanam:
“Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.”
This foundational text of Classical Yoga is referring to the milestone when you decide to get serious with your yogic study. It means you’re sincerely beginning the pursuit of Self-Realization, the true purpose of yoga. You’re making personal discovery and empowerment your top priority. The first word of the Yoga Sutras is atha, which means now. This particular word for now implies a preparedness in arriving at this auspicious moment.
This prior preparation is important, as you need to enter into a teacher training with a basic understanding of postures and language, so that not everything is new and totally overwhelming. You need to have a general idea of the landscape, having tried different classes and practiced for a while. But herein lies the irony: it’s essential that you can put those preconceived ideas and judgments aside. Many students enroll in a training thinking they already know a lot from their years of practice or even teaching. If you can’t empty your cup, you might end up dismissing and missing all the new information being presented. Approach the teachings with an open mind, without ego, and give yourself time to objectively absorb it all. The more you know of yoga as a science, the more you’ll realize it’s an infinite universe of experience and knowledge that you’ll pursue your entire life.
4. Sh#t’s about to get real
Many students underestimate how huge a step is is from the largely physical practice of most yoga classes to a much deeper experience of the science. This is especially true if you haven’t yet spent much time in pranayama or meditation. A teacher training intensive will give you a more qualified understanding of yoga as far more than a rockin’ good workout with some feel-good spiritual verbiage thrown in for kicks. Whether it’s a 200 hour or a 300 hour program, it will provide an eye-opening glimpse of thousands of years of knowledge. It’s easy to feel intimidated by how much you don’t know, like a student who has just learned to read, stepping into a vast library. How does your ego respond to this challenge? Are you open and curious, or impatient and frustrated?
Prepare to be challenged - all this deep practice can have a strong effect. You’ll be facing the gravity that holds you back, as well as that part of you that seeks to soar. This process can be painful. It can be difficult. It is also amazingly beautiful. You’ll vacillate between total clarity and utter confusion. You’ll have moments where you question your life, everything about it - your job, your home, your path, your family, your future. And you’ll be revealing who you really are on a very deep level. This is smarana, the beautiful experience of self-remembrance that is one of the goals of yoga. A well-structured teacher training is a safe place to meet yourself. If you’re courageous, diligent, and you trust in the work, you won’t be the same person afterward.
5. So you think you can teach
Remember that going to a teacher training intensive, separated from everyday obstacles, is an extraordinary opportunity to grow as both a student and a teacher. This is an immersion not just in study, but in practice.
There is no substitute for experience in the form of practice. As much as you learn important intellectual concepts that give you a foundation for teaching, your own personal practice is far more important. Yoga is a system of self development, and that process starts with you. Being a good teacher of yoga requires knowing yourself. The more work you’ve done personally, the better the teacher you will be. As a teacher, you’ll aim to inspire students with the work you’ve done, and not just on a physical level. Yoga is intended to make us better people. Your responsibility as a yoga teacher is to encourage students to seek their own authenticity, and to help them find it. If you haven’t walked the path yourself, you won’t be able to show anyone the way. This is how you embody the attributes of the guru: a dispeller of darkness, one who leads others into the light.
Describing a yoga teacher training intensive to someone who’s never done it is challenging. It’s like trying to explain what chocolate tastes like ("amaaaaaaazing....."). We can say it’s grueling, life-changing, intense, beautiful and deep - but until you’ve engaged in the deep practices of yoga, it’s hard to intellectualize and verbalize them. Come find out for yourself what yoga is all about, and in the process, what you’re all about.
by Katherine Girling