When I began yoga teacher training back in 2014, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I loved yoga and I wanted to explore it more. I didn’t even see myself actually teaching yoga beyond the odd class for friends; I really just wanted to learn more about it to deepen my own practice. What I wasn’t expecting was the seismic shifts my teacher training brought about in my life.
My yoga teacher training changed my life and my mindset beyond recognition. Since then, I’ve taken more than 500 hours of yoga teacher training. I’ve taught yoga to hundreds of students on four different continents and I now hold regular classes, workshops and retreats, sharing the mental and physical benefits of the practice that has changed my life.
Here’s how each stage of my training changed me:
100 Hours: The Importance of Self-Practice
Having happily packed up my teacher training manuals, my copy of the Yoga Sutras, a yoga anatomy book and enough leggings to last 10 days, I headed to the city of Valencia in Spain for the first part of my 200-hour training intensive. Once I was there, I was hit with the rigidity of the schedule. Every day was a relentless round of meditation, yoga, lectures, studying and more meditation. The only breaks were for meals, which we had to eat in silence.
It wasn't only the schedule that I struggled with. Most of the battle of that first stage was with my own body. I was in pain, having suffered a lower back injury a year earlier. I’d convinced myself that with the extra yoga practice it’d ease off, but the opposite happened. The long hours of sitting on the floor for meditation, lectures and then sporadic attempts to get into yoga asanas “correctly” sent my muscles into spasm, leaving me unable to even do child’s pose. It was incredibly frustrating to be in the teacher training barely able to practice any of the physical asanas and only making it through lectures by taking so many painkillers, my brain felt like soup. I left the training knowing I had to make changes.
The time between the two stages of my 200-hour training was magical. Determined not to return six months later still unable to do any yoga, I committed to a daily yoga practice. At first, I could manage frustratingly little. I’d do cat-cow, a few Sun Salutations, some core-strengtheners and hip releases, followed by three minutes of meditation. It wasn’t much, but it began to help. It was a short practice of mindful movement where I’d really tune into how my body was feeling and how various yoga asanas affected it. As explained in our "Naturally Healing Common Ailments Through Asanas" piece, I learned that asanas truly do positively affect the physical being.
Within a month, I’d found my way to yoga tutorials online and was even managing the occasional full yoga class again. I stepped up my practice at home and began to add in parts of the Ashtanga primary series, keen to give myself some structure, as well as new challenges. I noticed physical changes not just in my reduced back pain, but also a noticeable improvement in my strength, core stability and range of movement. (If you're interested in the Ashtanga series, "The Founder of Ashtanga Yoga" may be an interesting read for you.)
200 Hours: Learning How Much I Had to Learn
On my return to Valencia, I felt physically and mentally like a different person. I relished the challenge of each physical practice and the amount of yoga I’d done meant I understood the poses. When I was learning about cuing and guiding students into postures, it came naturally because I’d felt the poses and their effect in my body firsthand.
I learned how to give clear instructions, to sequence yoga classes, and to weave yoga philosophy and themes into my teaching. The biggest eye-opener was the realization that my yoga training wasn’t nearly finished. I could feel the changes in my own body, and I wanted to understand so much more about yoga so that I could share this incredible practice with others.
300 Hours: Deepening My Meditation Practice
At this point, I had quit my job to pursue my passion for yoga full-time. I began advanced training with Frog Lotus Yoga International and I spent two incredible weeks by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. My physical practice transformed. I let go of the belief that I was limited by my previous injuries and found that the more I tried, the more I could do.
This time, the game changer was meditation. Every morning we gathered for a full hour of meditation before breakfast. I’d never done anything close to this amount of meditation and it completely opened my eyes to its power. I got to know my mind and understand how it worked. I finally grasped the idea that yoga is so much more than what happens on my mat. During that time, I was able to step back, observe my own thoughts, then respond mindfully to situations rather than react to them. This ability has changed every aspect of my life (Learn more in The Art of Mindfulness).
400 Hours: Getting Into Anatomy
I’ve always been a geek and I love science, so having the opportunity to study with a world-renowned anatomy teacher in this training was amazing. I learned about body reading, how to spot movements/patterns in my students, and how to use yoga to help them release their tight areas and strengthen their weak areas.
In doing so, I realized the extent to which my own injury had been a gift. Without it, I never would have had the understanding that I now do of the spine, healthy posture, safe movement and the power of yoga to prevent and heal injuries. I learned how to share the physical techniques I had developed and discovered with my yoga classes and one-to-one sessions.
500 Hours: Working the Workshops
Learning to conduct workshops helped me to pull together all that I’d learned and consider how I could share it in a deeper way than general yoga classes. I planned and taught workshops to help people improve their cycling, get stronger in their handstands and beat the winter blues. The more I worked with other teachers, the more I tapped into the limitless potential of yoga and the more excited I felt about sharing this incredible practice with others.
Looking back over my 500 hours of training, I am so glad I went on this journey. It has brought me opportunities that I could never have imagined -- to learn from my inspiring students, to lead retreats in beautiful places and to share the happiness yoga has brought me.
The best thing is that none of these outcomes were expected. I committed to the learning for the sake of the learning, not dreaming that it would lead me here. As such, every class, every new student and every retreat is a precious gift that I am incredibly grateful for. This, in itself, encapsulates one of my favorite lessons of yoga from the Bhagavad Gita, the lesson of non-attachment. In the sacred text, Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna that:
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.”To me, what he’s saying is that when you act for the sake of the act itself, you lose the anxiety that comes from the attachment to a certain outcome. This frees you to enjoy what you do, which perfectly sums up how my yoga teacher training has changed my life. I still have so much to learn, and no idea where it will take me, but that excites me every day. (Read on about venturing into the world of yoga teaching in 5 Qualities of a Good Yoga Teacher.)