In early September, I moved half way around the world to start my yoga teacher training. Drastic? Perhaps. Perth, Western Australia, is a very, very long way from Vancouver, Canada. I’ll admit I completely underestimated what a huge commitment I was undertaking, both physically and psychologically. The training took over my entire life; the asanas, the philosophy, the research, the assignments – it consumed a lot more than the time I spent in class. This wasn’t a bad thing, I just had to rise to the challenge I had set myself. I will never regret taking on teacher training, but if I could go back in time, I would certainly offer myself a bit of advice:
1. Do your research.
I was incredibly lucky; I signed up for a teacher training (YTT) course at a studio that I had never practiced at, in a city I’d never been to. It could have been terrible. It could have been entirely the wrong course for me. I was fortunate that my research had been enough for me to have selected a reputable studio with a well-respected program, taught by wonderful yogis. But it could have been different…
2. Let go of your ego.
Within two weeks of starting teacher training, my right knee was clicking like a ballpoint pen. Within another two weeks, I was suffering from quite a lot of pain in the same knee. I went to see a physiotherapist who diagnosed me with Patello-femoral syndrome. I had never had a problem with my knees whilst practicing yoga. I had simply overdone it. I had been so concerned about being as good as, or better than, the other yogis in my course, that I hadn’t taken care of my body. My ego worried constantly about how far I was in a stretch compared to the girl on the mat next to me. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough to be in a teacher training program. By the time we were halfway through training, I had come to accept that I wasn’t the most experienced or skilled yogi in the class, nor was I the most uncoordinated or inflexible. Each of us had moments when we were strong and flexible and balanced, and days when we were falling over, falling asleep, and checking out of even the simplest poses. YTT is a great equalizer.
3. Your mind and your body are your mind and body alone. No one will react to training exactly the way you do.
Quite a few people in my class decided to take on a vegetarian diet during training and claimed that they weren’t craving meat or sugar or other unhealthy foods. Some people claimed to have a new source of energy. I was the complete opposite – since we’d started training I had been craving red meat, sugar, alcohol and coffee like crazy. I had been sleeping in as late as possible and I was exhausted! I had to remind myself that this wasn’t wrong – I just had a different body and mine clearly needed more protein, more carbohydrates, and more sleep!
4. You’re still human.
If you expect to suddenly wake up one morning with a happy-cartwheels-love-hearts-kittens-and-puppy-dogs attitude, in love with the world and the human race and forgiving of all the foibles of your fellow man because you’re training to be a yoga teacher, I hate to break it to you, but this doesn’t happen overnight. I struggled to let go of my habits of negativity and low self-esteem to embrace the Yoga Sutras. Every time I felt a surge of loathing towards another person, or even towards myself, I had to remind myself of my vow of Ahimsa (non-violence), over and over. Every time I drank a whole bottle of wine and ate too much chocolate and stayed up until 3am watching television, I had to remind myself of my vow of Bramacharya (energy-moderation). Yoga isn’t just a physical practice, it’s a lifestyle and changing your lifestyle is a gradual process.
5. Maxing your credit card at LuluLemon is fun, but not necessary.
I worried about rocking up to the first day of YTT in fashionable yoga clothing. I hadn’t felt the same level of anxiety about my attire since free-dress day in high school. Yes, a lot of the students in my class wear expensive yoga wear. A lot of them also wear non-branded pants and shorts and t-shirts. And after a couple of weeks of everyone wearing the same clothing to class over and over, you don’t even notice.
6. Without hurting yourself, do as much yoga as you can, with as many different teachers as you can.
Once you start YTT, you will never experience a yoga class in the same way again. You learn so much from a good teacher about language, cues, demonstrating and music – take notes after every class about what worked for you and what didn’t. There is also a lot to learn from teachers whose style doesn’t resonate with you. Don’t just criticize them – think about why you didn’t like their class and learn from it. Be a student for life.
Alison Skillen is an Australian yoga teacher trainee working out her karma in Vancouver. She shares her experiences on and off the mat at her blog Karma Crush Diaries