This past weekend was one I had been waiting for since last summer. One that seemed so far away for so long, until it was finally here. One that I was both excited and nervous for. To say that my first Bella Vita yoga teacher training weekend was incredible would be an understatement. I didn’t expect how much we would learn, grow and come together as a group in only three days. And I didn’t expect to leave Sunday evening feeling like I was on cloud nine and immediately wanting more.
The YTT weekend officially began Friday night at the NoDa Yoga studio. I showed up and saw the 13 faces of the fellow students I’d be spending the next 8 months with. I was pretty anxious at that point, as I am in most new situations with people I’ve never met. Our instructors, Carrie and Jillian, invited us into a candlelit room they had beautifully set up. I found my name in the circle and took a seat on my assigned bolster. From there Carrie led us through a meditation, which I was grateful for since I was still quite nervous. We were then asked to write down one of our fears on a piece of paper so that we could burn it, as a sign of letting it go. I have a lot of fears, but I wrote “death” on my paper, since that’s the fear I’ve held onto for so long. I shared my fear with the group and then gently let it burn away.
We all went around the room introducing ourselves, describing how we felt in a word or two, and stating our intentions for both the weekend and the entire program. My intention was to be open to learning through the weekend, and overall to find a part of myself that had been lost or suppressed. We ended the night with our first of many yoga practices led by Carrie. It was really nice practicing in a candlelit room surrounded by others who were there for the same purpose. I left that night already feeling ready for the next day.
On Saturday we met bright and early with Jillian to talk about the different types of Pranayama breathing techniques. But first, we had more of an in-depth sharing experience about what brought each of us to yoga and to the training program. And I must say, I was completely inspired by the group. The honesty and vulnerability presented was amazing, and I really appreciated hearing all about each person’s life path up until that point. I ended up telling my whole story, which included my mental health issues, divorce, blog writing and yoga journey. I felt that my story was well-received and respected by the group, and I could tell that we all had a closer connection with each other after everyone had shared.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that basically translates to “controlled breathing.” The breath is the most important aspect of yoga, because it’s what sustains us and allows us to live. Even if we’re not practicing yoga poses, as long as we’re mindfully breathing we’re still practicing yoga. So it makes sense that our yoga education would start here. Jillian led us through a thorough discussion of the different types of breath, from the well-known Ujjayi (ocean breath) to the lesser-known Sitali (cooling breath), Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breath), Dirgha (3-part breath) and Kapalabhati (breath of fire). We practiced all of the techniques together and then paired up to do more of a breath observation in each other. We focused on aspects like frequency, quality and depth. It was interesting to compare how I perceived my normal breathing and how someone else physically viewed my breathing.
Later on that day, Carrie guided us through a break-down of the more fundamental yoga poses in sun salutations, including upward and downward dog, cobra, plank, mountain and folds. We discussed limitations in our own bodies in these poses, and debunked some of the often-heard cues for these poses that may not actually help when it comes to proper alignment. She also conveyed the importance of good verbal and non-verbal communication as a yoga teacher, as that can make all the difference in successfully leading a class.
We then put our discussion into practice by learning proper yoga pose assists. We once again partnered up, this time as “student and teacher.” I’ve received assists frequently in classes, and it was funny to me to see what you actually do with your hands and body when assisting versus what I thought the teacher was doing this whole time. It turns out you can put most of your body weight into some assists. I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want to press too hard and cause pain, but I learned I was often not using enough pressure in my assists. I eventually got the hang of it, and my partner was able to easily flow through poses as I assisted, and vice versa. It was quite fun, but boy were we sore and tired at the end! And thus concluded day two.
Day three began with a journaling exercise led by Carrie about what yoga means to each of us. Me being the structured list-maker that I am, I bullet-pointed my thoughts, which I’ve shared below:
- A connection of the mind, body and spirit
- Getting in touch with your inner-self to create self-awareness
- Mental and physical exploration
- Connecting with others
- Understanding your limits, but also challenging yourself to go further
- Growth and constant learning
- Finding a life balance
There were no right or wrong answers, and it was interesting to hear everyone’s individual take on it. Carrie then asked us to choose one or two words that encompassed what yoga means to us. We passed around her phone as she recorded each of us saying our word, which I thought was really cool, as it’s something that is totally unique to our yoga group. The word I chose was “self-love.”
We continued with our yoga pose assists from Saturday, this time adding warrior 1, chair, and, my personal favorite, Savasana. While assists in other yoga poses are meant to either take a pose deeper or subtly correct alignment, an assist in Savasana is usually meant to provide comfort and relaxation. It often incorporates some kind of massage or pressure, which we practiced on our partners. Carrie ended the morning by asking us what we wanted to be acknowledged for that weekend. I said I wanted to be acknowledged for my growth over those three days, as I felt really proud of my progress so far.
After lunch, Jillian led us through a gentle and restorative yoga practice, which was simply wonderful. I had never taken a restorative yoga class before, so I enjoyed learning some new poses that utilized bolsters and blocks. Then came one of the bigger challenges of the weekend: teaching yoga! Yes, in our very first weekend we were already learning to teach. We broke off into small groups, which we rotated a few times, and each person in the group took turns teaching the others. We started by choosing a Pranayama breath from the day before to teach to the group (I chose a combination of ujjayi and Sitali). Then Jillian handed us each an index card with a pose name on it that we had to keep secret from the group. The goal was to get our group into this pose without saying the name of the pose or the names of any other poses we’d normally use to get there. We also could not demonstrate the pose. Needless to say, this was quite tricky.
In the first round, the group was blindfolded as we taught a more basic, grounded pose. My pose to teach was splits prep. Luckily it required only a few verbal cues to get into, so I was fairly confident in how I instructed that one. But the next pose we had to teach required us to use both directive and suggestive language. Directive language is more straight and precise, while suggestive language adds a little more comfort (e.g. “when you’re ready”, “I invite you to”). My pose to teach was warrior 1. I found directive language to be easier to use than suggestive, but they both have their uses in different yoga styles and situations, so I’m glad we learned how to use both. And that wrapped up our final day!
I drove home from the studio that afternoon in total bliss and thought the day could not possibly get any better. Then I came home to a sweet congratulatory card from my hunny, and a couple of special treats.
I’ve told people who have asked me how the first weekend went that it’s hard to put into words the feelings that I have right now. Shane and I went to dinner Saturday night, and at one point he said to me that I had this radiant glow about me that he’d never seen before. I completely attribute that to my experience this weekend, and it’s probably the best way to sum it all up. I expressed Friday night that my intention for the program is to find a part of myself that has been lost or suppressed. In just three days, I feel like the ability to find that part of me is now very real, and I have already opened the door and let a little bit of myself out. And it feels really good. Everything about this weekend felt genuine, light and uplifting. I feel like I’ve known everyone in the group for much longer than I have because we all connected with each other so well. And all of this made me realize that I am exactly where I need to be right now.