I’m a bit late getting this post out since I’ve been out of the country, but despite the delay I wanted to be sure I documented my last yoga teacher training weekend because it was so uplifting and beautiful. As I begin to write this post, I’m wondering how I’m going to describe the feelings I experienced, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to truly convey them. I think it’s because the feelings I have during these weekends are so new and powerful, and really quite impossible to accurately describe because mere words don’t do them justice. But I’ll do my best 🙂
We began our Friday evening with a short meditation led by Carrie, which helped us calm our minds for what was to follow: teaching sun salutations! Each one of us instructed the rest of the group through one full sun A salutation while also giving hands-on assists. Of course all of our eyes went wide at that point, but it turned out to be really fun and confidence-boosting. I was pleased with how mine went (and also happy that I had been practicing my sun A’s). I was afraid I would not be able to assist while I instructed, but I was surprised at myself when I was able to do both pretty smoothly. It felt natural, which made me feel really good about doing it again in the future. We all gave each other some love after each instruction.
We then moved on to practicing balance poses. While fun to practice, balancing poses also help with focus and concentration, and help to build core and other muscle strength. We worked on warrior 3, standing big toe hold, tree, half moon and revolved half moon, utilizing the walls for support and to understand proper alignment in these poses. It takes some serious core and leg strength to hold these poses, especially when that’s all you’re doing for an hour. But it was fun to experiment and challenge ourselves.
We also discussed modifications and variations in these poses, and the differences between the two. Modifications are meant to assist in finding the pose in a way that supports an individual’s body and practice level. This can include using blocks, straps, bolsters or altering the pose to get the same benefits while finding more support. Variations are meant to provide a bit more challenge or to find a different, and perhaps more playful, way the pose can be done, but without changing the overall goal of the pose. For example, bringing the hands to heart center in warrior 3 versus keeping them grounded.
We began the day with Jillian discussing various seated poses, the benefits of them, modifications and variations, and how to provide effective assists in these poses. We partnered up and each received a pose to demonstrate and discuss; ours was wide-legged seated fold. Funny enough, this is the pose I have the most trouble with in my practice due to my super tight hamstrings. But that made me all the more appreciative to have received it. Fortunately my partner offered to be the one to get into the pose, while I discussed the above. Other poses demonstrated included child’s pose, seated forward fold, head to knee, hero and a few others, and we were able to learn assists for all of these. We ended with Savasana assists, which of course we all loved the most.
After lunch Carrie led us through a longer flow, utilizing many of the poses we had been practicing the past couple of days. It was a challenging practice, but I really enjoyed it. It’s amazing how much your practice can change when you learn more about the body and benefits of the poses you’re practicing. I feel like it has strengthened my practice so much already.
We continued the afternoon focusing on standing poses, again discussing the benefits, modifications, variations and assists in these poses. I volunteered to demonstrate side angle pose while the group discussed how using blocks, binds and assists can deepen the pose. Other postures we discussed included warrior 2, triangle (and revolved), revolved side angle, intense leg stretch and wide-legged straddle. After each demonstration, we partnered up to practice giving assists to each other, purposely messing them up a bit so our partner had something to work with. I really appreciated learning assists for all of these poses, because as an instructor you want your class to get the most out of a practice and feel comfortable. While the purpose of assists for some may be to deepen the pose, for others it is to encourage proper alignment and provide a supportive presence. When you’re in an especially vulnerable pose, sometimes having that little bit of support can provide comfort and peace of mind.
We ended the day with acknowledgements. I asked to be acknowledged for my ability to listen to my own body while practicing and to others in my group during the various partner exercises. I appreciate receiving feedback from them, knowing that every little bit of information will help me become a better instructor in the future.
Carey Sims was our guest instructor for the whole day to discuss our reading assignment, the Bhagavad Gita, and the history of yoga. Carey has a wealth of knowledge about world religions and how yoga has progressed over the centuries. Leading up to the weekend, Carey provided several articles for us to read, ranging from the modernization of yoga to different perceptions of yoga to arguments against the practice. We discussed all of these and yoga’s history before lunch, and needless to say, it was a very heavy and in-depth discussion. And I loved every minute of it. I can’t even begin to cover all that we talked about, but some of the highlights included:
- the origins of yoga
- whether yoga can be seen as a form of religion or not
- the hypocrisy of yoga being banned from certain establishments
- the commercialization of yoga in the western world, and the good and bad surrounding that
- cultural appropriation
- authenticity and “owning” your beliefs
- how yoga has evolved into what it is today
I really enjoyed hearing everyone’s differing opinions on these subjects. We were able to have a respectful and educational conversation where we all opened our minds to different thoughts and possibilities. I would have loved to sit and talk about these topics all day, as we really only scratched the surface, but it was a great learning experience in a short amount of time.
After lunch, Carey led us through a discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita, translated from Sanskrit to “Song of the Lord”, is an ancient Hindu scripture that is read as a poem and adapted from the larger text, Mahabharata. It’s a very important and influential philosophical piece in Indian culture and touches on the topics of spirituality, conflicting morals, the meaning of life and karma, and paves the way to living a life that is pure. As with the articles we discussed, it’s impossible to touch on everything this book offers. Some of the key points we talked about were:
- the soul must be purified through action
- allow yourself to sit with both the negative and positive things in life
- give because you want to, not because you desire a certain outcome
- what we do between birth and death is what matters the most
- our true self is not found in the material world
- one decision can change your entire life
- act in accordance with your duties and best intentions
The themes of the Gita strongly connect to the practice of yoga. Through yoga, we strive for a pure and whole life while we are on this earth, not focusing on what happens after death. We learn to breathe, practice and live with intention both on and off our mats. Peace and compassion are ultimate goals. I’m not a religious person, but this book really spoke to me because it’s essentially a guide for living your best possible life. Even if you are not spiritual, I highly recommend reading it as an educational piece.
Our discussion of the Gita led us right into a flow practice based on the topics of the book. We had the option of beginning the practice blindfolded, which I opted for. I had practiced with my eyes closed once for an entire class, and while difficult, it allows you to connect with your body on a deeper level. This time was no different. Standing poses are where it gets the most tricky, but Carey uttered two words that made all the difference: Trust Yourself. Rather than using your eyes, you use your intuition and breath. I’ve done these poses hundreds of times, so I should be able to do them with eyes or not. About 15 minutes in we took the blindfolds off, but the mind-body connection was now very established for the remainder of the practice.
As we practiced, Carey helped us to reflect on what we learned, incorporating different postures to symbolize the various themes, which I thought was really creative and a great way to apply what we read. I felt more intention in this practice than I ever had before. There was a feeling I got from this practice that is hard to describe, but it made me want to cry with overwhelming joy, which I started to do during Savasana. After practice we all discussed our thoughts and feelings from it. Some of the responses caused some tears to shed, and I felt a lot closer to myself and my fellow yogis.
We ended our weekend by standing in a circle, hand in hand, and saying one word that represented how we felt about the practice, and the whole weekend. I said beautiful, because that’s exactly how everything felt to me at that moment. I left the studio that day once again feeling like my best and happiest self. I’m already counting down the days until our next weekend together.