Memoirs of a Yoga Teacher Trainee, or the 12 lessons yoga has taugh me.
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Last September, when I was embarking on my Yoga Teacher Training, I had no idea what to expect. I thought I would learn more about yoga and bring my own practice to the next level, and while that was certainly the case, the YTT course was so much more than that. It's not an exaggeration to say that it's changed the way I look at the world, and myself or others in it.
It's been six months since I completed the practical component of the YTT course in the ancient place of healing in Epidavros, Greece, and I still struggle to verbally convey the wealth of knowledge that had been shared with us; copious amounts of thoughts that have gone through my head since; conclusions I’ve made about what I care about most, who I want to be, and what I’d like my life to look like.
But I thought it was worth a go anyway. So here they are, the 12 lessons that my Yoga Teacher Training has taught me.
1. Asana (i.e. the physical side of yoga) is just a teeny-weeny part of yoga.
And by 'teeny-weeny' I mean maybe 10% at most. I was mesmerised at how little I’d learned about yoga during 13 years I’d been practicing it prior to the course — I don’t think I’d even scratched the surface! The majority of yoga devotees start their yoga journey from a strenuous, calorie-burn driven practice, and it’s only when they stick to it for long enough to reap its mental benefits, that they become interested in the philosophical foundations of yoga. And these, my Dear Friends, are as rich, vast, and complex as any religion out there. Which leads me to the second point, that…
2. Yoga manages to accomplish what many religions aim to, but often fail to achieve.
Having come from predominantly Catholic Poland, I am aware of both the benefits and vices of institutionalised religions. While religion often provides people with a sense of purpose and community, thus decreasing existential angst, at its worst, it can divide rather than unite people. Yoga, on the other hand — though deriving from three different religious systems — unifies people with one another and with the Universe (in fact, the word ‘yoga’ means ‘oneness’ or ‘unity’). The last niyama of Patanjali’s classical yoga (lit. self-observances), Ishwara Pranidana, admonishes us that we should be devoted to a God/divine force of our choice, rather than any specific God, so everyone’s invited to the yoga party :).
3. Yoga works even if the only thing you focus on is its physical aspect.
As we were sharing our individual stories on the first day of the course, we all came to a conclusion that we experienced the healing impact of yoga long before having become interested in its spiritual aspects. I can say with full conviction that yoga played a big part in warding off my inner demons, even at a time when all I cared about was performing a crow pose better than my ‘neighbour’ and when my yoga teacher had to move me to the opposite corner of the room with an understanding smile and patient explanation that ‘yoga is not a competition’.
4. The way to better remember people’s names is to associate them with a characteristic, memorable thing.
If, like me, you’ve been struggling with remembering people’s names, you’ll love this one — on the first day of the course we played a game whereby the 29 of us, plus 4 teachers, sat in a circle and had to introduce ourselves and our one ‘like’ that starts with the same letter as our names. We went one by one, repeating names and ‘likes’ of all those who came before us, and finishing with our own name and associated word. The next person would do the same, and so, the last person would have to repeat all 32 names. I was 25th in the circle, I think, and yet that simple technique made the task super easy and at no point in the following 2 weeks have I forgotten anyone’s name. Rachael who likes Roaring, became Roaring Rachel, and Deborah who likes drinks is now known as Drinking Deborah :P. I was 'Aggie who likes amber'.
5. When you’re on the same mental wavelengths, you can click with others in an instance.
Nothing to add here, other than it is indeed possible to skip the whole small talk about the weather and get straight to more interesting topics ;). Which is related to my next point….
6. 12 hours of imposed silence make you appreciate and weigh words more carefully.
On the last two days of our course we were asked to implement a 12-hour long silence drill, whereby we couldn’t communicate with anyone, use any electronic devices or distract ourselves in any other way from what was going on in our minds — no sports, no writing/drawing, no Instagram or listening to music. Deep silence. I often joke that my mind is like a dangerous neighbourhood and that I try not to go there alone, so I was pretty apprehensive about the whole idea. Surprisingly, though, it was one of the most soothing experiences I’ve recently gone through. It allowed me to somehow put in order the mental chaos of the previous days and truly connect with my mind and physical state. It was also quite a relief to eat our breakfast in silence and not to feel obliged to fill it with words. While the social butterfly that I am is unlikely to turn into a silent meditating monk, I am now introducing more of these ‘silent windows’ in my daily life, to really digest what’s going on in my overactive mind. Which leads me to an interesting discovery that…
7. Our mind never really shuts up.
I mean, mine seems to be producing multiple thoughts all the freakin’ time and even sing to itself at times. Do you also experience that or am I crazy? 12 hours with my own mind made me realise how loud it actually is and how little I listen to it on a daily basis. Maybe if I did so more often, I could stop acting in a reactive, silly way, as I sometimes do…
8. There is a lot of kind, awesome, and like-minded people out there who will appreciate you for who you are; there’s no need to waste your energy and effort on those who don’t.
Sometimes we put up with and care for people who treat us in a way that we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy. It is often only when we come across truly kind and amazing people — who also like and respect us — that we come to realise that we don’t have to put up with other people’s sh*t. To feel happy, loved, and cared for is in big part our choice and it starts with carefully selecting those we let under our skin.
9. But try your hardest to be kind to everyone (or, in different words, in a world where you can be anything, be kind).
There are very few truly bad people in the world. Most of those who behave in a bad way, act out from a place of hurt or fear. Most people you will have to let go of, aren’t bad people; they just aren’t right FOR YOU. And although we often feel like responding with anger to anger, and with harm to harm, nothing can shatter our integrity as humans more than vengefulness. I don’t want to sound too ‘yogi’ about it, but the very first of the five yamas (lit. restrictions or duties; i.e. think of them as the yogic Ten Commandments) is Ahimsa, not-harming, while one of the key beliefs in yoga is that when you stop causing harm, no harm will be caused to you. So yeah, if being kind for its own sake doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps the rule of reciprocal altruism will ;).
10. Sometimes growth means leaving behind things, pursuits, and people that no longer serve you, and that’s ok.
This doesn’t mean you should ‘give up’ on them prematurely, but if your effort to maintain certain behaviours or relationships notoriously harms you, LET THEM GO. This does not have to be a dramatic event (though for sure it won’t be easy); you can do it with grace, peacefully making space for more nurturing things and people in your life.
11. Once you know your value, you will give no discounts. BOOM!
12. Bad, stressful, and painful events make great dinner stories.
We spent our 2-hour drive back to Athens recalling all disastrous experiences from the past, including travel, theft, breakups, missed career opportunities, disappointments etc., and we laughed our lungs out in the process. The truth is that what seems like a disaster at a time, will either lead you to a much better place in the more or less distant future, or will make a good dinner story. Bear that in mind next time you miss your flight, your luggage goes missing, someone steals your wallet, or you go through a painful breakup.
Let me know if you've experienced similar (or entirely different) revelations on your yoga journey. I’m so excited to do my part in sharing the Light of Yoga with y’all! :) NAMASTE! ❤ ❤ ❤