A little over three years after becoming a certified yoga teacher (RYT200), I’ve decided to start working towards my advanced certification (RYT500). I’m doing it through Yoga Tree in San Francisco. Their program is composed of three modules: a general seven-day course, a six-month mentorship with an experienced teacher, and 150 hours of elective studies.
A couple weeks ago I did module 1 (the general course) with Dina Amsterdam. Her approach is centred around relaxation, breath, awareness, and kindness. By the end of the week, I found out that taking this softer, more subtle, approach to yoga actually makes your practice so much more powerful. It has made a positive difference in my personal practice that I can feel. I went to a yoga class the week after the module, consciously making sure to apply what I had learned, and had one of the most amazing public classes of my life. And it showed: after class, the teacher told me I had a “beautiful practice,” referring to the sense of ease and relaxation I had fostered, despite the challenging nature of the class. But as many things worth learning, there’s sometimes discomfort along the way, and Day 1 brought up some personal hurdles I had to overcome.
The most strenuous thing I’ve done in my life so far was the 2009 Vancouver Marathon. I barely trained for it, so I didn’t really have a grasp on the physical, mental, and emotional excruciation I was in for. In the last six miles, running was painful and walking was agony, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The first day of my yoga teacher training felt kind of like that marathon: my relatively untrained mind was thrust into a introspective endurance event. The mind is different that the body: you have to train the body to be active, whereas you have to train the mind to be still. Dina says that coming back from distraction is like a barbell curl for the mind. We spent hours observing and reporting on the states of our physical bodies, emotions, and minds. Just like with physical training, mental training is exhausting, and I felt it at the end of the day!
In the afternoon, we did some teaching and got feedback from Dina and the other members of the class. It was great, because as a yoga teacher, you don’t usually get a report about your students’ experiences. After a negative experience in a yoga class, instead of thinking, “I’ll go give the teacher some constructive feedback after class,” I think most participants think, “This class isn’t for me. I just wont come back again.” Even though it was great, constructive feedback can be a little hard to swallow since the mind seems to have all sorts of tactics to prevent you from admitting you’re wrong. Two things Dina did helped me navigate this “mind-field.” First, at the beginning of the day, she had us write up a list of potential resistances to learning that we might encounter (e.g. “thinking I know best”). Second, she suggested that when a part of us is suffering, we take a step back from that part and address it with a sense of compassion–kind of like a yoga teacher to a student in a tough posture:
Yoga student Barbie: “I can’t believe she said that my instructions were too fast. My participants love my classes.”
Yoga teacher Barbie: “Mmm, ‘thinking you know best’ was on the list of resistances to learning, wasn’t it? If you thought you were already the perfect instructor why did you sign up for this course?”
YSB: “I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not a bad instructor either!”
YTB: “‘Insecurities’ was on the list too; it’s normal to feel them. Accepting criticism doesn’t make you a bad instructor though; in fact, it probably makes you a better one.”
YSB: “Well, I think a got harsher feedback than anyone else.”
YTB: “It may have felt that way, but what does that have to do with whether the feedback was accurate or not? Wasn’t ‘comparing yourself to others’ on the list of resistances?”
YSB: “I just have a lot of valuable information share, and I don’t think I should have to cut it out.”
YTB: “Aww, there you go thinking you know best again. These types of mental habits take time to break, but it is doable. Are you really sharing information effectively if you’re giving instructions too fast for people to process them all?”
I went to bed completely exhausted, wondering how I was going to get through the next 6 days of, what I could only describe as, “spiritual bootcamp.” I would be surprised the next morning to discover how refreshed I felt.
This post is part of a series describing my experience with the first module of my advanced yoga teacher training (RYT500).
Advanced Yoga Teacher Training
Day 1: Resistance
Day 2: Acceptance
Day 3: Breath
Day 4: Emotions
Day 5: Energy
Day 6: Asana
Day 7: Transformation