Over the years, I've been asked where I completed my yoga training and why I chose the ones I did. Having the certifications that I have are very important to me and have certainly authenticated my role as yoga teacher, but I feel there is a healthy list of experiences I’ve had over the years that started me on the path of teacher long before I found yoga. Growing up, I had a number of school teachers, mentors and community leaders and my parents who demonstrated characteristics and qualities from their teachings that I draw from today. So I thought I'd share a bit about my journey from student to teacher. (If you aren’t interested in my back-story, just jump to the last couple of paragraphs)
Here’s a snap shot of what I’m talking about:
• In my pre-teens, I had the opportunity to assist my dance teacher(s) with youth dance classes every Saturday morning. It was a great opportunity that helped me understand how to work with a group and to teach them about body awareness, alignment principles, and controlled movement. I also had the chance to choreograph routines, lead stage rehearsals and then coach students according.
• Singing with the Yellowknife Youth Choir from the age of 13-19, I learned the importance and benefits of listening louder than singing in order to create beautiful harmonies and to also be able to blend many voices into a single powerful resonance.
• In college, I studied performing arts and learned vocal projection, stage presence, storytelling and role-playing, as well as the power of the 'pause' and what it means to simply hold space for some one or some thing.
• As a fitness instructor and nutrition coach in the early 2000s, I learned how to develop and deliver structured workouts and routines, plus create healthy lifestyle plans that were in line with the specific needs and goals of the individuals I was working with.
My role models exemplified for me what it meant to teach. They demonstrated empathy, compassion, honesty, as well as flexibility, hard work, perseverance and the willingness to change all while remaining true to their Self. They lectured and taught what needed to be taught, but they also took ample time to listen, observe and to take things in from a different perspective.
Some of them questioned my thoughts and actions and challenged me to defend my reasonings. Sometimes I was told to work harder and was asked whether I was truly giving my honest effort. A lot of the feedback I’ve received was hard to hear, but I wouldn’t be the person, or teacher I am today without it.
(Start here if you want to get to the details of my trainings)
In May of 2008, I completed my first 200 YTT (yoga teacher training) here in Halifax NS with 8 other individuals. The format of the training was to meet one weekend every month for 9 consecutive months. After graduation, I was so motivated to share the practice of yoga that I opened a studio three months later. Within the first few weeks of opening, I felt an overwhelming fear and lacked confidence in my abilities. I really felt like I had no sweet clue of what it meant to teach yoga.
(Side note: I loved my first 200hrs training. It was well rounded and effectively delivered, extensive enough to give me exactly what I needed in the first step of embodying the role as teacher. But like a lot of new teachers I felt I hardly had the skills needed to support the individuals who were coming to my yoga classes in the same way that I had been supported as a student.)
To ease my worries and insignificance as a yoga teacher, I rationalized with my ego that if I had a piece of paper from the birthplace of yoga that said I was certified to teach yoga, then it must be so. After very little research and more of a leap of faith, I decided to go to the Motherland myself.
In the fall of 2008, I completed my second 200 YTT with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Society in Neyyar Dam India. I can’t even begin to sum up the extent of this training in a few lines. It was mind-blowing, challenging, and the most remarkably transformational experience I had ever had. There were 150 of us in the program and 30 of us shared a dorm room. We woke at 5:30am and silently readied ourselves for morning meditation which began at 6:00am. The rest of the day unfolded with asana practice, lectures, selfless service (chores), more meditations, more lectures, more asana until the day ended at 9:30/10:00pm. Only two of the 30-day immersion were ‘free’ days although morning and evening meditations were still mandatory. We ate twice a day 10:00am and 6:00pm, and had to submit essays every morning from the previous days dissertation. It was nuts! And absolutely amazing.
I loved the experience so much that I journeyed back to India 11 months later and completed my 500hrs Sivananda training, this time in the northern city of Vrindavan. The training was similar to the 200hrs training only more intensive. Our days began at 4:30am and included an in-depth study of the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, Vedanta and Tantric Philosophy.
Now, with two pieces of paper from India with my name on it (and the third one from NS) I thought that I'd overcome the fears and anxieties from before. Was I ever wrong!
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel that fear rear its head. The difference now is that I see the fear, I understand it in a way that I never knew I could, and I use it to continue to be the best student I can be.
For only after I've explored, researched and tried to practice whatever posture, philosophical idea, meditation technique etc, do I then take what I've felt in my body and heart to the mat as a teacher. The beauty of yoga is that once you decide to explore that path of teacher, no matter what certificate(s) you receive that say you are qualified to teach, I firmly believe that the most important aspect of teaching is to always be a student.
I may teach yoga for a living, but I practice yoga for life.