a few (mostly non-yoga) insights from Yoga Teacher Training
Many of my friends and family have asked about my experience last month at Kripalu, where I completed my yoga teacher training over 28 intense but amazing days. Some people ask if I am more flexible and pretzel – like (nope, still and always will have short hamstrings), or where I am teaching now (my first real class will be in August, and I have two job offers for the fall which I will share with you when it gets closer!) The biggest lessons I learned at Kripalu were about myself, human nature, and creating a connection with others in order to teach, and to live in society. It was a crash course in psychology, sociology, anatomy, and yes, how to do some downward dogs; here are a few of the other takeaways. (Warning: I am not a "blogger" so if you are looking for wit and humor and irony, you might be disappointed).
Yoga is not just about doing crazy poses and trying to get “flexible”: one of the reservations I had about attending yoga teacher training (YTT) is that I was never one of those “advanced” students in class, doing a handstand for "relaxation" or walking around on my hands. I probably never will be, and that is OK. Because what I learned is that postures, breathwork, and other physical aspects are only one teeny part of living a yogic lifestyle. What matters more is finding and exploring our own limits, and being more mindful of our thoughts and how we treat others, through observances of non-violence, honesty, respect and the like. Our teacher Devarshi said it best on the first night we were there: “Oh, you can put your foot behind your head? That’s great! But you’re still in as$hole”. Pretty much sums it up. So for all of you who don't think you are flexible enough to do yoga, JOIN THE CLUB!!! Yoga is about exploring YOUR limits, both mentally and physically, not the person's on the mat next to you.
The early bird gets the worm, a sunrise, cute bunnies, and two bear cubs: Because our days were so packed, in class from 6:30am to 9:30pm 6 days a week (and studying on day 7), and included a lot of lecture so we were actually sedentary for a good portion of that time, I would have to sneak in a run by setting my alarm for 4:45am. It was so peaceful watching a sunrise, and feel like I was really connecting to nature. The Berkshires is a magical, peaceful place, and I would hear so many different birds, spot multiple bunnies (some even played with the squirrels) and yes, even one day saw two bear cubs on the main road (followed by Mama Bear). That was magical but sort of frightening. I know you’re not supposed to act scared and run, but I set a PR that day hightailing it back to campus (no I did not stop to take a pic with my iPhone, for obvious reasons). It is so nice to go out early in the morning, before there is a car on the road, or a person in sight, without headphones, and connect with your surroundings.
Taking a Facebook hiatus for a month is a great way to unplug and get stuff done!: After the month of teacher training ended, I extended this FB break into weeks five and six and they were the most productive weeks of the last few years! I can also count the number of texts I sent one two hands and one foot. We don’t have cable at home (but have been watching old episodes of Arrested Development, one of my vices), so not watching any TV or movies at all was a nice break too. Even if you’ve already taken your summer vacation this year, consider treating yourself to a mini-vacation by taking a few days of a digital break, either to mentally get away from it all, or be way more productive!
Living in a dorm with 20 other women was not only tolerable, but enjoyable: I was sort of reluctant to share a room with so many other people. Ok, mainly I was scared that I would get a top bunk and fall out of bed, but all the personalities and lifestyles was a concern too. But I actually ended up liking it! My roommates were so respectful and easy to live with. I thought at 34 years old I’d probably be on the younger side in my group, but most of the ladies were young ladies (ie, in college or just graduated). While it made me feel very old (a few I was almost twice their age!), it was great lesson in being open-minded and open to new experiences. I met some amazing people which was only enhanced by sharing tampons and talking about boyfriends (um, this doesn't apply to me).
(me and a few of my clearly-much-younger roomies)
5. I CAN survive without wine and caffeine for a month!!! : I’d consider myself a moderate drinker, but I do usually imbibe in a nightly glass of wine with dinner. Kripalu forbids consuming alcoholic beverages on the premises, and I was wondering what this month of forced detox would bring. Again, like the no-Facebook-rule, I actually enjoyed it and was much more productive! Ok, I did have it once, the one time I went into town for dinner, and DID really enjoy the wine flight at Alta Wine Bar in Lenox, but I enjoyed the abstinence. Kripalu also doesn’t serve coffee in the dining hall (you can only buy it in the gift shop), so I was not about to pay $3 a day for coffee. After a long first day with a major headache, the withdrawal subsided and I saved a lot of money! Of course I drank loads of tea from the wonderful selection they have, but I can still say I survived without coffee—another success!
(what happens after 1 glass of wine. I am attempting a Downward Dog. The fuzzy picture quality is appropriate)
We are not as comfortable with ourselves and others as we’d like to think we are: On our first day we were blind-folded, and walked around our classroom finding another set of hands to hold, touch, and explore. I like to think I’m open-minded, but I felt it to be a little uncomfortable at first. Exploring a stranger’s hands feels very intimate, wondering who IS this person I’m touching? A guy? Girl? What is THEIR story? And have you ever looked, I mean REALLY looked into someone’s eyes? How about for a minute? Try it! Eye contact has always been something important to me, but to really gaze into someone’s eyes for more than a few seconds feels vulnerable. We should really look not just at, but INTO eachother more (and probably talk less. We had a full day of silence one day, but that is another story).
If you put yourself in a group of yogis, stuff is gonna come up: I never got the whole “peak experience” from yoga that I sometimes hear people talk about. One of those epiphanies where you’re like, “Holy crap. Yoga just made my cry because concentrating, meditating and looking inward brought up a lot of old s#it I’ve been holding in." On any given day, you’d see at least three people cry (in a group of 62 that is not an insignificant number). And I feel okay telling you this because a few times I was one of those people. When you’re immersed in a supportive, nurturing environment where it’s okay to experience emotions for 28 days, things WILL come up! And what I learned is that that is okay, it’s okay to feel those "bad" feelings. They are not going to last forever, so they don’t need to be suppressed. Just let yourself acknowledge them, perhaps look at them in a different perspective, and experience them. “It’s not about letting things go, it’s about looking at them in a different way” is my new mantra. Life can be crappy; frankly, it can suck. But I’m trying to take those times and look at them in a different light and believing that they happened for a reason, and if I can take something good away from them, all the better.
One can only eat so much tofu: Kripalu is famous for their outstanding culinary selection of mostly vegetarian meals. It is like being on a healthy cruise ship for a month – tons of organic, mostly vegetarian options, and a wide selection of gluten-free food which I was so grateful for. But after a month of smelling continuous whiffs of curries, quinoa, and sesame tofu, I was a looking forward to imbibing in some salmon and sushi when I got home. Below is an amazing gluten-free pizza they made using quinoa as the crust! I tried it at home, and it worked!
9. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. I’ve seen this quote a few times before and thought, “Really? Not so sure about that”. But by intentionally putting myself out of my comfort zone, and believing in myself that yes, I really could survive a month without Andris and Zip, that I really AM capable of studying and memorizing Sanskrit words and learning anatomy, and that YES, I really CAN become a yoga teacher is kinda scary. I wonder what else I am capable of? I used to look at people and think, wow, I could never do THAT, I don’t have that much courage, or brains, or strength. That I would be too scared. But when we realize that we ARE capable, THAT is when things get scary.
(me and my teachers, Jashoda and Devarshi, on graduation day. I DID it!!!!)
After all that, Kripalu is truly an indescribable experience. I picked out a handful of random stuff because I wouldn’t know how to explain it. And if I did, you’d think I’d completely lost it and joined a cult. I wish everyone I knew could spend a few weeks at Kripalu, connecting with others and themselves, whether they like yoga or not. Since that is not realistic, I can only incorporate the lessons I’ve learned in my life and put them in practice to be a more positive person, patient wife, understanding friend, better daughter, compassionate yoga teacher, and of course, the best dog Mom to Zip.