Yoga teacher training – halfway through

An image of me doing tree pose in hiking boots and sunglasses on top of Spy Rock

Tree pose in hiking boots and sunglasses on top of Spy Rock

I’m a student in a year-long, 200-hour yoga teacher training program, and the end of June marked the halfway point in the program. I’ve hesitated writing about it here because it feels a little too personal, and a little self-congratulatory talking about “my yogic journey”. But as my friend Lisa said to me, the story is mine and who else can tell it? So here are some things I’ve learned, changed, or grown through during the past six months.

Communication & adjustment

Yoga is a direct experience. We begin by teaching students to focus on their bodies, to use their muscles to bring their bones into proper alignment so the muscles can release gripping and chronic tension. To me, asana is often difficult to put into words. Verbalizing the instructions for alignment in a pose and especially transitioning from one pose to another has been challenging for me. An asana is broad in its experience, so only a few pieces of information can be given at a time. Choosing the right pieces of information, using the right words about orientation, and being clear and concise is a new skill that I am delighted (yet challenged) to learn.

The keys are knowing the right information to give, the clearest way to give it, and when to offer it. All the while, keeping safety and proper alignment in mind. It is educational to give a verbal cue like “let your knees fall open and the soles of the feet come together” and watch people do all kinds of crazy things that are not supta baddha konasana. I feel like having 10 different ways to cue a body movement would be helpful. Learning to prioritize information to give people, especially beginners, is still a challenge for me. Directional orientation that makes sense to people  - place your foot at a 60 degree angle instead of point your foot toward the corner of your mat – is the most challenging thing for me to do so far. Especially in a yoga class where mats are facing in different directions. Keeping left & right straight. Giving instructions without actually going through the poses with people. It’s something that I know will come with practice. All my yoga teachers have always made it look so easy!

I assisted my first class last week. Actually walking around the class and touching people was something I needed to experience, when so far I have only touched other yoga teachers or Jimmy when we practice at home. In a beginner class there are so many different types of bodies. Training my eyes to see proper alignment when someone’s spine is extremely curved or when their hips are tight is a new skill as well. I like giving physical cues, and am always amazed at how the body instinctively knows how to respond with just a light touch, properly applied. I am still nervous about adjusting people’s hips or thighs, it just seems very invasive, but it’s something I want to be more comfortable with. Proper alignment is of utmost importance for safety, so I’ve got to learn to give those cues sometime.

Range of motion

Many people come to yoga because of physical pain. Lots of us aren’t really in our bodies until our awareness is forced there by an injury or by chronic pain, a signal that something is out of balance. An injury brings limited range of motion – from overworking muscles or from being too still. Stiffness comes with age, or with habit. Physical memories in the body, or samskaras (predispositions, stiffness), can be worked through using a yoga practice. Yoga can undo somatic memory, retraining the body through awareness, and then inhaling breath into the muscles to create length and openness, and exhaling to release gripping and stiffness.

Yoga can work physically on the body, but for me it has also been a balancing influence – increasing my “range of motion” spiritually and psychologically. My ability to adjust, change, and adapt has increased. Mental samskaras (conditioning, habits) can hold us back and limit our life’s range of motion. Judging people based on past experiences, prejudices held toward a situation or group, these are all ways we can be limited. Considering mental samskaras has helped me to forgive people, to let offenses go more quickly, to have a thicker skin, to be more open minded, and to approach people (and myself) with compassion and love instead of judgment and skepticism. It has been a big shift, and not an easy one.

An image of me in a modification of side angle pose in hiking boots on top of Spy Rock

Side angle pose on Spy Rock

Breath+work

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as bird wings.

-Rumi

It is hard for me to describe the changes that have manifested through working with my breath. The main thing I can say is that you have to do it. I’ve experienced better body awareness, more energy, greater relaxation, and increased mental clarity through working with breath. One of our textbooks is The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi, which has some excellent exercises and inquiries if you’re interested in exploring the breath and body connection. The syncing of breath to movement is one of the fundamentals of yoga (it’s what is meant by vinyasa). I have been working with it in my own practice as well as cueing it during a class.

I have also learned to release my belly, which has helped me with body acceptance. I’ve had a habit since I was about 10 years old of “sucking in” – pulling in my upper abdominals to appear thinner, because I don’t like the way my belly is shaped. When you suck in your stomach, you cannot breathe properly. You especially cannot breathe intentionally or fully as needed in yoga. I’ve learned to stop doing that. By allowing myself to let go of my diaphragm, I’ve learned to breathe. I’ve also accepted that my body will present itself however it will, and I look the way I look. Sucking in my breath isn’t going to magically make me appear to be a size 4. Just saying that out loud allowed me to let go and experience the benefits of really breathing.

Inquiry, not judgment

My body is not the typical bendy, willowy, Jivamukti girl you see on the cover of Yoga Journal. I am bigger than most yogis. Nearly every time I take a class, I am the biggest person in the class. I am used to teachers asking me things like “Is this your first yoga class?” or “Are you sure you can do that?” when I begin my handstand practice. And yes, my body is limited in certain ways: I have tight shoulders. My ankles are injured and have built-up scar tissue and bone weirdness. I can’t do the full expression of eagle pose or go as deeply into twists as most bodies because of my big arms, thighs and belly.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

But guess what? That’s my yoga. Yoga has done wonders for helping me meet my body halfway. I have an awareness about my body (which I spent many years ignoring, punishing, and denying) now because of yoga. I have to feel what correct alignment in trikonasana or Warrior II feels like, because my body doesn’t look like other bodies while doing the pose, even if my alignment is correct. I know what that feels like now.

I am in my body instead of checking out, in my head. I do my yoga. It’s all I can do. When I stumble during a balancing pose or am uncomfortably balled up while everyone else is resting in child’s pose, I just have to laugh to myself. I now practice with humor and inquiry instead of judgment and “shoulds”.

I first ran across this poem by Derek Walcott when I read (my now-favorite book) The Time Traveler’s Wife. I have often found myself reading it out loud, and phrases from it get stuck in my head.  It has always haunted me a little bit, but hasn’t quite fit me until now. Now, I get it.

An image of me in Warrior II pose, wearing hiking boots and sunglasses, on top of Spy Rock

Warrior II on Spy Rock

My future in teaching

I went into this program thinking I wanted to do it to deepen my own practice. I didn’t intend to teach. Now I am changing my mind. Going through this experience in a bigger body has intrigued me. I am on a path to self-acceptance (giving up dieting, actively working on improving my body image) and yoga has absolutely been a game changer in all that.

I want to share with others what yoga has done for me, and so I’ve decided that I want to teach classes that help other big people come to yoga. A yoga studio can be an intimidating place for a fat person, and it’s easy to feel out of place when you look and move undeniably differently from everyone else. But the benefits of yoga can be so life-changing, that I feel like everyone should experience them.

Once I graduate, I will be holding a series of workshops – body positive yoga workshops. The workshops will possibly morph into a weekly class, specifically geared toward large bodies. I’m still developing ideas, researching modifications, thinking about more training, things like that. I plan on starting a blog specifically for body positive yoga where I’ll reflect on my own yoga practice as well as posting tips for thicker yogis, talking about body image stuff, maybe posting some podcasts and more. Anna at Curvy Yoga has been a great inspiration to me (thanks, Anna!) and I think all of you should sign up for her 30 Days of Curvy Yoga program (I did!) which is going to be amazing!

Anyway, that’s what’s up! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or if you have any questions, I’m open to hearing them in the comments! Namaste, y’all!

Comments

  1. Annie says

    You’re awesome! I would LOVE to take a class with you someday. I’m starting P90X which has a 90 minute “YogaX” workout. I’m scared!

  2. Carmen says

    From one new yogini teacher to another….I’m SO excited for you! I know your bright light will help light the world with positive love!!! Jai!

  3. Lisa says

    My dear friend…I’m so proud of you. You’ve always been an inspiration to me anyway in life, in the gym, as a supportive friend, as a creative genius kicking my butt to find MY way and now…it is an honor to be by your side while you keep peeling back the layers to uncover that bright ass light inside you. “3-2-1…ommmm…let’s do this!”

    • says

      3-2-1-ommm can we get a shirt that says that on it, even if we’re the only two crossfitters who wear it? Haha. Thank you for being there for me <3

      • says

        For this issue yeah, lots of Iyengar and YogaWorks (although there are others here too, like Norman Blair) but I’m plinanng on a whole range of material, so there will be many voices.

  4. Rachel says

    The first yoga class I ever took, I was really deeply immersed in my eating disorder, and taking awful care of my body. I HATED my body, and always had. At the end of the class, lying in shivasana, I started to cry. It all just hit me, what I was doing to myself. It took a lot more time to come to grips with myself, and to start trying to accept my body- but that first class was a good step, and has stayed with me ever since.

    Reading this post from you makes me so happy! I hope you do start the body positive yoga blog- I will DEFINITELY be reading!

  5. says

    Good job! I agree with Lisa, you are and always will be an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. I always feel good after hearing what you have to say.

  6. says

    My cousin just finished her certification. It was life changing for her and she’s not the willoy type either. I can tell you that if I walked into a yoga class for the first time and you were the yogi I would be converted for life. We have very simular body types and I would think “if you can do it, I can do it” as is I’ve been too embaressed by the willow women to try even though I know it would help my balance (after 2 dislocated knees I have terrible balance).

    Congrats and good for you! I’m glad you posted this! :)

    • says

      Preita,
      Thanks for the kind words. I hope you will give yoga a shot! It takes a lot of bravery to walk into that first class but I absolutely promise that it’s worth it!

  7. says

    It is really inspiring to see that you have taken on training. The commitment to becoming a yoga teacher is not an easy one, regardless of body type. And it is nice to see a range of yogis with different styles, body types, religions, races, gender to bring us all together on the mat. Every time I get to my mat, I feel at home, all my hats in life are off. I can just be with myself, dedicating this practice first to my heart, and send an ohm to the rest of my body. I sometimes start my practice with my eyes closed slight for the first 10 minutes, just to forget that there are other people in the room, and I can focus on my teachers voice. When I open my eyes again, I feel more accepting of myself and others. You just inspired me for another blog post maybe again! ;-) Congrats again, you will be an awesome teacher, and I look forward to taking your class soon. Namaste.

    • says

      Every time I get to my mat, I feel at home, all my hats in life are off. I can just be with myself, dedicating this practice first to my heart, and send an ohm to the rest of my body.

      Such a great way to put it. It is the one time we can shed all of “life” and just spend time honoring our bodies and minds for everything they do for us!

  8. says

    Congratulations! I am super excited for you. I think it is AWESOME that you are going to do some body positive workshops and specialize your teaching for larger bodies. This year I took a teacher training with Paul Grilley that totally blew my mind. There needs to be more teachers who are enlightened to the fact that ALL BODIES ARE DIFFERENT and that means that the poses are going to look different on anyone, and teachers need to take that understanding into account from the very first instruction they give in class. It makes me sad to think about people who give up on yoga because they don’t look like a Yoga Journal model or they’ve had a teacher, even unknowingly, block their way to a good experience. The fact that you see this only halfway through your training is HUGE and you will definitely be an inspiring teacher. Go for it!

    And please excuse the all caps. Like I said, I’m super excited for you. You rock. Om Shanti and all that jazz.

  9. Dana says

    This post was incredibly inspiring to me. I have such a long, wide hatred of my overweight body. I know the answer is in finding my love for myself but struggle I do. Thank you.

    • says

      Dana, I know what you mean. Have you read the book “Health at Every Size”? It went a long way in convincing me that loving myself as I am *now* is 100% okay. You should check it out :)

  10. says

    I would love to take a yoga class with you too. This reminds me so much of when I was practicing yoga more. I always felt like I was one of the bigger people in the class but my practice was so strong and I absolutely loved doing inversions. It did give me so much confidence. Now my practice is pretty much non-existent because of my schedule. I try to squeeze in 10 – 15 minutes when I can but I do miss practicing with others.

  11. montse says

    I’m really happy that you had found something so fulfilling! And I can relate to so many things that you talk about (sucking in… I always suck in! it’s now something unconscious).
    Regarding yoga for curvy bodies, this is such a good idea! There are yoga classes in my gym but I’ve never taken them because although being quite flexible I’m afraid I wont be able to bend as those lean people that attend because of my weight/curves…
    Finally, (and I’m sure this might sound stupid, moreover that I’m not an english speaking person so I don’t know how to explain myself properly in english) I’m sure that your future will have some connection with helping others it might be through yoga, or who knows… perhaps you take that nutrition course that you talked about, but that’s my humble opinion (it’s not that I see the future or anything). Take care.

  12. Heather says

    it appears that I am constantly fighting with the nutrition/fitness/weight loss/self-acceptance battle. one day, I’ve got it, and the next I’m secretly hoping I can squeeze into the two-sizes-too-small-jeans in my closet. this post helped me a lot. (and also is helping me get over my fear of going to an actual yoga class!)

    keep on rocking, girl. xo!

  13. says

    Amber! This post is A.MAZ.ING! Thank you for being so brave to put this out to the world. It’s SO needed!! I can totally relate to the “hold my stomach in” so I can appear to have a flatter stomach than I currently have syndrome. I don’t remember when it started…but it’s been YEARS! Since I’ve started slowing down, doing yoga, doing mindless-creativity activities…I see how hard it is to let my stomach go. It’s SO tense and tight…crazy!!

    I’ve always wanted to do yoga consistently, but the external messages that saturate my mind always said, cardio! cardio! cardio! WELL…for years my inner guide was saying YOGA! YOGA! YOGA! but i never listened until i become a mommy!! i struggle everyday with those external messages to do cardio and put my body through major, exhausting movement that it’s totally burnt of and exhausted from chasing a toddler all day long….but my inner guide tells me all the time to be gentle…so i’ve begun to listen…i’m doing more consistent yoga than ever (with the help of doing mindless-creativity) …but, i, too, have a long way to go. just yesterday i finally made the commitment to only be gentle with my body…only yoga, mediation, slow walks in nature…b/c with having very little me time and being a new mommy – by body and mind are in full demand all day long. so i’m honoring this…and definitely doing now that i’m inspired by your post!! THANK YOU!!

  14. says

    p.s…i forgot to say that i struggle with external cardio messages b/c i’m still trying to lose post baby weight (i actually gained after having my daughter)…and it’s been 2 years next week since I’ve had her. so yeah, i NEED yoga!

  15. says

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been 200+lbs my entire adult life and have been doing Yoga on and off for the past 15 years or so. I’ve often thought about going through instructor training, but I’ve never seriously considered it. I’ve always been too afraid that I won’t be taken seriously by an instructor, classmates or potential students. Instead I’ve focused on learning other types of movement therapy but there’s always been that little voice whispering, “Yoga is better…Yoga is better…Yoga is better.” With more positive role models like yourself, I feel myself being more open to the possibility.

  16. says

    I really love your site.. Pleasant colors &
    theme. Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my very own blog and would like to learn where you got this from or what the theme is named. Thanks!

  17. Victoria says

    I loved reading how confident yoga has made you! You’ve totally motivated me into giving yoga a try! Even at a size 24, I’m very interested in trying it now! Thanks, and best of luck in your yoga endeavors!

  18. says

    テンのブーツ。それを試してみる特大と衣料品またはトリミングリアラゲッジルームレザートノ カバー。マット唇することができますチェックも行って、もで、クール。ダチョウの革です非常に単純にの認識は、独特の外観。あなたする能力を持っています侯爵を見つけるで見つかりましたニーマン
    ・ マーカスで利用可能なファッションショーバラエティ ストア。

  19. Shannon says

    Thank you!!!!! This article is exactly what I needed. I’ve been doing yoga twice to three times a week for about 2 years. My yoga instructor encouraged me to sign up for teacher training for personal growth. But I’m 260 lbs!!!!!!!!! I’m terrified. I’ve been out of school for a while, I’m not comfortable public speaking, and doing yoga every day scares the crap out of me. If you have any encouragement there, I could definitely use it. I hope I don’t look stupid or feel out of place. Mostly I hope I can do this and better myself and become stronger because of it.

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    • says

      The type of physician I would like to work for is a Pediatrician. Pediatrician’s splciaety is to work with children. I have been working with children for a long time mainly because I work at a daycare facility. I’ve got to a point where I feel like I can handle anything that will come my way with them. It would also leave me feeling good at the end of the day to know that I have helped in some way to make a child feel better.The type of physician I would not care to work for is a Epidemiologist. Epidemiologist’s specialize in epidemics caused by infections agents and also work with sexually transmitted diseases. I feel if I were to work in this type of splciaety I would be putting my self at risk of exposure to these infectious agents. Also I would be focusing a lot of my time on trying to not get infected instead of having a steady mind on what I was actually supposed to be doing.

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