In our new Realtalk Fitness series, we're sharing the realities of being a fitness instructor today. We know it takes a lot of effort to create a lasting career with a steady following, and we want to shed light on what it’s really like.
Yoga has been my dear, dear friend for more than 40 years. I knew I was a teacher in hiding. I practiced yoga while pursuing other endeavors in my life — traveling the world, giving care to elderly parents, loving two husbands, and, most importantly, being a devoted mom and stepmom to five kids. I always knew that, when I got a little space and time, I would sign up for yoga teacher training. When anyone inquired about my plans “post children,” I confidently responded, “I will be a yoga teacher.”
I was a natural, right? I knew the poses, some chants, and a little Sanskrit. I’d read the books and gone to the festivals. I’d practiced with hundreds of yoga teachers, from strict Ashtanga to gentle restorative. I’d sorted through the mystical and scientific to find a good balance for me. I was just waiting for my time.
This past September, I enrolled in an 18-week teacher training program... And unceremoniously dropped out five weeks later. Yoga teacher training is life-changing. Here’s what I learned in five short weeks:
1. I’d rather sit with my keyboard than sit with other people's mind, body, and spiritual stuff.
I do have my stuff. I think my stuff is in a good place. But I’m not good at dealing with other people’s stuff, whether it's their work relationships or mental, physical, or spiritual issues. Yet, it's hard to study the yoga sutras without digging into that kind of stuff. Take ahimsa, for example. This is the practice of nonviolence and non-harming to self and others. How are we all doing in that regard? Honesty and transparency leads to self-reflection and stuff-sharing. I respond to the stuff others have shared. I take it home with me. I think about it at night. I lose my peace.
2. I am scientific and fact-based; yoga is not.
I hoped that yoga had become more scientifically grounded. Before teacher training, I was reading The Scientific Basis of Integrative Medicine by Leonard A. Wisneski. I loved discovering truths new to me. I delight in reading spiritual musings by Pema Chödrön, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Rick Hanson, Thich Nhat Hanh, and anyone who has wonderfully intertwined Eastern and Western approaches to health and well-being.
In contrast, I fail to connect with many of the elements of a traditional yoga practice. I squint at the figure in the Pashupati seal, representing a Hindu deity, and question if that is a yogi, a deity, or a guy without a chair. I sense that the Mysore Palace yogis are contortionists. I feel resistant to label people as those of a “higher consciousness” versus not, based on ancient criteria.
I thought training would provide more fact-based research and a stronger understanding of the root of the practice. Yet, I wound up feeling more and more confused as the training went on.
3. I wasn't actually good at teaching yoga.
Outside of class, we were encouraged to practice teach. I am interested in people who really need yoga. People who can’t sit on the floor. Who are not in good shape. Who are anxious and angry. A few brave souls were game to let me practice on them. I purchased props and chairs. Even with preparation and careful instruction, I left a beautiful soul in more physical pain than when she’d entered my space. I’d caused himsa (harm) to others.
This is not the way of a yogi. After I was about a third of the way through the training, I realized it wasn't going to provide me with adequate knowledge of the health of the body — and how to help people who had physical limitations.
4. I can’t sit on a zafu for half a day several times a week.
My lovely twin sons gave me a gift: hemorrhoids. I listened to my body as I sat in distress on a zafu for 20-plus hours and my body said, "Go home." My doctor would agree.
I didn’t drop out suddenly. In week two, a chant to a Hindu deity made my heart tight because it rubbed against my personal beliefs. Chants were only in Sanskrit (superior vibration), which differed from my happy memory of chanting the vowels in a class led by Lilias Folan. I put chanting aside and I hung in there. I sat in cheerful and peaceful inner protest over what I didn’t believe. Eventually my inner protests and questions became too overwhelming. I suggested we not loosely use the phrase “scientists say” unless there is an actual scientist who said it. (I was fact-checking outside of class.) I grew tired of the Sanskrit. (I was sure my target students would relate to “hand to big toe” instead of “utthita hasta padangusthasana.”) I ran out of outfits. I knew my path to peace and ahimsa was to roll up my mat and exit my teacher aspirations.
Teacher training presented me with increased self-awareness, greater personal acceptance, and expanded inner peace. The intention I set for my teacher training was “I am open.” Now when I sit, I am truly wide open to new possibilities and am not lugging a bucket list. It’s not yogi to say this, but I am a little proud of myself.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
For more from our Realtalk: Fitness series, check out these stories:
- I'm A Yoga Teacher. Here's What I Hate About The Yoga "Community"
- I Found Out I Had A Miscarriage — Then Had To Teach A Hip-Hop Yoga Class
- What No One Tells You About Working In The Fitness Industry