You could say that my teacher training experience was my "Eat Pray Love" journey. I didn't have the means to take off for a year, and since I am the main parent to my son, I need to be here for him. As expensive as a teacher training is, I didn't have to miss much work and I could do it over a period of 10 months. There was a payment plan, and it all felt doable.
When I decided to enroll, it was after my relationship with my son's father finally ended. It had always been a roller coaster relationship, off and on again before we lived together for 8 years and after as well. I couldn't give up the fairytale of healing my son's father so that my son wouldn't go through what I did when I lost my father to alcoholism. When we lived together, years when I was truly miserable and felt like I was holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop, I discovered yoga while watching the Oprah show. Of course I knew what yoga was before that; there was that public television show with the woman in the leotard. What struck me about that Oprah show that day was that someone said I could start doing yoga even if I had just 5 minutes a day. I had a baby at that time, so that was all I could do. I did take a session of classes, and my partner felt that I didn't need to keep going to yoga because surely I had learned enough. It took years for me to be grateful to him because I now still have a strong home practice.
When we broke up a year and a half ago, I knew it was truly the end this time. And although I was okay with that and I wasn't crying myself to sleep about it, I had a great deal of work to do in terms of repairing my relationship with me. I had always been loyal to others, often for the wrong reasons and at my own expense. I'm sure it was no coincidence that I started doing more yoga in the months before we broke up. And I lost over 20 pounds afterwards, which made me feel like an emotional weight had been lifted. By the time yoga school started, I already felt like a different person on the outside. But my insides hadn't caught up to my outsides. I still wondered what on earth made me think I could make it through yoga school. I found the anatomy study especially daunting, and my over-achiever background made it hard for me to let go of the idea of doing well on the tests, even though we weren't being graded.
Yoga school felt like my opportunity to give back to all those teachers who had helped and encouraged me along the way. But I didn't feel like I was worthy to teach alongside of them. I figured I would teach people who were too hesitant to go to a traditional yoga studio, rather like I had been just a few years ago. I was afraid that yoga school would be all about handstands, and of course it wasn't. And yet that last day when I was able to be in a handstand against the wall without someone holding my feet, more importantly, without the terror, it meant more to me than my certificate.
Most of my fellow students were married or in relationships. At first I wasn't sure if I could relate to them, given what I was working through. Soon I began to look forward to the camaraderie of lunch at the local organic grocery store, the salted caramels we treated ourselves to, the joking on and off the mat, and the shared anxiety about having to teach for one another. Every one of those lovely women had strengths that I did not have, and their encouragement helped me to acknowledge my strengths, while also facing my fears and revealing my weaknesses.
I was fortunate that a friend and colleague of mine asked me to teach yoga in a climbing gym about halfway through my training. It became a great context for me to practice in because it wasn't a traditional yoga studio. And yet that first class was a veritable trial by fire. There were screaming middle schoolers on the climbing wall because someone forgot to tell me that a group was scheduled, coincidentally the same day and the first few weeks of the class I was teaching. I jokingly told my students that we didn't offer the peaceful chanting of monks; instead we offered the challenges of shrieking teens and sound checks from the concert hall above. Meditation teaches us to be calm in the midst of chaos, and that busy gym environment certainly challenged everything I thought about what a perfect yoga class setting was supposed to be.
When yoga school ended, I missed the camaraderie I shared with my classmates, as well as the clear and calm voice of our teacher. We went back to our busy lives, and one by one we started getting teaching gigs. Now the camaraderie also comes from the teachers I used to put on pedestals (and kind of still do). It is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I am now one of "them", and I actually get paid to teach yoga. And yet the sense of community that comes from the constant cycle of being inspired by a teacher and then sharing what I've learned with my students makes me realize that we are all students and teachers.
The back seat of my car has become my yoga clothes closet. I scramble to find time for classes where I can be a student so I am not just teaching. I taught German for years, so I am worried about burning out. So I try to have yoga clothes and yoga cds and lesson plans at the ready. I often wonder why some students don't come back while at the same wondering why other students do come back. I didn't realize I would be asked so many questions after class. The first time I was asked when and where else I teach was the biggest compliment.
Yoga school changed me on the inside, and my insides are now catching up to my outsides. Now I understand why one of my yoga teachers says that yoga school is the beginning, not the end. I reached a point this summer where I was tired of doing so much yoga - and yet that didn't stop me from signing up for more yoga workshops. I started running again and discovered that my running is on an entirely different level now, thanks to yoga. My first class at the yoga studio where I practice was for the studio owner, and that was way more nerve-wracking than when I first taught for my yoga school classmates or at the climbing gym. She reminded me that she is always learning and that she isn't perfect. Most importantly she reminded me to have fun. After about 5 classes at the studio, I found my voice. I love the exchange of lessons that takes place from my life, my teachers and my students. But the day I found my voice, I finally knew that I was truly on the right path - helping others from the healing place within me - not the path of trying to save another while holding my breath.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Mary Oliver - from "The Journey"