6 weeks have passed since I did my Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India. Certified yogi: tick
The one question I get after “How was it?” is this:
“Did it transform your life like everyone said it would?”
In other words, they want to know if I’ve come back a zen AF yogi that has found enlightenment at the end of the tunnel.
Going into the training, I knew I would learn heaps of cool stuff and valuable life lessons. I mean I was about to spend 10 weeks in yoga land… how could that not do me good? I didn’t place any crazy expectations on the experience (actually, I went without any expectations but more on that later), but I admit there was a part of me hoping that this would bring me closer to…to what I’m not 100% sure. Maybe I felt like there was still some inner demons inside me (old destructive ED/binge thought patterns) and so I guess I was hoping that YTT would shine light on whatever part of this big life equation I hadn’t quite figured out.
And as cliché as it sounds, YTT did change me and my life in ways I didn’t expect it to. Yes, I can now forward fold and fully put my head on my knees and yes I’m no longer in excruciating pain in pigeon pose, but my biggest takeaways from YTT have less to do with the physical practice and more with the off-the-mat experience. And honestly, that’s the beauty of yoga right? It’s not necessarily about what happens on the mat, but what happens once you’re off it.
Can you transfer those zen yogi skills from the classroom into real life and stay in your yogi mind frame when things get icky? That, my friends, is the true challenge of yoga.
So let’s get jump into the good stuff… you’re here because you wanna know the surprising things I learned along the way, the stuff that came out of the woodworks and hit me with a big AHA! moment. And whilst there were some AHA! moments, there were also more subtle and sly lessons that I didn’t realize I had learned until…well….until now, really.
- Celebrate the small victories – I rocked up on the first day declaring that my goal was to be able to do the splits. But as the days progressed, I realized that this was a highly unrealistic goal and that I should maybe focus on smaller, more realistic changes. And I was actually noticing a lot of changes already – looser hamstrings, better forward folds, calmer Pranayama, stronger chaturanga. Had I insisted on achieving my “dream goal” of splits, I’d probably would have been frustrated with myself every day. But I made the conscious decision to focus all my energy on the subtle changes I was noticing, and as a result I went to bed every night feeling accomplished and proud of myself.
- Expectations ruin everything – whether it’s relationships, work, life goals, expectations can rob you of all life joy. It’s fine when things are going well, but when they’re not, it’s easy to start pointing fingers at others. Most people came to YTT with certain expectations, and when they weren’t met, there was lots of resistance, grumpiness, and frustration (for those who’ve done YTT themselves, holy moly is week 3 a rough one where emotions go crazy or what!?). I had made the active effort to go into YTT without attaching too many expectations to it, so when everyone else seemed to hit that week 3 wall of frustration, I stayed cool, calm and collected and wasn’t affected by it as much as everyone else.
- Sit in stillness to build resilience – when you practice being still or holding uncomfortable poses for a long time, it has the potential to create a deeper connection with yourself. Being in stillness and silence, be it a through restorative yin practice, pranayama or meditation, brings awareness to your inner world and maybe you start to notice uncomfortable icky stuff that you didn’t even notice existed. It’s when we sit with the uncomfortable rather than run away from it, that we build resilience and learn that we are strong enough to deal with whatever may come our way. To me, this is one of the most transferable mat-to-daily-life lessons, because it has taught me that I am stronger than I think I am.
- Never stop learning – When I arrived in India, I felt fairly confident in my practice. On day 1, when our teacher asked everyone what level yoga they were at, I proudly claimed to be “intermediate”. 4 weeks later, I left feeling like a beginner. Not in a bad way – but the deeper we delved into the practice, the more I realized there is to learn. So the lesson is this: don’t ever feel like you know it all, be open to learning more and new things and always be curious.
- Gratitude is everything – After one month in India, I had the luxury of being able to go back to my comfy bed with fluffy white duvets, a shower after which you actually feel clean, and a fridge that is stocked full with any foods that I desire. The dirty roads, the cow shit, always feeling sticky and sweaty, the little boy with no legs using a skateboard to manoeuvre around, the old lady carrying heavy bricks on her head, the crowded spaces and all its smells might be a cultural shock for me, but at the end of the day I know that this is only for a limited period of time and that the comfort of my perfectly curated home is waiting for me. For me, this is a cultural experience, for them, this is their daily reality. And yet, everywhere you go, you see smiles left and right. People laugh, dance, play music and kids fool around on piles of dirt as if it was the best thing ever. Gratitude is never something that has come easy to me (might be the German complainer attitude in me), but ever since coming back to India I’ve been overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude like I’ve never experienced before. Gratitude for this journey, for this life, for freaking being alive and for what incredible things my body can do. I’m trying to not take this new-found gratitude for granted (ahah are you still with me!?), and so I’m making a conscious effort to remind myself on a daily basis how truly blessed I am.
- Yoga can actually transform your body – In the course of one month, I noticed a considerable change in my body. Before going, I was mentally prepared to loose muscle mass (from not doing weight training) and potentially even gain some weight from all the rice and chapati, but turns out my body reacted incredibly well to it all. Which has really made me realize that daily mindful yoga, with a sense of calm and NO STRESS can really make a difference. In fact, I think that previously stress had been one of the big contributors to me holding on to a couple unwanted kg’s. Stress = body goes into fight or flight response vs. no stress = body goes into rest & digest aka it won’t hold on to extra fat for potentially life-threatening situations. It’s actually quite simple.
- Detach yourself from “things” and watch as your world becomes more simple and fulfilling – This is a lesson that I didn’t expect to learn, but all our teachers walked the talk on this one and it was a conversation that kept coming up. And you could tell that it worked for them; these guys live such simple lives and yet they seemed so content and honestly happy. It really made me stop and question our Western society and constant need for more, bigger, better, grander. But it’s not just about possessions, the idea of detachment is that you detach yourself from EV-ER-RY-THING. Detachment from reaching goals. From looking a certain way. From the people you love. From the weather. I’m really trying to implement this idea in my life and am trying to be more mindful with the things and people I’m attached to. Example shopping: I’m out shopping, see a cute dress, think “I want it”, but then I ask myself “Why do I want it? Do I truly want it, or is it just society making me think that I want it? Is this actually going to make me more happy?” I’m not saying that I don’t treat myself to nice things anymore or am not attached to my BF (cause, you know, please don’t leave me), but it’s a topic that is on my mind more and more.