Five Things I Learnt from Yoga Teacher Training
by Farzana Rahman
Look up #yoga and you’ll be bombarded with an endless array of the same sort of images. Lithe, yoga-ey types doing the sort of acrobatic manoeuvres that were traditionally associated with the circus. Handstands on a beach or headstands in a vineyard. Legs hiked over shoulders whilst meditating.
As I’ve said previously, I hated the first yoga class I went to. To my surprise I changed my mind when I tried it again years later. And it was a genuine surprise.
In my mind, people who practiced yoga were somewhat irritating. Smugly serene whilst being bendy and drinking green juice (disclaimer: turns out yoga has absolutely nothing to do with green juice. There were no smoothie bars or cold-pressed juice stands in the Indus Valley).
It Wasn’t Always This Way
I’m not sure where my cynicism of yoga started. Growing up, our grandfather practiced yoga back in Bangladesh. Our Bengali teacher would take us through gentle yoga poses and breathing before our Saturday morning Bengali classes. Yoga was a practical way of combining movement, breath and meditation. But somewhere along way, it became associated with celebrities, Lululemon leggings and green juice (I wonder if I have some issues about green juice).
Taking the Plunge and Enrolling in Yoga Teacher-Training
When I finally gave it a second chance, I ended up liking yoga. The combination of breath and movement gave a sense of clarity and calm.
After practicing for a couple of years, I became curious about the philosophy and principles of yoga. Though I tried to read around, I never really found the time to do so in any great depth. So I took the plunge and enrolled in an intensive yoga teacher-training program in April this year. It seemed like a good way to learn more.
Yoga teacher training was harder than I thought it would be. Two-weeks of 12- hour days but at the end of it all I learned a lot. Here are five things that I didn’t know before I started:
1. There’s More to Yoga than the Physical Practice Alone
When we think of yoga we think of poses. But poses (also called asanas) are just one of the eight limbs of yoga. And they don’t even make it to number one on the list. Asana practice is in fact number three.
2. Attitude is Everything
So if poses are third on the list, what on earth are numbers one and two? The first principle of yoga is in fact ‘Yama’, which refers to ethical standards and integrity. The second limb is Niyama, which is about spiritual practices and discipline.
Apart from number three, the other limbs of yoga mainly focus on standards, integrity, attitude, meditation, concentration and breath. The limbs of yoga seem to encourage us to be good humans. This can only be a good thing.
3. Breath is Key
Breath work is a hugely important part of yoga. This may seem a little obvious, yoga teachers everywhere are always talking about ‘remembering to breathe.’ The idea is to use the breath to stop the chain of incessant thought. Physical movements have to be linked to the breath.
Yoga isn’t about complicated poses. There’s a saying that goes, ‘if you can breathe you can do yoga.’ An experienced teacher I know has taught yoga to people who use wheelchairs and those with restricted mobility.
4. So Many Types of Yoga !
There are so many different types of yoga that deciphering a studio schedule can sometimes feel akin to translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. Popular styles with strong physical practices include Ashtanga and Rocket (a style developed in San Fransisico) which has is strongly influenced by Ashtanga. Dharma yoga is based on the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra, a teacher now living in New York.. Kundalini yoga is a combination of chanting and poses. The list goes on and on.
The main take home from this is that there is a style for everyone.
5. Teaching Doesn’t Always Mean Doing
Turns out yoga teachers don’t get to practice as much yoga as you think. Although it’s completely fine to demonstrate poses in a class, a teacher should be focused on students. This means that a good teacher should be instructing, observing and helping students. So if you're in a class and a teacher is doing a bunch of fancy acrobatic poses whilst the rest of you stare on in wonder wondering where to begin, it doesn't mean you're not 'good' at yoga. It means the teacher is not that great at teaching.