Starting At Square One
I didn’t think that I would end up on the path to being a yoga teacher. In my mind, yoga teachers are supple, calm and exude a Zen-like wisdom. They aren’t ordinary beings, like you and me, but have mastered self-discipline, have transcended attachment to physical temptations and desires and are never lazy. They never, for example, loll in front of the TV of an evening, shouting, ‘I just want to switch off!’
I began practising yoga in 2005, going once a week, after my daughter started nursery. My teacher was tall and graceful, calm and patient. I listened to her, attempted to copy her and left the classes feeling lighter of mind and ravenously hungry. The next morning I was always stiff as my muscles struggled to adapt to being stretched out of their habitual positions.
At this point yoga was a small part of my life. I was busy bringing up two young children, carving out a singing career, volunteering as the co-chair of the PTA at school and generally rushing about. I even wrote a blog entitled The Rising Scream. This busyness summed up my life for a while.
Sowing the Seed
After three years of regular attendance, my yoga teacher (a lovely woman named Amanda) surprised me by suggesting that I apply to go on the Iyengar yoga teacher training course. I listened politely, feeling chuffed to bits that she thought I could actually teach yoga, but privately dismissing the idea as out of my reach. Yoga was something I did for me, my little island of calm on a Monday morning, before I charged headlong into the week. I couldn’t imagine myself up at the front of a class telling other people what to do. “Ridiculous,” I thought to myself.
However, my teacher cunningly strengthened her case by inviting me to join an informal weekly intermediate class with two other students. This class gently introduced me to some of the more difficult poses; it meant I began to see an improvement in some of those poses that I traditionally hated, especially forward bends. My hamstrings and my mind began to succumb to the creeping power of yoga.
Balance and Poise
The pose that began my conversion from attendee to devotee was Śirsāsana (Headstand). According to Mr. Iyengar in Light on Yoga, the mastery of Sālamba Śirsāsana, “gives one balance and poise, both physically and mentally.” It is the king of all āsanas. Being such a royal pose, it must be treated with due respect, and in the tradition of Iyengar yoga my teacher was very careful not to introduce headstand too soon. There was Shoulderstand to contend with first.
Not only do you have to be able to get up into it, you have to stay there comfortably for five minutes. However, it didn’t take me very long to start to enjoy Shoulderstand. I liked looking up at my feet and seeing them take a break up in the air. I liked the feeling of openness in my chest. Sometimes I’d take my hands away from my back and enjoy the feeling of weightlessness in the pose. Eventually she told me I was ready and would I like to give full Headstand a go…
I was thrilled. It felt like I had been deemed worthy of entry into an elite yogic club. But at the same time, my old schoolgirl feelings of inadequacy began to resurface: “You’re rubbish at sporty things,” “You’ve never even been able to do a cartwheel, you won’t be able to do this,” and on went the fearful little voice in my head.
Undeterred, I knelt next to my teacher, knuckles against the wall, fingers meshed into a supportive basket and slotted my head into the cup of my hands. Amanda helped me to kick my legs up the wall and I was up! For the first time since gym classes at school I was seeing the world from the other way up. My legs flailed about a bit and my teacher kept saying things like “dorsal spine in,” and “shoulders up,” and other such meaningless instructions when you’re upside down and trying to balance for the first time.
The feelings of euphoria and pride coursing through me were long-lasting. It felt like the first real step into the unknown. If my non-sporty, gangly-limbed body was capable of balancing on my head, then, with practice and courage, what else could I be capable of doing? Anything!
Taking the Plunge
The decision to go on the yoga teacher training course, once taken, felt like the most natural and right thing to be doing. I took the plunge and applied to go on a teacher training course, and once my application was accepted I had to attend a session so that my poses could be assessed.
I had two months to prepare for this day, and prepare I did. At my teacher’s suggestion I had already initiated a sporadic home practice, done mainly in two-minute intervals in between emptying the dishwasher, being poked and sat on by my children and various other non-yogic activities. This home practice then became more structured and less cluttered. I bought some books and began to read up on the philosophical background behind yoga. In short, I did my homework.
When the day finally came, I knew that if I did my poses and they were deemed ‘not good enough’, then that was the right outcome, because I couldn’t have got them any better in the time. Luckily, or as fate may have it, my poses were deemed good enough! Despite being used as an example for how NOT to do Parivṛtta Pārśvakoṇāsana, the teacher called me over at the end of the class and asked me seriously, “Do you think you will enjoy becoming a yoga teacher?” “Yes,” I replied. “I think you’ll be fine then,” she said.
Over To You
Training to be a yoga teacher is a little like going from being the passenger in a car to sitting in the driving seat. You thought you knew the way, but it all changes when it’s your turn behind the controls. Even the simplest journey takes all your concentration, and you start to question everything that you thought you knew. However, with practice, courage and humility I know that, like getting up into headstand, I’ll be able to stand in front of a class and take the wheel… if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors.
That brings us to today: International Yoga Day. A day to celebrate your yoga practice, explore the possibilities available to you on your mat, and maybe even start on a new adventure. Are you waiting for a sign to recommit to your personal practice or explore the possibility of teacher training yourself? Maybe this is it.
There are so many teacher training options available (not least of which is Zen Monkey creators YogaLondon) that are worth looking into! Maybe today means that you want to try focussing on a certain pose more often. Or if you’ve never done yoga, you can even sign up to our July Beginners Yoga-thon! However you’ve chosen to acknowledge International Yoga Day, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!