(Originally Published: canfitpro magazine Sept/Oct 2015 issue)
What is this shift, this transformation that seems to happen to people when they start going through Yoga Teacher Training Programs? You can’t put your finger on it, but something is different. The way they really look at you when you are speaking as if they are totally listening. The new slowness in the way they speak as if they are consciously aware of the words they are saying. The truth is, something is different; a learned presence, a learned ownership of happiness, a learned confidence in living from the heart. As Gloria Vaughan from Kitchener, ON says: “It [Yoga Teacher Training] opened doors to mindfulness and being okay in moments where normally an unnecessary fight or flight response may have taken over. It has multiplied my ability to channel compassion within my heart, especially for myself now, as well as others – instead of judging as often as I did. I am also much more aware of my judgements and can have more rational thinking processes to undo these moments easier.” For Kay Pitre of Charlottetown, PEI, “The 200-Hr yoga teacher training has given me the skills to be a great teacher, but more importantly, it has allowed me to be a better student of life than I have ever been.”
Yoga is the science of the mind, with the “goal” of Yoga to calm the chitta vritti, referring to our monkey mind. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a common text studied in Teacher Trainings and of the oldest known texts on Yoga (1450 BCE) transcribes this in the first two lines, Sutra 1:2 “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah, or The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” The rest of the text, divided into 4 books, describes why we should do Yoga and how to do Yoga. The result of this comes down to what Patanjali describes as an 8-step plan or the 8 Limbs of Astanga Yoga.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga:
Yamas: Social code of ethics divided into 5 principles – non-violence, truthfulness, non-coveting, moderation and non-jealousy
Niyamas: Personal code of ethics divided into 5 principles – purity, contentment, discipline, self-study, surrender
Pranayama: Breathing practices
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
Dyana: Meditative mind (cannot be taught)
Samadhi: bliss (cannot be taught)
So many of us in the western world are first attracted to Yoga through the poses (asana), to work on flexibility and to slow down in general. As one continues to practice Yoga, more and more the understanding builds that the poses are just a small (though important) part. We begin to experience moments of bliss and true connection during our practice that we want to further explore “off the mat”. It becomes the natural evolution in our practice to want learn more and share this with others and many are drawn to Yoga Teacher Trainings for this reason. Deepening our own practice as we learn the rich history of this 6000 year-old science of the mind. Our practice begins to naturally unfold to include all of the 8-Limbs.
My own experience through my Yoga Teacher Training journey occurred during a very volatile time in my life. The day before I walked into my Level 2 training I learned that my father had stage 4 inoperable pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, I remember very little of the training. They say that Yoga finds you when you need it the most, and even though I had dabbled in Yoga for years, the time was now. I was desperately searching for a life raft, and I am beyond grateful that the gift I was given was Yoga over what could have been a much easier move towards destructive behaviour.
What Yoga taught me first was gratitude. Gratitude for each moment, for the time I had left with my dad and the chance to say goodbye. Gratitude for having been raised by an amazing man who taught me so much: confidence, loyalty and integrity to name just a few. Yoga also taught me to stay present, to live in this moment, our only moment of truth, giving myself permission to experience all of my emotions as I needed to. I have carried these lessons everyday in my heart. What is more is that I was able to share some of the simpler, but most powerful tools of Yoga with my family and in particular my mom. Teaching her 3-part Yoga breathing, and how to just be in stillness and experience the moment rather than running away or supressing what needed to be expressed. Above all, my Yoga journey and education has and continues to teach me to let go of fear and to trust in the process.
Kat Rios of Toronto, ON began her Yoga Teacher Training after a major weight loss. She had long practiced Yoga and wanted to share her practice with others, and what she uncovered on her journey was so much more. “The challenge was in the practice, the transformational language and sequencing… These were only the initial challenges and the list expanded with each course. The self-exploration has been mind blowing at times and quite an awakening of my mind and spirit. I love the analogy of the onion peeling and uncovering the layers of ourselves… The most important way is finding my personal power and knowing I truly am enough. Despite my initial misgivings and personal obstacles, a life-long adventure has begun and I will continue to discover more about myself and life as I peel back those layers with more study and practice.”
As mentioned earlier, Patanjali gives us the 8-step plan (8 Limbs of Yoga) however, he alludes, if we find the 8-steps daunting at first, to make things easier he gives us instead a 3-step plan. From our Niyamas: Tapas (discipline) Svadyaya (self-study) Ishvira Pranidhana (surrender) or in simpler words: do the work, look within, find peace. And so this is what we do. We practice, we listen, we honour and then we let it all go!
In YogaFit Trainings, we begin with what we call the YogaFit Essence. Often referred to as our motto, this is the heart of soul of our Teacher Trainings: Breathing, Feeling, Listening to our bodies, Letting go of judgment, expectations, competition and Staying in the present moment. As we continue through each class and each training, we continue to repeat these words and more and more they sink in. Think about it, the power to stop judging, the freedom to let go of competition against others, and often what is more important – against ourselves.
We have just completed our first 200hr Training Intensive at the YogaFit Training Centre in Toronto, with a cultural and generationally diverse group from all parts of Canada, Australia and Barbados. All of us in the office couldn’t help but notice the change in these individuals every day. As their knowledge of Yoga grew, so did their openness to the experience and each other. We listened as their lunch time conversations became deeper, and their laughter grew louder. The friendships formed between them will last a lifetime.
As a Trainer of Yoga Teachers, I have the incredible experience of watching this shift as a true witness. Seeing the change in people’s eyes as this new world of Yoga unfolds. Yoga teaches us about self-care and honouring our inner light to live a balanced and happy life. My favourite part is following my students as their journey continues beyond the trainings – how their self-practice in Yoga continues to impact their life in positive ways, how the student becomes the teacher, yet always remains the student.