When I registered for Yoga District’s 200-hour teacher training program, I knew that three things would happen: I would learn to teach yoga, deepen my own practice, and meet some great people. And I was right on all three counts. Now, I can cue students into headstand like nobody’s business, and I can even move through a full chaturanga, which was never in my practice before. I also couldn’t be more grateful for the six strong, funny, and supportive women I trained with, and our incredibly knowledgeable teachers.
But I was not all prepared for the big ol’ mirror that our discussions and readings would hold up to all of my BS – the perfectionism, the people-pleasing, the fear of uncovering and honoring who I really am. I’m still grappling with all of these issues, of course, but teacher training gave me the tools I so badly needed to wade through the tough stuff, especially during some pretty major personal shifts over the past few months (ending a relationship, mourning the loss of my grandmother, leaving a respectable but not-quite-right job on Capitol Hill, and deciding to move home to Indiana).
In hopes that you might find these as helpful as I did, here are four unexpected life lessons that I took away from yoga teacher training:
1. We are already enough.
I understood this concept intellectually when the training began, but actually living it as a woman in our having/doing/being-it-all culture today? Not so simple. After spending so many years hustling for others’ approval, I became incapable of distinguishing my own desires from outside expectations. The truth is, we are enough – just as we are - to be worthy and capable of living a joyful life. I’ve had many yoga teachers remind me of this on the mat, too: whatever your body can do today, that is enough. Honor where you are right now.
2. We can only show up for others as much as we show up for ourselves.
You might think of this as the “secure your own mask first” philosophy (you know, that thing they tell you on airplanes about the emergency oxygen masks?) Whether as a friend, partner, or caregiver, we must respect and take care of our own needs before we can we truly be there for anyone else. As a yoga teacher, this means maintaining my own yoga and self-care practices in order to create a space for students free of my own hang-ups and mental chatter.
3. Life happens on its terms, not ours.
This is probably the scariest thing that a person with control issues (read: yours truly) can hear. In an effort to shield myself from suffering – shame, sadness, embarrassment, you name it – I tried (and still try) to perfect every area of my life. We cannot, however, outsmart all painful experiences. Moving beyond the ego to accept life as it is, on its terms, can be outright terrifying at times, but I’m learning that letting go is so much easier than fighting it. For instance, perhaps you can ordinarily take full pigeon pose, but your knee is aching today. Wouldn’t it be better to move into a more comfortable posture, rather than resisting your body’s signals and possibly doing even more harm to such a sensitive joint?
4. Compassion and fear are two sides of the same coin.
One of my dear friends from teacher training articulated this point so perfectly: our capacity for fear is exactly the same as our capacity for compassion, and it’s up to us to choose which one we allow to rule our thoughts, words, and actions. Approaching compassion as a constant practice helped me realize how harshly critical I can be of others and especially myself. Really, we’re all the same, we’re all connected, and we’re all just doing our best. Give it a try next time someone cuts you off in traffic, embarrasses you in front of your boss, or places her mat just a little too close to yours.
Thank you for this opportunity to share some of what I learned this summer. Om shanti.
Lauren Roberts is in the final stage of Yoga District’s 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. Now living in the Midwest once again, she is honored to share this practice as part of the Indianapolis-area yoga community.