the changes to expect and accept
Beep – Beep – Beep – Beep… That’s my alarm going off at 6:15am. It’s Wednesday of week 3 (out of four weeks) of Hot Yoga Teacher Training. I roll over and my body screams with pain, every joint, every single muscle. Even my bones ache. I get up. My first three steps are a hobble, my body and mind screaming at me to get back into bed. As quietly as I can, in an effort not to wake my roomie Jennie, I pick up my Teaching Dialogue handbook, put my yoga clothes on and go down to sit by the pool to recite the posture cues needed for that day’s teaching practice exam.
I leave my room, walk down the stairs and sit in a deck chair next to the pool. The sun is rising over the infinity pool in front of me, the light in the sky changing to an array of pinks, oranges, blues, greys and yellows. I have only an hour to practice for my daily teaching exam, before I have to be at our first of two 90-minute hot yoga practices of the day.
“How on earth will I get through this day?” I thought while my body pulsed with a dull ache and my mind continuously second guessed my capabilities as a Yogi and as a Teacher. I’d had a great day the day before, why was I second-guessing myself? I wasn’t feeling as good as I did yesterday. Granted I was tired, but I had made it to here, midway through the third week, and in a week and a half it would all be over.
Absolute Hot Yoga Teacher Training is a strict 6 day a week program with Sundays off. Three hours of yoga per day, 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon, then 2 hours of lectures, 2 hours of posture analysis and then a one hour evening lecture after dinner and homework. I had finally hit my wall, physically, mentally and emotionally, but I knew that this was coming. I knew this was my journey and I wouldn’t ever have given up.
I look over to my right and gracefully walking over to sit in the chair next to mine is Miyo, a fellow yoga teacher. A sleepy grin smears across my face and we greet each other good morning. Seeing her reminds me of something she said back in week 1: we went through a lot to get here, so enjoy the process. Trust the process. I take another deep breath, clear my mind and keep practicing.
A few minutes later, walking over to me with an effervescent skip in her stride is Carrieanne. She throws a hug around my shoulders and kisses me on my cheek and takes off, coffee, nuts and Teaching Dialogue in hand. Out of the corner of my eye, like a blonde cloud, Heidi disappears down the stairs with her joggers on, taking off for her pre-practice jog around the block. Nathalie was sitting down at the Love Kitchen having her morning coffee, probably with MJ and Oriette. Bree is on a chair at the other end of the pool skyping with her family on the other side of the world, and Masjenka or Danielle would soon take the seat next to mine to watch the sunrise and practice, if they hadn’t done so already. The rest were either still in bed or getting ready for the 7:30am yoga practice. There we all were, in the rhythm of life in the Absolute Sanctuary, all going through the rollercoaster that is Yoga Teacher Training, living a completely different life to one we would ever have dreamt of at home.
Before I know it, the sun is shining brightly on my face and its heat begins to warm my body like a big woollen blanket. The time creeps away from me and suddenly it’s almost time for class. Someone lightly touches my shoulder while I’m muttering posture cues under my breath. It’s Michelle and Susie, both with their bright shiny morning smiles, hair tied back in buns with brightly coloured yoga clothes on, ready to tackle the day. “Come on, its time for class” Michelle says as she throws her arm around my shoulder. I stand up, collect my things and my thoughts, give them both their morning hugs and off we go to our first class of the day. This is the beginning of another big day at Hot Yoga Teacher Training, where nothing is expected and surprises are imminent.
I had come to a juncture in my life where I not only had the opportunity to do Yoga Teacher Training, but was also able to take some time away from my 9-5 and go to Thailand to complete it. I have been practicing yoga since 2007, practicing Hot Yoga and Power Yoga since 2012 and felt my practice was strong enough and I had enough understanding to take on Yoga Teacher Training. I had chosen Absolute Yoga Academy in Koh Samui because a friend had recommended their program. I looked into it and a week later an airline had a sale… It was a sign! The decision was made and I was Thailand bound in February 2015. This was my experience in Hot Yoga Teacher Training and this is what I learned and how I changed while there, and in the time since. Everyone’s experiences are different, but I will share mine with you here.
1. Your Yoga Family
You and those who come to complete the course with you will share a special bond because you will grow and change together. You will laugh together and cry together, learn to break your own barriers and the walls you’ve built around yourself. You will learn to open your heart to one another, perhaps even confront one another. Regardless of your experience, they will become your yoga family. My group was quite small: 29 people from all around the world and ages that ranged from 20 to 50-something.
We were all different shapes and sizes, different personalities, cultures and religions. But we all came to participate in the one thing that united us: yoga. On the first day, Harrison, one of our trainers, organized a trip to the beach to “get to know you.” We all walked along, chatting and bouncing from one to another. I was so excited to be meeting like-minded people. The first thing I realised was that despite our differences, they had all come to the same juncture as I had.
We had all decided to take our yoga to the next level, to deepen our practice and learn to be a great yoga teacher. As we quickly found out, we all had so much in common. We all loved yoga, we were all very in tune with our bodies, we were all compassionate, caring people and we all wanted to help people in some way through yoga.
It was amazing how supportive our group became for one another. We became our own support network. If any of us felt as though we were not coping with the demands of the course or were just having a bad day, there was always someone to turn to who would completely understand because they too were going through the same rollercoaster. The course is designed to challenge your body and your mind. It challenges you in a way that alters your own modes of thinking and helps you make the necessary changes to be a good public speaker, leader and be able to teach not just the postures but also that connection between body and mind, the central pillar that makes yoga so different from any other physical activity. I am so grateful for them in every way.
2. You will live and breathe yoga
Within a few days, you will become used to the intense routine. You complete your practice in the morning and afternoon. You learn quickly that you cannot give 100% in every class, even though you may want to. In the lectures you indulge in information on the history of yoga, anatomy and physiology of the body while performing yoga postures, and you will develop a deep understanding of each posture, all while learning to teach at the same time. If you’re worried you won’t be able to keep up with the demands of the course, DON’T! There is a saying our trainers continuously repeated to us… “Trust the process.”
Whether you choose to complete the Hot Yoga Teacher Training through Absolute or another course in your own home town, this should be the motto you live by, because the process will challenge you in ways you won’t even expect, and challenge evokes change.
3. Even the good stuff
Expect the course to be hard. The Hot Yoga course is a challenge, but it’s not all bad. Yes, there is a strict schedule and a whole lot of information to learn. However, the teachers were always finding exciting ways to get the information to stick in your heads, and sometimes they even changed up the program to surprise us or keep us on our toes. There was always a lot of time for laughter with our peers and teachers. We would create songs and rhymes for pieces of information we needed to remember. We were all members of a team who had a theme song that we created as a group, and no matter what I always felt as though I was part of a team, and that I was never isolated or lost.
There would be spontaneous morning trips to the beach for meditation, surprise beach yoga sessions, even a surprise Friday night dance party in our yoga studio. There was also a little bit of time to race to the night markets before dinner and class to do a little retail therapy and grab an ice cream for a sugar fix. There were so many opportunities for us to have fun that I found the course well-balanced, and while we all had bad days, days when I thought I couldn’t make it through (and you will too), that feeling would quickly dissipate because we were surrounded by our yoga family and someone or something would break us all into laughter.
You become more grateful for the good times when they happen. The intensity of the course and the intensities within you make you realize how good the good times are, and it was here, around Wednesday of week 3 where I really truly got to understand the word Gratitude.
4. The Om Circle
There I was, it was 8pm and I was still sitting at the dinner table with a few of my yoga family. I realised at that point, I had made it through the day, I had made it through my yoga classes, through my practice teaching, through the posture analysis, and now it was time for the last class of the day. Tonight’s class was on the chakras and I felt excited to be learning about this topic since I’d done a fair bit of chakra work with my yoga teacher at home in Sydney. However, I wasn’t aware of what I would walk away with.
To conclude the lesson, my teacher instructed us to do an Om Circle. An Om circle is when you chant “OM” using the cycle of your own breath. You start together, with some people having a longer Om than others and it becomes a continuous chant that created an energy within the room. There we all were, yoga family and teachers chanting. I felt connected and bound to this energy. In some ways it was filled with love and friendship, care and compassion.
The energy was so revitalizing and uplifting it made my skin tingle and the hair stand up on my forearms and on the back of my neck. This human vibration, this life force, connected us and in that moment I truly understood the inner spirit of not just me, but of those around me.
And then suddenly, silence. Peace.
It was a few moments before any of us opened our eyes, and a few moments still until any of us spoke. Somehow I felt different on the inside, my energy was beaming, brightly colored energy swirled around me like a rainbow marble cake and I had tingles up and down my arms and legs. After class, a few of my fellow yogis expressed similar sensations. It was an unarguably spiritually exciting experience.
5. The hardest aspect is YOU
Looking back on my time in the course, I realise what barriers I created for myself as a reaction to stress and fear. I would swell with nervous energy before taking part in my daily assessed teaching practice and work myself up so much that when it was my turn to complete the practice, I could hardly say any words, let alone speak the dialogue. That tide of nervous energy would make me so unsure of my capabilities that I would freeze on the spot, despite knowing the posture and how to teach it.
After it happened again for the 5th time, I’d had enough. This wasn’t good enough for me. I marched out of class so angry with myself and went back to my room. I took a few really deep angry breaths and that’s when I realised, “why are you angry? Karina, you are being way too hard on yourself. You are expecting the best when you are learning things for the first time. This is all new to you… you can never be perfect immediately” and the anger slowly subsided.
I realised that the expectations I was placing on myself were way too high and I was forced to practice mindfulness to stop being so hard on myself. I was forced to let it go. I was forced to be mindful of my thoughts and feelings. For the first time in my life, I was forced to change a mentality out of necessity, to learn not to react to fear, to learn to let go of emotions that no longer serve me. Now, two months after completing the course, I see what impact that intense mindfulness has had on my life and I am now less fearful of things that can go wrong in my life and this has opened up so many exciting opportunities because I refuse to react to fear like I used to.
6. Psychological awareness – Change is imminent, why fight it?
Just like the realisations I mentioned above, similarly you will be forced to deal with obstacles within your emotional being, whatever they may be. You’re also forced to face the negative emotions you hold towards yourself and as a result the ingrained inner chatter becomes so much louder. You become more in tune with your emotions and by extension, your thoughts. By week 3, I found I was hyperaware of my insecurities and began to listen to my thoughts like I would if I were a friend to myself. I listened closely to what was being said, realising they may not have been the nice things I would say to others around me. This centralising awareness created a sense of composure, a sense of confidence. I was then able to choose which thoughts were valid and which were not and as a result, I have found an overwhelming sense of inner peace and calm.
In Hot Yoga you sweat, A LOT. So much that to describe it would be difficult without making you cringe just a little. So, despite the amount you sweat, you learn not to sweat the stuff that you shouldn’t sweat. You develop a tremendous inner focus that leaps off your mat and into your every day life. Now looking back, I’ve learned when to hold onto things, and when to let them go. When to hold on tight and when to let it wash away like water off a duck’s back. A surprising side effect to this letting go process is that you learn to trust. Many of us have been broken in some way by past lovers or relationships that had gone sour or by friends or illness or experiences, by injury or loss. Trust is something that is taken away so easily and it’s hard to retrieve, even in a new experience with a new person. All of a sudden, I have learned to trust again by letting go of that freezing fear.
Similarly, as a result of the 180 minutes of yoga a day and the posture analysis, you will gain a deeper physical awareness of your body. I discovered this after the course ended. When I returned to Sydney and returned to my yoga practice at my new studio Hot Yogi Australia in the southern suburbs of Sydney, I discovered that my body had undergone a change. I am so much stronger and more flexible. I engage all the correct muscles for each posture and I work harder.
Outside of my practice, I have a sense of what my body needs as opposed to what my emotions want. I crave less junk food and actively want to eat more vegetables and fruit, drink more water and prefer tea to coffee. I’ll be honest, since yoga teacher training, I have never actually wanted to eat cabbage, broccoli and zucchini as much as I have recently. I prefer to only drink one or two glasses of wine over the four or five I would have had prior to teacher training, and in more social situations I prefer not to drink at all because I now feel when my body is dehydrated or is not functioning at 100%.
7. Your inner strength
Lastly, the biggest lesson you will learn is that you never know how strong you are until you’re standing on the other side of a challenge. My last day of Hot Yoga Teacher Training was the day I realised how strong I truly was when I looked back on my experience when I doubted, stressed and strained through the challenges placed before.
If you’re thinking about taking part in Hot Yoga Teacher Training, my advice is to just do it. The lessons you will learn are endless and not limited to what I’ve described here. You will grow and learn an infinite amount of stuff not only about yoga, but about yourself and life. You will carry those lessons with you and share those lessons with your new students. What we learn we can teach to others, empowering others to make changes to their lives too.