‘The answer may surprise you!’. It certainly did me. Yes that’s a click baity headline but is also something that’s been difficult to work out and talk about. I’d expected to learn lots about yoga but have ended up learning more about myself. I think I also expected this to transform my life somehow but it hasn’t turned out that way. I tried to write about the course several times right after it finished in early August and found myself stuck for something to say. The attempts all seemed two dimensional and informative rather than insightful. I gave up on trying to write about it and got on with teaching. A couple of different opportunities came up quite quickly, thankfully, and I really enjoyed being able to practice what I’d been working on over the summer. But those ended up not lasting and I was left trying to work out how to take it forward. While in the background there there was still something bothering me that I couldn’t quite untangle that I think started even before the course.
As part of the application process we were given some questions to answer, what’s your experience of yoga so far etc, and one that really made me stop and think: “What do you love about yoga?”. The answer I gave was something about there being ‘nowhere to hide’ with yoga, meaning whether you can or can’t manage a certain pose can’t be forced which gives us a chance to learn and practice acceptance, patience, discipline and so on. (Interestingly, looking back at it now feels as though that was a prophetic statement). But the question really stayed with me and I kept coming up blank when I tried to answer. It also arose in discussions with the other yogis throughout the course, as you would expect, with a weird sensation of being sat beside myself watching as I tried to figure it out. What I noticed when the conversation turned to what we love about yoga is I would could come up with a list of benefits which I don’t need to give here but imagine as a tick list prescription of things that are good for you. When I would listen to and watch other people talk about what yoga meant to them it seemed much bigger than that in a three dimensional way. They would talk about how it changed their lives and I could feel how important it was to them and the richness of what they were getting out of it. Then I would notice that I didn’t seem to relate to it in quite the same way and instead the emotion I was seeing in them kept making me think ‘I get that – when I’m running’ and I started to be even more confused about the ‘what do I love about yoga’ question. The philosophy of it really confused me, the idea that yoga is a path to enlightenment and there are many possible paths within yoga, for example practising asana (poses) or through study or through devotion, the way that was explained seemed to fit what I get from running and the classes I teach more than anything I’d experienced with yoga so I was increasingly left wondering why I wasn’t just doing that instead and what, if not enlightenment, yoga would be for.
A big reason for doing the teacher training course in the first place was to have the qualification at the end of it and to be able to help people do yoga. As I already work as a fitness instructor it would also give something else to offer that would be less physically demanding for me than some of the other classes I teach (e.g. BodyCombat) and hopefully hep develop my career. During the course I started to see that the real work of being a yoga teacher isn’t in the class calling out a sequence but in the hours of home practice and learning that give you something to share in class. By the end of the course I was convinced I could do that, make time for my own practice, and had seen enough signs of progress from all the work during the course that the motivation to continue was there. When I came back to my normal routine, however, that didn’t materialise as I’d imagined. Instead of being excited about having time to practice and work on what I wanted to and start exploring themes it quickly began to be a chore that I was letting myself get away with not having any discipline about. In those weeks after the course what I found was just how much I missed everything I’d had to give up to participate fully in those 250 hours. The running and weight lifting I’d actually been grateful to be having a break from at the start of the course (due mainly to the cumulative stresses of three big events within the first five months of the year) were calling me back. Perhaps that’s just about wanting to stay within comfort zones. I’d lost all momentum with training though and my itch to get back to it was frustrated by minor niggly illnesses and fatigue so I not to rush and instead focus on doing what I needed to do for maintenance and allow myself time to process and untangle the knots of confusion. Eventually with the very yogic patience, and noticing, I started to realise and accept that I just don’t get as excited about yoga as I do about running and everything goes with it. That even if I had 48 hours in a day and all the time in the world to practice yoga I would spend that time on other things first and still not get around to being on the mat. And I think I need to give more to it than that if I was to end up being a halfway decent yoga-teacher. I could force some discipline and possibly learn to practice yoga enough to improve with it and appreciate it but if my heart’s not really in it that would never be sustainable.
The bit I’m still really stuck on is what is the next step from here? The last few months of working through this have been full of feeling like a failure and ‘not good enough’. Frustration at having invested so much in something that has not borne fruit and left me in depleted state. I can understand that a dead end, or lets be even more generous and call it ‘exploring possibilities’ that aren’t sustainable long term, is not necessarily failure. It’s not ‘not good enough’ as much as ‘doesn’t quite fit’. Progress can still be claimed from a side track especially if you’re open to learn what it’s there to teach you rather than clinging to what you expected to get from it. But it’s still frustrating. The course itself, the beautiful people I met and the experience of going through that 250 hours was a wonderful experience and one that I am wholeheartedly grateful for. In the end, what I learned (another chapter in what seems to be my life’s work) was about being able to recognise the difference between ‘ticking boxes’ and ‘pressing buttons’. By which I mean there are things that serve in a more functional or practical way (for me, yoga or fruit smoothies) and obviously life requires a certain amount of box ticking day to day but it’s also important to honour those things that start fires inside (e.g. running and pizza) and hold space for what nourishes, inspires and makes me more ‘me’. The kind of teacher/instructor I want to be and that I think students deserve is someone who has and shares that fire and can inspire others. Now I’m trying to figure out how to do that.