What I Learned in Yoga Teacher Training
by Emily McCaffery, Fall 2018 Graduate
By the start of my YTT training, I had been practicing yoga on and off for 15–20 years. Like most, I was introduced to it as a way to remedy physical ailments — menstrual cramps, specifically. I didn’t really know what style I was practicing, though I took Forrest yoga, Taoist yoga, Yin, restorative yoga, Anusara and Vinyasa classes.
#1 lesson: I learned about central pillars of yogic history — the Yoga Sutra, Vedic foundations and Ayurveda — which are rarely shared in the average, hour-long class. In our YTT, we unraveled the Yoga Sutra like a finely woven tapestry. We explored the system of medicine known as Ayurveda, or “life science.” We meditated, chanted, did Pranayama and breathwork, and learned about levels of consciousness.
I had a songwriting teacher in college who used to say, “You have to bring yourself to the table. If you don’t, no one else will.” In yoga, you bring yourself to the mat whether you mean to or not. Your history, fears, dreams, energy — it all ebbs through in this thing we call “practice.”
#2 lesson: YTT can be an invitation to transform. Yoga is a practice that can reorient you to your life, love and purpose. If you treat it like this — instead of an exercise routine — it gives back beyond measure. For those seeking spirituality, a deep brightness that pervades the day-to-day, a YTT with Devoted Yogi is calling you.
The YTT ran from late September through early December. Every weekend I was to spend hours with a few handfuls of strangers. At the end of it, I planned on teaching. As a writer and introvert, I craved, yet also feared, this influx of “face time.”
What I feared never came to be. My fellow YTT students were a joy, an inspired group of women fueled by curiosity. They reminded me how easy it can be to make friends. And, what I planned for — to teach — isn’t even possible, yet…
#3 lesson: I realized what an art it is to teach yoga. Sure, there are teachers who keep things simple, repeating sequences they’ve been taught. But each asana, or pose, has meaning on multiple levels. How do forward folds affect your glandular system or your emotional gaze? How do twists relate with prana and the way it courses through your body? This is the richness I was introduced to in YTT and will now be forever in my awareness.
As life does, it threw a curveball at me. While on a walk with my dog in early November (more than halfway through the YTT), I heard a rustle in the brush near the trail that made me stop abruptly. My knee screamed in pain and left me limping and crying the half-mile back to my car. Two weeks later I was in surgery for meniscus repair with strict orders to keep weight off of my left leg for six weeks.
#4 lesson: Anatomy can be a joy to learn. No memorization of obscure body parts required, we explored the skeleton, our joints, muscle groups and connective tissue. We learned the ways the body is designed to move and function. This made a world of difference in my practice and felt immediately applicable for teaching.
And, so, I watched the YTT progress. Classes, workshopping, corrections, partner exercises. I observed and took notes while I recovered from my knee surgery. I noticed how bodies moved. How patterns form and how we work to change them. I saw breath run its course. And I realized, as I scribed from the sidelines, that I was doing yoga, anyway. But wait — yoga is a thing you “do,” right?
True yoga is about union. A merging of individual with God/consciousness/source, of body and mind, of perception and reality. Asana is about embodiment, finding your rightful seat in any posture. And somehow, I was at peace. In pain, but at peace. This was the lesson.
#5 lesson: I learned what yoga really is. I do not claim to be an expert now. In fact, doing a 200-hour YTT made me acutely aware of how much I still do not know about yoga. But the door is open. I have an amazing teacher. I have a strong base of knowledge. I have been changed. And I have a stoked fire to keep going, learning and growing.