What yoga teacher training taught me about change
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
– Gail Sheehy
One of the most tumultuous times of change in my life was when I embarked on yoga teacher training. I’d deliberated over teacher training for years and was determined and passionate to teach classes that felt safe and accessible to people whose bodies didn’t match the stereotypical yogi physique.
When I showed up to the studio on day 1, I may as well have had my eyes tightly scrunched closed. I knew the next 8 months were going to be important to my personal growth and my ability to offer my gift to others. But I also could feel that it was going to be challenging and out of my comfort zone. I didn't know the half of it.
Here’s the thing: Change is hard, and resistance is inevitable.
The more important the change for our personal growth, the stronger our resistance.
And teacher training led me to extraordinary growth and extraordinary resistance in equal measure.
The resistance came in layers. My body resisted a physically demanding daily yoga practice. My mind resisted the stillness. My psyche resisted the fear and sadness that spewed forth like a geyser the deeper I got into meditation. And my spirit passionately, desperately, and forcefully resisted the vulnerability of doing my inner work.
There was no subtlety to the growth I experienced in yoga teacher training, because the change was fundamental to my identity. It cracked my heart open and shook me to my core. It magnified my emotions for the full 8 months: fear, insecurity, anger, irritability, shame, and sorrow that made my body quake.
There’s something about spiritual practices like yoga that can rattle and dislodge what you’ve repressed. The same goes for our most important lifestyle changes in life. The process is at once painful and cathartic.
There were many opportunities to walk away, since I was there by choice! However, since yoga teacher training was a privilege that I had granted to myself, I had to take it seriously. Here are some of the supports that moved me forward:
Social support was key. The people I love most were on board. When I hated yoga they were there to remind me why teacher training was important to me (even quoting my own words!). When I resisted my home practice, my partner would take my hand and lead me to my yoga mat. The other students in my teacher training were in the process of transformation, too, so we cried and laughed together, and had each other’s backs.
My environment had to adapt. I did my best to adapt my home and work environments to make them as supportive as possible. Once a month we had 4 days in a row at the studio for training, so when I was offered a new job a few months into teacher training, I told the hiring manager that I could only take it if I could flex my hours to attend training days. Thank goodness she agreed!
I cultivated cues to action. I had a laundry list of excuses to avoid the at-home yoga practice requirement. One of the techniques that helped was putting my mat in the doorway, so I had to step over it to get to bed (another part of a supportive environment). Sometimes this meant a 1:00am yoga practice, but late was better than never!
I checked my ambition at the door. The days I resolved to practice for a full hour and a half were the days I fought yoga hardest. After a few weeks, however, I realized that all I needed was to commit to 15 minutes! Most of the time, after the 15 minutes passed I wanted more. Committing to a manageable amount of time and then practicing happily was way more effective than strong-arming myself into a longer practice with dread.
Even though part of me wanted to stay stuck, I confronted the guard around my heart in class one day. One moment I was getting lost in goddess pose, and the next I was face down on my mat, sobbing. An overwhelming mix of emotions swept over me in waves.
Once I had some time to rest and process, I knew I'd made a distinct shift. The resistance was subsiding, and I was finally making space to receive.
Change isn’t easy, but what I learned during yoga teacher training is that some of the hardest, most resistance-laden changes we take on are the ones that make us better people.
Those 8 months rattled me, but they also permanently changed me.
There were aspects of myself that I’d avoided for a very long time, and facing demons like my deep-seated fear of truly seeing the pain of the world, helped me understand what I need to do to be compassionately present for those who are suffering.
I used to dodge sharing uncomfortable emotions with others, but I now have a deeper capacity and courage to be vulnerable and practice mutual empathy.
And I’m now able to help others safely dig into self exploration and change, so they can live their most meaningful lives, too. This is my life's work and purpose.
It would have been easier to avoid the pain of change, but pursuing big changes has woken me up to the life I was meant to lead. That journey has brought more joy and fulfillment than I ever anticipated.
It's ok to fear and resist change. It's what we humans do. Be with the fear and resistance. Let it be heard. And then choose, with love, to do what will help you grow. You can handle it. Your life awaits.