My STEP Signature Project gave me the opportunity to dive deep into the art of Yoga in the pursuit of a yoga instructor’s license with the Samyoga Institute. In this 10 month process, I met with a class of 16 students for one weekend (hereby termed Yoga Weekend) a month, 10 hours a day for a total of 200 hours of yogic instruction. Unlike most other programs, Samyoga Institute requires that their teachers-in-training complete interactive assignments (IAs) between our monthly meetings. In addition, in the second half of the program, we are required to complete an “Internship” where we tested our skills by teaching an 8-week yoga class! Finally, at our final 10th Yoga Weekend, the 16 of us graduated, receiving our Yoga Diploma, fully-certified.
My first day in class was a torrent of emotions. Coming in, I had a very misconstrued image of the true identity of yoga. My first interactions with yoga was a class I took at the RPAC in the fall of my sophomore year here at OSU, and what’s more it was a Power Yoga class (which I now know to be a Vinyasa). These sessions are much more dynamic, and at OSU they are aiming to be a good workout more than anything else. My image of yoga was just that, simply a fun way to workout, exercise that keeps me entertained for an hour and a half. Additionally, I imagined yoga to be a sort of skeleton key to unlock the degrees of motion within my joints. Sitting in my first class, I thought about what I wanted to gain personally from this process: strengthening my body, instruction for safely performing a larger variety of yoga poses, and also a dramatic increase in the range of my flexibility. Little did I know how limited my mind was on that first day.
Looking around the room I saw 15 other students, many of which were much older than me (averaging in the late-30’s, early 40’s). As a matter of fact, I later realized that I was actually the youngest student that’s been admitted into the program. As my mentor often laments, Yoga has become more a trend for the more rich and affluent population. Here I was, a poor college student sitting in the midst of entrepreneurs, city councilwomen, school principles, jewelers, practicing psychiatrists, the list goes on and on. These were largely people who have settled in, started (even finished) raising families, and are successful in their life; people who are prepared to gain their yoga license to add to their arsenal of abilities and knowledge. I was more than a little intimidated in this room full of people who weren’t just older, but way more experienced in both yoga and in life.
As the year progressed, however, I found my mind expanding in the most unexpected of ways. First and foremost, my relationship with my fellow teachers-in-training easily broke through my initial fearful first impressions. As a part of the program, we were split into four “family groups” of four students each. This setup worked to bring us together quickly, as well as provide us with an immediate means of support and communication between the monthly yoga weekends. It didn’t take long for my initial stereotypes against age to disintegrate due to the respect and comradery from every single student in the program. It took me longer than I’m willing to admit to understand that in our situation, everyone was on the same boat. Regardless of how much knowledge of yoga the other students came in with, we were all there to learn and enhance our understanding. Once that realization struck me, I became much more comfortable and much more productive during our weekends.
Without doubt, the most difficult part about my project was absorbing the ridiculously large amount of knowledge that our mentors were trying to impart to us. It comes as no surprise to me now to hear that some yogis spend years in training in order to truly be considered a master of yoga. In order to earn the first level of RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher), teachers must complete an accredited 200-hour program. 200 hours is barely any time to dig into yoga, and the more we learn about anything, the more we realize how little we know! Furthermore, this program’s focus is also on the aspect of teaching yoga to others. A large portion of the program was understanding how the human body functions, moves, as well as how one might cause harm to it. As yoga instructors, students entrust us with their bodies, and we are tasked with maintaining and/or improving their body, mind, and soul. I’ve found that I love the style of learning required in practicing yoga. It’s simple really, for how can we understand the movement of the body better than simply experiencing it ourselves? Learning with Samyoga always included lectures (Anatomy, History, Derivations), personal and group practices (Asana, Prana/Mantra, Meditation), and discussions (Family Groups, IAs, Ethics). This combination allowed me to truly integrate what I’ve learned, in a way that I’ve rarely encountered in the US education system. Their teaching methods solidified the knowledge into my mind without a lot of noticeable efforting from my end, simply because of how naturally the information was digested.
Before long, I got used to the groove of our Yoga Weekends. Then, half the year passed and it was time for us to begin our “Internships”. Suddenly, we were required to apply our knowledge to people other than ourselves! I decided to run an 8-week program in my residence hall at OSU (I’m an RA), Balancing your College Chakras to reduce anxiety and increase self-awareness. The time required in planning and preparing for just the first day was easily 50 hours within itself. I had to advertise my event, work with student housing to reserve a space four two whole months, rent equipment from the RPAC, write-up a draft of my lesson plans for my mentor, the list goes on and on… Waiting in my reserved space that first day was very unrepresentative of the nature and goal of my internship, I was sweating and anxious thinking about things like: Will people show up? What if I forget something important? What if I hurt someone? Can I pull off that relaxing and soft yoga voice? When the first students began to show up, my nerves decided to amp up another level. My introduction was scripted, but I could feel the shakiness of my voice and I couldn’t help wonder if I might not be able to do this. However, when the music started and I dimmed the lights, my education instinctively took over, and to my surprise, my voice automatically became firm and gentle. After my first class, the prep time dropped (hitting about 20 hours a week), and my class continued to grow. My students begin to warm up to me, and to my absolute ecstasy, start to ask me questions! It was a chance for me to truly prove to myself that I have learned something from my commitment to this project. I soon realize that I can confidently answer most of my students questions, and what’s more, I can confidently point them toward resources that can provide more detailed explanations if I didn’t clearly know the answer. Most importantly, I’m no longer afraid to be simply say “I don’t know” in the face of the unknown. It’s safe to say that I’ve become more comfortable with my strengths and limitations.
Throughout this process, I constantly felt surges of discomfort and unfamiliarity. Every time I conquer a mountain, I find myself face-plant against the next peak, each taller than the next. While I don’t believe many people would claim to enjoy the feeling of being outside of their comfort zone, I can say that I’ve become more open-minded and less stressed in these situations. I’ve always seen myself as more of a go-with-the-flow person in the game of life, but this project has definitely challenged my willingness to simply flow in any direction life pushes me. I’ve learned to set boundaries, to understand and push my limitations in a productive and safe manner. This is a skill that I believe will be invaluable in pursuing any goals in my future; it’s important to be able to recognize your own edges before you go tumbling over it.
On a different note, I did indeed find an improvement in my flexibility, and it is just as dramatic as I had hoped for. However, I know understand what it means to be truly flexible, both physically and mentally. To be physically flexible entails that you’re mentally prepared to adjust your posture in any pose to best suit your body structure. Yoga is meant to help you find balance and clarity of mind, a predecessor to meditation, as well as a great form of exercise; yoga is NOT straining the body to match those perfect models on magazine covers. There is no competition in seeing who can make you feel the most comfortable in your own body. My experience with Samyoga Institute brought me closer to myself, much closer than any other experience I’ve had.