For my STEP Signature Project, I completed an 200-hour intensive yoga teacher training program. Throughout the course of this summer I spent my days learning the history of yoga, anatomy and correct alignment of postures, how to effectively teach a class, how to set students up for success through safe sequencing, the health benefits of yoga and much more. At the end of the program I had taught my peers three classes, taken or observed over 50 classes, and received my teaching certification.
Coming into this program I didn’t quite know how I would change. I didn’t think a physical practice could mold my mind as heavily as it did. I hoped that I would be better at holding chaturangas (low planks) and maybe would get some arm definition. Those things did happen but were the least significant milestones of my journey.
Learning about the yamas and niyamas has transformed the way I approach challenges and change in life. These 8 pillars set before yogis inspire inquiry in life externally and internally. They govern the most important qualities to embody. My favorite part about learning these was how they held different meaning for each person. This was another important lesson – everyone has their own truth and recognizing this allows for deeper connection and understanding. An example would be the first and most regarded yama, Ahimsa. This translate to non-violence. For example, someone could choose to be a vegetarian as to do no harm to animals. But if that didn’t work for their body and they were suffering, they would inadvertently be doing harm to themselves. This goes to show that not every lifestyle and pillar is the same for every person. Coming to this conclusion has challenged me to see others perspective and understand where they are coming from.
I also learned that yoga can also be harmful to a degree. Most people believe that just the act of doing yoga will great and healing for their body. While this is mostly true, the incorrect alignment can have the opposite effects. For this reason, my class and I spent countless hours reviewing poses, studying alignment and anatomy, contraindications, and how a pose might not look ideal but if the student feels it in the correct muscles then it doesn’t matter. This was really refreshing to learn because social media is flooded with photos of novice and expert yogis alike doing challenging poses for an “aesthetic”. Although they look cool, if that alignment was embodied in their practice daily it would have serious damages on their body long term. This helped to teach me that yoga isn’t always about the outcome. It’s doesn’t matter if you can maintain a posture or add a bind, etc. What matters is that you’re breathing and staying present. If you are not hurting in a pose and you feel it in the right places, then you’re already successful in your practice.
On the very first day of the program, Laurel, our main instructor gave us paradigms to keep in mind throughout the completion of the program. She challenged me to “begin where you are”. This was especially helpful because I was just anxious to complete all the requirements, perfect my chaturangas, and get my certificate. When Laurel told me this it allowed myself to be ok with the fact that I had absolutely no teaching experience. I have been applying this principal to my habits ever since. I normally always want to jump right to the ending. When I was training for a half marathon last year I was frustrated that running over 13 miles didn’t come easy to me. Laurel telling me this allowed myself to be comfortable with where I was starting and to embrace the journey, not the destination.
These pillars and paradoxes have inspired me to see the world in a new way. However, the most important takeaway from this journey is the simplest. It is the breath. Learning to control my breath, take a step back, and breath in tough situations has been the most transformative for me. I didn’t realize how anxiety had been building up in me until I explained my symptoms to my yogi peers. They mentioned it sounded like I had anxiety and that they struggled from it too. I would never peg myself as someone with anxiety but there was a point over the summer when that wrong, and I needed to be truthful with myself. Meditating and breathing have helped me to control my body when I start to get worked up about deadlines, to-do lists, and the future.
We also learned the tantric approach regarding the cycle of transformation. In times of change it is most effective to take a step back, allow yourself to feel, relax, wait until you feel ready to face the situation and then act. This method allows one to distance themselves from a hard situation and listen to what their body is telling them. Breathing deeply alone actives the parasympathetic nervous system which automatically calms the body down. Feeling is important too because often we with try to explain what we feel, and it turns into us demeaning ourselves on why we felt that way. It then allows one to enter a situation when they’re ready and able to respond in an effective way. This conscious communication and tool to combat change are so transformative and I have implemented them into my daily life. Being welcoming to change is something that doesn’t come easy for me but with this process it makes it more comfortable.
As a student who aspires to go into healthcare I would love to implement what I have learned for patients. I have seen yoga firsthand help those with anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. I believe that it a tool for a healthy and conscious life that does not require a prescription. I am planning to teach a free clinic to my pre-health sorority during finals week to help those destress. When people make time for themselves on their mat and commit to present for that time amazing things happen. Without distractions of the outside world, especially their phones, people can tap into their body and explore how they feel. When people understand how they feel, they know what they need and with tools of conscious communication they can express that to others and maintain healthy relationships. When I become a doctor, I will use yoga as a form of therapy for patients.
This program has changes my life in many ways. I never expected that I would get such a rich understanding of yoga and still be thirsty for more knowledge. I plan to get a teaching job and share my passion with others. I am extremely grateful for STEP, as I would not have been able to enroll in this program without their financial support. I would recommend yoga teacher training to anyone who is interested in learning more about themselves and seeing the world in a new light.