A singular journey through a universal experience
Yoga Teacher Training: (Day One)
8:00 a.m. – As I walk up to the lower entrance of Cashew Hill to meet the other girls, it feels reminiscent of all those summers I spent in camp. Nervous excitement, and quiet chatter can be felt and heard before we all walk in and head up the stairs. We’re gathered to take part in a non-immersive yoga teacher training through the Caribe Yoga Academy (CYA) that will take place every second weekend, over the course of the next three months.
Some of the girls have never seen the space before, because in all actuality, it’s only a few days old. We are the first group to be training at the CYA’s brand new facility here on Cashew Hill. We all take in the site together, along with the main attraction; the enormous wooden platform perfectly positioned to offer a clear view of the Caribbean Sea. The studio space is surrounded on all sides by the lush, green jungle and an endless parade of vibrantly coloured tropical plants. Paradise. And all I want to do is run away. For good reason.
Last night I received some news about a family member that is challenging me in every way possible. It’s news that I know will test me physically, mentally, emotionally, ethically, financially, and spiritually. Suddenly the road ahead is not just a bumpy one, but one scattered with washouts, steep mountain passes and treacherous, river valleys. Some nagging doubt tells me that I’m getting myself in over my head with this teacher training. Something tells me that maybe this news was a sign that I shouldn’t be here. That after 10 months of traveling, maybe the time has come for me to go home, give up, call mercy.
As we continue to walk around the property, the other girls “ooo” and “ahhh,” and I think to myself how little I want to be here, and that this is my last chance to change my mind. I glance forlornly over my shoulder, back down the hill; the direction of the exit. “Last chance, last chance,” something whispers, but I move forward anyway. And when I do, a different voice pops into my head with a rebuttal. It’s the voice of Avani Gilbert, the owner and facilitator of the CYA, who also happens to be a friend.
“I’m not sure if I can do this training,” I had said to her shortly after receiving my news. “I just don’t know if it makes sense anymore. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well,” Avani replied, “I’d say, if anything, you need yoga now more than ever.”
All I can do is hope that she’s right.
12:00 p.m. – Regardless of what I want to be feeling, it seems my negativity is here for the time being. In our philosophy and workshop sessions the other girls remain excited and enthusiastic as we go over some basic housekeeping and yoga etiquette for teachers. Their eyes are bright and their pens are active, furiously recording everything we go over in their notebooks. Such good students. I look at them with envy. Am I the only one that’s feeling completely challenged already?
7:00 p.m. – After our dinner break I can feel my body using all the energy it has left just to digest my food and keep my eyelids from slamming shut. We spend the evening session learning mantras and mudras, and we practice both by singing and chanting together. I; however, habitually open one eye and glance at the clock, praying for the session to end.
9:30 p.m. – Day one is over. I ride my bike to my tranquil home in the jungle and fall into my bed, exhausted, unable to tell if my body is happy, relaxed, angry, or in full revolt. I’m already feeling anxious and fearful about the morning. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if my body can keep up. I don’t know if I should be here. I think to myself how many questions I seem to have rolling around in my head. The only thing I do seem to know, is that an answer of any kind evades me. At least for today.
5:00 a.m. – I wake up before the sound of my alarm, and I blink into the darkness, trying to will my reality into my dreams instead. Not working. How on Earth can I deal with my own life, my own problems, while being in session for fourteen hours a day? How can I possibly endure this? What am I going to do? I shake my head and shrug, “Right now, I guess I’m going to go to yoga.”
12:00 p.m. – I struggle through the entire morning Sadhana (the physical practice of yoga) and then I sit in near silence through breakfast. Later on, after a short bathroom break during our 3-hour lesson on the anatomy of the body, I break down completely. The anatomy lesson is overwhelming me, and I need to remove myself from the group and take a time-out. Eventually I get myself together enough to re-join the group, who is being taught by guest teacher, Adriana. When I walk onto the platform, Avani pulls me aside and says something that changes the course of the next couple of days “What if today,” she says, “you didn’t have to have any answers?” She’s right. So many times when we have a problem in our lives the tendency is to put all our attention and focus on it until a solution arises. But life doesn’t work that way. We aren’t granted neat, little solutions as rewards once we meet a quota of minutes spent worried or concerned. I decide to let myself off the hook.
I decide that it’s okay if I just take a breath. And so that’s exactly what I do. I sit with the group and I just breath through it. I breath through the worry, through the questions and the discomfort. I take notes and I listen. I sit, and I observe, and I simply do my best.
5:00 p.m. – By our dinner break, I notice an inkling that something is beginning to shift. We take look at a yoga sequence staple; Sun Salutation A, and go over the corrections and assists we can make when we teach it. We then take turns teaching it to each other in groups of four. We’re all nervous and stumble along, but something incredible happens as I open my mouth to guide my fellow students for the first time. Something about the task feels familiar, it feels right. It even feels comfortable. And suddenly I have an answer. A single answer, amidst a sea of questions, but an important answer nonetheless. Yes, without a doubt, I am supposed to be here.
5:00 a.m. – My alarm is going off far too early, even after yesterday’s revelation, I’m not feeling like starting my day with yoga. But my dedication to this path I’ve chosen peels me out of my bed, and into my yoga clothes.
12:00 p.m. – By midday both my body and brain are exhausted. We go over the eight-limbs of yoga, and dip into the Yamas (principles of ethical behaviour, or restraints) and the Niyamas (the 5 personal observances).
6:00 p.m. – During our final dinner break something strikes me as I’m reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In particular the section on the Niyamas, and the third restraint called Tapas. ‘Tapah’ is the Sanskrit term which describes the acceptance of pain as purification. In it is said that Tapas also means to burn or create heat. We are reminded that anything that is burned out, will be purified. Like the body trying to expel a sickness through fever, or plants springing to life after a forest fire ravages the earth, deconstructing everything in its path. It’s through these acts that we are granted the room to grow, to heal. Similarly, when gold is forged in the flames, what comes out is more pure. Every pass through the fire, creates a stronger, more valuable, more brilliant piece of work. The same is true of people.
There’s a reason we practice an entire series called the Warrior postures. Life can become a battlefield at times, and we must face it with the strength, determination and courage of warrior. We must face it knowing full well that when we do finally emerge on the other side of that ravaged, war-torn field that we will be bloodied, bruised, and struggling for breath, but we will also be bolder, brighter, and more beautiful.
Pantanjali says that once we accept Tapas as a necessary part of life, that we will not only embrace our trials and tribulations, but welcome them, even thanking those responsible.
From the ashes we can be reborn as more powerful, more dazzling beings. Yoga promises us this; we always have the opportunity to stretch out our wings and rise again. Whether or not we choose to test those wings is up to us.