dissolving and rebuilding: yoga teacher training

Last weekend was overwhelming and enveloping and completely consuming, in the best way possible. I am currently doing a six-month 200-hour yoga teacher training in Boulder. The training takes place for a three-day weekend once a month and the second weekend of January was the first session.

Get physical

We did more physical yoga in three days than I had done in a long time--a couple vinyasa classes a day with an intense focus on alignment and ending the weekend's practice with a wonderfully restorative yin yoga class.

Especially combined with daily running for #writeandrun31 and sitting on the floor the rest of the time, I got sore very quickly.

Thankfully, it happened to be the good kind of sore that you can lean into and find smugness contentment that you're pushing yourself toward a place of growth.

In between the physical classes, we learned about pranayama, practicing Ujjayi breathing and alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana). We took notes on the anatomy of the human skeleton, on the basic history of yoga, on the Sanskrit alphabet and names for poses, and on the different types of Hatha yoga that still exist today.

Chanting

We also practiced Kirtan, call-and-response chanting.

Surprisingly, Kirtan happened to be one of my favorite parts of each day. When I first heard one of the teachers was into Kirtan, I thought it would be like the monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who walk around slowly chanting and then hit themselves in the head with the Bible.

But (thankfully) Kirtan turned out to be nothing of the sort.  Steph struck keys on her harmonium and sang beautifully. And then we answered, singing back.

Self-consciousness and negative thoughts dissolved with each successive chant. I am neither particularly spiritual nor fond of singing, but the group energy each time we gathered around the harmonium was amazing.

Alignment

It wasn't all Kumbaya-like singing and happy togetherness.

We spent a considerable amount of time discussing the two first principles of alignment: foundation and presence.

In a physical sense, a lot of awareness and adjustment should happen in every vinyasa pose: the grounding of the four corners of the feet, the twisting of the shins inward and the thighs rotating outward. The magnetic draw of shins together. The micro-bend in the knees and elbows. The forward rotation of the biceps and a sort of space-finding in the armpits.

Beyond the physical muscle alignment, there is also an energetic alignment that takes place, as well as an awareness of the breath that keeps your body and mind present on the current moment.

I knew some aspects of this physical, mental, and spiritual adjustment--but I'd never had the full chance to put all of the elements together in one pose at a time.

I went to sleep every night in dreams buzzing with vivid actions and thoughts of alignment and woke up each morning with a new Kirtan chant in my head.

Metamorphosis

As one of the teachers, Kirsten, explained, this is the "butterfly soup" stage of our training.

In a real chrysalis, the caterpillar is not just growing wings and suddenly becoming a butterfly. Inside the pupa, the larva releases enzymes that dissolve many of the connective tissues before they can rebuild.

It's a process and one of breaking apart before remodeling.

In our own "butterfly soup" as yoga students, we have to completely dissolve what we know before we can finally emerge as more complete versions of ourselves.

I certainly have a great deal more dissolution that needs to take place before the rebuilding part of transformation, but last weekend was a true catalyst for the process.

I had no way of knowing the impact before starting, but after only a few days I truly feel that I am exactly where I need to be.

While I felt an undeniable draw to teacher training beforehand, I also felt a lot of resistance. Prior to signing up, I met with one of the assistants for the training and a previous “grad," who assured me that one of the misconceptions is that you have to be at some specific advanced level to sign up for teacher training.

In any case, if I waited until I was advanced to a certain level in my practice, I knew I might never sign up.

I decided to start the yoga teacher training to create community and consistency for my practice, not to become some sort of yogi superstar who can handstand wherever (that still sounds nice though).

All the same, to say I was apprehensive going into this training would be a complete understatement.

I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for over a decade, but my physical practice has been very sporadic, sometimes months (or even years) not practicing at all.

I had an irrational fear that I was going to be outed for not being "good enough" at yoga and they'd kick me out the first time they saw me in downward-facing dog. But on that first morning, as we gathered cross-legged in a circle and stated our purpose for being there, it became clear that every person in the room was nervous for some reason or another and that I wasn't the only one who had drifted from a regular practice.

Parallels in practice

During and since the weekend, I keep seeing parallels in so many different things, especially where my focuses currently lie: in writing, in running, and in yoga.

One instance is how yoga and running are both meditative practices about learning to sit with discomfort and find ease within it. And I feel like you could easily say the same for writing.

Running was actually the main reason that prompted me to sign up for teacher training. I had just completed my half marathon and, in six months, I essentially went from not even being able to run a full mile, to running 13.1 of them with a big, stupid grin on my face the whole time.

I wondered, if I could accomplish one thing I never thought fully possible for myself, what else could I try?

I thought, if community and accountability made me fall in love with running, what could it do for my yoga practice?And in turn, what could my yoga do for my running--and for my life in general?

As with running, I'm already finding solid structure and friendship after just a few days of teacher training.

Over the last year, I've had a very loose yoga practice and home and, honestly, it was starting to feel really lonely. It's been great to go back to the yoga studio throughout this week and see friendly faces. I feel like I have a reason to keep myself accountable for going to classes several times a week.

This first weekend was setting a lot of the foundational framework for what's to come in the next sessions, but even though it was information heavy, I'm so excited for more teacher training to come (and really sad that's it's only five more months and I'm done).

It may be a really long time before I emerge from the chrysalis as a fully fledged butterfly, but in the meantime, I'm going make the most of dissolving my caterpillar self in this wonderful soup that is yoga teacher training.

Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.



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