I will never forget my first day of yoga teacher training. I felt so awkward and out of place, like everybody in the room knew that I was a fraud.
Me, a yoga teacher? Who was I kidding, I wasn’t a yogi.
I wasn’t flexible or zen and I didn’t wear beads on my wrists or have a closet full of really cool yoga pants. I couldn’t stand on my head or touch my nose to my knees. Nope, I was about as far from a yoga teacher as they come.
Or so I thought.
I remember sitting cross legged on the floor (with three blankets under my hips!), our instructor outlining the expectations for class and me doing my best to pay attention. But let’s be honest, my ankles hurt, my feet were numb and maintaining that perfect upright posture like the rest of the class was excruciating. My mind kept wandering to the toddler that I had left home with my mother in law for the weekend and I couldn’t help but wonder, “what in the holy heck had I been thinking?”
I snapped to attention when I heard the instructor announce that we were going to partner up for an ice breaker exercise and my inner groan was so loud I was sure the entire class had heard it.
JUST BREATHE AND LISTEN
We were positioned back to back with a partner and the rules were as follows. One partner would talk for three minutes about the reasons they wanted to become a yoga teacher. Partner two would listen, only listen, for the duration of that time. No eye contact, no response, no questions. Just listening. And then, at the sound of the chime, partner two would have one minute to summarize back what partner one had said.
As I positioned myself spine to spine with this stranger I remember feeling super vulnerable. I had played a lot of contact sports in my day, boxing out a competitor for a rebound on the basketball court or battling for a soccer ball in front of the net. But this felt different, almost intimate in a way as our back bodies connected and our breathing fell naturally into sync.
She began talking first and my mind was all over the place. I was desperately trying to be the good student, memorizing everything she was saying, but meanwhile my mind was racing, trying to think of my own response that wouldn’t sound ridiculous. Ugh, why did I put myself in this situation?
Why did I want to become a yoga teacher anyway?
Ah, I had missed what she said. I opened my mouth to ask her to repeat that last part and then remembered, no questions! No talking. I wrangled my wild mind and did my best to focus on what she was saying.
Just breathe Kristen. And listen to her story.
I must have reminded myself of that at least fifty times over the next three minutes.
When my turn came to repeat back what she had shared, I may not have gotten every word or every detail, but to this day I can still feel the essence of what she said. Not realizing at the time that I had just had my first lesson in presence, mindful awareness and active listening.
THE 3 REASONS I BECAME A YOGA TEACHER
The tingsha chimed and it was my turn to speak. I swallowed slowly and then began. There were actually 3 reasons that I decided to become a yoga teacher.
Reason #1- My Patients
My career as a PT had taken an unexpected turn and for the past 6 months I found myself working as the sole physical therapist in a chronic pain clinic. Traditional rehab approaches had repeatedly failed these patients and by the time they arrived in front of me they were desperately seeking another way. For the first part of the year I attended course after course, devouring information and desperately seeking the thing that would help to alleviate their suffering.
Pain science, breathing, regulation of the nervous system, mindfulness, and restorative rest were some of the themes that arose again and again.
It became clear that the study of yoga was a common thread that tied many of these concepts together. Along with movement in a way that was safe and non-striving, yoga offered me the opportunity to begin helping these patients make the connection between their minds, bodies and spirits that so many of them were missing.
I saw that it was making a positive difference and I was ready to learn more.
Reason #2- My Daughter
My daughter is definitely one of the reasons I became a yoga teacher. She was a toddler at the time, that stage where everything was exciting and new. She was exploring the world and experiencing new things minute by minute.
I was rushing through my day, dragging her from one place to the next, sometimes even wishing the time away. How could I learn to slow down.
I wanted to explore the shiny specks of dirt on the ground, to watch the clouds float by in the sky, and to be patient and understanding. I desperately wanted to enjoy this phase, that for a multi-tasking, always on the move Mom, felt almost torturous at times.
Deciding to become a yoga teacher was an intentional decision to become more present. I was longing to feel grounded and connected and I knew that committing to my practice of yoga would help.
Reason #3- Myself
And finally, the third reason I became a yoga teacher was for myself.
I had always been an athlete. I played three or more sports throughout my years of school, and for me, movement and physical activity was always tied to competition. Then I studied to become a physical therapist and movement became about reducing pain and restoring function. Movement was a purely physical act that was very much based in finding a problem and offering a solution.
I will never forget the first time I was asked to move and to breathe simply for the experience, without any expectation or anticipated outcome. It was the first time, perhaps in my entire life, that I had experienced moving my body in this way. The physical act itself wasn’t anything special, but it was the feeling that I will never forget.
It was liberating and I knew in that moment that I needed to learn more.
YOGA MY WAY
For a long time, my practice felt less than. I was influenced by others on social media and felt unworthy because my practice didn’t look like theirs.
And then I realized that not being the traditional picture of yoga has allowed me to attract and connect with others that felt different, or out of place, or less than in their own body, skin or situation.
My mission became to empower others.
My superpower is that my practice doesn’t look like anyone else’s. It looks like:
- being a working Mom who breathes when she can and does five minutes of flow during bath time.
- being a PT who comforts a patient by connecting with them in a way that’s “different”.
- teaching others to combat overwhelm and find joy in their day.
- leaning into vulnerability and moving forward anyway.
BACK TO THE ROOTS
At its roots, the word yoga, means “union” or “connection”. When I look back on it now, it’s clear that I was craving connection. I was looking to connect with my patients, my daughter, and ultimately, I was seeking that union with my whole self.
Do you have that nagging feeling that something is missing? Maybe you’re longing to feel more grounded or more present in your life.
Have you thought about trying yoga? Perhaps you’ve never walked into a yoga studio because you feel out of place. You don’t believe you have the body, strength or vibe to succeed.
You’ve always wondered what the hype was about, but aren’t sure that yoga is for you.