Every day/week/month, new yoga teachers are graduating from yoga schools all around the world. About a month ago, I was one of those newly minted yoga teachers. I never quite imagined doing something like this and I came out of it with a glitzy bucketload of emotions. Blissful, confident, knackered, proud and humbled by the experience. Long days six times a week, eagerly soaking in all the information, frantically trying to absorb every bit of information (just in case), resisting the urge to collapse, questioning what the heck am I doing this for (at least about 99 times) and opening myself up to a different world of knowledge that on occasion contradict or threw me off my western-centric thinking.
Since my university days, I’ve been practising yoga on and off. Yoga had also helped me out of my burnout rut a few years back. I knew I wanted to deepen my practice on a physical and spiritual level. Furthermore, I’ve been training as an Ayurvedic Practitioner and felt yoga would nicely complement that. What I got at the end of the four weeks was more than just the understanding of asanas, alignment and anatomy. I walked away with life lessons that opened up my world, brought me pockets of joy and peace and threw me insights I still don’t quite grasp yet.
Learn to Experience. Let Go of Expectations.
Whoever said, ‘expectation breeds resentment’ weren’t wrong. I thought I came with no expectations but in the first week, I was already mentally commenting and checking off what I like, don’t like, could be different, how this and that and so on. I constantly wanted to maximise every single experience and all it became was righteous indignation on my part. It was unnecessarily exhausting.
So. I had to step back and configure how I can experience things as they come and as they are. Neither good nor bad. Just as they are.
When I couldn’t do a full pose, I forgo all expectations around it and instead found contentment in a different version. I made props my best friends and let go of the need to look good in my poses and focus on how I feel and what actually works for my body and me. I slowly learn to let go of what I thought I know and made headspace for new knowledge and contemplation. Pin and needles during meditation? I gently experience it, watching it like a patient mother and stop trying to fidget about (gosh, it was SO unpleasant to stand after though, let’s be honest). Basically, I had to step away from trying to analyse every single action.
The more I give myself the opportunity to experience, the less reactive I got and the more enjoyment I got out of the class. It took a while to wrap my head around this, but the less I hold on to whatever deep-seated expectations I thought I have, the easier it was to fully immerse myself and be present in the day-to-day practice and teachings.
Learn to Trust
Ever heard anyone tell you to ‘trust the process’? I first heard that phrase a few years back when I started coaching. In coaching, if we want to move towards the change we want to see happen, then we need to trust the coaching process. Lest you think it’s some airy-fairy mumbo jumbo, it’s not all about blind trust. To trust the process requires a certain surrender and acceptance alongside putting in the right effort and intention.
It might seem obvious but at its basic level, when we’re standing in a pose, we trust that our legs will support us. We trust that our practice will bring us benefits to our overall well being. Beyond the physical poses, we’re also asked to trust the teachings of our teachers (and the teachers before them) to guide and support us as we navigate our yogic journey. Even if sometimes these teaching are out of our depth or utterly baffling. It is easy to accept or reject what we can see, touch and enquire about but it takes trust to accept what is yet to be within our sphere of awareness.
You see, the society we live in tends to discourage us from trusting too easily. We are constantly reminded that trust must be earned. What I learned from showing up on my mat every day was: there is nothing to be earned or given when it comes to trust. You either trust or you don’t. As simple as that (or least it should be that simple).
When I come to my mat, I trust my body will hold me up and do its best. If it doesn’t, I try again. Or try to understand what’s holding me back, ‘is it fear, am I making excuses or am I being lazy?’ If I bring fear or doubt to my mat, I’m only half-present in my practice because I’m constantly wondering why this and that.
I learned that I have to keep showing up ready to trust. But to trust is not about blindly accepting information, throwing caution to the wind or setting your thinking aside. It’s about wisely using and trusting your discernment and good judgment to make choices that will serve and support you.
Come With an Open Heart
In case anyone wasn’t aware, yoga is a practice steeped in tradition, history and Hindu philosophy originating from India over 2,500 years ago. I had a glimpse of these teachings from Ayurveda, was moved by it and wanted to continue that study. Personally, for me, I came to yoga with on a quest for spiritual growth.
Because yoga has often been misrepresented in our modern context today – appropriated by mainstream media, fitness industry, stylish apparel and aesthetically looking poses – I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect in a yoga training. So I constantly had to remind myself to come with an open heart and surrender to what is and will be.
Sometimes when you open your heart and willing to be receptive, the universe hears you and returns you the favour. In the end, my yoga training was not just an exploration into different asanas but also into yogic philosophy and spiritual practices. I got a taste of yoga’s complex history, karma yoga in action and even a glimpse of the teachings of Buddha in relation to yoga. I sang my heart out and fell in love with kirtan. It wasn’t just about getting your alignment cues right but also understanding the application of yogic principles in everyday life. Sure, my body got a good workout six days a week but I was just as happy and grateful to be practising in silence, slowing down and coming to my mat from a place of surrender and softness.
I often feel much of mainstream yoga out there is exclusionary – at least for me. It focuses heavily on new trendy fitness workouts (like err… raging and yoga?), fancy yoga apparel (fact: you don’t need fancy Lulelemons to do yoga), contorting one’s body into an impossible shape (fact: most folks can’t bend themselves into a pretzel-shaped pose) and cherry-picking what looks cool for Instagram likes.
Honestly speaking, a lot of these new fads and ways of doing yoga make me uncomfortable. I didn’t start doing yoga this way or came to yoga for picture-worthy poses. In some instances when I see my course mates beautifully gliding and folding into a perfect-looking pose, I am in awe, ‘oh how I wish I could’. I had to regularly catch myself before I spiral down into a comparative abyss, reminding myself of what I came to yoga for.
At the end of it all, what I took away from my yoga training is to trust that yoga will remain as yoga and trends and fads will come and go. That if you choose to seek and embrace the true essence of yoga, it will embrace you right back. And it will always be there, just the way yoga has always been. Complete and whole as it is meant to be.
And right now, I’m only just at the very start of a possibly beautiful journey into that discovery.