If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that I’ve recently returned from a month of advanced teacher training on the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali (I know, tough huh?) I’ve chosen to do my trainings as intensives like this because of touring commitments – my lifestyle means I can’t be in one place at regular intervals as most trainings require, so taking a month out and going for the full immersion experience really works for me. That’s not to say I wasn’t tested in my resolve to do this at times – July is full-on festival season so I had to turn down a lot of work – but I trusted my instincts that this was the right path for me. There will always be something that comes up to distract you when you set your cap at something like this – it’s like the universe saying “You wanna do this? Come on then, let’s see how big your cojones really are!”
I was studying with the same teacher as I was for my initial training (Sunny Richards) so it was like going home in a lot of ways. Sunny teaches in the Krishnamacharya lineage of Viniyoga, which is a Yoga Therapy based approach. In a nutshell it means that we teach the individual a yoga practice as it applies to them at that time. No two people are the same – heck, one person isn’t even the same from one day to the next! – and by using this approach we can address imbalances, creating a highly effective practice which boils down to making life easier. Yoga at its heart is a toolkit for life, and a regular practice makes us more comfortable physically, mentally and spiritually; it makes us more resilient to life’s stresses.
The days were fairly long, because there’s a lot to fit into the time available. We started at 6.30am with meditation, followed by asana practice (the physical postures) for two hours. This class differed from one you’d go to as a regular student, as we would stop and dissect what we were doing, and consider how we would teach it ourselves. After that we’d sometimes have Yoga Nidra, a deep guided meditation technique where you lie down (yes!) and take your attention around the body and through a variety of mental images – absolute bliss! Then it was breakfast, followed by the first of the day’s lectures. This might be philosophy; anatomy and physiology; ayurveda; yoga therapy; meditation techniques; all sorts of interesting subjects to delve into. After a lunch break we’d continue with lectures, and finish around 6.30pm. All of this took place in the yoga shala; a beautiful large, open-sided room where we’d sit on our mats for the lectures, and as the day wore on, each yogi’s pile of cushions and bolsters would grow as bums and hips got tired of sitting on the floor! Most of us were living on site as the venue is an eco guest-house, so there was no commute. I was very lucky to have a spacious room right next to the swimming pool surrounded by tropical plants (and the odd tropical beastie…. a scorpion in the bathroom is a moment I won’t forget….) At the end of the day I’d sit outside my room and do my homework then be tucked up in bed by 8.30pm, because I liked getting up super-early to enjoy some quiet solitude by the pool with a coffee as the night turned to morning – such a magical time of day, it feels like you’ve got the world all to yourself!
There were 23 of us on the course, really lovely people and such a diverse group. Being thrown together in that way is a lot like being on tour – all of a sudden these people are your family for the next month, and like touring, strong bonds are quickly forged. Yoga teachers, like road crew, tend to be professional “getter-onners” who can rub along fairly well with most people. Where this bonding differs is that an immersion training can be a very intense experience emotionally. Spending time in meditation and self-study brings you face to face with yourself in a way that we often avoid – whether consciously or not – in everyday life. Getting to grips with the difference between your ego, your higher self, and your monkey mind forces you to examine your reactions to situations and people, and attempting to stay fully “present” really brings home just how much time you spend ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. All of this can present some pretty intense internal experiences, and everyone else is going through their own inner journey too… it’s like a month of therapy! Meltdowns are a given – most people will have a cry at some stage in this setting, but it’s actually less embarassing than you’d imagine because you’re all in the same boat and it’s a very loving and compassionate environment. It certainly pushes you out of your comfort zone; I remember thinking on my first training that I’d spent so much time outside my comfort zone that I didn’t even know where it was any more! That’s a real gift; comfort zones are like leaky balloons that gradually shrink if you don’t keep adding to them and pushing their boundaries!
When the time came to teach what we’d learnt to the rest of the class, there was the added pressure of teaching so many other experienced teachers who would know if you went wrong! Knowing everyone was on your side and you were amongst friends neutralised that to a great degree though, and it was fascinating to see so many different ways of communicating the same information. The truly great thing about advanced trainings is that your teachers are not only those who are giving the lectures, but every single person in the room!
So now I’m back from my Bali-bubble, with lots of new knowledge that I’m excited to put into practice both with my students and in my own life. I’ve made interesting new friends from all over the world and identified a future direction for myself in the fascinating area of Yoga Therapy. It feels like, with every new door I open, I see another hundred doors behind it…. the more I learn, the more I realise there is to learn! And that’s a beautiful thing – I’m passionate about remaining ever a student as I grow as a teacher, and I’m more fired-up than ever about sharing this wonderful thing called yoga!