Lay the Foundation
Once you’ve selected a program, read through the literature or talk to recent graduates to learn what is expected of you. Is there a reading list? How much time will you be in class? How much homework will there be? How often are tests and how are they administered? Even basic issues like finding out how long breaks or if there is a drugstore nearby will give you a sense of what the experience will be like and how the training will fit in with the rest of your life.
Spend some time working on asana, too. Doing so will prepare you for the physical demands of day-long classes and help you remember the names of poses. But don’t overdo it. “Come well rested and with an open mind,” says Beth Shaw, the president of the YogaFit training system. “While it’s beneficial for students to have been practicing yoga on their own in the days and weeks prior to class, avoid excessive exercises, which might impair your ability to participate in the physical components of class.”
Begin the Path of Self-Inquiry
You probably expect to memorize Sanskrit names and learn how to demonstrate Trikonasana, but you may be surprised by how much time you spend thinking about yourself and your own practice as you prepare to teach yoga to others. This self-inquiry may be a welcome exercise, or it can bring up some troubling feelings that you’ve been ignoring.
Dave Farmar, a Baptiste Power Vinyasa teacher in Denver, Colorado, says, “Everything that has happened in your life, affects you at that moment. What often comes up are issues you need to transform to become a teacher. The advice I give for dealing with these sometimes painful, sometimes wonderfully eye-opening issues is just let it happen and trust in the process. There’s nothing wrong with having doubts and fears, or confronting things you may not have looked at in your life.”
Fortunately, you are already equipped to deal with this challenge. Randal Williams, a director of teacher training at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, says, “You can navigate your way through (the training) with the practice of yoga. The first thing is to not shy away from your experience; be aware of what you are going through. Remember that no matter what experience you’re having, it’s not a mistake. Life is conspiring that you come to this very moment and have this experience.”
Take Tests in Stride
In addition to the emotional and physical challenges there are, of course, the intellectual ones. Test-taking can be be a source of much anxiety, but try to contextualize it as just one form of assessment, rather than a final statement on your teaching skills. Todd Stellfox, Executive Director of Healing Yoga in San Francisco says, “We evaluate our students on many levels: through their mentor relationships, in-class participation as well as their responses on their homework, their attitude. Occasionally someone will take an exam and not do so well, but as long as they’re doing the work and making progress along the way, it’s not about a particular number. It’s about a process of learning the material over a period of time.”
Tests tell your trainers what you understand and what still needs work; they aren’t looking to fail you. Stellfox says, “If someone is in our training, I’m really dedicated to helping them pass. If they’ve gotten to the point where they’ve applied, they’ve been accepted, and they’re committed to us—we’re committed to them, too and I really want them to succeed.”
A training is not all testing and introspection. A wonderful part of the process is sharing the experience with like-minded yogis. “When I was at Kripalu I had the sweet experience of taking class every day, all day with the same people and this created closeness and a comfort level that I have not experienced since,” says Shannon O’Haverty a teacher in Boston, Massachusetts and graduate of the Kripalu training.
Yoga Teacher Training programs often assign students a teacher-mentor to help them through rough spots, but you will also find your classmates are a good source for support and inspiration. “There’s this pleasant surprise in meeting people and watching them go through the journey and sharing a good part of it with them,” Williams says. “A kinship develops, by allowing a space for other people to have their experience. When they graduate, students realize they have a deeper capacity for breathing and for life.”
Prepare to be Transformed
Working closely with yogis from all walks of life and meeting the physical and mental demands of your training can be life-altering. But don’t worry if it takes time for you to fully absorb your experience. Your personal transformation may happen quickly or it may kick in as you become responsible for a classroom and introducing your students to yoga.
O’Haverty says, “At the time I was disappointed, I wanted something instant. About two years after I finished my program it hit my like huge cosmic punch. It’s difficult to describe, but it all just came pouring down; my life, perspective and attitude had altered. It was as if something fundamental had been recalibrated.”
Either way, a teacher training program will likely bring you closer to understanding who you are. The training process includes the nitty-gritty—modifying poses, dealing with special populations, creating sequences—but also leads you to the understanding of what it means to teach and live your yoga. “You don’t have to show up as somebody else,” says Williams. “I think when people finally get that, there’s something that shifts. There’s a kind of warmth that starts to show up. They can start to be who they are authentically and there’s a level of fulfillment that I think is pretty cool.”