From the philosophy lessons and inner work to the homework and teaching practice, a YTT is a transformative experience. YJsenior editor Meghan Rabbitt suggests keeping self-care in mind.
It was day one of my first yoga teacher training in July of 2015, and I’d been holding Utkatasana (Chair Pose) against the back wall of the yoga studio for what felt like an eternity. My teacher, Annie Carpenter, had led us through a vigorous two-hour practice that morning. My legs were on fire—though the activity in my quads was nothing compared to what was going on in my brain. Stay present, I silently nudged myself. That was a near-impossible feat, given all of the excitement and angst swirling around my insides.
While that first day was intense, what followed didn’t exactly get easier. For starters, I was in a room with a lot of new-to-me people, about whom I knew nothing yet. Then, there was the physical aspect of practicing every day—not just taking regular classes but also breaking down multiple poses that often required holding them for longer periods of time than I was used to. From the philosophy lessons and inner work to the homework and in-class teaching practice, a yoga teacher training (YTT) is a transformative experience, which is why keeping a few key self-care strategies in mind can really help, says Steph Schwartz, a yoga teacher in Boulder, Colorado, who is co-leading the 200-hour YTT I’m currently doing with my co-workers at Yoga Journal.
“Teacher trainings are a time of learning, reflection, and growth, which means it’s important to implement some radical self-care tactics when you’re doing one,” says Schwartz. Since I give myself a score of “meh” in the self-care department during my first training, I’m committed to doing better this time around. Here, Schwartz and our other teacher trainers share their best tips for taking care of yourself during a yoga teacher training so you can set yourself up to make the most of it.
7 Self-Care Tips for Yoga Teacher Training
1. Embrace a beginner’s mind.
While this may not sound like your typical self-care tip, it’s actually one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for a great experience, says Nafisa Ramos, director of Yoga Pod University and one of our YTT leaders. “Regardless of your background or past experiences, embodying a ‘beginner’s mind’ opens you to new perspectives and possibilities,” she says. “Keeping an open mind and letting go of expectations is an important part of the journey.” Much of what can make YTT feel overwhelming is all of the judgments you place on others and yourself. This is different than what I’ve been taught. I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough. The list can go on and on. Remembering your inner child—that kiddo who showed up for pre-school nervous, sure, but truly open to having a total blast—can help you ditch the self-doubt and just stay present, which is what yoga is all about after all.
2. Clear your schedule of non-necessities.
You know that jam-packed basement you’ve been meaning to de-clutter or the family reunion you’ve been wanting to organize? Now’s not the time to dig in to projects like these. In fact, most yoga teacher trainers suggest scheduling some time off from work—or at least trying to not have any big projects hanging over your head—and learning how to say “no” to plans that really aren’t crucial. “Doing a teacher training usually means you will be doing more asana and more home study, with long, intense days added to your schedule,” says Amy Harris, one of Yoga Journal’s YTT leaders. “You will also be studying material that often prompts big transformations.” Translation: Your cup is about to feel very full. Don’t make it runneth over with stuff you don’t really need to do.
3. Stock your freezer with healthy, pre-made meals.
During my first teacher training, I had no time to cook, which meant eating out often. Thankfully it was in Venice, California—land of organic cafes and cold-pressed green juice on every corner—and the food available to me was super-nourishing. (Yes, I spent almost as much on my delicious, organic grub as I did on my teacher training, but I digress.) This time, my freezer is stocked with defrost-and-go veggie lasagna, quinoa salads, wild salmon fillets, and other healthy options—a smart move, Harris says. Not only will it help from a time perspective, but it also means I’ll be more likely to stick to the foods I know work for me. “YTT isn’t the time to try a new raw, vegan, or sugar-free diet for the first time,” says Harris. “It's just too much change. Do what you know works so that your body and soul feel nourished as you go through transformation in other realms of your life.”
4. Schedule a couple appointments with a bodyworker.
There’s one fact of yoga teacher training that few people escape: You’re likely going to be a little (or, well, a lot) sore. That’s why scheduling a massage, acupuncture appointment, or another bodywork session (or more than one if you can swing it!) will feel like an especially welcome treat. My secret weapon for sore nights that feels almost as good as bodywork? A hot water bottle. I fill mine up with just-boiled water and use it like a heating pad on my shoulders and low back—the two hot spots that flare up when I’m practicing a lot and sitting on the floor all day. The heat seems to ease the soreness and just feels really soothing—the perfect antidote to aches and pains.
5. Carve out time to reflect.
When we’re going through a big transformation or feeling overwhelmed with a deluge of information, it can be really tempting to want to press the virtual “escape” button and distract yourself by making plans. Yet while it might feel good to hit happy hour with friends after your all-day Friday intensive, odds are you’re going to feel both physically and emotionally pooped. And while the distraction might be welcome at first, it’s not going to help all the work you’re doing really sink in. After one especially challenging and emotionally charged day during my first YTT, I cancelled plans with some friends and got into bed instead. I lit a candle, resisted the urge to turn on my TV, and you know what happened? I just started to cry. It was an amazing release that was more rejuvenating than anything else I could’ve done and a lesson in the benefits of prioritizing quiet time.
6. Hatch plans with friends who nourish your soul.
While solo time is so important, becoming a total hermit during YTT isn’t such a hot idea, Schwartz says. “There can be a tendency to withdraw into a ‘rejuvenation shell’ that distances us from the world,” she says. “Instead of retreating so dramatically into solitude, consider inviting a friend over for a Netflix and popcorn night instead. Make plans with friends who boost your energy and nurture your sense of community. This healthy friendship time can nourish your soul as much or even more so than solitude.”
7. Prep yourself for post-YTT withdrawal.
In the days after my first YTT, which was a 22-day intensive, I slipped into a little bit of a funk. I didn’t realize why until I talked to my YTT bestie—an amazing new friend I’d made during that training—who shared the sentiments. We figured out that our blue moods were due to the fact that we missed our yogi homies and the safe space our teacher created to help us grow our practice. The bottom line: Going through a teacher training often feels like one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself, which means that when it’s over, you’ll likely have some feelings about that. Rather than focusing on the void, try to bring your attention to all of the ways you’re going to use what you’ve learned, whether you start teaching right away or not, Ramos says. Crack back into those philosophy books. Geek out by playing with a new anatomy app. Hatch a plan for your next YTT. And stick to the “radical self-care tactics,” as Schwartz put it so well, that served you best.