Yoga: From newbie to namaste

“Namaste” doesn’t always go as planned

Some of you might be fans of the U.S. television show “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. If so, you may have seen the episode, in which Larry attends a yoga class and refuses to take part in “namaste”, a common greeting at the end of a class. If not, fear not. Here is how the scene unfolds: after Larry skips namaste, the teacher approaches him at the end of the class and explains that the word means: “the light within me greets the light within you”.

Larry, a known candid and complicated character, answers to her: “I am not a namaste kind of a guy, I don’t participate in group activities”, and: “well, there is no light within me”. The teacher’s reaction shows that she is not happy with Larry. At some point, Larry starts jabbing his fingers against his forehead, aiming at the “third eye”, which is where the chakra for intuition, imagination and insight lives in our body. The teacher gets even more annoyed and repeats “it’s a sign of disrespect, it’s a sign of disrespect!”. Larry gets himself kicked out of the yoga studio, but thankfully, not everyone is Larry and not every teacher is the one in the show, who I found a little too intense. 

Why I started a yoga teacher training

Let me tell you about my experience with a yoga teacher training that I have started recently. As we all struggle to keep our routines and to make our way onto the mat, I thought it wouldn’t harm to get a fresh perspective on what yoga can be about. 

I started the training in September last year, at the Feelgood studio in Vienna. Personal growth has always interested me and I wanted to get to the next level with my practice, especially after watching the phenomenal TEDx talk by Caroline Mchugh called The Art of Being Yourself. She says: “With every passing year, your job is to be better and better at being who you already are.” The phrase “being who you already are” made me pause. That’s when I realized that, subconsciously, part of my motivation for choosing a yoga training course was to get to know myself better. 

Is a teacher training course for you?

A typical yoga teacher training course combines; a practice of yoga poses, breathing exercises, as well as lectures about anatomy and yoga philosophy. The format varies from country to country, with each studio tailoring their courses. However, the course I am doing takes about 9 months and meets once a month for a full weekend. The curriculum, which has been approved by the International Yoga Alliance, is taught by two experienced teachers and includes extra practical and written assignments.

At the end of the training, we all have to pass a written exam and deliver an actual yoga class. You may think that one weekend per month is not that much, but it can get pretty intense. Next to “life as usual”, we are preparing assignments and brief yoga sequences for the other students, which are definitely “out of the comfort zone” adventures for newbies like me.  In other words – if you are thinking about training yourself, you need to be committed to the process in order to get the most out of it. 

Unveiling the Mystery

I think that we need to demystify what yoga teacher training is about. The intention to become an actual teacher is not a prerequisite. Of course it is encouraged, but many people see this as another way to deepen their physical and/or spiritual practice next to other exercises, such as jogging, martial arts, meditation and so forth.

You don’t need to be an advanced practitioner who has no problem with a handstand, a crow pose or other poses requiring twists, extensions, inversions and balancing on one limb. Also, you don’t need to be spiritual. Yoga is certainly considered a spiritual journey, but for many it is a way to calm down, relieve stress or reduce back pain. Many benefits of yoga are backed up by science.

Get your monkey under control

I also think that it could be worthwhile sharing what a greater exposure to yoga has given me. While I practice yoga, a lot happens in my mind. Yogis call this “the monkey mind”. Some thoughts feel good, and some not so good. Yoga has helped me track what I am actually thinking about as well as to observe how those thoughts translate into my energy levels. For example, when I jog,  I also realize an increased intensity in my thoughts, but the difference with yoga is that the slower paced and flowing nature of the exercise offers more space for reflecting on what is happening and getting into a dialogue with my “monkey”.

The best teachers lead you through the class very mindfully and remind you of what may be happening within you. At the beginning, this external input is important because one can get too entangled in thoughts. My overall yoga experience varies from class to class, but let me tell you this: I have never regretted coming to a class. I could have seen and felt storms and volcanoes during the practice, but in the end, it was always an extremely worthy investment of my attention, as well as time. 

But I am not alone

My friend’s feedback is similar. Lubica tells me: I associate yoga with quietness, inner peace, reconnection with myself and a mindful movement. Michaela has a similar experience: “Yoga means being in the moment, moving the focus to breathing and getting deeper into each yoga position. It is about getting exercise for mental and physical health. Yoga helps you find a balance between the two things.”

Even during the quarantine, it is possible to step up yoga practice and feel much better. My friend Krista tells me: “Connecting with teachers via Zoom has been very important for me in order to maintain a healthy body and mind especially at the beginning of the crisis. I realize that I am doing more yoga than ever, which is most probably due to the fact that I have more time on my hands and accessing online classes is easy. I can even connect with teachers worldwide.

Yoga has actually helped me to grow in this very situation and I feel strong and positive. Also, of course, I am not only referring to the physical practice, but especially to withdrawing the senses and going inwards through meditation, pranayama, Yoga Nidra… I even started oil pulling every morning :D” [note: oil pulling is a type of cleansing practice in yoga]. Impressive, Krista! 

Yoga during quarantine: how to do it?

Frankly, the quarantine doesn’t make things easier, and there are days when it curbs my own enthusiasm about any activity, not just yoga. But whenever I think of Larry, I have to start laughing. Luckily, I did not get myself kicked out of the studio and hopefully, I will pass the teacher training exam at some point this summer when restrictions get even more relaxed. But one never knows! 🙂 The training has helped me realize that I am only at the beginning of the journey, which is exciting. 

All of you reading, whatever the reason for your struggle – be it lack of motivation, absence of group classes, or your lovely children requiring attention 24/7, remember that even 10-15 minutes of practice can make a huge difference in your day. On some days, I just play a short, 8-minute yogi song and do a couple of sun salutations. The beauty of yoga is that you can pace yourself very easily and combine meditation, breathing exercises, and a couple of stretches. It really does not need to feel like hard or transformational work all the time.

Namaste everybody.

Picture: Girl in a seated position by Avrielle Suleiman, Unsplash.

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