2020 has proven to be a challenging year for us all... A global pandemic. Intensified police brutality. George Floyd's death and the other wrongful deaths of Black people. The revocation of health protection for transgender patients. Political unrest... I can keep this list going, and the year isn't even over yet! Many will remember 2020 as one hell of a year, but if only one good thing comes out of it for me, it is the year that I finally got certified as a yoga instructor, a dream I've had for a long time.
I enrolled in Oh Wow Yoga SJ's 200hr Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) program in November 2019. When Sophia, the owner, posted the program details on the studio website, it was an immediate "yes" for me. All the conditions were perfect. The training would be held at my local studio, Oh Wow Yoga. The training dates would be on every other weekend. This allowed me to have breaks so I wouldn't be burnt out and still have some semblance of a social life on the weekends. I really liked the curriculum compared to other programs. My studio teaches Ashtanga, for example, so I was happy to see that there would be an overview of Ashtanga. Lastly, the price was right. The early bird special was $2950, which was the cheapest I found for a YTT.
My training started in February 2020. There was some general awareness of Covid but no lockdowns yet, so we were able to do our training in-person. Then in Mid-March we had the Shelter-in-Place order issued in California. This forced us to do the rest of our training online. As the weeks progressed on and cases of Covid skyrocketed, the State of California extended sheltering-in-place due to the global crisis. Phased openings began rolling out in early June, but unfortunately the county I live in closed Phase 3 indefinitely, which impacted gyms and yoga studios as a result. We had no choice but to adhere to the rules and finish our YTT online.
Despite the Covid restrictions and additional setbacks that pushed out the program one month longer than anticipated, there was never a moment that I felt like I wanted to quit. In fact, I felt a greater sense of urgency to become a yoga instructor because of Covid and the social injustices going on around us. My reason for becoming a yoga instructor was NEVER about me.
The only doubt I had was how this would affect my qualification to register for Yoga Alliance. Thanks to a customer service rep who helped address my concern, I was informed that "in light of COVID-19, Yoga Alliance has made a temporary provision to allow its schools to offer yoga teacher training programs in virtual format from March 13th until September 30th. This provision applies to teacher training programs that are already in progress, as well as those sessions that were scheduled to begin during this time frame." Whew! We good.
Key Takeaways from My 200hr YTT Experience while the world was in this crazy state of flux and transformation:
The best feelings in the world were the senses of relief and accomplishment after teaching my community class. This moment after I taught my class felt greater to me than my actual graduation. I had all these anxieties and expectations built up days before my community class. I was practicing every single day up to the event. The first 5 minutes of the class were so nerve-wrecking as I stumbled on my words, but then I eased into it and found my stride. I thought to myself, "Why am I taking myself so seriously?" I'm not striving for perfection here. The people attending my class, who were mostly my friends and family, love and support me no matter what. Everyone knows that I am a beginner teacher, and even instructors of classes I take forget their Left from their Right sometimes. So, I realized that I need to have fun with it too... as long as I keep the transitions safe and cue for proper alignment, of course.
The quality of the program at Oh Wow Yoga was exemplary, and I felt so fortunate to have really amazing teachers during the training. I think the average of experience across the board was 10+ years, and some spent time learning and teaching in India. Each teacher was definitely a subject matter expert in their respective topics. Their excellence shined; I was always in awe of their level of knowledge and skills. Aside from the book smarts, our teachers were very empathetic and inspirational. It wasn't easy to suddenly migrate to a remote teaching format right in the middle of our training. Yet not one of our teachers complained. Instead they lent their compassionate ears for listening to us whine, made accommodations, sought solutions, and continued to help us stay grounded and motivated throughout the program.
I recognized that my understanding of yoga was barely the tip of the iceberg. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I feel that yoga in the United States puts a lot of emphasis on the asanas. This isn't wrong by the way. If yoga is just a physical practice for you then by all means go for it, but there are so many levels to yoga especially according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. I enjoyed learning about mudras and want to incorporate them into my own daily meditations. The pranayama exercises fascinated me, and I will forever be conscious of which nostril is more open than the other and what that means about my nadis. My favorite part about teacher training was learning about yoga philosophy.
The beauty of modern technology is being able to collaborate with people across the world. Because I was so enthralled by yoga philosophy, I supplemented my 200hr YTT with seminars taught by Swami Mahesh, who lived in India. Because of Covid, he was able to expand his reach to students from all over the world - US, Canada, Mexico, England, France, India, Singapore, etc. I took 8-10 day seminars on Sankhya Philosophy & the Yoga Sutras, Ayurveda, Tantric Philosophy, and a deep dive on Bhagavad-Gita. While some of the content (i.e. Yoga Sutras and Ayurveda) were covered during my 200hr YTT, I understood the topics with so much more depth and clarity due to the additional online education. What's also great about technology was that I got to share my final sequence with a larger community. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, our final no longer was open to the public - understandably so. However, we still wanted to share our sequences to all of our friends, family and loved ones who've kept us motivated and cheered us on. I taught my first community class via Zoom, and it was amazing!
Be willing and able to adapt, be open-minded and surrender expectations. The use of technology was a bit of a controversial subject among my classmates. I totally get that the vibes of teaching in-studio vs an online format are different. I miss going into the studio, too, and sharing the positive, healing energy among my fellow yogis, but I would never tell someone to not workout or do yoga online just because MY preference is being in a studio. If taking a remote class is the only way a person can stay fit, then I am all for it. Online learning is effective, and one of my classmates has proven that. She learned how to do yoga by watching YouTube for a year until she decided to learn in a studio. Look at her now - she is a certified instructor!
Virtual classes may be the future of yoga for the time being. The global pandemic has triggered fear in many people. When studios reopen after phase 3 (whenever that is), it's likely that people may still not feel comfortable going back to the studio. So how else would I build clientele and develop relationships with other students during a time of social distancing if it weren't for technology? Plus, who knows when things will fully reopen especially now that Covid cases have been on the rise again. I am not going to wait for a whole year just to see what happens. I have to keep practicing on teaching in order to gain the experience and confidence as I grow as an instructor.
Lastly, near or far... online or in-person... we are the yoga community. 4 walls and a roof do not define us. We are connected like a spider web through our love for yoga.