I started going to yoga classes when I was a sophomore in college. This was in 1995, so the yoga craze had not yet begun. I didn’t know much about yoga, but liked the idea of it. Back then I was more open to “new age” sorts of things and in my mind, yoga fit that.
My college yoga classes took place in a dance studio at my university. It was my first experience with entering a room and immediately removing my shoes. I recall finding it to be a little strange. The room was long, skinny, and brightly lit. Cushioned gym mats lined the floor from wall to wall. We practiced our yoga on these gym mats; I did not know what a yoga mat was until years later.
My first yoga classes were a semester-long journey at the beginner level. I enjoyed the classes so much that I signed up for the intermediate class the next semester. After that, I began advanced classes. In my college mind, that was the proper progression. It was like taking Yoga 101, followed by Yoga 201, followed by Yoga 301. It did not occur to me that I needed to master one level before moving on to the next. Apparently, it also did not occur to my yoga teacher that she should mention this.
One day after my advanced yoga class, I decided to speak with the teacher about a study abroad program I was hoping to do. To get into the program, we needed a university faculty or staff member to write us a letter of reference. As my yoga teacher was the staff member I had spent the most time with, I decided to ask her.
This decision went all wrong. My yoga teacher began to tell me how terrible I was at yoga. How she had not noticed until that day how bad my technique was and how overall, I was horrible at yoga. I held it together until I was out of the dance studio, then burst into tears. It did not occur to me that it was really the fault of the teacher for not properly guiding me. All I knew was that I had been told I sucked at something I liked and had been working hard at. For my 19-year-old self, this was heartbreaking.
I stopped going to yoga after that. Instead of proving my teacher wrong and working harder, I gave up. My teacher noticed my absence in class. She called me and apologized about how she had mishandled that situation. The phone call did not help. I did not go back to yoga for years.
It was three years before I decided to try yoga again. I was living in a new city and looking for things to do. I saw a flyer for an introduction to yoga seminar. The seminar was taking place near my house, so I decided to check it out. I remember enjoying the experience (and meeting a yoga mat for the first time), but did not pursue classes. I’m not sure why I did not decide to start practicing again. I just didn’t.
It was another couple years until I decided to try yoga again. A co-worker and I decided to try out a local yoga studio. I really enjoyed my experience at the studio and began going to classes sporadically. It wasn’t until my workplace began offering yoga classes after work that I began to take yoga seriously.
Only a few of my co-workers were interested in the yoga classes. Once a week after work, a handful of us would gather in one of the conference rooms. A private yoga instructor would come in and take us through basic poses. Because there were not many people, I was able to get a lot of individual attention from the instructor. It was during this time that I began to love yoga and improve my skills.
When I left that workplace, I began to attend yoga classes at a couple different studios. I tried to get to at least one a week. Two classes if my schedule would allow it. I was able to keep this up for a few years. My yoga began to improve dramatically.
When I got laid off from my position as a marketing manager, I decided to pursue a career in fitness. I hadn’t liked marketing and fitness was something I was passionate about. I got a job at a local gym and began studying for my certification exams. I quickly passed the exams and began building my personal training business.
At the gym where I work, all the personal trainers must declare a specialty. It’s kind of like choosing your major in college. The obvious choice for me was yoga. I began to look into certification programs. It seemed that in yoga teacher training, you can do your certification fast or you can do it right. To get myself started, I decided to do it fast.
I enrolled in a weekend-long, yoga teacher training course. The course was produced by a company specializing in teaching yoga in gyms. It was supposed to give you the foundation to teach in an environment where you can’t control things the same way you can in a yoga studio. In a gym, you generally have no control over temperature, no yoga props, and it is often noisy. This course was meant to get your around those obstacles and make yoga more “friendly” to gym-goers. While I initially thought that was a great approach to yoga, I definitely saw that this was a valid issue to address.
I arrived at my weekend training with an open mind. The course began with everyone explaining why they had decided to take the course. Many people had emotional reasons for being there. One woman even cried. I was there because I enjoyed the physical process of yoga and I needed to fulfill the “specialty” requirements of my job. This immediately made me feel out of place.
The weekend continued with an emotional slant. Twice a day, we had “sharing circles.” This was where we sat knee-to-knee in a circle and talked about our feelings. In some of them, we were even asked to hold hands. I’m not one to openly share my innermost thoughts with strangers, so I did not like those sharing circles. I failed to see what the sharing had to do with yoga.
Overall, the weekend of teacher training was not great. I learned a little about the sequence of postures and common mistakes, but did not come away feeling like a confident yoga teacher. I’m now going to go back and do my teacher training the right way, in a 300 hour registered yoga teacher training. This scares me a little bit, as it is a huge commitment of time and money, but I want to be the best yoga teacher I can. I don’t want anyone to have the experience I did in college, where I was made to feel inept and turn away from yoga.
After 14 years of going to yoga on and off, I’m now in it for the long haul. The experience is what you make of it, not what one teacher or school of thought tells you.