before you become a teacher, you must first become a student.
My yoga journey started a long, long time ago.
The room was dark. Soft bird noises played. My sister and I had our yoga mats side by side; we sat cross-legged in a circle with our knees almost touching.
“Let’s hold hands,” the instructor said softly. My 8-year-old self didn’t really want to hold hands with anyone other than myself, but I grabbed the stranger’s hand on the other side of me.
“Exhale through your nose.”
Our dad works for a well-known pharmaceutical company with great corporate benefits, so every Sunday, we would head to hip hop class then yoga class at his company gym.
My favorite part was always savasana, the final rest at the end, because the teacher would come around with bolsters and blankets and I felt more relaxed than I had ever been.
But each passing Sunday, as I found I could sit cross-legged and lift my entire body up with my hands, or as I could do a handstand unsupported, I began to love the other aspects of yoga equally as much. I was good at it, especially since I was doing gymnastics at the same time.
High school started.
I didn’t have time for “kiddie” yoga classes anymore, not with AP classes, leadership positions, and competitive swimming. My yoga “practice” was limited to us doing cat, cow, and down dog during our dryland workouts before swim practice (we got a lot of weird looks from everyone else at school).
Even as I understood the importance of yoga as it connected to all other sports, I never thought I had time for it.
For once, not overwhelmed with a heavy course load, I started going to yoga classes again, 4x a week, on top of daily swim practices and running.
Standing in the top room of the Squashbusters building, the sun streaming in through wide windows, I found peace. I began to settle into my life in a new city, 3000 miles away from home.
I began boxing.
Yoga again fell by the wayside. It was always something to supplement my other workouts. I saw it as “stretch time,” so I never prioritized it.
I tried some other yoga classes at school, but my thought was always: “I can teach this better.”
I tried 90 minute Bikram classes during spring break, but I didn’t love the lack of a flow.
The first time I fell in love with yoga again, it was at a CorePower Yoga in Westlake Village.
I was back home for the summer, and was intrigued by the first free week. I had begun doing yoga again as I was training for a half marathon and wanted to stretch out as much as possible.
I took my first class, a C2, and had never felt so humbled or passionate. It’s a heated, vinyasa-style class, with a “break” for 3–5 minutes core. It was everything I had been searching for.
There weren’t many accessible locations in Boston, so I used it as a “treat.” I knew that after going to CorePower, my yoga experience would never be the same.
It wasn’t about loving the way I looked (running, not yoga, taught me to truly love my body). It wasn’t about “stretching it out” anymore.
It was, at such a tumultuous time in my life, about finding time for myself.
About respecting myself enough to make it to my mat, week after week.
About discovering peace, discovering love, inhaling positivity and exhaling light.
But I started working full time the fall after graduation, and I defaulted to what I knew: boxing.
Yoga was something I couldn’t motivate myself to do after a long day. It was “not enough of a workout” after sitting (or standing) at a desk for 8+ hours a day. I felt obligated to take as many classes as I could; as a boxing instructor, I felt like a fraud if I didn’t keep up my own workouts there.
I had, for years, toyed with the idea of doing yoga teacher training. Something always held me back.
At first, it was the money. Before I began making my own money, my dad balked at the idea of paying $1000+ for a certificate.
Then it was my insecurity. Who was I to think I could instruct others to do yoga when I couldn’t do some poses, like a forearm stand, myself?
Then it was the time. Sometimes I didn’t even have to think, to breathe; why should I add another thing to my plate?
I decided it was time to stop pushing my dreams further and further away. I was still hesitant, but I signed up for Yoga Sculpt Teacher Training in March 2018.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” my dad asked me. “You make more teaching boxing.”
One thing I’ve begun to realize, though, is that it’s not all about the money.
This was the one thing I didn’t overthink.
Yoga was not something I wanted to think about at the moment. I’m sure the studio managers thought I had disappeared from the face of the earth.
When we began teaching our first parts of class, began learning to count on the beat, began learning the sequence that would become our lives for the next 5 weeks, I was overwhelmed. Insecure.
I had thought my experience teaching boxing would give me a leg up, but there were a lot of bad habits I had picked up from teaching without even noticing.
But I found what it felt like to be a student again…
…something I missed dearly. I’m all about pushing myself out of my comfort zones, and this was the most uncomfortable thing I had done in a long, long time.
As I learned about the mental blocks in our required reading, I realized the true reasons why I de-prioritized yoga recently.
It wasn’t about time. It was about confidence. About competition.
I no longer allowed my mind to stay within the four corners of my mat. I had begun to get angry at myself, a former gymnast, at not being able to do a handstand or even a headstand.
I was frustrated because I had been able to do a chinstand earlier in the summer and I no longer could. It felt like I was going backwards.
I was disappointed because I couldn’t pick up the 10 and 12 lb weights during Yoga Sculpt and had to use 8’s and 10’s.
But the beautiful thing about yoga is that there is no “winning” at yoga.
You don’t “win” when the you can do the most complicated pose.
You don’t “win” when you’re the most flexible.
You don’t “win” when the instructor calls your name.
You don’t “win” when the you take the most yoga classes.
The beautiful thing about yoga is that it is always there for you whenever you need it.
I know I can return to it, like an old friend, my body reaching for the poses with aching familiarity.
The beautiful thing about yoga is that you take what you need out of it.
You can stay in child’s pose for the entire class if you want. You can take the most advanced variations if you want.
Your practice is yours, and yours alone. There is no “right” or “wrong,” only what your body needs.
Taking another variation is not the “easy way out.” It’s not “giving up.” It’s not “weakness.”
The beautiful thing about yoga is that it will always challenge me.
Yoga is not “easy.” There is mental challenge, there is physical challenge. There are new poses, ways to get deeper into familiar poses; always ways to get uncomfortable.
We are all beginners. We are all students. We all grow together.
That’s a scary barrier for a lot of people — “I’m not flexible enough,” “I’m going to be embarrassed,” “I don’t know any of the poses,” “I’ve never done yoga before…”
All of which understandable. But yoga is accessible to everyone. I learned, as an instructor, that our job is to ensure our students’ safety and to give them an enjoyable workout.
We are here to support you, to guide you, and to grow right alongside you.
As I progressed through teacher training, I found myself regaining confidence.
I knew there were things I needed to work on (who knew I could be so off-beat sometimes?); I knew there were things I was good at.
But more importantly, as I progressed through training, I loved watching my fellow teachers-in-training grow by leaps and bounds.
We found our voices. We found our teaching style. We sweat together, laughed together, learned together.
We felt what it was like to stand in front of a room of 30+ people and project our voice out. Felt what it was like to adjust a student.
We had a certain amount of classes we had to take to get our Yoga Sculpt graduation certificate, but I found that I didn’t mind it at all.
I finished all the required classes, and more.
Because once I took out the competition aspect, once I allowed myself to tell myself “you are enough,” it made all the difference in the world.
We all have our different yoga stories.
Some of us have found healing through yoga.
Some of us have found peace.
Some of us have found gratitude.
Many of us have found all of the above and more.
Almost 2 months later, I am officially “graduated.”
I had originally thought of training as something I “had” to do in order to get a certificate.
But to be honest, holding my certificate… it’s just a piece of paper.
Yes, it means I can theoretically teach at studios. Yes, it means I’ve made it through training.
But more important are the hours I spent in the back of yoga studios, watching more seasoned teachers and taking notes.
More important are the late nights I spent with my fellow trainees learning about anatomy, about positive encouragement, about giving our students the best experience.
More important is getting up in front of friendly faces and strangers alike and feeling the words you say resonate through your very bones.
More important are the friendships I’ve built, the people I’ve met, the endless well of positivity that comes from every single person the yoga space.
No one’s yoga journey is ever over.
The room is dark. Soft Billie Eilish is playing. My co-teachers and I have our mats side by side; I sit cross-legged, so close our knees are almost touching.
“Let’s end class like we started,” I say. “Exhale all the stale air from your lungs.”
“We bring our thumbs to our third eye’s center. Our seat of intuition. The light, the love, the teacher in me is so, so grateful to have spent the last hour with each and every one of you.”
“With that, we bow forward and say, ‘Namaste.’”
“Namaste,” I say softly.
“Namaste,” the class echoes.
I bow forward, my eyes closed. Exhaling all the gratitude, happiness, and light I have built within me over the past hour, over the past 8 weeks I’ve spent with these girls.
I am home.