8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life

Little know fact about me: I’m actually a certified yoga teacher.

Why don’t you know that? Well, I did my training over a year ago… but I’ve written exactly zero posts about the experience.

WTF, right?

But to be honest, that month-long training in Tzununa, Guatemala was such a mindfuck (in a good way), I don’t even really know where to start.

Yoga Teacher Training Tzununa
Tzununa, Guatemala

I expected to be different in exactly ONE way after my yoga teacher training: I’d have Yoga Alliance certification to teach yoga. I thought I’d walk away from the training with a certificate… and maybe (fingers crossed!!) an especially svelte yoga body.

I thought I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, so I ordered a foldable travel yoga mat and some organic bug spray, packed my backpack, and set off to Tzununa, Guatemala for a month.

While I did successfully complete teacher training, pass the required test, and receive my perfectly embossed certificate (and lose a few lbs while I was at it)… I felt like a very different person than when I started, in almost countless ways. The transformation was so huge and life-altering, it even set me down a different career path.

Yoga Teacher Training Tzununa Guatemala
receiving my certification in the final ceremony

I’ll try, in this list, to detail the most describable ways that undergoing yoga teacher training changed my life… but know that I’m not even scraping the surface. It’s truly something you need to do to truly understand all the ways that you could change.

Are you ready for this bundle of vulnerability? Here ya go…

1. I got in touch with my “witness consciousness.”

Yoga Teacher Training Tzununa

I’ve been known to be a stress mess. I get overly attached to my anxiety, mentally building up my worries to the point of physical manifestation: panic attacks, nausea, and trouble sleeping. I’m also overly emotional and sensitive (in general). Sometimes when especially stressed I “freak out” with especially excessive emotionality, either anger and/or crying, or I shut down completely.

Rather than continuing to mix up my emotions and myself, yoga teacher training (and the shit ton of meditation we did) has helped me recognize my witness consciousness, or to be an observer of my own life and especially my emotions. For me, this means that I’m able to see my emotions from a calm, outside perspective, and detach from them SO much better. I can take a step back and say, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Also, instead of saying “I am [stressed/worried/upset/anxious]”, I’m working on saying “I feel [stressed/worried/upset/anxious]” which helps me further detach and move back.

While it’s definitely a work in progress, I am still doing so much better at trying to see my worries and stress from an outside (and more realistic) perspective. This helps me be a more authentic “me”, while also being emotionally healthier, and just feeling so much better. Release the stress!

2. I recognized some vices.

Mojito
this photo is NOT from teacher training (it’s actually from the Galapagos Islands)

I like to drink. A lot. Sometimes I feel like it’s the one thing that really helps me relax, and let go of my (aforementioned) stresses. Because of this, I enjoy drinking both as a celebration (the “social lubrication” lets me let go even more), and when I’m not feeling so great.

But a month without drinking helped remind me of what an escape alcohol is… and that isn’t a good thing. When I wake up in the morning, all the same problems are still there, only now they’re worse because I’ve got a pinching headache and maybe even nausea. Because the truth is, when I drink to escape (or to celebrate, or for any reason), it’s really hard for me to stop at one drink. I drink a bottle (or two) of wine. I down a handful of strong vodka and sodas. I do alllll the tequila shots.

When I have a problem or an issue and I don’t drink (or in the case of YTT: I can’t drink), I’m forced to confront and work on this issue, instead of drowning it in wine.

I have been working on this issue by looking at the “why” at the root of the issue instead of just the symptom. Instead of escaping into alcohol or food, I’ve been trying to take a step back and look at my motivations and feelings at the time of the craving, even though I’ll admit: it’s uncomfortable as hell. It’s not fun, at all, to acknowledge, “I doubt my abilities and my worth, so I’m drinking so I don’t have to think about it and can just exist” and then work on figuring out why I doubt my abilities and worth.

3. I acknowledged my attachment to physical appearance.

8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life
post YTT: rocking my glasses, no makeup, and form-fitting clothes in public with my new friends from training

When I was in elementary school, I was teased. I had glasses, and crooked teeth, and a big chicken pox scar above my eyebrow. In middle school, it got even worse: horrible cystic acne. I would pray every night for God to make me pretty (that feels so shallow admitting now) and I felt so bad about myself all the time. My mom did all she could to combat my bad genetics: contact lenses, braces, and Accutane (though the scar remained) which helped, a bit… but my secret obsession with my unattractiveness faded without disappearing.

As an adult, I worry a LOT about my appearance (especially my weight and my face), but even more about how other people perceive me in general. I feel really socially self-conscious, and berate myself later for stupid things I’ve said or did.

During YTT, I went over a month without wearing makeup or even shaving my legs, a completely freeing and awesome experience. I meditated a lot on finding my value in other areas of life, and caring less about what other people think as long as I’m being true to myself.

After YTT, I’ve started going more days without makeup. I’ve begun wearing my glasses again. I take photos and videos of myself for the blog when I’m just looking “normal”, because I am just normal. I don’t want to be one of those female bloggers who gets on a full face and makeup and changes into an evening dress at the end of a hike to look better for the ‘gram. I want to be me, just like I want you to be you.

4. I rediscovered spirituality.

8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life
sharing my spirituality for my final presentation

I have a long and very complicated history with spirituality, which I went into a bit on this Instagram post.

As an adult, I’ve felt both an appreciation for and a repulsion from religion. I appreciate the artwork, the tradition, the celebration, and the reverence… but it was hard for me to get into, myself.

While living in Thailand, I built an altar in my apartment in front of which I would meditate and I loved my daily practice. In Bangkok, I felt comfortable at the temples and at home. But since leaving, I’ve felt awkward again in finding a connection to my own spiritual practice.

My YTT had a focus on bhakti yoga, or the practice of loving devotion towards personal gods. This was expressed through daily chanting, especially weekend kirtans. At first, I felt very resistant, as chanting has never been part of my personal practice, and I’m an atheistic Buddhist. However, as the days progressed, I allowed myself to open up in appreciation and admiration for a centuries-old spiritual tradition.

In turn, this opening up to the practice of bhakti yoga allowed me to realize that I do resonate deeply with the idea of devotion as a spiritual practice. However, I am devoted to people (and animals), rather than to personal gods. Perhaps my own spiritual path is my open and vulnerable heart, and love for others. For me, my spiritual practice is not performed in a church. I experience spirituality by loving others.

I have also been very uncomfortable discussing Buddhism with non-Buddhists, as I’ve experienced a lot of backlash from Christian friends and acquaintances. I took a leap of faith, and for my final presentation of a topic related to yoga, I explained how Buddhism and yoga are related… and I left space for a question and answer session. I was shocked by how curious and kind everyone was, and it was quite successful.

5. I made so many new and inspiring friends.

yoga teacher training in Tzununa, Guatemala

While the YTT was mainly American women, there were a few other European nationalities (and a few guys) present as well. We ranged in age from high school graduates to retirees, came from a huge variety of professions and backgrounds, and I learned so much from the diversity of opinions, personalities, and experiences.

8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life
with B in Mexico City

I’ve stayed in touch with a few of the other trainees, one of whom I’ve already seen twice since training: once in Mexico City and once when she came to dog sit for me. Yay for new friends!

I also realized the importance of friendship in my life, and how isolating my lifestyle (moving across the city or country if not across the world every year or so) has been and how I’ve neglected my friendships. I’m making a more dedicated effort to see friends regularly and spend time with them when it’s possible, especially old friends.

6. I realized I am what I eat.

8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life

While I’ve been a vegetarian for almost two decades and well over half my life, I’ve cycled in and out of veganism, in and out of healthy eating, and up and down in terms of my weight.

I’ve struggled with binge-eating and starvation in my adult years. As a former “fitness” junkie, I had myself on a very strict, very low calorie regulated eating plan combined with intense hours of exercise every day. But I would binge on junk food (or bread, or cheese) in moments of “weakness” and sadness, and then spend the next days punishing myself. I attached a lot of self-worth to my appearance, especially my weight.

Whenever the intense exercising and restriction stopped (whether due to a long work trip, or when I moved to Bangkok or to Rio de Janeiro), I gained between 20-30 pounds, which is a LOT on a 5’2″ frame. And I would hate myself for it. Eating felt like a test and I was failing. I thought constantly about food and exercise, and hated myself for it.

YTT broke the cycle. Instead of looking at food as a reward, I began to see it as fuel. I spent the entire month at the ashram vegan, and additive and alcohol free, and I’ve honestly never felt better, healthier, and more alive in my entire life. It helped that the food was delicious!

When I left, I no longer had the same obsession with food. It just naturally slipped away, and for the first time in my adult life I can finally say that I have a healthy relationship with what I put in my body, and that it’s all about balance. I’m no longer counting calories, nor am I binging and then restricting. I feel great!

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve recognized alcohol as a problem substance for me. I’m trying to reincorporate the healthier aspects of my YTT into my life, slowly and with patience and kindness for myself. I love wine (and mezcal!) but I want to enjoy them in moderation more than in desperation.

7. I felt the importance of connection in my life.

Yoga Teacher Training Mahadevi Ashram Tzununa Guatemala5
where the silence happened

I’ve always wanted to do a silent retreat. Or so I though. Part of the YTT involved a 3 day silent retreat, and it was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Not only were all participants required to be silent, nonverbal communication was banned as well. I couldn’t even look or smile at any of my new friends.

This felt devastating to me. Even the first hour felt like torture, and I literally counted down the days.

I’m not saying it wasn’t an incredibly valuable experience, because it definitely was. I came to many of these realizations during meditation, and the isolation allowed for some very deep thinking without external inputs.

Perhaps the most important realization that the silence brought to me, though, was the importance that connection has for me. I’m a helper and an empath. Communicating and connecting with people is crucial to who I am and who I want to be.

 

8. I decided to try a new career path.

8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life
the shala during a break in sessions

It was YTT that made me realize that if I had to sum up all my ultimate values in life, the word would be connection.

With the silent retreat, I had a lot of time to reflect on my life and myself. I realized that what I enjoy most in life, and what I feel most skilled at, is helping people. My passion for people and connection is at the root of who I am.

So, I decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree, something my lovely and supportive husband had been encouraging for a while.

Even with travel blogging, which I love, my favorite aspects come back to connection: hearing from readers, meeting up with other bloggers (and sometimes readers when able), sharing the stories of the people I meet, and being able to help and encourage others to live and travel abroad and explore their dreams.

I think the most efficient path for me to achieve this — helping — is through becoming licensed as a therapist. Now, I love giving advice on my travel blog, and I love “counseling” friends in their time of need, but I could be infinitely more helpful with proper training.

As I write this, I’m almost a year in to one of the best decisions of my life: I’m in a master’s degree program on my path to becoming a licensed professional clinical counselor through the state of California. I won’t stop blogging, and I hope that my degree will help me become more helpful to you in the future!

In my future practice, I plan to work with expats and international families, counseling people who live abroad (or want to), helping with the unique issues involved with existing in a culture that you weren’t born into along with topics that transcend borders. I hope to incorporate my YTT and meditation background to work with interested clients in developing holistic mental and physical wellness treatment plans that work with the whole, interconnected self.


Interested in yoga teacher training? I’ll be publishing a new post about Yoga Teacher Training every Monday throughout November and December. Missed a few? Check here.


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   8 Ways Yoga Teacher Training Changed My Life

Would you ever go to Yoga Teacher Training? What would you hope to change or work on?

2 Comments

  1. November 13, 2017 / 12:35 am

    This is an amazing post! I’m going to YTT in India next May and I can’t wait. I also had a similar (but worse) problem with alcohol before getting sober over a year ago. Now I’ve transferred a lot of my addictive issues to food and am struggling with body image issues periodically. I really need to start seeing food as “fuel” like you did through your YTT!

    • November 13, 2017 / 8:41 am

      Good for you going sober! <3

      I think you will really love YTT. I felt like, aside from seeing food as fuel, I also got more in touch with and aware of my body than I'd ever been before (an unavoidable result of doing hours of yoga a day, I think!) which really helped me in sooooo many ways.

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