Since my very first yoga class at a local gym around 13 years ago, I have been pretty hooked. Unlike running or weight lifting, the physical side of practicing yoga has been something that I return to on the reg. I can go months without stepping foot on a treadmill but god knows what my mind would be like if I didn’t meditate! Pranayama and meditation has truly changed my life, I have been through a lot in my 31 years, some would argue too much, but through balancing my thoughts and deep reflection, I’ve been able to weather most storms. GULPS AND TAKES DEEP BREATH.
When I lived in Bali I practiced yoga more than ever – mainly because I had the time and the setting was idyllic. I would practice from home and would attend at least one local class a week and if I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, would take myself off to Ubud and practice intensely all weekend – always feeling way happier and more content afterwards.
If you read my last blog post you would have seen I was pretty devastated last June/July, it was a proper rock bottom ‘why me?’ situation that I found myself in and no amount of asana or meditation could calm me down. But after that trip to Bali, I eventually started to see the silver lining, and for the first time in my life I had a little bit of money due the pay-out I received from my former employer to keep shtum about the fucked up situation, and I had time! TIME!!! So, I packed up my stuff, moved back to England and enrolled on a teacher training course in Greece. Sun, sea, sand, yoga, and Thai massage – what could be better to heal me right?
Now, I am writing this having survived the course so I am now a registered yoga teacher and have a couple of regular classes and a few private clients and I love it but I remember just how overwhelming and intense the experience was. And thanks to my amazing teacher, Jonni-Lyn Friel, I kept a journal and I would like to tell you about it.
Yoga teacher training courses are not for the weak! The schedule alone can probably break people; you are awoken at 6am with a chant, I was in a dorm so we had one tiny bathroom (one toilet, one sink, one – usually cold – shower) between six people, so you had to queue to wee and brush your teeth before running upstairs to start pranayama, meditation and asana practice at 6.30am. This was a two hour session which went one of two ways – amazing or fucking dreadful. This of course, was nothing to do with the classes themselves but how you woke up feeling that day and what was going on in your head. There was nothing that could be done by halves – you felt it all and you felt it deeply, all day, every day. So, for example, if you’d not slept due to a snorer in the dorm or wild, vivid dreams then you would either hate every second until savasana (then you would feel amazing) or you would somehow feel light and awake and that bad sleep would be a thing of the past. That’s the power of yoga.
I am naturally kaphic (lethargic, heavy, earthy), always have been, always will be, sleeping is my favourite exercise and I need a lot of it! So this training definitely tested my patience when it came to my beloved pastime. After the two hour hardcore practice, we all made and ate a lovely breakfast together, cleaned up (karma yoga), showered, changed and then studied under the shade of huge palm trees on our private lawn from 11am – 1pm or 2pm depending on the topic and if you’d opted to learn Thai massage.
These sessions were epic on every level, when I said I wanted to deepen my practice, I never thought it would go this deep! Philosophy, as you can imagine, is intense, it stirs up emotions, and of course, causes lots of debates – we are only humans at the end of the day. It was this side of the training that really opened my eyes as to what yoga actually means and all of those people I had overheard in Ubud talking about being a “yogi”, a vegan, being of service, chakras, mantras, reading energies etc. all started to make sense (sorry for inwardly judging you guys).
Our other fantastic teacher was the almighty Todd Tesen, as a trained actor he managed to stimulate our minds for the entire duration; telling us ancient tales of gods and goddesses, helping us break down Sanskrit, teaching us chants that I still recite to this day. I could write a book about his love, compassion and wisdom, if you ever get a chance to practice with him please, please, please take it!
Back to the training – as I mentioned – I love sleep so I would usually go for a nap straight after philosophy while the rest of the kula (family) made a communal lunch – one of the best things of living with 17-20 people is the love you feel and send out and a lot of that was through food.
We then had another three hour class which began at 4pm and this would vary from more asana practice to teaching methods, to Thai massage, to more philosophy – this was probably the hardest as the wind would die down, the sun would be setting, it was stuffy, everyone had already absorbed so much information and worked their bodies that the energy would be low. You will get through it though – do not give up. And, what I think helped us all through that last class was we knew dinner was coming!!! Jonni-Lyn’s dear husband was an amazing chef and would cook us up gorgeous Mediterranean vegetarian dishes that would be wolfed down by all.
Following dinner, you could study, practice, swim, sleep or simply natter with the kula – one night we all burst into song (Pocahontas – Colours of the Wind) another we made homemade facemasks with Greek yoghurt and cucumber, it’s truly magical what can occur without much contact with the outside world or anything or anyone else to worry about. You soon forget that you’re unemployed and pretty penniless and have no life plan – all that matters is what is happening in that moment, it makes you present and in that presence you find contentment. You may not know it at the time but you are at peace – you are happy.
Of course, it’s not rosy 24/7 – things got tough for me in the final week, I hadn’t told anyone what had happened with my job in Australia and how broken I was, and in that final week my toughness evaporated and I was naked with vulnerability. I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t stop sobbing. By this point, most of the kula had shared their stories and with that, came a lot of emotion. I think I was the last to crack.
I am possibly the most stubborn person you will ever know; once my mind is made up there is NO changing it (sorry family and friends) and like the stubborn bull I am, I wanted to lie in bed and wallow in self-pity and shame. But that day something amazing happened. Jonni, through her patience, love and empathy miraculously managed to get me up and out of my sweaty and salty-with-tears PJs and ushered us all to the beach at around 6.30am.
The water was freezing at that time of day so stepping into it made me tune into my body intensely and almost ignore all the negativity that was coursing through my brain. Everyone held hands in silence, and Jonni started to chant. It was a chant none of us knew but somehow, we picked up the rhythm and went for it. As the sun rose and the chant was ringing from all of us, I felt loved, unconditionally, it was perfect and reminded me of home and my family. I felt drained but freer from the past. It didn’t stop there either – Jonni made us pick up a stone, think of a situation that was no longer serving us and throw the stone into the ocean with a loud ‘namaha’. Once it plops in, that’s it; you are no longer weighed down. It feels miraculous, and if you are going through something, I seriously suggest the stone technique!
Following that remarkable day, the rest came easy – you went through the same routine but then planned to teach your very first yoga class (for most of us anyway), and that I could handle. In saying that, I don’t think I have ever felt as nervous as I did when I started my chant sitting in the ‘teachers seat’ but wow – once you forget where you are and that you’re being monitored, it’s such a thrilling experience – a thrill that I still feel after each and every class I teach.
My last entry into my yoga journal was this (I would have uploaded a picture but my handwriting is appalling).
‘I have lived an extraordinary life. I have done everything I have wanted to do. What do you do when you finish your bucket list? The answer (for me) was not to create a new one but rather be content with what I have now and who I am now. Being content in this present moment brings me so much joy and elation that I could sing it from a mountain top. My eyes have been opened and I’ll try my hardest every second of every day to stay awake; to experience the amazement of life, to not dwell on the past which cannot be changed and to not worry about the future that is always uncertain. I am…’
I left Greece feeling invigorated, curious, exhausted, supremely grateful, happy, and sad all at the same time. I knew a little bit more about what my soul wanted and that was good enough for me.
If you are thinking of doing a yoga teaching training course I cannot recommend Namaha Yoga School enough. Jonni and Todd, thank you, thank you, thank you!
It’s not for the fainthearted but I promise you, you will come away from it a more balanced, more present, a more compassionate human being and it will change your life forever.