Aaaah…yoga retreat

It’s funny – most of us are so busy, so rushed, so stressed most of the time, that it’s almost become our natural state. We don’t realise how tense and wound up we are until there’s some kind of shift that allows us, finally, to relax.

So it was for me as I drove towards Healesville for my yoga teacher trainee retreat in September. It wasn’t until the houses, snuggled cheek-to-jowl, gave way to paddocks, vineyards and lush, verdant hills that I was able to let out the breath I hadn’t even known I was holding. My shoulders dropped a few millimetres and I was, at last, able to leave the grind of the ‘burbs and my worklife behind.

The retreat took place at Maitripa, tucked away along a long and winding road through Healesville’s glorious bushland. Stepping out of the car was like stepping into another world. Everything was so quiet, so still. The only other time I’ve felt the same thing is first thing in the morning, before the rest of the world awakens.

Over the course of the weekend, we enjoyed no less than five, two-hour asana sessions, one meditation session, a discussion of the Yamas and Niyamas, a beautiful hike through the surrounding bush and a rather raucous, though good-natured, trivia night. Not to mention delicious, wholesome, vegetarian food and plenty of time to just “be”.

Our first classes of the day started at 6am, which although I had expected, was a bit nervous about. I’ve never practiced that early, and never on a completely empty stomach. The verdict? I loved it. The stillness and quiet was so much deeper, my mind more focused as it had not the time to start ticking over with distractions. And, tell me, what can be more beautiful than watching the sky lighten with sunrise whilst practicing sun salutations?

I was a little surprised that there weren’t more people who went but, at the same time, the thirteen of us that did go seemed to develop a much closer bond. It was seriously one the best things I’ve done in a long time, and it’s made me look at my practice with new eyes. How might I deepen it, and what are some small ways in which I might be able to take my practice off the mat.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realised there had been no TV, no radio, no internet. And I didn’t miss it. Admittedly, it didn’t take long for me to embrace them once again, but hopefully now it’s engaged with a bit more mindfully.

On the first day of the retreat, we were asked why we were there. Initially, I’d booked in simply because I’d never been on a retreat before, and I thought it was a great opportunity to do so, the slight scariness of going so deep into my practice tempered by the fact that I knew both the students and the teachers well, and knew that support and safety would be there every step of the way. Later, when I was just barely holding it together following a traumatic month at work, the retreat became my drishti; knowing that soon, I would be able to take abreak, recalibrate, reclaim my inner strength, and be able to return to the world, face whatever came next, with equanimity.

If you’ve never been on a yoga retreat, I can highly recommend it! This may have been my first, but it will certainly not be my last.

The teacher training journey…part 2

This week I hit the six month mark of my yoga teacher training (albeit with a two month break over Christmas). So what better time to check in and reflect on how it’s been going, and where I feel I’m headed?

In a word: intense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving every minute of it, but it feels like after the Christmas break, everything amped up a notch. Though that could just be me, seeing as I’m feeling that way about a lot of things in my life at the moment! I’m slowly learning how to be gentle with myself. Missed a practice? Just get back on the mat tomorrow. Or the day after. 🙂

Everything is starting to click and make sense. I thought I had a fairly good understanding of basic yoga philosophy before I started the course, but applying it to my practice and my life off the mat was harder. Anatomy scared the pants off me. However! I feel like I’m finally starting to get my head around it. Taking the knowledge back to my mat has been the most helpful. My asana practice has become harder – so many more alignment points to think about! – but better. My increased knowledge of physiology, combined with my recent health issues, has taught me how to tailor my yoga practice to best support my physical, emotional and mental needs. I’ve made lifestyle changes as yoga has become more prominent in my day to day life, and I’m confident that I’ll be making a few more changes before the next six months are through. Ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), and isvara pranidhana (surrender) have never been truer for me than now.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the next six months unfold, what new teachings are to be found there. I’m also starting to think more about post-graduation – because that’s going to come around before I know it! I’d love to start teaching as soon as is practicable, maybe just one evening a week to start with, plus private classes. I’m not getting too caught up it in. The future will unfold as it should.

On assisting

“Teacher trainees, hands up.”

I raised my hand, scanning the room as I did so. Nearly every square inch of practice space was occupied by a yoga mat, and still more students were streaming through the door. It was easy to predict my teacher’s next words.

“You have a choice this morning: You can stay and assist, or do the Ashtanga class downstairs.”

And that’s how I found myself, for the first time, picking my way through a maze of yoga mats, correcting students feet in Down Dog, their arms in Warrior 2, and lengthening their tailbones in Child’s pose.

It was, simultaneously, heaps of fun and an amazing learning experience. Without my own practice to focus on, I was free to observe just how different an ubiquitous asana like Down Dog can look. I learned what Bridge pose looks like for someone tighter in the back.

Our lecturers and teachers have repeatedly told us that we’ll learn so much more from assisting in class than from our own practice, and it’s absolutely true.

The most amazing, humbling moment came after the class, when I was thanked by a student. Me? No. Thank you for letting me learn, for allowing me to correct and deepen your practice. Really.

I knew I loved yoga. I knew I loved my teacher training. But being in the studio, surveying a room crammed full of students lying peacefully in Savasana, and knowing that I had played a small part in getting them there, it was all I could do not to jump up and down yelling, “Yes! This is my true passion! This is my calling! This! This! Just this!”

The teacher training journey…so far

Back in early October, I started my yoga teacher training with theAustralianYogaAcademy. With ten years of personal yoga practice under my belt, a growing restlessness gnawing at me, and a yearning to attempt to incorporate yoga into every aspect of my life, the decision to undertake teacher training was an easy one.

Two months in, I can already (at the risk of sounding hyperbolic) say that I have made one of the best decisions of my life. The discussions we’ve had around yogic philosophy and the nature of the Universe have been mind-blowing. Beginning to learn about anatomy and physiology has been invaluable for deepening my own yoga practice. But more than that, it’s the space that we’ve created for ourselves. Instead of boring my partner senseless with endless soliloquies on hyperextension, or musings on the mechanics of a jumpback, I have a space I can go to once a week, in which I am encouraged – nay, expected – to ask questions, to explore the finer details, to delve right into the beating heart of yoga.

We’re on a break at the moment until February, and I’m missing it. That said, the next two months are going to be a great time to really broaden and explore my own practice, incorporating what I’ve already learnt, as well as to seek out new learning opportunities, new teachers and classes, start getting an idea about where I want to be heading, teaching-wise, once I’m qualified.

But that’s a whole other blog post!