Things I learned dropping out of yoga teacher training
If you’re a Wayward regular, you’d know I talk about control and surrender a lot around here. It’s a recurring theme right now astrologically (courtesy of the pile-up of Saturn/Pluto/south node in Capricorn), but beyond that, it’s just so pertinent in this age of over-scheduling, over-committing and burning out.
But just because I write about this stuff doesn’t mean I’m actually any good at following my own advice. Actually, I am quite rubbish at it. Never has this been more evident than since I started growing a human. While falling pregnant was pretty much the greatest (not to mention unexpected) joy in recent memory, the day-to-day doing (or more to the point, not doing, winding back and taking it easy) has been a constant struggle.
When I decided to enrol in yoga teacher training, it raised some eyebrows. I’ve learned the hard way judgement and “mummy guilt” starts long before you give birth. But I knew it was the right decision for me. Nothing lights me up like learning, so 20 days of study would actually be a chance to recharge. This is my idea of fun (nerdy but true!). I was fit, healthy and had the all-clear from two doctors and my doula that I would be safe to complete the course. I had practised throughout my pregnancy, as well as doing plenty of regular strength training. I felt excited and confident that in a few short weeks I would be certified to teach beginners.
In the lead-up, I worked around the clock so I could give myself over to the experience. I knew the course would be more than just perfecting my warrior one. I knew yoga stretched beyond the studio. But it turns out I was about to get my ass handed to me. I was about to learn what yoga is really about, and almost all of my greatest lessons happened off the mat. Oh and as the headline suggests, spoiler alert, I didn’t finish the training. So here’s what I learned as a yoga school dropout…
Movement (asana) is only one component of yoga
You’ve probably heard teachers talk about how asana (the movement element of yoga) is just one part of yogic philosophy. I got a whole new appreciation of this after a week when I got sick with a nasty cold and couldn’t physically practice. I coughed and sneezed through a day of the course before finally caving and agreeing to go to bed to recover. I was devastated. I was so worried about falling behind in the learning stakes, but little did I know, this was really just the beginning of learning what yoga is all about.
2. attachment is the enemy of contentment
“I can’t drop out, if I don’t do this now I’ll never finish it!” I sobbed down the phone to my husband on one particularly snotty day. As much as I would like to say a week in the yoga bubble had left me a picture of presence and tranquility, the truth was I was spiralling into a state of anxiety, completely fixated on my pre-baby to-do list. I was so attached to my desired outcome – finishing the course – that the realisation things might not go to plan knocked me for six. It was a tough reminder of the yogic teaching of Vairāgya – that true mastery of the mind only comes when we learn non-attachment. The challenge is to remain interested and curious in life without getting caught up in our stories or some ego-driven goals. Easier said than done!
3. Self-inquiry is essential to growth
I can’t recall the last time I’ve done proper bed rest but there’s nothing like lying in a darkened room for two days with no distractions to make you face your shadow. Swimming in the deep recesses of my flu-addled subconscious, I had no choice but to reflect on my attachments and explore another cornerstone of yogic philosophy, one of the five niyamas (the moral codes outlined in the Yoga Sutra) Svadhyaya which translates to self-inquiry. It dawned on me that while I may have been immersed in a world of wellness I was still approaching things in a very un-yoga way. My entire focus was on an end goal – ticking off lists and meeting deadlines, completely preoccupied, with the “doing” rather than just "being”.
4. compassion starts with how you treat yourself
The first of the five yamas (guidelines for being outlined in the Yoga Sutras) is Ahimsa which translates roughly to non-violence. In a literal context, it means, “don’t hurt your neighbour” but in a post-modern world of work-til-you-drop culture, it also applies to the way we prioritise our own health and wellbeing. For me, the simple act of bed rest was a totally alien concept. I doubt I would have gone to bed for days if I had been at home (something I’m not proud of). But here I was with no choice but to listen to my body and stop. When I arrived at the training over a week earlier, I had never expected the most yogic thing I could do would be to stay horizontal rather than get up early and hit the mat.
5. struggling for control is futile
After a few days in bed I felt well enough to return to the training. But my body had other ideas. After my first day back in the studio I suffered complications with the pregnancy and had to rush to hospital. Any remaining hopes of completing the course left my mind. Now I was facing the prospect of going into labour, alone in a strange place, at 27 weeks. Isvara Pranidana is another niyama which translates to “surrendering to the divine”. I’ll never forget the 40-minute transfer from Byron to Tweed hospital. While I was afraid for what may lie ahead, I also felt a tremendous sense of calm as I truly surrendered to what was happening and trusted my body and baby would know what to do. I may not leave Byron a yoga teacher, but my week of training would leave me forever changed.
6. community is a key ingredient to happiness
After spending several days in hospital I was finally given the all-clear to fly home to Sydney. Despite assurances from my doctors that the training had nothing to do with my dramatic departure, I’ve still faced some unpleasant judgement (hooray for mum-to-be guilt!). But the thing that’s kept me going has been the love and support I’ve felt from community. From my fellow students at the course, from friends and family who have showed up offering support without expectation. A few weeks later, I am still on bed rest with a persistent viral infection I just can’t seem to shake and so my lesson in surrender continues… I guess this is what yoga, and parenthood is really all about.