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Lessons Learned From My Yoga Teacher Training in Bali

I feel excited and a little anxious. The yoga shala is located in the middle of a beautiful jungle-like garden. As I enter the room where I will be training for the next 24 days I see a beautiful flower mandala (a geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism) on the floor.

The smell is lovely. Eight green mats with purple bolsters are laid out in a circle around the mandala. Roosters are singing outside, lizards are dancing on the shala’s wooden walls. I am in Bali. I breathe that in.

I guess that’s how a true yoga shala looks and feels like. The setup makes me feel warm and welcome. I don’t know what’s going to happen next but I know I will be safe.

I choose the mat that will give me the most space to feel protected and sit down. I am checking out the other girls sitting on the mats looking as lost as myself.

Why are they here? What brought them here? What are their stories?

I feel like I am probably the worst prepared for this experience out of all of them. They all look like real yoga girls wearing colorful yoga pants and bras. They all look very fit and sure.

Why am I here? I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t belong here. I probably don’t even deserve this.

The teacher comes in and introduces herself as Unieng and asks us to hold hands as we sit down in a circle. She tells us that everything happens for a reason. That we have chosen this place, this time and this group and we are all here to learn.

I know what she means. I believe in it too.

She distributes seven sticky notes and pens and asks us to write down our intentions for the course and place them into the glass jar in the middle of the mandala. She will burn them and let them flow in the river following a Hindu tradition.

I think it’s pretty cool. I write down something very vague and general like “I want to connect deeper to myself and learn about yoga.”

Seven girls from seven different countries. We quickly introduce ourselves and explain why are we here. And so the training begins.

Course Schedule

First day is easy. We go through the program schedule, the weekly assignments, the rules of no-gossip, teacher-student boundaries and punctuality. There will be a final written exam but we shouldn’t worry about it too much if we are present at all classes and listen carefully.

(I think back to my conversation with Felicia and can’t believe I am actually doing this training.)

Teacher Unieng tells us that at some point during the course we will be triggered by each other, her or any other external circumstances. It will get emotional, it will get ugly at times and we will get vulnerable.

I’m not afraid. Bring it on.

She explains that we are to practice noble silence in the mornings before our daily 7.30 AM meditation. No talking, no listening to music, no reading. Wake up, be silent. No external distractions. Time to start practicing Pratyahara (fifth limb of Yoga: internalization of the senses.)

Unieng continues explaining our daily course schedule:

7:30   —   8:00 Meditation 
8:00   —   8:30 Pranayama (breathing exercises) 
8:30   —   9:30 Asana practice (physical yoga) 
9:30   —   10:30 Breakfast at the venue
10:30   —  12:30 Theory 
12:30   —  14:30 Lunch break 
14:30   —  16:30 Theory or Workshop
16:30   —  17:30 Asana practice (physical yoga) 

Every day. Monday to Friday. Saturday is a half-day.

Jeez, that’s intense.

Expectations

I thought those who pursue a yoga teacher training are two things:

  1. Personal growth junkies
  2. Advanced asana practitioners

I was wrong.

The 200-hour yoga teacher training is a foundational course for ANYONE who wants to deepen their knowledge of yoga. You don’t have to be “advanced,” you don’t have to know about the chakras system, your ego and your monkey mind, the practice of pranayama or Patanjali Yoga Sutras. You don’t even have to properly do any of the yoga poses or be able to twist yourself into a pretzel.

You might know it all but it’s not a requirement. In fact, what you know is probably wrong. (There is an application form you need to fill when you apply for the training. It asks you basic questions about the poses you are able to do and also about your motivation for training. So there are some very basic pre-qualifications.)

We are where we’re at.

It is what it is.

This, too, shall pass.

I would like to tattoo at least one of these phrases on the inside of my right arm. If I have taken anything from this training, it was really these three phrases.

So simple yet so powerful. So short yet so deep. Read it again. Slowly.

We are where we’re at.

It is what it is.

This, too, shall pass.

I use these “mantras” every day as they help me go through life with peace of mind and ease of heart.

Everyone is at the training for a different reason but for the same purpose: to learn more about yoga. Not everyone wants to teach yoga after they complete the training. Some are there to deepen their practice. Some are there to go through a transformation. Some are there for a personal growth experience. Some are there to push their boundaries and challenge their limits.

Wow.

I wish I knew that before. I wish I was that person who’s done all the research and had more realistic expectations or no expectations at all.

Tip: do your research. Don’t be like me. Read about other yoga teacher training experiences.

But there is beauty in not knowing. In taking it all in as it comes. I’m a full-time traveler, I know this too well. I actually prefer it that way. I also don’t have the patience or the energy for all the research and details. I take it as it comes. So, yes, you can be like me and do no reasearch.

Very quickly we realized how much we don’t know. The more we know, the more we realize that we know nothing. [Insert John Snow GIF here.]

Classmates

We all flew to Bali to immerse ourselves into this experience for 24 days. Some were in Bali for the first time and spent every free minute exploring the surroundings. Others were there for a deeply spiritual inward experience.

Some were from the US or Canada taking a long break from a top notch corporate job or waitressing at a local restaurant. Some were from Brazil or Indonesia having a modeling career in France or being a personal trainer. Some were from Sweden or Switzerland being a full-time massage therapist on a cruise ship or a middle school teacher.

Unieng, our teacher, is an Indonesian who is an architect by profession and has now dedicated her life to yoga. She is also the first Indonesian female diving instructor. (I thought it was fascinating and special that we were taught by someone who grew up with Hindu traditions and Bhagavad Gita. Such a unique perspective.)

I am a girl from Moldova, a location independent entrepreneur who quit her full-time online marketing job to pursue entrepreneurship and what I love most: yoga and teaching.

Our life stories, geographical locations, Enneagram types and motivations might be different but we are here for one common reason: to learn more about yoga.

Seven girls from 7 different countries on YTT200

And that’s what we did. We did dive in head first and went deep. All of us broke down emotionally at times. Some got sick halfway through, some got angry right at the end. It’s all part of the process. Everyone is on their own journey.

We are where we’re at.

Theory

We start with a discussion about what meditation is and its importance in our lives. We talk about the mind and how the biggest challenge is making the mind sit still. #missionimpossible

We cover the subjects of pranayama and how “mastering our breath is harder than taming a lion.” We learn about Purusha (the idea, the soul, the consciousness) and Prakriti (the material, the physical, the creation) and how going from purusha to prakriti means manifestation and going the opposite way is liberation.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

We learn about the history of yoga and different types of yoga and understand that Hatha Yoga is all physical yoga. We also talk about the eight limbs of yoga where Asana (physical practice) is only one of the eight parts.

We discover what are bandhas (energetic locks), mudras (gesture or attitude) and nadis (energy channels.)

We find out about the chakra system and how to work with each chakra.

We learn about anatomy and the physical body. Anatomical planes, the skeletal system, joints and ligaments and the muscular system. We talk about the nervous system and the fascia system. We cover common injuries in yoga and how to avoid them (scary stuff.)

Unieng teaches us the best way to prevent injuries in your yoga class: don’t teach what you don’t know. Keep it simple and don’t teach complicated poses when you don’t have control over your students’ actions.

Some yoga poses are extremely dangerous if done without proper instructions. 99% of the time your students will be okay but there is a 1% chance that coming out of the headstand your students might break their neck and you don’t want to be remembered as that kind of a teacher. Don’t ruin your yoga teaching career this way.

When teaching yoga, think of safety first. You will get all the benefits of yoga by taking it easy and slow and following the most important sequencing rule “from simple to complex actions along the path of least resistance.”

Follow the rules, you’ll do great.

We also talk about yoga for seniors, prenatal yoga and yoga for children. We discuss the importance of finding a niche for teaching yoga that will give you an edge and a specialization.

We discover what Ayurveda (knowledge of life) is and how to identify your Ayurvedic type so you live a balanced, happy life. We also have a whole day workshop on Enneagram where I identify my type (a strong Type 8) and now have a better understanding of myself and others.

Physical Practice

Every day we have two physical yoga classes. Sometimes these classes are quite challenging, other times not so much. But two yoga classes a day have definitely made my body stronger and fitter and my muscles more defined. I actually can see a contour of my biceps and triceps as well as my abdominal muscles.

But that’s not really the point.

The point is that I got into the habit of doing at least one yoga class a day. Otherwise, I don’t feel myself. I’m lazy, unenthusiastic and with less energy. It has become a daily practice.

Teaching Yoga

Teaching is hard. Teaching yoga is even harder. My appreciation for yoga teachers has gone through the roof. It’s a skill set that develops over time. It requires designing a sequence for students depending on their needs. It requires guiding students through the class while keeping an eye on everyone in the room, holding the space and owning it, protecting your students energetically, emotionally and physically and being a spiritual and mindfulness guide. All that in one package. #nopressure

We talk about the foundations and the art of teaching yoga. We cover the subject of physical adjustments and the paramount importance of observation. We talk cover ethical principles, the relationship with students, confidentiality and how to properly sequence a class. We learn that every class has six essential parts:

Welcome and introduction
Warm up (can include meditation and pranayama)
Build up
Peak pose or most intense part
Wind down (can include meditation and pranayama)
Savasana (final relaxation)

We start to practice teaching each other for ten minutes half way through the course. In week two I still can’t believe that I will be able to teach a full on 60-minute class. It’s an art and a science.

Standup Paddleboard Yoga Teacher Training

Our yoga teacher training includes a very attractive add-on: 20 hours of SUP (stand-up paddle board) yoga teacher training. For an additional $250 we go through a 2-day training in Sanur, Bali and can teach yoga classes on paddle boards!

I am quite anxious because I’ve done paddle boarding twice in my life and the second time I got sea sick. But I decide to do it anyways.

We did three SUP yoga classes with our instructor, learned the main differences between a regular yoga class and a SUP yoga class (it’s all about balance and positioning yourself at the right center of gravity!) We talk about how to set up a yoga class in the water and a bunch of other technical things like paddles and boards, anchors and weather conditions, hazards and risks and how the wind is ourbest friend.

I actually did get sea sick on Day 1 because of paddling against the current on a windy day. It turns out I don’t know how to paddle properly (Sometimes I have to deal with the disadvantage of coming from a very small country with no sea and no mountains and no exposure to adventure sports.)

I was the last one out there pushed away by the waves not knowing how to handle this board that was twice my size and how to get through the first 50 meters.

I felt like a failure. I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up.

But I didn’t. I pushed through and paddled my ass off. At the end of the day my arm muscles hurt and my head was spinning. But whatever, who cares, I did it.

Was the teacher training worth it?

Absolutely.

Would I do it again? Yes, but at a different school to expand my knowledge and get a different perspectives.

Do I plan to go through the next level 300-hour training? Yes, but after I get more teaching experience.

What to consider when choosing a yoga teacher training

IMPORTANT: Know that every yoga school is different and that this review is my personal experience. Yoga does not have many rules or a regulating body simply because it includes a spiritual aspect. You can’t really regulate spirituality. Find a training that you resonate with and is true to your desires and needs

Recommendations & Reviews

I made my decision based on two recommendations from friends who did their training at Shades of Yoga and who are currently teaching. That was enough for me. I didn’t do much research. If two people I respect and trust recommend something, I go for it.

Make sure to check the reviews for the training, location and teachers, and most importantly, whether the graduates actually teach yoga. I would also check the reviews for the teachers that finished that particular training.

Location

Where do you want to spend a month of your life immersed into yoga? Thailand, India, Costa Rica and other tropical countries are a great option. I wasn’t ready for India.

Bali sounded really nice. The “Eat. Pray. Love” kind of nice. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want to spend a month in Bali doing a yoga training?

Time

So far I’ve seen two types of programs:

  1. intensive 1-month immersion usually in a tropical location
  2. intensive 3–4 days at a time for those who are working

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. My advice would be to go for option 1 if it is accessible to you. Plan it in advance, make a decision, pack your bags and fly somewhere you know you’re going to enjoy.

Do it for you. Invest in yourself and in your time. Become completely immersed in it because you won’t have time or energy for anything else. The schedule is intense, you will have written and physical assignments to complete and the last thing you want to deal with is being stuck in traffic or waiting for the plumber to finally show up.

This program is a transformational experience that works on your mind and body but also on your beliefs and energy. Give it the time and dedication it deserves. Be away from family and friends, go deep within. Be by yourself. Understand yourself. Really feel what’s happening during this time and take it all in. You will cry, it’s going to be hard but you will push through and you will make it. Transformed and rejuvenated. And proud. Very proud.

Budget

A 200-hour yoga teacher training is not a cheap endeavor. It will cost you between $1,500 to $4,500 depending on location. If you factor in accommodation and living expenses your budget can really skyrocket. I’ve paid $3,000 for the course, $250 for the SUP yoga training add-on, $700 for the hotel room for the month in Ubud, Bali and my living expenses were around $1,000. That makes it an approximate total of $5,000.

Not a cheap adventure. But so worth it. Besides, you can teach yoga right after you graduate and earn income. But keep in mind that yoga teachers are not really making much money. The celebrity yoga teachers do but spirituality and business is a tough combination to crack. I’m doing it as a side hustle and for my own enjoyment. For me it’s more of a hobby and a bit of a side income. I don’t plan to make it my career.

But I still think that with enough dedication and training you can get very far with it. And with business and marketing training you can make it your career and lifestyle. Hosting workshops and private yoga classes will give you the income you desire. Running a yoga studio in an intelligent way will also make you money (if you’re smart about it.)

Yoga Alliance Certification

Make sure your program is certified by Yoga Alliance if you plan to teach worldwide. It adds credibility and trust. I know that the Yoga Alliance itself doesn’t give you many benefits (in fact it charges an annual membership fee almost for nothing in return) but you still have to be a member if you are serious about teaching.

Training program

Make sure your program is balanced and well-thought out. You will need breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. You will need time to rest and recover. I loved our program because it was a great blend of meditation, pranayama, physical practices and theory. It also gave us enough time for breakfast and lunch plenty of small breaks in-between. It didn’t feel overwhelming. I didn’t feel tired. It was challenging and intense but very relaxing and didn’t feel rushed.

Spirituality & Fitness

Make sure your program is covering not only the physical aspects of yoga and physical workshops. I believe that a great program will also provide opportunities for learning yoga philosophy & theory and give you a good balance between the spiritual aspects of yoga as well as physical. Some programs will focus more on yoga theory and philosophy disregarding the physical aspect but that’s also not great. You don’t want top come out of your yoga teacher training feeling like you’re gained more pounds than you had before the training (unless those pounds are muscles.)

Classmates

In the beginning I was disappointed. I had the expectation of finally coming to a place where I will be immediately surrounded by people exactly like me: sharing my belief systems and values, deep knowledge of the self and personal growth and physically more fit than me. I thought I’m going to learn from them. I thought I would find my true tribe of girlfriends and fellow yoga teachers for life.

My expectations were indeed met. But not in the way I expected. My classmates were indeed my greatest teachers. I had to exercise my patience, empathy and understanding of people. By the end of the training I realized that I can’t hide in my own safe world of “my people” because I will be facing the external world and I will be teaching beginners.

I did not find my true tribe but I did find people who were on their own journey and my job was to make sure I understand and respect them. My job was to work with my own ego getting in the way. My job was to be compassionate and observant of what triggers me and how I can deal with it.

We are where we’re at.

It is what is it.

This, too, shall pass.

Life After YTT200

It took me about ten days to bounce back into my normal routine of writing and working online again. Something was very different but I couldn’t understand what exactly. I’m still processing it.

Energies have changed, body has changed, mind has changed.

I wasn’t the Anna I used to be. I was a yoga teacher. I don’t like labels but in a way I am carrying the yoga tradition everywhere I go.

People will judge me according to their own stereotypes of how a yoga teacher should be. And although, I don’t care much about what other people think of me, I care about yoga and I care about my students. I would like to be a true example of what yoga is according to what I’ve been taught and with my personal beliefs and values. I would like to some day have the same effect on my students that my teachers had on me: transformation and life change.

I can’t imagine a day without a short meditation and breathing exercises as well as a physical practice. This course has done an amazing job in transforming my physical and mindfulness routine. I had a morning routine before but meditation and breathing was something of a joke in my practice.

I became sharper, more focused, more alert. I am yet to master the art of meditation but if I do it for at least 10,000 hours I’ll get there one day. The effects of pranayama (control of life force) are yet to be fully discovered. I am extremely passionate about transmitting this knowledge to my students and watching their life transform as well.

I started teaching yoga classes for free in Bali in exchange for review on Yogarova — my Facebook page. I want to practice teaching as much as possible before I start teaching with a working pass wherever I decide it to be.

Recommended books on yoga, mindfulness and life

A New Earth: Create A Better Life by Eckhart Tolle

Light on Yoga b y B.K.S Iyengar

Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Autobiography of a yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Patanjali & Charles Johnston

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