Week One – Start from Where You Are
It’s early on Sunday morning and I am woken up by rays of sunlight beaming through my bedroom window. For a moment I wonder where I am then I remember I am in Morocco and it’s my first day of Yoga Teacher Training. This will be home for the next two weeks. I get up to brush my teeth and through the window I see a camel on the beach, just hanging out, like camels do in Morocco, I guess. I can’t believe I am finally here…
The day before I felt so many mixed emotions at the airport in London – mostly guilt at not being able to go to the hospital with my Mum for her MRI scan, but she is insistent that I go on the course and not worry about her. I am also feeling nerves, fear, excitement… It’s not until I am at the villa – the lovely, welcoming villa with our beautifully decorated rooms – at dinner that I suddenly feel way out of my comfort zone as I think about what lies ahead. All my fellow teacher trainees are very friendly and I feel lucky that I already know a couple of the guys from Yogahaven. I suspect everyone else is feeling nervous too as it’s pretty quiet around the dinner table. Allie tells us it’s always a bit quiet on the first night – wait till we’re a couple of nights in! My stomach is churning. I don’t eat much and I barely touch my dessert – not like me at all!
Back to Sunday. We have our first morning practice in the shala, led by Allie. It’s the ninety minute Yogahaven sequence which we will learn over the two weeks and practice every morning while we are here. We’re right up on the roof of the villa and in front of us is a view of the ocean, while behind us are the Atlas Mountains. While I’m in Vrksasna gazing out to the sea I feel a sense of stillness for the first time since arriving. I feel so grateful to be here.
As it’s the first day we do proper introductions and say a bit about our yoga experiences and why we are on the course. We’ve all found our way here through different paths but the thing that strikes me very quickly is that there is genuine warmth across the whole group. Everyone is lovely.
We begin talking about the sequence, starting with pranayama. Allie asks if anyone wants to teach a bit to the group. Silence. My head rotates by practically 180 degrees as I do that thing of looking out of the window to try and avoid eye contact. But then my name is called out.
“Do you want to have a go?”
So, I have a go at leading the group through a little bit of pranayama. I wonder if my voice sounds as shaky as I feel inside. I find speaking in front of groups challenging to the point where my voice involuntarily starts shaking, but this is something I am determined to overcome. I can’t believe I am the first to teach! But afterwards it feels good. It means that later that day when we come to teach the postures we were each asked to learn ahead of coming to Morocco, I feel a bit less freaked out than I otherwise would have.
Our second practice of the day is led by Em from Yogahaven’s Birmingham studio. Her class is brilliant and quite inspirational, not least because Em has not that long ago been where all of us trainees are and she’s clearly a great teacher.
Overall, I feel a bit better by the end of the day. But still a bit wobbly. Still trying to quieten those negative ‘not good enough’ voices in my head. I now really wish I’d brought my running shoes with me. Running, as well as yoga, always helps me feel better. But I feel so, so happy to be doing two yoga classes a day. And Yoga Nidra with Toni was blissful – I think I did actually fall asleep.
The day I started to allow myself to enjoy it.
I woke up with these words in my head:
“Start from where you are”
I’d been comparing myself to our course tutors – Allie, Toni, Bryony and Em. And to all the other teachers I practice with, thinking about the apparent ease with which they guide and instruct. They are all brilliant and have years of experience between them. I’ve not even found my voice yet, never mind learned how to teach. I realise I need to give myself a break and stop expecting to be perfect. I am here to learn, after all. And I get to start this bit of my journey in such a gorgeous setting. The sunshine is glorious today.
In the shala we discuss the ethics of yoga teaching and our reasons for wanting to teach. We share not so positive experiences we’ve had as students from inappropriate adjustments to rude comments. Out of that discussion we are asked to think about what our own codes of ethics would be and to write them down. Toni says that’s what we’ll come back to in those times when we might be teaching many classes a week and unable to practise anywhere near as much as we’d like.
During posture clinic I get asked to demonstrate Garudasana (Eagle Pose). I’ve never been able to get my foot behind my calf in this posture. Allie asks me why I think that might be:
Me – “I couldn’t do it when I was larger. I think maybe my body’s just not built for it – my legs are quite big.”
Allie – “Hmm… But you’re actually quite small.”
It felt strange to hear that. ‘Small’ is not a word I use to describe myself. I’m never critical about the appearance of others, but I clearly still have stuff to deal with about how I see myself.
With each session, posture clinic and teaching practise I have an increasing respect for the teachers I practise with as I recognise what it takes to teach well and how much energy they put into each class.
Our second practice of the day is a fabulous Yin class with Bryony. I’d really love to do more of this to balance the Yang styles I usually practise. That’s something to seek out when I get back home.
Allie’s words about the group not being so quiet after a couple of nights in came true! During some downtime after dinner we played ‘Celebrity Head’ (guessing the names of celebs written on post-it notes stuck to our foreheads). It was a good laugh – really silly and a great way for the group to bond further.
Tuesday & Wednesday
There’s more of a focus on history and philosophy today. After our morning practice and breakfast we look at the Vedic, Pre-Classical, Classical and Post-Classical periods. I feel I am starting to gain a clearer perspective on the Gita and the Yoga Sutras in particular.
We do our first bit of group meditation too after a chat about our various experiences of meditation so far. Today it’s the SA TA NA MA meditation (Kirtin Kriya) – the most important meditation in Kundalini Yoga. We will try out different meditation styles over the two weeks.
In the evening we play a game during downtime after dinner again. This time it’s a game invented by fellow trainee, Stew – a step up from yesterday’s game incorporating charades and quick fire rounds. It’s genius! It’s really funny to see different people’s competitive sides start to emerge too. There may be no competition in yoga, but the gloves were off in Stewie’s game
On Wednesday we pick up where we left off with history and philosophy. The philosophy discussions are giving me so much to think about and bringing up all sorts of things I never expected – big stuff, small stuff. I really think about how much I have let experiences from the past – painful experiences – define who I am and what is possible for me. I don’t want to do that anymore.
Teaching practice in the afternoon on the warrior sequence feels awful. I start to beat myself up again. Then I stop as I remember what Lorin predicted on my last blog post:
“From one perfectionist to another, I predict that there will be times during the training that you get very upset that you can’t ‘get it’ (by which you’ll mean be absolutely perfect with all of it) but in the end it will be so very worth it.”
I take a step back. I know I am doing my best and that’s all I can do.
During a discussion about Atman – The Individual Soul and Brahman – The Universal Soul I think about the idea that we are not our thoughts or our bodies. It not the first time I’ve heard or thought about this, but in this context, in this environment it takes on a different resonance. Can I observe and have compassion for my ‘self’ who expects to be perfect, who struggles to accept my’self’ as I am?
A group of us have an outing to the aptly named Paradise Valley up in the mountains. It was very hot, very magical and a lot of fun. I mention this particularly because it involved me wearing a swimming cossie. And swimming.
To put this into context, you are more likely to see a baseball cap donning, Bengal Tiger ambling up and down the aisles of your local convenience store than see me in a swimming costume or swimming, so rare is the occurrence. When one of my teachers mentioned to me the day before flying out to Morocco that I’d probably need to take a bikini, I laughed. The only time in my life that I’ve worn a two piece is when I was four. And I only know that because I saw a photo. I had no intention of bringing any swimming attire to Morocco. But after that conversation I went out and bought a swimming costume. I could always keep the tags on to take it back to the shop if I didn’t use it, I reasoned. Yet, here I was actually wearing it and doggie paddling (yes, doggie paddling) in a picturesque mountain valley. And loving it.
Everyone’s feeling it. The mood is a bit subdued. We all feel our speed runs of the yoga sequence so far aren’t up to scratch. But Toni assures us that we are all doing well and that how we are feeling at this stage is completely normal. It’s great having reassurance from Em too who has been where we all are.
I am worried about my tendency to mumble. Bryony suggests I could project more. I take that on board for our practice later where I describe getting in and out of Garudasana and Utthita Parsvakonansa. But I still need to work on raising my voice.
We spend some more time looking at the Classical period before rounding off the day with a fab Flow class led by Em.
Can’t quite believe we’re already at the end of week one!
Our morning posture clinic with Allie focuses on the first part of the standing sequence, looking at adjustments for Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended hand to big toe pose). Then we move onto a voice exercise. We are each given a posture to go away and practice teaching by ourselves for ten minutes. Then we have to come back and teach it to the group just using words – no visual demonstration. A bit like an acting exercise, Allie asks us to really go over the top with our expression. The results are surprising because we see that what we think is exaggerating is for most of us (not least my mumbling self) actually just about the level where are voices need to be, especially if we are teaching in a busy studio. It’s amazing to see the improvements in everyone with just this one tip.
I still find it nerve-wracking standing up in front of everyone, but it’s still great. I love this exercise and I know it’s something I will practice.
That afternoon we chant the Gayatri Mantra (one of my favourites!) as a group. I have this on my iPod and chanted it a lot in the couple of weeks before flying to Morocco.
It’s sad later on saying goodbye to Allie and Em as they head off back to London and Birmingham. Allie tells us that we’re doing well and to keep doing what we’re doing through the second week. Those words really buoy us up.
A full schedule. More history as we look at Physical Culture and the Krishnamacharya lineage.
In today’s posture clinic we focus on balancing postures with particular attention on Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose) and Tuladandasana (Balancing Stick).
Bryony takes us through the Chakras in the afternoon before a strong vinyasa class with Toni, with a focus on inversions. I clearly need to work on my core and shoulder strength – I am a looong way from Pincha Mayurasana, but it was fun!
It definitely feels quieter without Allie and Em – we all miss their presence!
I feel exhausted today and I decide to go to bed earlier in preparation for our sunrise practice.
After sunrise practice facing the Atlas Mountains, the Eight Limbs is our big focus in the morning. We spend quite a long time discussing the Yamas especially. This gives me a lot to think about. Before coming away on this course, a number of teachers who have already done it said that on teacher training you learn a lot about yourself. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but increasingly I am understanding. There is a lot of being honest with myself, which isn’t always easy but is ultimately worthwhile.
In the afternoon we have our posture clinic and teaching practice. I feel like I am finding my voice. Slowly but surely.
In the evening Toni tells us we’ll be doing a silent sunrise practice in the morning, followed by a silent breakfast. I love the silent practice, but the silent breakfast is a bit of a surprise. As well as no talking we are to avoid eye contact. No problem though. I’m not that much of a talker anyway – it’ll be easy…
Silent breakfast wasn’t easy.
I had assumed that because I am a pretty quiet person a lot of the time it would be a breeze. But I didn’t like it. I like own company, but I realised that when I’m with other people I thrive on them chatting and having fun and seeing them being happy around me. That, in turn, makes me happier. I find myself feeling very uncomfortable and not being able to make eye contact or smile makes it even harder. I leave the table as soon as I finish eating.
One thing the silent breakfast does do is make me conscious of is what I am actually eating. Rather than rushing my food because I felt uncomfortable, I noticed that I took a bit more time over each mouthful and consequently, I ended up eating less. I feel grateful for what I had to eat and it reminds me that’s not how I always felt. For a long while I used food to punish myself. In that sense I have come a long way.
After breakfast Toni asks us what we thought of the experience. Everyone seemed to feel discomfort to a degree or felt more conscious of the surroundings, their food. This exercise really highlighted how we often use distractions to avoid truly being with ourselves. Today I really take time to appreciate our surroundings, breathing in the sea air. Feeling grateful.
Bryony takes us through the Koshas and we do more on the Eight Limbs with a bit of a pop quiz from Toni. Plus, some more teaching practice. I am still working on my voice – trying to project more.
A really fun Shiva Rea inspired class led by Toni rounds off the day to the melodies of MC Yogi!
That night, after dinner we go back up to the shala for some candle gazing (Tratak). It’s cosy being up there in the dark, wrapped in blankets. We discuss our experiences afterwards.
With our assessment day on Friday looming, a few of us have an impromptu study session on what we’ve learnt so far for about an hour before bed. I think it might actually be sinking in!
Mixed feelings today. The end of the two weeks is in sight, so I try to take in the view of the ocean and lock it into my brain so that it doesn’t feel like a distant memory when I get back home.
We get a slightly longer lunch break today so that we can visit the local market. I love looking around at the stalls selling all sorts from an abundance of vegetables, to piled high spices, to bric-a-brac and so much more. A few of us buy some incredible macaroons which taste as good as they look.
During teaching practice after lunch we do some speed runs through the sequence. I realise I actually remember the whole sequence from start to finish! And I’m not alone. What a contrast from how we felt about our speed runs last week. I go into our energizing flow class with Bryony feeling good.
Thursday – Day Off
A few of us decide to do some more teaching practice in the morning, ahead of tomorrow’s assessments, so a well-earned trip to the beach follows.
For me, it’s a step up from last week’s doggie paddle at Paradise Valley with a little swim in the Atlantic Ocean. It may not sound like much, but for me this is progress. A little step further out of my comfort zone. And playing in the waves was so much fun! It felt like being a little kid and I laughed till my sides hurt.
In the evening a few of us visit the Souk before heading out to dinner at a restaurant near the harbour in Agadir with the rest of the group. It’s our penultimate night and feels a little bittersweet. Part of me is really looking forward to going home, but I know I am going to miss this too.
The day has come! We start with our written test. I was never good at exams. How much will I remember of all we’ve learnt over the past two weeks? To my surprise I do better than I expected and realise that I’ve actually taken in more than I thought. In fact, everyone does really well. Relief!
But now the bit we’ve all been waiting for…. teaching the sequence.
We set up our mats to practise and over the next ninety or so minutes Toni randomly calls each of us up to the front of the room to teach postures. We work through the sequence in order so that it’s like a proper class where we are each others’ students. And because we don’t know when our names will be called up we always have to know what posture is coming next. It’s a great way of testing our knowledge of the sequence as well as seeing where our teaching skills have developed over the past fortnight.
I feel sick with nerves until just before we begin, then when I sit quietly on my mat a sense of calm comes over me. I think about all I’ve learnt over the past two weeks, all the words of encouragement from my teachers. And I come back to my ultimate wish to share yoga with others. I decide to just do my best.
Toni silently makes notes on us as we go.
Seeing the improvements in everyone is brilliant! It really is like a proper class. I can’t ‘see’ how I am doing. But I do feel that my voice is clearer.
At the end Toni tells us how well we’ve done as a group and that we should all be proud of ourselves. Toni spots that I look doubtful – I’m focussing on my mistakes.
Toni – “Don’t you think you did well?”
Me – “I’m not sure…”
Our one-to-one feedback with Toni follows and I am gobsmacked by how positive she is about my teaching. I know I have stuff to work on but it feels like a huge endorsement and really encourages me.
Post-assessments our final evening is celebratory! I can’t believe we fly back tomorrow. This second week especially, has whizzed by. What an experience! Even though I’m now ready to go home, I already know that things will feel different.
Now I’ve been back for a week I’m able to begin reflecting on the time in Morocco. It felt strange waking up on Sunday morning and not having breakfast with my fellow teacher trainees. I feel so fortunate and grateful to have been able to go away for this part of training, away from the distractions of home and to share this experience with a brilliant group of people who I am sure will all go on to be fantastic teachers.
Despite the fear, not once did I ever feel over the two weeks that I might give up. I kept coming back to why I want to do this. I accept that I may not be able to banish fear or nerves completely, but I can and will work through them. My desire to share yoga with others is bigger than any fear. And I know that’s what will keep me going as a move forward.
For me, the intense two-week structure worked really well because I know I learn better that way. I’ve learned all sorts of things about myself so far, including that I could do with being kinder to myself a bit more. And that my miming skills aren’t great, as those games of charades proved
We have two weekend modules to follow over the next couple of months along with homework in-between. I’m surprised to now be looking forward studying anatomy, given that this was exactly the kind if thing I disliked with a passion at school. How things change!
I look back at where I was at the beginning of our two weeks in Morocco to where I was on our last assessment day and I’ve surprised myself. At the start I was almost overwhelmed by fear. By the end I was (and still am) overwhelmed with gratitude, especially towards my fellow trainees and our teachers. I still have a long way to go and I know that it’s up to me to keep practising and studying and learning. I am certain that I want to teach and I recognise what a privilege and responsibility it is to have that opportunity. I am really looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me.
This is just the beginning.