Without a doubt, Week 3 of my yoga teacher training was the hardest. By far.
As I’ve mentioned before, our days consist of anatomy study, sequencing study, practicing yoga ourselves and philosophy study. Of those, the philosophy is one of my favorite parts, especially since I’m grasping with so many of these existential questions myself.
We were studying the kleshas—the obstacles on the path to yoga (yoga in the grander sense—as in union), and we began discussing abhinivesha, the fear of death. Well, I can usually talk about death and/or my mom without crying these days, but not that day, as we discussed the idea of letting go of our loved ones. Many of us shared stories of how we’d told a loved one they could go, and we discussed things that had abated our own fears. Once again, I found myself in tears, remembering telling my mom, surrounded by the priest and nun, that she could go. That same week that she was in hospice, she also tried telling us that she’d seen her father or her uncle. At the time, I might have chalked it up to her being hopped up on morphine, but I now believe she was straddling the divide between this life and whatever is after, and that does bring me comfort.
Our teacher kindly gave us a few minutes to do what we needed to process that heady conversation. I found myself outside, sobbing, looking at the ocean…and also beating myself up for doing so. Maya, my sweet teacher came outside to give me a big hug and talk to me. “Of course you’d be crying, I don’t care how long it’s been. This is so tough, and so much has happened.” I stopped trying to stuff my emotions back inside, and walked down the ocean for a big ugly cry. The sun was blinding me, and at a moment when I was squinting into the light, I once again was able to give thanks for where I was and be present.
Tuesday morning, I walked in all ready to shake that off.
We were doing a backbending practice, and I have a wonky lower back. Though technically backbends shouldn’t upset the area since they are following the curve of the lumbar spine…well, they did upset the area. Like, by the second pose. I knew I was walking into this training with low back stuff and not super bendy, but I didn’t think it would be that humbling. Well, I spent half of that practice in child’s pose on my mat, crying. And then crying harder when that spiral went from not being able to do one pose, to being a terrible future yoga teacher to just sucking at life and what’s the point. Tl;dr, I went into a bad place all too quickly.
Thankfully, Wednesday and Thursday were relatively nondescript; more backhanding on Wednesday, but after some Advil and rest, I was feeling a little better and up for (still modifying) some more of the easier backbends. Thursday’s practice was focused on twists, also not great for lower back stuff.
This entire month of practice has taught me so much about mind and body and truly listening to my body, not the BS some people use to justify their choices. I walked into this training with more weight on me than I would have liked, with some serious emotional baggage, with the realities of a body that is on several psychiatric medications and deals with the side effects of those meds. I walked in as a 35-year-old whose workout schedule had slowed down some this year or so.
I wanted to push and improve my practice, but I didn’t want to get hurt. So many truths about the physical yoga practice hold true off the mat: I needed to figure out the line between growth and pushing myself too far, too hard. Though I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when a certain pose won’t serve my body, the intensity can still be a struggle. During this third week, I also realized my TMJ pain had come back and I was having headaches. OH. I was gritting my teeth trying to get into poses. The poses are supposed to be “steady and comfortable,” but they weren’t if I was gritting my teeth to get into them and causing myself headaches.
Friday was also hard and humbling, in a different way. We hiked in the morning, and … y’all, I suck at hiking. I am so slow, and I just couldn’t keep up with the group, and once again I found myself in tears. Frustrated with my body. Frustrated for being frustrated with my body while being here, in Santa Monica, hiking on a beautiful mountain overlooking the ocean. Frustrated for crying yet again…and over something so trivial.
To be super honest, this particular week, I was incredibly depressed and down on myself. However, I’m doing some intense thought restructuring work in therapy this week, so I’m working on reframing those thoughts and letting them go so that I can observe that yes, I had a tough practice, or even a tough day, but it doesn’t mean I suck. I’m trying to tell myself new stories, such as “I’m strong,” “I’m doing this,” and “I’m honoring my body.” Sometimes it feels like BS, but it still feels better than the stories I’d been telling.
I know a lot of this has been about my emotional experience with the training—which is hard for me not to weave in—but is there anything you want to know about the training itself for my post next week wrapping this up?