As I kicked up into handstand, my teacher Maya whispered “Yeah Theodora, you got this—it’s back!” (this photo is not from my training but it’s the only handstand photo I have…so far!)
She meant the handstand, but it’s so much more than that. I’m back. And not even back—I feel like so much more than I ever was.
But back to handstand for now. When we’d learned handstand our first week, I quickly got over my fear and kicked up easily into it. (Every time I mention handstand in this post, please know I mean onto the wall.) That very weekend, I attended a real class (as in, in a real studio, not just in training) and had a handstand that was a mess. I kicked up and fell over to the side, I lost control.
My ego tried to protect me, to keep me from doing this new thing I was so excited to learn. For the next 2.5 weeks, I tried and I tried and I tried, eventually calling over a teacher to help me kick up. “You’re so close, Theodora,” they’d say. “I KNOW, it’s so frustrating—I had it…”
But after four weeks of learning about my body, about my brain, about my ego— and oh yeah, how to teach and share this practice with others—it all clicked. The strong back leg in crescent pose. The length I found reaching for the sky in urdhva hastasana. The confidence to go for that handstand. In truth, it was always there—I mean, I came cross-country and signed up for a yoga teacher training. But a month of going through the practice, practicing 1.5-2.5 hours per day, of discussing the philosophy, of learning the anatomy, it’s deep in my muscles, in my brain.
To be honest, week 4 started off in a not-so-great place left over from week 3. I was feeling beyond down on myself—I nearly cried again because I was too anxious to let go even in the restorative section I’d been waiting for for weeks. I was unsure about my future, believing that if I couldn’t be happy in this place that I’ve wanted to be for so long, and if I wasn’t happy in New York, would I ever really be happy? The answer to that both is and isn’t about location, but that’s for another blog post. To be honest, it took a breakthrough therapy session for me to start feeling better this week…
Week 4 // Final Exam Components
But before that in yoga, we began to wrap up our studies, leading us towards our three parts of assessment:
Written in-class final exam, in-class practical exam (teaching several poses to the class) and a take-home final.
We had one to two “quizzes” per week throughout the course of the training, which were really helpful to check in to see where we were. I say quiz in quotation marks because they weren’t graded and don’t count towards our certification. They were super helpful in studying for the exam and learning the kinds of questions that might be on it.
Wednesday morning was our final. I woke up early and went to my favorite ocean-adjacent coffee shop, Dogtown, to cram for a few more hours, occasionally gazing out at the ocean. By the time I handed in the test, I felt good. I didn’t ace it, but I passed it, I thought. (I won’t find out for a few weeks for sure.) We had two hours to finish the test, and I finished in one, so I gleefully walked out of the training center towards the beach. I DID IT! I got through four weeks of a yoga teacher training program and probably passed the test! After a year of false starts and crippling depression, this all felt so so good.
There was a woman in the program who felt like an angel to me. She is 68 and had just lost her own mother. We took to each other quickly, and our relationship felt at once like equals and like a nurturing relationship. We finished at the same time and took a long walk along the ocean in Santa Monica together. That afternoon, all of us were bouncing off the walls like little kids on the last day of school—which is kind of what it was like. We practiced late that afternoon—after we collectively tried to drag out our philosophy study so our practice wouldn’t be so long—and we worked on arm balances. Y’all. I suck at arm balances. There’s no amount of thought reframing that works on that one. But, while I did first feel sorry for myself, I quickly turned it around and reminded myself I was doing what I needed to to keep safe.
Christine wrote an article about bipolar and wellness habits, and one of the women included said that she considers bipolar as much a part of her as she does her height, her hair color—except that it means she needs to do certain things differently to keep herself healthy. I loved that, and the analogy works as well for bipolar or for, in my case, depression and anxiety, as it does for yoga. Or running. None of us are perfect, and we all have something we need to manage for in order to keep ourselves at our best selves. And for me in yoga, it’s not doing certain things because I know I’ll get hurt, or I just plain don’t have the strength yet. It made me feel better, too, for the myriad things I do to keep depression and anxiety as close to at bay as I can.
Thursday’s practice was another challenging one, with lots of core work, and once again, I felt my ego resurfacing as I resisted the practice. We spent more time practice teaching, and I was grateful for another opportunity to practice in front of my classmates, to get non-graded feedback from my teachers.
Friday morning, I woke up feeling oddly(-for-me) at ease with the practical to come. A sign that the teachers did a good job, Meg said. Though: as soon as I arrived at the studio, everyone else’s nervous energy was contagious and I thought I forgot how to do Warrior II (one of my poses.) The teaching practical was basically this: a full practice, with us each teaching several poses. I taught Warrior II and Prasarita Padottanasana A (wide-legged forward fold), and we got feedback immediately after teaching. I, uh, taught Warrior II on the right side twice, but other than that, my teachers told me I was funny, soothing, and nailed my alignment points. BAM.
The extent of how helpful this was for me emotionally is beyond belief, though I’ll keep some of the specifics of that for the people in that room, my friends, family and mental health professionals. But not only did it make me whole, it made me so much more whole than I ever was. It gave me a purpose. To share this body of knowledge I just learned with others: to help others feel their lives change through physical movement. To know it’s not just the physical movement that changes them.
To answer the questions I assume you may have:
I’m not positive yet what I want to do with this, but I’m thinking: absolutely private clients (let me know if you’re in NYC or LA!), I would like to be on a schedule somewhere at a studio, and I want to develop some online content, both video and written. (I’m already working on refining a short sequence for runners I recorded this morning—would you be interested in stuff like that?)
I really really want to work with beginners—in yoga, in running (still have a few more 1:1 run coaching spots open!). I remember what it was like to be a beginner in these things, in fitness in general—and I remember how just the act of beginning changed my life. That’s what I want to share with others. Let me share with you how movement can be life-changing.