Updated: Mar 17
My experience traveling to Costa Rica for 18 days to complete a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training Certificate with Soma Yoga Institute.
On December 1st 2019, I traveled to Zen Spirit Yoga Resort in San Francisco de Coyote, Costa Rica, where I would spend the following 18 days training towards my 200hr Registered Yoga Teacher certificate. While being the first time I had ever travelled entirely on my own, and considering my track record of feeling home-sickness, even my excitement could not trump the “what ifs” and fear I had walking into the Toronto airport that morning. My heart sank as I watched my ride pull away and realized that from then on, every thing I encountered would be unfamiliar and every person would be a stranger. The only person who would be able to identify me, was me. I had not yet realized that this would be the beauty of this entire experience for me. Yoga Teacher Training was everything unexpected and at the same time beyond any expectations I could have ever had. The experience itself was none the less a journey of a lifetime.
"Without the “what ifs” and “should haves” every opportunity could be approached with curiosity rather than fear. I am forever grateful for the design of this training, as it caused me to do and feel in order to learn the true value of physical, mental and emotional balance and how to maintain it."
As the program I chose was structured as a 200hr, 18-day “intensive training”, the training most definitely fit this title. We trained every single day aside from a one day break in the middle of the program where many of the 20 yoga trainees ventured out to explore the island of Costa Rica. The program each day ran from 6am each morning to around 9pm each evening. Mornings began in silence, until after morning asana and meditation practice, while we sat around breakfast each day at 7:00am. Our morning sessions typically consisted then of anatomy & posture study, and a 90 minute asana practice. After lunch at 12:30pm our afternoon break, to catch up on studies or unwind, alternated between early and mid afternoon while afternoon sessions consisted mainly of sequencing, practice teaching and several other topics of yoga education, such as the business of yoga. After dinner, our evening sessions were dedicated to yoga history and philosophy. I will admit these days are long, however they were so extremely rewarding that I cannot recall a morning at 5:30am where I wasn’t excited to get out of bed and do it all over again. We covered a lot of material, but I never once felt overworked or exhausted. This speaks volumes to the way Some Yoga Institute structures their training as we were never sedentary or physically practicing for too long at a time to over exhaust our minds or our bodies. Each day was the definition of perfect balance, right down to lunch being our biggest meal of the day to sustain our energy when we needed it the most.
My very first time leading a class, during our first practicum, happened one week into our training. What was even more surprising than seeing this on the itinerary on night one, was the fact that by day 7, I actually felt confident in my ability to instruct my peers. It fascinated me every day how everything seemed to come together right on cue. Even when we were warned to be gentle with ourselves, and I egotistically told myself I could control my emotions, I found myself in tears in and amongst my new friends and was forced to open to their support and vice versa. And although my perfectionist mind had its doubts about ever feeling satisfied with my teaching, once I had my chance in the teachers seat I was hooked. It felt authentic, expressive and humbling to be able to hold space and instruct a community of yogis through my sequence. I quickly came to identify teaching as an incredibly empowering experience and from then on began to believe in trusting the process of the journey I was on. Trusting the process allowed me to slowly shake off the anxiety and expectations I had for myself and my training, and doubts about if I was truly meant to be there in the first place. Without the “what ifs” and “should haves” every opportunity could be approached with curiosity rather than fear. I am forever grateful for the design of this training, as it caused me to do and feel in order to learn the true value of physical, mental and emotional balance and how to maintain it.
I was never too fond of biology back in high school. As an athlete the mechanics of the human body always fascinated me, but have always been overwhelmed by the terminology and precision of scientific study. This training removed this secular idea of the human body as one fixed process in my mind. I now see the human bodies rather than the human body. By this I mean that we spent several moments looking at one another’s bodies in different postures. We always looked with what we called “eyes of love”, a metaphorical lens in which I try now to view all things through. None the less, what was so eye opening about this was that I, along with my peers, came to the realization that every body is unique in both the most drastic and subtle ways, thus making every posture personal and a unique expression of that very person and thus making it extremely arbitrary to label someones yoga pose as “good” or “bad”. Of course we spent long hours learning how to correct the shapes of our students postures to teach them proper technique, however the focus was on the way in which the proper technique could feel the best in that persons body, so that they really feel the pose in their body, and do so safely.
Not only did this provide me with the knowledge to teach my future students proper and safe technique, but as a young woman who has a history of being obsessively body conscious, it offered a unique perspective. This concept of “eyes of love”, and human bodies over body stuck with me, my thoughts could not help but acknowledge that this “ideal” of the body, of our yoga practice, and ultimately of our life, is arbitrary and make believe. There is much insight to be gained when we stop focusing our attention and energy on achieving the “ideal”. The fact that I can touch my foot to my head doesn’t make my yoga practice more valuable then anyone else’s in any way shape or form, and nor do the size of my yoga tights. We ultimately as new teachers were awaken to the idea that we were not learning to instruct people how to perform the poses of yoga, but rather how to achieve their unique expression of the pose in order to live and feel through each posture in their own body.
Five variations of dancer's pose
This article, and thus this experience, would not be complete without mentioning the community of YTTs on this journey with me in Costa Rica. Our group of about 20 yogis consisted of folks from all over the globe; Europe, Canada, the USA, South America, Guatemala and Brazil. My fear of feeling alone or not connecting with anyone is almost laughable looking back now. We became a very close knit bunch, and of course I can’t speak for all teacher trainings in this regard, but I will say that staying open is the key to this beautiful unification. The content and nature of our studies made it very difficult to resist opening up to one another. We related, listened to one another, and quickly realized that each and everyone one of us had a unique story and path that brought us to where we were standing. When we were able to stand comfortably in front of one another in our own skin, wearing our own scars, it became effortless to both receive and extend compassion towards one another. I could sit next to anyone at meal time without hesitation and have an amazing conversation. We were all so different in age, hometown and life situation but there was no hierarchy of experiences. Growing and learning amongst those twenty people are moments I will carry with me forever. On one of our last nights after evening session a group of us were sitting in the outdoor dinning hall around a table. We realized well into laughs and conversation that we were a group of people with ages amongst the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50, and 60s- and none of this mattered. We saw each other for who the other person was, not their age, where they are from, or what they do for a living. Yet another eye opening moment for me that reached far beyond improving my yoga poses.
This training taught me the true meaning of therapeutic yoga. Teaching therapeutic yoga is a way of teaching yoga that works to connect the mind, body and breath in a way that encourages students to bring their practice with them off the mat and into their life. This training inspired me to continue working to become an instructor whose teachings reach far beyond the mat and who inspires students to feel the yoga rather than just perform pretty poses.