After posting two photos on social media, I have been pleasantly bombarded by my friends who are impressed, excited, and curious about YTT. Even though I still have two weeks left of the course, and perhaps a few more weeks and months until I can get into some final poses, I wanted to draft them a candid email of what life has been like since I’ve retreated into yoga bootcamp.
We start out with breathing exercises every morning which is actually quite difficult for me. It’s hard to quiet the mind and it’s tough to actually sit still for so long and not move. My legs will go numb, my back will hurt from trying to sit up straight, and my shoulders hurt from being forced to not hunch. It’s perhaps the most exhaustive sitting there is! By the time the trainers instruct to “take your three last breaths”, I’m breathing a sigh of relief.
However, I’m glad we are being pushed to do this because breathing exercises are such an important element of yoga. Pranayama is the 4th limb of yoga and goes hand in hand with physical practice. Iyengar says, “The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths.” Perhaps one of the fascinating things I heard on the very first day of yoga was that the ancients realized there is a correlation between one’s rate of breath and longevity. A dog breathes at the rate of 20-30 times a minute and lives a life span of 10-20 years. While, a giant tortoise breathes at a rate of 4 times a minute and lives a life span of 150 years. Lowering the breath rate reduces the load on the heart and keeps it going for more years. Are you interested in learning more about pranayama yet?
Next up, we go into our asanas. Asanas are the 3rd limb of yoga. On any given day, we can be doing the full sequence, a combination of teaching and sequence, learning proper alignment, strengthening our core and arms with major abs and push-up work, working on challenging poses like pincha and backbends, and on and on. I have always considered myself athletic but I am a hot mess with my shirt plastered to me by the end of sun salutations in our non-air-conditioned room. We need to practice without the aircon to help our body stretch and lengthen and lower the risk of injury. Even though I look like I’ve been caught in a downpour, I have noticed that I stay more focused and feel more flexible. Plus, a little sweat gives you some much needed extra assistance to glide into some tricky poses.
The hard work we put in is intense! But day by day, we don’t spend more than a few minutes in each pose. It’s interesting that all you need is a few minutes a day to slowly build up strength and muscle memory until one day you magically get into these superhuman poses. I like to think of my niece Avery, when I get stuck. She just turned 1 years old and is starting to stand on her own – what started out as only 1-2 seconds is now a fairly stable 1 min stand. In a few weeks, she’ll start to take her first few steps. It’s going to feel hard because her legs haven’t felt movement and pressure like that. She’ll be wobbly, she’ll fall, and it’ll be tough but at some point through her daily practice, she’s going to learn to walk. I like to think this is the same process we are facing as we work on the more advanced asanas. Practice and repetition make perfect and we will overcome what seems impossible now.
I’m encouraged by how much I’ve grown and I understand what I have to do to work on my limitations. Physically, I’m limited by a soft core, kyphosis, knee issues, and weak arms but this is all things I know my body will overcome. Mentally, I’m held back by my fear. This will be harder to overcome – I feel safe in YTT to push myself. It’s quite an amazing feeling to see yourself do things that scare you, to win mini battles every day. It’s encouraging to take those steps forward, even if some days, you take a step back. I may not learn everything in the next two weeks but I’m confident I will if I keep working.
There is a short break after physical practice before theory. I have been pleasantly surprised with theory. It’s been a crash course in everything! The amount of information being crammed into my brain is very much like being back in school. It’s exciting to be learning such varied topics from charkas to kriyas to karma to anatomy. It is information overload but it has definitely piqued my interest in doing more reading and self-study into some of the topics after the course is over. It’s also wonderful to know how well equipped and well-rounded a yoga teacher I will be for my future students. The depth and legitimacy of the knowledge we are learning is vast and great.
Perhaps, the best part of YTT is how much of a bonding experience it is to go through it with other people in my class – both with the lead trainers and the students. We were all just strangers three weeks ago, but now I will be genuinely sad to not see these girls every day. Everyone in the class has different strengths and weaknesses. We are each the best at some things and struggle with other things. We help and encourage one another. You root for each girl as she goes up to teach her part of the sequence. You greet them with sleepy smiles in the morning and share excited, well earned high fives after practice. Everyone has prana or energy and I have to say, the prana that circulates in that room is something special.
I’m more tired at the end of the day than I’ve been in a while but it’s a good tired. You leave class knowing you’ve nourished your mind and soul and pushed your body as much as you could that day. And that is an incredible feeling.
L. Cheng (200 Hour Hatha Vinyasa YTT)