Maybe it’s the inner pressure I’m putting on myself to make this post chock full of magic. I want to be able to transcribe my experience in Aruba for all of y’all who are currently reading this, but the fact of the matter is… that’s an impossible feat. That, and I needed proper time to allow the experience to settle so I could process the changes taking place within me. I’ll try and give as many excerpts as I can so that you may gain an insight into my transformative time in the middle of the Caribbean, but you will never know the true realities unless you are a willing participant yourself one day.
I thought I’d come away from yoga teacher training with a vast amount of knowledge in the yoga realm and certificate in hand. What took place in the shala was far more than just yoga.
But first, What Is Yoga?
Yoga is the union of physical, mental and spiritual practices originating in India 5,000-10,000 years ago. It’s not a religion, and it has little to do with looking better in a bikini, although sure, that’s a perk I suppose. While I did get into yoga back around 2011 due to its fitness perks, it has far greater purpose than this – of which I’ll expand upon in another post. In its purest form, yoga is raising consciousness on all levels.
Yoga Teacher Training
The basic RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) 200 hour training course is offered many, many places around the globe. Trainings last anywhere from around 3 weeks or longer and can focus on various styles of yoga. From there, teachers can go on to get their RYT 500 and so on. Many complete their RYT 200 in order to teach yoga, but some complete it in order to delve deeper in to the practice of yoga while others enjoy the intrinsic work it requires. Ultimately, my purpose was to learn more about the practice of yoga, become part of this beautiful community, and eventually be able to teach on retreats/guided trips around the world. I came away with far more than this, but it’s important to find your WHY.
How to Choose a YTT
This can be super overwhelming. I began searching for YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) programs beginning of 2017. Then came the BRCA 2 gene mutation news. Then the surgery. No YTT in 2017 for me. Cut to the beginning of 2018. This was the year! I found a great YTT in Oregon from June 29th – July 21st. I’ve always wanted to visit the state, and I liked the instructor’s teaching style via YouTube. I’d never taken a class with her or met her in person. I felt good about it and put in my deposit. A few weeks later, my favorite yoga teacher in Aruba published the news that a spot had opened up in her teacher training that was scheduled for June 29th – July 21st. WHAT ARE THE ODDS. Same date, much different place, much bigger price tag. I went back and forth for weeks, asking friends and family what they thought while writing down all the pros/cons. Ultimately, I decided that this was something I wanted to invest in for myself and would benefit greatly from for years to come. Island life called my name ever so sweetly…
- Find a teacher you like and have practiced with prior to YTT. I took one of Rachel’s classes in 2017 during a work trip to Aruba. I fell in love with her style immediately. I remember leaving Island Yoga that day feeling more grounded, energized, lighter and aligned. As for the Oregon instructor, I’d never taken a class with her upon signing up for the YTT, but I did do a lot of research and watch her on YouTube. Another important note on teachers: find those who create space for their students to dive deeper into themselves during the program. Everyone and every training is so different. Some have a heavy focus on anatomy while others focus on the literature, but I thoroughly enjoyed the emotional emphasis on mine. More on this further down in the post.
- Timing is everything, and I believe that the universe delivered the perfect YTT for me at the perfect time. I was prepared, healed and ready to dive deeper. When the student is ready, the teacher appears…
- Choose a spot somewhere in the world that suites you – somewhere you’re comfortable and are able to focus. Originally, I thought because I was a travel blogger, I needed to go halfway across the globe for training. That was dumb, but I also knew I didn’t want to complete my training in LA because I needed to fully immerse myself in the practice and not be able to have my normal creature comforts at my apartment every night. Aruba was perfect because while it was my 4th trip to the island, I was able to connect with my YTT group and the place while disconnecting from the rest of the world.
Island Yoga Aruba
Oh, Island Yoga. How I love thee. You are full of enchantment and energy and smiles and tears and sweat and purpose.
52 participants. 15 nations. 1 shala. We all huddled into a group circle on Night 1, and I remember being ready but scared. What did the 23 days ahead look like? Was I going to be able to handle it physically, mentally, emotionally? We all started by introducing ourselves and pulling an Angel Card. Mine stated the below:
Change in Direction
The changes you’re experiencing are divinely directed by your newborn willingness to open your heart to love and guidance. You are protected now and in the future, so follow your path to the happy outcomes you desire.
Well hot damn if that didn’t resonate. For many months, I’ve felt a transitional period taking place in my life. This was telling me to embrace that change in direction, and I was all about it.
The next 22 days brought hours and hours of daily teachings and meditation and asana practice and lectures and readings and small group exercises (shout out #JustLove) and journaling and sharings and live teaching + feedback. Holy hell was it a lot of work. My inner thoughts were changing as well as my body. With around 8 hours of yoga per day, the shala does a body and mind GOOD.
Loving yourself. In the words of Rachel Brathen…
I firmly believe that whole, happy people at peace with who they are and with their place in the world make the best teachers. That is why, in this training, the focus is on YOU. It’s also a journey of deep, personal healing. It’s a journey toward the heart.
She was right. In the weeks ahead, we all practiced far more than yoga – honesty, self-love, truth, vulnerability. The idea to give yourself what you need first so that you can then give to others is everything. If you can’t sit with your own shit, how can you expect to helps others with theirs? I’ve never been so in tune with my emotions and with my body during these 23 days, and the only way I can describe it is pure and utter MAGIC.
Dynamic Meditation. These words scare me a little bit. Never have I ever participated in something so bizarre. I don’t say that in a negative way…but it was definitely an uncomfortable situation every.single.time. Dynamic meditation aims to clear out any emotional or mental blockage by releasing anything pent up inside you. Some things cannot get out simply by talking or sharing…so what do you do about it? Well, you go through an hour of intensity at 6:30am with heavy breathing, yelling, screaming, dancing, hitting (bolsters, not people), crying, singing, chanting, jumping, smiling, silence, stillness, and celebrations. At times I heard laughing, at others I heard, “Fuck you! I am worthy!” Did I mention we were blindfolded? Hahahaha. Crazy shit, right? Well if you’ve seen Wild Wild Country on Netflix, this type of meditation is by way of Osho…the crazy cult leader who turned up in Oregon in the 80s with a hoard of followers. I digress…just watch. The meditation is done early morning because in the words of Osho,
The whole of nature becomes alive, the night has gone, the sun is coming up and everything becomes conscious and alert.
I think it has more to do with the fact that not everyone is fully awake by 6:30am, so by the time we’ve sweat out all blood and tears, we’ve kinda managed to graze on over whatever the HELL just happened in the Luna Shala…but that’s just me.
Everyone has their own path, their own story. Apparently you typically move through dynamic similar to the way you move through life. It’s as strange as it sounds, but I highly urge you to partake in a session at least once in your lifetime.
The first time I heard Rachel talk about “holding space,” I imagined her lifting up the planets, the stars, the moon, and the sun. Damn Lesley…why you gotta be so literal?! Holding space for others simply means creating a moment for them to divulge whatever they need to get out. We had these exercises called “Sharings” or “Weather Reports” where we’d get a partner, gaze into their eyes for a few minutes without looking away and then have a prompt to expand upon such as “If I wasn’t fearful, I would…” The other person is not allowed to engage or talk back since this could derail the speaker and how they divulge their answer. Everyone should seriously try it sometime. Never have I ever been so intimate with a woman, and these made up some of the most beautiful moments of the training. It’s also an amazing leadership tool if ya ask me!
Rachel Brathen from Island Yoga in Aruba and Lara Heimann from Yoga Stream in New Jersey co-taught my YTT program. I feel so fortunate to have had them both lead me through such a rigorous process with so much skill, expertise, care and attention. I can’t get over how thoughtful, intentional, purposeful and best of all – different – they are in their own practice. While Rachel falls on the emotional aspects of yoga and their teachings, Lara relies on the anatomical aspects. Rachel looks at the heart. Lara looks at the bones. A perfect balance if you ask me!
During some moments, I honestly felt like I was back in school, and it.was.AWESOME. Call me crazy, but I miss the classroom environment. I’m constantly learning every day, but I was one of those students who really enjoyed school from elementary through college. Yeah, I’m weird. Whatever. I did take AP Anatomy in high school but quickly realized that all knowledge left the building a looong time ago. As I studied diagram after diagram and memorized bones and ligaments and muscles and joints on a skeleton named Enrique, my head was spinning. I’m sorry, wtf is a sternocleidomastoid or a ischial tuberosity? Confused if I was in med school or yoga camp, but I was loving every second. If I learned anything, ANYTHING during YTT with Lara, it’s that anything/everything is possible with MORE CORE. Just do your crunches, y’all. More on this later.
You become a great teacher by teaching, not by training.” – Rachel Brathen
Out of 10 small groups that had to teach a class in order to graduate, my small group (#JustLove) went FIRST. BAH. NERVES. I have to pee when I get nervous (sorry, tmi) so I ran into the bathroom right before our class started. As I was running back into the shala, Rachel was coming down the hall. I remember locking eyes with her, embracing her, and the hug made me feel like everything was going to be juuuuust fine. She’s one hell of a yoga instructor, but she’s an even better person, friend and teacher. I feel beyond grateful to have learned from such a human being.
I practiced and I practiced and I practiced for this day. I went through the cues and built the sequences and practiced the sanskrit and remembered when all else failed – to go back to the breath. But DAMN did everything go out the window when I got up in front of the class to teach all 50 pairs of eyes staring at me. I blacked out a little bit, and I think I began (had to) start teaching to what I saw rather than what I memorized. After our small group class, we received feedback from Rachel. I’ll never forget when she said to me, “I found it funny that all the critiques (we had 4 students give feedback before Rachel gave us feedback) mentioned how confident you were…but I knew the truth. You were scared shitless up there!” Ahh.. crazy how you can pull the wool over some people’s eyes but not others 😉
My YTT Sistahs
I can’t end this post without touching on the beautiful souls I spent 23 beautiful days with. Every woman, from 16 years of age to 57 years of age, put her mind, heart and soul into this training, ready to leave her shit behind in order to be better. A better person, daughter, sister, aunt, mom, friend, wife, and yoga teacher. It takes a certain willingness and dedication to surrender the way we did – together – and I’m crying as I write this portion because it brings up some pretty fucking amazing memories. You get what you give, and we gave it everything we had – including the invitation to be our complete selves, unapologetically us. I feel honored to have walked this path with them. Thank you thank you thank you.
I feel a certain level of accomplishment having gone vegan for a month for a few reasons. 1) I didn’t know I could do it. 2) I didn’t know I’d enjoy it. 3) Me… not eating cheese, eggs, chocolate, meat, fish for 23 days?! Get outta here. Well, I did it and learned a lot about diets in the process… #1 being you can’t just recycle chickpeas in every meal. Even the biggest chickpea lover will begin to loathe chickpeas. Me. Vegan doesn’t always mean healthy because vegan cupcakes are EVERYTHING. Who knew?? Dates goes swimmingly with vegan yogurt. I prefer almond milk in my coffee over coconut and soy. Dear overnight oats: take me prisoner and never let me go. The 100th serving of beet hummus is as good as the first. And for the love of God, whatever you do, don’t eat off the gluten free table if you aren’t gluten free. Thanks to all the cooks at Nourish Café. Y’all are the real MVPs. Also, I’m fully aware that being vegan goes a lot deeper than just abstaining from certain foods, but I’ll refrain from going down that path in this post.
I’ll forever look fondly upon the Luna Shala and remember the many hours I spent on my mat or in a cushiony chair as I listened intently to Rachel’s lectures. July was one of the best months of my life, and YTT at Island Yoga was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And just like that, the 23 beautiful, transformative days were over. Part of me thought we’d be in the island bubble for the rest of our lives just yogaing and eating a lot of veggies and other Vegan things but turns out, there is life beyond yoga camp…
After our insanely beautiful graduation and final few hours in the shala, we pulled our second Angel Card. This time, I got chills.
This is the right time for you to move forward.
I believe the universe was telling me it was the perfect time to change direction. I was safe. I was ready. I was a graduate. Here I go…
Nothing but so.much.gratitude. And a fancy lil’ certificate 🙂
SO OFFICIAL I NEED A WHISTLE.