by Nina Hoogstraate
Let me first start off by saying it took me at least 2 years of research and mulling to decide on a 200 hour yoga teacher training. The entire process is super overwhelming, especially if you don't have a specific teacher that you would like to study with.
That being said, it can often be those trainings that are most expensive which, for me, takes away from what yoga is truly about.
So, I narrowed it down to the style of yoga in combination with location. Hatha was - and is - my preferred style of yoga. Naturally, the mind wanders to India as it is the birthplace and mecca of all things yoga (and I’ve always wanted to go - next time!). This didn’t make it much easier. In addition, many of the yoga school's websites didn't look particularly professional or give me that extra confidence boost to say, "this looks awesome, I’ll spend a few thousand euros on this!”
I totally realise this might be a very 21st century way of making a decision, but let's face it, in this day and age a website says A LOT.
Rewind to July of last year. I was in Australia, about to move back home, when I felt the sudden urge to spend the very last of my savings on something worthwhile; so I had another scavenge in to the deep dark hole of teacher trainings. Et voila, out comes Zuna Yoga. 'Zuna', meaning 'to thrive' in Sanskrit. All Hatha and Tantra based, with a touch of Ayurveda. Location? Bali. Website? Very much on point.
And just like that, I shook out the last of my pennies and jumped deep in to the pool of yoga.
Time to fast-forward 7 months. I arrive in Ubud a few days before the training starts. In a hazy sleep deprived state I whack on a pair of leggings & bra and set out to try as many of the yoga studios around town, out of sheer curiosity as well as the urge to practise as much as I can before practising even more (word of advice - there is no real need for yoga every single day before your training; just a few times a week is completely fine - and arguably less insane).
The day before the training we received an email, informing us to be at the retreat for 4pm ready with a fun fact about ourselves to share with the group. Now, here's a little secret, that sort of stuff freaks me out. My reasons for doing a YTT (yoga teacher training) wasn't necessarily to become a teacher, but to delve deeper in to my personal practice as well as get out of my comfort zone/overcome my fear of public speaking. Spoiler alert - it has done both. I think.
Arriving at the retreat, I saw a big group of new faces chattering away. Strange to reflect on this post training, as we became the most beautiful yogi family, sharing and supporting one another 24/7.
There was enthusiasm and anticipation in the air. At 4, we headed down to the yoga shala and found a tote bag with our name on it. Surrounded by rice paddies and dense jungle, dragonflies and butterflies were fluttering around. There was a mandala made of flowers in the center of the shala. We sat in a big oval shape filling the length and width of the open air space. Nervously, we made flighty eye contact with one another as well as some small talk. This is where it all begins…
To my surprise, Katherine and Everett, the facilitators and founders of Zuna were also there. Not sure why, but for some reason I was expecting them to have other teachers hosting the trainings whilst they were off conquering the rest of the world. So that felt very grounding (and a tad intimidating!).
They introduced us to the ethics and ethos of Zuna, the structure of the training and a little about themselves. We all did the same; introduced ourselves and shared a funny story or two. Soon all barriers dissolved and we were all reminded that we were all here to do the same thing. And the entire three weeks were over in a blink of an eye.
Every day began in silence, up until morning lecture at 10 o'clock. My alarm went off at 5.30 am, ready for practice at 6. Walking past rice paddies, hearing the crickets and looking up to find the moon on my way to the shala became like a sacred ritual. Silence is powerful! Some days were definitely easier than others. Complete peace and oneness with nature on one day, and totally frustrated/sad/confused the next. Be with yourself and surrender, learn to let the mind chatter go.
My little brain was blown on the daily, through the sheer amount of knowledge and teachings. Philosophy in the morning with Everett, workshops and anatomy with Katherine in the afternoons, and daily evening meditations. All in combination with all the little nuggets of life stories of fellow yogis at lunch and dinner times. It was beautiful, overwhelming and indescribable all at once.
The way in which every theory/muscle/technique was explained was incredibly well formulated and logical. Almost all spiritual theories were backed up by science. Each asana explained and adapted to modern day physical bodies. Every sequence broken down in terms of energy created and muscles used. The utmost perfection and time was taken to find the best suited meditation seat; realising that your seat is the most crucial part of meditation was, personally, a huge epiphany. “We want to lose sense of the physical body.” Duh, Nina.
The other was the breath. The focus and importance of breathing fully. In to the pelvis. Mindfully. Learning to let the body follow the breath in your practice, in asanas (poses) and meditation. It is honestly the gateway to peace and strength. It’s what keeps us alive! Creating that connection is so simple, yet so very difficult nowadays.
We were all taught this, at the same time. It didn’t matter how much yoga we had ‘done’, it all began with the breath. As it always should.
Where prana (energy) flows, life grows… letting all perceptions and judgements fade in to the background, we came to each session with an open mind. This helped with creating a sense of unity, for sure.
Then the unexpected happened. Just over halfway through the training, an old injury in my knees flared up; making it nigh impossible to practice almost anything physical for the rest of the training. Staying true to Zuna’s mantra of ‘Attitude Is Everything’ I continued to attend all the classes. The amount of support I received was amazing, from both the teachers as well as students. I quickly realised the mental suffering caused by the physical pain was more testing. I felt inadequate, tired, frustrated, shit - to put it plainly. These feelings naturally ebbed and flowed like waves in the ocean, and forced me to surrender. For the first time, I truly felt like I was honouring my body. It was a big, big challenge - and instead of trying to understand why it happened, I just had to go with it and let go (again!).
And it did have its’ benefits; especially during morning practice. I got a fly on the wall view of how a class is run. From assisting, to cueing the right things to say, gaging the energetic levels of the class and observing people’s individual practices. Seeing everyone move with their own breath, truly practising together but for themselves, felt very special.
By the second week we were divided in to groups to take our turn at teaching and adjusting part of a class. So we went from practising for 2.5 hours a day to 5; saying people were exhausted by the third day is an understatement. But the resilience and support was undefiable. We all kept going, realising the importance of strength and compassion toward one another. The last student led class was emotional to say the least, an air of humble lightness and free flowing tears filled the shala. Hugs, kisses, words of encouragement and love were present in abundance. I’ll forever be grateful for that experience. It seems crazy that we come across that so rarely in life!
It’s now almost been a month since we finished, and I’m still absorbing. Still not sure if I want to teach yoga, but it has definitely made my personal practice more expansive, and the flow of finding time for it daily less challenging or forced. It is what it is. Like breathing.
Upon reflection, we were all individually broken down and carefully pieced back together, ready to teach and share yoga from a healthy, grounded viewpoint. It is important to realise that yoga isn’t merely a form of physical exercise or simply a spiritual practice. It is a balance of both and much, much more.
But as Everett would say, I’m not going to get into that right now.