hen I enrolled in my first yoga teacher training program, over (gulp) 25 years ago, I had one goal in mind: I wanted to teach yoga.
The program was a two-year long Iyengar-style affair that I had selected after an arduous process of research and comparison (my Libra nature in all its glory). It was comprehensive, had a stellar reputation, and the precision of the Iyengar influence was well-suited to my intention to use the practice to work, not only in traditional yoga settings, but also with populations in need of the many therapeutic benefits yoga could offer.
Much to my surprise, I came out the other side of this lengthy process changed in ways that seemingly had nothing to do with why I had signed up. While the program had twisted and challenged me in ways
I had expected, it also stretched and sculpted me in ways I never could have imagined.
Since that fateful journey into yoga teacherness, I have attended more than a handful of other yoga teacher training programs in various traditions, founded a yoga and wellness
center in Phoenix, Arizona and have shepherded over 1,000 students through my own yoga teacher training programs.
All in all, my couple of decades of yoga-based rigmarole has helped me to see something I was entirely blind to lo those many years ago. The fact is teaching yoga might be one of the least important reasons to enroll in a yoga teacher training course.
The fact is that teaching yoga might be one of the least important reasons to enroll in a yoga teacher training course.
REASON #1: SELF MASTERY
The overlooked fact is this: Our ability to sculpt our best lives depends largely upon how well we are able to manage and control our thoughts, emotions, words and deeds. It’s a kind of self mastery that is best cultivated, not through force, but through understanding. Specifically, through an understanding of the inner forces that compel us to do what we do.
Have you ever considered…
Why, despite your best intentions, you sometimes find yourself hip deep in negative thinking?
Why habits that you know are dragging you down can be so hard to break?
Why despite a life overflowing with real blessings, you are at times plagued with troubling emotions?
The answer to these questions can set the stage for a vital shift in our lives, and it’s here where yoga teacher training can help.
To a very large degree, yoga teacher training is about understanding what’s going on under the hoods of these body/minds. Central to yoga’s ancient science of mind is the effort to comprehend, and master, the forces that drive our thoughts, words, and deeds.
An effective yoga teacher training program takes us on a measured exploration of our mental and emotional landscapes. Using the map that yoga psychology provides us, we are helped to make sense of our inner world. Concepts like samskaras and vasanas, koshas and karma, are paired with a curious exploration of our innermost selves, something called svadhyaya in yoga, to reveal the internal patterning that skews our perspectives, influences our conclusions, and directs our actions.
This understanding sets the stage for us to employ yoga’s various techniques to leverage the mind’s malleability (called neuroplasticity in western parlance) to create positive, and lasting, change.
“Knowledge is power.” said the great philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon. And nowhere is this more important than in the knowledge of the hidden aspects of our selves, knowledge that is critical to our quest to sculpt lives of happiness and meaning.
- Sir Francis Bacon
REASON #2: HARMONIOUS RELATIONSHIPS
Misunderstandings are the number one source of unnecessary relationship friction. They can take the form of misperceiving motive, neglecting perspective, mistaking emotional state, and the list goes on. But no matter what the specifics may be, minor misunderstandings like these can quickly turn the most benign situations into full-blown conflict.
Consider how an enhanced understanding might affect your response in the following circumstances:
Your reaction to your partner’s gloomy mood if you knew that he interpreted the
silence of your inner reflection as a personal rejection?
Your feeling towards your best friend’s melancholy if you were aware that she was
raised with the belief that it is not okay to ask for what she wants?
Your opinion about your coworker’s outburst if you understood her constant feeling
of powerlessness and worthlessness?
This is where the inner work undertaken as part of the yoga teacher training process (see reason #1) pays even greater dividends. For as we begin to awaken to the forces that drive our own actions, the motives behind the words and deeds of others also become clearer.
It’s a clarity that makes possible a mature and empathetic perspective, one that quite spontaneously yields a more compassionate—and harmonious—response to those around us.
REASON #3: FREEDOM AND EASE
Though we might not realize it, we are great manufacturers of optional conflict (emphasis on the word optional).
Each of our personal agendas, perspectives, and beliefs, when held too tightly, can become a friction point that throws us into apparent conflict with those around us.
Religious fundamentalism can cause those holding other beliefs to appear as evil.
Political dogmatism can make those on the other side of the political spectrum
appear as enemies that must be eradicated.
Fanatical environmentalism can make those concerned with economic prosperity
seem as evil miscreants.
“Every view is wrong view when it’s held as the view that is the true view.” said the great Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. An admonishment we’d all be wise to consider.
This is where yoga teacher training can propel us leaps and bounds ahead of our regular studio practice. At its core, the yogic process is about untangling the morass of unexamined beliefs and perspectives that keep us mired in conflict and struggle.
It's something that can illuminate previously unseen paths to harmony and ease.
What’s more, because a well-constructed yoga teacher training program involves an experiential process of transformation (rather than a simple course in information), it invites the objective exploration of core beliefs together with how they affect our relationship to the world around us.
Perhaps best likened to a kind of inner map-making exercise, it’s something that can literally illuminate previously unseen paths to harmony and ease.
REASON #4: RADIANT HEALTH, WELLNESS, & HAPPINESS
The benefits of a regular yoga practice are undeniable—and most everyone knows that they grow in proportion to the frequency of practice.
But there’s another factor, beyond frequency, that can dramatically fuel the benefits of your yoga practice even further: depth.
The truth is that attending a regularly-scheduled yoga class can only offer so much. The limited time and natural churn of students restrict what can be accomplished in such a format and, as a result, these classes are typically focused on the performance of postures, breath work, and maybe a bit of meditation.
While this indeed has its benefits, it leaves immense wells of yogic knowledge and techniques untapped. Think about using your computer only to type correspondence or using an iPhone only as *gasp* a phone and you’ll get a small sense of the potential left behind.
Fortunately, this limitation is greatly diminished in most yoga teacher training programs. Because of the length of such courses, together with the commitment required, you will cover decidedly more territory, including a wide range of mutually supporting topics that rarely see the light of day outside such settings.
This of course yields an exponential boost to the gifts of the practice—for both body and mind.
REASON #5: FUN & FRIENDSHIPS
While this may be found nowhere in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or any of the other source texts of yoga, it is nevertheless one of the most wonderful of by-products of the yoga teacher training experience.
There are few things so intriguing or exciting as plumbing the depths of our beings—and when done together with a group of friends, amazing bonds of friendship form—connections that can last a lifetime.
So while helping people to live happier, healthier lives through the teaching of yoga may be just be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, it is not necessarily the main reason to consider a yoga teacher training program—not by a long shot.
About the author - Eric Walrabenstein is a best-selling author, speaker, and nationally-renowned teacher of yoga and mind-body sciences. An ordained Yogacharya, Eric is founder of Yoga Pura in Phoenix, Arizona, and has trained well over a thousand yoga and meditation teachers over the past 25 years.
In addition to his work at Yoga Pura, Eric has helped thousands of our troops and veterans heal from post-traumatic stress with his BOOTSTRAP yoga stress-management program and is now working to combat the addiction crisis with a new yoga-based approach to recovery called BrightLife.
Eric’s work has been widely featured in the media including on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, SUCCESS Magazine, and Yoga Journal.