In 2015 I suffered a traumatic knee injury that led to 5 surgeries, an infection, and hours upon hours of physical therapy. One of the only exercises I was permitted to do outside of the PT clinic was swimming, which I hated. After a few months of forcing myself to go to the YMCA pool, where old ladies are not afraid to walk around naked, I decided that I needed to add some other form of physical exercise to my regiment…so I dropped into a local yoga studio and took a one hour hot power flow vinyasa class. While I could not get into many of the poses, I left there sweating and wanting more.
What I wanted to gain from doing yoga several times per week was the physical benefits, such as strength, flexibility, and stamina. But what I got instead was so much more. I had no idea that yoga would change my mental fortitude in such a positive way. I was able to literally change my perspective by being upside down, right side up, side ways,…by grounding down, and by rising up. But changing the way I thought about my injury was a huge paradigm shift for me. I began to focus on the proverbial silver lining: the reassurance of who my true friends really were, meeting Jason, my significant other, and welcoming new friends into my life that I would otherwise not have met. I developed a new mantra: work smarter not harder, and I began forcing myself to be patient with exercise. Yoga was the perfect outlet for this.
I had practiced yoga on and off for several years (mostly as a form of mobility for my CrossFit training). But, in February of 2016 I joined a studio called Higher Power Yoga and began practicing 3-4 times per week. I purposely chose classes taught by Alexsis Gatti and Ruby Zulkowski because they inspired me with their teaching abilities. Alexsis kicked my butt and left me in a pool of sweat, and Ruby had a way with words. I remember one time during savasana Ruby shared some profound thoughts that brought me to tears. This is when I KNEW I wanted to become a yoga instructor.
I signed up for a week long Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at Higher Power, but due to the lack of participants, it was cancelled. This forced me to look elsewhere. I did some research and found several studios within close proximity that offered training sessions, but all with different schedules. I liked the idea of completing the training over the course of 7 weekends in a 7 month period, so I dropped in to Dimitra Yoga in Lewes. The owner, Dimitra Kotanides, greeted me with a hug and I instantly knew that this was where I wanted to be. She gave me a tour, let me try out a class that day, and then provided me with the details about YTT.
Each weekend consisted of the following schedule: Fridays (6-9 p.m.), Saturdays 8 a.m.-8 p.m), and Sundays 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.). I knew it was going to be a huge time commitment and a monetary sacrifice, but I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting it would be. Before each weekend session we had a homework load that included a lot of reading, writing, and researching. We then spent numerous hours learning about the anatomy of the body, analyzing the asanas (poses), and how to cue these movements. In addition to the analysis of the physical aspect of yoga, we also learned about the benefits of essential oils, different methods of meditation, how to administer a massage and provide assists, and how to collaborate as a team.
While most of the sessions required us to be students, there were a few times when we had to switch roles. During the first weekend of training Dimitra explained, demonstrated, modeled, and taught Sun Salutation A. We practiced doing the movements over and over and over. Little did we know that she was going to make us teach each other this sequence. She lined us up in the studio and then chose one person to step outside and enter with a teacher presence, instructing the group through several Sun A’s. I admit I was a little nervous, but I didn’t think it would be that bad. I have been a teacher for 17 years, so I figured this would come naturally. But, I could not have been more wrong.
I entered the room and tried to be different than the 7 seven other students who had just practice taught. I added some of my own cues and instructions and apparently that was not the right thing to do. So, she sent me back out in the hall to regroup and try again. This time I kept it simple, just cuing the movements in this Sun Salutation. But, I gave a few wrong cues with the breath. I couldn’t remember when to tell them to inhale and exhale. Dear God….just breath when you need to breath! Wrong again…back out to the hall way. Ok, so maybe the third time would be a charm. I managed to make my way through this dreadful drill, albeit not flawless. I took my place in line while the remaining students practiced and I wondered if I had made a huge mistake by doing this training. I was terrible at this.
During the second session of training we were again required to teach Sun A’s to our class. But this time, Dimitra cranked up the music and made us face the opposite direction of our peers, forcing us to project our voices and teach the movements by memorization. This was nerve wracking at first, but after dozens of attempts, I know we all gained confidence in our abilities.
Throughout other training weekends we had to cue each other on the spot, but it wasn’t until weekend #6 that we had to program and teach an entire class. On Friday night of this session we got to ease our way into it by co-teaching a one hour power flow that we had designed the month prior. We held a fund raising event that included a free yoga class, and numerous yoga instructors were in attendance. This made the task even more daunting. While we all made some minor mistakes, I think overall we did a great job!
The following day we had to teach each other the one hour sequence that we had been designing with a peak pose in mind. I chose to go first to get it over with, and I was glad I did because then I could relax the rest of the weekend and not have to worry about the anxiety. After I taught we debriefed as a group and Dimitra made my peers give me constructive criticism. I appreciated this tough love because sugar coating the feedback would not have made me a better instructor. I learned some little things like not to play a song with lyrics if I am going to guide them through savasana, as this is distracting. I learned how important the lighting and the playlists are in regards to timing in a sequence. I learned that I need to signal the breath more and provide more cues. I know that I have a lot more to learn and only with practice will I improve.
While we have one weekend left to complete community service (building a house through Habitat for Humanity), I am glad to know this training is coming to an end. Throughout this journey I have learned a tremendous amount not only about yoga, but about myself. As I embark on my new endeavor as a yoga instructor at CrossFit Unlocked and with Milford Parks & Rec, I can only hope that one day I will have half of the knowledge and skills that Dimitra has as an instructor.
I’d like to thank the 6 people in my cohort for all of the support in the past 7 months:
Devin MacLaughlin, Nate Metz, Lisa Wentling,
Lucy Monigle, Kelsey Foochs, &Moll y Allen