Yoga Teacher Training: The After

It has taken me so long to write this, partly because I haven’t known how to describe such a transcendental experience, partly because I’ve been working on about a million other things, and partly because I just honestly have not felt like it.

One of the things I have been working on has actually been a short book about yoga teacher training. Inspired by Anne Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, I have been rewriting my journal entries from those two weeks and piecing them into a narrative collection of what I hope will someday become every new yoga teacher’s companion. This will be an extremely short book, and likely self-published, but rest assured my blog audience will be the first to know about its release. Well, second. After my YTT tribe.

Anyway, back to the good stuff.

Although the book (working title, Raising Vibrations) will dive much more in depth on my experiences on the mountain I will take you on a brief journey into what yoga teacher training for me really was.

My first note on this training, this was unlike most yoga teacher trainings that students embark on. This teacher training is called Raising Vibrations with River Flow Yoga (based out of Columbus, Georgia) and is a two week immersive course at Elohee Retreat Center. Elohee is a special (and truly, I believe, magical) place where for most of the year you can only access it via organized retreats and classes.

In most teacher trainings, the classes will take place on the weekends spanning weeks, usually multiple months. Additionally, depending on the studio you choose, these trainings will primarily focus on hatha yoga — the physical practice, and less on the spiritual, energetic, and philosophical sides. The benefit, I believe, from an immersive course like RFY offers is that you are committed to LIVING the yoga. Over the course of two weeks, I and my eight classmates were free to leave behind any and all responsibilities, eventually shedding any masks and limiting beliefs we had accumulated before arriving on the sacred ground of Elohee. 

During these two weeks, I experienced events that I never would have believed even possible. On our first day there, we introduced ourselves and explained what we were hoping to get out of this training. Some of us knew we wanted to teach, most of us weren’t sure, we all knew we wanted to deepen our practices. I, personally, wanted to wake up. For the weeks, no, months before yoga teacher training I had been so tired. Tired straight to my bones, and then even beyond that. I was thirsting for more out of life. I was clinging to my limiting beliefs like life rafts full of rotten garbage. I was deeply entrenched in the past, and it was exhausting. I felt as if I’d been sleepwalking through life. And thus I told my classmates: I wanted to wake up.

And wake up I did.

Even as I write this, I am bombarded with visuals of fire circles, chanting, shouting at the moon, wild laughter, twirling and waving scarves overhead, ice cold waterfall showers, morning hikes, silence, wildflowers, diving into a crystal clear pond, smiles, glittering crystals, weeping, hugging, bright vegetables, cool sheets, plunging my hands into something cool and sweetly scented, and so much more. I feel the tears welling up even as I think of it.

The power of the fellowship I experienced on that mountaintop is unmatched. Nine individuals, most of whom had never met, were brought together to raise vibrations. And it was tangible. The way that energy moves in Elohee, first of all, is unbelievable. Everything (EVERYTHING) on the mountain is intentional.

All my life, I have been plagued by super intense longing. When I was younger, I’d cope with it by hurling myself full-force into water — swimming pools, lakes, oceans. I longed for total immersion into beauty. When I traveled to Scotland, our bus stopped beside an overlook of the Highlands. The Highlands, if you don’t know, are a wild and untamed mountainscape riddled with God knows what, and look like a fictitious land plucked out of a fairytale. I was so overcome by the beauty of what I beheld, that I (once again) hurled myself down the side of the mountain and sprinted as far and as fast as I could in the hopes that I could abandon the bus full of my classmates and teachers, and thus my American life — opting instead for the life of a runaway in Scottish mountains.

In Elohee, I finally felt immersed.

Every breath, every moment, every image, was intensely beautiful. Even when I closed my eyes, I could still feel the sensation of the beauty. Each flower petal, each blade of grass, each wing on each and every bumblebee, was exacted by the hand of God. And thus it was evident to those of us lucky enough to behold these small miracles, that we too were beautiful and divine creatures.

We ate like gods and goddesses on fresh fruits and vegetables (and probably gallons of chai tea). We sat side by side, barefoot in the grass, hunched over books detailing astrological signs and their meanings. We slept on fluffy, clean, white beds in tiny rooms that we need never spend any time in other than to rest and replenish. We woke with the dawn, and spent entire days moving, laughing, and laying in the sun. It was hot, but I never remember being hot. When we got warm we slipped under the crystal clear waters of the meditation pond, or snuck down to the waterfall for another Ayurvedic dunk in the freezing water.

Oh, the waterfall. The true magic of this place. I think the day we slipped under the waterfall was the day that everything changed for all of us.

It was a small waterfall with a pond at the bottom only about as big as a large living room carpet. The water was maybe knee deep at it’s deepest, and filled with mineral-dense, sludgy mud. And it was freezing.

We quickly established rules to the waterfall: you had to go in back first, to really let the water wash over your head. Then, when you were ready, you had to turn around and press your third eye to the rock. And, if you were really ballsy, before exiting the waterfall you had to sit and steady your breathing into a state of meditation. Of course, being students of yoga we all spent probably collectively hours calming our breath in the freezing water.

This water was the coldest water I have ever experienced in my life. And for reference, I once went dogsledding on the Yukon River where an ill-placed footstep sunk my boot right through the ice and the water sloshed into my shoe.

The water was cold. So cold that at first, it was all I could do to even keep breathing. My eyes crossed when I first sat in the water. But then, everything became crystal clear. It was like I was seeing in color for the very first time. I looked up, and a green canopy of trees reaching up to the heavens looked like the soaring ceilings of a gothic cathedral. Karolina (who, of all of us, had the deepest connection to the waterfall. She could even meditate so deeply under the cascade, that she swore the water became hot to touch) used to look at me as we stood in the pond and just say “church” and I knew she was right. The waterfall was church.

Because standing there in the water, looking up at the trees, and feeling every nerve in your body completely alive, was to be one with God. To have that nature pouring over your head and invading every sense of your being was to truly BE in the moment. It was water that yanked you somehow both into the present moment and outside of it. It felt like standing on the edge of the Universe.

When I stepped away from the waterfall for the first time, my body was shaking. But it wasn’t from being cold. In fact, I actually felt incredibly warm. It was shaking, I am sure, because the very soul inside me was leaping up and down in a passionate show of joie de vivre.

When we weren’t worshipping in our “church,” we could be found all over the campus of Elohee. Being nestled at the top of a mountain, we had a great 360 degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It felt like we were in our own little bowl of nature. It was wonderfully quiet. Everyone spoke softly, elegantly, and beautifully. You could tell each individual there was emanating light. And you could feel the energy coming off of anyone you spoke to — we all vibrated on some other level. Alee joked with us that when we came back down from the mountain we would feel like aliens. And we did. We had spent two weeks entirely connected to our truest Satya (truth). Our most authentic selves.

On the mountain I learned how to protect my energy, and also how to connect with it. I learned to hone my intuition, and to have confidence in myself and in my dreams. I learned to do away with anything that fed me fear, and I learned how to really cut myself loose and just live. Because what a crime it is to not really be here. We are gifted this life, this breath, this moment — and to spend time wishing it away, or not fully being here, is truly a slap in the face of God and All That Is.

Before I close out this post, I want to write about the four special souls that really made yoga teacher training what it was for me. My four soul sisters, and my beautiful sisterhood of the traveling (flowy) pants.

We came from all over. Me, from Atlanta. Shannon, our Celtic, owl-y, oh-so Gemini, spitfire from Americus. Gina, the tiny, wild, sweet, and insanely talented photographer from Columbus. Karolina, sharp of mind, quick of wit, brave of heart from Louisiana. And Tyler, my violet-haired, spirit guide, sister witch from Columbus.

We started out on this weird, wild, soul-journey unfamiliar with each other and even unfamiliar with ourselves. And over the course of fourteen days, we came together as a tribe within a tribe. We shared dreams, fears, books, clothes, hugs, snacks, and tears. I will never be able to thank these four women enough for the love and friendship they showed me during my yoga teacher training. We lifted each other up, and caught each other when we stumbled. The five of us together created a safe space for us to truly unleash and be our wildest, freest, happiest selves. And I have no doubt that we will be lifelong companions.

On our last night in Elohee, we spent hours in the yoga studio dancing, singing, twirling, and waving our new prayer shawls over our heads like flags of victory. And after the hours of unrestrained “soulful gyrating” we collapsed on the floor in a circle holding hands and enjoying the peace of the moment.