Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Africa Yoga Teacher Training Experience

So I made it through the hardcore month of waking up at 5am most days (4.45am if our house was on cleaning duty), including 4 - 5 hours of physical yoga practice on most days (mainly Ashtanga), and reading like there was no tomorrow. I am now officially a yoga teacher and can use the copyrighted "RYT" behind my name (= Registered Yoga Teacher).(ie. if I now have the balls to teach in front of a mass number of people.)

But beyond all of that, it was such an amazing experience to have gone through - the 14 students and 7 teachers created a warm, loving, safe cocoon for all of us to start the individual journey of awareness. Each of us was confronted with all kinds of emotions from frustration, exhaustion, laughter, fear, courage, joy... for the first time ever, I had a couple of tearful moments on the mat from the sheer intensity of the course, and also for the first time ever I had the deepest, most relaxing yet aware Savasana - where I was actually floating inside my body in deep relaxation... there yet not there.

This course was beyond what I imagined it would be, and I think everyone else on the course would also agree with me. I think beyond all the teaching tools and yoga foundations etc. that we were taught, the most important gift we were given is that of Self-Awakening/ Self-Awareness. I've come back feeling empowered, inspired and motivated to do something with this gift I've been given (with no promises that I won't suck as a teacher!) Kelly's going to be my first guinea pig, so look forward to more stories of that first class!

Here are some highlights of the month, from an album of 255 photos.
My room:

View from my room, overlooking the canal:

My very '70s bathroom & walk-in wardrobe (yes, it walked into the thatch roof!):

And the shower that decided to go funny after a week, only dispensing hot water when it felt like it (some days we had to walk over to Patrizia's cottage for a shower):

The kitchen:

What was on my shelf:

No, there was no Woolworths. My heart sank when I found out there was only a Super Spar.

The exterior of the house:

Building regulations in St. Francis Bay require ALL houses to have thatch roofs or grey tiles, with white walls. While a thatch roof is extremely pretty, it gets flipping freezing cold, and all kinds of creepy-crawlies fall from the roof every now and again (found a red worm in my bag of Q-tips. Good thing I checked before putting them in my ears!)

So everywhere you walk, this is pretty much the sight you'll see:

It's kind of Stepford Wives meets Cocoon 2 (coz in the low season without the tourists, it's just full of geriatrics who live there!) With everything looking the same, it's got a strangely calming effect. The first time I got out of St. Francis was about 2 weeks into the course when we drove out to nearby Cape St. Francis (with no building regulation). And suddenly, I was aware of how messy and un-uniform everything looked outside of St. Francis Bay. Still can't decide if that's a good thing or not.

A typical day started at 6am for an hour of Pranayama/ Meditation, which meant waking up at 5am. However, if your house was on cleaning duty (twice a week), this meant waking up at 4.45am in order to get to the studio at 5.30am in order to light the fires, candles, set up the bolsters and blankets, etc. for the meditation session.

This was followed by 2hrs of Ashtanga for half of the group that was practicing and the other half that was adjusting or teaching, and the following 2hrs after that, we would swop - so whoever practiced first would then adjust/ teach in the later session.

This would take up till 11am where we had our first break for breakfast/ lunch. And traditionally, you're not supposed to have eaten anything before Pranayama nor Asana practice, since this means your energy would be spent busy digesting rather than moving towards higher consciousness. But I, the unenlightened, HAD to eat and always had at least 1 or 2 bananas before the morning Pranayama (Sorry, Maria!). Actually, I practically lived off bananas the whole time - scoffing at least 6 a day! There's no way I could've survived for 6 hours from rising without eating AND doing such a physical practice!

After a half-hour or 1hr break, we'd go onto either technique of poses or adjustment classes which would require hands-on practice with each other, followed by a short 1/2hr or 1hr mini-flow class where we'd practice those adjustments in the context of a flow class.

Another half-hour or 1hr break would follow, and then we'd have either an anatomy/ physiology class, a marketing class, or a yoga history/ philosophy class.

On alternate days, we would end off with another 1.5hr hatha class with strong emphasis on alignment, Iyengar-style. This is pretty much how we were feeling after a week into the course:


We had some pretty cool classes with the use of props, partner yoga, and sequencing classes - all tools to help us become more creative and dynamic as teachers.

We started the course during the new moon (symbolizing a new phase in life), and 2 weeks into the course, during the full moon (symbolizing when self-realization comes full circle), we made the transition from yoga students to yoga teachers (coz we would start teaching proper for the next 2 weeks). We had a yoga trance dance session to celebrate this... basically an indoor rave without glowsticks! We got dressed up and put on bindis and basically danced the night away to world music.

(Course director: Maria, and Teacher Phil)

The only food provided on the course was fresh fruit and rooibos tea. And when the cartons of fruit were delivered, you knew the yogis were in town!

Without Woolies and their easy, pre-packed, fresh organic produce, I was kinda lost, but made do with brown rice & quinoa salads.

But a week into the course, vegetarians like Lisa and me started craving fish and started eating fish again (anchovy pizza, here we come!), and meat-eaters like Chloe started turning vegetarian. It was kinda bizarre how the body goes haywire... and of course when you put a bunch of yogis together, they're invariably going to talk about 3 things: Yoga, Food, Poo. Not necessarily in that order.

There were discussions about vegetarianism, wheat-free and gluten-free food, IBS, farts (during classes too!), eating meat, etc. the point where I'm feeling like my little vegetarian experiment might now be over. Well, at least I'm completely confused about what's right for ME. I've since booked an appointment to see a Kineasiologist who specializes in nutrition and food allergies just to check out what I should/ shouldn't be eating since every body is different and I'm not sure if being vegetarian is right for me.

And of course no yoga course is complete without injuries (although as a teacher once told me "It's not yoga that causes injury - it's ego that causes injury")...

Pleased to say mine were all minor injuries, and the chronic shoulder knots I had which I thought were yoga-related were GONE for the entire month (which means they're completely work-related stress knots).

Injury #1: Broken toenail

Injury #2: Blood blister from dancing barefoot on wooden floor at Yoga Trance Dance

Injury #2.1: The day after (blood blister turned purple)

(yes, I know I need to moisturize those feet too!)

Injury #3: Blister on foot from dragging foot on mat during vinyasa jump-throughs

Of course it wasn't all work, work, work... we managed to get out on Sundays (the only free day every week). Checked out the infamous Jeffreys Bay (er, it's just a beach. What's the big deal?) and had brunch at Wax Cafe there with Sam & Marinus.

Also checked out the "Surf Museum" upstairs of the Quiksilver store.

On another weekend, Talitha, Marinus & I went to have brunch at the lighthouse in Cape St. Francis. There's a penguin rescue project there and all proceeds from the coffee shop go to saving the penguins.

And we also climbed the 308 steps up to the top of the lighthouse (after signing an indemnity form in case we decided to jump off at the top).

We never could fully relax on Sundays though, as there was always another assignment to complete or more reading to do, so every now and again if we finished early on a weekday, we'd also take a quick drive to Cape St. Francis to buy carrot cake, or watch the surfers/ kite-surfers.

We had our graduation/ water ceremony at the end of the course.

(My roommates: Sam & Lisa)

Adjusting back to regular life is quite weird now, especially going back to regular yoga classes (my body's saying "only 1 hour? That's not enough practice at all!") and I'm missing all the beautiful adjustments from everyone in practically every single pose. It's interesting to see what will happen from here, and how we'll take this experience and make it a part of our lives from now.

I'm already starting with Kelly this weekend - he'll be my first student (aka guinea pig). And then let's see what happens from there, but I'd love to share this gift of yoga!

For more info on the course, click here
More pix in the online album. Click here:

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