What I learned from my yoga teacher training surprised me.
I arrived on the beautiful, tropical island of Koh Phangan in late August 2019, ready to do (almost) nothing but yoga for the next four weeks.
I’ve been practising asanas (the physical yoga postures) for over a decade, but the philosophy of yoga was something that I’d only stumbled on 18 months prior to our YTT.
My physical practice has always been very on and off, so I definitely wasn’t walking into it thinking I was an expert. I’ve hosted my own retreats, and led yoga classes in them, so I was used to taking on the role of a teacher. But I very much walked in to this experience as a beginner with plenty to learn.
And I think that’s the best way to approach all things in life. Always be a student. Regardless of how much you know, look for how much more there is to learn.
This is how you grow.
Here’s what I learned from my yoga teacher training in Thailand
1. Take your time deciding on where you’ll do your YTT
Why did we choose Thailand?
It was kind of a happy accident really!
To begin with, me and my partner Sam were between Bali and India. We spent a year living in Bali and loved it, and had taken a lot of yoga classes while in Ubud – so we knew this would be a great place to do our YTT.
Yoga is said to have originated in India, and the YTT experience is supposed to be much more authentic in Rishikesh. That’s why we dabbled with going to India – until we started to realise how basic and potentially uncomfortable the experience might be.
It’s common to be given very basic meals, and live and do yoga in buildings without AC. And although we’re able to live in uncomfortable conditions like this (and have done so while travelling) we wanted to have a more enjoyable experience.
So India was out.
It was while we were living in Sri Lanka that we were deciding where to go. And although the idea of returning to Bali was exciting, we both were ready to explore a new country.
Sam had travelled around Thailand when he was younger and loved it, and I had never been before. So we decided pretty quickly that we’d head to Thailand and do our yoga teacher training there.
What Thailand has to offer
I did some internet research on the different yoga schools there, and the kind of YTT that we wanted to do. I’ve always been drawn to yin, and I found a 200YTT that specialised in yin & vinyasa. But the location was a little bit cut off from everywhere, and we decided that doing a general yoga teacher training might be better to begin with. And we could always take a specialist course later on if we wanted.
After researching and taking some much needed thinking time, we chose the One Yoga school in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
It’s home to the infamous full moon parties, but take a short scooter ride down to the other side of the island and it’s really chilled. There’s a tonne of yoga, quiet beaches, and small veggie & vegan cafes to be found.
About One Yoga
The yoga shala overlooks the ocean, and the villas are all about a minute walk to a small private beach.
The food is cooked with love, made from local produce, and is all vegetarian and vegan.
And they teach a variety of yoga styles including vinyasa, hatha, yin, ashtanga, nidra, and kundalini.
The team were very friendly, authentic, and kind people. It feels like a real community. And the price is really affordable too.
But everyone is different. So trust your own intuition when deciding which school to go to. Trust that you won’t choose wrong.
2. Remember that yoga is not about doing headstands
I was fortunate enough to have learned this when I stumbled into yogic philosophy classes with an amazing teacher (Satyama) in Ubud, Bali.
But so many people still believe that yoga is the physical postures. And it’s not their fault. Yoga has been presented to many of us as an exercise. Getting abs and a peachy bum. But asanas are just a tiny, tiny part of what it actually is.
The problem with most yoga teacher trainings is they are heavily focused on asanas rather than philosophy. And I understand why. Because it needs to be appealing to people. It needs to draw people in.
Unfortunately, this means that many people complete their YTT without truly embodying what it means to be a yogi.
Yoga is about what you say, and how you say it. It’s about the things you do, and the way you do them. It’s about who you are, and the person you choose to be in every moment of every day. Yoga is the choices you make, and the reasons why you make them.
Yoga is a spiritual practice. And it’s a way of life.
Yoga is not about being able to stand on your head.
Saying namaste a few times each day doesn’t excuse your asshole behaviour.
If that’s all you learn, then you’ve missed the entire point.
3. The people who join you on your yoga teacher training are there for a reason
I’m an introvert, so the idea of spending four weeks with a bunch of strangers was unappealing to me at best.
I was so nervous the day we arrived, even though I had Sam with me for support.
No matter how much I work on my confidence and mindset, I always get anxious about going into a large group of people I don’t know, introducing myself, and mingling.
As expected, there were people I naturally warmed to, and others I didn’t. Throughout the four weeks, there were certain things that were said and done by our group that I found disrespectful – to our teachers and our group. It irritated, and outright infuriated me.
Yoga helped me in those moments of frustration.
It helped me to take a step back, and simply be a witness to what was going on around me. And reserve judgement – something which I’m continually working on.
The reality is, the people who end up on your path in this life are there for a reason. Yogic philosophy teaches that you have all met before in previous lifetimes. And you have all been drawn back together again in this life for a reason.
Maybe it’s to teach you something.
To help you grow.
To show you something you want, or don’t want.
And help you learn more about yourself, and grow.
Always remember to be authentic. Stay true to who you are. And treat others how you wish to be treated.
4. Rest when you can
Different yoga schools have different schedules, but the common practice is six days on, followed by one day of rest.
Those six days will probably be filled with a lot more physical exercise than you’re used to doing on a daily basis. Plus a lot of learning new things, including philosophy and anatomy. Coupled with early starts and long days.
Ours was a four week course, but I know some schools that cram it into three weeks which suits a lot of people who need to get back to their jobs at home.
Both are pretty intense. That’s why it’s so important to rest whenever you can.
You’ll also want to explore your surroundings and do some sightseeing, but try not to over-exert yourself.
Sam and I would do nothing on our rest days apart from eat, watch TV or movies, and rest.
We were lucky that we arrived in Thailand a month before our course started and had a chance to explore. If you can, I’d recommend organising your trip like this – even if you only give yourself a couple extra days.
5. Remember that the real work begins when you return home
In our final circle on graduation day, almost every student noted how completing the yoga teacher training had impacted them, and been a “life-changing” experience.
In order for that to be true, you have to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your life when you get back home.
I was left wondering how many of the people in that room would’ve made real changes in their life, and how many would’ve slipped back into old habits and ways.
And it’s so easy for that to happen. It’s the same when you attend any kind of inspirational workshop or seminar, or you work with a coach.
While you’re there, they raise your vibration and make you feel highly motivated and inspired to change your life. But once it’s over, and you’re left to your own devices, it becomes really difficult to maintain.
So if you’re serious about changing your life, then I would encourage you to go on a yoga teacher training.
But you have to be ready to change your life.
You have to be ready to leave your current one behind you, and embrace the discomfort and challenge that comes with change.
It won’t be easy. But I promise it’ll be worth it.