„Does pack light mean I can‘t take 30 yoga pants and all of my organic all-natural lotions, potions and soaps?“, I wondered as I reread the e-mail James, chief executive yogipreneur (CEY) of yoga beach house had sent us at the end of August. Date: A week before departure. The e-mail had come with one detail I hadn’t quite paid attention to (or simply chosen to ignore on every occasion). I yelped at my desk, almost knocking over the 4th cup of coffee (double shot, mind you): „detox from caffeine“, it read. „we do not serve you coffee at yoga beach house as it distracts with learning to meditate“.
Funnily, it was the no-coffee-tidings that had me ask myself „am I in over my head?“. And you know, how there are people who overthink all the time? Who will analyze every possible interpretation of a sentence for a hint, for a trigger to catapult them back into total anxious insecurity? Yup – I am one of these people. Caffein-fueled nervosity crept over me, surging against the sand castle of my self-confidence: „What if I am not advanced enough for the course? What if It is too spiritual for me?! Oh God – WHAT IF EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOGA IS WRONG?! How will I get up at 6:30 every morning WITHOUT COFFEE?!?“ you know, just those questions. not panicking or so.
Spoiler alert: I passed.
In September, I made one of my biggest dreams come true for myself. I completed in the 200 hours yoga teacher training in Biscarosse, France at the beautiful YOGA BEACH HOUSE. I now have the honor to call myself a certified and registered yoga instructor. the 20 days i spent in training by the Atlantic sea have been revelatory and transforming, if not easy sailing at all times… in this context, let me briefly introduce you to my teacher Rachel Hanberry: Rachel, chief yoga mentor (CYM), source of inspiration, and mama to all the yogis at yoga beach house, helped me and the other students embark on our yoga teacher journey, nudging us back into the calmer deeper waters when we came close to rock bottom. you will read her name a lot in the following list of revelations/epiphanies and lessons.
7 lessons my yoga teacher training taught me about myself and yoga practice
1 | surprise! asanas are just the tip of the iceberg.
yoga is your dietician, personal trainer, cheerleader, therapist, anger management coach, soul searcher and on top of all that it is a warm and cozy big reassuring life-long hug. in other words: yoga is a philosphy of life which encompasses the way you think, the way you move, what you eat, how you tend to yourself, how you love yourself and others. Do not „captain obvious“ me just yet: while this is something I had known prior to my yoga teacher training, what I learned is to perceive yoga in the bigger context of selfless service. in teaching yoga, I can give back to the community.
I started practicing yoga about 5 years ago. let me set the scene for my yoga beginnings: a stress-related autoimmune disease knocks me out; I start changing my life, attitude and diet; I pick up yoga because it allows me to a) calm my nerves through breathing and b) get a good sweat and cool down in one class. with the recent rise of yoga as a tool for fitness, many of my yogis come to me for a good workout. to me, this does not contradict the yogi spirit: asanas are the „gateway drug“ to the peace of mind only mindfulness, self-love and meditation can bring. eventually, if you want to evolve, you will incorporate more and more of the yogi principles in your every day life – naturally, as you expand your knowledge of yoga. As your teacher, I will guide you on your yogic path in the same way as my teachers have guided me. I will tell you all the funny stories of how I knocked my toe on this stone or that (for example that one time I tried to meditate after my second cup of coffee), or even how I stepped into dog poo on the way (figuratively and literally). see? the path of yoga does not have to be charged with non-functional spiritualism, we can use it’s tools to find self-love, calm and a nice yoga booty as the cherry on top. this is how I give back.
2 | brahman, saging and the energetic body: open your crown chakra to the spiritual!
if you feel like you need to take a deep breath to stomach the esothericism of this paragraph’s title now is a good time to do so. we’ll wait.
what I learned at yoga beach house when it comes to spirituality is that I can choose not to shut down into defiance when confronted with what I do not deem logical or bluntly put „too esotheric“. And above anything else, Rachel Hanberry proved to me that if I stay open and curious I can expand my horizon and learn – and even might be surprised.
All-clear, dear pragmatic yogi. my yoga practice was never deeply spiritual either. I had not saged my room before or cleansed any crystals. This probably derives from my history of playing club sports like European handball, really just for the physical aspect of it. After ditching the Handball court, in yoga I would finally honor my body with mindfulness, feeling into each muscle as it was moving. this was and still is today the spirituality of my yoga practice. after a couple of years of practicing yoga, I started to feel into and believe in energies; positive and negative vibes that radiate out from our minds and into our bodily tissues. I believe in the nervous system and how it affects everything in our body. I believe that energies can be traced back to the nervous system and that the chakras feed from this energy. I understand energy.
energy is the currency my mind is willing to accept when it encounters the spiritual. find your currency! this will give you an access point to the spiritual side of yoga, to the yoga philosophy, to many a conversation about out-of balance chakras and maybe also to incense sticks (who knows?!). I understood the energy of a full moon when we gathered in a circle of powerful women (spirituality level: old celtic tradition, socially acceptable because the moonlight is kind of nice, right?). I understood and felt the strong energy surging through me when I muttered the mantra of the Godess Durga 108 times in meditation after my initiation, asking for her protection (spirituality level: muttering prayer in sanskrit?! um… this is where I would have felt silly prior to my teacher training); feeling a lightening energy after understanding that we are all part of the same absolute, that all Gods are manifestations of the one Brahman and it does not matter who we pray to (ok… I think I lost most of my readers by now).
disclaimer: your connection to the spiritual can be utterly atheist. unless you chose God, Allah, Shiva etc. to be your currency for spiritualism, you are free to keep religion out of the picture. I did not religiously pray to Durga, I tapped into the powerful rhythmic energy that swung with the words „om Sri durgayai Yamaha“. I did not praise the Lord for creating the moon, but felt how its energy moved the cells of my body. spiritualism is a chose-your-own-adventure story.
3 | hello ego: keeping a beginners mindset at a stage where you want to step up and be the teacher is damn hard
the effort is worth it! when taking up a beginner’s mindset you will pay attention to details of yoga teaching and practice you might have missed due to the inflexibility of „what we think we know about yoga“. Being a great teacher means you have to put yourself in the shoes of your newbies, every single class („what the heck is a vinyasa? and where is my big toe supposed to point again?“).
sounds so enlightened, hey? full disclosure: my ego was my biggest enemy in the 20 days of my training at yoga beach house in biscarosse. this in itself was a massive revelation to me. don’t get me wrong – I knew I had been blessed with plenty of self-confidence but this was the first time I noticed my ego got in my way. after three years of daily yoga and lots of workshops, i could feel my impatience and ego team up to rustle my feathers as the fellow students and I – and righfully so – went through the mechanics of the sun salutations the 1345 time in the first two days.
Head-coach Rachel Hanberry gave us the most valuable piece of advice already on the first day: „Adopt a beginner’s mindset“. I listened and nodded eagerly. but: easier agreed to than done! I came to yoga beach house to learn and to be a student. if it hadn’t been for the intensive daily self-discovery through journaling and sometimes uncomfortable journal prompts about who I really am I probably would have let my ego take the wheel. In this case, I took a big step back, took a deep breath, unplugged my ears and listened.
4 | new me, who dis? the best yoga teachers have connected to who they truly are.
to know who you are as a person gives you a concept for your teaching. do not underestimate the power of a woman with a journal! she knows herself, she knows her values, she knows where she is going, she knows who has her back. And she will be a much better yoga teacher than anyone who talks self-love yet would not recognize their bare soul if they met it in the streets (ok I really wanted to use this metaphor, just bear with me).
At Yoga Beach House Rachel introduced us to Elena Browers „Practice You“, a beautiful journal which gives you plenty of pages to write your heart out and examine yourself. With the help of writer Pixie Lighthorses book „prayers of honoring voice“ we reflected on ourselves. sounds easy right? far from it. the most transforming and life-changing experience i made at yoga beach house was not the asana practice or anatomy class (which I adored! shoutout to my amazing teacher Julia Kannewisher). It was to dedicate your thoughts to yourself.
5 | „shine“ what to where?! keeping cues simple
what makes yoga yoga in the simplest form is the conscious connection of inhales and exhales with movements. My teacher training taught me to first come back to basics cues – breath cues – so as to guide my students more effectively. I don’t know what it is about teaching yoga that made me think I have to wrap my cues in metaphors in order to make class more interesting: „shine your chest to the sky“, „roll down into forward fold like a wave“, „imagine you are roadkill to deepen your savasana – really MEAN IT guys, FEEL IT!“ (ok maybe I n ever used the last one…).While some of those pictures can help students release further into the pose („melt your heart towards the floor“ suggests a warming releasing sensation of expansion in the chest while bringing yourself closer to the floor in puppy pose for example) – often they can distract from really sensing into the movement as the mind is occupied picturing the various stories our cues tell.
“Keep it simple“ – I can still hear James & Rachel Hanberry say on various occasions. I remember the first lessons I taught at yoga beach house. I was so intent on delivering a perfect class that I mechanically rattled out ALL of the cues I knew for the various poses. And I mean all of them. My perfectionist self bombarded my students with a string of instructions; some anatomical, some metaphorical, all of them well-meant reminders to adjust one thing or another or keep breathing and please do also not forget to feel into your foundaton – ooop, neutral pelvis please guys. I overshared with my students! When I practice yoga, all of these cues run through my head – i just literally blurted out the stream of my yoga practice conscience. After my class, Rachel advised me to focus on one area that I wanted to focus on in the class today as probably only 40 percent of my cues reached the yogis in front of me. I found this advice extremely helpful and am hereby passing it on to you:
- chose a focus for the class you are teaching.
(for example: strong through the feet, active legs, neutral pelvis, twisting from the thoracic spine…)
- cue inhales and exhales and your focus area.
- enjoy switching your focus the next class and enriching your student’s and your own practice one step at a time.
bonus: it easy to read up on your focus area to prepare for class! especially if you are not trying to cue the entire body at once – believe me 🙂
6 | nobody can teach you how to meditate but yourself.
when sitting down to meditate, do not force yourself to think nothing. let your thoughts fly past and focus on one thing only. this is what my teacher training and especially my fellow yogi students and teachers, who led our meditations, taught me. and I also learned that practice makes perfect. to me, meditation was the daunting part of my yoga teacher journey. i knew of its benefits, i wished i could do it, but i deemed myself not spiritual enough. (doesn’t this sound familiar to starting yoga practice in the first place?)
I often feel like my mind is all over the place, and buzzing with ideas and concepts and thoughts. never really still. always jumping from one conclusion to the next. imagine a puppy so excited it can’t sit still. imagine it trembling all over its body from all this emotion and excitement running through it. is it happy and overjoyed? possibly! will it feel drained at the end of the day because it used up all its energy for all of the trembles and all of the exitement? absolutely! imagine you could give this puppy a warm blanket where it can rest and relax. THAT is what meditation feels like to me.
after 20 days of meditating twice a day for 15 minutes, have i learned how to meditate? honest answer: kinda?! what I experienced first hand is a glimpse of the wonderful blissful feeling that meditation gives you! yoga beach house provided me with all the tools to teach myself how to meditate: breathing techniques, routines and most importantly the confidence to try. I will teach myself how to calm my mind. I will teach myself to focus. eventually.
- minutes i can sit still to meditate 1 month after my yoga teacher training: 15.
- minutes actually spent in meditation: 5.
- most common thought that perturbes my meditation: what should I eat after I finish my mediation?
7 | INTEGRITY.
stay true to yourself. stay true to your word. show up. live up to your values. listen to your own teachings.
the most important lesson i have carried with me from the French coast is to live a yogic life of integrity. Rachel & James gently showed me where I was out of my integrity so I could work on those areas. they instilled in me an awareness of what this intangible word means in our everyday life.
what integrity is to me: if you live what you believe in, there is a clear path in front of you. a path that is truly yours to walk on – your dharma. integrity is the compass of your journey – now all you have to do is let it guide you.
to my teachers Rachel Hanberry, James Hanberry and Julia Kannewischer for sharing their knowledge with me; for your patience with me as I was gaining the upper hand over my ego and for the many smiles, amazing brunches and dinners we shared and not least your warm blanket of support and answers to all of our questions.
Thank you to my beautiful fellow graduates, my girls, who I had the great honour of being taught by at Yoga beach house: Steffi, Jess, Ceilie, Brooke and Lizzy – never forget that Brahman is everywhere, sand is everywhere, and a fond memory of our time together is everywhere we go, too. Forever in my heart.
Thank you especially to my editor-in-chief Ceilie, whose beautiful storytelling captivated us during our yoga teacher training and who is one of the most well-spoken free spirits I have ever met. I will buy all the books you ever write!