Updated: Aug 24
Most people about to attend to their first teacher have the same: "I'm going to be the worst one there!"
Everyone images that they'll turn up, three years or so into their practice, and everybody else will be able to do handstands, headstands, the splits, and probably levitate a little (just a little). The truth of the matter often is that when you do turn up to your first teacher training, this isn't the case. Everyone is at a similar level, of kind of being able to do it, but not that well.
After all, the teacher training is the first real dip into the depths of yoga. Many of these people may decide to not further advance, and advanced poses are called that for a reason. When I went to my first teacher training in India 4 years ago, exactly this happened. Despite not having the stereotypical physique to suggest my asana practice would be reasonable, I soon proudly shared what I was able to do.
My yoga practice has never been about my ability to perform the poses. Don't get me wrong, after seven years of practice I do have the capacity to perform some advanced poses and things I would have been thrilled at the prospect of initially. But what's beautiful about my practice, is the dedication I put in. It's the focus I have, the kindness I have towards myself, the way that I don't compare myself to others' journey on the mats, and my commitment to yoga as a spiritual discipline.
Having said that, in my first three in-person teacher trainings I was amongst one of the most physically advanced in the class, at least from a flexibility perspective. If I attend a public class nowadays, I'm usually also towards the upper end of the spectrum of asana. It is my job, and I have a lot of practice, so it's not that surprising, but still, I'll admit- it's a nice feeling to be good at something.
In my Rocket Teacher Training I completed last week, I was one of the least physically advanced in the class. Many of the yogis on the course had only been practising yoga for 2 years, but they had come from a gymnastics background so were able to do handstand presses, pike squats and chin stands. I can not.
On top of that, I was experiencing a back injury so not only could I not do the handstands- I could also not do any backbends (usually my forte), as they were also removed from my performative repertoire. I actually had to listen to my body, hold back, and accept what I can't do without pushing too far.
It was the first time in a while I've really had to practice what I preach. It was me facing the fear that everybody has when attending a yoga teacher training, that I'd actually even gotten over. Here it was, right in front of me.
The only thing left to do was to really to put my ego aside and focus on my own journey. It's easy for me to say "don't judge yourself" when I know I'm always top of the class, but this time I had to actually put it into action.
If I'd been faced with this at the beginning of my yoga journey, I can't honestly say I know how positively I would have reacted. Or at least, it would have been a lot harder to keep a smile on my face. But this was what my seven years of yoga had been leading up to- realising that the practice is not just about the body.
I'm proud to say that the reaction was that I stayed true to myself and my teachings. I was wonderfully humbled, I listened to my body, trusted in my own journey, and did not allow any negative or judgemental thoughts to take hold. I left the week feeling confident in my ability as a teacher, confident in my mental strength, and proud to be even in a room with all of these people who were always very sporty and athletic.
I was the type of person to skip sport at school, so to be in the place of discipline and passion that I've found myself in areas of extremely physically capable and athletic people is already something to be proud of. This is what yoga is about; comparing you to you.
The challenge is an important part of the journey. Challenges in life will definitely arise off the mat, so it's the perfect practicing place to find them on the mat too. My advice would be to not stay in your comfort zone. Don't shy away from a strong yoga class or anything else that might challenge you, at least once in a while.
The purpose isn't to be the 'best' or be good at it. As long as you're able to try, keep a smile on your face, and laugh when you fall, then you've done as great as you could have.