Overcoming Obstacles

 Overcoming Obstacles by becoming an Ananda Yoga teacher

Melody Hansen Director of Yoga Teacher Training at The Expanding Light Retreat

As director of the Ananda Yoga Teacher Training Program at The Expanding Light Retreat, I’m fortunate to meet yoga practitioners of all ages and backgrounds, who have dedicated themselves to a regular practice of yoga and who want to deepen their understanding of yoga as a tool for spiritual growth.

During the teacher training, which is located at Ananda Village—a spiritual community based on the teachings of the self-realized master, Paramhansa Yogananda—the yoga students grow and evolve into confident yoga instructors. It’s truly a transformative experience for each individual, but that transformation doesn’t come automatically; it takes effort on the student’s part.

As you can imagine, it’s different learning to teach something than it is to simply practice it. During their 4-week training, the students are taking in tons of new information on the subject of yoga, and at the same time, they are given many opportunities to develop their teaching skills.

I am reminded of one such instance, which happened a few years back. A young woman in her twenties arrived at The Expanding Light Retreat for the opening session of the Ananda Yoga Teacher Training course. I could see from her demeanor and medical questionnaire that she was struggling with anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-worth. As we sat in a large circle (the staff instructors and teacher trainees), this young woman (we’ll call her Katie) sat slumped in her chair looking down at the floor with her shoulders caved in.

When it was Katie’s turn to introduce herself, it was obvious that speaking in front of a group was extremely challenging for her. She did not make eye contact with anyone, and as she spoke to the floor it was difficult to make out was she was saying. She didn’t say much.

A week later, the students were given the assignment to prepare a 5-minute talk on “why I practice yoga.” They were to get up in front of their classmates to give their presentations. When it was Katie’s turn, she looked at me in horror and told me that she couldn’t do it.

I knew that Katie had to get through this, so I gave her some encouraging words by telling her that I knew she could do this, and that we were all on her side. Moreover, we all wanted to hear what she had to say. The other students agreed and cheered her on.

Katie was still unwilling to get up in front of the group, so I decided that we should pray for her. We all chanted Aum three times while surrounding her with positive energy. (The sound of Aum is a powerful mantra we often use at Ananda Village to affirm and feel the vibration of spirit manifested in creation and in ourselves.)

After this she was able to get up in front of everyone and share a few sentences while sitting down staring at the floor. I believe this was a big step for her! Then she began to lose her train of thought, which made her self-conscious. She couldn’t go any further and asked to leave while running off in tears. We prayed for her again. After class, we spoke, and it was obvious she had made progress that night, and that she would need to continue trekking forward if she were to complete the training. I gave her my full support.

After many opportunities to teach throughout the program, Katie slowly began to transform into a different person—one that was happy, willing to share her feelings, and much more relaxed.

In the last week of the training, I was fortunate to review Katie’s final team teaching class where she not only led 30 minutes of yoga postures with confidence, but she even smiled, made eye contact, and held a continuous connection with her students. She went above and beyond what was expected of her by giving hands-on adjustments to her students while leading the class! (Even experienced yoga teachers find this difficult to juggle!)

And so, outwardly this program produced a certified yoga instructor, but the inner victories that were won along the way held much greater meaning for this individual.

In the beginning, Katie was so overcome by her own insecurities, but through the loving support of her friends, teachers, and a spiritual community, she was able to discover her own loving and supportive nature. Through putting out effort and applying herself daily, this woman’s weaknesses turned into opportunities for growth, change, and a unique expression of the divine. When you bring forth that soul nature into your yoga class, (or anything you do) it will have a profound effect on others. You can help people so much more when you can get out of your insecurities and into a divine flow. For many, this is a life-changing realization. This is why we often tell people before the training: you may leave this program a different person.

May we all be inspired to break through those boundaries that hold us back from expressing our own divine potential.

Blessings,
Melody

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