I was in Sri Lanka when Coronavirus hit peak “oh shit” and everyone was advised to get on the next plane back to their home country. I work abroad and was two-weeks into what was meant to be a three-month stint away, traveling through Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India, where I’d planned to take some time off and do a 50-hour Yin Yoga teacher training in Goa. Overnight my plans, along with the world, changed as I scrambled to book a last-minute flight back to the UK.
I, like many others in a similar position, arrived home deflated, confused, and nervous. I struggled to adjust to being shut in my tiny flat, wrapped in my duvet like a sad burrito, when just days before I was splashing sunkissed in the surf of a deserted beach. It goes without saying that I was incredibly grateful to have a safe home and a wonderful husband to shelter with, but with the country in the grip of a pandemic and suddenly in lockdown, everything felt very surreal and uncomfortable.
As the days passed, the thick fog of depression descended. Simple tasks, like doing laundry or the dishes, became arduous, and then came the news that our whole company was being furloughed. As someone who derives much of my personal worth from work, I felt completely devoid of purpose and value. I knew I had to find something else I could focus on fast before I started spiraling like a succulent Christmas ham.
Either the universe or the Facebook algorithm was listening and sent me exactly what I needed in the form of an ad for an online yoga school offering 200-hour yoga teacher training. This was something I’d wanted to do for a few years but due to my intense work schedule could never commit to, which is why I’d signed up for the shorter, 50-hour class in India. I proceeded to research the school thoroughly because, like most things flogged on social media, it looked too good to be true. After a couple of hours arguing with myself about whether or not I could afford it, I decided to go for it. The school had a great reputation online and additionally, due to COVID-19 and for the first time ever, virtual teacher training was being recognised by Yoga Alliance. Double win.
Despite loving yoga, I’ve always been a bit of what I call a “yoga avoider.” I know it makes me feel good and that the benefits of yoga for mental and physical health are undeniable. However, there is much about the yoga industrial complex I find unpalatable. The cult of white, Lululemon-clad contortionists have historically made me feel uneasy and often unwelcome in the spaces they occupy. When I lived and worked in Bali, I was surrounded by these men and women constantly and despite my dedication to my practice, I was often ostracised purely for the shape of my body and lack of expensive gear. To me, yoga doesn’t have to be so serious. It can be playful and fun and shouldn’t be so competitive.
The Western commodification and rebranding of yoga as fitness is undeniably problematic and I was both surprised and impressed to see my school addressing issues of whitewashing the practice and history of yoga, cultural appropriation and spiritual bypassing in its curriculum head-on. The school also didn’t propagate the idea that by simply completing the 200-hour training you were automatically ready to teach yoga, which is something I found really refreshing. I view the 200-hour as an excellent foundation on which to build but completing it has not made me the finished article by any means. If you’re reading this and wondering how a teacher training that doesn’t result in all its students becoming bonafide teachers could be any good, I highly recommend listening to the Yoga is Dead podcast about this topic.
I believe that as yoga teachers we should view ourselves as eternal students. It takes far more than just 200-hours for anyone to become an expert in yoga theory, practice and history, anatomy and physiology, philosophy and teaching technique. Sure, I imagine it’s possible to master the majority of the poses in this limited timeframe, but that’s just one small part of what yoga really is. Once I started to work through the syllabus I was gobsmacked at how much there was to learn and this was before I received the additional required texts including the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I wondered how those who did this kind of training in person managed it all in less than four weeks.
So what exactly did the course entail? As soon as I enrolled I had instant access to a wealth of materials and, on top of these, weekly Zoom sessions were held for students and teachers to connect and to practice teaching with each other live. In order to successfully complete the training and earn certification, I had to log 50-hours of self-practice, dissect and write about five Asanas (poses), as well as create five sequencing plans for future classes, do three body assessments, complete extensive exams in both yoga philosophy and anatomy and physiology and facilitate a final project.
The course materials were thoughtfully designed to suit various learning styles. There were hundreds of helpful videos outlining poses and yogic philosophy as well as written materials and quizzes. Steph, the owner of the school and an absolute delight of a human being, also uploaded weekly webinars where she answered students’ questions and tackled tough topics about what it means to be a yoga teacher today. It was a lot of work and by studying for about four hours each day I earned my certification in six weeks.
I’d previously trained as a massage therapist, so unlike many of my fellow students, the anatomy part of the course didn't phase me. It was the self-practice I found most challenging. Throughout the teacher training, I dragged myself out of bed each morning, plopped down on my mat and practiced either Pranayama, Asana, Meditation, or any combination of the three for 20–120 minutes. One of the most valuable lessons of this whole experience was the confirmation that yoga does not have to be an hour-long, sweaty, strenuous class. It can be quiet contemplation, it can be studying the Sutras, it can be stillness or breathwork. Despite initially finding this morning routine difficult, I’ve maintained it and believe it’s kept me sane during the pandemic. My practice continues to give me purpose and helps me feel healthy and strong both physically and mentally.
I cannot say enough good things about doing a yoga teacher training virtually. I felt I had all the time and space I needed to fully grasp difficult concepts and nothing felt rushed. I had access to my teachers anytime I needed them and I am now part of a diverse, international online community which, at the time of this writing, has over 5,000 members. Whether we’re graduates or newly enrolled, this group enables all of us to get support whenever and with whatever we might need. From advice on a pose to help with some of the more abstract principles, there is always someone to consult. I never felt like I was missing out on anything by doing my training online. In fact, I feel like I beat the system.
I am immensely proud to have completed my RYT-200 in lockdown. Without this goal to focus on, I believe the past few months would have been much darker and more difficult for me and those who love me. It is through this training that I rediscovered my love for yoga and found more purpose in my life. Since completing the course I have continued my education and gained certification in other modalities like Yin Yoga and Fascia-Release Trauma-Informed Yoga. I fall more in love with my practice every day and I have Steph and her team to thank for that.
I am so grateful to both Yoga and Ayurveda Center and to Yoga Alliance for allowing students like me the ability to learn and grow in lockdown and to have this education officially recognised. I know there are people that have strong opinions about doing an RYT-200 online, but I fully believe it isn’t where you earned your certification that matters, but rather how you go on to use the knowledge you’ve gained that counts.