About this time last year, I’d just had my fifth surgery in two years: four to rebuild my wrist after an over-the-handlebars mountain bike dismount and one for a herniated disc I suffered skiing off a cornice. My creekside apartment, filled with ski and bike gear, and my local community of adventurer-seekers were painful reminders of my injuries.
Naturally I was depressed. Between surgeries, physical therapy and opioid lethargy, injury had been dictating my whole life. After 12 wonderful years of pounding my body in Vail, Colorado, it was time to make a change. So I traded crisp, cool mountain air for the hot, humid healing of the beach.
Yoga has been a big part of my life for nearly a decade. I practiced several days a week in a studio and most days at home, but my practice suffered because of my injuries. So I’d become more interested in restorative yoga and really expanded my home practice — with modifications for days. Yoga was the only thing in my upside-down life that still made any sense, so I embraced it by enrolling in a 200-hour teacher training. I’d never been to Costa Rica but it felt like the right place for some physical and spiritual healing — an active yoga community, beach therapy, and healthy, organic produce. I hoped this trip would help redirect my energy in a positive way. I had three main goals: 1) To improve my physical health through diet, exercise and rehab 2) To improve my mental health with a change of scenery and 3) To look for a greater purpose in life. BIG STUFF. But I needed an ambitious plan to get me back on track. I wanted to hit the reset button on my life. So I packed my bathing suit and flip flops, said some goodbyes and booked a one-way flight to Costa Rica to find some answers … and to start asking some new questions. I needed this to be a journey of self-discovery and not just a vacation.
Teacher training was amazingly poignant; it completely supported my goals of healthy body, healthy mind and finding purpose. I was up at 5 a.m. each morning and in bed around 11 p.m. most nights, digesting full days of practice, anatomy and philosophy lectures, posture workshops and h(om)ework. I was delightfully exhausted. We learned about yoga, but also about ourselves through personal discussions and self-reflection activities. I experienced extreme emotional highs and lows, stared down demons from my past, made 27 new lifelong friends, and got to enjoy clattering palm fronds and white, sand beaches along the way. I confronted my character flaws and learned to appreciate my positive qualities more. Training forever changed my personal practice and will definitely affect how I teach.
I understand yoga on a much deeper level now — from its origins and evolution to its more abstract spiritual qualities. It’s unsettling to realize you know so little about a major part of your life, but makes you appreciate it more for its complexities. Whether or not you want to teach yoga, I highly recommend a teacher training to open new doors in your life and your yoga practice. After all, we don’t practice yoga to get better at yoga, we practice yoga to get better at living.
After all, we don’t practice yoga to get better at yoga, we practice yoga to get better at living.
“I went to yoga teacher training and it changed my life” is trite and clichéd. The truth is you get out what you put in. But if you find yourself at a crossroads in your life, training can absolutely be a transformative experience.
I’m now a certified yoga teacher, but I’m staying in Central America to travel, reflect and practice yoga. I’m not sure if I will ever teach in a studio, but my takeaways from training were more profound than simply learning how to sequence asanas. You can’t change the course of your life in four months, but this experience helped me recognize the parts of myself that I need to improve. That’s going to take a lifetime but I’m ready to begin.
Note from the author:
After four months in Central America, I returned to the U.S. in the spring of 2018 feeling much better than when I left. Change of pace was clearly helping, so I took a new job and re-located to Massachusetts. After so many years in Colorado it has been a real adjustment. I miss the mountains, but I’m happy to be doing something new. New is exciting. New is productive. I’m still working to get my body fully healthy and finally feel like I’m back on track, but I have a long way to go.
I haven’t taught yoga since receiving my certification, and I don’t think I will. But teacher training completely changed the way I approach my yoga practice. I have slowed things way down — I am much more focused on alignment and body position, and less on the pace of my flow or my range of motion. I’m so glad I took the time to explore my practice and earn a certification. The things I learned in training will stay with me for the rest of my life, and have positively impacted my approach to health and lifestyle choices.
Morgan Russell grew up in the suburbs of Boston and moved to Colorado in 2000 to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder. After graduating, he moved to Vail “for a year”. That year turned into 12 amazing years of working in hospitality and playing in the mountains. He is now living in Massachusetts and working to further his hospitality career.