By Neil Baldwin
Though I had tried (read: reluctantly accompanied someone to) a few yoga classes over the years, my real yoga journey began in 2011. I was looking ahead to a year-long sabbatical in 2012, stepping away from the daily work as a Counsellor I had been doing for twenty years, and had the notion that I should start making some moves to be in a solid state of physical and mental health before sabbatical. That way I could make the most of the time I had been so fortunate to be granted by my employer rather than spend the first few months re-tuning.
There was a “boutique” yoga studio near where I was living, and I liked the idea of being able to walk to yoga, and I liked the idea of it being small and personal (no class was larger than 10 students!). But, beyond that, I really didn’t know much of what yoga was about or what I was getting myself into. Or that, 6 years down the road, I would find myself perched in the air atop my instructor’s feet in a yoga teacher training class!
Yoga is one of those experiences that isn’t the same for any two people. You make it what you need it to be, what you want it to be. And it also makes you. Get into a regular yoga practice and it will poke you and prod you. And likely intrigue you enough to keep wanting to continue along the path… perhaps similar to cooking or arts or music or other such pursuits.
After 5 years of practice, some in yoga studio classes but lots of it on my own, I decided to enrol in a Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) program. I had no intention to be a teacher, the goal was purely to deepen my practice in way that could not be found through classes or solo practice. The YTT program offered by Sheridan College in conjunction with a local studio appealed in part because of the curriculum balance between asana practice (i.e., the poses) and yoga theory.
Though graduates would be RYT-200 certified, it was in fact 288 hours of in-person class time split evenly between practical and theory. In fact, over 300 hours including the nutrition & health course we all did as a “mandatory elective”. And it was spread over 16 months, which for me offered better opportunity to integrate what I was learning than attending one of the intensive YTT programs which are more common.
“THE MORE YOU LEARN, THE MORE YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH YOU DON’T KNOW“so says me as I move along the yoga journey
The YTT program was quite an odyssey. I learned a great deal in both breadth and depth, as much from the four instructors each with their own unique styles and backgrounds as from my own meanderings inspired by what was happening in the program. The theory part–going beneath and beyond the physical practice of asana–ended up being a big interest, especially the yamas & niyamas which despite being ancient yoga sutras have everyday relevance and application.
Sundeep Tyagi, who lead our theory courses, came to Canada in 1999. He has practiced yoga since childhood in northern India, is certified as a Vedic priest, and has a Masters degree in Sanskrit. He described his mission as “selfless service to humanity disseminating the ancient knowledge of how to achieve radiant health and spiritual development” and it occurred to be that this was about as close as I was might get to a yoga guru without going to India. He added a dimension to the experience that I suspect is not often found in YTT programs.
Our other YTT program instructors were: Joy Dorsey, with a solid and dedicated lineage in yoga, movement and healing; Courtney Bruce, who is a professional educator and well known for teaching stand-up paddleboard yoga; and Che Marville, a dynamic yoga teacher in her own right and limitless entrepreneur.
By the final semester, I was considering the idea of actually teaching yoga. I started YTT to deepen my own practice but one begins to feel an obligation to share. I found myself imaging how and what I could teach, and began to develop some clarity in my own style. I’ve always been someone who straddles both the “right brain” intuitive, conceptual world and the “left brain” linear, practical world (also evidenced in the other services I provide at SoulTrail) and it is reflected in my yoga practice and teaching.
In June of 2018 our YTT class joined graduates of many other Sheridan College certificate and diploma programs taking our turn walking across the stage at convocation. It all felt a bit surreal,having worked at this college for years and seen many of the students I have known make that same walk to receive their credential. Subsequently in July, I was confirmed as a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200) by Yoga Alliance, the largest nonprofit association representing the yoga community to foster and support the high quality, safe, accessible, and equitable teaching of yoga.
In the time since, I have continued my education with reading, practice and brief online courses with particular focus on the art and science of breathing and pranayama (yoga breathing) techniques. In October 2021, I completed a 50 hour in-person training specific to Bhakti yoga, which includes the chant practice Kirtan, with DevaTree School of Yoga in London. And in November a 10 hour course, Advanced Pranayama & Physiology of Breathing, with Awakened Spirit Yoga School.
“KEEP TRAVELLING THE YOGA JOURNEY, AT WHATEVER SPEED IS YOUR OWN, AND MEANINGFUL, FASCINATING EXPERIENCES WILL CONTINUE TO UNFOLD IN FRONT OF YOU, SOMETIMES IN UNEXPECTED WAYS”and so says me, it’s true as can be
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