The Journey that Led Me to Yoga Teacher Training in Costa Rica by leah staley

I started practicing yoga when I was about 12 years old. My mother, also a yoga instructor, heard about an awesome yoga class that had recently begun in the Ohiopyle Community Center with Yogi Wade Zinter. Interested in trying it out but not comfortable with leaving me home alone, she drug me along.

At first I went because I had to – I had no choice in the matter. As time went on I continued to go because, thanks to growing up in a society that promotes unrealistic body ideals, I bought into the notion that yoga could make you skinny. The harder you push yourself in your practice, the better you will look/feel and the happier you will be, or so I believed.

Over the next eight years I demanded more from my body than it could possibly give, continuously injuring myself until I associated yoga with pain and discomfort instead of peacefulness and joy. Finally, I quit going to class.

Two years passed before I worked up the courage to attend another class, but this time was different – I was out of shape! Knowing I wouldn't be able to make it through the whole 90 minutes with the ease I once possessed, I told myself it was okay to take a rest whenever I needed. For the first time in my life I was listening to my body. Instead of trying to do every pose to the fullest extent, I focused on my breath and let it guide me into the poses. As I practiced being present, centered and content with where my body was in that moment, my practice, physically and mentally, improved. I began experiencing something new and wonderful – self-love and acceptance.

So, this is what everyone had been talking about? This is why everyone was hooked on yoga? I finally understood! I had caught the yoga bug! With that, I decided to become a yoga teacher. If I could help others experience the euphoric feeling that comes from cultivating inner perceptional awareness sooner rather than later, I wanted to do so. This is what brought me to the Blue Spirit Resort in Costa Rica.

Anytime I told someone I was traveling to Costa Rica to become certified in teaching yoga I was asked the same question: "Aren't there any programs closer to home? Why Costa Rica?" And my answer was always simple: "Why NOT Costa Rica?" It is beautiful –  if you haven't traveled there I highly recommend it!

My day started out at 7 a.m. with a silent walking meditation on the beach, an amazing practice that I have gladly brought home. Now I walk along the Youghiogheny River instead of the Pacific Ocean. Then came breakfast, shortly followed by a power yoga class and a guided meditation. While the flow of the power class came naturally to me, the deep relaxation of meditation did not. It took a few days before the fidgeting stopped and my wandering mind calmed itself, but once that happened I started to rid myself of the baggage that comes with harboring emotional pain.

Lunch and a brief break, usually spent by the pool or in the ocean, separated a couple hours of teacher training where we learned different sequences and, probably my favorite part of the training, alignment. We went through basic poses such as mountain, chaturanga and downward facing dog in great detail, learning cues like "heels press down, thighs press back, tailbone tucks under." I learned that I had been executing certain poses (such as chaturanga) incorrectly for many years and as my alignment improved I could feel my body getting significantly stronger.

After training we had another power class, followed by dinner and our group activity for the evening, which could vary anywhere from jumping into the ocean to watching "Y Yoga," a documentary that captures the philosophy, intention and spirit of yoga by exploring why people practice and how it changes their lives for the better. By the end of every day I was exhausted and slept soundly despite the lack of AC in my eco cottage!

Because we had to cram 100 hours of training into seven short days, we didn't have much time to explore the area or go on excursions. I did, however, have one morning off where I took the opportunity to walk down the beach to a nearby town. Even though it was basically a straight shot and the directions I was given were spot on, I managed to get lost and found myself on the other side of the peninsula at a beautiful rocky beach called La Luna. After wandering through a collection of shacks with palm tree roofs and locals eyeing me skeptically, I made it to my destination and treated myself to a couple of fresh coconuts (they were cheaper than water) while I shopped around. I made it back to the resort on time, hydrated and without a sunburn, so I considered the morning to be a success!

All in all, it was an amazing trip! I learned a lot, not just about yoga or teaching yoga, but about myself as well. I made new friendships that I cherish, and I will keep the memory of my time at Blue Spirit Resort with me forever. I look forward to the journey ahead and where yoga will take me next, but in the meantime I'm enjoying being a new teacher – nervousness and all! 

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