December 1, 2009

How Yoga Teacher Training, Edward Cullen, and Raw Chicken Changed My Life

In the land of yoga, Yoga Teacher Training marks a major life transition. People go through teacher training for multiple reasons. Some people want a complete career change. Some a new side income. Some want to deepen their yoga practice. And then others just want to meet interesting folk and practice yoga with them. I wanted to become a yoga teacher not only for the obvious - I loved yoga and wanted to share the love with others. But I also wanted relief from my profession as an architect, I wanted something new to direct my passion towards, and - though I would have never admitted it then - I was young and single and, well, always up for meeting new interesting people (in particular, the somewhat attractive male types of people). I repeat, I would have never admitted this then.

One night in the fall of 2008 after one of his vigorous vinyasa flow classes, Tamal Dodge announced that he would be holding a 200-hour yoga teacher training in the spring. Now, not only was Tamal my favorite yoga instructor, but he knew a lot about yoga - he had grown up on an Ashram in Hawaii and was basically immersed in yoga his entire life. Also, at $1,095, he had the most affordable training program on the market - I hadn’t seen anything less than $3,000 anywhere - and this was not just California teacher training costs. It seemed like $3,000 was the standard across the entire world. This was perfect - I gave Tamal a $200 down payment the very next day.

I waited in angst for the next six months. It was that time in life where anything and everything was possible - I wanted to do it all, and I wanted to do it right then. Full of stress and busy-ness, I went through nine graduate school applications, one marathon, one boyfriend (and then breakup), and about a hundred architecture detail drawings before I was onto my next task - the most satisfying of all: Yoga Teacher Training. I arrived at 806 Broadway in Santa Monica, California around 12:30 pm for my first day of yoga school. I was like a child on the first day of Kindergarten - I was wearing my new Lululemon yoga skirt atop black spandex pants, a tank top, and of course, my yoga mat slung over my shoulder. The mystery of the next nine weeks amped my excitement. I knew this was going to be life changing.

Thirty others, already wearing their prayer beads and flipping through their new Bhagavad Gitas, looked up at me when I walked through the door. The variety was like no other. Chelsey and Graham - a couple who had fallen in love practicing yoga together. Mary Anne - an academic type with a Phish fetish. Katie - a bubbly-girl from Pittsburgh with a Boston Terrier named Petey. Arana (aah-rah-nah), who fits more properly - with his savage look - amongst a battalion of Maori warriors preparing for battle rather than a group of yogis preparing for yoga. Jeff Van Ness - mmm Jeffrey - the blue-eyed, dark-haired, cuban hottie from South Florida. Jennifer - the boisterous laugh-er who was really into selling weight loss products. Haley - the beautiful Asian girl with a throaty, alluring voice (I’m sure the guys will flock to her yoga classes). And then there was Vincent - the actor/model from Las Vegas who ate raw chicken on a daily basis and - little did I know then - would sweep me off my feet just a few weeks later.


Months before, I had made the decision to take teacher training very seriously. Not only because of the amount of money I was spending, but because this was the only chance I had in this moment, in this place, to learn the things I was here to learn. Take it all in, Sarah. I told myself. You’re in Southern California, surrounded by famous yoga teachers all within a mile radius and for the next nine weeks, you have Tamal at your fingertips to teach you everything he knows. This may never happen again.

The first couple weeks went as expected. Fridays we broke down poses, Saturdays we attended Tamal’s flow class at the Poweryoga studio in Santa Monica, and Sundays we had spirituality classes with Kathy - who apparently had been studying world religions for the better part of her life. The students were all getting to know each other and, thus far, my diligence was keeping me focused.


This past Christmas, my mom bought me Twilight, by Stephanie Meier. I thought it was hilarious and stupid that a mother would purchase a teen science fiction novel about vampires for her 25-year old daughter. You see, the Twilight series was a recent fad amongst teens - and apparently also amongst their mothers - about the trials and tribulations of humans and werewolves and vampires and love. And Edward Cullen - the perfection of the male being in the form of a vampire - was the source of the obsession. I was not interested. “No thanks mom. I’ll stick to my books about yoga and healthy eating.” She said, “Sarah, you have no idea. You have to read this book.”

Well, during yoga teacher training, I just so happened to be in the mid-section of the book. Edward was woo-ing Bella and simultaneously, winning my heart. I realized that any man incapable of running at the speed of light, glittering in the sun, ripping apart wild animals with his bare hands, and properly fulfilling a woman’s every need with his soft, perfect skin, his burning gaze, and his insatiable desire to sweep his lady off her feet and carry her to the moon, was no longer for me.

The most recent guy I had dated was Justin. I met Justin at a bar one night in Venice. He got my number. He took me on a date. He kissed me. He said, “We should do this again sometime.” It was very sweet. I liked Justin. Then he didn’t call me for a few weeks and when he finally did - Valentine’s Day to be exact - it was like, for him, no time had passed. Typical. I knew he wasn’t really into me, but because I was bored and single, he was incredibly good-looking, and it was Valentine’s Day, what the heck? We went out. We drank beer. We ate late-night pizza. We had a lot of fun. But could Justin climb atop mile-high trees with me on his back (like Edward)? No. Did Justin eat raw meat with his bare hands? Nah. And, most importantly, did Justin get hypnotized by my very presence? Hell no. This book my mom gave me was setting my standards a bit too high.


It was the third week into Yoga Teacher Training, one week after my night of banter with Justin, and a few days after I had injured myself so badly in Shiva Rea’s crazy dance trance yoga class that I could hardly move. Multiple rapid eagle-armed warriors had somehow strained my chest muscle causing inflammation in my lungs. I could hardly breathe that week, much less, do yoga.

I stumbled into yoga class half-texting with Justin and half-focusing on my shortness of breath. I took my seat. When I noticed Vincent sitting beside me, I laughed and said, “I thought about you all week.” He looked at me with an excited grin and I burst his bubble when I continued, “Raw chicken is disgusting.” The week before, I had asked him about his insulated lunch box that he brought to class with him every day. It was filled with jars of liquid-y green and yellow goo that he would drink randomly throughout class. It sparked my interest so I asked him about it. I learned that he was a raw-atarian. But he was not a vegetarian raw-atarian. He was a meat-atarian raw-atarian. He ate raw chicken, beef, fish, eggs; the whole lot. He would also eat raw vegetables and fruits, raw milk, raw butter - and of course, all of this raw-ness had to be the most chemically clean of all organic foods. He did not drink alcohol. He covered his body in homemade pure coconut cream every night - sometimes in place of showering. He only grocery shopped at Whole Foods and the farmer’s market and on any given afternoon, you may find him shirtless, trapezing on the acrobatic swings at Venice Beach. To say the least, yoga teacher training was becoming really interesting. We did not only have a diverse group, but a border-line wacky one at that. I loved it.

That night turned out to be partner massage night to practice simple techniques for our future students. This was perfect for my strained chest - no yoga. “Sarah, do you wanna be my partner?” Vincent asked me. He then flashed a seductive smile my way. Uh oh. For lack of appropriateness, I won’t go into detail, but let me just say, I have never been so gracefully massaged by such a strong man.

By the end of class, Vincent had made it his goal in life to heal my broken chest. By Saturday afternoon, he had my number, by Saturday night he was heavy into research, and by Sunday, we had a shopping date at Whole Foods to heal my chest the raw way.

When I got home after the grocery store date, I realized what was happening to me. No Sarah. No. No. No. You cannot get distracted in yoga teacher training. Don’t do it. I googled his name on the internet. He is sooo Hollywood. Sooo not my type. Photos of him with his perfectly sculpted body, his Italian coconut creamy skin, and his innocent gold eyes stared back at me. I was beginning to feel like I was the main character in a movie. I tried to swallow the giddi-ness rising in my chest because A - I don’t date models. I am not into Hollywood fame. B - If you were to ask my mother the #1 most repulsive thing to me, it would be raw chicken. And C - Yoga Teacher Training is too important to me to get wrapped up in an idealistic love story. I will not allow myself to fall for Vincent.

A week of flirtatious texting led to a night out for raw ice cream and ended with a light kiss on my back porch. Vincent gazed into my eyes and when he said, “Whoa. Now I’m dizzy.” I realized I had met the embodiment of Edward Cullen.


There is a discussion in yoga teacher training about the ethics and morals of teaching yoga. One of the very important - and simultaneously most controversial and risqué - is the topic of teachers dating students. Should you? Or should you not? According to Tamal, “Don’t do it.” He would argue that when certain lines are crossed, yoga can very quickly become sexual and therefore lead a person away from the true practice. We are teachers and we are supposed to be true to our practice in all walks of life. And anyway, there’s too much drama and awkwardness that can come along with it. He described a situation that he knew firsthand. A female yoga teacher friend of his had been dating one of her students and they ended up, after a short period, having an explosive breakup. He continued attending her classes and the tension became so apparent - and he violent - that the studio had to ask him to no longer practice there. You can imagine how this reflected on the teacher and on the studio.

In my distracted falling-in-love-with-Vincent state, I couldn’t help but apply this discussion directly to my situation. I still wanted to take yoga training seriously. I questioned if it was a good thing that I began training with this great focus on bringing yoga to the world and only found myself in a blissed out haze of drooling-gushy-loviness. “Vincent, we can’t sit next to each other in class. And, you can’t look at me either.” I explained to him one day before class.

The thing is, since our ice cream date, which then led to our first kiss, Vincent and I spent every moment together outside of his time at school and my time at work. He would drop me off at work in the mornings and then meet me at my apartment in the afternoons. We did yoga together and lied around on the couch together - I even allowed him to consume raw chicken with my utensils in my apartment. This was a huge breakthrough. Some days I would find him in my living room playing with my yellow lab - he would be upturned walking around on his hands while Mara would be jumping around him in barking confusion. My friends called him Wonder Man. Where did this guy come from? I didn’t understand why he liked me so much. I didn’t understand why he wanted to spend time with me. His agile beauty made me feel quite average.

Even though the ethical moral dating debate does not apply to yoga teachers dating yoga teachers, I felt like, in some way, this did. To me, teacher training was a professional environment full of people serious about learning yoga. I did not want there to be any relationship drama originating from Vincent and I disrupting that balance. I thought that he and I could continue on in secret until training commenced. Then if we were ready, we could enter into the public yoga realm with our coupledom. Vincent thought my rationale was off the wall, but he respected it nonetheless. He still did an amazing job of flashing me heart-melting smiles across the room and sneaking in intimate moments during break. A few weeks passed and I was pretty sure that no one in class knew about us. In some way, the secret made things more exciting.


Just two weeks before the end of Yoga Teacher Training I took a trip to Raleigh, NC to visit the graduate school of design at NC State University - one of my grad school options. Vincent was beginning to express nervousness about me moving but I reassured him that UCLA was still an option. I just had to keep NC State in mind. When I returned from Raleigh, Vincent continued his random acts of romance. He picked me up from the airport and brought me to Playa del Rey to watch the sunset over the ocean. He was beginning to make it clear to me that he wanted to bring our relationship to another level. I wasn’t completely sure if I was ready - even after all the wooing going on. There was something that kept me feeling insecure about him - he seemed like a lucid dream to me. But I had fallen so wrecklessly for him that my insecurities were buried deep within.


Two nights later, at the end of class, Vincent walked over to Haley. Remember? The Asian beauty? He flipped open his phone, smiled at her, and asked her for her phone number. He did not try to hide anything from me. He was not being sneaky. My ears and face and eyes and neck and heart began to burn. There is no way. He would not do this to me. They are just friends. Sarah. Calm down. The next few hours were a whirlwind. We rode home together and he knew I was upset about something. I refused to let him know how I felt. I refused to be the jealous girl - refused. Over and over again he repeated, “What’s wrong Sarah? What’s wrong with you, Sarah?” It was like he knew exactly why I was upset and he wanted me to say it.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, the conversation opened up and he began to talk. He told me he had never really liked me that much and he needed to end things before it was too late. He was sorry for confusing me but, “We will never work out.” The words echoed. We will never work out. Panic. Worry. Reality set in.

Sorry for confusing me? Confusing me? I was drugged. I think the proliferation of word vomit that exited my mouth for the next hour probably didn’t do too much good. But still I held true, no discussion of Haley. No discussion of jealousy. The conversation continued in complete tension. From what I understood, somewhere between the time yoga class had started and ended that night, Vincent decided that I was no longer interesting and Haley was the next best thing (of course this is not what he said, but it was definitely the underlying truth). I had experienced a few bad breakups up to this point, but never had I experienced something so gut-wrenching. The only foreshadowing I was given in the duration of dating him was my subconscious insecurity telling me to stay away. Of course I ignored it.


For the next 12 hours, I dreaded eating. I dreaded moving. I dreaded speaking. I dreaded yoga. And more than anything, I dreaded going to yoga training. I dreaded the unavoidable possibility of bursting into tears in front of the thirty other happy zen folk I had come to know. I dreaded feeling like a crazy nutbag of emotions in front of them all. My heart was shredded. I hated him. I hated myself. I hated yoga. I hated everything. And I felt like the fool.

I spent the next two weeks of class swallowing lumps of tears as I watched Vincent and Haley wallow all over each other during class - yes, there was even a kiss or two. I had set myself up. Arana, Jeff, Jennifer, Katie, and everyone else had no idea about us. To them, Vincent and Haley sprouted a sweet love during teacher training. I shouldn’t even have to describe the feelings boiling inside me - this universal heartbrokenness.


When I think back now to Yoga Teacher Training, I have a multitude of feelings. In yoga training, most people learn about yoga from learned masters of yoga while forming relationships with some of the most interesting people they’ve ever met. And then they turn out into the world to spread the love. It turns out to be, for most, one of the best times in their life.

For me, yoga training was a good time (atleast for the first seven weeks) and it did - and probably will continue to - open doors in my life. On the surface, I learned the obvious - the bandhas, breathing, spirituality, and the perfect alignment of every posture. I also learned a few things that aren’t on most yoga training curriculums - prince charming vampires do not exist, men that are too good to be true probably aren’t so good, and, fyi, follow your instinct when it comes to dating meat-atarian raw-atarian actors. Not only are they well-trained in the art of acting, but they probably have salmonella swiming around in their mouths.

The most valuable thing I learned, though, is application of yoga to life. If there was a workbook to practice maintaining calm amidst chaos, this heartbreaking love story would be a perfect problem. To respond to this experience, I had a decision to make. The past year had been about achieving goals driven by emotions. I could continue on in this (stressed out) way, or, I could take the yogic path. I could live in each day as it came and not allow external things - such as heartbrokenness - to affect my overall happiness. Instead of reverting to old tactics of lying helplessly in a pile of tears on the floor of my living room and gorging myself with sugar, I decided to instill in my life a true yoga practice. I really don’t think I would take yoga so seriously now without the enlightening realizations made then. I’m not sure how life would be now without that experience, but I do know this: I am much happier than I was before yoga training. Because of it, I have a tactile insight to what yoga is, should be, and can be in the life of the practitioner. I find each class that I teach (and attend) to mold me a little more. I’m pretty sure Yoga Teacher Training changed my life.

Besides Jeffrey Van Ness and Tamal Dodge, all other names have been changed for anonymity.

1 comment:

  1. Ancient practitioners have likened
    yoga teacher training to a living tree with six branches coming from the trunk, with each branch having its own unique function relating to a particular lifestyle. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the six darshanas of Hindu or Vedic schools and, alongside the Bhagvada Gita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is a milestone in the history of Yoga. Though brief, the Yoga Sutras are an enormously influential work, just as relevant for yoga philosophy and practice today, as when written many thousands of years ago.