Becoming A Yoga Teacher
Sweat puddled onto our mats, working out the soreness and stiff muscles from the intense, daily asana sessions that continued weeks on end. My slick palms and soles dug into my rubber mat as breath surged through my body, reminding me of the sound of revving engines before the start of a nascar race. That mat was beginning to feel like home in a sense. Sometimes you take a step back and look at where you are in life and just wonder how and why you got there; this was one of those moments. Digging deep inside to finish the session, I was asking myself what brought me half way around the world to a steamy studio filled with eager students in Rishikesh, the heart of yoga. It was challenging, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, and it was the start of a new chapter in life for me. The melodic accents from our Indian instructors will forever ring in my head, “Inhale… Exhale… Inhale…”
My name is Conor Schultz. My relationship with yogasana began in 2015 with a stiff forward fold on a shaley Alaskan beach, during an unusually sunny day for the temperate rain forest that Seward, Alaska resides in. Riding the endorphin high of a long hike, I stood with a satisfied grin plastered on my face as I gazed out at the endless horizon of Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska. When the sun comes out in Seward – that is reason enough for a wide smile. My legs were stiff, and my back was tight; my body was filled with the rather pleasant soreness you get after really digging in on the trail. I bent over, reaching for my toes, which I could barely touch at the time…
Ahhhh. I felt flooded.
Flooded with a rush of relief. My back and hamstring thanked me with fantastic bodily sensations. I let my head hang… and hang… and hang. It was just too good.
I’ve been a semi-avid athlete since I was a young teen. All the sports I’ve participated in usually began with a 10 minute period of stretching, which I generally acted out with very little concentration, barley thinking twice about it; I just did it because coach said so.
That day on the beach was different though. I began stretching when my body told me to, and not when coach told me to. I had even participated in some short and friendly yoga classes in college with my girlfriend at the time, but it was different, it had felt guided. But something shifted that day just long enough to catch a glimpse of. That forward fold felt reflexive, not like a warm up or a sport; it was a natural response after the draining effort that I had put into hiking. And from that day on I began a simple daily practice of stretching out, using the very minimal previous knowledge I had to guide myself through 10 or 20 minutes of “yoga” on the wooden foundation of my wall tent, which was home at the time.
My interest in yoga grew and grew. I began purchasing books on the topic and trying to self educate myself through practice. The more studying I did, the more my intellectual understanding of what yoga is began to expand. In the previous 3 years, I increasingly became drawn to the wisdom of Zen, Buddhism, and the mystical branches of Eastern philosophy, religion, and their practices in general. I was, and still am, influenced by the minds of R am Das, the Dalai Lama, Allan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Ekhart Tolle, and the like. As Yoga as a whole began to open up to me, I saw it’s connections. Yoga is about moving into a certain state of being: “Samadhi” or enlightenment; in ancient text, as well as modern material, yogic philosophy embodies the same motive that most religious teachings do, without devotion to a sect. I tread lightly here.
India became an intersection for me. At the crossroads of spiritual curiosity, and feeling rather lost and defeated after dropping out of college, I decided to become a student of yoga and “a student of the breath,” which I will remain for as long as I live. It wasn’t a few weeks after that forward fold on the beach when I bought a 3 month ticket to India and reserved my place in a Yoga Teacher Training course at the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh, India. I was on a mission to find the truth of what yoga is and to create a foundation for my practice.
I wish I could write here about a magical time in India, filled with revelation, practice, and “finding myself,” like the fairy tales and glorious inner quests for enlightenment that the saints and sages of the east write about in my self help books, but that would be far from the truth. Although the third world gave my ego a beating, made me realize that I hadn’t the slightest clue of what real yoga was, and drained my bank account to the point that I barely made it home, I did return to the west with the set of skills I had hoped for and a foundation to build my practice upon.
The month long teacher training was intensive; 4 hours of asana every day, broken up with meditation, philosophy, yoga therapy, pranayama, and anatomy sessions, as well as dancing, chanting, and singing. At the end, I had the intellectual knowledge of what it meant to practice, but it still just wasn’t happening. I was desiring the desire to practice, trying to eliminate my desires through a practice I desired desiring – it doesn’t work that way – but we won’t get caught up in nonsense. My time during the course felt very regimented and there was no way out of conforming to the itinerary’s dynamic. I felt like I was swimming in the same pool I wanted to escape in college.
I was lucky enough to participate in the Yoga Teacher Training with my friend and co-worker, Ben, also a student of philosophy and yoga, and with him, I filled the following 6 weeks of the trip with adventure and leisure. We traveled nearly the entire length of India, exploring hikes in the Himalayas of Kashmir, to a variety of yoga styles classes in Mysore, to swimming and partying on the colorful and creative coast of Goa. I rekindled my passion for rhythm after finding drum circles that raged with energy and liveliness, gorged on the amazing foreign street cuisine, all while conquering the beautiful and intimidating culture that is India… well, I don’t know about conquering, but I did survive.
However, I returned to the states for the winter with less direction than when I had when I left, a reverse culture-shock lingered as I spent a few months in Wisconsin with my family, and my personal yoga practice dwindled. I shared what I learned about yoga with very few people… how could I teach yoga without the passion to practice myself?
As summer approached, I decided to return to Miller’s Landing for a third season, working as a kayak guide. Miller’s Landing is a fishing charter, kayak outfitter, and rustic resort situated just outside of Seward, Alaska along the rugged coast of Resurrection Bay. The landscape is something out of a childhood dream. Fog and low-hanging clouds slowly drift just above sea level on most days, as the surrounding 3000-5000 foot mountain peaks poke through the tops of rain clouds. Liquid sunshine patters on the tarps, tents, and roofs of the adventurous folks who make their way to the magnificent scene. Aside from the world class deep sea fishing, many of these travelers are seeking the time of their life in the Kenai Fjords National Park: a remote park outside Seward with very little infrastructure; 34 massive glaciers stem from the Harding Ice-field, many of which spill directly into the ocean as “tidewater glaciers;” mountain peaks as high as 6500 feet sky rocket up and overhead, and create a surreal “bowl” of mountains, ice, and snow; Humpback whales, Orcas, porpoise, seals, sea lions, and otters fill the fjords soaking in attention from adventurous sea kayakers. To get to the point, it is the avid sea kayakers dream location, whether it’s just a day of paddling or a week or longer.
Ben and I went to India with the vision of expanding Miller’s Landing’s kayaking program. Essentially to couple it with yoga classes. When I arrived in early April, I was unsure if that idea was going to manifest or not. But as soon as Ben arrived a few weeks later we immediately put the concept into motion. Together, we launched the company’s first retreat, and very quickly, the opportunity that rested well within arms reach began to unfold. This is when my practice truly began.
Even with over 200 hours on the mat, I didn’t understand why I was practicing what I was practicing. But as I stumbled upon the “job” of teaching yoga, my practice flourished. I began spending hours every day practicing like I had never done before: with intention. That is what shifted my practice. Intention. Intention. Intention. It holds the ability to change the way you view yourself, how you approach your day, your evenings, your relationships, your habits, your practice. Since the time I began dabbling in yoga, I felt as though it was a sacred activity, something that needs to be taught with the utmost respect for the body, mind, and soul of the practitioner. I didn’t take that idea lightly. Yoga holds the power to heal. It also holds the power to create suffering. Stepping up to the plate to teach was nerve-racking, as it can be for anybody initially.
Ben and I started by bringing people to the Kenai Fjords National Park and sharing our knowledge of Yoga during kayaking adventures. Yoga and paddling is a perfect blend. Yoga and anything is a perfect blend really, but after a few long hours and many miles of digging in deep on the water, confined to the space of a cockpit, yoga can work wonders for the mind and body. An ideal class can be created for absolutely any situation. The asana classes I began teaching was a way to get the lower body moving and stretched out again, while restoring the exhausted core and upper-body muscles. The response from the participants was excellent.
For now, much of my practice and study revolves around the many aspects of Yogasana, which is the practice of holding postures in a steady and comfortable manner, I will not go out of my way to say that it is a purely physical practice, far from it. I also tend to work with Vinyasa, which embodies the linking of breath to the transition of one posture to the next, creating a focus throughout the entire practice on the steady and rhythmic movement of breathing. Yogasana, however, is only a fraction of yoga as a whole. In fact, in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (the ancient text which lays the foundation for every branch of yoga that has followed) asana is only one of the 8 “limbs” that interweave and compliment one another to create a full and rounded path toward Samadhi.
With the impressive response from our “Kayaking and Yoga Retreat” in the Kenai Fjords, we decided to move forward and continue to develop the new program. Our goal is to offer a yoga experience for any level of practitioner, whether beginner, or advanced. With that in mind, we added a number of other trips and retreats to the roster. Most excitingly, the 3 day Kayakers Cove Hostel Retreat, and the 2 day Resurrection Bay Wilderness Retreat, in mid and late August, both focusing entirely on yoga. With 4+ hours of yoga – Asana sessions, meditation and philosophy discussion, and pranayama workshops – our retreats will really create a fantastic, open learning environment. Days on end with multiple instructors, as our yoga teacher training course proved, will open up the doors to find new channels for your breath, strengthen the relationship with your practice, and bring the mind to the quiet, natural state you crave.
Nobody can teach you “how to Yoga.” “We can’t be told the truth, we are human beings, we must discover the truth for ourselves.” Yoga is an inner journey, with real intention and honest instruction from fellow yogi’s, you hold the power to accelerate your journey toward Samadhi. We are all students, and we will always remain students. I hope to share my knowledge of this journey with you, whether it be at a yoga intensive in Resurrection Bay, or in line at the grocery store.
I will post retreat programs for our intensives soon. In the meantime, feel free to go check out our overviews on Miller’s Landing’s website here.