A Student to Yoga Teacher Journey By Jenn Ayotte

I still remember the day I first walked into In Fine Feather Yoga. I didn’t really have any prior experience with yoga, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had taken a couple of classes at a community center before but that was years ago, and the only thing I could remember was being asked to flop like a fish on the community room floor and feeling rather uncomfortable.

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So here I was walking into another yoga class, years later, and so many things were going through my head.

Am I wearing the right clothes for this? How many people are going to be in there? Are we going to flop like a fish? (In case you were wondering, there was no flopping of any kind, I was relieved.) I don’t remember much about what we did in class that day but I do remember nervously moving through the poses and then feeling wonderful about it while lying in the dark at the end of class. I walked out of the studio that day in the best mood and I knew right then I was already hooked. On eclass was all it took. Just so we’re clear I am not an athletic person. I grew up hating gym class (I was one hundred percent that girl that purposely forgot their gym clothes), I definitely do not enjoy playing sports (I am convinced my face in a ball magnet), and I avoid any situation where I might have to run. So, when I found yoga, I was shocked by how much my body could do. The more I showed up on my mat the stronger I got. Over time, I found myself being able to do poses that at first, I thought I’d never be able to do. For the first time in my life, I was feeling good inside my body and this confidence I found on my mat started to show up in other parts of my life as well. I started to notice that somewhere through my practice I stopped doubting myself and my body’s abilities and that was such a big thing for me. Suddenly all these things I would normally be too afraid to do weren’t so scary anymore.

So, it’s not surprising that only a few months after signing up for my first yoga class, I quickly became a regular at the studio.

Months turned into years and somewhere along the way I notice I had become a part of this little community. In Fine Feather is such a warm and welcoming place, it was one of the things that made it so easy for me to find comfort on my mat. The teachers not only guide you through practice but they bring you in, get to know you, and make you feel like you are practicing with a friend. The place just attracts good people. Whether it’s something as simple as moving your mat to make space for another person, or sharing a laugh with the person next to you during class, there seems to be an unspoken agreement to be kind and respectful to each other. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what size you might be, or how experienced you are, In Fine Feather has a way of making you feel as though you belong there. This sense of community is what made it so easy for me to stay committed to my practice.

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When I first heard that In Fine Feather had a Yoga Teacher Training program, I wasn’t really sure if it was for me.

I wanted to learn everything I could about yoga but the idea of teaching was terrifying to me. Growing up I always feared having to talk in front of other people and in high school I would even skip class just to avoid doing an oral presentation. So, you can see why the idea of becoming a Yoga Teacher seemed impossible to me but I was still finding myself drawn to the idea enrolling. I was looking for a way to deepen my own practice and there was so much about yoga I didn’t know and wanted to learn. After a little bit of encouragement from my family and teachers at the studio, I finally decided to take the leap and enrolled.

The weeks before Teacher Training started, I’m not going to lie, I was terrified!

I kept wondering what I had got myself into, I had no idea what to expect. When the first day came around and I made it through only mildly uncomfortable, I started to think maybe I can actually do this. Throughout the course there so many moments that I was pushed out of my comfort zone but as the course went on those moments got less hard, and the more I got to know the people in training with me the less alone I felt in these moments. We were all interested in the same thing and we all had our own fears we were trying to overcome. Having this connection with the other people in my group was one of the things I loved the most about Teacher Training, we all had each other to lean on for support.

A few months into Training, I was about to run into my biggest challenge.

I had just found out I was pregnant! My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant so this wasn’t a surprise, but it definitely happened a lot faster than I was ready for. At first being pregnant didn’t really change much but as my belly grew things got a lot tougher. I remember demoing at yoga in the park while I was 5 months pregnant on a hot summer day and spending the entire hour with the worst heart burn of my life. I was sweating, I was shaking, and every time I went to fold over my legs, I was sure I was about to lose my breakfast. That was the moment I realized how much more of a challenge it was going to be to get through the rest of training with a growing belly. I was tired, I was sore, I was nauseous, but as hard as it got, this growing life inside of me was my daughter and that was more motivation than it was a challenge. There was no way I was going to tell my daughter I quit when things got hard.

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Finally, the moment I had been dreading had arrived.

I was going to have to stand in front of my peers and guide them through a sequence I came up with myself. Not only had a I never planned my own sequence but now I was going to have to come up with something I could actually demo while 8 months pregnant. Let’s be real, I was so nervous the entire time I was teaching but I was surprised to find that the nerves started to melt away the longer I was up there. Even more surprising was how good I felt when I finished, this was nothing like standing at the front of a class to do an oral presentation, yoga was something I loved, and being able to share that with others was so exciting. I wasn’t expecting it to happen but as nervous as teaching made me, I was still falling in love with it.

Graduation day arrived and I was overwhelmed with the pride, I had made it all the way through to the end.

Not even 3 whole weeks later I gave birth to my baby girl. The first few months after my daughter was born were tough. There was very little sleep and lots of tears (both mine and baby’s). Six months into becoming a new mom, I saw the posting to sub classes at In Fine Feather. The first thing I felt when I saw this was excitement, teaching in the very place where I found yoga and became a teacher was a dream to me but I was hesitant. While everyone else in my Teacher Training had spent the last six months getting out there and teaching, I was at home adjusting to life as a new parent. I got right back to the studio and on my mat the moment I got the okay from my doctor but I still hadn’t taught any classes yet outside of teacher training. So, I started to doubt myself but that doubt was just an excuse. The truth was I was just scared, not only of auditioning and failing but of actually getting hired on and having to get through the nerves of becoming a teacher. It would have been so easy to let that fear get in the way of what I really wanted but teacher training had already showed me that some of the best things come from something that scares you, and now I was a mom, I had to set a good example. So, instead of letting being a new mom be my excuse, I let it be my motivation. I applied for the spot, I audition, and I got it!

So, here I am, a year after graduating from teacher training and I’m not only subbing but I have my very own class that I get to teach every week!

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I love each and every moment that I get to spend teaching and guiding other students through their practice. My dreams of being a self-employed stay at home mom and yoga teacher are becoming more of a reality every day and that was something at one time I believed could never happen. So, whatever it is that scares you, whatever it is that has you doubting yourself, just stop and take the leap. Dreams really do come true.

More About Jenn

Jenn loves teaching classes with a theme or a focused intention and puts emphasis on alignment and moving with breath. She urges students to listen to their body and make their practice their own. Driven by how her practice has changed her life outside of the studio, she encourages students to take all they’ve learned on their mats and apply it to their every day lives. Her passion for teaching is motivated by the desire to help students find positivity during practice and take it with them off their mats.

More About Teacher Training at In Fine Feather Yoga

Click here to learn more or contact Helena McKinney here.

Yoga Teacher Training | My Takeaways from Learning Meditation by Lisa Kiss

My consensus of Module 3 in a sentence…Meditation is hard.

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Module 3 was what I was most excited for in this YTT journey but, personally ended up being very hard for me to get through. I don’t know if it was because we were getting to the end of our learning before summer break or because I became disinterested in the subject. Regardless of my personal feelings toward meditation I learned a lot and will hopefully start a meditation practice in the future. The most valuable thing I learned was the difference between meditation and a mediation practice:

Meditation

“The state of meditation is a full connection with the inherent spontaneity of all existence. The connection that happens beyond all of the layers of the personality, beyond all of the layers of our conditioning. True meditation is more of a state of mind.” You are choicelessly aware of the influences about you and free of every influence you come in contact with.

Meditation Practice

There are many philosophies as to the purpose and function behind meditation practice but, all with a common underlying goal; training the mind and heart to meet the present moment as it arises. It is thought the practice of meditation that we learn to see and work with our conditioning.

My Meditation Practice

Everything I learned in the 20 hours with Steve was extremely helpful but, my meditation practice is still something I’m working on starting. Through my YTT thus far, and I think just from practicing yoga consistently I have become much more aware about a lot of things including my body, mind and external awareness. However, I discovered that our thoughts usually relate back to approximately 3 themes. I figured out what my 3 were and am currently trying to understand why they keep popping up in my mind. A meditation practice would probably help but, it’s something I struggle with. For now, I acknowledge those thoughts and allow myself to return to the present moment.

How you can start a Meditation Practice

1. Find or create a quite environment

2. Pick an object of concentration (sound, breath, mantra)

3. A passive attitude toward content – Equanimity

4. Comfortable position (my feet used to always fall asleep by changing my seated position I was able to stop this and sit longer)

5. Take 4 breaths on purpose (Steve’s way of starting guided meditation)

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Starting a meditation practice sounds very simple and it is physically simple to prepare for mediation; usually an asana practice before helps. The hard part is preparing your mind. During the training I was able to sit for 5 minutes comfortably. However, the 20-minute meditation was very hard for me to mentally sit through. So, if you’re just starting, set a timer for 5 minutes or go to a guided meditation class so your facilitator can help bring you back. Shelley is wonderful and teaches every Thursday morning at 11:15am.

And remember to always come to back to your breath.

Peace & Love,

Lisa

More About IFF’s Yoga Teacher Training

Click here to learn more or contact Helena McKinney here.

More About Lisa Kiss

Find out more about Lisa Kiss, read her blog and explore her services here.

My Karma Yoga Experience by Sara Nixon

This summer at In Fine Feather Yoga, all the students enrolled in our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training course took the summer months off. Which meant they were out of the classroom and putting their training into purpose and action. They had a number of assignments and self study projects to complete throughout the summer, one of which was 5 hours of volunteering within the community. The intention of this exercise was to bring the moral principals of the Yamas and Niyamas into the volunteer work they did with an organization or charity that was not related to yoga. Specifically, looking to explore and exercise these principle to help guide them through the experience of volunteering. We felt really inclined to share Sara’s Karma Yoga exercise because it is the embodiment of how the Yoga practice should be lived and explored everyday to enrich our personal growth but also our connections to other people. If you aren't very familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas, you will still love this article, but we've also provided you with a link HERE to do some background reading if you feel included to know more about the philosophy.

A big thank you to Sara for allowing us to share her experience with the IFF community!

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My Relationship to Asteya

I currently volunteer at the YWCA Hamilton Senior 55+ Active Living Centre. My volunteer work here is a directly result of my contemplation of the yamas and niaymas during Yoga Teacher Training. I came to this organization through my intent to practice aestya, or non-stealing. I’d like to share my story of how I got to this place: I came to yoga teacher training feeling restless and discontent. I had a hard time coming to terms with why. If I was to look at myself through the eyes of an observer, I would see a privileged life. I am married to the most loving and supportive partner and together we own a house and have a family of adorable cats. I have a career directly in my field of study, and not only is it fulfilling and rewarding, but I am paid benefits and have a pension. I travel and hike and camp and garden and surround myself with family and friends who love me and constantly build me up. I am living the millennial dream.

And yet, for many months leading up to YTT, this relentless voice told me I was not enough and that, in order to be enough, I needed to take more. I spent about a year almost obsessively searching for and applying to what seemed like better, more important and impressive careers. I’d get some interviews but never did I get the job. I also applied to volunteer boards and committees that I thought would look impressive. I wasn’t successful in these either. This was hard on my sense of self-worth, and further perpetuated the illusion that if I took more, I could be more. 


Connecting it back to Asteya

Asteya is not only concerned with stealing things that are tangible, but also stealing emotional, cultural, and social space. As a privileged, white female living the millennial dream, I take up a lot of this kind of space. Yet, through contemplation, I realized that my discontentment came from this compulsion to take up more space, and to ensure my spot at the centre of it. This was unhealthy and led to feelings of inadequacy, jealously, judgement, and competition. Instead of focusing my energies on taking up space for myself, I am now more mindful to consciously and thoughtfully give space to others who need it more than I do. This has become my practice of asteya.

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Reflection

I stopped applying to jobs and impressive committees, and instead applied to volunteer with the YWCA Hamilton Seniors 55+ Active Living Centre. I help run the outreach programming for the Senior Outreach Community Connections program, where older adults living in long-term care facilities all over the city are transported to the YWCA for a morning of singing, dancing, games, and other interactive programming. Older adults living in long term care facilities often feel isolated and forgotten. This program aims to connect older adults with others, to explore new things in a supportive environment, and to have fun.

I will also be delivering my own programming at the centre in Fall 2019, where I will lead conversation-based sessions on different aspects of local Hamilton history focused on memory-sharing and storytelling. In these programs, older adults will be at the centre, where they will have the opportunity to share, reminisce, and connect to one another. My role will be to facilitate and to listen – to create space for others. I do this work to engage members of the community who do not hold adequate social, cultural, and emotional space. I do this work to create a supportive space where older adults feel heard, appreciated, and valued. This is my practice of asteya.

More About IFF’s Yoga Teacher Training in Hamilton

Click here to learn more or contact Helena McKinney here.

My Karma Yoga Experience by Kelsi Salisbury

This summer at In Fine Feather Yoga, all the students enrolled in our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training course took the summer months off. Which meant they were out of the classroom and putting their training into purpose and action. They had a number of assignments and self study projects to complete throughout the summer, one of which was 5 hours of volunteering within the community. The intention of this exercise was to bring the moral principals of the Yamas and Niyamas into the volunteer work they did with an organization or charity that was not related to yoga. Specifically, looking to explore and exercise these principle to help guide them through the experience of volunteering. We felt really inclined to share Kelsi’s Karma Yoga exercise because it is the embodiment of how the Yoga practice should be lived and explored everyday to enrich our personal growth but also our connections to other people. If you aren't very familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas, you will still love this article, but we've also provided you with a link HERE to do some background reading if you feel included to know more about the philosophy.

Thank you Kelsi for allowing us to share your experience with the IFF community!

I chose to take this opportunity to volunteer with an organization that has been a big part of my life for the last 3 years. 

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The Hamilton Victory Gardens is a not-for-profit organization that turns otherwise vacant spaces into flourishing gardens, growing organic vegetables to be donated to local food banks and hot meal programs.  When I first found this organization a few years back, I unearthed my love for gardening and interest in food security. While I have been privileged enough throughout my life to not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, this is not the case for many Hamiltonians.  In further, the nature of food banks results in many donations consisting of canned or boxed food items with little room for fresh and local produce. The Hamilton Victory Gardens works to fill this gap, to increase access to healthy fresh fruits and vegetables for those in need. Organizations like this cannot independently disband food insecurity while cost-of-living and the housing crisis are prevalent issues at the forefront, however they play a vital role in supplementing the immediate need for improved access to nutritious options in our community.

My Past Volunteer Experience

For the last two years, until December of 2018, I became very involved in the Hamilton Victory Gardens.  I was so passionate about the efforts of HVG that I took every opportunity to try to help - I organized events and fundraisers, liaised with new volunteers, managed the web platform, curated social media and newsletter content, and completed large grant applications.  While I held this volunteer role very close to my heart, there came a time when my plate began to overflow from volunteer responsibilities, my full-time job, and family obligations. As much as I loved contributing to the organization, I found it was my health and personal well-being that was being compromised.  At that time I became detached from the reason why I started volunteering and the pressures of all my responsibilities, and felt it was best to step down from my active role within the organization.

Connecting the Yamas & Niyamas

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I spent my 5 hours volunteering at the Cancord Site behind the food basics on Barton & Mary.  Reflecting on my mornings gardening I felt a number of the Yamas and Niyamas were applicable. For me, Svadhyaya was the most prevalent for a number of reasons.  I was able to once again unearth my passion for gardening - which is something I truly miss now living in an apartment with only a few window herbs at my disposal.  I had forgotten how meditative a morning with the plants can be, how much I enjoy being outside, giving back, and learning about horticulture. I also found this a peaceful recluse to quiet my thoughts as I worked through the mundane tasks of pulling weeds, turning soil, and up-rooting plants that had gone to seed.  I applied the Niyama of Tapas as I pulled the various types of weeds.  I allowed myself to really be able to feel the  pricks of Dandelion poking through my gloves, the sensation of extracting a deep root, the hot sun beaming on my skin, being fully aware of each individual task I was completing.  Ishwaraprandihana was another relevant principle as I honoured forces larger than me that play into the success of community gardens.  As much as humans like to say “look what we did!”, there is so much more playing into the equation here. In my own belief, Mama Nature is the ultimate dictator of the success of each plant; the amount of sunlight, the quantity and frequency of rain, the nutrients in the soil, the insects or animals are present are out of our hands.  We, as gardeners, can help plants by creating a supportive environment, but the greatest part of the work is done between the plant and its immediate environment. Therefore, rather than focusing on the pride in what we have grown, the success of the harvest we reaped, we really should be taking more time to be grateful to the sun, rain, earth, and surrounding life that support the growth of our food.  The more time we spend in our gardens, we reinforce a better our connection to our food, and better our connection to the Earth.

Reflection

I am grateful for the Karma experience to allow me to re-explore this closed chapter, and re-visit the reasons why I found myself so heavily invested in the gardens in the first place.  This opportunity provided some closure for my decision to step-down, where I had been harbouring feelings of regret and guilt. Becoming more aware of the Yama Ahimsa - I feel more reassured that it was the best decision for myself at the time to make the conscious decision to be ‘non-harming’ to my own well-being.  

I am looking forward to continue visiting community gardens across our amazing city!

More About IFF’s Yoga Teacher Training

Click here to learn more or contact Helena McKinney here.