What is it like to go through yoga teacher training? I will demystify the one month I spent in Thailand to give you a taste of what to expect. The journey begins 8,000 miles away from home on an idyllic island called Koh Samui. Set on a picturesque hill overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, Vikasa Yoga Retreat is an essential blend of yoga vigor and relaxing bliss.
The pictures don’t lie. When I first arrived after traveling for nearly 24 hours, I pinched myself to make sure the sight was real. Sprawled out with a snorkel friendly beach, the retreat spirals upward with cabin accommodations. Nested midway is the yoga salon looking out to the water on one side and greenery on another. It comes enclosed with windows to fend off pesky mosquitoes. Nothing ruins savasana more than the nuisance of a sting. The infinity pool sits peacefully next to the salon for a cool dip after practice or for moments of contemplation. Climbing 100 steps of stairs, Vikasa Life Cafe comes to view. Worth every step, the scenery and food are breathtaking.
With only Sundays off, the day starts at promptly at 7am and concludes at 6:30pm. I had to work for brunch as it was served after morning practice. Initially, the idea of exercising on an empty stomach was very foreign to me. I thought I would need some sustenance to do yoga for 2 hours. So I ate a banana and shortly after realized why it is optimal to have nothing in the stomach. Kosta, the instructor, introduced us to nauli. When he demonstrated this pranayama, or breathing exercise, I wondered where all his digestive organs went. I blinked a couple of times as I could not fathom that the sight was real. The stomach caves in and as he pressed down on the thighs, the abdomen churns. I tried uncomfortably as the banana turned to mush.
After brunch, I would have theory, philosophy or anatomy class at one or two weeks’ duration. Through these courses, yoga unravels itself from more than striking a pose and posting it on Instagram. In theory and philosophy, the roots of yoga came alive. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj”, meaning to “yoke” or to join. It can join the breath with the movement to still the mind so that it is a clear mirror for deep reflection. In anatomy, it was interactive and fun. Not all bodies are the same, so one pose doesn’t fit all. Often I would partner with a fellow classmate, take a marker and draw on his/her knee or shoulder to locate imbalance and determine where the correct form is or how to adjust him/her.
After lecture, the evening practice would begin after a light snack of tropical fruit or local treat like sticky rice. At times class would have live music to accompany yin yoga. The poses require just letting go and let gravity take over. I enjoyed yin yoga a lot as it brought a calm end to the day. In a relaxed state, I would amble up the stairs to enjoy dinner.
The meals at Vikasa Life Cafe paired with jaw-dropping panoramas of the sea was one of the highlights of the program. The thought of refueling to fresh juices, delightful selection of salads, chia pudding, yogurt, eggs and pancakes always made me drool. Sometimes there would be coconut rice, oat porridge, and sushi veggie wraps. All delicious. Dinner would have Thai-inspired mains with seafood or chicken, noodles or rice. Instead of juices, we’ll have herbal teas. One night we were all intrigued by the butterfly pea flower tea because it was blue! Both meals were served buffet style, so the urge to bypass seconds was impeccably difficult. Needless to say, the idea of losing weight did not come to fruition.
I originally stayed at the zen huts built from natural materials with an island ambiance. A twin size bed with mosquito netting lay in one corner. The ensuite bathroom had no curtains so when I showered, the toilet got a cleaning as well. Minimal but with character, I thought it’ll suffice for the duration of the training. However, a moth gorging on bamboo kept me up all night…zsk zsk zsk. Vikasa offered me solace and put me up in a room at a hotel within the premise of Vikasa. Not as charming as the hut, but more spacious with a queen bed. Though I had some occasional visitors like a gecko on my ceiling that I had to get the hotel to shoo away. Small price to pay for some sound sleep.
Koh Samui offers many delectable attractions. Numerous night markets with food and crafts vendors dot the island on different days. On Friday nights, I would play tourist at Fisherman’s Village. I couldn’t resist the grilled spicy squid, would load up on mangosteens, then decompress at a beach bar called Coco Tam’s. Bean bags fill the lounge area at the beach, music wafts the air, and a fire show entices the sight. Tourist mode on!
During the breaks between brunch and lecture, I would retreat to my happy place at Crystal Bay. The place is heaven on earth, though it may appear to be hell walking on a road where cars would zoom past me. Once I arrive with the softest white sand and the clearest waters beneath my feet, I beamed with joy. It gets better. A beachside massage only costs $10! Afterward, I would sit on the sand, quench my thirst with a coconut, and be mesmerized with the soft waves.
With 30+ people in the program, cliques automatically form. On the treasured day off, it is easy to go with the pack to feel a sense of belonging away from home. However, part of the training is to listen to yourself. One particular day, I didn’t have an inkling of desire to go shopping with others. Instead, my heart beat to Tamarind Springs. It is set in the forest with natural outdoor pools and herbal steam rooms built within rocks like a Hobbit dwelling. I spent 4 hours going between plunge pools and steam rooms and lathering the different sugar scrubs (coffee, sesame, lemongrass, and tamarind). It was one of my favorite afternoons spent on the island.
After completing the program, I now have the flexibility to practice yoga on my own and to share it with others. I now have the creativity to curate my own sequence to meet my needs or to help others. In moments of stress, I can now focus on my breathing and meditated using techniques learned. I now have the toolbox needed to practice wherever and whenever I’d like. At the beginning of the program, Kosta mentioned that everyone will be transformed. Vikasa from Sanskrit means “evolution”. After completing the program, I do feel more in tune with myself. A better listener because the lens to the soul is in better focus. I feel more liberated and empowered.
Are you ready for yoga teacher training? Just remember to savor every second of it.
Cindy Liang · Guest Writer
Cindy Liang is a guest writer for Volunteer Forever.