Note: This post was originally published on July 12, 2017 but was lost when my website was hacked in August 2018. I’ve republished it here with minimal edits from a backup file.
Everyone told me that yoga teacher training is transformative. Now that I am almost half way through the 200-hour, SmartFLOW Yoga teacher training program, I know what they mean. For weeks, I’ve wanted to share my experience. But, I have struggled to find the words. You can learn more about Annie Carpenter and the SmartFLOW Yoga system on her website. In today’s blog, I share my experience in SmartFLOW Yoga teacher training and reflect on my path to radical acceptance.
I am Strong and Flexible
Everyone also told me that the asana practices are intense. They were right. The two-hours long practices are mentally and physically challenging (they’re even harder at 6:30 in the morning). However, these in-depth practices have transformed my understanding of my body and how it works.
To be honest, I was terrified of the asana practices. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be strong enough or flexible enough. I regularly rest in Child’s Pose during regular practices in the studio. So, I just knew I couldn’t endure two hours of intense asana practice. I’m happy to report, I was wrong. I am strong enough and I am flexible enough, because I am enough.
Two months ago, I couldn’t tell you what sets SmartFLOW Yoga apart from other systems. Although, I’m far from being an expert, today, I have a much better appreciation for this practice. The Movement Principles and cuing system in SmartFLOW yoga allows everyone, regardless of their shape, strength, or flexibility to find their own expression of each pose.
Any yoga teacher will tell you that you don’t have to be strong or flexible to practice yoga asanas. In fact, most will encourage you to do yoga because it will help you become strong and flexible (among other things). But, SmartFLOW has taught me that I am strong enough and flexible enough, right now and that what comes tomorrow or next year doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s happening on my mat. SmartFLOW accomplishes this by teaching that yoga is an inquiry and that the goal (if you need to have one) is acceptance.
SmartFLOW Yoga is Inquiry
Elsewhere, I’ve written that yoga is an epistemology, or a way of knowing. Prior to my training, I knew that yoga is a way to learn about yourself, your body, and the universe we all share. Studying SmartFLOW, I now understand yoga is in an inquiry rather than an epistemology. The distinction may be semantic, but my academic side can’t help but indulge.
To me, epistemology represents a system of knowledge. For example, there are infinite explanations for why the sun rises and sets each day. However, in our modern Western society, we teach our children that the sun rises and sets because the Earth rotates on its axis. Sometimes we face the sun, other times we don’t. This explanation comes from science. An epistemology based on systematic observation of the universe. But, at other times in our human history we’ve employed different knowledge systems, such as religion. For example, maybe the Sun God wakes up to protect us each morning, grows tired and falls asleep each night. While this explanation describes sunrise and sunset, the explanation is based on belief and/or faith rather than observation.
Ultimately, I’ve come to see yoga as the process of observing, rather than a means of knowing. In SmartFLOW terms, we say that yoga is paying attention. SmartFLOW yoga teachers invite their students to pay attention to their breath and their body, from largest limbs to the smallest muscle fibers. They do this through inquiry-based cuing.
If you watched my Mountain Pose tutorial, you probably noticed that I asked a lot of questions. In SmartFLOW Yoga, these cues invite students to inquiry rather than command them into a position. Here, SmarFLOW Yoga teaches people (about their body and how it moves), not poses. Compassionate SmartFLOW teachers will encourage you to notice what is happening in your body and guide along a path of radical acceptance.
SmartFLOW Yoga is Radical Acceptance
SmartFLOW Yoga celebrates the uniqueness of every body. We accept that no two practitioners are alike. My strength, range of motion, endurance, and ability to pay attention is likely very different from yours. In fact, my strength and range of motion today is different from what it was yesterday or what it will be two months from now.
Acknowledging our uniqueness, SmartFLOW Yoga encourages every student to experience her full potential. Presenting yoga as an inquiry, or series of questions to the Self without expectation for an outcome, establishes each practice as an opportunity for radical acceptance. This process of inquiry and observation taught me to let go and to accept myself as I am.
It doesn’t matter if my arms aren’t aligned with my head/neck/ears in Utthita Hasta in Tadasana. They might never be. What matters is that I am on my mat, doing my work, observing my body, and accepting what is. And that is the beauty of SmartFLOW Yoga.
Before I started this teacher training program, I didn’t know what made SmartFLOW different from other styles. I’d practiced Forrest yoga, yin yoga, and other forms of vinyasa yoga; I knew that I felt different in SmartFLOW classes, but I didn’t know why. Today, I know that I feel different in SmartFLOW classes because they start and end in a different place than any other yoga class.
Yes, we start our practice with an OM, and end in Savasana. But, SmartFLOW practices begin with a question and end with acceptance.
I am infinitely grateful to Annie Carpenter for developing this system of yoga. If you don’t know who she is, please, look her up. Take a class with Annie in California or find her on YogaGlo. I have yet to meet her in person, but she has already transformed my life.
I’m equally grateful to my trainers and mentors, Britni Serou and Janet Katz. These women live and breathe SmartFLOW and am honored to have the privilege of learning from them. I can’t wait to finish my training! If you have a chance, you should take a class with Britni at Downtown Yoga in Hammond, LA or with Janet at Second Story Yoga in Memphis, TN.