An American in France... learning all things Yoga
A blog by Brad Hartman
How It Began:
When I dreamed of yoga teaching training, France never entered my imagination. It was always Bali, with its beaches and at least in my dreams, Buddhist temples and bamboo, which begs the question:
How did I end up in the countryside of France becoming a certified 200 hr yoga teacher?
I’d fantasized of going through yoga teaching training mostly for the personal development since I’d seen the evolution my former boss had gown through almost five years ago when she became certified, but the fact that it happened this year in 2021 is almost as shocking as the fact that it occurred in France. See, I began 2021 by quitting my job and setting off to hike almost 7,000 miles around the Western United States (more on this here: www.spacebackpacking.com). It must’ve been around mile1,000 when I realized I didn’t want to spend seven months of this year walking through the woods and maybe it took another 1,000 miles of pondering the questions, “What do I want to do next? What is my purpose?”, that it clicked on what I felt my true calling was – I want to help people realize their full potential – and that one way to pursue this was to become certified to teach yoga.
And that’s at least a high-level overview of how I found myself hiking out of Castella, CA (a very steep climb uphill, by the way) googling yoga teacher trainings abroad on my phone before I lost cell phone service. YogaKoh immediately jumped out to me because of their beautiful locations in Bali (my dream) and New Zealand (wow, that place looks beautiful) but with COVID reigning strong again this fall, neither option would be available. I reached out, anyways, since they were offering their first European teacher training in France… and figured why not?
So that’s how I quite suddenly found myself out of the countryside of the US, across the Atlantic Ocean, and into the countryside of France learning to become a yoga teacher. YogaKoh truly found a gem of a location tucked in the rolling hills and valleys of the Dordogne region of France. I fell in love with the location the second I arrived. The retreat, hosted by Centre De Creation, houses six buildings on five acres of land perched against a hill of the valley. The original farmhouse where the female yogis stayed is over 400 years old and my rooms were in an aptly named building ‘The Pig Sty’, which was converted from you guessed it, a pig sty.
In the minutes before we began our morning yoga flow each morning, my classmates and I would often find ourselves standing in the grass gazing silently across the valley as the roosters at the farm across the hill crowed and welcomed the first morning light peaking over the hill. We stood there in silence feeling no need for words, only the need to experience the beauty – they were special mornings. Some mornings a heavy fog would settle over the valley and bring with it a certain mystical beauty that is hard to put into words but is calming and good for the soul. The yoga studio is a beautiful space converted from an old tobacco barn and in the tall, narrow windows I could look out as I flowed through our morning sequence and see the farm dog herding the flock of sheep against the dewy morning grass and I’d feel the need to pinch myself; it was so beautiful it couldn’t be reality.
My favorite part of the training was the morning routine of two hours of yoga because we’d start in the near dark hours of dawn and finish with the sun fully shining.
In the evenings, I’d either cannonball or gingerly walk into the pool (depending on my mood) to refresh after a long, satisfying day spent learning and sitting on the floor in the yoga studio, which perhaps was the biggest surprise about the training – I’d spend all day either standing or sitting on the floor.
It’s something I became used to quickly and also skilled at ways to make it more comfortable, like for example the one time I made a table to write on out of yoga blocks. After getting out of the pool, I’d lounge in the chairs by the water and begin the night’s homework, often focused on introducing new topics we’d learn the next day or creating yoga sequences to turn in for review and feedback from our teacher, Aurelie.
Then at 7 pm sharp, the dinner bell would ring to call us to the kitchen where Aurelie and I would compete on who’d be the first in line for food, although as the only guy (and American) in the training I’d find myself usually winning this competition.
Europeans eat late! We’d eat family style each night on the outdoor porch and it is these moments, looking back, that I cherish the most – all of us gather around the table reflecting on the our day, learning more about each other, and also once licking the chocolate mousse desert bowl completely clean – because it was these moments I think that were a huge part on how the six of us who were complete strangers at the start of the month could over of the course of the training create life time bonds.
The days themselves were filled with such a variety of topics and schedules that it was both impossible to feel bored and also completely up-to-speed with all the new knowledge. A month feels like a long time until you realize how much history and range of skills one must mater to feel comfortable standing in front of a room of sometimes complete strangers and lead them through a yoga class. Despite the immense amount of information to absorb, we all learned it relatively quickly and felt confident by the end, thanks to our amazing teachers Aurelie and her assistant Lea, as well as to the structure of the course.
For example, one day might start with a meditation followed by a yoga class focused on
inversions. Then later that day, we’d learn about the specifics of the inversions postures we did in class, like how to cue them, the proper alignment, the benefits, and then we’d practice teaching them to a partner all the while getting feedback and instruction.
Our afternoons might be filled with philosophy discussion, perhaps learning about the nervous systems and how yoga impacts them, or maybe a meditation and/or yin yoga for recovery. Later that night, we’d get together as a group to review and cement in the days learnings before going to sleep and then waking up to do it all again.
On the weekends, we’d get the Saturday evening and all of Sunday off, which I’d typically spend
exploring the countryside near the retreat. In about a half hour, I could walk to the river where there
was a public beach to sunbathe and swim in the refreshing slowly moving water or end up in the historic town of Limeuil, where there was a terraced bar that overlooked the river. After we all taught our final class at the end of the training, we’d come here to celebrate our accomplishments.
It was amazing to feel my body and mind transform over the course of the month. Poses unavailable to me at the start of the training became possible. The mental clarity brought by daily yoga, healthy eating (all meals were vegetarian), and lots of sleep helped me process all of the things I learned during the day, and also to dive deeper with self-inquiry to discover and unleash a fuller sense of self. As Aurelie reminded us, each of us grew from being nervous to teaching Tadasana (mountain pose) to standing in front of a class full of our fellow yogis and other community members leading them through at least 45 minutes of a flow, and all this growth happening in a short period of a month.
For me, it drove home the lesson that each of us are capable of amazing transformation so long as we make it a focus and can endure when the going gets difficult. It is this lesson that drew me to wanting to teach yoga in the first place. Yoga has this unique way to center oneself and to learn to unleash the immense power resonating within each one of us. It teaches us to recognize and separate ourselves from the mental chatter that so often dominates our lives, and when we can find this separation, it brings us to the present moment where we can evaluate what is truly possible and not what our minds tell us is so.
Yoga, through the focus on the breath and repetition of the asanas, gives us the tools to apply them in our daily lives. I am capable of amazing things, you are capable of amazing things, and we are all capable of amazing things. It is this lesson I still carry with me deep within my core even months after our training ended, and it is also this lesson that I hope to share with my students in class.
Several of my classmates and I are already sharing the gift of yoga through teaching classes, which among many things speaks to how prepared a YogaKoh training leaves their students.
Looking back, parts of this past September’s training feel like a dream, too perfect to be reality, and I realize how fortunate I am to have experienced such a beautiful place with such beautiful people learning yoga. I miss the little slice of heaven we created and writing this, I am reminded of a few linesmy from final journal entry before leaving the training:
'This morning we all met in the studio for our final sutra circle. We sat facing each other, knees
almost touching, and took turns going around the room sharing our appreciation for our each other and the time we spent. I went first and I might’ve cried. I’ll miss this group. The place was beginning to feel like home and my fellow yogis as close friends. But all is well that ends well, and this certainly did just that.
After spending the two months after yoga training traveling Europe (and going to as many yoga studios as possible along the way), I am back home temporarily in Indiana where I’ve began teaching yoga at my local studio. I’m off to Montana next to spend the winter skiing and running to train for an ultra-marathon in 2022 (and hopefully teach yoga there too). I post my adventures regularly on my blog,
www.spacebackpacking.com, and also on my Instagram, @backpack.brad.
To find info on the 2022 training YogaKoh is holding in France click here: www.yogakoh.com/franceytt