Tales from a teacher
After hosting YTTs around the world, there’s no place like home for Vidya Heisel
I have been running YTT programmes for 21 years now, all over the world, and in many ways, they all roll into one seamless journey. It is mind-boggling how much the students grow, laugh, cry, and bond during three long, short weeks. I have learned to predict the mood of the students based on where we are in the schedule. At first eagerness, excitement and tentativeness predictably morphs into exhaustion, overwhelm, and nervousness. Then, just in the nick of time, a full day off, a refresh, renewed spirit, and a self-empowerment practice, followed by the long painstaking days of student teaching, moments of relief and release, laughter, and loads of encouraging mutual support. Culminating in a four-day high, embellished with so much love, gratitude, and such a sense of achievement. The last night always such a celebration of joy. What a journey it is, and how rewarding to be blessed to facilitate this! I have learned and grown so much personally through offering this guidance and learning how to conduct the whole event with as much skill as possible, being fully present to energetically hold the space, inspire, advise, keep everything on the right track, and help everyone achieve what they came for and leave enriched by the experience.
Some trainings stand out over others perhaps because of certain characters who attended, occasionally high maintenance, challenging or entertaining in some way. Then there were the YTTs in which I was personally challenged by life to walk my talk in the wake of unexpected and difficult events.
I used to teach all over the world, living the life that any yoga teacher would envy, staying in beautiful retreat centres in exotic places, and doing what I love: training teachers.
In particular, two incidents that took place in Costa Rica stand out in my memory for challenging my yogic practice off the mat! Both of them happened at Goddess Garden in Cahuita.
Goddess Garden is set in a stunning jungle-like rainforest, full of otherworldly tropical plants and flowers and tall trees. The wildlife was abundant with toucans, sloths and howler monkeys, who woke us up at dawn with their haunting Jurrasic Park-like wails.
One rainy January, about 12 years ago, I managed to break my wrist at 5am on the first day of the YTT, by slipping in a puddle on my bathroom floor. With 40 students waiting to study with me, I made the challenging choice to keep the show on the road and taught the whole training in an old-fashioned plaster cast that resembled a boxing glove. Needless to say, I couldn’t practice or demonstrate but fortunately had a team who were able to cover that for me. I was in quite a bit of pain, but the energy of the training carried and supported me. When I got back to the USA, I needed surgery and it was five months before I could do a handstand again!
My second rather memorable training was at the very same place in Costa Rica. It was January again and it had been raining torrentially for days. We were having an afternoon off.
My co-teacher and I were in our room on the second floor of a beautiful house. She suddenly got up and said she was going to see if any students would like to do some acro yoga. I was busy, working on my computer. About 10 minutes after she left the room I heard a god-awful noise of splintering and crashing coming right at me. I instantly knew what it was. A huge tree was falling, its roots destabilised by all the rain. A moment later, it tore through the roof, missing me by inches. Glass was flying everywhere. I tried to stand up but my knees gave way. There I was amidst the wreckage, miraculously unhurt. The trunk was right over my co-teacher’s bed. Whatever made her get up 10 minutes before was an inspired survival mechanism. I remember feeling a sense of relief that it was our room and not one of the students. We were able to move to a new room and to continue with the training. I was very shaken but so grateful for the yogic teachings that allowed me to keep calm and carry on.
Fast forward to a YTT at beautiful Lake Atitlan in Guatemala where I was stung by a big scorpion, who had been hiding in a bunch of bananas on a boat-bus which ferried people to various towns around the lake. I spent several hours not knowing whether my untimely demise had come. Fortunately, it hadn’t, and it only ended up being marginally worse than a bee sting. Then there was the training in Bali where I got dengue fever halfway through and tried to keep going, but finally had to have the assistants take over, as I succumbed to delirium.
After 10 years on the yoga trail I decided I needed to slow down and that I wanted to stop travelling and have the students come to me. (It would probably be safer!) Life on the road, hopping from one beautiful place after the other, had been amazing whilst it lasted, but it also left me longing to put down roots. During my years of travelling and running YTTs, I had become engaged in searching for the perfect retreat centre. I had worked tirelessly on refining and perfecting the content of the YTT itself, but I realised the container for the training also had a big influence on the overall experience. So, the search had taken me all over the world, and in the process, I had learned something good and positive from every sanctuary I visited and had many great adventures. However, it always seemed that something was missing, whether it was the food not being quite right or the customer service being poor, or the location not being as tranquil as I would have liked. This finally led me to the conclusion that I would have to create what I was seeking for myself; the perfect container to hold my YTTs. I found my dream retreat centre in the countryside of Andalusia in southern Spain and have spent the last 10 years in the creation of the perfect sanctuary. When I hold my trainings here, I am at peace, knowing I have managed to orchestrate the whole experience in the way I always dreamed of.
Vidya Heisel is the director of Frog Lotus Yoga International Teacher Training Programmes (Froglotusyogainternational.com) and Suryalila Retreat Centre (Suryalila.com)