Simple Strategies to Avoid Information Overload in Yoga Teacher Training
by Anna Withrow
“I will never be able to remember all of this.”
Having attended and taught several yoga teacher trainings and having shared stories with colleagues, I’ve heard this sentiment voiced many times. Despite vast differences in the content and style of trainings, many graduates share common experiences both positive and challenging. One challenge that seems almost universal in yoga teacher trainings, no matter how they are structured, is a sense of being overwhelmed by the amount of information presented. After listening, learning, and absorbing for so many hours on end, it can be just too much to digest.
Finding out how much you don’t know about yoga can be both humbling and motivating. But for some trainees, impending defeat is embodied in the fixation on the thought, I will never be able to remember all of this.
Some good study strategies can help, as can remembering that you won’t be expected to know everything upon graduation. Perhaps even more fittingly, the yoga tradition itself offers a useful way to understand what happens when we learn and acquire new skills. Essentially, the tradition holds, you digest information and experience in much the same way you digest food.
In fact, it acknowledges that the same energetic forces (samana vayu) that govern your digestion and assimilation of food (physical digestion) also govern your digestion and assimilation of information and experiences (subtle digestion).
You can take advantage of this correlation by using your understanding of physical digestion to guide your understanding of subtle digestion. If you attend to your physical digestion and also ensure that you have the energetic capacity to take in and assimilate information, teacher training or any intense learning experience can become much more manageable.
Try these three simple strategies for better digestion to make your teacher training experience more successful and enjoyable.
1. Avoid overwhelming your subtle digestion.
As a trainee, you won’t be in charge of how much information your teachers share and when and how they do it. But you will be in charge of how much you’re adding to the load.
Minimize obligations outside yoga teacher training
Do some careful planning about scheduling your training, avoiding times when you have an all-consuming project at work, family visiting, or other unusually taxing obligations.
Work with your schedule so that you can minimize the need to fulfill other obligations during the training. If you’re in a program that meets on weekends, could you take the weekend off from checking work emails? If you chose a program that involves travel and study for several days or weeks, could you finish up some projects beforehand? Then you won’t have to attend to them during breaks or think about the nagging details while you study.
Give yourself downtime outside class
If you are in a weekend program, try to keep the weekends as focused on the training as you can. Of course you’ll need to interact with your family, roommates, or friends, but, I suggest limiting social obligations when possible.
While many of us find socializing more pleasant than work, it requires a significant amount of information intake and processing. Due to this it may be using up some of the resources you could be using to digest your long day of learning, as well as your time for rest.
Consider finding a nice way to ask those around you to hold off on requests, complaints, or plans that can wait for Monday. Arrange for your time at home after a day of training to be quiet, uplifting, and spacious—the same type of environment in which you would like to digest a good, filling meal.
Put your phone away
As hard as it may be, put your phone away.
It’s just common sense and expected manners to keep it secured where it won’t tempt you during the actual training. But also, keep it tucked away during your breaks, lunchtime, and the drive home. If this will make you inordinately anxious or you have a legitimate need to see the phone, choose specific appropriate times to check in and hold yourself to those times.
Looking to see what friends have posted on Instagram may seem like a harmless diversion, but in fact, it’s depleting some of the resources that could be used for digesting and assimilating the information you need to be a great yoga teacher.
Take a quick walk instead or stand up and stretch. Interestingly, I can remember a handful of trainees over the past few years who had notable difficulty separating from their phones, and as far as I know, none of them actually ended up teaching.
Phones, tablets, and computers may seem like great resources for note taking, but research suggests that taking notes by hand is probably still your best strategy for long-term comprehension.
If you need assistance keeping up with notes, consider a smart pen that records lectures while you take written notes. Just be sure to get permission to record from your trainers first.
2. Attend to your physical digestion.
You might expect that I’m about to tell you to eat whole, healthy, minimally processed foods. And I think that’s good advice, to a point. I will also suggest that you employ, in your attempts to eat well, that greatest of balancing forces—moderation. You may have an aspiring-yoga-teacher-doing-everything-perfectly healthy-eating plan, but if it’s too different from how you ate before yoga teacher training, it may not serve your digestion as well as you think.
Here’s what I mean. During training, we are immersed in studying a practice that speaks to our health and probably surrounded by fellow health-conscious trainees. There can be a tendency to over-correct and secretly worry that you’re the only one who didn’t have a kale smoothie for breakfast. Suddenly, your morning bowl of Cheerios seems like traitorous poison.
Don’t change your diet too radically in an effort to be perfect or to fit in. If you’re compelled to make some changes, that’s great. Be gradual and observe how your body acclimates.
The truth is, kale can be super hard to digest for some folks, and changing your diet radically can lead to poor digestion. Additionally, a new diet can require a significant amount of research, planning, and checking in.
Eat well, but eat like you. There will be plenty of time to explore more meaningful changes after graduation, if you’re so inclined.
3. Adopt a posture that aids physical and subtle digestion.
The other big complaint we can’t seem to get away from in yoga teacher trainings involves the amount of sitting required, usually on the floor. It’s wise to shift your position around so you don’t overtax your hips, knees, and back.
But also keep in mind that some sitting postures may give your muscles some relief but won’t be ideal for digestion. Any posture that compresses the digestive organs can also interfere with subtle digestion.
When we send a signal on the physical level that our capacity for intake is compromised, or that it is simply no longer time for that part of the digestive process to be active, that signal may resonate on the level of information digestion as well. We can see this idea at work by noticing how much a spacious posture impacts the degree to which we can breathe easily and stay alert.
Use this simple rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t sit that way during or after eating a meal, don’t try to learn while sitting that way either.
Experiment with different props that can help you maintain your posture with less strain. Don’t forget about standing to get some relief when necessary. And be sure to keep up with your daily asana practice, so sitting is less strenuous overall.
Good digestion is a hallmark of health and balance. Take the time you’ve invested in teacher training to practice some gentle discipline and some excellent self-care related to your digestion. It will serve you well as you assimilate the information you will need in order to teach. Even better, you may find it helps you navigate the transformative personal experience many find to be part of the yoga teacher training process as well.