By Sam Turner

I am gonna do my Yoga Teacher Training. Done. I researched everything I could about Therapeutic Yoga, about Integrative Yoga Therapy, about Liz Heffernan and Molly Masaoka and the Kalani Oceanside Retreat. The internet had been kind and I dropped my first payment to Kalani months before the training started. Done deal. And then my busy mind got to me: But my practice isn’t consistent! And what if I find out later that Ashtanga/Iyengar/Buddhi is the one true form of yoga!? What if my voice isn’t yoga-ey enough!!?? I created this wild world of contortionists and woo-woo hippy Miss. Cleo wannabes that I wasn’t even sure if Yoga Teacher Training was right for me. But I always felt that yoga was one of the few things that made my mind feel level.

Following through with my yoga teacher training was a commitment that I had made to myself and my future, so the other payments came and went and soon enough there I was on the Big Island of Hawaii, sweatin over my first day of yoga school.

The First Day of Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii

It’s funny when I look back on it because the first day everyone had that same mix of anxiety and excitement. Twitchy kids in the high school cafeteria. It became clear very fast that many of us were in a similar spot. I mean, you gotta be, right? We all decided we would spend a good chunk of cash to travel from all over the world: Morocco, South Korea, Canada, China, and everywhere in the US to delve into yogic study. We all wanted a change.

Standing Yoga Pose in Hawaii
Student in the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program in Hawaii with Soma Yoga Institute

From that commonality sprouted a community of mutual support and trust just as intense as our “intensive” style training. The image that I had of a class full of know-it-all front row arm-balance superstars couldn’t have been further from reality. There was very little ego, and no one was trying to out-yoga anyone. Everyone wanted to help each other out in any way they could. It was OK to ask questions, and OK to fail. The training became emotional for everyone at some point, and we all were able embrace our experiences within a safe and supportive atmosphere. This wasn’t just a coincidentally really nice group of people- this was the community that Liz and Molly actively created.

In the same way, my doubts about the course were shut down immediately. Right at sign-in everyone was given a phone-book sized textbook from Integrative Yoga Therapy. The thing was HUGE and just packed with information. It should have been an omen for the amount of stuff I was about to cram into my skull. There was so much to get through in such a short time that the course was meticulously organized out of necessity. There was no time for the unorganized hippy budget class shenanigans I dreaded.

The Big Island of Hawaii

I had never been to Big Island before and imagined it to be you know, kinda like Oahu. Again: wrong. Out of the 13 global climate zones, Big Island has 8. The top of Mauna Kea is considered some of the best star gazing on earth, it also snows there. Less than a two hour drive from that is Kilauea: an active volcano. There are beaches with white, green, and black sands. When you snorkel you can see dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles in bright turquoise water. Not to mention the best Natural foods store this vegan vagabond has ever encountered: Island Naturals. The Big Island is incredible and Kalani Oceanside Retreat is located in the middle of a rainforest across the street from one of the most gorgeous coastlines imaginable. 

Unlike most of the participants at the Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, I wasn’t staying at Kalani. I had been in Puna for about a month before visiting Kalani for the first time. I wanted to right after my plane landed in Kona- I just kept getting distracted by the beauty and awesomeness of the Island. Despite how incredible Hawaii had been to me, Kalani made my jaw drop. The place was gorgeous.

Goddess Pose Yoga in Hawaii
4 yoga students in Goddess Pose on the Road to the Retreat Center at the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program in Hawaii with Soma Yoga Institute

Yoga Teacher Training in Paradise

A wide open landscape with avocado, lime, guava, starfruit, and every other tropical fruit you can think of. And right in the middle of it was this gorgeous pool- with two hot tubs, a watsu pool, and a sauna. The Hale where everyone stayed was meticulously clean while feeling very comfortable. Every day I peaked at what was up at the dining hall and got a little more than envious. Especially the desserts. Kalani even held ice cream socials! They host a ton of events to bring guests, volunteers, and locals together. Stuff that I would always hear about the next morning and how much fun everyone had at the dance party/ coconut oil wrestling/ ecstatic dance off. Kalani does a lot to make everyone feel included in the community.

My drooling over desserts or dance parties wasn’t the only way that staying off-site made my experience different. All of my cohort except two of us were on-site, and for good reason. Kalani Retreat is located in Puna, south of Hilo in a very remote area of Hawaii. There are no hotels within any logical distance of the 6:30AM call time. There is no public transportation down the rural roads and pretty much everything is far away. Including where I stayed. The time spent on commuting, meal prep, groceries, and extra human interaction was gruelling on top of 12 hour days in class. It meant that I had no time for domestic goddess duties, personal time, or the truest luxury: sleep. I was stretched super thin and falling asleep all over the place.  It was ridiculous. Take the on-site option.

My Teachers for the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii

Thankfully Liz Heffernan and Molly Masaoka are incredibly supportive people who helped me out even through the stress of off-site living. The two of them are totally adorable and wonderful but in very different ways. Liz has a soft and sweet vibe and has a ton amount of experience as a teacher and student. In perfect compliment to Liz’s flow is Molly’s teaching style. She’s more direct, extremely organized, and thorough. And she would kick all of our butts on a daily basis. Both were clearly invested in all of the student’s success- answering every question, and going above and beyond to make everyone feel supported. Molly even enlisted her parents to bring extra solar lamps when they power went out.  The two have wildly different approaches to teaching that work in dynamic cooperation to help every student learn.

Why I Chose Soma Yoga Institute for my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii

Many things motivated me to do my Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii with Liz, but a big one was her curriculum. Before putting any money down on an instructor, I did my research on a number of yoga schools. The Yoga Alliance uses a standardized curriculum requirement to accredit every Yoga Teacher Training Program: 20 hours of Anatomy and Physiology, 25 of Teaching Methodology, etc. But there is some wiggle room within how those hours are spent.

Many schools use the option to put the hours you pay for as “non-contact hours.” That means that your tuition could be paying for up to 55 hours of unguided homework. Paying to do homework. No thanks. After interrogating poor Liz for a good hour on the phone, I was assured that this was not the case for her Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training. So when I sent that first payment to Kalani, I knew I would be getting my money’s worth.

Wheel Pose with Lifted leg at yoga teacher training program in Hawaii
Student in wheel pose at the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program in Hawaii with Soma Yoga Institute

Yoga Teacher Training Schedule in Hawaii

The days were absolutely packed. From 6:30 in the morning until sometimes 9:30 at night. All Yoga, all day. As a friend of mine put it, it was like I got dunked in the yoga tank for 21 days. As demanding as a schedule like that was, it really helped integrate everything we were learning. Even though there was so much going on, the days were clearly organized and information was presented in a way that flowed together and made a much more clear impact. In addition, the instruction incorporated all learning modalities- we weren’t just sitting down, being lectured at all day. Liz and Molly made sure that visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners were all able to absorb the massive amount of information coming our way. 

Physical Takeaways from my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii

I was given so much at Kalani that it’s hard to specifically pinpoint what I was able to take away. However, the stuff that stands out is clear. My physical body is where I was expecting it most. Would I finally get a 6 pack??! Not quite. Actually, the physical transformations that happened for me were as subtle as they were empowering.

As we worked every day on our own  physical frame, we offset years of terrible alignment. I’m pretty sure I grew a good two inches out of it. Or at least it felt that way. My body feels more stable, and much more supported since the arches of my feet got the workout of a lifetime. Edit: I HAVE arches in my feet now! And although I probably can’t lift up my truck, I feel like I can absolutely, entirely support my own weight in a way that keeps my frame protected and powerful.

From that seed of physical attainment and embodiment, our mental understanding of yoga grew by the minute. As we understood alignment in ourselves, it became easier to find more healthy alignment in others; not only through asana, but in all forms of physical in/activity. We were taught how every part of the body is connected in a way to help reduce pain and strengthen bodily processes through asana, mudras, chants, and meditation tricks. And then, we were to taught how to put that knowledge into action. We learned to set intentions, structure, and sequence classes for every different demographic you can imagine. 

Emotional Takeaways from my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii

Finally, the most powerful thing I took away from my Yoga Teacher Training in Hawaii was the fruit of my emotional labor. The training was hard. Like, real hard. But through the challenges of continuous absorption I became strong in my ability to teach others. After a month submerged in teachings of effective communication skills, class organization, and leadership tools, I came out with confidence not only as a teacher but as a member of my community. This feeling of empowerment came as the result of being in such a kind, supportive, and safe space. The positivity of training was truly undoubtedly shapes by the environment that Liz and Molly worked to construct. 

Life-changing yoga teacher training program
Soma Yoga Institute’s 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program in Hawaii is 5 star rated by its graduates!


As I type this, there’s been about a month and thousands of miles between the 200 hour yoga teacher training in Hawaii and my fellow students and teachers. Despite the distance, I know that I have a ton of support from a network of rad yoginis including Liz Heffernan and Molly Masaoka. I’m still not sure if I’ll put this education to use in some kind of career or if it will ever pay itself off monetarily. But I would happily pay tuition twice over to have such a holistically beneficial experience again.

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