Written by  Jessica Trimmer Davis, Yoga North ISYI’s 500 Hour Teacher Training Program Student

The SomaYoga Cycle of Learning

In teacher training we’ve spent some time learning about and discussing the SomaYoga Cycle of Learning. This cycle is a way of looking at the steps progressing through the learning process. SomaYoga describes this cycle through the following four steps:

  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence. 

Here’s a brief description of each stage:

When I am unaware of my own weaknesses, I am in a state of unconscious incompetence. It could be a movement that was once functional is now restricted. Or a destructive pattern of behavior I don’t realize I repeat. In whatever area of my life this issue exists, I’m not aware of it yet, but it is definitely limiting me.

If I’m blessed to gain awareness around it, I move into conscious incompetence. I now recognize that I’ve been moving or acting in unhealthy ways.

Once I choose to engage that issue with mindfulness and care, I am able to grow into conscious competence. If the issue, I realize, is due to sensory motor amnesia (causing the restricted and painful loss of mobility), then to become consciously competent I practice somatics. I move those specific muscle groups very slowly, feel the contractions and sense the release, and I bring a skillful awareness of those muscles back “on line.” The functional movements have been relearned, and though I may still need to make them slowly and mindfully, I am now consciously competent of my restored movement pattern.

Or perhaps I had noticed a habit of berating myself for making a mistake. I gain conscious competency around it by extending the same graciousness to myself as I do to those around me when I’m at my best. I practice unconditional self-love. And in a similar way that somatics deeply unwinds long-held tension in the body, I unwind my inner turmoil through practicing the yamas and niyamas (nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess, nonpossessiveness, purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, & surrender).


“Finally,” (you’ll see why I’ve put “Finally” in quotes here in a bit…) when my re-discovered functional movement patterns are ingrained and I no longer have to focus on them to do them well, or the harmful pattern of behavior is transformed, that restored way of being is able to comfortably go beneath consciousness again. My movements are spontaneous and free! My reactions in the moment are kind and gentle. I have gained unconscious competency!

And that’s worth celebrating!

It is STILL worth celebrating even as a whole new issue that I was just moments ago unconscious of comes forward to be addressed. Then the cycle of learning begins again! And that’s why “Finally” is in quotes. Because my work, our work, your work is never actually finished.

Isn’t that wonderful?!?!

We *get* to do this work FOREVER. (Big grin here!)

We can apply the Cycle of Learning to interpersonal relationships, to our movement practice, to our professional growth, our inner growth, to our spiritual journey… we will never outgrow our classroom.

No Growth = No Meaning

During our first weekend together one of our teachers, Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, shared from her personal experience. For a period of time, she had held the belief that sooner or later she would successfully work through her shadow and arrive on the other side. At some point along her journey, though, it occurred to her that if she ever were able to accomplish that feat, her growth would become stagnant. Forward movement would cease. If she “arrived,” there wouldn’t be anymore journey. She shared how that “ah ha” moment shifted her awareness: she’s now able to continue her learning with deeper gratitude.

This is the path of Yoga: the continual exploration towards freedom. We are all a work in progress. And the ongoing work is in every area of our lives, if we’re willing to recognize it and receive it.

What’s more, it is the struggle along this path that gives our lives such rich meaning.

A beloved quote often shared by the teachers of Yoga North is, “I delight in my incompetencies.” It was spoken by Swami Rama and gets to the heart of the SomaYoga Cycle of Learning. When I delight in my incompetencies, I stay willing to engage them, I stay curious. I stay open to possibility. I keep my feet moving forward along the path toward greater freedom.

Yoga North ISYI 500 Hour Teacher Training Program Student Photo


Another story that was shared during our first weekend together was offered by Christian Schlapper, a fellow trainee. He’s also kindly found and included a picture of himself as a child to go with this story:

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I had a habit of letting my belly stick out.  One day my mom noticed, and told me to “suck your belly in.”  I thought “ok,” and happily did. 

After less than a minute, I asked “How long am I supposed to do this?”  She looked me square in the eye and calmly said “forever.”  

“Forever?!?” I asked, horrified.

More recently, mom is in her eighties, and I was teaching her some gentle yoga to help her posture and find more ease in her breath.  She was responding really well and I could see the difference in both her posture and breath.   

When she asked me “how long am I supposed to do this?”  I looked her square in the eye and calmly said “forever.”

“Forever?!?” she asked, horrified.

I started laughing, which wasn’t the reaction she expected.  Clearly the earlier incident hadn’t made as big an impression on her as it had on me.  So I shared the story with her, and we both laughed until we cried. 

Now it’s become our thing. 

“Forever?” “Forever.”

Christian is “finally” learning to unwind his green light reflex (belly sticking out- and another big grin from me), and we are all making headway shining the light of awareness onto our incompetencies.

Our cohort has expressed so much gratitude for each other for co-creating a courageous space to do this skillful learning in. Here’s to the journey!