Before taking the decision to train as a yoga teacher, I had been practicing yoga in the western world for 5 years, on and off. I’d tried a few different styles and found that a mix of hatha, vinyasa flow and ashtanga suited my personality, but I wanted to learn more and deepen my knowledge. And ultimately, I wanted to train as a teacher so that I could show others how transformative yoga could be. So I chose India as a place to train – I wanted to get the full yoga experience of the philosophy, the anatomy, the meditation and everything else that comes with a true yogic lifestyle, rather than just the asana side of things, which is more of a focus in the western world (I found, but I may be wrong).
JOURNEY TO INDIA
Waiting at the airport to board my flight to India, I was more than a little nervous. The apprehension of not knowing what was to come was building up. Fast forward around 14 hours and I was being driven through the beautiful winding scenery that leads to Rishikul Yogshala. As soon as you arrive, you are greeted by welcoming smiles from all the guys that work there putting you immediately at ease. The rooms are fresh, simple and clean, everything you need for a month of yogic living.
Our opening fire ceremony was pretty special, full of spirit and meaning and an incredible experience to start the month. From that point on, you definitely feel completely at home at Rishikul. It is partly the staff, partly the location, partly the people around you, and partly something you just can’t put your finger on. It is surprising how quick you settle in, and how easily you can bond with others. It definitely feels like home already.
The first morning, you have no idea what will happen to you! So I prepared for the worst, to feel completely overwhelmed and pushed to my limits, it turned out that I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, the whole first week in the 200 hour classes turns out to be ok. All of the teachers ease us in over the week, explaining things and assessing our ability levels and teaching us the basics across practical sessions, philosophy, pranayama, meditation and mantra. I am only really used to practical yoga, so all of the other classes were so interesting to me as they offer me such a good introduction to theses areas – I know that over the month I will come away knowing so much more about it all. And the slow start to the asana classes is definitely needed: everyone needs to build strength and gain a proper understanding of it all.
Because there is such a mixed ability on my course, it makes sure everyone has a good grounding. And for me, it allows me to build my strength and prepare myself for the weeks to come!
We are getting the know the basics in all subjects. All of the teachers are so encouraging, and so knowledgeable – it’s so amazing to be able to learn from them. The one thing it’s taking me some time to get used to again is the studying side of things. It can be hard to fit it all in, especially when there are so many cool people to talk to, but more than that it’s strange to be reading study books and writing up notes. But it’s a good challenge!
After just one week, my posture has improved massively. I never realised how hunched I was and how I rarely sat straight, but now I can sit and stand correctly and can sit in one position for a long period of time without getting agitated – a sure sign I am calming down within myself. And my downward dog is now correct – I thought I was always doing it right by pushing into it further but I didn’t know how out of line my back and sternum was. Already my body alignment is improving.
I have already met some lovely people on this course, and it’s so nice that the 200 hour and 300 hour groups mix so often. Your community of people that you interact with grows quickly, and before you know it you find things in common with so many people and a week has gone, leaving you with so many memories. It’s so nice that everyone has the same reservations, so you know you aren’t alone. And everyone is coming together and putting themselves into the same situation. A lot of the people here have similar thoughts and aims, but are from all different backgrounds and have differing views on some things. It is definitely going to be an interesting month and I know I’ll learn a lot, both on and off the mat.
As the second week begins, my body is sore. But it is a good ache, an ache that shows strength and improvement, that reminds me that I’m working hard and nudges me to keep going. I can also notice my body getting stronger, and I am starting to recognise changes in my poses and also in my physical self. By now, I can already do a handstand and a forearm stand against the wall, which I’ve never felt able to do before. And my body clock is already used to the new routine – even on my days off I’m awake not much later than my alarm would go off on lesson days, and I am ready to go. Gentle practice on the days off is also surprisingly refreshing, as if my body is yearning to do yoga every day to feel normal. It’s a strange but very welcome sensation.
The asana practices are getting harder, but it’s good to keep pushing yourself. The point of this whole course is to improve, so I don’t think there’s any point staying in one place with what you can do. In the first week, all of the lessons seem quite separate and standalone, but the second week starts to bring them all together and you see a thread of ideas and a theme that weaves through all of them, from philosophy and pranayama to the asana classes. Second week also brings anatomy classes into the schedule, which is such an interesting lesson and one that is pretty vital to becoming a competent yoga teacher.
Alignment and adjustment class is beginning to get more in depth, and I already feel like it is greatly expanding my knowledge of how to adjust myself in the asanas, and I know it will be vital for when I become a teacher. We are learning so much about how to adjust others and correct alignment in types of poses, that you can apply to any asana. And it’s making me think more deeply about my practice as I do the postures myself, as I can consider how I am aligning myself each time.
I also feel like there’s a change in my inner self too – my mindframe is improving, I feel an overall wellness that has been missing, my thoughts have more clarity. And my meditation practice is bringing up some emotions that I didn’t know were there. It’s scary but also needed, and it’s helping me to start afresh and go deeper into my meditation, which is pretty cool considering I’ve never done it before! By this point halfway through, you have built deeper connections with the people around you too. There is some kind of shift, subtle at first, and suddenly you’ve built bonds with people. I already have a solid group of friends I would call my yoga family for life, and I know this will grow before the month is out.
Not only is the yoga course itself a changing experience, I’m also getting used to India and Rishikesh. The beeping and the chaos doesn’t bother me as much now, and the staring and picture taking is second nature. India is definitely growing on me! I feel entirely at home in the school, and in the towns around.
Suddenly, we are beyond the halfway point and much closer to finishing than I’d like to be! I would definitely call this place home now, and the thought of next week being the last one makes me sad. Although we have learnt so much, I want to keep learning and developing myself. Physically and educationally, we have fit so much in to 3 short weeks, but there is so much more I want to do. And spiritually, I think this is just the beginning.
Anatomy classes have stepped up a gear, and the knowledge we are gaining from it we can apply to the hatha and ashtanga classes, and also the adjustment and alignment ones. Learning about the nervous, muscular, skeletal and endocrine systems will really help enhance our knowledge when it comes to teaching. Philosophy is also starting to all really come together, and I can tell the rest of the class are enjoying delving into the background of yoga – the one thing that joins us all together and has brought us here.
We also did some lesson planning classes, which have helped to give us an idea of how to plan our classes for our exams and also for our future careers as yoga teachers. It has given us the basis of knowledge to know how to plan classes, take into account ages and styles and experience levels, and apply it to what we are going to be doing.
I think back to my first few days here, and I’m surprised and impressed at how far I’ve come – and how far everyone else in my class has too. My body is so much stronger, my muscles are more defined, I’m standing taller and my spine is aligned – it now hurts if I’m not up straight! My alignment in triangle pose is on point every time I go into it, and I can go deeper into so many of the ashtanga series postures. My hamstrings – which have always been tight due to years of running, dancing and sitting at a desk, are finally stretched out and I can now do so much more in my asanas than I ever could before. And my knowledge of the asanas, types of poses, counter poses and performance of the postures is so much more advanced than I thought it would be.
Mentally, I feel more at peace too. At the end of the third week we visited a temple in the mountains to watch the sunrise, and a group of us took part in some hatha sun salutations as the sky lightened. The drive there was so beautiful, and I came away from the morning completely calm and like something inside had changed. It was as though everything that I had been doing over the past three weeks had clicked into place, and I felt completely at ease. My meditation and pranayama practices until that point had cleared so much space in my jumble of thoughts, that I was able to truly appreciate all the beauty around me and spend time silently observing everything and taking in the atmosphere and spirituality from the temple, surrounded by some amazing people that I have met on my journey.
You can see that everyone is changing here, both physically as their bodies adapt to the rigorous workouts given to us by our asana teachers and the nutritious ayurvedic food, but also mentally as their minds clear. Everyone is so happy and positive, like clouds and worries are lifting from them, and we are forming close bonds as a large group. I am already dreading the thought of having to leave all of these people behind, of leaving the Rishikul family and going back to normal life. I want another month of learning, to keep deepening my knowledge from these incredible teachers, and to spend more time exploring the yogic life.
Before I knew it, I was at the end of my final week at Rishikul Yogshala, and my teacher training course was coming to an end. It’s strange, part of me feels like it went by so quickly I didn’t even have time to breathe, and another part of me feels like this is my home and that I have been here for so long and feel completely settled into my surroundings and my routine. My emotions are mixed, but mostly I feel elation at having experienced the last month and sadness at having to leave this place and all the wonderful people I’ve met.
Alongside the exhaustion we all felt was the desire to give it one final push in the last week, to make sure we are at our physical peak and get all we can from our teachers before we go. We were lucky enough to learn from Bipin in our final week, and he sat with us a couple of times and imparted his knowledge on us – we have been lucky to have experienced so many amazing teachers and this was an added bonus. This was also the week of our exams. In turn we led a class of our peers, and it was so interesting to see everyone’s teaching styles and to see how far we’ve all come.
I approached my class with some nerves, but immediately relaxed into it once I had begun, and I was surprised and pleased at how much I’d learnt and was able to apply to my class. It gave me the confidence to know I’ll be ok once I leave and have to teach classes.
The rest of the week was filled with some study for the final exams, but mostly was spent together as a group to enjoy our last moments as a family. On our day off we had a much needed trip to Neer Waterfall, where everyone completely relaxed and enjoyed the break. It is so odd to me that a month ago I didn’t know any of these people, but now we are all so close and I can’t imagine a time when I didn’t know and practice with them. Going home to practice alone will be a adjustment!
All too soon, our graduation ceremony arrived. It was such a beautiful and uplifting afternoon, as both the 200 and 300 hour classes came together to celebrate our success. It demonstrated to me how invested the teachers are, as they were genuine in all of their sentiments. The celebration was so enjoyable, and the feast after rounded off a perfect day. The goodbyes were incredibly hard, and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed some tears! But I know this isn’t goodbye, as I have now formed a yoga community that I can access from anywhere in the world. And I also know that I will be returning to Rishikul at some point to do my 300 hours, because I can’t imagine doing it anywhere else.