What it’s like to do Yoga Teacher Training in India

As I’m writing I’m half way through my third and final week of an intensive 200 hour yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh, India. In just a week’s time I will be qualified to teach yoga around the world! It’s been an emotional 2 and a half weeks so far; I’ve felt sad, happy, deliriously tired, sensitive for no reason, ecstatic, frustrated, confused and overwhelmed, all in equal measure!

My body is tired, my mind is brimming with new knowledge and I know there’s still do much to learn; not just in the next week or so, but for the rest of my life, now I have opened this door.

I thought I’d share a couple of diary extracts from the last two weeks to give you a flavour of what it’s like here:

Day 1:

After I landed at Dehradun airport from Delhi I met a French woman while we were waiting for our luggage. She was carrying a yoga mat bag, and so was I and she struck up conversation. We ended up sharing the cab to Rishikesh; she is a yoga teacher based in France who is spending two weeks in Rishikesh to deepen her spiritual practice in an intensive retreat. Immediately I realised that as this place is the ‘home of yoga’ there are actually going to be a lot of westerners coming here for the same reason! I thought because it is fairly remote that it would be off the tourist trail…but the Beatles saw to that!

We left colourful Dehradun and wound our way through the foothills of the Himalayas; without seatbelts on (sorry Mum!) because there were none. There were cows and monkeys lining the roads, and seemingly no rules on overtaking whatsoever. So long as you beep while you’re doing it; anything goes.

Upon arrival I was taken to our ‘hotel’ which is a loose name for this place. You get given a room with some furniture and that’s about it! No toilet roll or towel and just a dusty blanket to sleep under. Luckily as I’m travelling afterwards I was prepared with a sleeping bag liner, my quick-dry towel and other necessities, but a lot of the other students weren’t!

The school is a short walk from our accommodation; a three storey building away from the city centre. There is a lot of building work being done all around and lots of sweet children playing cricket in the rubble. The view from the yoga room is stunning.

This evening we took a walk into town and across the famous Laxman Jhula bridge; this place is true India; incense, music, chanting, beeping, cows, monkeys and chatter!! So colourful; I love it!

 Day 3:

Day 1 of yoga teacher training complete and I survived! I don’t feel as tired as I expected but that might change! Our schedule starts at 6.15am with 1.5hours meditation, mantras and pranayama practice. It’s dark and very cold when we wake up and head to the school, so I’m wearing all the warm clothes I brought with me; might need to buy some more!

We are guided through some mantras which we need to learn, followed by some breathing exercises (pranayama) and relaxation into meditation. My first experience of meditation was good! I was quite fidgety throughout the class as I’m not used to sitting upright for that long, but after being guided through I managed to relax and concentrate on nothing at all for a good few minutes!

After a quick herbal tea break we had our first asanas practice which is Ashtanga yoga. I have never practised Ashtanga before so it’s quite a challenging pace for me! Hopefully I’ll get used to it.

Next is breakfast of porridge made with a softer; quinoa-like grain flavoured with cardamom and sugar. I’m not a porridge fan at home but this is my only choice so I dive in and it’s actually very nice! It’s also served with a healthy side of fresh papaya which is lovely.

We have an hour break after that for self-study before Philosophy class (2 hours sat on the floor again) where we get an introduction to yoga and the practice of it, the end goal (transcendal bliss and universal knowledge though Samadhi – the higher state of meditation) and the chakras. It’s fascinating!! Lunch is served after this (curry curry curry, dahl, rice, chapatti) – all veggie, home-cooked and delicious!

After another hour break we have Anatomy class for a couple of hours where we learn about the respiratory system and its importance in the practice of yoga, before finishing the day with an hour and a half Hatha yoga class before dinner (guess what – curry).

This evening I bought incense and candles for my room from the market and am catching an early night!

 Day 6:

Today was one of the students’ birthdays so we were given cake and fruit juice at dinner! It was my first taste of sugar since leaving the UK and it was so good!!! Other students have gone out at night to stock up on their luxuries from home, like chocolate and peanut butter, but I figured this is only going to make me crave that stuff more, so I’ve abstained until now. Our bodies are really hurting now after three hours of practice per day, as well as the rest of the time sitting on the floor. We’re also getting a bit bored of the food routine and starting to get irritable.

I cried a lot during morning asanas practice today. We were in forward-fold with our hands under our feet. I can’t straighten my legs in this position and the teacher came round to adjust me and try to push my knees back. Immediately the tears flowed but not from pain! Seems that I have a lot of emotions attached to my knees and legs following all my injuries and they came flowing out today! Afterwards I felt very vulnerable, but ultimately better for it.

Day 8:

Our last day of our first week and there were a lot of tears from a lot of people today. Everyone’s energy is down and you can tell people are tired. I don’t feel like I’m improving at all; if anything I feel weaker and less able to get into and hold positions than before! The wifi is also awful and keeps dropping out so I can’t have a decent conversation with my boyfriend or family back home which is adding to frustrations. Tonight I’m not going to study; I’m going to have a shower and watch something on Netflix and pretend I’m at home!

 Day 9:

I got headbutted by a cow on the leg today.

Day 10:

So today was a good day!! How funny that two days ago I felt so bad and now I feel great. We had a day off yesterday and I spent it wandering in town, getting a massage and then exploring the other side of town before heading to the 5pm Fire Ceremony at the Parath Ashram on the banks of the Ganges. It was an amazing experience to come together with all these people from all over the world, chanting and offering flower wishes to the river as the sun set! This morning I woke before my alarm so I must be getting used to the timings now and it makes such a difference to my mood! I had a really solid meditation class and came out of it feeling light and breezy which I took into morning class. I felt relaxed and more flexible in all the postures we practiced and it was great!

Day 12:

We’ve had a really great few days this week! The energy of the group has picked up after our first shatkarma experience. Shatkarma is the process of cleansing the body prior to meditation so you can ensure the prana in your body is pure. We did jala neti, which is the process of pouring warm salty water into one nostril so it flows out of the other. Once I got the hang of only breathing through my mouth this was a very calming sensation!

After that we did rubber neti which I was really apprehensive about, but everyone was and everyone was giving it a go so I didn’t spend too long agonising over it. You pass a rubber tube through your nose and pull it out of your mouth to clear the nasal passages of mucus – sounds crazy right? Well I tried it a few times and after finding the right path up my nostril I managed to get it to the back of my throat but then the gag reflex kicked in and I couldn’t stand it long enough to pull it out of my mouth! A couple of people managed it and I was really frustrated I couldn’t do it first time!

This morning we tried again though, and I managed it! It was a very weird sensation which I won’t be in a rush to repeat, but I’m glad I did it once!

The first shatkarma day affected people quite badly; people got headaches or the start of a cold and felt irritable and low in energy, but in the afternoon we had our first teaching and alignment workshop and we’d all been waiting for this side of the course to kick in so this cheered everyone up.

This morning we did partner meditation, where you sit opposite your partner, and hold their hand and meditate. I felt a big vibration of energy with Gretchen, but as we’re becoming good friends and getting to know each other pretty well I think that helped! People are relaxing more and coming out of their shells this week and it’s really nice.

Day 13:

Today was Maha Shivaratri which is a holy day celebrating Lord Shiva, who is considered as the creator of yoga. We went down to the Ganges to meditate and do morning class as well as make offerings to the river. The sun was rising and the sounds of the rushing river were amazing – it definitely helped me to calm the mind and focus on my practice more!

After this lovely start we were given the morning off class so Gretchen and I went to a local café and sat in their garden to study over a green smoothie – a welcome break to the routine!

I am really riding high on this week; feeling happy, liberated and accepting of myself and my achievements so far. Our afternoon classes have a lot more practical take-homes and our asana practice has become more experimental so I’ve been seeing a few breakthroughs which is always encouraging!

 Day 18:

As I am writing I am sitting on the roof of our hotel in the sun relaxing! We have a day off from class today because we did our final shatkarma today; Shanka Prakshala, which is cleansing of the body by drinking 2-3 glasses of warm salty lemon water, doing a few postures and going to the toilet. You do this over and over again until you clean everything out of your intestines and you essentially poo out the water you’ve just drunk!!

I found it really hard after the 2-3rd time of going to the toilet to carry on drinking the water. I felt nauseous and had cramps in my stomach. Eventually though, once it had all passed, it felt a lot better! Now we can only eat Kichari (rice, dahl and turmeric with ghee) for two days. Now I feel very tired (as my body is empty!!) but nothing else really feels different. It will be interesting to see how I feel after a couple of days!

This is our last week of training and I have my 30 minute asana, and 30 minute meditation practical exam on Friday, and my 60 minute asana practical on Monday. We have to plan a lesson and teach it to our peers as our final exam so that’s what I’m going to spend the rest of the week preparing!

Can’t believe it’s all going to be over soon and the rest of my trip can begin!