Becoming a Yoga Teacher in India
How It All Began-
Teaching yoga is something that I've always considered. I love the way that classes make me feel (inside and out), and it would be great to facilitate others, in creating an inner space of peace (to allow themselves to become enriched and nourished in their mind, body and soul). However the idea of actually becoming a yoga teacher wasn't so serious for me, until about February 2016. I was in South Africa at the time, celebrating my dad and (now) step mum's wedding (which was incredibly beautiful to say the least). After the wedding, we stayed in an absolutely stunning, carefully decorated apartment, which had a long, narrow pool and was surrounded by fields and fields of greenery. The apartment even had a butler, who had prepared me a delicious vegan breakfast and fresh juices (so I was definitely in my element there).
During this time, I was drawing close towards the end of my final year of university, and had also recently broken up with my long-term boyfriend (who was actually supposed to come to the wedding with me-oops); and so I began contemplating. I knew that the time was approaching sooner than I would have liked, where I had to decide what the next (crucial) steps of my life would be. I certainly knew one thing for sure though, and that was that I was NOT ready to be stuck in the 9-5 rat race (and I'm not sure I ever will be). I mean sure, you can (but not guaranteed) secure yourself a great financial flow of income, but that's not the sort of currency that I want to be a slave to in life. The currency that I seek to obtain is inner-joy, fulfillment and happiness. And if that means doing something that I love, which may be likely to bring me a smaller paycheck (than the average office job), yet will simultaneously bring me more happiness and peace of mind, then that is the kind of risk that I'm willing to take.
So I began browsing the web and came across many different yoga instructor courses, hosted at luxurious resorts all throughout Asia. However after looking at the costs of the courses, it wasn't something that was possible for me at that time (and so I let the idea fade away, into the depths of my subconscious mind). Fast forward 21 months later and here I am, an internationally accredited qualified yoga teacher, who learnt to become an teacher in Rishikesh, India (yoga capital of the world). It's funny looking back at that time, thinking how unrealisric it was back then, yet here I am. I think that this definitely highlights the power of our subconscious mind, and how we attract into our lives, that which we focus our energy and intention on the most.
The Rishikesh Nath Yogshala-
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was initially set to do my yoga teacher training in Bali, Indonesia; however certain inner gut feelings lead me to cancel Bali, and choose this school in India instead. When I arrived at the school, I had discovered that there would only be three of us taking the course this month (there's usually about 10-15 on the course); which I was actually more than happy about (as this meant that we had more of a private and personal experience with the teachers). Myself (from the UK) and the two other girls, Lauren (from the US) and Rachel (from Australia), became very close during our time on the course, and our teacher's often joked calling us the 'auspicious three' (and our pranayama teacher even named each of us after one of the Hindu deities).
They say that three's a crowd, but it's a damn fun crowd that I definitely loved being in. We each had something slightly different to bring the mix, with Rachel's fiery and assertive nature, helping Lauren and I to grow and allowing ourselves to be heard, in order to make positive changes. And then there was Lauren's deeply caring and gentle nature, allowing Rachel and I to become more introspective and in touch with our vulnerability and emotions. In all honesty, I think my greatest contribution was my goofy nature (always tripping over things, dropping things and spilling my water bottle at least once a day), which made everyone have a daily giggle.
Our yoga course began (and ended) with a prayer ceremony, involving a fire pit, an astrologer, chanting, bananas, Indian sweets, flower garlands and Holy Ganges water (it wasn't as culty as it sounds don't worry). The ceremony was basically held to welcome us into our journey of becoming yoga teachers, with prayers to the Hindu deities like Saraswati (Goddess of wisdom and education), to bless our yoga education. The rituals involved the astrologist chanting whilst we threw bits of soil (I assume it was soil anyway), into the fire to represent burning any of our negative thoughts or limitations. Towards the end of the ceremony, we were marked on our third eye chakra (in between the eyebrows), with red turmeric paste and ashes from the fire, to represent spiritual devotion on our journey. (This same ceremony was carried out at the end of our course to seal the deal and bless our journey into teaching).
The first week of the course absolutely flew by, and I had already discovered so much about yoga, which hadn't even crossed my mind before. For example, in the West we typically view yoga as a physical activity with some mental benefits, such as exercising and toning the body, whilst also being a helpful tool for relaxing and unwinding (allowing yoga to be a useful coping mechanism for stress and anxiety). However in reality, the practice goes a whole lot deeper than this. What I thought I knew about yoga, was only the tip of the yogic ice-burg, and I still have a whole lot to discover. One of the key things I that have learnt, is that yoga is an eight-fold pathway to self-discovery and connection to the Divine (connecting your higher self to totality).
In simpler (less "mumbo-jumbo" terms), yoga is about gaining mastery over your thoughts and body, in order to gain full control over your mind, respiratory systems and sense organs. In gaining this control, we are able to quieten the fluctuations of the mind (known as 'vrittis' in sanskrit), and are able recognise our true nature (thus reaching a state of inner bliss, also known as Samadhi). (I would like to go into a lot more depth with this, but I may save this for another blog as I would like to get into my experience at the school.)
As I mentioned, I was learning a great deal about the philosophy of yoga (which I was fascinated by), however the one area which was lacking were the quality of our yoga teaching classes. As skilled as the yoga teachers were in executing asanas (yoga postures), there was a lack of ability and communication in teaching people to teach yoga. This posed as a dilemma to the three of us, as we absolutely loved it at the school and all of our other classes were going great, but the main reason we came here (to learn to teach yoga) was insufficient.
Feeling let down and slightly disappointed by this, we came together as a three and decided we were going to do something about it. With each of our strengths brought together, we took the step towards implementing a positive change to the school. We spoke with the course co-coordinator (Arvind), who was very understanding, and he arranged for us to have new yoga instructors within the next two days (which was unexpected quick for India, as we always joke that there's western time and then Indian time, where being asked to wait for 10-20 minutes in India, may actually mean waiting for one, two or even three hours).
Upon arrival of our new yoga teachers, the vibe of the course totally shifted. Hope of actually becoming a great yoga teacher was restored. We had very informative and hand's on teachers, who taught us a wide variety of key teaching skills (I didn't realise how much actually goes into teaching until this course). We were taught that we must be attentive to the way we speak (the language we use, tone and volume), the way we demonstrate poses (positioning ourselves in a way accessible to the students and mirroring left and right movements), the way we adjust people (with caution to put the correct amount of pressure on the correct body areas) and our mannerisms and energy as a whole. For example, are we firm enough to have respect from our students to listen when we teach, yet light enough for everyone to feel relaxed and enjoying the process. Furthermore, are we disciplined enough as teachers to practice what we preach and teach, in a way in which inspires students to become the best versions of themselves? It does feel a little overwhelming to keep in mind all of these factors and responsibilities, but that's like anything when learning I guess (currently having flashbacks of my first ever driving lessons and how now its all so automatic).
The biggest challenge that I've faced when on this course, has probably been the discipline of waking up at 5am everyday, doing my cleansing practices (cleaning out the nasal passages with water), meditating and practicing pranayama (breathing techniques) and doing a 1.5 hour yoga class ALL BEFORE BREAKFAST! That's right, all of these things take place before we get to eat breakfast FOUR HOURS later (and most of the time even longer than that due to breakfast arriving often on Indian time). So the biggest challenge here that I faced was not to eat anything before breakfast, which was so incredibly hard for me (as someone who is constantly eating and snacking). Four weeks later and I feel that I'm much more disciplined in regards to the waiting for breakfast, but its definitely a work in progress.
What I think I loved most about my time here at the Nath Yogshala, is definitely the people who have made the experience. Not only Lauren and Rachel, who I feel will be life long friends of mine, but also all of the staff members here, who make the experience so much more enjoyable (than it already is). All of the staff members are so, so helpful and super friendly and always go out of their way to make sure you've got a smile on your face (including bringing you copious amounts of lemon and ginger tea). They have even offered to pick my mum up from their airport with me tomorrow (as I haven't seen her 18 months) as the manager here has said "You're mother is our mother" (now that's the kind of attitude that differentiates the west from the east, how in the west we're so quick to think only of ourselves, whereas over here its like everyone is one big family).
Every Sunday we had a full (well needed) day off from classes, and the school planned weekly excursion for us. During our time at the school, we managed to visit the Vashishta Gufa meditation caves (next to the Ganges), Shri Kunjapuri temple to watch the sunrise and we had the opportunity to go white water rafting, but we decided to have a rest day and visit our yoga teachers ashram for breakfast, wander round the local markets and have massages back at the Palace instead (hotel leisure palace is the location of the school). Their local masseuse Annie is incredible and you get to have two complimentary massages throughout the course). I'm hoping I'll get the chance to go rafting before I leave, although my mum isn't too keen on the idea of her coming along with me (which I can't blame her as its winter here and the water is freeeeezing at the moment).
Vashishta Gufa Meditation Caves-
A gang of us made our way to the meditation caves, which was perfectly located right next to Mother Ganges. According to Hindu mythology, the great sage Vashishta (human son of Lord Brahma), used to meditate this cave after attempting suicide in the river, however was saved by Goddess Ganga. The cave was dimly lit by a single candle flame, with photographs of the great sage for people to worship. The energy was super intense (yet peaceful) in there and we all had a great meditation session.
Shri Kunjapuri Temple-
Let’s just say this one hell of a journey. I mean driving in India is one thing (they’re crazy drivers over here), but add in mountains, winding rounds, no attention to any sort of speed limits or road safety to the equation, and you’ve got yourself some car sickness. I guess the journey was worth it though, as we reached the temple (on top of a mountain) just before sunrise-which was super beautiful. Although admittedly, I was way too distracted by the copious amounts of monkeys running around, to be too interested by the sun rising. There was also a super cute family of dogs (a mum, dad and puppy) running around; which is what I love about how free the animals are here. There’s just so many families of dogs, monkeys and cows who live together as families should (rather than being seperated at birth like how it is in the West with the dairy farms, meat industry and puppy breeding).
Shiv Shakti ashram-
Our wonderful Ashtanga yoga teacher Jaiya, invited us to his ashram (where he lives), for breakfast on Sunday morning to meet his Swami. It was amazing to see how much joy can be cultivated, through living minimally and simply. Simply in the sense that you have your basic needs fulfilled, without the need for further external material items as a source of happiness. Every morning they have an hour long prayer ceremony, involving washing their statue of worship whilst chanting mantras. It was really magical to experience this and meet Jaiya’s Swami, who was filled with wisdom, kindness and compassion. Im really looking forward to spending a week at an ashram with my mum, where we’ll be waking at 5am for meditation, chanting and a fire ceremony, followed by breakfast and yoga.
After our morning at the ashram, we decided to have a wander around the “real” Rishikesh (as where were staying is very touristy with lots of quirky cafes and yoga schools everywhere). The real Rishikesh was a lot more rural and raw, with more run down areas and even more wild animals along the roads (you can expect to see cows, pigs, dogs and monkeys all hanging around the same areas together). The markets there reminded me slightly of Delhi, in regards to the content of what was being sold rather than the level of chaos. Once again though, these markets are very different to the ones nearby where were currently staying (which more have yoga/boho/hippy clothes, crystals, jewerly, yoga mats and spiritual books etc), which was good to experience but not exactly somewhere I’d want to go do all my clothes shopping (despite the fact you can buy a top/pants for less than $3).
Overall my experiences at the Nath Yogshala has been one of a kind. It's been an emotional roller-coaster (mainly highs), with the lows being when we all have to leave each other, and go forth on our separate paths (or same journey, different roads as we like to call it). I will never forget my time here, and I feel so blessed to have shared it with the people that I have. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of laughter and love that has been shared between Rachel, Lauren and I; and I’m seriously going to miss our time together (doing activities like card reading, popping out for kombucha’s, ABC juices and yogi yum-yums, movie nights, deep chats, crashing weddings, face mask nights and dinners at Little Buddha Bar and other amazing cafes).
Since completing the course I feel much lighter and care free (this part will probably worry my Dad, as he already thinks I'm way too care free as it is). For example, certain situations, which would usually frustrate or upset the old me, no longer have such a strong hold over me. I feel that through daily yoga, meditation and pranayama, I have been well equipped to deal with the ebb's and flows of daily life. No longer succumbing to fear or anxiety, at what the future may bring, I find that I am more content in relaxing into the present moment. It's crazy how peaceful you can feel when you truly sink deeply into yourself, ignoring the hum of outside life and just really paying attention to what's going inside (I seriously hope I keep this up after I leave India).
The Next Steps-
So the next step of my journey, consists of spending time with my beautiful Momma bear who is actually arriving tomorrow!! I can't put into words how excited I am to see her, as the last time I did was early June 2016. Despite not having seen her for such a long time, it already feels as though no time has passed, as we speak on the phone at least every second day (if not everyday). So she shall be joining me for the next couple of weeks, where we’ll be taking an Ayurvedic massage course together (one day we hope to combine our skills to offer a holistic health retreat, offering reiki, yoga, massage, nutrition and spiritual counselling).
After India, the plans so far are to head back to Auz, where I will be spending Christmas and New Years with my boyfriend Henrik, teaching yoga and running activities together at a holistic addiction retreat center in New South Wales. It will be my first professional experience of teaching (I used to teach a few informal classes at my hostel on the Sunny Coast and I've taught a couple here at the school in India). So I'm a little nervous yet also very excited for the experience.
(Update: since writing this blog, I taught my first yoga class yesterday with the new students for the next yoga course and I absolutely loved it. Note to future self: do not worry, you will be great).