About 10 days ago, I traveled to Rishikesh, India for a one-month yoga teacher-training program.
Rishikesh possesses multiple identities. It is a holy city to Hindus, marked by the Ganges River (often referred to as “Mother Ganga”) flowing through it. The city is also called Tapo Bhumi, translated as “place for meditation of the Gods”. According to legends, Lord Vishnu defeated the evil demon Madhu here, and Lord Shiva is said to have ingested the halahala poison here during the Churning of the Ocean (Samudra Manthan). Today, many people visit the site for meditation during their pilgrimage. It became popular to Westerners when the Beatles stayed and studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in an ashram and wrote hit songs for the White Album. Rishikesh has deemed itself the “Yoga Capital of the World”, attracting tourists from around the globe to practice and study yoga. I am one of these yoga tourists!
So why study more yoga?
I earned my 200-hour Yoga Teaching certificate in 2015, and I wasn’t planning on advancing to a 300-hour course anytime too soon (if you are wondering what the heck 200-RYT and 300-RYT are, check it out here). But you know when things just fall into place? The combination of exploring my personal and professional yoga practice, as well as getting a contract position in India helped me decide to take the leap into a 300-hour course.
So how did I choose?
Budget, convenience, reputation, and of course, what you want to study. I really had to think about what I wanted from this course and to set goals accordingly. In my case, I wanted to advance my knowledge of traditional yoga, including but not limited to:
- improving my knowledge of Sanskrit
- improving my knowledge of Hatha yoga
- improving my knowledge of pranayama (breathing exercises) & meditation
- exploring yoga philosophy
- enter the program as a student, not a teacher, and be open to all ideas and experiences
Basically, I want to take in as much information as possible from the teachers, as well as my fellow yoga instructors on the course with me. So far, we are one week into the program and I am having an awesome time exploring, learning, laughing, gripping, and ultimately becoming a better yoga instructor.
So what exactly happens in a day?
The 300-hour course is complete in just 1-month- not a lot of time to pack in so many classes and valuable information! Below is a layout of the day with some commentary and a few pictures thrown in for good measure.
5:15 AM CLEANSING
The first step of the day is to practice cleansing exercises. Neti translates to cleansing of the nasal passage, and all cleansing practices are considered preparation for pranayama. So far we have been focusing on the Jala Neti and Neti Sutra. Have you ever put a cooked piece of spaghetti in your nose and pull it out of you mouth to scare you friends? This is essentially what the Neti Sutra is doing, but with a rubber cord. This technique (which I hard to do at first, but gets easier as your practice) is followed by Jala Neti, which is rinsing the nasal passage with lukewarm saline water.
5:45 AM PRANAYAMA
Pranayama (breathing exercises) are the fourth limb of the yogic path. We don’t think about it a lot, but our breath is really important. Once you begin to strengthen and control it, it is beneficial to your mind and body. In my opinion, this has been the most important class in the course. It sounds silly, but we are learning how to fully breathe. Many people, including myself, breathing just from our chests and have weak diaphragms.
We do some deep stretching to prepare for yoga classes during the rest of the day.
After the early rise and stretching, I’m always ready to eat! The diet we eat is known a sattvic, a concept derived from Ayurveda. Sattvic food is light, nutritious and vegetarian. It is never meant to weigh you down or make you feel sluggish. I like to think of it as eating foods that are vibrant and hold more life. It is always important to eat balanced and healthy, but when you are straining your body and mind in a new environment with about 5 hours of yoga a day, you really need to make sure you taking in enough calories and nutrition. One day I cheated and ate a chocolate bar- mistake! I felt that bar the next day, and realized I need to be cognizant eating the most nutritious foods. Sattvic diets do a good job of that
Yoga is an ancient science dating back to over 5,000 years ago. As you can imagine, we have a lot of history and philosophy to explore! We did this in the 200-hour training as well, but only now am I connecting some of the topics to form a holistic framework.
Before coming to India, I had never taken an Ashtanga course. Maybe I was scared. Or the stars didn’t align properly. Well, the stars are aligned now as well as my tailbone, shoulders and hips! Truth be told, I was always kind of scared of Ashtanga because it seemed hardcore, a little too different than my beloved vinyasa flows. But now that I am learning about it and pacticing it, I really enjoy it. There is no doubt this style is intense, but it is helping me understand my body in a different way, as well as cultivating focus with the many alignment cues in each pose.
And more Sattvic food!
An understanding of anatomy is vital for yoga teachers. In saying that, yoga teachers are not trained like physical therapists. But an understanding of anatomy is helpful to cue students to get into the yoga poses, get stronger and open space in their body. This class is focused on functional anatomy so less of the straight up memorization that was done at the 200-hour level and more about how the body works holistically and what adjustments we can do to help students understand alignment, the posture, and an awareness of their body.
It was my understanding that “modern” yoga we see today (especially in the West) is derived from Hatha yoga. Hatha is focused on two opposing forces to create balance. The word literally means sun and moon. I am familiar with the poses we are exploring in this class, and learning some tips for alignment, strength building, and muscle awareness.
After two hours of Hatha yoga class, meditation is a fabulous thing! The cool thing is that meditation is not sitting down with the goal of turning inward- we are learning different kinds of meditation to create awareness and hopefully deepen our meditation practice! For example, this week we have been exploring Kundalini meditation, where we shake for 10 minutes, dance with joy for 10 minutes, sit and stay aware of the body for 10 minutes, and then relax fully in savasana.
You guessed it. A light meal to finish off the day!
My body is being pushed to limits, and I’m growing. I’ looking forward to the next few weeks here.
This course has also been a great reminder of just how much you can achieve in one day. Get out there, set some goals, and go for it!
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