Friends had told me many things about a YTTC (Yoga Teacher Training Course), 200,300,500 hours under the supervision of some real yogis, following a strict regime of Yoga, Pranayama, Shatkarma, Meditation, Ayurveda, anatomy and philosophy. These are the general subjects one will study upon entering the course, specific course’s will include something extra like massage or emotional blockage therapy, a yogic term for pressure points/reflexology, if it had been taught correctly, maybe it could have been possible to determine a difference.
I had been doing yoga on and off for 2 years before deciding I would enter into a teacher training, completely self taught by a guy called Tim on Youtube, and the odd morning session to sweat out the drugs after a night on the dance floor. I decided to start looking online for a school I would attend during my time in India, I don’t desire to teach yoga more expand my knowledge and experience. I decided that during my last month I would make my way to Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, and admit myself into a month of study. What appealed to me was the discipline and a deeper understanding of the practice that I have grown to love and hold high regards, something has has shown me a truth, to accept and appreciate the self, that a healthy mind and body promotes a heathy happy life, assisting in letting go of past trauma and being within the present, to really freeing yourself from baggage, and be within the present.
I had no expectations, no worries, I chose my actions in relation to my overall growth, and knowing what I need in life.
My time in the YTTC certainly changed my outlook on life, it taught me much more then a had previously known about yoga (which after this I now know was nothing!), it opened my eyes to an importance of lifestyle choices, it provided me with the strength to promote change in a life of chaos and confusion, to reassure myself that all I stand fore is of positive influence and result, and that we all possess a true power to achieve and do what it is that we desire (without attachment, of course!)
After an extensive search, scrolling the same page, clicking on the same schools over and over again, trying to avoid star ratings, conditioned to rely on those public comments as there are some conditions I was so desperately trying to avoid, one being studying under a western teacher in India, another being too comfortable, something real, that would also neatly fit into my visa dates and wouldn’t cost me too much money, was this too much to ask for?
I settled on a school with a name I later realised was nothing but search engine marketing tactics, I will refrain from mentioning names as I’m not writing to berate or slander any persons/business, though think of three very common/clever words, type them into google and you’ll find them.
You’ll notice when you type yoga teacher training into google you will be directed to a page/organisation known as the Yoga Alliance, a comprehensive list of schools all around the world in places such as Australia, Bali, Costa Rica, Nepal and India, this is an organisation giving out those laminated qualifications to anyone willing to put in only a fraction of the time you actually need to become a real teacher, personally It all comes across as some money hungry scam, pairing up with anyone who can put together a couple of teachers and rent out a room in a building and teach a small percentage of an entire life’s practice.
The school I chose offered cooked meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, weekend activities, private accommodation, hot shower, own bathroom, all for a very reasonable price of around $1,500 US, it is the cheapest option on the global scale, though that is because it is Indian, basic meals and simple accommodation, don’t expect to always have power and water, and if your thinking of having some nights in you and Netflix, your shit out of luck as Wi-Fi may as well be non existent in this country.
As I arrived and fist bumped the guy at reception, his first words to me were “hey brother do you smoke, do you have anything you can give me”, “why not”, I reach into my bag and pull out my tin, as I’m breaking off the hash in my hand a voice speaks to me from behind,”Ahh Matthew is it?” I turn, all my smoking materials open in my hand, “Hi there I’m your co-ordinator for the month”, now I’m sure he wasn’t phased though there was my first impression, just another hippy getting high in Rishikesh, though he was and I imagine still is an incredibly friendly human being, its not as if the loose clothing and scruffy hair gave it away in the first place.
I was taken to my room, my very own private space in a country I never knew that could exist, I was given the grand tour of 3 floors, a free lunch, and the password to the Wi-Fi, I thought to myself, that I had struck gold, I couldn’t believe after the hustle and bustle of the Rajasthani streets, a routine of no sleep and daily chaos.
I had finally found a place I could kickback, learn some yoga, expand my mind, get fit and healthy, have all my meals prepared for me on the daily basis, and at the end of the day be able to reside into the peace and quite of my own dreams.
It was within minutes of the initial introduction that I was asked if I could pay rite away, 91.645.59Ruppees in cash!, I was speechless, one, how quick it was to the money and two, as to why I would be carrying around that kind of cash, after some awkward interactions with the teachers, we found a solution, I was to b-pay into some foreign account, there was a high concern with money, somehow a very hard task to pay the school, each student paying various ways into various accounts, its all a little sketchy, but what do you expect in a country like this? It was then time to attend the opening ceremony, a beautiful introduction as we chanted and threw v herbs and spices into the sacred fire, setting our intentions for the coming month, afternoon tea was served then it was off to bed to take rest before we begun the month, 6am the next morning.
For the next 26 days we awoke at 6am to Shatkarma, a practice of cleansing the insides, for the first week we used the netty pot, with warm salt water we would pour into one nostril, our heads slightly tilted with our mouth open face down into a bucket the water would exit from the opposite nostril, 4 days later we would switch to guiding a small rubber hose through nostril, down into the oesophagus, and try to grab ahold of it with your two fingers as you gag and tear at the eyes, pulling it out from the mouth and through the nose. As weeks went by we where taught only a few of the many ways of cleansing, we were taught to induce vomiting and dirrea, swallowing 10-15 cups of warm water and making your self vomit, doing the same and then performing certain asana (poses) that will assist in the cleansing of the bowels, these are only a few methods of cleansing the organs, others include drinking your own urine, enemas and swallowing a small sponge on a thread to pull it back up out of your mouth cleaning the walls of your oesophagus.
Next up was Pranayam, focusing on controlling the breath, we learnt to breathe deeply from the stomach, yogic full body breathes from stomach to the chest, filling the entire lungs with air and on the exhale controlling the release of breath slowly and without sound, Breath Retention, holding the breath in-between inhales and exhales, also nasal channel cleaning, breathing in-out through one nostril and switching back and forth from rite to left. Another form of breathing we practiced was breathing is quick succession, quick powerful out breathes in-between very short inhales. This was performed each morning in preparation for yoga and the general day ahead.
A quick tea break at 8.30 with our fist session of yoga starting at 9am, one and a half hours Ashtanga to get into the day, our teacher was awesome, it was a hard energetic class to start the day, it wasn’t easy, as we would dread entering each morning knowing his style of teaching is intense, holding positions as he counted very slowly, whole body shaking in every posture, but that is what we all wanted, that’s why we were all there. The first week was a ‘slow’ build-up into the next 3 weeks of a fairly intense routine, it was hard in the beginning, possibly due to the fact I had been lazy during my travels and had not kept up my practice, coming into the course with very little strength and flexibility, I was a bit concerned as to how my body would react, though with the help of the teachers and there extensive practice, knowledge and concern, yoga became the highlight of each day, ending every class in high energy, ready to tackle anything!
After yoga we ate breakfast, a light yogic meal in the tradition of Ayurveda, chai tea, flattened rice, and fruit, sometimes we would be treated with Alloo Parantha and curd which was a real treat to walk into the dining room and see, towards the end I think the kitchen was getting lazy as on a few occasions we where given packaged bread and various condiments, honey peanut butter, jam etc. Not really in the tradition of a yogic diet though can be appreciated as some variety from the usual.
After breakfast was a half an hour break, this was time to rest, read, study or just talk shit with your other class mates until class started, first up was philosophy, personally one of my favourite classes, our teacher, highly knowledgeable in Hindu/Yogic philosophy, with an extensive knowing in Ayurveda medicine/treatment, Ayurveda in Sanskrit meaning “life-knowledge”.
The classes shed light on how this life should be lived under the ideals of Hinduism, referencing the Bhagavad Gita, the detachment from suffering, finding self acceptance, self reliance, power to control desire and emotion, the lifestyles and changes necessary to live a healthy and happy life through maintaining our flow and balance of energy in the three “Doshas”, Kapha (earth/air), Vatta (water), Pitta (fire), all doshas have an emphasis on moderation of food intake, sleep, and sexual intercourse
Ayurveda is an ancient practice of medicine with origins in India, with a belief that disease is cause by an imbalance of dosha, our dosha is said to contribute and define out personality and temperament, it is said that on should modulate our diet, habits/behaviour and environment to increase or decrease our dosha in order to live in our natural state.
After our minds were blown daily by the incredible stories in hindu philospohy, tales of the gods, and the almighty knowledge that is Ayurveda it was time to go to anatomy class, heading back in time to the days I was scribbling on the desk during class in high school biology, this timei was on the floor surrounded by cushions that I could comfortably rest my head and relax without any mention of “Matthew, are you slacking off”, as my stomach growled through-out the hour of how many bones there are in the human body (206), the different groups of ligaments, joints, and muscles, cell types, the central nervous system, blood and marrow. If there was one class to skip, this was the one. It wasn’t a bad class, the teacher was a sweet heart though it was just a little boring, not really focusing on anything yoga related, like I said it was all basic highschool knowledge, and from the energy given off by majority of the student sprawled out over the floor struggling to keep there eyes open it wasn’t the most engaging lesson.
1.30 and its time for lunch, a daily spread of rice, dahl, steamed vegetable and salad, this was pretty much the same spread most days for the entire month, cooked fresh and very healthy, though I must admit after 3 weeks of the same food I was eventually popping out into the streets for some local cuisine.
After lunch was Karma yoga, basically chores around the property, it was this or taking two hours to rest or get out of the yoga bubble for a couple of hours and grab a masala chai, weave thorough the hundreds of cows, monkeys, bikes and people over the Lux Mandula bridge, smoke a sneaky joint or take a dive into the Gangies, one of the best things to do whilst residing/visiting in Rishikesh, there is nothing more powerfully refreshing then bathing in the river ganga.
4 o’clock and its back into the studio for one and a half hours of hatha yoga, once again the yoga teacher was amazing, my favourite class of the day, warmed up from the hot days and ready to stretch the body, we were very lucky to have our teacher, she had been doing yoga half her life and had studied yoga for 3 years in university along with an extensive knowledge in breathing and meditation, it truly was a pleasure to walk into her smile and be in a class that is so light hearted, disciplined and fun, the strength of the lesson and ourselves getting stronger and stronger as the weeks went by. In the 4th week we were expected to teach our own class, write our own routine and step by step lead our fellow class mates through an hours class, as daunting as this sounded at the time, everyone performed extremely well, after 4 weeks we had developed our little family and the feeling of seeing your friends grow and develop until the point there up there teaching you was an honourable feeling of gratitude and happiness for each and everyone.
After yoga there is a short break, half hour before coming back to the last class of the day, for the first two weeks we where taught ‘emotional blockage therapy’ and Tantric breath work, both very interesting though I don’t feel that very much was explained, the first week we had a teacher who kind of came into the class, didn’t say to much, lay us on the floor and told us press hard on certain pressure points of the body, after a brief discussion and demonstration of how to make somebody convulse and scream on the floor in pain we were then partnered up to torcher each other for the remainder of the few lessons we had, each pressure point, the arms, the bum and the inner side of our legs and thighs represents an attachment to something you shouldn’t be holding onto in your life i.e. your mother/father, family and friends, work, money and relationships. The idea being that we hold onto trauma that creates blockages in the flow of our energy, to release these blockages we are taught to ‘massage’ or in other words push and rub the point as deeply and as hard as you can, releasing the blockages which in turn is extremely painful, to later on progress into pushing into the points with your foot applying even more pressure, if I’m being honest I was holding in tears, I didn’t really trust this teacher, not to judge but feeling the insecurity, he seemed quite uncertain of his answers, that’s if he answered at all, there was a tendency to look confused and avoid the questions, this is where my scepticism surfaced.
After a week that particular teacher had to leave to attend family duties, I am personally thankful as I couldn’t understand why this guy was the one in charge, his presence was somewhat creepy and uncomfortable. He was replaced with an older gentleman, a humble presence, very quite, very powerful. He would walk into the class room, sit in lotus position waiting for our attention to then speak for a short amount of time about Ayurveda and meditation before running through a sequence of breathing exercises, some would call it hyperventilation, other may say a profound spiritual experience. We where directed to perform a series of heavy breathing techniques, sometimes exhaling with an incredibly open moan or sigh, there was no time to worry about what others thought, it was all you and the moment, 30-40minute breathing exercise, our bodies and hands contracting the deeper we go, our presence fuzzy, to a point you feel you may leave your physical body.
These forms of meditation are truly powerful though I have my theories on what is actually happening inducing a spiritual experience using the breathe, though I will come into that at a later time.
Nothing was ever explained, as crazy profound as these experiences where, bringing up trauma to be dealt with, unblocking our deepest emotions and bringing light into our eyes, affecting some far more then others, we where left with very little, though its enough to further our research into the subject matter.
The last two weeks the emotional blockage ended and was taken over with meditation, guided meditation, breathing meditation, dancing meditation, laughing meditation, Kundalini, eye contact for extended periods of time, free movement, shaking, screaming, moaning, all sorts of things that really confronted my own insecurities and taught us all a lot.
Overall my 200 hour yoga teacher training was a great experience, I don’t really feel the need to do it again, or at least pay that amount of money to a bunch of mates who come up with the idea that they can make some money by opening another school in Rishikesh, teaching the very basics of yoga to gullible tourists, as it was truly a unique, beautiful experience, our little yogi family growing together in love light and yoga and I am grateful to all those I had the pleasure to spend a month of time life with, you are all beautiful and unique, though I have my personal opinion that nobody is able to nor should be teaching a class after 200hours of training, this also applies to 500hours, there is no possible way that we, coming from our western background to learn an ancient eastern philosophy can think it is possible that they could be responsible teaching somebody yoga, sure some people may be more confident then others, this doesn’t necessarily mean after such a short time you have any real qualification in something real yogis spend there entire life in devotion, the teachers that teach us have studied the practice for years, and here we are under the influence of the American based “Yoga Alliance” to have some laminated piece of paper stating that you have learnt a miniscule amount of what there actually is to know within this practice.
If one want to become a real teacher maybe take the time to immerse yourself into the real studies of this practice, go and spend a few months to year and a recognized ashram under to strict guidance of an actual master, places like Rishikesh, Bali, Costa Rica, are simply shortcuts into the industry, it could be you may hurt/damage somebody, I’ve seen this happen, and then what? You may be sued, or even worse somebodies is too nice to tell you your mistake and you keep on teaching the wrong alignment to others? (this has happened to a friend of mine).
I do apologize to those who don’t feel this way, I know many people who choose to study yoga in India will fly into Delhi and head straight to Rishikesh with the easiest most convenient way they can, entering into a place that is far from the real India, though there are pockets of the authentic, the yoga hub of Lux Mandala and Tapovan is not. Students from around the world will arrive a day before their course starts to head straight home a day after it finishes. I cannot see a point to this, flying all the way to the other side of the word for a cheap piece of paper to show the world you qualify to teach yoga when one not actually getting a feel for the origin of such practice, just basking the comforts of the over priced ‘organic’ cafes, the blue waters of the ganga, the convenience of pizza, pasta and chocolate cake, this is nothing of the real thing, my recommendation to those looking into doing there yoga training, head to somewhere less touristic, head to somewhere you not just another face with a fat stack of cash to spend on your holiday, thousands of tourists in and out every month for a piece of paper, do your research, majority of the schools are the same, its just some have better marketing tactics then others, and if your dead set on heading to Rishikesh to complete a yoga teacher training maybe just check it out before committing online to something you really have no idea about.
With these words I give thanks to my class mates, my teachers, the babas, the hash dealers, my friends, my family, the Gangies, the German bakeries, Shiva, Hanuman, Ram, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Kali and all the other Gods, to the guy selling momo’s out the front of 150miles to Delhi café, the fat white Hari Krishna on his motor bike with the hot Indian female riding on the back as he sings Hari Krishna like a rock star, the masala chai, the aloo parantha, the kitchen boys, the cleaning lady, the receptionist, into the unknown, the Beatles, my yoga mat for the support, this world for its beauty, this life for the way it is lived.
if your interested in yoga then by all means take the time to study such in incredible gift my the mind, body and soul, don’t expect to come out of it thinking you have the end all ability to teach and guide others on the rite path, I realise a lot of you do/will, just stick to the path and dive deeper as your journey continues, stick to the mantras, the intentions, learn the philosophy and Sanskrit terms, become the master, how we know and are introduced into yoga in western society is own our twisted representation of what it really is. Take the time to study, don’t rush, one must find the truth before proceeding into the practice.