Three years ago, as I sat on a beach reflecting upon my life, I decided to take a yoga teacher training. What I gained from practicing with my teacher in Tokyo, Nana Kalyani, in the-then past year was more than enough to convince me: her yoga classes and approach inspired me to share the benefits of yoga with people who seek them.
The thing is, a yoga teacher training course takes a minimum of 28 days. It means I’d have to take a month off from work – something very difficult if not impossible to do. So I planned to do it at a time of transition between jobs sometime in the future. The opportunity came around the end of 2018 and early 2019.
I started to look for the school. If you’ve ever looked it up, you’ll know that there are hundreds of yoga schools. Not only in India, there are plenty in Bali, Thailand, the Caribbean, all over the world. There are different stories around it. This gave me a hard time selecting one that’s trustworthy and within my budget. But I finally found, based on my friend’s recommendation, a school in India, yoga’s place of origin.
I’m so glad with my choice. I won’t lie by telling you it’s like a holiday. Well, it’s not. Honestly, I came with low expectations on the school’s logistics (housing and food). How did it turn out? I found the dormitory and class hall comfortable for a month’s stay without water or electricity problems. Most of the toilets were squatting style, my bed and pillow were soft enough, there were no air conditioners (I hope you weren’t hoping for this in the first place), the girls’ dormitory didn’t hot water. I found out that our heater was only broken – the boys’ dorm had warm water. We didn’t need it at the time we were there (it was at least 36 degree C) but it could be useful in winter time.
Food was vegetarian and the kitchen could accommodate vegans. Meals became predictable after the first week, but we were never hungry: our stay included a four-weeks banana (and sometimes mango) party and vegetarian meal routine, including various combinations of curries, chutney, bread, rice, and salad. My favorite was the combo of rice mixed with nuts, pumpkin curry (🖤), and chutney!
Our meals were not given too much spice, chili, or salt. We learned that this, along with the chosen ingredients, was in line with a Sattvic diet, the best diet according to yogic texts. Mild taste limits mental stimulation and helps control our emotions. ‘We are what we eat.’ As we went on, my own additional interpretation of the meal plan was that we eat to live, not live to eat. The food became obviously spicier and hotter once we entered the fourth week. We thought it was hilarious and believed that was to prepare our stomachs to take ‘food of the real world’. 🙂
I didn’t expect much on food & board but I had a lot to ask for from the curriculum and lessons. I had questions I wanted answers to. I wanted to prepare myself for teaching. I thought other students would have the same plan of teaching after this training. Why else would somebody pay and spend a month for 200 hours of yoga practices? To my surprise, many people came with zero experience of yoga. They came to learn from scratch. Some wanted to understand what their bodies are capable of. Some others had been practicing yoga for some time, like me, but without any interest in teaching. There were three already-yoga-teachers in our group of fifty. This disappointed me a little at first, I thought it meant the classes would be toned down to facilitate beginners and I would feel less challenged.
But I soon realized there were differences, although minuscule, in the asana sequences we were learning with those that I’m used to. As we went on, I felt that what I’ve brought from my past practice have little significance and advantage. There’s nothing like doing asana, stretching, and strengthening for three hours straight every day. Complemented with our vegetarian diet, the experience was at a whole new level compared to my weekly or twice-a-week yoga class in Tokyo. Not to mention the yogic cleansing exercises and silent days!
Teased with the possibility of more revelation to come, I then reset my mind to zero on yoga knowledge and expectation. This relaxed and gave me more than what I originally hoped for. A number of factors helped. First of all, the daily schedule was well-thought: early morning wake up bell, morning walks or yogic body cleansing practices, three hours of asana practice (the ‘yoga’ classes you have in mind), two hours of lectures on anatomy, yoga theory, and teaching skills, two hours of breathing exercise and yoga nidra (guided classes to bring us to a meditative state), two hours of chanting and singing performance shows, finished off by sleeping early. We had one day off per week. We were asked to follow a set of rules but were not treated like children.
More important than the schedule was the teachers. They taught with respect, modesty, openness, sincerity, and love. Any question we had would not be discouraged of unanswered as long as they are thoughtful. The classes were balanced between serious and casual – all we had to do was to be present and sincere, to open ourselves to new things and information. Not only inside class were we all encouraged to challenge ourselves to our limits, physically and mentally.
We discussed deeply about what it means to live as a yogi. Contrary to popular understanding, yoga is not about being able to do all asana perfectly or doing ‘meditation’ with an empty mind for as long as we can. Yoga is a way of life. One that includes being kind to ourselves and our surroundings, knowing how to train our bodies and breath to keep them fit and healthy, treating our body right every day (I mentioned we learned about yogic diet), controlling of our senses, desires, and attachments, and steadying the mind. These are all to attain the ultimate goal of yoga itself: eternal peace and happiness. We discussed many times about yogic approach to daily life issues.
At the beginning of the course I tested myself by being completely distant from others, a complete solitary, before returning to myself: a ‘friendly but closed’ person. Upon my return I met people with pure lightness of heart and no boundary in their love. Many people I met at the training had lives I have only heard of but never encountered before.
The best part of the training was the one I was most looking forward to and did together with these people: the mock teaching exercise. We taught fellow students classes we designed then exchanged feedback. My groupmates were the best, I enjoyed their classes and had a blast teaching.
At the end, I left with a better understanding not only of how to teach but also the whole perspective of yogic life, a better understanding of myself and my body. My body changed. My arm muscles became stronger, my core became my rock. I could now do full forward bend! I learned many new asanas and met my personal goals of mastering some of them.
I had an amazingly light feeling from opening up and doing new things without judgement or criticism. I need to highlight that it didn’t come naturally at first considering how I am used to critical thinking, and how these days many of us are fired up to find and exaggerate mistakes in every single thing in the world, how they are or came to be, how they affect the whole society based only on our eyes, self-righteousness, and desire to be viral. I was reminded to acknowledge there are differences in the world, that there are various choices, multiform oblivion. All I had to do was understand people’s point of view while keeping my own and keeping self-love, but to tell them in a good way if we are hurt or disturbed. Eventually, to let people be as long as they’re not harmful to us or others.
We acknowledged that we’re not perfect. But every day, during and beyond this training, we have an opportunity to reflect upon ourselves and improve.
A yoga teacher training course isn’t where you’ll go home from ‘enlightened’ or ‘spiritually awakened’. I personally feel thinking that way or expecting that from a yoga training belittles the value of it. Maybe you’ll go home amazed at the emotions you’re able to contain or the physical power you had hidden inside.
Each of us went to Mysore with our own hopes and I’m sure each left with different experiences and learning outcomes. I hope we were all (or probably almost all) thankful and satisfied.
I feel more strongly about yoga now than I did before the training, and I’m ready for the future of my yoga life. For this, I’m grateful.