Opening Fire Ceremony
To celebrate the start of the course we all took part in an opening fire ceremony. The ritual (also known as a Homa) consists of mantras and offerings such as ghee, samagree (fragrant medicinal herbs) and grains which are thrown onto the fire. The practice has been used for thousands of years to help with physical and mental health. This is because the burning of offerings is said to remove toxins from atmosphere, as the fire converts them into a gaseous form, enabling them to mix into the air and enter the breath and the body of the participants. Unfortunately, we are in midst of monsoon season and today’s storm decided to coincide with the fire ceremony, so we had to move the service indoors (making things a little more smokey!) However, thanks to the down pour of rain I already felt cleansed in advance of the purification segment, which uses water to cleanse and open the senses.
Initially I was surprised by the amount of participants. There are 30 people taking the 200 hours YTTC for this batch, which I think is partly due to last minute bookings and the increasing popularity of the school. However, I must point out that this first time I have been surrounded by more than 15 people because our accommodation is dispersed across several surrounding hotels and for the duration of our training we will be split into two groups, with rotating teaching schedules. I was slightly nervous during the introductory session because whilst I am used to saying my name and where I am from (due to countless theatre workshops and rehearsals!) I wasn’t expecting to be in the company of so many people. I was here to learn and develop my understanding of yoga and I guess do a little ‘soul searching’ at the same time. I wasn’t here for small talk! But what I’ve quickly realised is that everyone else is here for the same reason. There are no egos in the group and certainly no divas (at least not so far!) Everyone seems very honest and humble- and there’s not a ‘Sweaty Betty’ leotard in sight!! This is surely testament to the school and the type of student it attracts because yoga is the heart and focus of everything they do. There’s no juice bar and there’s not a hot tub because these only serve as pricey distractions from the real work. In fact, the school is very unaffected by the western world (despite the influx of Western students) remaining non-commercial and authentic to the work. They also don’t churn out courses like a factory line- offering a maximum of 9 Yoga TTCs a year across Risikesh and Dharamsala- and charge a lot less than comparable schools in India. Whilst the rooms might be basic, they offer every modern day convenience (bed, shower, toilet, spots of WIFI…) but just not 24/7. After all, it is India and we are halfway up the Himalayas! My room is simple and secluded enough to enable me to immerse myself in the yoga lifestyle for the next 30 days. Which I am grateful for because having just received my jam-packed schedule plus plenty of reading material, I reckon it’s going to be an intense month! (so I’m relieved there’s no Netflix to distract me!)
The intense week-1 schedule:
Chandra Yoga describes the course as a ‘teacher training’ and not an ‘instructor course.’ They aim to produce teachers who create an experience for their pupils. So instead of just assisting with positions and directing vinyasas, we will be taught how to help our students take the work beyond the classroom and into their lives. Whilst the more obvious and conventional benefits of yoga are important (including fitness, flexibility and core strength), these are just the icing on the cake. In fact, if you think of yoga as a cake, you will understand why I am studying yoga anatomy, physiology and philosophy on top of the usual asana (yoga poses). In order to make a good cake you need to know the ingredients and the method and the same applies for yoga: you need to know your body and how it works in order to reap the full benefits. As defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) health is a "State of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” which means that the majority of us are by definition unhealthy most of the time because we have all experienced stress. Yoga is a means of balancing and harmonising the body, mind and emotions therefore helping to reduce stress levels: "it does not provide a cure for life, but it does present a proven method for coping with it" (Saraswati). What is fascinating is that yoga still outperforms modern medicine with regards to stress reduction, as it helps people to connect to their breath from within. This is the key difference between yoga and exercise because whilst there are physical and mental benefits to both, the breath will always match the workout with conventional exercise, whereas with yoga, the breath comes from within (meaning that the practice also comes from within). This is why it is important that a teacher ‘knows’ yoga and just doesn’t just copy because whilst the postures might look the same the students will not get the same yogic benefits from a ‘copy-cat’ instructor.
Yoga- in the classical sense- is not just a practice but also a lifestyle and a way of life, something that I have never fully experienced before. Even our meals are prepared in yogic fashion as we are living on a diet of healthy Indian cuisine (vegetarian of course), which is cooked for longer than usual to ease digestions. There is also very little raw food available (e.g. salads) because these are supposed to hinder the digestion process. Now don’t be put off by that because in all honesty the food is absolutely delicious and includes hearty vegetables, warm dal, rice, chapattis. It’s also been incredibly easy being gluten-free because many dishes- for example the pakoras- are made with chickpea flour. And instead of my usual morning coffee I am learning to love the natural, caffeine free Ayurvedic Yogi Tea, which is made up of lots of refreshing spices. Although I really could have done with a caffeine kick this morning for my 6am meditation class!!!
The donkeys that live outside my room!
-Chandra Yoga: https://www.sushilyoga.com/
-"Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha" by Satyananda Saraswati- http://www.amazon.in/Asana-Pranayama-Bandha-Satyananda-Saraswati/dp/0949551147