A Peek into a 300-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India

About 10 days ago, I traveled to Rishikesh, India for a one-month yoga teacher-training program.

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Why Rishikesh?

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!

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 any time 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, griping, 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

18741527_850867328517_1650223966_nThe 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.

6:50 AM STRETCHING

We do some deep stretching to prepare for yoga classes during the rest of the day.

7:50 AM BREAKFAST

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

8:50 AM PHILOSOPHY

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.

10:10 AM ASHTANGA

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.

12:15  PM LUNCH

18720703_850867952267_29428327_oAnd more Sattvic food!

1:45 PM ANATOMY

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.

4:10 PM HATHA

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.

6:10 PM MEDITATION

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.

7:30 PM DINNER

My body is being pushed to limits, and I’m growing. I’ looking forward to the next few weeks here.

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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!

Exploring the “Flow”

Reality is so much more delicious than our concept of it.

-Judson Brewer

Think positive. Think outside the box. Think it and it will happen. Okay, I made that last one up, but have you ever been told to think a certain way to improve an area in your life?

Did it work for you?

Shifting your thinking and perspective seems so simple, but in reality it isn’t an easy thing to do. It is a process of breaking habits, challenging yourself to do something different, and growing. Bottom line: it is uncomfortable, especially when you think about it too much.

Wait a minute… of thinking is part of the problem, how can it be the solution?

It isn’t really an issue of thinking- thinking is necessary and can actually cultivate focus. The issue is when you overthink in a way that removes you from the present. Instead of appreciating what is in from of you, you are dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. That type of thinking isn’t productive and can suck a lot of energy away from enjoying life right now.

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If you are an over thinker (like me) yoga is a great way to calm your mind and literally help you find your “flow”. It helps you connect with your body here and now, and shut down the flow of thought and start up the flow of the body. In fact, the “flow” is such an integral concept in yoga that is can be traced back to the first known written document about yoga known as Yoga Sutras.

What is a flow and why you should explore it

Flow is a psychological term describing when a person is fully immersed in a task. Generally speaking, a flow consists of concentration and enjoyment. When you are in the flow, you are in the moment, enjoying life and free from worry for the future or past. There is evidence that being in the flow promotes higher levels of happiness.

Why find your flow? When you are in your flow, you are at the your optimum- the best you can be. What could be better?

Check out Judson Brewer’s TEDx talk where he discusses and describes the state of flow.

Basically, we need to do more, think less.  And this is much easier said than done.

The irony of realizing you are in the flow is to sometimes not be in it. Like all things, balance is necessary, and understanding the flow, how to enter it and engage, as well as reflecting on when you were in it and how you felt, are necessary to create awareness around the entire flow experience. Brewer notes that you need to get out of your own way, usually obstacles you think up and trip over. Stop the trip up and develop the reflection by working on your own flow.

How to get into a flow (from Mrs. Mindfulness)

Step 1

Take 5 deep breaths, closing your eyes if you want. Focus just on your breath here and become aware of what it feels like to be in the moment.

Step 2

Be present and aware in the now. Notice how you feel.

Step 3

Do an activity with purpose. It can be anything- washing the dishes, going for a walk, looking at a picture. Just do it completely in the moment. If thoughts arise, notice them and allow them to float by.

Step 4

Continue the activity. Notice how the activity is different when you do it with mindfulness. You may see that the activity comes “alive”.

Me writing this blog is an example of finding flow in patterns of thought. I may not be engaging with the room I am sitting in at the moment, but I am actively engaging in an idea- that is also a form a flow!

If you are struggling to find a flow in everyday tasks, do some yoga and apply the same awareness listed above. You may surprise yourself.

Enjoy the day, don’t overthink it, and get into the flow!

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