From Yoga to Yog: Interview with Surendra, Part 1

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In May of 2017, I met Surendra, a meditation, yoga philosophy and sound healing teacher based in Rishiskesh, Uttarakhand, India. Surendra left a successful career as an electrical engineer to pursue his passion for yoga. He has completed studies at Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute  and Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya and is currently an instructor at Shiva Yoga Peeth.

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Surendra Phartyal

I had an awesome morning talking to Surendra about yoga and life. Over chai and the great view of the Ganges, we spoke for over two hours  about yoga as an ancient science in the modern world, and a shift from traditional yog to yoga, and why it all matters. Grab some chai and read on to get gain Surendra’s perspective on yoga and life. This is part one of a two-part interview. 

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A view of the Ganges River from a great spot in Royal Cafe.

 Please note: “L” denotes me, Laura, and “S” denotes Surendra.

 

L: Okay, so how did you first get into yoga?

S: My journey started in 2000. I met a friend and he made me listen to one discourse. Like a speech.

L: Like a recorded one with a guru?

S: Yes. So I listened to it. After that I don’t know what happened. I was there listening to it and I went into a deep relaxation or I would say in sleep. So this was a discourse for around 45 minutes so I got up after 4 hours.

L: So it made you go to sleep?

S: Yes. And after that this was maybe until that time [the year 2000] I never had such deep sleep, such refreshing sleep. So I was like wow what is this.

L: Was it [the discourse] meant to make you go to sleep?

S: I just fell asleep listening to this discourse. I went into such a deep relaxation listening to it that I went into deep sleep. I was looking for mediation since my childhood but I didn’t get anything. I was trying but I’m from a place with not a lot of resources. But I was interested, like what is this, you know? Then he [my fried] introduced some meditation techniques to me. So since 2000 I have been practicing these different kinds of meditations. And that was during my first year in engineering- I am trained as an electrical engineer. So I was doing my engineering and reading a lot, and doing different kinds of meditation. So my inclination was less into engineering. It was just okay-more like my secondary thing. And all this meditation, all the practice, became the primary objective. So I worked very hard, really very hard, around 4 years during the electrical engineering program. I was working with myself through different kinds of meditations, reading a lot. Then I passed from this college and had to work. So I started working. And I worked with two multinational companies. And in 2012 I experienced that I am working here, but what is the objective I am fulfilling?

I experienced that I am working here, but what is the objective I am fulfilling?

L: Yeah.

S: Because as an electrical engineer, what can I give to society? That would be only electricity.

L: Yeah like helping to provide infrastructure [by providing electricity].

S: Yes, so this is not good. And I decided it has been 12 years since I started practicing, then I think what else can I do to contribute more and using my own abilities and also taking me deeper into spirituality. I was on the path, still I am. Then I found out I can go for yoga school. Until that time, I was practicing yoga, but I was not, you can say, the “proper” yoga. I never knew there was a system- Patanjali was there, Hatha yoga is there, Mantra yoga is there. So I was dealing with the cream, the meditation. But whatever was helping me in meditation, I was following them but not understanding the theory behind them.

L: So you were doing asanas without knowing what they were doing?

S: I never did asanas. I was working with my breathing, sitting silently and following what yoga philosophy says without being aware of the real philosophy. This is a very well designed science [yoga]. Then I decided to go to school in 2012. From there, the actual philosophical background, systematized science, that I learned from the school. The Hatha yoga, the Raja yoga, all of these cleansing processes, asanas, but their main emphasis is not into meditation. The techniques I was practicing, they were not teaching. For them [the school], the meditation is the traditional form: sit for half an hour and be quiet.

L: So what was your friend teaching that was different from the traditional concept?

S: Many different meditations! Like the Kundalini meditation. I practiced for four years, maybe not continuously, but maybe like two months here and 10 days here, taking different breaks. I practiced all of these meditations for many years.

L: So would you do it everyday?

S: Yes everyday. In those four years when I was studying, I would start from 5AM to 8 AM doing some type of meditation and in the evening from 4PM to 7PM. In between I used to go to my college and study there, and we used to have a mediation hall in Dehradun.

L: So what kept bringing you back to that kind [moving] of meditation? Because it is one thing to be like “hey, I want to go to sleep” and another to say “man, I’m going to spend 4 hours a day meditating. So where was that balance for you, when you said I really like this, like this [meditation] speaks to me a lot. What was happening for you? Were you just feeling good or was it helping you find balance?

S: Of course! And that relaxation was something different. I said I never felt such deep relaxation in my life before. It gave something, it triggered something, in me. And working with yourself, you get to know all these thoughts running in your mind continuously and you get to work with them. Then you get these small, small gaps in your thinking and you have to work on yourself so you become more aware. So slowly, slowly, with this awareness and with this experience you tend to learn more and more about life and about yourself and less time. You can learn from your experiences also. But when you are by yourself, on your own, closing your eyes and going in, it accelerates the learning process. And learning in the sense that you have many different aspects of spirituality and you learn how to not identify wit your thought, with your feelings, your body. And slowly this understanding deepens. And this is the real freedom, you know? What yoga is talking about. Freedom from what? Not freedom from the outside world, because everyone has to live here. It is freedom from mind. Actually freedom is freedom from mind. Not freedom from world, freedom from words, which go on continuously.. This is the real freedom. The you learn a lot about yourself and there is not end to it. You keep on learning. This changed me drastically. Those four years, and all those meditation sessions, that changed me really.

L: What do you think the top change or changes for you were before and after mediating during those years?

S: It is very difficult to see the change because change is not static, you know? You feel that you have changed. But the next moment, you get some more understanding. And that change doesn’t seem so big. But you say okay, I’m growing. So the growth happens continuously. Like oh I am better, That “better” has a better than that better. So it goes on happening. One thing I will say is that, in those days, when meditation is happening, so much growth is happening. When meditation is happening, so much is happening. One part is doing the mediation, then when the benefits happen, you realize what you have. We have so many things and we do not value them. Like now, we are sitting here in such a beautiful place, but we don’t know how to value it because we are stuck in our minds. We are running from desire, we think it will fulfill us. But desire never fulfills anybody.. It is like putting water in a bucket with no base. You keep on putting the water, and it will never fill up.

L: True.

S: So meditation and yoga, it doesn’t change anything outside. It changes you. Once you are changed, your perspective is changed, then you are able to see what is the beauty, whatever we have. So with all of these small things, you find how to be happy, how to enjoy.

L: So do you feel like now, you are the happiest you have been?

S: Maybe the most happy.

L: Like happiest you have ever been? Ever?

S: Yes it is going up, and it never stops. [laughs]

L: That is really awesome! A beautiful thing, you know?

So meditation and yoga, it doesn’t change anything outside. It changes you. Once you are changed, your perspective is changed, then you are able to see what is the beauty, whatever we have. So with all of these small things, you find how to be happy, how to enjoy.

S: So for 12 years, of course there was an understanding of yoga, but what yoga has given me, what Patanjali has given me, once your practice you come to know “Oh my god, this is the whole part I have been traveling and this guys has put it in such a beautiful way. In these verses, there is the whole journey. Wow.

L: Do you feel like there was anything in Patanjali’s Sutras that took you a long time to grasp? Or do you feel like once you saw it laid out, it was all clear to you?

S: Yeah. So, I could feel what Patanjali actually meant.

L: Because you were doing self study before yoga study?

S: Yes. So the concept was there. And it gives you help. But it is very difficult to find a true master. But when you are able to read it and relate yourself, your journey with them, then automatically a kind of trust develops in you. Like its not me only, people for thousands of years have been doing this. And it is their testimony, which gives you the confidence. Otherwise it is not easy to identify these thoughts with your mind. Because right no we are the mind. We don’t have anything else but the mind. So in the beginning when you stop thinking, it seems like you are dying. It is an experience similar to death.

L: So when that starts happening, it’s a bit scary.

S: Yes. But this is the master key. All yoga, all systems of yoga and spirituality revolves around this idea. They all have different names for different things- some are more body oriented, mind oriented. But you find something that can take you from your situation, where they are. Because everybody is at a different stage. You have to devise the technique, but mediation is the goal.

L: So with the eight limbed path, you can take the steps or not. Like for you, mediation worked. You didn’t need start with the yamas, niyamas or asanas. Do you feel like people can come to that state in anyway.

S: Yes, you don’t need to follow that step by step or do asana. But I am telling you, if you have eaten too much and you try to meditate, of course you will fall asleep! Yoga has already said don’t eat too much or you will fall asleep in meditation. Once you meditate and you know that, you avoid that.

L: So some people just need coaching on how to improve the technique. Like some people might not know their own body, so they need to start with the asana. But you had this understanding before you began to study.

S: Yes. And when we talk about niyamas, this can come when you start getting to known yourself and experience consciousness in us. The realization comes that consciousness if not only in me, but consciousness is in other people. And compassion comes too. Like earlier, I was so identified with my body and mind, and this is the situation with other people too. Behavior reflects this. If a person doesn’t know [ about the yoga path] you can understand by his behavior. He doesn’t have this perspective on life, he doesn’t have this experience. Instead of getting, let’s say violent, you have a compassion toward the person. So you are automatically following the nonviolence. And this is not practiced- it has come to your through your experience and understanding. The truthfulness. Why would you lie? If we are all the same, we are having this journey of life, there is no difference between yo and other people. So there is no need to be untruthful. This understanding slowly, slowly comes. You get to know you experience when you follow these yamas, these restrictions. You also feel that it helps you in your meditation.

L: So you feel like that comes really naturally?

S: It does, but you have to work. You have to work on your other limbs of yog like yamas and niyamas. It will help you go deeper into meditation. If you work on meditation, it will help you to go deeper into the other limbs as well. Then it won’t be like a rule. Its not like “ Oh, I have to be non violent”, its just like a flower that blossoms and smells. When the understanding in you happens, you are naturally not violent. It’s a part of your life. Initially, you may have to practice, but you should not force anything. It should be a clear understanding why they are there and why they are practiced.

L: Do you think over time, you practice and it will integrate, not necessarily because your practice is making the difference, but the mediation is driving it.

S: Yes. Then you don’t practice yog. Yoga is you life. There is no other life.

L: So is that how you feel about your life? Like, do you feel like yog is your life?

S: Yes. So we don’t have separate life now. Of course we are not perfect. But the sense is there, that whatever we do, the limbs, the niyamas and yamas, automatically get integrated in your life. Whenever you have to make a decision, automatically inside you might have a duality, like what should I do or not do? Automatically you prefer to go toward these guidelines. Automatically, you tend to follow them.

L : I like that. Because the way that I have read it and been taught is that it is sequential is that it starts with the yamas, you know? Like start here. And I think that is more a cultural bias, like we are taught to think in a linear way.

S: They are not steps, they all go together.

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This is part one of a two part interview with Surendra. Stay tuned for next week to see the second part of the interview and read more about Surendra’s yog journey.

Reflecting on the Un-Wellness of Wellness Culture

WARNING: A lot of this post is personal reflection. If you aren’t feeling that today, save it for another time!

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A calming lavender photo. (C) Rosh Jaypalan

Culturally, wellness is marketed as a routine to mold your body, adjust your mind and pump you full of vitamins and nutrients. Wellness is bout living the good life- or at least looking like you are. Our cultures define how we see the world. This process happens early on in our development, and we don’t have say in it. One reason I love traveling is that it consistently challenges my worldview, and it ultimately makes me a better person.

Shoving 8 zucchinis, a pinch of spirulina and charcoal into your smoothie bowl will not make you a better person. It may even make you feel more stressed out about your life.

I lived in India for 10 weeks, working a contract job and required a lot of my attention. I was surprised that, despite my stressful and sometimes hectic schedule, I kept a really regular yoga practice. I also wasn’t obsessed with what I was eating- I tried to find a mindful balance. But I certainly wasn’t counting calories and weighing up the amount of macro minerals I should be consuming. And you know what? My body felt good. My mind felt good. And then I came home.

I immediately went to the grocery store and stocked up on produce, chia seeds, peanut butter, vegan yogurt, cereal, and almonds. I realized that I bought so much produce that I would need to strategize exactly how to use it without it rotting away in the kitchen. Enter: Stress over food due to too much choice.

I have to admit that I get a bit too intense about food. Green smoothies packed with spinach, chia, yogurt and fruit? Yep. Green soup pack with 7 veggies? Nailed it. Cookies made from chickpeas? I go there too! The bottom line is that I pay a lot of attention to what I put in my system- maybe too much attention. I realized that a great thing about living abroad is that I didn’t worry about food. I ate when I was hungry, and I made due with the choices I was given. Although I do love cooking, this lifted a huge amount of stress away from me deciding what I was going to eat and how much “wellness” I could pack into it. And the focus away from wellness, but rather on just living, made me feel more relaxed, focused and grounded. Life lesson: Exploring the culinary adventures that health food offers is great, but focusing too much on eating said healthy food is actually unhealthy. Release the obsession with “healthy” food, and eat moderately.

I also noticed that as soon as I came home, I began to generate “to-do” lists in my head. Suddenly, social events I was looking forward to and calls with friends seemed like chores. Why?

As I stepped back into my home culture, the expectations to be productive immediately stepped into my own mind. I realized that while traveling and living abroad, I was able to release this invisible cultural pressure of always looking busy, looking forward and being as productive as a robot on the factory line. I also realized that operating in this way sucks the joy out of what life is really about: people, love, connection, learning, and maintain relationships.

I also noticed that I preferred to do only one activity at a time, versus about five. At home, I often run while listening to music. When I came back, I observed a strong inclination to run without music. Just to run, enjoy the environment, and relax. I didn’t want to do two things at once: I just wanted to stay present in one.

Shoving 8 zucchinis, a pinch of spirulina and charcoal into your smoothie bowl will not make you a better person. It may even make you feel more stressed out about your life. Let’s be real here: we live in a competitive society, where appearance (physical and social) carry heavy weight. There is an underlying theme of looking busy, staying busy, and therefore somehow being successful. Planning ahead to the point of where your mind is consistently in the future and not in the present does do make you happy. Staying in the present, appreciating what is there, and ultimately releasing control over a situation is what made me feel happier. It just so happened that I had to travel to another culture to realize it.

Wellness culture and the culture of productivity are not the rules of life. Follow your own rules and find your balance.

 

So what if you aren’t traveling away and may have a hard time identifying these things?

Stay mindful, and be aware that culture is a powerful thing. Wellness culture and the culture of productivity are not the rules of life. Follow your own rules and find your balance.

Are you a traveler? What have you learned about yourself?

 

Yoga and Schedules: Making Time for your Practice

I am currently in India running a service program for high school-aged students. The days are long and the work can be intense- let’s just say a lot can happen with 25 kids in a foreign country. Despite the packed schedule and the need for me to occupy multiple job roles simultaneously, I have kept a regular yoga practice. This is somewhat surprising- when life gets busy, usually self-care takes a back seat to other responsibilities. Why does yoga remain stable in such a busy schedule?

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Yoga helps you deal with intensity in your schedules, mind, and life! A physical yoga practice reduces stress and is beneficial to our nervous system. It literally keeps you calm and cool in intense and high stress situations. But getting to the point where your yoga flows into your busy schedule takes some effort toward developing effective habits. Follow the steps below to insert yoga into your schedule and habits!

  1. Start Small to Avoid Burnout

When you first started to practice yoga, did you cram in as much yoga as you could? If you are anything like me, you like to really go for it. That is a great quality, but in yoga, it can quickly lead to burnout. Yoga practice requires dedication and patience. Attending as many classes a week as you can may improve you physically, but has the tendency to exhaust your mentally. Start your yoga practice small, but attending classes 3 times a week or taking 20 minutes out of your day specifically for yoga. Note that this practice may be physical, meditative or breath based!

  1. Listen to Your Body

When schedules get busy, our focus shifts outward vs. inward. This can affect your ability to listen to what your body needs and wants. Yoga practice facilitates the connection between the mind and body naturally, but being aware of how you are doing mentally and physically can help speed up the process. Take a minute or two out of your day and ask yourself “ How am I doing? What do I need?”. These two simple questions are a great way to start strengthening your awareness around your body.

  1. Make it a Ritual

This is probably the most challenging aspect of inserting yoga into your scheduled life. It starts as an interest, morphs into a habit and eventually becomes a ritual. A ritual is an act repeated in consistent way. It isn’t mindless, but you don’t question it as being a part f your day or your schedule. I’m not going to lie: this takes good old-fashioned time and effort. By starting small, your will set the platform to continue a goo habit and make it permanent. Yoga makes it easy in this way- when you do it, you feel better.

Take a minute or two out of your day and ask yourself “ How am I doing? What do I need?”.

Life gets busy and intense, and a yoga practice us always there to help us adapt. Use yoga as a tool to improve your body and behavior during the intense times. Trying out these simple techniques can lead to great results. You may be surprised at where the path takes you!

Five Important Things I learned at Yoga Teacher Training

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I recently completed a 300-hour yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India. The training was packed into a 30-day period, and the days were long and intensive. I learned what every teacher should in a training: alignment, anatomy, and philosophy, as well as a few unexpected things. It is safe to say I am moving on with more personal and professional knowledge than when I came in!

  1. There is Such a Thing as Too Much Yoga

When I first went into the training, I was excited to build on my knowledge of Hatha yoga, and to learn Ashtanga! For six days a week, we practiced for five hours a day. At first this felt hardcore and great- it took dedication to attend, the classes and to feel muscles that you didn’t know where there. But then in week three, I began to feel very tired. And proceeded to get sick. In order to heal, I had to is out of classes and let me body rest. It was then that I realized I had been doing too much yoga for my body. This isn’t a great thing to admit to the ego- you want to feel powerful, perhaps invincible, and it never feel good to have that illusion shaken. But bottom line- your health comes first. Practicing to the point of exhaustion isn’t good for the mind or body, and unfortunately it is our health that pays for it. Take home point: always listen to your body, and learn to let go of the ego when it comes to just how much you can (and should) practice!

  1. Your Fellow Teachers are Just as Valuable as the Classes

Throughout the training, we had some incredibly informative courses ranging from yogic philosophy to anatomy. I learned a lot from the teachers and classes, but the most diverse, valuable source of knowledge came from my fellow classmates. We spent a lot of time together in personal and professional settings, and the diversity and skills of every person provided an incredible platform to learn and grow. Every single person on the course taught me something I didn’t know and made me a better yoga teacher. There is no way you can make a class from this- it is the product of dedicated, passionate people coming together for a common purpose.

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The awesome yoga crew.
  1. Pushing Your Boundaries Helps You Learn More About Yourself

Yoga Teacher Training pushes you. Sometimes, it downright sucks. As noted above in regards to your health, this is not always an easy line to identify. In fact, most of the time you step over the line in one way or another, by either holding back and not reaching it, or overstepping it. The silver lining in this challenge is that you learn more about yourself: you limits, strengths, and weaknesses, and where you would like to improve in the future. This process is far from comfortable and I found it challenging and frustrating. However, every discomfort and fear makes you better, stronger, and more in tune with yourself. These situations happen in everyones life without attending a yoga teacher training, but there is something about traveling abroad and 14-hour days that seem to accelerate the process! This is truly the magic of a program- limits are pushed, and you learn how to deal.

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Early morning cleansing.
  1. There is No Perfect, just Practice

People are drawn to yoga for different reasons. Maybe to get a healthier body, a slimmer body, or to find mental peace. Others go for a spiritual side. One thing that I have realized on this course is that there is not no perfect, no peak we must reach. A yoga practice is a constant fluctuation, where ups and down define the experience. The most valuable part of a yoga practice you can have are different tools to adjust to these fluctuations and give yourself the practice you need to be the best you can be.

  1. Reflection is Integral to Integration

Yoga teacher training is packed with information and long days. It is mentally and physically strenuous, and reflecting on the day and new information you have received may take a back seat to sleeping or basic self-care. Despite the time constraints, it is important to reflect on the information, experience and how you are personally feeling every other day. This will help you decompress and assimilate valuable information and integrate it into your personal and professional practice.

Yoga Teacher Trainings teach you a lot in a very limited time from. Of course you learn a lot about yoga, but you also are forced to learn about yourself. What have you learned in teacher training or though your practice? What has this taught you? Share your thoughts!

Yoga For Nature: A Global Yoga Community Inspiring Deeper Connection with Nature

Yoga fosters a deeper connection between the body and the mind. Can it help foster a deeper connection to nature as well?

The Yoga For Nature community and its founder, Phil Dickenson, thinks so.

I recently spoke with Phil to learn more about him and Yoga For Nature. Read on to hear Phil’s story and understand the purpose of his non-profit, Yoga For Nature, to exemplify how yoga can promote action for positive change for the community and environment.

Inspiring Action: The Roots of Yoga for Nature

It all started in savasana.

Phil Dickenson was attending a yoga class to focus on quieting his mind. During the final resting pose of savasana, a thought popped into his head. Unlike the standard fleeting ideas that often crop up in this restorative pose, this idea would not go away. It stayed lit like a light bulb and stayed in Phil’s mind for the rest of the evening. So he slept on it.

The next day, this thought became an idea, and “Yoga For Nature” was officially born.

Yoga For Nature is a straightforward concept: the yoga community (including practitioners and studio owners) supports exceptional conservation projects all over the world by attending regular Yoga For Nature classes. The classes then generate funds that go directly to conservation organizations, most often in the form of providing digital media support (such as filmography and photography) to help share an organization’s story and educate people of the cause.

Stories are powerful. In the current digital media age, it is vital for conservation organizations to have a platform to tell their story and to have the story reach a large audience, ultimately connecting people to the organizations and their specific causes. Yoga For Nature provides a platform for these stories with the support of the yoga community

Phil’s Story

The initial stubborn thought of Yoga For Nature has roots in much of Phil’s life. Since the age of 14, Phil found himself empathetic to animals and became a vegetarian. This interest further blossomed in a curiosity about animals as well as their ecosystems, and was further refined by an interest in marine life and a love for surfing. After studying art theory and painting, he became involved in the digital media side of art: filming, directing and producing television shows. He led a successful life in a popular field, but felt something wasn’t right. He quit his job, grabbed a surfboard and traveled the world for two years to take a break.

This is who I am. My values are represented by yoga.

After his travels, Phil returned to the television industry, and developed a yoga practice to cope with the demands of the industry. As with many people who come to yoga, he was first interested in a physical practice and quickly opened to the idea of yoga philosophy. “This is who I am. My values are represented by yoga,” said Phil, noting the personal connection to his yoga practice. He earned his yoga teaching certification and aims to live a yogic lifestyle beyond the mat.

Nature and the Yoga Community

The concept of “nature” is debated and rooted in cultural and historical contexts. So what does “nature” mean to Phil? “I just read a fascinating book called ‘The Abstract Wild’ which speaks about our ideological concept of nature, and our tendency to curate and define wild spaces in line with our own needs or desires,” he said. “So right now, the nature I’d like to describe is untouched or better still unaffected by us, so flora and fauna are able to support us without suffering and degrading. That’s what Mother Nature wants, to love and support us so we can be together rather than forced apart.”

Yoga For Nature uses a model that focuses on developing relationships to form an interconnected support system, not unlike the support system that, as Phil notes, exists in healthy ecosystems.

That’s what Mother Nature wants, to love and support us so we can be together rather than forced apart

 

So why focus on the yoga community as the root of this support system?

Phil recognizes that conservation is a complex field with complex issues, but noted that the global yoga community is rooted in compassion that, when unified, can make good things happen.

“Storytellers always think about the audience and how a narrative will sit with certain people, that’s nothing new. But when your audience is less defined (i.e. you’re not able to screen to a specific group with shared values and interests) then the response will naturally vary. The fact that Yoga For Nature is pitching certain stories to a certain group of people is one of it’s strongest strategies because the way things are, we don’t want people to be apathetic or mildly interested, we want people to rise up and take action. I believe Yogis aren’t politically swayed or influenced by economics, they’ll assess a story with their heart and their measure of compassion for the story being told will elicit the desired response.”

Basically, yogic principles promote a healthy relationship with the environment, and yogis are already connected to a global community that can make a difference. And that is some good Karma!

International Yoga Day is coming up on June 21st! Why not celebrate the day with Yoga For Nature?
Learn more about Yoga For Nature and connect with its founder, Phil, here.
Interested in joining the community and supporting Yoga for Nature? Get involved here.
Follow Yoga For Nature on Facebook and Instagram! Don’t forget to show you love via hashtag @ #yogafornature!
Want to see more? Check out what yogis have helped support by watching the video below!

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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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