I have come to the conclusion that Yoga in the city is a quick fitness fix. Not at all as immersive as I always thought it would be. All that talk about ‘yoga is meant to refresh your soul,’ etc. etc. had to have some truth to it. Right? But in all the city sessions I went to over the past 4 years, the classes conducted by yoginis focused on fast paced asanas mainly. That refreshing feeling they say you get was totally non-existent. All I felt at the end of the class was exhaustion from an intense workout wherein dance, cardio, weight and functional training are all rolled into a 60 minute session. This did absolutely nothing for my mental health.
The exhaustion I felt – I used to think it was just me and my low stamina levels. Still I went for it thinking in time, it will work for me, also to have all those workout forms rolled into one. But after a few years, it started getting to me. The superficiality of it. I had a feeling that Yoga in its true sense was much more and I wanted to find out.
A yoga retreat perhaps? Yes and I did try that out in my last trip of 2016; a yoga retreat at the Andaman Island of Havelock. While it was a mesmerising experience to be with Lezlie, and her Kundalini practice helped me identify my trust issues, I needed to develop my own practice too. So I dug deeper and discovered the teacher training course.
A 28-day grilling course that promised to dunk me into the art, physics, physiology and science of yoga. The course description looked way too intense, yet it was clearly not just for teaching aspirants. I figured doing this course would give me a good headway into a personal immersive practice I had been craving for.
I chose Kerala over the trendier Mysore. A subconscious decision, a good one. From Trivandrum, an hour’s drive to Neyyar Dam is the Sivananda Ashram where I was stationed along with 98 fellow practitioners for a little over 30 days.
The Physical Practice
Four hours of pranayama and asana practice, two hours of meditation, two hours of Bhakti yoga, six hours of Jnana Yoga, two hours of homework and two hours of Karma Yoga. That’s 18 hours of being up and about, every day for 28 days. I was left with six hours to manage wisely for laundry, sleep, eating and socialise; there was no time to think. A good thing that.
Waking up at 4.50 am was a first for me. Sitting through all those hours of lectures on subjects ranging from anatomy, physiology to astral planes and chakras; you’d often find me nodding off – more out of exhaustion than boredom as the subjects were super intriguing. The teachers made them so engaging. Sessions were almost always peppered with stories from the Mahabharata, personal anecdotes to elucidate the Vedic verses and seasoned with crazy punch lines by fellow classmates, cracking silly ‘vedantic’ jokes or passing around forbidden treats from home.
And come Friday, the only day we could step out of the ashram gates and explore nearby sights and sounds – we sure made the most of those – swimming in a crocodile lake (no it wasn’t a dare, we came to know about the crocodiles much later!), spending hours playing tag with the waves at Varkala and Kovalam.
I am glad I chose the Sivananda TTC in hindsight. It was the same 200 hours of yoga, the same asanas but with a genuine four-fold focus on Yoga beyond asanas. Our teacher Sandeep Sir said, “You may achieve the toughest postures in yoga, but if your mind is not calm, then what’s the point of yoga?” He revealed that the sole purpose of the asana practice was to help us sit comfortably for longer hours in practicing mindlessness – meditation.
Oh the food! Before getting to the ashram, I had mentally prepared myself for saltless, tasteless, flavourless meals. After all isn’t that what yogis sustain themselves on? I am happy to report that that is a huge myth. The yummiest of red rice, the tastiest of rasam, sambar, avial, dosals, iddiappams and more. I don’t remember a dish being repeated even once. And on festive days, which we saw quite a few of, it was so difficult to resist the temptation of those grand meals on a banana leaf with over 30 varieties of sweet and savoury foods to try. We would head out of the dinner/ lunch hall much later, as we were stuck between second and third and fourth helpings!
The Mental Practice
This 30-day course was the first thing I did after quitting my job. That job caused me a lot of mental stress and a huge dent in the career I had planned for myself in the travel industry. I was glad I quit but I was also lost. See the way life teaches you not to get ahead of yourself. See the way it pushes you towards self-healing.
I know now that the pranayama, advanced pranayama, shat kriyas and fasting sessions were instrumental in sorting a lot of my mental, emotional issues. I remember sir saying, “Don’t worry if you feel sad, feel like crying after today’s session. Let it all come up. The knots in your astral bodies are opening up, and with that all the pain you have been holding on to is being released.”
And that truly happened with me. Painful things resurfaced from way back in my past that I thought I had completely forgotten. It was so overwhelming that for a while I was scared and confused why this sudden attack. And then the following sessions helped calm and let go. The way this course has helped me – a seemingly sorted human being – I wish everyone in the would could get access to such a course.
Around the Ashram
A lovely winding, hilly road stretched out on both sides from ashram. One route went towards the Neyyar Dam Wildlife Sanctuary and the other towards the damn. I loved the 5-8km morning runs, the magical silent walks and meditation sessions by the damn and the challenging hikes up to the shiva temple… balm to a healing soul these moments were.
Truckloads of takeaways there have been from this course. Most important of which being that Yoga is so much more than exercise. It was such an overwhelming course that it has taken me over a year to synthesize it in this post. The journey has just begun. I’ll share a photo essay soon to cover so many of the things I haven’t mentioned in this post.
p.s: If you cant make it for a month-long course, go for the yoga vacations they offer. It lasts for as little as three days to 18 days and covers host of the things we learnt in the ttc. Just go, signup. Life changing it will be.