Rishikesh is renowned as the yoga capital of the world, and it lives up to this title. The number of yoga schools in this one city is astounding. Most offer some variation of the same thing, with the quality of the teachers and the school, the type of yoga, as well as the personality of the place, being the true deciding factors. The issue is you can’t know any of that for sure until you arrive. I was lucky to choose what turned out to be a fantastic school, Vinyasa Yoga Shala, for my 200hr yoga teacher training.
I realise now that I didn’t truly know what yoga was before I arrived. I didn’t know that yoga was a philosophy where the physical practice, or asana (yoga in the West is simplified to this), is traditionally meant to strengthen the body to be able to sit in meditation. I thought yoga and meditation were separate things! The course proved to be an immensely transformative time where I learnt to love the practice I had barely been introduced to.
Yes, we practiced asana for over 3 hours every day, and the focus was on strengthening and opening the body, on correct alignment. My body ached often, especially at the start, as the classes were intense, pushing our bodies to their limits. But we also studied mantra, pranayama, meditation, anatomy, the chakras, and philosophy: all of which I went into with limited knowledge.
Learning and chanting the mantras daily introduced an oral aspect to my practice that hadn’t previously existed. Mantras are a great way to focus the mind and the vibrations felt in the body when chanting as a group are powerful. Pranayama is, in simple terms, breathing exercises. Going into depth as to why we do them and learning different techniques which each have their own impact on the mind and body was fascinating. Learning the centrality of meditation in yoga was a big revelation for me. My time at the school has convinced me to continue meditating daily, making time for myself.
Philosophy was the most powerful class for me. Here, we learnt how all the other aspects of yoga come together under the yogic philosophies. Our eyes were opened to the long history of yoga, the many different schools of philosophy related to it, and the numerous different approaches to these philosophies. We wrapped our heads around karma, reincarnation, and Samadhi, or the higher mental state which yoga aims to reach. It was fascinating, finding a whole philosophy of life in this practice which I thought was only physical.
Learning the content was one thing, but the people teaching us were what made it all the more powerful. Each and every one of them was dedicated, passionate, and caring. Ashish and Vikas were incredible practitioners of asana themselves, so their demonstrations were perfect. They pushed our bodies hard, but we all discovered strength in ourselves which we didn’t know existed, and we all saw progress in our practice. Tanu, newly married to Ashish, was a beautiful woman inside and out. She taught us meditation and pranayama and was like a mother to us. Sadhu taught us philosophy, but also embodied what he taught. He was so welcoming and accepting, an incredible teacher who had the patience to explain everything in the most minute detail and the passion to keep us all interested.
These teachers weren’t the only people with things to teach. The students were an international group of varying ages and experiences, all with fascinating lives and knowledge to share with us. They were all amazing people on different journeys but sharing this month together brought us all so close.
Inevitably, the month was not all easy and enlightening. To begin with, we sat in class and for meals (i.e. all day) sitting crossed legged on the floor, or at most on a cushion. This was extremely difficult in the first week as our muscles weren’t used to sitting in that way for such a long period of time. My legs, hips, and back were so stiff and it took a lot of time for each day to feel easier not harder. But sitting in this way is better for posture, and good practice for meditation.
Also, all of us got ill in some way, some a lot worse than others. I had a cold and what we believe was a virus which affected half our group. One girl got dengue, another typhoid.
Finally, there was a situation the teachers had to deal with which impacted our studies. The changes weren’t always easy, but it was a great lesson in acceptance, a core value in yoga, and only further proved the virtue of our teachers, who did their utmost to ensure things went as smoothly as possible. They thought of us at every turn, and we were all so thankful for that.
My time with Vinyasa Yoga Shala was a transformative, emotional rollercoaster which taught me so much about yoga, myself, and how to live my life. I met so many incredible people, both students and teachers. I’m certain I will be back.