If you’ve ever met me, you probably know I’m a little bit nuts.
To describe me as “Type A” would be an understatement, and sometimes I’m amazed how my anxiety seemingly knows no bounds.
When I started yoga shortly after moving to Malaysia in 2010, it was a means for exercise and a productive way to fill some free time in a new country. Then, when I started my India trip a year later, it became a “when in Rome” activity to experience this ancient tradition in its native land. But as I made my way through India, taking different yoga classes, visiting temples, witnessing pujas, studying meditation and philosophy, I began to see a bigger picture. Yoga and meditation became more than a means to physical fitness but a means to mental fitness as well and a desperately sought solution to achieve some calm in my life. I resolved that I would end my trip with a stay in a yoga ashram and see what would happen.
At the end of 2011, I found myself at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram. While I was only there for five days, it was everything I expected and more. The setting was lush and isolated, and the holistic discipline of limited vegetarian meals, meditation and minimal sleep in addition to four hours of daily asana (pose) practice left me feeling mentally and physically stronger than I’d felt in a long time. I knew then that I had to return a do a month-long teacher training program to explore this further.
Unfortunately, my single-entry, three-month visa was almost out, and India’s strict visa regulations required that I wait two months before returning to the country. But I was determined and vowed to travel around Asia for a few months and return later in the year.
I finally returned to India in July 2012, though this time to the Association for Yoga and Meditation in Rishikesh, a city considered to be the yoga capital of the world, with a course with good reviews that was a better fit for my (now much smaller) budget. This would be my last adventure before my big trip home, and I thought it would be a great way to end my Asia experience.
I wish I could say my month in Rishikesh was full of peace, love and butterflies amidst days of handstands, backbends and perfect splits but that was, in fact, far from reality.
As usual, I had set very “realistic” goals for myself.
Yes, I had only been doing yoga for less than two years. Yes, I had been a bit lazy in my yoga practice the past few months. Yes, my arms were about as strong as spaghetti noodles. But, damn it, I was going to walk out of this 200-hour yoga teacher training course as a yoga master, complete with perfect splits, headstands and a gumby-like back to compete with any contortionist. Not only that, my newfound meditation and concentration skills would make me one zen, totally-enlightened bad ass. THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.
Well, clearly, that plan didn’t quite work out as I wanted it to. Though our teacher, Mahesh, had warned us not to overdo things early on, my ego and ambition led me to systematically overstretch every single group of muscles in my body on a rotating weekly basis. First, it was my shoulders, then my hamstrings, then my back and so on and so on. There were seriously weeks where it seemed half my asana classes were spent in child’s pose, resting the damaged muscles du jour.
Additionally, I found it emotionally very taxing. Perhaps it was failing the high expectations I had set for myself. Perhaps it was the growing anxiety about returning home after more than two years overseas. Perhaps it was being forced to look inward and examine my thoughts during daily breathing and meditation courses. Whatever the case, I was not the zen little nun I had sought out to be.
If yoga is meant to humble you in the face of a greater power, I certainly got that part down.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a perfect yogi in order to teach yoga, you just have to finish your course. While my asanas and meditation skills were not progressing as fast as I would have liked them to, my knowledge of the practice deepened significantly. In addition to the poses and meditation, we studied breathing (“pranayama”), yogic cleansing techniques (“kriyas”), philosophy, teaching and more. While I might not have been able to stand on my head, I did learn how to teach someone else to do it as well as why they should do it and how to do it safely. I also learned a whole lot of crazy cleansing and breathing techniques, and at one point, was able to hold my breath for a minute and a half.
By the end of the month, I was nowhere near my earlier goals, but I was much improved and actually did get my splits back. What I came to understand that month was yoga is not a destination but a journey that takes a lifetime. Philosophically, it’s a journey to God. On a more practical level, it’s a tool for mental and physical discipline that can bring you great joy and peace in life.
While I’m still a little bit nuts, I think I covered good ground that month and plan to help others on their own journeys as I continue along mine.
My next few posts will showcase some of the more entertaining/special moments during my course. Below are some fun photos of my progress during my yoga teacher training course.