Enough time has passed now since my yoga teacher training course (TTC) at the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyardam, Kerala, for me to be able to write about the program, less-emotion. The program was one month long, and classes were held six days a week from Saturday-Thursday, 6am until 10/10:30pm. So, to say the least, the course was very intense, which was very good at times, and very bad at other times. But, I after taking some time to decompress, I can honestly say I learned a lot there, and enjoyed the time I spent during the training and feel as though I have made invaluable friendships. Despite the difficult times, I would highly recommend this course to others and am even considering returning in a few years for the advanced teacher training.
At times, I really hated the program, hated the strict discipline, and the pressure the staff put on us, but coming out of a situation like that makes everything else seem like a cake walk. The program was like yoga boot camp, and it is not for the light of heart. Because of my diet and lifestyle at home, I am generally a calm, relaxed person (no I was not always like this but yoga and veganism really changed my demeanor) but during the course of the program I was often frustrated, angry, impatient, and emotional. But this is all part of the program, and it probably was necessary for me to release these emotions in a controlled environment for self improvement.
Towards the third week and into the fourth week, I really started feeling joyful, and stopped worrying about the things that were bothering me, I just let them all go, and enjoyed the time I had with my new friends. Believe it or not, I am still struggling to believe it, but I cried on the day I was leaving to be leaving. I actually wanted to stay another week or two. Maybe all the lack of sleep was really making me crazy…
But anyway, I will now I will tell you a little more about the program.
So, the program costs about $2400 give or take depending on the sort of accommodation you choose. This was a little pricier than some other yoga programs in India, but a little less than many programs in the west. Plus, Sivananda is very, very well known, and after this course, you will be connected into a strong, worldwide lineage. There are Sivananda ashrams and centers around the world, and the course is well known and called by some the “Harvard of yoga schools.”
As mentioned before, the schedule is rigorous, so here was my typical day:
5:20 Morning Bell
5:45 Actually rolling out of bed after my roommates all checked that was awake, thanks guys you know me well!
6:00-7:30 Satsang – Meditation, chanting, and lecture. No, you cannot leave early, there are people watching at the door.
7:30 Chai time! Before this, I completely gave up caffeine, but seriously, I needed it here. Since there were other vegans around, they always had black tea available as well as milk tea, sweetened and unsweetened, perfect!
7:45 Run to my room to change my uniform pants into comfortable pants for asana practice.
8:00-10:00 Asana practice, or teaching class.
10:00-11:00 Bruch, meaning stuff yourself because this is the first and largest meal of the day.
11:00 Karma yoga, I cleaned the toilets in the girls dorm. Really, what did I do in my past life to deserve this one, I don’t really want to know.
11:30-12:00 Short break time if I finished cleaning early, and usually I attempted to get a juice or some fresh fruit from the health hut, sometimes I showered at this point in the day, and I had to make sure to get back into uniform for lecture.
12:00-1:00 Lecture on chanting or Baghavad Gita, not going to lie, I did my homework for the next class during this class, yes we had homework daily.
1:00 Headstand practice, still working on this one, inversion postures are slow for me due to fear.
1:30 Herbal tea and a snack, sometimes a snack of fruit if you were fast and there was enough for everyone.
2:00-3:30 Main lecture, on yoga philosophy or anatomy, this was usually a very interesting course.
3:30-4:00 Quick change for asana class and running back to get a good spot. This is if the lecture didn’t run late which it often did…
4:00-6:00 Asana class, much needed for the constant sitting on the floor. My favorite class of the day.
6:00 Dinner, often a light meal, sometimes very pathetic actually.
6:30-8:00 Free time, if you can believe it, except it didn’t feel very free, as I usually had some personal things to attend to. Sometimes I used wifi, went to the store to pick up toiletries, went to reception to take care of my finances, or did laundry. On rare occasion I made it to the health hut for a juice if I hadn’t gone earlier in the day, but if you don’t run after dinner, or even skip dinner, there was often no hope to get any food at the health hut.
8:00-10:00 Satsang – meditation, chanting, and lecture, or a special program. We had some great programs during this time including local dancers, and musicians, and we had our talent show once a week which was always great fun.
10:30 Lights out, and bedtime. I fell right asleep, just to repeat over again!
Here are our teachers in the main lecture hall.
- This particular course was open to language groups with translators, so we had groups from all over the world, which made for some interesting dynamics. It really was like a big happy international community living together in harmony, usually. But there was good opportunity for language and cultural exchange, when we had the time.
- The asana courses we practiced one or two times daily were amazing. The style is hatha yoga, and if you have ever done bikram yoga, you will understand this practice. At first, many, myself included, were bored of practicing the same 12 postures without variation two times a day, but as we added in more variation, I began to enjoy, and even crave the sequence. I still practice the sequence in the proper order daily (or every few days) and I find it nice to have something that I know well to come back to without having to put too much thought into what I am doing. The whole point of the yoga asanas is to clear the mind, so over thinking in personal practice can be a block to this goal. Plus, the sequence is set in such a way to stimulate the chakras in order, and also to stretch the spine properly with postures and counter postures, so the practice they taught us was very beneficial and practical.
- In the west we often think of yoga as asana practice (the movements), but this course really gave a traditional approach to yoga. Some students in the course did not like this, as much of the traditional aspects of yoga are rooted in Hinduism, however, I think it was wonderful to learn about the roots of yoga, and about the traditional philosophy and practice. I think it is important to be able to incorporate some of these teachings and ideas into my teaching in the west, somehow without scaring everyone away thinking I am some sort of chanting religious fanatic, hmmm…
- The talent show! Weekly we had a talent show, and usually this is not my sort of thing since I am quite talentless, but we made this really fun, and it was a great way to get out all of the extra energy I somehow developed due to lack or sleep, or prana (life force aka yogic energy) or whatever it was. I was dancing on the side with some people like a crazy woman, but really this was a good revelation for me, because a year or two ago I would not have believed dancing in such a way while completely sober was possible.
- The course was filled with kind, open, loving people. My friends that I met at program were truly amazing and I am glad to have connected with so many people interested in living a yoga lifestyle. Without the support of others the course would have been a lot more difficult.
- The food was sometimes very repetitive, and lacking in variety and nutrition. Often only one portion of vegetable was served, with as much rice and white potatoes as you liked. Considering the amount of money I paid for this program, I was disappointed and frustrated to be eating white rice and white potatoes so often.
- If you were dissatisfied with the food, there was a “health hut” offering fruits, juices, and snacks, but you had to use your own money, and the opening times were so limited for TTC students. And when I did make it there, there was a huge cue and the staff there often could not handle the mass of orders.
- The course focused on Vedanta, which is yoga philosophy. This in itself is not bad, I loved learning about the spiritual side of yoga and Vedanta, however this left little time for actual teaching practice. I would have loved to learn to teach more and I think that some people were not prepared to teach leaving this course.
- The chanting was pretty pathetic. At home, I do kirtan with my lovely teacher who has an amazing voice and an enthusiastic community of chanters around her. At home, we sing, and we dance, and we have so much fun, but most importantly, chanting in such a way with pure devotion leaves me in a meditative state. Chanting to me is again a vehicle for deep meditation, and even though I was skeptical of the religious aspect at first, I have grown to love and enjoy kirtan very much. At the Sivananda ashram, we were not permitted to dance, and even the swamis (with few exceptions) did not seem to chant with love and devotion. It seemed more like a chore when we chanted, and this made me really sad. It also made me sad because many westerners had not been exposed to kirtan the way I have been, and they all really hated chanting, because of the way that we chanted. What a shame. Towards the end of the program when I was filled with prana (energy), or just lack or sleep making me crazy, I stopped caring about the rules and hid in the side with a few other naughty ones and we made our own fun chanting, so whatever!
- The wake up bell rang at 5:20 every morning and we had to be at morning satsang at 6am sharp. There were attendance checkers waiting for you to sign in, and if you missed more than one or two scheduled classes ever, someone would talk to you about your attendance. But, if for some reason you didn’t get up in the morning, like if you were sick or just plain exhausted from the grueling schedule, someone would come around to your bed and say “om” in your ear until you woke up. I am an adult, if I don’t get up, leave me be! And if I am sick or just trying to sneak in one hour of sleep, the last thing I need is to be woken up. Also, it seemed as some of the staff took pleasure in waking us up as well, and did it in quite an obnoxious manner.
- We were asked, and it was enforced, that we all follow strict discipline and if we were even a minute late for class we would be marked as such. However, the lectures often went overtime leaving us with even less of our valuable free time. It felt like the lecturers did not respect our time, even though respect was demanded from us.
- Which brings me to the point of ego. The teachings of the course, and the strict structure, was to break down the ego, for many reasons, but quite simply put, to attain high levels of inner peace, to encourage selfless service, and to bring us closer to the divine, or to self realization however you want to see it. But many times, it felt like members of the staff, and some of the swamis needed some work on their egos, and sometimes it seemed that they enjoyed their power over us a little too much. But hey, as one of my friends in the program said “if I point one finger at you, I have four pointing back at me” so maybe my big ego and theirs just didn’t vibe so well, however, I still think that there were people who practiced what they preached a little more.
- They watched us on film to make sure we were really attending class, and not leaving early. Seriously? Was this a prison, or drug rehab center??
Even writing this, I have really forgotten all the bad and look back at my memory of the course fondly. In reality, it was only a month, and I can do anything for a month, plus I have grown so much after this course that it all seemed worthwhile. If you would like to know more about this course I would be glad to share with you, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me in the comments below.
Have you completed the Sivananda course? How was your experience? Did you complete another teacher training in India? What did you think of your course?