For the past month, my schedule has revolved around yoga: kriyas and an hour of meditation after sunrise, asana practice at 8am, breakfast at 10:30, lecture at 11:30, then another lecture at 3:00, followed by asana practice at 5, dinner at 7, and satsang (chanting) until 9pm. Pretty intense! It’s hard to describe what a TTC (teacher training course) is like because it’s a very personal experience. I’ve been trying to find the words for a week now.
My first experiences with yoga were going to class every once in a while with my mom, both of us smoking a cigarette on the way there. This was a chance for us to connect, make faces at each other when the postures were too difficult, or giggle when we said “Have a nice day” instead of namaste. Our favorite part of yoga was always “yoga nap time,” as I used to affectionately call savasana. In college, I took a half semester of yoga and enjoyed it a lot, but I saw it as an easy A.
After I quit smoking, I realized I didn’t have to avoid physical exertion or exercise anymore because I could finally breathe again. When a yoga studio opened up down the street from me, I started going to class 3-4 times a week. All day I would look forward to being on my mat. I remember my teacher telling me after one of my first classes with him that yoga could be seen as a form of exercise, but it could also be so much more.
Five years later, here I am. All the asana classes, workshops, yoga retreats, Bhagavad Gita group discussions, and meditation classes I’ve taken in the past five years have served me well. I feel like I arrived here in the right place at the right time, physically as well as mentally, in order to receive all the knowledge that’s been given to me in the past month.
The TTC experience was a challenging one at first. I had been looking forward to the philosophy lectures the most, thinking that my asana practice was already strong. It’s funny how life teaches you lessons, though, because two days into the program I started to have joint pain, headaches, extreme exhaustion, and strange rashes. All the weariness and pain I felt, I realize now, was a great way to force me to slow down and be more humble about my practice. I started off the month very strong and flexible, and was quickly broken down to barely being able to get through the morning asana class. In this way, I “unlearned” everything I so confidently thought I had known.
Traditional Hatha yoga is so very different from Western styles of yoga. After my first lecture class, I finally understood what my teacher meant when he said that my practice could be “so much more.” Studying Hatha yoga, I realized that the asanas are such a small part of the overall practice of yoga. Our daily asana practices didn’t make me that much better at the postures, (although I finally held peacock pose for a few seconds yesterday!) but it did make me a better yogini. As my teacher said to me this month, “Your flexibility is not your yoga.”
In Traditional Hatha, the first 40 minutes of class is spent chanting, breathing, and warming up for postures. The primary purpose of the 12 postures we do is to make the spine flexible enough to be able to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Although I’m far away from meditating for hours, I feel like I at least have the guidebook for getting there. I came to India looking for something like this, without any plan at all, and it fell right into my lap. Yogis would say it’s my karma.
This month has been a trying one: my physical body has been tested, I’ve had to question long-held beliefs about myself, and have been moved to tears unexpectedly. At times I’ve felt like an old woman with creaky hips, and at other times like a child again. I have been cranky, angry, joyful, and serene, and have had experiences I can’t explain with logic. I’ve befriended a street dog who now follows me around constantly, sleeping on the porch with one of my sandals in the bed with her.
I’ve decided to continue on this path for a little while longer, and am now headed to the Sivananda Ashram outside of Trivandrum for the next week or two (or three).