yoga teacher training in india – expectations vs reality

Almost two weeks ago I completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training certification with Nada Yoga School in Rishikesh. Now that I’ve had some time to decompress, here are some thoughts.

Expectations (although, I honestly tried to have as few as possible):
-super healthy vegan diet

-no alcohol, caffeine, or sweets

-several hours of intense physical yoga per day

-a diverse group of people from all over the world

-somewhat “western” accommodations (hot water, wifi, etc.)

-long days, and mental and physical exhaustion

-white rice, heavy soups and cooked dishes (vegetarian, not vegan)

-no caffeine

-no alcohol anywhere in Rishikesh (ok, actually I have heard of one place)

-lots of sweets

-several hours of very technical physical yoga per day (alignment alignment alignment!)

-a diverse group of mostly women from all over the world (but a lot of us from the states and Canada)

-no hot water

-squat toilet

-no wifi in our rooms (just at the school and cafes)

-yoga philosophy classes with an extremely knowledgable, but very eastern-style guru

-meditation classes that are hard to follow sometimes, and minimal instruction around whether or not I’m “doing it right”

-long days, and mental and physical exhaustion

My overall thoughts: 

I did feel myself getting stronger, physically but also mentally. I did poses I’ve never even attempted. I meditated 30 minutes or more every day (from 0 ever before). I learned a lot about the history and philosophy behind a practice that encompasses body mind and soul – a huge shift in understanding about something a month ago I was doing purely for physical exercise.

We did major detoxing. In week 1 when I was one of the first students to successfully do jala neti from mouth to nose I was proud! I couldn’t have predicted that less than 2 weeks later I’d be proud of myself for doing shankprakshalana (going to make everyone google that one…)

Teacher training is intense. From what I’ve heard, that’s universal. Whether you do it in San Francisco or Rishikesh, it’s unlike anything you could have imagined. Bonus points for an AMAZING group of people, many of whom I’ve already traveled with and more still I plan to meet up with further into my trip!




chasing sunrise and waterfalls in rishikesh

Sunday is our day off from yoga. Monday through Saturday we begin asana classes at 6am and end with music classes around 7pm. This Sunday*, we had an optional field trip to Kunjapuri temple, on the top of a mountain with beautiful views. We woke at 3:30am to leave at 4 to catch the sunrise. It was gorgeous. We did Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) in the clouds as the pink sun rose from behind the mountains. We drank delicious, brewed just for us chai tea (my first caffeine in almost 4 weeks!). When we returned home, they had made crepes for breakfast, a treat always, but especially when you have the same porridge and papaya for breakfast every other morning.

After breakfast, 6 of us had decided to find Patna waterfall, and asked for the best directions from a local. She told us to cross Ram Jhula bridge, take a tuk tuk east for a couple kilometers, and then walk about one more kilometer to the waterfall. Simple enough. This was the first of many many times a local would give us totally inaccurate information/directions. It was now about 10am. We decided to take a 10 rupee boat ride across the river instead of walking across the bridge, just for fun. We got in our tuk tuk and were off. At the edge of Rishikesh city limit, the driver stopped, told us to walk about 1 kilometer, and then we’d find the waterfall. We walked and walked, finally asking someone for directions, and he told us to walk about 1 kilometer and we’d find the waterfall.

We did finally find it. Sort of. We found a sign for “Neer Waterfall,” 50 rupees for foreigners. Ok, wrong waterfall, but we’ll take it. The ticket guy told us to walk for about 10 minutes. We walked for about 15, found a snack stand and asked again. Walk for about 10 minutes to get to the waterfall. Ok, keep walking. At this point we are hiking up and ask someone coming down how much further. 3 kilometers. 3 kilometers?! Far stretch from the original 1 our tuk tuk driver had told us. But after about 5 more minutes of walking we were at the waterfall. Every single direction so far has been wrong. But the waterfall was beautiful, and so worth the hike.

We decided that we’d walk to Patna waterfall next. We asked another snack stand guy for directions, and he said to walk about 2 kilometers to a bridge, cross the bridge and we’d be at the waterfall. Easy enough, so we set off walking. Everyone we asked had the same few answers. 2 kilometers, 10 minutes, or 2 minutes. None of these were ever accurate, but each time we decided we had come this far, we’d finish off the day right – at Patna! We wandered by ashrams, local residences, cows, monkeys, snack stands. We asked everyone, and it became a joke that the waterfall would always be “2 minutes that way” (or 2 kilometers). Eventually we did find the bridge. Then we got matching directions from a couple of sources. We knew we were close. When we had walked the last kilometer or so (we were sure) a local told us 3-4 more kilometers! He was messing with us. We found Patna waterfall. And it was amazing too.

We reached the second waterfall at about 4pm. 12 hours from the start of our day, and about 6 from when we began walking. According to my iPhone we walked a little over 10 miles! We took a tourist jeep back to town, because we were exhausted, and at this point we could say we really used all possible modes of transportation in Rishikesh.

It was really an amazing day, though, we all agreed. Our favorite in Rishikesh so far. The day was long and filled with beautiful sights and great people. Our pod of 6 was perfect, we got to know each other more personally. We were all positive, even after the 100th person told us only 2 more kilometers. We rewarded ourselves with an amazing family style Indian dinner at Chatiwala, a well known Indian restaurant in Swargashram (actually two, we went to the second). And the best banana lassi (and most deserved) so far.

After struggling with feeling a bit stagnant here, following the same rigid schedule day after day. After all of the noise of Rishikesh, the barking, the yelling, the constant blaring of horns. It was such a necessary escape into nature. Walking, splashing. Covered in dirt and sweat. Today was an amazing day.

(*I wrote this post about 2 weeks ago)

maharishi mahesh yogi’s ashram (aka “the beatles ashram”)

In 1968, John, Paul, Ringo, and Harrison came to Rishikesh to study transcendental meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (My philosophy teacher at yoga school was also a student of Maharishi Mahesh!) In the early 2000s the ashram closed. The ashram went into ruin, but over the years has also been a canvas for artists from all over the world visiting this world famous and incredibly inspirational place.

I was uncertain about going, but am so glad I did. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in Rishikesh so far. It’s about a 20 minute walk Southwest along the Ganges from Ram Jhula. The cost to enter is 600 rupees, which is about $12 US. Not expensive by normal standards, but when you’re India, 600 rupees is a lot! We had heard that it’s easy to sneak in to avoid paying, but since the Indian government took over (within the last year we heard from a local), they have security patrolling some of the old “sneak in” spots. Probably still possible, but we decided to just pay. We were able to negotiate down to 500 rupees per person since we were a group of 6 (“group discount?” is always worth asking).

The ashram is set away from the rest of the hectic city. It’s huge. The first buildings you see are stone huts that look like igloos. We wandered through them. Some had artwork. Standing in the dome at the top, your voice vibrates in a totally surprising way. We met a local who knew all about the ashram and showed us around. There are bigger, multi level buildings as well that we wandered, admiring the eclectic art. There is a warehouse that feels like a place you should watch live music. There are stone meditation caves. We walked to the top of the tallest building to watch the sunset, and it felt like we could see all of Rishikesh.

Amazing views. Amazing art. Amazing vibes. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram is not to be skipped.

mean monkeys and nice monkeys

There are two types of monkeys in Rishikesh: black faced and red faced. The black monkeys are super sweet. They have a ring of lighter hair around their faces, kind of like a lion. I see them carrying babies a lot. Sitting in small groups, eating bananas or coconuts in harmony. The red monkeys are another story. They steal from each other and humans alike. They’re aggressive and territorial, again with each other and with humans. You see them alone mostly.

The other morning I was walking home from breakfast with a banana in my hand, and looked up to the gate in front of my building to see a red monkey. It’s fine, I thought, it’s just one. And it’s like a foot tall to my almost 6. But I felt it was looking at me, and I made the mistake of accidentally locking eyes. He got down from the gate and started walking towards me, with an attitude like he was a 6’6 guy backing me into a dark alleyway. I screamed and threw my banana and ran in a wide circle to my house. When I got safely inside, I looked out my window and the monkey was enjoying my banana, sitting on my patio. Did the monkey technically steal from me? No. But he scared me into giving him something that was mine. Classic school yard bully.

This is the difference between black and red monkeys in Rishikesh.

first impressions of rishikesh

 I am writing this from the balcony I share with 3 girls in my yoga program. It looks out on the Ganges, and Ram Jhoola bridge which tonight is lit with beautiful, dynamic, colorful lights. I wonder if it is lit every night. In addition to an intense day of what cannot be described as anything but culture shock, I am extremely jet lagged, and despite being very short on sleep still, I am wide awake at 1:30AM local time.

After spending several hours at Delhi airport, at 6:00AM yesterday I flew into Dehradun and took a taxi into Rishikesh. I spent all day exploring the city and getting to know some of the people from my yoga program. The taxi ride in was just as people described it would be. Traffic laws don’t seem be a thing, honking almost constantly is the norm. There were monkeys all over the sides of the road. When we got into Risikesh, 2 boys who hardly spoke English grabbed our bags out of the car and walked with us across the bridge. People, dogs, motorbikes, and cows share all roads here.

The city is loud and crowded, but walk down an alleyway and it’s serene. The gardens, the mountains, the river, they all hold an energy that is calm and reflective amidst the chaos.

Rishikesh is like nowhere I’ve been before.