As he clicked the ‘submit’ button for the payment of his yoga teacher training course, Joseph realised that most of what remained of his modest redundancy payment was now spent.
After working in marketing for over a decade – a career in which he was constantly pushing and improving himself – he turned to yoga in a bid to find calm.
He fell in love with yoga five years ago – so much so, he even led a weekly yoga class for his co-workers.
“Since starting my practice, I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to create time and space in the mind away from the busyness of the world we live in. Yoga creates a balance and the ability to rest and recharge from the stresses that work and everyday life have on the mind and body.”
Inspired by his wife, Karen, a well-known yoga teacher in the North East, he soon set his sights on a 200-hour teacher training course in India – the home of yoga.
“She’s an inspirational and truly gifted teacher – I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” says Joe.
“The only thing standing in my way was my full-time employment. But when I was offered the option of voluntary redundancy, I took it as a sign. It felt like it was meant to be; it was my time to embark on a new journey of self-discovery and growth.”
After a 10-day holiday in Goa with Karen, Joseph jetted off to The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, part of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre organisation, on India’s Malabar Coast.
What began in 1977 as a mere collection of huts is now one of the world’s best-loved hotspots for yoga teacher training, set in 12 acres of tranquil, tropical splendour,
in the quiet foothills of Kerala’s Western Ghats. It was also one of the first ashrams to offer yoga training to westerners.
Joseph made the ashram his home for four weeks, sticking to a strict programme, which involved sleeping in a male-only dormitory, waking up at 5.20am every day, eating a ’sattvic’ diet (two vegetarian meals a day, void of onion, garlic, chilli or any other spice), ending each day with meditation and satsang (gathering or practicing together in a group) and not talking after 10pm.
Here, he shares snippets from the diary he kept while undergoing his training…
Once I arrived, I took a moment to appreciate the location. It’s idyllic; surrounded by dense, lush green forest, a wildlife sanctuary, tea estates and rubber plantations. There’s also a stunning aqua-green lake.
I climbed the stairs to the ashram and immediately noticed the beautiful, well-kept grounds, with towering palms, alongside shrubs and plants, Indian jasmine bushes, giving off the most mesmerising scent.
Our first dinner was at 6pm. It was my first experience of sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor with only a thin bamboo mat as a base.
Dinner here is eaten in silence with no cutlery and the use of only your right hand (the left is used for cleaning and ablution duties in India). Eating by hand is said to pass the prana (energy) from the food to the body more directly. It also means you eat more mindfully, feeling the texture of the food before putting it in the mouth.
On reflection, week one provided physical and mental challenges. I had discussions with two fellow Western course mates who were thinking of leaving because of the rigid, intense schedule.
I knew the course wouldn’t be easy, but what I didn’t appreciate, or factor into the equation, was the intensity of the schedule and how having only five or six hours of sleep per night, only two meals a day and sitting on the floor all day, every day, for everything, would affect me.
That said, it’s amazing how much the human body and the mind can adapt and adjust. After a few days, I found myself slowly acclimatising to the hot conditions, adjusting to having less sleep and was starting to enjoy my new routine.
I was also enjoying the four hours of yoga per day and the philosophy and spirituality lectures. One of the lessons we are taught is that yoga isn’t just a series of physical poses and postures; it’s an entire philosophy, influencing every aspect of our life, from what we eat to how we behave.
A yoga practice highlight from week two was when we partnered with our neighbour for headstand preparation and adjustment instruction.
As the days went on, I came to enjoy my daily yoga karma duties, which involved cleaning toilets, showers, sinks and mopping the floor.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor all day, every day, is still proving a challenge though. But I’m adapting and can now sit unassisted for over 30 minutes. I’m also appreciating the food more.
The view from the main yoga hall fills me with joy on a daily basis. When in downward dog, or headstand, I look through the arches behind me and marvel at the lush greenery, hills and glimpses of palms as far as the eye can see.
We’ve been assigned groups, each one containing four people. Each student will be required to memorise and teach the other students the four versions of the Sivananda Beginners Classes over the next week.
I’m looking forward to the challenge and also to start the anatomy lectures over the next six days.
The intensity of the course and the teaching continues. A breakthrough moment in an afternoon yoga class was when I stayed in a headstand for approximately five minutes. My teaching of ‘beginners class three’ to my group is well-received and the feedback is good.
I learn about ‘titiksha’, which means endurance and the ability to keep going, despite challenges or hardship. It resonates deeply with me.
Once a week there is a silent walk to go to a lake or mountain to meditate, witness the sunrise and to chant. This week’s is special; sitting facing a still lake, surrounded by natural beauty and watching the sun rise.
With the heat, humidity and two meals per day, with not a lot of protein or fat, it’s inevitable that I’m losing weight – and I can feel it in places. But, during and after the daily yoga classes, I feel so strong.
At the end of the week, we have a choice to take part in a mantra initiation, where you are given a mantra that can be used in meditation. I choose Ganesh, an elephant-headed Hindu deity who is the remover of obstacles. I align with Ganesh, as whatever is put in front of me, I always resolve and overcome.
The practical exam of the course arrives and I teach a full two-hour class, observed by a member of staff. It goes well and the students really enjoy it.
At that moment, I recall one of Karen’s students saying that a yoga retreat that she went on with Karen was “life-changing”. What a joy and privilege to be able to make people feel that way.
There is one final hurdle: a final three-hour written exam. We are given a study day beforehand to revise the entire course syllabus.
I enjoyed studying for and sitting the exam: it’s new knowledge. I pass and get a ‘very good’, which is the top category of scoring. I am now a 200-hour certified yoga instructor.
I take a moment to realise that the ashram is such an idyllic, peaceful and blissful place. It’s difficult to fully appreciate it when you’re immersed in the strict schedule. I leave with a feeling of inner peace. I’m blessed to have spent four weeks of my life in this amazing place.
I did struggle in the first week as I was acclimatising to my surroundings. I soon realised, though, that the human body and mind are capable of far more than we allow ourselves to believe.
I am a firm believer that we should always strive to better ourselves and this growth often happens when we put ourselves in unfamiliar and difficult situations outside of our comfort zones. Even when things aren’t easy, or not progressing as we expect them to, the intention is what drives us. And it was my intention to complete this course.
In times of struggle or difficulty, there is always an easy option to give up, but if you don’t, if you choose to harness your drive and commitment instead, you realise you are capable of more than you think you are.
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