Why India is the best destination for your yoga teacher training
A friend of mine refers to India as the ‘mothership’ – the place to which all humans gravitate, particularly those with their hearts and minds open to everything the universe has to offer. It’s safe to say that it’s definitely the mothership for those who are interested in yoga, as this its homeland – yoga was first mention in sacred texts, or Vedas, over 5,000 years ago (some say up to 10,000 years ago) in the Indus Valley.
Yoga as set of beliefs and practices was further refined here by Brahmans (Vedic priests) into the epic Upanishads – a set of over 200 scriptures that explored the sacrificing of the ego through action, self-knowledge and wisdom. The most famous of these texts is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 BCE. Later, in the 2nd century, yoga was further codified by Sage Patanjali into the Yoga-Sutras – an eight-limbed (‘ashtanga’) path detailing the journey to enlightenment.
In terms of sacred places to practice yoga, Rishikesh, the acclaimed ‘yoga capital of the world’, is the dream location for many yogis. Set on the banks of the holy river Ganges, and said to have a unique spiritual energy, it remains a first-choice destination for those wanting to undertake their yoga teacher training in the land of its birth. It is where acclaimed yoga teacher Swami Sivananda set up his ashram in 1936, leading to worldwide acclaim. Similarly, the city of Mysore came to prominence in 1924 after Krishnamacharya, the ‘father of modern yoga’, was invited to open a yoga school there by the Maharajah, producing some of the best-known teachers in yogic history, including Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar.
But when you are choosing a location for your yoga teacher-training course, India has so much more to offer than just a set of yoga-heritage sites and there is more than just its spiritual history that makes it such a special place to study. For me, choosing Sampoorna Yoga School in Agonda, Goa, came about because I felt a very strong connection with nature there. I was struck by the way people live closely alongside animals in the beach location, how the cycle of each day is dictated by sun-up and sun-down, high tide and low tide, by the fishermen bringing in their catch each morning, the beach dogs practising downward dog as they stretch out beside them, and by the cows appearing on the beach every day at 4.30pm waiting to be fed. Many who study here say the same thing about Agonda – it has a unique spiritual energy that inspires every yogi. It makes it easier for every student to find that longed-for connection with nature if it is broadcasting loud and clear all around you.
If you’ve only been taught yoga in the west, it can be a mind-altering experience to come to India to practice. If, like me, you’ve studied in western studios where yoga is often presented as a punishing workout, it can be a revelation to discover that this is not the goal of true yoga at all. Teachers on my course at Sampoorna said they witness a shift in students at the very moment they are taught about the practice of ‘ahimsa’ or ‘non-violence’ to the self, to other beings and the environment. As someone who arrived here with an injury brought about by a punishing self-practice, I learned to be kinder to myself. I learned that injury is rife in western yoga because of the way we see exercise as a punishment/reward dynamic, not as a way of seeking out one’s true nature.
There is also much to be said for how being in India for an extended period of time takes western individuals out of their comfort zone and forces them to see the world from another perspective. Much scaremongering happens when you announce, especially as a woman, that you are travelling to India for the first time alone. Admittedly, Goa is seen to be a safer option, but I have to admit that I stayed in my accommodation for three days before venturing out into Agonda village, and realised immediately that this was three days wasted. I could have ventured out and familiarised myself with everything I find so familiar now – I could have witnessed the sounds, the smells, the colours, the food, the animals, the people of Agonda, so much sooner. Seeing the world from another perspective forces us to reassess our own lives back home with considerable force. I still baulk at seeing dogs on leads in London now, or cows in milking sheds and pigs in stys. There’s a freedom and a simplicity to life here that we don’t see in our lives back home and it’s important to witness it as part of our teacher-training journey.
Having completed my own 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training in Ashtanga-Vinyasa in May, just before the monsoon hit in June, I realise that the heat here also has a part to play in enhancing a student’s experience. Part of the ashtanga process is the stoking of an ‘inner fire’ to purify the body – I can confirm that this happens very naturally when you practice at this time in India, even at 6.30am in the morning, but it really does speed up the purification process.
My ashtanga teacher also pointed out a very interesting fact – that this style of yoga was created on the bodies of 14-year-old Indian boys. Not only did I begin to forgive my 52-year-old Welsh female body for not being able to achieve every asana, but I realised that there may be some truth in what she said about Indian culture being ‘open-hipped’ and European culture ‘closed-hipped’. I’m not from a culture that easily squats on the beach to watch the sunset – I’d be more likely to sit cross-legged on a chair to do that.
Watching how people move and interact in different parts of the world can be extremely informative and as we do this, we learn how to adapt and flex to different bodies and individuals as yoga teachers.