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bhakti, bhajis and bakasana… my intensive yoga teacher training in India
About nine months ago I went to my regular yoga class at Bristol City Yoga. It was raining as usual, so nothing out of the ordinary to report until a small black and white flyer caught my eye on the way out of the studio. Excitedly, I skim-read the content ‘Yoga’ … ‘India’… ‘January’…that was enough for me. At that moment I knew my time had come.
I realised that it was time for me to go to India to do my yoga teacher training. Time to consolidate my knowledge and experience so I could at last share a philosophy and practice that’s as relevant today as it was over 2000 years ago.
I arrived at Swan Yoga Retreat around midnight and was greeted by our host Sannyasi Gyanmitra. He welcomed me and led me quietly through the night towards a dozen palm-topped huts and a yoga shala nestled amongst the cashew trees. He noticed that all I had was a small backpack and a yoga mat, “You don’t have much?” he said, “I don’t need much” I replied. He nodded knowingly and showed me to my room. This would be my home for the next five weeks as I totally immersed myself in yoga. I slept well that night and awoke fresh and ready to begin the following morning.
Each day began at 6:30am with an hour of meditation followed by yoga practice. We breathed slowly and moved mindfully as we progressed more deeply into the Ashtanga sequence. We emerged from the morning session and were enveloped by the evocative sound of nature awakening around us – a sound that will be with me forever. How fortunate we were to be studying in such a magnificent setting hidden deep in this abundant jungle.
Over breakfast there was time to reflect on our practice before study began at 10am. Classes were a combination of teaching practice and techniques with a detailed understanding of alignment and anatomy of the postures. We learned how to adjust students safely, modify postures and teach with warmth, care and sensitivity. All of the study was underpinned by the development of our own personal practice and a growing understanding and appreciation of the yoga philosophy.
Lunch break gave us a chance to eat, shower, catch up on laundry, send emails and generally get on top of life before more study and practice in the afternoons. The days were long and the intense heat made concentration difficult later in the day. By 7pm we were ready to finish. Time to eat, relax, reflect and absorb.
Our yoga teachers, Laura Gilmore and Melanie Cooper, brought a deep understanding of both Hatha and Ashtanga yoga, teaching from the heart and from their personal experience of teaching, study and practice. Alongside Laura and Mel, yogi and bodyworker Stuart Girling, provided the anatomy classes, whilst Gyanmitra contributed with his insightful philosophy teaching. His integrity and commitment also shone through in the way he ran the retreat centre and related to his team of loyal staff. We were taken care of very well as we studied intensely for six days a week. By Sunday we were tired and ready to rest. It didn’t take much to figure out where you’d find us. The beach was calling…
I’d be lying if I said that every day was a joy. When you decide to deepen your practice in this way you make a huge commitment to the one person that’s so often the hardest to please… yourself. Some days it really was a blissful and wonderful place to be. Other days I wondered what on earth I was doing. Whenever doubt entered my mind I noticed these thoughts, maintained my awareness and continued to practice, finally resting in a place where I would understand fully that it was exactly the right decision. I was in the right place, at the right time doing exactly what it was that I needed to do. And for that knowledge alone I am thankful.
Even after many years of dedicated yoga practice there’s always something new to learn. The learning never ends. But now I’m back, I’m already integrating some of my knowledge and experiences into both my yoga and massage. I’m still busy completing my coursework at the moment, but I plan to begin working with private clients on a one-to-one basis later this year. Until then, I’ll keep practising and hope to see you on the mat sometime, very soon. Hari Om Tat Sat.
See more photos of my trip to Swan Yoga Retreat.
Next blog…coming soon: Yoga and bodywork – Integrating yoga, breathwork and mindfulness into holistic massage treatments.