In September 2015, I stepped off a plane in the mountains of northern India. I had reached Dharamshala and would travel up the mountain, passing McleodGanj, the home of the Dalai Lama, until finally reaching my destination at Siddhi Yoga in Upper Bhagsu. It was the first time that I had travelled alone. I felt nervous and homesick but I knew that a great adventure was ahead of me. I knew that I had to step back and trust the process.
This place was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Cows, goats and monkeys filled the streets. Prayer flags were strung across rivers and tree tops. Colourful rooftops sat beneath the towering pine trees. Monks in bright red robes gathered in cafes. Fruit stands and bazaars lined the sides of the roads. The sounds of chanting from monasteries filled the fresh mountain air. It is said that loosely translated, Dharamshala means ‘dwelling of spirituality’. It holds true to its name; it really is magic.
I knew that I had to step back and trust the process.
The first day of yoga school started with a Havan, which is a fire ceremony for the sending of prayers and auspicious beginnings in the Hindu tradition. After the opening ceremony, we got right down to work with an intense 30-day schedule that looked something like this:
Daily Schedule at Siddhi Yoga
- 7:00am – 9:00am: Kriyas, Pranayama and Asana Practice
- 9:00am – 10:00am: Breakfast
- 10:00am – 11:30am: Yoga Philosophy
- 11:30am – 1:00pm: The Art of Teaching / Alignments
- 1:00pm – 3:00pm: Lunch
- 3:00pm – 4:00pm: Anatomy and Physiology
- 4:00pm – 5:30pm: Hatha Yoga / Ashtanga Yoga
- 5:30pm – 6:00pm: Break
- 6:00pm – 7:30pm: Meditation
- 7:30pm – 8:00pm: Dinner
It was a demanding schedule both physically and mentally but it was also extremely rewarding. We learned about pranayama, asana, chanting, various styles of meditation, yogic philosophy, anatomy and so much more. I tried my best to keep a journal while I was there so that I could somehow hold on to pieces of the experience long after it was over. This is one of my favorite descriptions of this wonderful place:
“I am staying in Bhagsu, which is a little place up the mountain from the main town of Dharamshala. There is so much to see and do here. The town is full of little cafes; the kind with pillows on the floor for sitting, acoustic music playing in the background and mint leaf tea. There are shops upon shops with every hippie item you could possibly imagine: singing bowls, scarves, harlem pants, yak wool blankets, mala beads, teas, incense and jewelry. It is truly yogi heaven. And then there is the nature – the fresh mountain air and intense greenery in every direction. The school is off the main street, set back from the town in a quiet mountain paradise. Everything is bright green from the monsoon season. The yoga hall has a deck that looks over the mountains and I have been sitting here in the mornings, watching the sun rise as the world around me awakens. There is so much life and so much good energy coming from the hills. Everything is beautiful.”
Needless to say, the whole experience was incredible. After a month of hard work, I received my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training certificate (RYT200). Highlights of the trip? Attending a lecture by the Dalai Lama at his temple in McLeodGanj, trekking the mountains to Triund (3000 meters above sea level), teaching my first ever yoga class and meeting friends that will last a lifetime. As I write this and reflect on being in India, it makes me want to go back so badly.
I took so much from my yoga adventure that it could only be described as completely and utterly life changing. Why? That’s a tough question but here are the main things that I took from India.
Appreciating a Simpler Way of Life – In India, the accommodations in the village where I stayed were wonderfully modest. The rooms had a bed, a dresser and a washroom. There were no electronics, no plush bedding and it was a lucky morning if there was warm water available for your shower. This is different than what are used to in North America but you soon realize that this is absolutely everything that you need. Being in India, you learn quite quickly that having an abundance of things does not equate to happiness. As long as you have a warm, dry place to rest your head at night, you can be one happy person.
Discovering a Connectedness to the Universe – There is energy in the air, fueled by the abundance of nature and the animals that live all around. You feel connected to all living things in a way that is difficult to describe. In the western world, this connection seems much less apparent in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. By stepping out of the craziness and the distraction, it’s easier to see how we fit into this world and to discover our spiritual side.
Developing a Deep Respect for the Knowledge that is Yoga – In India, many teachers are considered ‘Gurus’. Our yoga teacher practiced for 12 years before teaching his first yoga class. Yoga is such an important piece of the culture in India and people spend their lives living and breathing yoga before passing their knowledge onto others. In a 30-day teacher training program, there is no way to even come close to learning all of this knowledge but it does give you a deep understanding of how much there is to learn in the practice of yoga. This allows me to strive every day to learn more and more and makes me realize that no matter how experienced you may be, we all need to embrace things as students; forever learning.
Stepping Outside of My Comfort Zone – When I was travelling in India, I was able to fully and completely step outside of my comfort zone. I think this was partially because it was my first time travelling alone and partially because culturally, India is completely different than anything that I have ever experienced. By stepping outside of your normal, you create enormous opportunity for personal growth to occur. And who doesn’t like a good opportunity for growth?
Living and Breathing Yoga – In India, yoga is not only an exercise but a way of being and a way of living. In traditional yoga, the asana’s (or physical exercises) are one of the eight limbs of yoga. Learning yoga in India amplifies the yoga lifestyle and I have fallen in love with this piece of the practice. Don’t get me wrong, I love my asana’s but thanks to India, I also know how much more yoga is meant to be.
Have you been to India or are you interested in going? I can’t wait to plan my next trip!