Updated: Feb 13
Much as the title "Single mum abandons children (to their dad) in search of sanity" I suspect this would have been met with outrage hence the more simplistic title...
Having fallen in love with yoga as my own personal practice for the last two years I eventually decided to take the plunge and book myself onto a 200hr teacher training course. Having looked in the UK it was apparent that the cost or even the feasibility of attending the course around my daily life was just not feasible so I looked to India. There were many other countries but I felt if i was going to learn anywhere surely the birthplace of Yoga was where it was at?!
Now I love the heat and the option of going to Goa was very tempting but again Rishikesh kept calling out to me and although I knew it would be cooler I felt that was where I had to go....that and the price...again Goa and Rishikesh were similar in price but flights were astronomical to Goa as its the tourist season...
After looking at recommendations on tripadvisor, bookyogaretreats and several other sites I opted for Rishikesh Yog Peeth. So I booked my place ($300 deposit), booked my flight (via
) sorted my visa (
), got some dollars (preferred currency in India) vaccinations (something of a palaver in the UK and ultimately only needed a booster for my typhoid, but normally they recommend tetanus, diptheria and typhoid and then just to be aware of what you are eating and drinking) and got a hiking bag (
) as the trip to Rishikesh Yogpeeth involved a 25 min climb up a mountain side.
As the months counted down I ran through a whole range of emotions from being excited to dreading it. I had never travelled alone, bar a short weekend away, I would be away from the people I loved at Christmas time but at the same time I thought it would be great to experience the culture and a fantastic place to learn and some time out for me as a mum and running my own business
So the day finally arrived to depart, having stayed overnight at the Leonardo Hotel (Excellent service, cheap and amazing rooms for the price) for the early departure from Heathrow, I said goodbye to my partner not really fully understanding what was ahead of me. I flew out with Air India (food was great, tv's didn't work but i was so knackered i slept for much of it!) and as the plane was predominantly filled with Indian people I was lucky enough to meet my fellow passenger who was a dad returning to his family after 9 months and was impressed that I would travel alone and so far just to learn Yoga. He helped me when I got to Delhi Airport for my transfer flight, asking the questions I really wasn't sure of and just ensuring I was safe as my arrival into Delhi was late and my transfer flight wouldn't be until 6.30am the next day.
Foolishly thinking prior to coming to India, that my phone would work, I learnt the hard way when after 5mins all my data got eaten up and consequently got charged a fortune by my mobile company...I managed to eventually log in to Delhi Airport WiFi (PIN 1234) which was a godsend for me as it meant being able to let everyone know I was ok. On arrival I found out my flight was going to be delayed by 1hr 30mins so informed Rishikesh Yog Peeth.
I found a lounger in the airport and tried to get some sleep, which is quite difficult with all the noise of people, golf carts and announcements.
Departing on the next flight out to Dehradun airport was on a prop plane and only 1hr long. The views of the Himalayas coming into Dehradun were quite stunning and it was oddly lovely watching the plane slowly circle down through the clouds.
Once I grabbed my bag I looked for my taxi that had been pre-booked for my arrival, after a standard Indian taxi ride (i.e death defying and ensuring that were were always within centimetres of the car /bike/van in front) to the base of Rishikesh Yog Peeth, myself and 2 other girls on the same course then got ready to climb the 20min trek up the mountainside. Donkeys were waiting with food supplies and bags on their backs. Despite having a hiking bag i can't say i wasn't pleased to have a porter help carry my bag up, as I carried just my rucksack. The climb was beautiful but incredibly steep at times and frankly i was shattered!
However, the trek was worth the view that awaited us....(scroll across)
Once checked in we were given our room keys (you have the option to share or go private). I shared my room with a great girl called Raluca from Romania who had been travelling and finally ended up at Yog Peeth. We were both on the 200hr Teacher Training Course, although others were here from as little as a weeks retreat to the full 500 hours.
Now, here's the thing, before I came away I checked out the temperature for Rishikesh:
Google suggested between 4-20C, Locals suggested it would be absolutely freezing and Yog Peeth said between 9-10C. So 9-10C in the UK is a pretty standard temperature in autumn and obviously it drops below this. I was pretty certain I had packed for the cold, you know, layers, winter coat, hat, scarf....what I hadn't anticipated was the lack of heating in the rooms. This meant for 2 night we slept under blankets and duvets in several layers of clothes and then even with a small heater that was provided on the 3rd day it had barely any impact so we ended up requesting extra duvets, extra blankets and willing the Sunday half day to come around quickly so that we could all go to the main town to stock up on warmer clothing.
The first week was a combination of jet lag, heightened emotions and trying to stay awake in classes. Our class was an even mix of men and women from over 13 nationalities.
Our daily routine consisted of:
6am Wake Up Call (A very loud gong being hit repeatedly)
630-7am Yogic Cleansing, Herbal Tea and setting up our mats, bolsters etc
7-930am Prananyama (Breathing), Meditation and Asana's (Hatha style)
11am Yoga Philosophy
12.30pm Anatomy and Physiology in Yoga
2-3:30pm own time for walking, studying, sleeping
3:30pm Teaching Methodology
5-7pm Ashtanga Yoga practice
The first week was, for me, intense, but on speaking to the rest of the group it was apparent everyone was experiencing very similar things. Shavasana became the place you would silently cry for a variety of reasons. The Ashtanga Yoga initially felt like an SAS bootcamp as you would hold each position for longer lengths of time till it felt like your body would fail you. The cold really got to us all. The rooms struggled to stay warm against the cold outside and everything seemed to be permanently damp. But what made all of the experience worth it was the teachers, staff and food. The food never failed to be interesting and varied and frankly somehow I managed to gain weight on a healthy vegetarian diet!!! (ok so maybe a few too many chappatti's and roti's)
The teachers, Nikhil- Philosophy, Deepti - All things yoga and Shashank - Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, always seemed to go above and beyond in helping us learn and despite my very clear ability to nod off in every class where we sat down (I have always been like this btw!) they taught us with enthusiasm and genuine smiles. If you were having issues with any aspect of your learning they gave you their time out of hours to help you. The staff were always obliging to whatever needs you may have, from sourcing socks to sorting out events over the xmas and new year period.
Whenever there was a chance to get out and about I took it, I know some love the remoteness but for me just having a different view of a place gave me a chance to really unwind, which included a trek back down the mountain to see a waterfall with my classmate Joanna (from Michigan) and a couple of walks up into a local village.
Then a further wander on my own meeting these 2 ladies carrying water back to the village.
On the Sunday we had the opportunity after class to go into Tapovan, the nearest main town in the vicinty of Rishikesh. With views of the Ganges, as we were driven down into town, we arrived into Tapovan.
Tapovan is split on both sides of the Ganges. The slightly pricier side being on the opposite side. With hawkers, market stalls, small shops, chai stations, dogs, cows and people it was a cacophany of colour and noise. I loved it. This, for me, is what India is all about. Walking across the Laksham bridge I took in the stunning views across the mountains and the river as well as the Laksham temple.
Stopping in Takkv Cafe at Lunchtime with one of the more experienced Yoga students from the school, we soaked up the sunshine before heading out and being shown the best places to buy from. Purchasing a much needed blanket, some trousers, postcards for friends, various food goodies and enjoying a chai tea (ground to your preference) we eventually headed back to Yog Peeth before the sun started setting in order to be able to get back up the mountainside.
Our evening was completed with an hour of Yoga Nidra (a form of deep rest and relaxation meditation).
Now we had got the gist of how the days would go we would now be adding to the training in the form of teaching preparation and asana (yoga poses) assignment. Our assignment consisted of describing the execution, technique, benefits, contraindications, adjustments, muscles and joints used and the lengthening and contraction of said muscles. Each Asana would take approx 15-30mins to complete dependent on the level of difficulty. Our teaching preparation was initially set up in groups of 4. The teaching practice broken down into 4 sections in order for us to deliver our own personal take on that section, working through these in rotation through the week.
We continued our normal classes, continuing to add to our experience in philosophy, asana, pranayama and meditation practice.
In our first week of philosophy we had covered the history of yoga sutras from the Vedas to present day, this week was covering the 8 limbs of yoga in more detail (effectively like laws/principles of how to lead your life) even the first 2 - the Yams and Niyams, of yoga, are something that are so relevant and useful in today's society. Dispelling some misconceptions around certain words such as Karma as well as what it means to be selfless and fearless!
During our teaching methodology work we started focusing more heavily on block and strap adjustments for both, us as teachers to improve and deepen our poses as well as suitable adjustments for clients. Some hilarity ensued as you can imagine!
Ashtanga Yoga became more challenging as Shashank worked us harder into more difficult poses and by the end of the week something as basic as a chaturanga or downward dog had the whole class groaning!
Every day was made a little more lighter by the camaraderie of the group. If someone was feeling down or struggling, someone else would be there to lift them back up. And whilst i'll be the first to admit that I like a bit of healthy competition in training we soon learnt it wasn't about who was better than who and it really was your own personal journey to discover exactly what your body could do and more to the point what it wasn't yet willing to do!
Towards the end of the week we were quite excited about getting measured up for our saree's that we would be wearing for our graduation ceremony, all handmade to our exact measurements.
I was counting down the days till our next trip out to Tapovan, for me it was a release from the day to day, something I think, most people could relate to, in terms of work and that weekend you get off (except its only a half Sunday on the 200hr programme).
After morning classes on the Sunday, we headed back down the mountain out to Tapovan and I went out with Sushila (from Canada but who had also lived in London for a large part of her life) from our group. She was great company always laughing and smiling (the translation of her name means "courteous" which couldn't be more apt!) and showing me the traditional food India has to offer including, Dosa, a semolina crepe with Masala sauce and coconut chutney, in a small cafe and Momos, a steamed vegetable dumpling from a street seller. We headed out to Ram Bridge (which although you would think was only a pedestrian crossing is used by motorbikes as well!) with views over the Ganga and went on down to visit the statue of Shiva.
Returning back to Yog Peeth I felt reinvigorated and could feel my whole body buzzing from the endorphins of racing back up the mountain before the sun set. Yoga Nidra was our final class of the Sunday. For me though I was so "up" from the town and the climb I struggled to relax, however, I slept really well that night.
WEEK 3 - HOME STRETCH
Knowing we now only had this final week to learn, complete our assignments and prepare to teach a class it became imperative for us all to get our assignments done so that we could really concentrate towards the final assessment. We got to practice Headstands, Handstands and Partner Yoga during this time as well, which was great fun and hard
However, it also made me realise how really we had only scratched the surface in terms of Yoga Asana, Pranayama, Bandha, Mudra and Philosophy. Whilst one part of me would have loved to have stayed for the longer 500hours the other part of me knew I needed to put what I had learnt, further to my own practice, into action and cement those skills.
We continued for the first part of the week following our study plan with the remainder of our week filled with our Yoga assessment class. Mine would be on Thursday morning. In pairs, we would each teach either the first half or second half of a 90min class to the rest of the group (6) Running through Mantra, Pranayama, Joint movement, Asanas and Shavasana. After the assessment ended we would be given feedback by our classmates and final feedback from the teacher. I completed my assessment and was followed by a very experienced Finnish girl called Ulpu, who had us smiling, even though she had us contorted in various poses. Thankfully feedback was very positive both from my classmates and our assessor Shashank.
Later that day it was decided to go and find the elusive temple that Joanna and I had sought to find earlier in the week...but it turns out that when you don't actually get to the group on time you are looking at trekking up again as a pair (Joanna and I)...which of course meant we got lost ..again.. but at least in a different direction! Thankfully Ulpu had made it there twice so we weren't without photos.
The following day, the final teaching assessment of our group, Raluca, took the whole class. After a successful class we continued the morning classes as normal. However, secretly we were all shitting ourselves slightly for the evening showcase to display our other hidden talents. We needn't have worried as our compere for the evening was Dean. A drama teacher (ok class!) and contemporary dancer from Australia. He made the evening full of laughter and lightened what could have felt an overwhleming experience for some. (oh and he threw in a improv. contemporary dance at the end that took everyone's breath away!)
We saw contortion, lyrical and straight poetry, singing, stories, poi, a brilliantly re-imagined version of Mamma Mia that utilised the yoga poses in place of the normal lyrics as well as dancing in Finnish and Ozzie style. The evening was complete with Bollywood dancing and a Lunar Eclipse.
Saturday was to be my final day at Rishikesh Yog Peeth. We would have lessons as normal in the morning followed by our graduation ceremony in the afternoon. Our Sari's had already been delivered and tried on, so we were looking forward to getting dressed by one of the ladies from the local village.
We all arrived for our final asana class Saturday morning and took turns leading the class in chanting, mantra and pranayama before Shashank and Deepti took us through some Hatha Yoga. Philosophy and Anatomy and Physiology took place after breakfast and then it was time to get ready!
The power came back on just in time for us to get our hair done or have a shower. We were then dressed in our saree's. A complicated affair...at least by western standards, which involved multiple folds, tucks and safety pins so that everything was in place.
But somehow between this super fast lady getting us all dressed up and Antonia, one of the students, doing my hair...I looked vaguely presentable!
The graduation ceremony consisted of a Mantra sung beautifully by Deepti, a film of our time there and then we each gave out a certificate to a fellow classmate with our thoughts of what that person had bought to the group. We then went out to the lawn took too many photos before heading up for our ceremonial dinner where I sang the mantra (badly!) and was completely stuffed.
After the ceremony it was time for 3 of us to leave, as we had early flights the next day. We said our goodbyes, before heading down the mountain, the porters bearing the weight of our bags, like mountain goats nimbly whizzing down the mountain in flip flops, as we struggled in our sturdy trainers to navigate our own selves down.
Heading to Ganga Campus (part of Rishikesh Yog Peeth), Sushila, Julia and myself recalled our time at Yog Peeth. Once we arrived in the busier part of town, we realised how lucky we had been to be somewhere so quiet, as the honking of horns and barking of dogs filled the air. This was not to be the end of our travels, as Sushila had encouraged myself and Julia to visit Triveni Ghat and the Aarthi (Sunset prayers by this very holy part of the river). Sushila and I set sail to some flower boats (there is probably another name for them?) wishing good luck and then watched the Aarthi prayers as the men stood with lamps of fire, praying over the river. A fascinating sight. Anyone and everyone was there, small children ran around playing whilst other would be selling sweets, old and young would be dipping there toes into the river or throwing holy water over their heads.
As we walked back through the streets in search of food I had to record for one last time the craziness and interesting sights that we saw each time we came to town..
After a meal at Tattv Cafe we headed back to the campus. I was exhausted. Myself and Julia had an early rise leaving at 5am to Dehradun Airport. On arrival, check in was what can only be described as Indian style. Despite arriving early I was informed that "check in wont be till at least 8am" (my flight was due to leave at 745am?!) I couldn't get my boarding passes till 6am but in actual fact it wouldn't be till I checked in and that I needed to put my bag through security prior to check in....ummm okay...slightly unsettled by this chaos I am not quite sure how I managed to get through security and still depart on time...but I did! I think Julia's happy go lucky attitude really helped at this point!
I am now finishing off writing this, having arrived into Delhi airport, luxuriating in a lounge as frankly I have nothing left. The whole experience was a challenge mentally and physically. I am so glad for the support daily by my partner as well as friends, family and the group. I cannot wait to share my experience through my classes and workshops (FB: Energise Yoga ). If you are looking to train in Yoga, in all its forms, experience a different culture / way of life and meet like-minded people, then I highly recommend Rishikesh Yogpeeth (perhaps in the warmer months...but nontheless)
Thanks for reading and I hope it helps in your decision to take up yoga training, even for your own self practice,
Further pictures can be seen at:
Images may not be reproduced. Photos by Madeleine Bowler