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Published: November 19th 2008
This is written for those out there who have the chance to visit Nepal, India or New Zealand and are interested in finding some quality teachers and friends who would like an insight into some of the experiences I've had along the way this year! I myself didn’t know where to start when looking for classes in the various places I’ve visited in the last year, my experiences were mixed! Read on for more info and scroll to the bottom if you want links to recommended teachers.
What an epic year it has been on the road from the UK to NZ. We’ve passed through many beautiful, strange and interesting places, met fascinating, bizarre and awesome people and now I’ve reached the other side of the world I find myself reflecting upon my journey. I have met so many inspiring teachers along the way who’ve enabled me to travel in a non physical sense and I wanted to write a little about my experiences. Some may be amused by the weird and wonderful things that have happened along the way, others may be interested to try these teachers themselves so where possible I have given info re: where they are based and how to get hold of them.
My first opportunity to find a yoga teacher was in Nepal. The town of Pokhara by a lake and beneath the Anapurna mountain range was an idyllic setting to search for a class. My first experience was with a tall awkward looking Nepalese man who claimed to have studied yoga for many years. He took me and the one other pupil, a western guy who looked very uncomfortable, into his ‘yoga studio’ at the guesthouse where he worked. The studio was more like an extra large bedroom with clothes, tissues, books, CDs and blankets strewn around the place. He locked the door and shut the curtains, we were trapped, no chance for escape whatever the class was like - I didn’t get a good feeling from this, but he assured us it was to make sure we were not disturbed. He began with some mal-coordinated joint mobilisation exercises which seemed to go on forever. We did some peculiar breathing exercises followed by more joint mobilising, one round of sun salutation, then we laid down for a few minutes and listened to some relaxing music and that was it - class over. He may have been starting with the basics but I wasn’t convinced that he knew any more than this and his demonstrations were really poor - his body was tense, his shoulders up round his ears and his chin jutting forward! I was pretty disappointed by this fraudster making a fast buck from gullible tourists trying to find themselves in Asia and decided to try some other teachers.
I struck lucky with my second attempt at finding a class when I came across the Nepali Yoga Centre. Devika and Krisha the teachers there were warm, welcoming, and generous with their knowledge of Hatha yoga, offering challenging classes with great instruction. I ended up going to the 7.30am class most days whilst in Pokhara- pretty impressive considering I was on ‘holiday!’ I also took their 1 day course which involved asana (postures), pranyama (breathing/energy control), meditation, chanting, philosophy and kriyas (cleansing practices) - I never would have believed that if I poured water into one nostril it would come out of the other and I would actually feel really good afterwards! It was whilst I was here that it dawned on me that maybe I should apply for yoga teacher training. After attending Elaine’s BWY Foundation One course the previous year I had developed a thirst for studying yoga in more depth and as I was on my way to India - the home of this ancient art - I figured I might be able to find a course. Through some web research I discovered the Sivananda ashrams and decided to seek advice once I got to India about whether or not this would be a good route of study to take.
The next chance I had to go to classes was in Palolem, Goa with Lauren Manning. Lauren’s class happened to be based on Sivananda style Hatha with many other practices woven in, for Lauren has studied a wide variety of yoga techniques and teaches an amazing all-encompassing class. I was challenged in my asana and really figured out how to stand on my head for reasonable periods of time! I developed my ability with certain pranayama techniques, enjoyed listening to the opening and closing mantras and got to find out more about the Sivananda lineage through Lauren and other yogis in Palolem. My mind was made up, I would apply for the teacher training.
In Goa I had the good fortune to be connected with Natalie Matos at Harmonic Goa. Studying for Usui based Reiki level I was quite literally an enlightening experience! Reiki is simply a name for the universal energy that exists in/ creates us and the world around us. When you take Reiki I you are attuned so that you can become a channel for Reiki. This means that you can direct the universal energy into someone or something for healing purposes. Despite my understanding of the chakra system through yoga, it was quite a leap of faith to get my head around the concepts and practices involved in Reiki I. But the experiences I had of seeing images and light, feeling heat and tingling and the sense of weightlessness and peace brought about by channelling or receiving Reiki was a very tangible, empowering and beautiful thing. I continued to practice Reiki on myself and others during my time in India and went back to take Reiki II a couple of months later.
After Pokhara and Palolem we were on the road quite a lot for a couple of months. I found out that the Sivananda TTC course was fully booked so resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait a while before doing teacher training. Best just to make the most of the teachers I encountered in each place we visited…
A teacher in Hampi, Karnataka who introduced himself as being from the universe told the class that one would make no gain in yoga without pain - I didn’t go back! In Kovalam, Kerala I did a few classes with Padma, another Sivananda teacher who got me standing on my head for longer than ever whilst doing seemingly impossible things with my legs in different positions! I found these classes really physically challenging but learnt so much about Sivananda asana and pranayama. In Varkala, Kerala I took a couple of classes with Sunil, another Sivananda teacher who was gentle and encouraging. During final relaxation of one class my ability to stay calm and peaceful was really put to the test when a giant ant got itself stuck in my hair. As I tried to remove it quietly so as not to disturb anyone else it bit my finger, then my head which hurt like hell! I managed to stay silent despite the throbbing and thankfully Sunil saw my anguish and helped me remove the beast. No-one else realised a thing during my ant-ics and luckily the swelling went down quickly!
In Mumbai we encountered Ramesh who we had heard of from some other travellers in Goa. Ramesh is a spiritual master who opens his house every day for people to come and ask him questions and to receive his wisdom. As the former President of the Bank of India who has experienced the Ultimate Understanding he knows how to challenge your perspective and get you thinking about complex concepts in their simplest essence, much food for thought.
Whimsical Udaipur in Rajasthan could have been the perfect location for some serious navel gazing. I tried the so called ashram where a muscle bound young man did a class with way more talk than action, I’m all for classes with talk but this was ridiculous - maybe 70%!t(MISSING)alk and 30%!d(MISSING)oing! Quite the opposite end of the spectrum was the other teacher in town, an old wiry man who could tie himself in knots. In his class there was no talk, he just whispered “change” to indicate he was about to move into a new position and you should follow - or try to as some of the knots he wove himself into were truly mind and body bending!
The next place we stopped for a while was McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh. Like other traveller towns in India the wealth of adverts offering yoga, meditation, Reiki, and more bizarre stuff like moon meditation and healing belly dance was quite overwhelming - it took a few days to work out where to begin. After a couple of false starts with some slightly dodgy teachers I came across Lalit at Himalaya Yoga Valley. His gentle nature, beautiful demonstration, clear instruction of Astanga based Vinyasa flow yoga and fun after class tea time and chat with his wife Eveana made this class a firm favourite of my trip. They are in India most of the year offering classes, courses and teacher training in Goa and McLeod.
While in McLeod I also got the chance to do an introductory Shiatsu course at the Natural Holistic Therapies Centre. Cindy, a holistic practitioner from France was offering 10 day courses which covered the basic techniques of Namikoshi shiatsu so as to be able to offer a relaxing full body massage to friends and family. I had always wanted to learn a body work technique and this course was so interesting. Cindy’s Shiatsu treatments are great and she also practices reflexology and iridology, I only wish I could have spent more time in McLeod to study with her in greater depth.
Next stop was Rishikesh, Uttar Pradesh where we met up with Mandy. The three of us tried a few classes before coming across Rakesh at Swiss Cottage. A young, softly spoken man with a presence you could feel from the other side of the room, Rakesh’s classes were very special. Each day he would take a different aspect of asana, pranayama, chanting and so on. I felt like I covered loads of ground in the couple of weeks we attended his classes and all was infused by his deep, life long understanding of Hatha yoga of various traditions.
Also in Rishikesh I had the pleasure of meeting Joshi. Initially he took us on a tour of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram where the Beatles had stayed in the 60s and wrote much of the White Album. He led us round the overgrown and rambling ashram site into egg shaped buildings and bizarre mediation cells. As a former ashramite Joshi was able to give us an insight into the practices that were explored within the ashram such as Trancendental Meditation and yoga, plus he took us in the buildings and other areas where the Beatles had stayed and performed. I later visited him for a meditation session. Having only spent brief moments in meditation during yoga classes and the reiki courses it was challenging to sit for a longer time, but Joshi’s approach was really accessible and the experience was intense but enlightening.
From Rishikesh I headed to the Sivananda Ashram at Netala, up in the mountains right alongside the Ganges. Having not managed to get a place on the teacher training I went to spend a week there to experience ashram life and figure out if I could actually manage to stay there for a month at some point in the future! The ashram schedule was as follows - 5.30 wake up gong; 6.00 satsang; 8.00 asana and pranayama; 10.00 brunch; 11.00 karma yoga; 2.00 lecture; 4.00 asana and pranayama; 6.00 dinner; 8.00 satsang; 10.00 lights out. It may sound like boot camp to some but I loved it! In just one week I became really absorbed in the way of life, my understanding of asana and pranayama developed in new ways with the opportunity to practice twice a day; I found great pleasure in the chanting and singing in satsang; my body quickly adjusted to eating just twice a day; the lectures were thought provoking and inspiring and spending a week alongside the roar of the great Ganges was incredible. I really hope to return to this beautiful place in the future.
My travelling is continuing now that I’ve settled in Wellington for a while. The choice of classes and courses in this city is seemingly endless. There is an amazing Satyananda class run by Tyag, some great Astanga classes at Te Aro Astanga and more styles and teachers to sample before leaving NZ. Plus many opportunities to study meditation, I did an introduction to meditation techniques with Barbara Mare which was fascinating and I went on a Shambhala Art of Being Human course with Jessie Miller a phenomenal teacher from the US.
I feel another visit to India coming on in the near future, it would be great to go back and study further with some of the inspiring teachers who’ve guided me on this interesting journey and I’m sure I’ll meet many more along the way!
So here are some recommendations -
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