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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ATTC: Rudraprayag, Himalayas, India

Let me start by saying India is by far the easiest place I have ever been to be a vegetarian! The food is amazing and most places don't even have meat on their menus. Even though many Hindus do eat meat (just not cows) most places keep it safe by offering strictly vegetarian menus.

When I saw the online brochure for the Sivananda Advanced Teacher Training set in the Himalayas of India, I knew that's where I was supposed to go. I'd been trying to get to India for 5 years to study an advanced level of yoga, but always finances or time off got in the way. However, there are no mistakes and we are all exactly where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, so it worked out that I made my way to India early in 2013. I thought I had heard about this training before and the photos in the brochure seemed familiar to me, but upon arriving at the training, I discovered we were the first group to study there.

I didn't realize that where we were going wasn't an actual Ashram until I was already in Bangladesh. However, the European Swamis did a great job of turning our hotel into a make-shift Ashram for the month. Since we were in a hotel, there was very little karma yoga to be done. The idea behind an Ashram is that everyone staying there helps out to make it run efficiently, some people may have 1 our of karma yoga daily, others may have 4-8 based on how long they are staying and what their role is. In a teacher training, each of the trainees would typically get 1 hour due to their schedule being so packed full with lessons and homework. In this setting as I mentioned, there was very little karma yoga to be done as the hotel staff cleaned our rooms and made our meals for us.

This hotel is on the road to Badrinath, spiritual seekers in India take an annual journey to Badrinath to ask for  forgiveness and pray for abundance. The area is very spiritual and prana is extremely high. Running along side the hotel is the Alakananda River which shortly after converges with another river to become the holy Ganges.

We had two separate groups training at this location. The majority of the group was there to earn their 200 hour yoga teaching certificate (about 100 people I think), and then just over 30 of us were there to earn our 500 hour certificates, already earning the first 200 hours previously from various locations.

Sivananda Yoga is a very traditional form of yoga. The focus is on the philosophy and not the asana practice. While Asana is an important part of yoga, it should be seen only as a step on the path to Enlightenment. In the West we have turned Yoga into a fitness craze, and lost out on the true meaning and true purpose of Yoga. If we take a look at the 8 limbed path of yoga, and think of the 8 limbs as rungs on a ladder, we would find that Asana is the third rung from the bottom. That doesn't make Asana less important, it is a necessary tool for reaching the ultimate goal of Samadhi (super conscious state, no more duality, unity with a higher power), however, it does mean that we should continue practicing Asana to reach the higher levels of yoga and not stop at Asana. The actual purpose of an Asana practice is to prepare our bodies so that we can sit comfortably in meditation for extended periods of time. Asana allows helps us to build one pointed concentration. As you are holding a pose, it is difficult to allow the mind to wander off to think about anything other than what your body is supposed to be doing in that pose.

Me with my roommates Elizabeth from
Austria and Ananda from England
The ATTC course was very challenging. I chose to share a room with 2 other women (based on price) when I signed up for the course, Roommates were set up by the program, we did not get to choose. I had one woman from Austria (Elizabeth or Purna) and one woman from England (Ananda) as my roommates. They tried to pair people by languages and I think that is why I ended up with one German speaker and one English speaker because I put on my application that I could speak both. They must have run out of German speaking women for Elizabeth to share with (oops!  Mein Deutsch ist Scheisse, veilleicht ich sollte nicht dass sagen ich Deutsch gesprechen koennen!). Both women were very sweet and nice roommates, but I spent all of my free time with Tanja, a swiss chic I met in the hotel before we took the buses up north.
Tanja applying sunscreen
by the river











Christening my Mala in the holy river
For ATTC we had to be in the temple by 4:30 every morning to warm up with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) before settling in for advanced pranayama (the fourth limb on the 8 limbed path). This meant waking up around 4:00am every morning for 3 women to each take their turn in the bathroom, brushing teeth and cleaning the nose with a neti pot (essential for advanced pranayama). After one hour of Pranayama, the TTC group would join us and we would have silent meditation followed by Satsang (chanting and lecture). Satsang lasted about an hour and by 7:30 we had a little free time to grab some tea and talk to our friends before heading to our first Asana class of the day. TTC had a two hour practice in the morning and afternoon, but ATTC had less than one hour in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. Our shortened Asana class was nice because it showed us how to move our way through the most valuable poses in a short period of time, great for sticking with a home practice. After the first Asana class we had a one hour lecture, usually either Anatomy or Sanskrit before we met back up with the TTC group for brunch.
Finding a cave to meditate in

Tanja and I always saved each other a seat for meals, and there were two other women who would join us daily, Anna (from Turks and Caicos) and Kirsten (from Germany). Often other people would squish into our table too but for the most part it was just the four of us. After brunch Tanja and I often went down to sit on the rocks by the river and study or usually just talk. That river is so amazing, it has such a calming effect on the mind, just listening to it rush past. We liked to sit on the big rocks down at the river bank and meditate.

After brunch we would have two more lectures, Raja yoga and Jnana Yoga with a tea break in between. After the final lecture we had our second Asana practice of the day and this was the one where we practiced moving into the advanced poses. Our teacher was amazing! She gave such great direction and had little tricks to help us move into some of the more challenging postures. All of our teachers were good and super friendly, but watching her get into all of these postures was really amazing. After advanced asana practice we had an hour break before dinner. Another chance for Tanja and I to run to the river, or just sit around and study. After dinner was another round of Satsang, silent meditation, chanting and often a lecture or concert or dance performance from local artists.
Anna (Turks and Caicos) and Heather at graduation

This same schedule went on 6 days a week for 4 weeks. We were given Fridays off, but we still had to attend Advanced Pranayama and both Satsangs. Asana classes were available if we chose to stick around the hotel and it was highly recommended that we stay for both meals as well, but not required. Tanja and I went into town on our first Friday with a few other women. The town was 3 km away and very tiny. We were really in an isolated area. We bought some cookies and fruit to last us for the next week and then went on a hike to a beautiful temple.

On our second Friday off, we just hung out around the hotel and then went back to the same temple as the week before as this was the week of the Sivayatri and holy Hindu festivity, so we felt we should be at the temple. One of the Indian Swamis (not one of the Sivananda Swamis) offered us some weed at the temple! Hahaha, while I'm sure that helps with meditation, I politely declined as did Tanja, we went down the ghat (bathing steps) and put our feet in the water. Then we found some more big rocks to climb up and meditate on.

Heather and Tanja
Our third Friday we went into town again and if you walk through the whole town you come to a temple on the river that is the confluence of the two rivers that become the Ganges. I think this information is correct, this is what the Swamis told us, but the Indian girl (Sukanya) whom Angela and I befriended at the march in Kolkata told me that this is not the actual confluence, that happens further down.  So I'm not positive. Anyway, Tanja and I walked up the very steep steps to the temple and made an offering (40 rupees, less than a dollar) and were given pursad (a sweet offering used in a blessing) of banana and some sort of bread thing. There were some monkeys hanging around and when we came out of the temple, the woman who watches over it followed us out with a stick to chase off the monkeys. Tanja and I tried to bolt but the monkeys saw our banana and were after us! We weren't sure what to do because we didn't want to offend the priestess by throwing the prusad but we also didn't want to be bitten by monkeys. We both started our awkward nervous laughter trying to figure out what our best plan was. We ended up chucking the prusad towards the monkeys (practicing ahimsa of course with no intent to harm them, regardless of their intentions) and running down the steps. One monkey didn't make it to our offering in time and started following us thinking we had more, so we stuck our hands up open palmed and very slowly backed away from the monkeys so they could see that we didn't have anything else they wanted. Finally, they left us alone and we headed back into town where Tanja was attacked by a dog! (it just walked up behind her and started barking, she didn't get bitten but it was a startling and Indian dogs aren't friendly like American dogs).

On our final Friday, Tanja wanted to go up to a temple that everyone had been talking about, but I decided to stay at the hotel and study. Mostly because it was going to be an all day trip and I was worried about getting car sick on the windy Himalayan roads. Tanja enjoyed the temple, but I don't regret my decision not to go. Tanja even brought me back a little mala bracelet from her journey.

The next day we had our final exams and on Sunday morning everybody parted ways, some took the long bus journey back to the airport (Tanja), and many of us (me) headed to Rishikesh...

5 comments:

  1. I wanna go do my 500 hour now in India. Great post!

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  2. Thanks Heather for such a great feedback! I consider going next February but feel quite reluctant about taking antimalarial medication. Did you take anything?

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    1. Hi Tania, I didn't take malaria meds. It is still pretty cold there that time of year so not too many mosquitos out. Check the maps too, if I remember correctly there are limited areas in India that are "malaria areas".

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  3. Hi Tania

    Thanks for sharing. How cold does it get in February?

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  4. Lovely pictures. Thanks for sharing. Settled in Uttarakhand, Rudra Prayag holds immense religious importance. The point of confluence of the River Alaknanda and River Mandakini, the town boasts of spectacular beauty and a mystical charm. Check out best hotels in Rudraprayag also.

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