“Words cannot convey the value of yoga. It has to be experienced” B.K.S. Iyengar
And so I did. For one month I experienced yoga from 5.30am to 9pm every damn day. As a result I have graduated from Yoga Teacher Training, made some incredible friends along the way and can proudly call myself a qualified yoga teacher!
Before I embarked on the intensive training I was apprehensive about the challenges I would face. I expected to struggle learning fancy postures, to be intimidated by my fellow students’ superior physical abilities and to potentially fall out of love with yoga (1 hour a week to 15 hours a day was quite a big jump!). Whilst I can happily report none of these specific fears materialised I was still presented with unexpected challenges along the way. I can’t find the words to do the journey justice however I would like to share some of the joy and weirdness with you.
Haven: Graduation fire ceremony
I arrived at Ashram Yoga, Ohui, a stunning oceanside retreat in New Zealand’s beautiful Coromandel peninsula and took in my surroundings: a secluded beach with a long stretch of peaceful forest running parallel, little islands, acres of native bush and hilltop lookouts. A multitude of retreats within a retreat – something to balance any mood: wild waves, grounding woodland trails and lush jungle greenery.
During the first week I went to bed most evenings aching and overwhelmed. Aching, not from strong postures, but from sitting cross legged on the floor all day every day. Overwhelmed from the amount of information and theory to take in. Having spent the past 6 months far away from the sedentary life of a lawyer, sitting still and engaging my brain again was hard! I wanted to run along the beach, I wanted to learn how to do the fancy postures you see on Instagram! Instead I was sitting, listening, watching and learning how to breathe.
Breath – something we cannot live without, yet something we pay very little attention to. How many of us spend huge amounts of time considering our diets, what to eat, what to drink? Yet our diets are such a small proportion of how we find energy, we can survive weeks without food but only a few minutes without breath. I have learnt how to eat properly but I had never really considered how to breathe properly and now, it seemed, was the time. Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), bhastrika (bellows breath), yogic (full abdominal and chest breathing) to name but a few of the techniques I studied skeptically. I say skeptically because I could never imagine practicing them in the “outside world” however I have found myself turning to a technique most days, whether it’s to calm and internalise myself or invigorate and energise, the breath is a tool we can use to change and balance ourselves.
Some of the less subtle challenges were the yogic cleansing processes. Over the month we were introduced to four different techniques always first thing in the morning at around 5am, made oddly amusing and acceptable by doing them as a group.
The first was Neti – pouring warm salt water through one nostril until it streamed out of the other, clearing out the nose and sinuses for abovementioned breathing techniques. The first time I found it reminiscent of the feeling of being dunked in the sea – salt water up my nose and in my ears!
Second was Laghoo, affectionately nicknamed “lapoo” which involved sculling several glasses of warm salt water, doing specific exercises and waiting for the “flush”. Morning practice following laghoo was always quite funny with several disturbances throughout as people ran out to use the toilet.
Third was Kunjal – more downing glasses of warm salty water but this time sticking your fingers down your throat after to cleanse the stomach. I was extremely opposed to this at the outset and can’t say I would do it again however I realise now it is pretty harmless as it’s done on an empty stomach and is really just a salt water swill. Standing outside in the dark at 5am with my yoga teacher vomiting salt water together was a strange but special moment I won’t forget!
The final cleansing was trataka, candle gazing, which is also a meditation technique. You literally stare at a candle flame without blinking. At this point in the training nothing seemed weird anymore however James came to the retreat for the final day or two and was invited to sit in on this ritual. I am not sure he was convinced..!
Along the way I dealt with the other challenges using various methods. The insomnia with a cocktail of magnesium, cherry tincture and valerian root, the self-doubt by ripping all my clothes off and throwing myself in the ocean (it was a nudist beach) but the biggest help of all were the people. My wonderful roommate, who listened, cared and inspired, my little Russian wood-stacking soul sister, my amazing Auckland mums with whom I shared so much laughter and philosophy, a beautiful boy from Bristol and the list goes on. The lessons and inspiration I took from each and every one of my yoga family made my experience so special – something I will treasure forever.
My yoga family
Life outside the yoga bubble seemed a little too much straight away so James and I headed up to Kerikeri, north of Auckland, to spend a week working at an Iyengar studio. What better than to follow a month of intensive yoga? More yoga of course.
Kerikeri Yoga Centre
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Namaste.
(I was given a Sanskrit name “Shanti Pari” which means “complete peace” which is probably more of an aspiration rather that something I embody right now!)
Accepting my teaching certificate from the Swami
Ps An enormous thank you to my incredible co-blogger/fiancé, James, for his unwavering support and to my little family for their encouragement.