Editor's blog: it's the final week at the ashram

Sunday 28 October, 2007

sivananda teacher training courseI can scarcely believe we're now over three weeks into this intensive yoga course, and that the end is firmly in sight.


There have been times when I have doubted that the pre-dawn starts and long, jam-packed days here at northern California's Sivananda ashram would ever end.

But I find myself writing this on the eve of our fourth and final week of the Teacher Training Course (or TTC for short).

Before I started on this journey, graduates of the Sivananda Teacher Training course had told me that the course would become easier at the end of the second week. The advice was to let go of any expectations, and to sit through the hard times.

I've tried my hardest to do both, with varying success. An open mind (and heart) helps with the initial shock and sheer unfamiliarity of the chanting, a key aspect of Sivananda yoga and one that many people initially struggle with.

Now, the chants that seemed to alien three weeks ago are drummed firmly into me, and even if I don't fully buy into the reasons behind why we do them, they are fun and uplifting to sing.

The biggest challenge of the first two weeks has been the double-whammy endurance test of little sleep and even less free time.

When Swami Vishnu Devananda founded this intensive month-long courseYOGA HALL for yoga teachers in the 1960s, his fundamental aim was to give students (or aspirants, as we are referred to) a solid grounding in all aspects of classical yoga life: the food, the discipline, the karma yoga, the chanting and spiritual dimension, and of course the asanas, or postures.

The four hours of asanas we do each day are important but arguably less so than the other dimensions I've just mentioned, and it's this emphasis that sets the Sivananda Teacher Training course apart from the multitude that have spring up over the last ten years or so.

The aim is to push the student to the limits - physically, mentally, emotionally. The message is that spiritual life may follow a simple pattern, but it is also demanding in every way.

That's certainly true! I am sitting on the terrace of my cabin in the ashram grounds on our longed-for day off. It's difficult to exaggerate the luxury of having 12 hours' uninterrupted free time, when the rest of the week is consumed with a schedule that allows perhaps 30 minutes of down-time in a 5.30am to 10pm day.

The 6am satsang is followed immediately by the first asana class of the day, and at 10am there's brunch - muesli, brown bread, rice, grains, vegetables.

Karma yoga - "selfless service" that basically means doing some work around the ashram - is followed hot on the heels by the midday chanting or Bhagvad Gita class.

Then there is a cherished hour off (normally taken up with grabbing a shower, or hand washing) before afternoon lecture comprising philosophy or anatomy at 2pm, before another asana class at 4pm.

Dinner is at 6pm, followed by an hour free when I do my homework. Evening satsang is from 8am to 10pm. Then there are seven hours before the whole thing starts again.

Yes, the schedule is gruelling, but somehow, the mind and body become used to how things are. By the third week, the crippling tiredness that grabbed me during weeks one and two has eased and my body has adjusted to a new pattern of six hours' sleep instead of eight.

Other things have changed too. Physically, and thanks to four hours of asanas a day, and some wonderful teaching, I feel stronger and more supple than ever before. I am inches away from doing an unsupported headstand - unthinkable a few weeks ago.

I haven't experienced any deep emotional lows (yet!), but the minor personal achievements (teaching a group of four fellow students, for example) has lead to a a subtle feeling that perhaps I'm made of tougher stuff than I think I am.

This following week will see us perform Kriyas (cleansing techniques, one of which involves bringing up stale food... nice!), take part in a talent show - which I hope is optional - and sit a three-hour final exam.

I'm acutely aware that this fourth and final week will fly by, and that these four weeks spent dressed in yellow and white will soon feel like a half-remembered dream.

I have a feeling the real, life-long challenge arising from this month will be to make sure the harder lessons of that dream - the focus, discipline, sense of achievement - aren't lost in the humdrum of 'normal' life away from the ashram.



Lucia Cockcroft, editor


Other entries about the teacher training course: 

Surviving the first week of TTC

Setting off for Teacher Training 



Me, in full uniform, sitting on the bed

The yoga hall at the ashram



Asana of the Month

Yoga Travel

Writer and yoga teacher Sarah Dawson re-discovers contentment at Portugese retreat centre, Vale de Moses.


Mindfulneses author & coach Shamash Alidina explains the importance of switching from 'doing' to 'being'.