I’m finishing my first week of yoga training at Rishikesh Yog Peeth Teacher Training School in India and it’s been an enlightening time for me so far. I’m learning so much that at times I feel like my brain is going to explode. I’m not only learning about yoga, more importantly, I’m learning about myself. The study of yoga is a process, and the process is beautiful. Yoga means awakening, and I see now that that is precisely what is happening to me. I’m awakening from a toxic sleep caused by stress, poor health choices and other environmental factors. Through yoga I am evolving and it feels marvelous. We learn new things every day and I can’t share them all with you, but here are the 5 major things that I’ve learned about yoga so far. If you want to know more, you should come to Rishikesh and experience it for yourself. It’s life changing.
Yoga is a lifestyle
Many of the students here at Rishikesh Yog Peeth have been practicing yoga for 5 to 10 years. They practice every day, not necessarily in a class, but more often in solitude. Some people travel from place to place on “yoga vacations” where they learn from various masters or instructors. They read every book they can get their hands on, starting with something simple like The Art of Joyful Living (a thoughtful new friend just bought me a copy) and ending with Yoga Sutra. Sure, you can choose to do “yoga” by just going to a couple of classes a week at your local gym, but that isn’t real yoga. That is just exercise.
Yoga encompasses mind, body and spirit
Yoga is much more than asana (poses). Our morning and evening sessions also include pranayama (breathing), mantra chanting, stretching and meditation. Pranayama is the conscious and deliberate control and regulation of our breath. Some of the pranayama are quite difficult, such as breathing in a very deep slow breath and then forcefully exhaling quickly 40 or more times. It increases the oxygen levels in your body and when I do it correctly I feel amazing! The chants are spiritual and show gratitude and devotion to great yogis or gods of the Hindu faith. I could see how people of other religions might not want to participate in this, but it’s not required. You can choose to do Oms instead. Basically the important part is to create healthy vibration within your body. Mediation is another important part of yoga. It is defined as the uninterrupted flow of awareness towards the object of concentration. It helps create focus.
Yoga is not a team sport
Yoga is something you learn and practice as an individual. Sure, you can learn it together as a group in a classroom setting, but it’s really all about you. You have to have the discipline to learn it, practice it and apply it to your daily life. People learn at different speeds. Each body, and each person, reacts to it differently. I can’t do many of the poses. Sometimes I have to modify them a bit (correctly) so I can do just part of the asana. It’s okay. No one pushes me to the point of injury. Sometimes I get frustrated but everyone around me is so supportive. There is no shortage of encouragement from my new friends and our instructors.
Holding the horse asana
Yoga is much harder than it looks
By the end of asana class I am trembling with exhaustion, yet I feel spectacular! It’s not just about accomplishing that difficult pose, but also holding the position longer and longer while simultaneously breathing correctly. It’s incredibly difficult. Here is a good example. Sit with your back straight against a wall. Now lift your arms straight over your head so that they are active and straight beside your ears. Now straighten your legs and flex your leg muscles and feet. Slowly raise your legs off the ground. It sounds like it should be an easy thing, but the first time I tried it I couldn’t lift my legs off the ground at all. That is because in yoga we use muscles that haven’t been used in a very long time, and we engage them correctly. If done properly yoga builds strength, stamina, and flexibility. It can even improve cardiovascular health.
There are many different styles and variation of yoga
We are learning hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is a fairly generic term referring to any kind of yoga that teaches physical postures and poses. Another popular style in Iyengar. Iyengar is similar to hatha except that it uses props to assist with proper alignment. Straps, blocks and chairs are the most common props. In our hatha classes we also use wooden blocks and straps to help us get into just the right position and engage the muscles correctly. Bikram or hot yoga are also very popular. Bikram is done in a heated room and always follows the same sequence. It makes you sweat, a lot!
If you want learn more about yoga I encourage you to learn it correctly. Don’t just drop in on a class or two and give it a try. Take some time to research it and learn it properly. It is very rewarding and I wish I had done this years ago.