Two years ago, at this time, I was deep in the Himalayan Mountains in Himachal Pradesh, India settling into a one month intensive yoga teacher training course. It was a journey I had dreamed of taking in order to deepen my yoga practice, to learn about the philosophy and history of this ancient practice and to strengthen my self knowledge and awareness. I settled in the small mountain town of McLeod Ganj and began this solo journey of self exploration.
Nestled in the mountains above Dharamsala is the town of McLeod Ganj (elevation 2,082 meters), now home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. Since the early 1960’s thousands of Tibetan refugees have sought asylum in India when they fled Tibet and now call this place home. The blend of Tibetan Buddhism with the local Hindu culture has created a peaceful haven and travellers head into this area of India to attend meditation centres, Ayurvedic retreat centres and yoga schools.
Chandra Yoga International School
The Chandra Yoga International School was located in the Siddharth House, just off Jogibara Road, a short walk from the Main Square. Ricky, my fiance who I had been travelling with, accompanied me to Siddharth House where I checked into the school and was shown to my room. (Each student had his/her own room, bathroom and balcony with epic views of the mountains facing toward Dhalaudhar Peak.) Ricky and I said our farewells and for the next four weeks we embarked on our individual ventures. Dr. Sushil and the other teachers welcomed all the students and we listened to the mantra chanting and shared offerings of herbs, spices and ghee to the deities during the opening fire ceremony.
The course consisted of 200 hours of intensive yoga training, focusing on asana, pranayama, meditation, anatomy and physiology, yoga philosophy, ethics and teacher methodology. We attended classes, lectures and workshops 6 days a week.
- 5:30 Wake up
- 6:00 – 7:45 Meditation and Pranayama
- 7:45 – 8:00 Tea Break
- 8:00 – 10:00 Yoga Asana Practice
- 10:00 – 11:00 Breakfast
- 11:00 – 1:00 Philosophy lecture
- 1:00 – 2:00 Lunch
- 2:00 – 4:00 Anatomy (1st two weeks) Self Study (2nd two weeks)
- 4:00 – 4:30 Tea Break
- 4:30 – 6:30 Yoga Asana Practice and Theory
- 6:30 – 7:30 Dinner
- 8:00 – 9:30 Self Study
- 9:30 Lights Out
The meals were vegetarian and followed Ayurvedic nutritional guidelines. Over the course of the month there was also a guest Reiki teacher who ran a two day Reiki I workshop and another guest teacher who taught us an Introduction to Ayurveda workshop. It was amazing to study and practice with students from all over the world: German, Thai, Brazilian, Slovakian, Finnish, American, English, Japanese, Australian, Canadian and Colombian… such an amazing mix and we all learned so much from each other!
The Dalai Lama’s Birthday
On June 21st a few of my course mates and I celebrated the Summer Solstice and the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday! The Tibetan community had organised a huge celebration for the Dalai Lama so we woke up early and headed to the Tsuglagkhang Temple to witness and partake in the festivities. There were over 6,000 people in and around the temple and all of the Tibetans were dressed so beautifully in silks and rich, bold colours. As the Dalai Lama entered into the temple there was such an overwhelming feeling of happiness that spread through everyone and brought many people to tears of joy! This was the opportunity for the Tibetan community to show their gratitude and appreciation to him for all of his guidance, support and teachings he has shared with the world. These teachings include the importance of compassion, peace, love and respect towards one another. The monks passed around traditional butter tea in giant teapots and scone like bread. A friendly man sitting next to me translated some of what was being said. I left the ceremony feeling completely content and at peace and am still so amazed how one man’s presence can be so powerful! A few of my course mates and I concluded the day with 108 sun salutations, paying respects to the longest day of the year.
On one of our free days we decided to hike to Triund (elevation 2,900 meters). We woke up early and walked 2 km up from McLeod Ganj to Dharamkot, then through the forest of oak and rhododendrons to reach to bottom of the 7 km hike up to Triund. The skies were clear and the views were majestic: the towns of Bhagsu Nag, Dharamkot, McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala below and the Dhalaudhar snowy mountain peaks above and beyond. We began as a large group but slowly separated into smaller groups as we ascended the mountain for about three hours. It was interesting to watch the landscape change from trees and bushes to huge, spectacular boulders to grassy meadows. There were small chai stands along the way and goats and cows roamed freely on the side of the mountain. As the hike became steeper, and my friends and I began to tire, we motivated and encouraged each other, one step at a time. Once we arrived at the top we experienced an amazing feeling of accomplishment! We had supported each other to succeed and the reward was incredible!
During the last week of the course I was assessed on my ability to plan, cue and guide students through their yoga practice. I had a 30 minute asana practicum, a 30 minute meditation, pranayama and mantra practicum and a 60 minute asana practicum. It was awesome to be able to apply what I had learned and begin to develop my own style of teaching! It was also inspiring to follow the guidance of my fellow students as they taught their classes.
The course was an incredible journey of the self, through the self, to the self. It was an amazing experience where I was able to submerge myself into the history of yogic culture that has been around for over 7,000 years! There were challenging moments that I had to overcome and the knowledge and confidence I gained from these obstacles has only made me stronger. I am honoured to have been able to travel to the home of this ancient practice and now, two years later, with over 200 hours of teaching experience, I find myself reflecting on this opportunity as a great gift which continues to inspire me to explore, further my knowledge and share this lifestyle with my own students!