After resolving the debate about whether to do an intensive 200 hours yoga teaching training course (ttc) or a longer two year diploma, I found myself in Rishikesh, Uttarkhand, North India about to embark on five of the most challenging weeks of my life.
So the above debate! I had been warned of the perils of the quick fix ttc and various western schools had been proselytizing their courses as being the one to offer the most depth and quality (and most expensive). Both of the longer courses and the intensives have their merits but eventually I made my decision. For me, even if only for 5 weeks, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the practice. I wanted to wake with the rising sun; to eat, drink and sleep yoga without the distractions of ‘normal life’ in London. Oh, and I wanted to travel so badly. All the ingredients were there. I quit my job, said goodbye to the people I loved and booked a one way ticket to India.
I will save my experiences of India for other posts but, in short, nothing could have prepared me. I didn’t experience a huge culture shock as such; in fact I felt at home almost immediately, it was the relentless assault on my senses that took the most acclimatizing to. The colours, sights, sounds and of course those oh so pungent smells. There is no escape. You are in it and you are in it 24 hours a day.
Be careful what you wish for. For some reason (this is a good topic for another post) I seem to manifest things more quickly on the road. I had wanted to get away from things,the hustle and bustle of London life and its plethora of people – family, business and social. In short I wanted to hang out with me for a little while, just me. On arriving at the Atri Yoga Centre I was told by the serious looking Ashtangi owner and trainer that the online booking system had crashed shortly after I had made my payment and no other student was able to join. I was on my own! 5 weeks just me and the instructor.
I was shown to my accommodation, a bleak room in an even bleaker guest house, whose staff had a bleak outlook and that bleak stare of a person who knows they are unlikely to better their situation any time soon and have resigned themselves to their fate. To sum it up..it was bleak. I soon realised that in theory I had wanted to hang out with just Ben but the reality was I am a social person who thrives off meeting new people. I am a quiet guy, shy and sometimes withdrawn but just being around good people makes me feel good. They say you become like the 6 people you are around the most. And, being in the that bleak room with those bleak people I sat on my bed, eyes watery, a precursor to tears and felt incredibly bleak. By osmosis the hope was being displaced by the damp dreariness of my predicament.
Many thoughts ran through my head at this moment. Should I come home? Was I cut out for travel? Should I book on to another yoga course with other human beings? Should I postpone, travel around and come back to the centre when others are booked on? After running all these questions through my mind, with true British stoicism I decided to pretend everything was okay, tell everyone what a wonderful time I was having and just get on with it. Or in the words of my ex CEO, the formidable Baroness Young, JFID (just fucking do it).
Wide eyed with fear ( my wide eyes and my fear) my yoga teacher ran through the schedule. Up at 5am ready for 6am meditation, a cup of chai (the best chai in Rishikesh but I will write about that elsewhere), then two hours Ashtanga practice, breakfast, alignment class, lunch, philosophy class, physiology and anatomy, chai and finally two hours classic Hatha Yoga in the evening. In between formal classes I was guzzling as much chai as I could whilst studying the encyclopedia sized manual that I would be tested on in my final days.
My first impression or maybe my first impression after the first class of Harish Chandra can best be described with a quote from The Terminator.
“Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.“
After I got over my male authority figure complex I grew to love the great Harish Chandra. Similar to how the Arnie turns good in T2 , my perceptions of him went through a similar transformation. His beloved mantra “simple living, high thinking” is something I want to continue to live by. He was quick to correct, discipline and challenge but just as quick to laugh, joke and allow me rest when the infamous Rishikesh stomach upsets were at their worst. Being the only student we shared many a chai talking about yoga, India, politics, religion and the wider world. His views were traditional and in stark contrast to the western Hatha yoga I was used to. For him it was his life and love, passion, calling, it was his purpose for being on this planet.
(“come with me if you want to live”(forever!))
One thing that struck me about the mighty Harish Chandra was the lack of supporting material. Hmmmm how do I explain this? There was no recommended reading. He rarely referred to the great proponents of western yoga BKS Iyengar, Desichachar, Rama Krishna, Patabi Jois etc. He didn’t quote scholors or masters or Gurus to back up what he was teaching. His face was blank when I mentioned Chris Crandell or Anna Forrest. Although always willing to learn he took the names down to look into. It was later, after a long meditation session, it clicked. This was a teacher who didn’t need any external validation or support to back him up. He just knew! He wasn’t just in it, he was it, he was the teaching, the practice, he was a man who humbly personified the teachings. Not a God man and not perfect but he didn’t seem to be trying to get anywhere..he was there and to date was one of the few people I have met who are in that space constantly; whether teaching students meditation or washing the dishes. When you are around people who just know it is a very special thing.
My body opened at the same rate that my trust developed in him. My mind calmed down as my belief in techniques he taught developed. We would sit drinking chai after morning meditation and he would try to explain what the second level of samadhi felt like. He couldn’t! But I was in no doubt that that was the place he had got to.
The first week was hell. Stiff mentally and physically, resistant to study (same as in school), and very lonely. By the third week I felt incredible; strong, flexible and calm. I would mediate in my free time, practice in my free time and committed to study as thoroughly as my monkey mind would allow. By the end wanderlust had kicked in and the mountains and my Gurudev where calling me and I knew my time was up.
So it ended in the best way it could. I passed my exams physical and theoretical with flying colours. I got my certificate that seemed so meaningless when you consider the shear effort and growth that it represents and I was made a gift of a mala as a personal token from Harish.
(Class of 2015)
Goodbyes were said to Harish and some of the other regular students at the centre. I bid an emotional farewell to Rishikesh and the one or two close friends I had made there. I felt a lump in my throat as I drank my last chai from Mama’s chai stand, a spicy elixir fit for the Rajs of old. Silently fingering my mala and reciting “Aum Namah Shivaya” I boarded the bus and headed east from where my Gurudev was calling. The call was strong, the call of the wild…but that is for another post.
This post is dedictaed to…
Harish Chandra of the Atri Yoga Centre, Laxman Jula, Rishikesh
Susannah Hoffman, for preparing me
Mama’s Chai stand
La Seeds of Life Cafe
All benifits of this post are offered at the lotus feet of..
Sri Haidikhan Babaji
AUM NAMAH SHIVAYA