Tag Archives: Yoga

“A yoga siromani I am”

[From top: Sirshasana (Headstand), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Halasana (Plough), Matsyasana (Fish), Paschmothanasana (Sitting forward bend), Bhujangasana (Cobra), Salabhasana (Locust), Dhuranasana (Bow), Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half spinal twist), Kakasana (Crow), Pada Hasthanasana (Standing forward bend), Trikonasana (Triangle). Phew.]

After over 60 hours of chanting, 75 hours of Yoga Asanas, and innumerable Vedantic Philosophy lessons and discussions, it’s over.

It will take a few weeks to write up some of the experiences here in full, which came thick and fast, particularly in the final week. We finally graduated on Saturday night after a 3 hour exam in the morning.

The three final lessons on Thursday epitomised the Ashram in all its colours and shades.

Midday brought a final lesson from the delightful 80-year-old Mr Nagaraj, a man with an unquenchable thirst for the teachings of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Even if the lessons dragged a bit (they included group chanting of selected verses of the sacred text), Mr Nagaraj had a child-like and infectious sense of humour. His favourite quote: “WAKE UP FROM YOU SIESTA! THE VERSE WILL MAKE YOU COME ALIVE! TIME… IS OUR ENEMY NUMBER ONE!”

He was sent off with an emotional farewell, reminiscent of the “Captain my Captain” scene in the film Dead Poets Society, as one by one we rose from our creaking knees to give him a standing ovation. (There was an underlying note of relief that it was all over, but it was a special moment).

At 2pm, the big boss Swami Mahaadevananda took to the stage for his final lecture on Vedantic Philosophy. A large and powerful Italian, now head of all the Sivananda ashrams in India, Swami M had delighted in provoking, cajoling and stimulating us over 4 weeks with a call to arms: “control your ‘stupid little minds’, realise the self and achieve happiness”. This grated with some Western sensibilities (including mine) for the first couple of weeks. but ultimately fitted into a pattern of thought and beliefs that is fascinating in its comprehensiveness.

His final lecture was as provocative as ever. There was no let-up in discipline as he sent one student off to change into uniform and berated others for slack seating posture; and the lecture itself was a strong statement of his belief in the corruption of the Western way of life. He is a passionate and deliberately contentious figure and one that many warmed to over the course.

By 4pm, we were in the hands of our Asana (physical practice) teacher, Mani. His humour and passion had stretched and squeezed bodies in varying degrees, achieving remarkable transformation in some, and inspiring unquestioning adoration from others.

His final class was “meditative”, meaning that we were to hold each pose for up to 7 minutes in absolute silence. It was an amazing and emotional experience.

By the end of the class the raucous send-off we wanted to give him was suddenly deeply inappropriate. His final act of prostration before the class taught many of us more about humility than any amount of theory could have done.

Despite Swami Mahaadevananda’s exhortation to spend the time chanting the mantra “I will not worry about exams” there was, unsurprisingly, oodles of frantic revision over the Friday night. The collective “stupid little minds” whirred away as we all attempted to cram in information at the last minute. (Many people were a little rusty on exam technique, not least the delightful Doctor Phillippe from Switzerland who, in his mid-60s now, had last taken an exam in 1975).

For many, sleep was fitful – and it seemed deeply appropriate that my Pujahri friend Jaylaal’s alarm should once again go off at 3.15am as if to remind me that a level of temper control is one of the lessons I will take from the Ashram.

The exam itself was easier than expected for most of us. Twenty-four packed 17-hour-days had established facts deep in our memory cassettes, waiting for regurgitation with a little bit of tonsil-tickling.

A de-mob happy crowd attended the graduation ceremony and a final talent show, before most headed to the beach. (The shop-keepers have confirmed that the economies of beach-towns Varkala and Kovalam receive a welcome boost at the end of each Teacher Training Course).

I head to Delhi tomorrow (Thursday) then into Rajashtan. I will post again soon.


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A pregnant pause

The voice of our German instructor Shakti (spiritual name) wafted gently across the room. “This exercise is particularly good for relaxing the pelvic floor and preparing for birth. Now gently push down, and rel-aaaax”.

It was a moment that begged for reflection. Here I was, on my hands and knees, a pillow stuffed up my shirt, learning about the intricacies of doing yoga while pregnant. Not even a clairvoyant would have seen this coming six months ago. Given that I find many of the asanas (physical poses) hard enough while unimpregnated, this class was getting close to being a challenge too far. I struggled through. (I was helped by my chosen location for this class – the Japanese ladies enclave. God knows how they manage still look graceful while quasi-pregnant).

It’s been quite a journey, this week in particular. Full reflections will have to wait a while to grace cyberspace. There are two days left of the course – an examination tomorrow and then graduation in the evening. The final week has been filled with priceless moments.

I must now endeavour to put in at least a passable impression of knowledge of Vedanta Philosophy, Basic Anatomy, Teaching class structures, and Meditative practices in tomorrow’s exam. It is my first for a good 15 years.

If all goes horribly wrong, it occurs to me that a (relatively valid) answer would be to admit that I may have been relying too much on divine intervention in my revision. (I am currently 100 yards from the beach).

‘Til next week. Wish me luck!

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Cringing over “Kriyas”

If there is one word that has, for the past 2 weeks, stricken fear into all the teacher trainees here it is “Kriyas”.

“Kriyas” are the cleansing techniques that are associated with the practice of Yoga. Given the Sivananda Ashram’s keen desire to ensure that we realize yoga is not just stretching, this is an integral part of the teaching course.

All that we had to go on were some blurred descriptions in the manuals, and some frightening descriptions of nasal tube insertion, stomach muscle churning, and forced vomiting.

The day of reckoning had originally been set for 10 days ago, but lack of equipment delayed the inevitable. (The specific missing pieces were 170 “Neti Pots”, used for pouring salt water into one nostril so that it runs out of the other. I am certain there is some entrepreneur lying on a beach somewhere having made a fortune out of manufacturing these small flowering-can-like canisters).

As the trainees gathered down by the lake at 8am, many of us kept ourselves to ourselves, occasionally exchanging nervous glances as we mentally prepared for the worst. Some of the boys however (who clearly felt this was a challenge that could only to be taken head-on), could be seen indulging in bravado-laden chest-puffing and stiff-upper-lipping.

Mani, our teacher, has commanded tremendous respect through his challenging Asanas (physical practice) classes, and his brilliant stories. It was a stroke of genius to have him lead the Kriyas – I’m not sure many other teachers could have made it all seem so natural. He proceeded to demonstrate the salt-water nasal cleaning with his Neti pot, making it look like he had been doing it since he was a babe in arms (which he probably has). He very wisely left the other exercises to his assistants. (A teacher has to maintain some kind of distance from his students, and frankly throwing up in front of your wards is probably taking it a little too far).

Now it was our turn. Broken into groups, we nervously went through the steps of the first challenge – the salt-water nasal cleaning. This in fact proved remarkably easy, and you could sense the relief spreading through the camp as we moved onto the second exercise – cleansing the nasal passage with a rubber tube. .

As we got underway, I paused to look around. The scene resembled m\nothing less than an Indian version of the MTV programme “Jackass”. Here were 170-odd perfectly sane people trying to insert a small rubber tube up one nostril and down the back of their throats, sticking two fingers into their mouths to grab the tube, and then moving it back and forth to clear the passage. It was too bizarre for words.

In fact many people managed it (your writer got the tube down into my mouth but try as I might, that darned tube just evaded my groping fingers), and some positively enjoyed it.

The third challenge was simple to explain, slightly harder to execute. Drink (at least) eight glasses of saline water as fast as you can, and repeat as necessary, until nature takes it’s course and forces it all back out. This time it looked like the streets of Edinburgh on the morning after a Scotland-England rugby game, with people doubled up with cramps and spewing forth their insides with gusto. Nice. I felt particularly sorry for Australian Benny who consumed 20 glasses with no effects. Too much Castlemaine XXXX I think. I’m not sure that he ever did throw up, which is slightly frightening.

The final technique was for only the bravest of the brave – swallowing a 2-foot long thin strip of saline-soaked gauze bit by bit until it is at least a foot down your throat before bringing it back up “gently”.

As Mani patiently explained the procedure to the increasingly beleaguered students, one of the Tamil boys sprang forward with only a small tab of gauze showing out of his mouth. “Yes, he will demonstrate” Mani said after getting over his surprise. The Tamil boy then proceeded to pull nearly a yard of gauze from his stomach. They’re proud of their inner cleanliness down here.

The foolhardy few completed this final exercise before we trooped back up to the gates of the Ashram. It had, in fact, been great fun – just another part of the experience here, which continues apace.

One more week to go before exams – and graduation next Sunday. I will post again then.

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