India is a place of contrast and wonder like no other, steeped in a diverse culture and history that is beyond compare It was the perfect place to visit to find ourselves and delve into the knowledge and wisdom of yoga.
To most people yoga is a stretching exercise that is done in a gym or maybe a studio, where you get sweaty, wear tight clothing and try to imitate some animals. While this is part of the picture it is only the tip of the iceberg of a deep rich lifestyle that has been practiced for 1000's of years.
I have always had a vague interest and an even vaguer knowledge of yoga, but it always seemed to call me. I finally answered the call in June 2016 with my partner in the divine Elis. After months of intention and no action we finally booked our yoga teacher training course with Chandra yoga school based in McLeod Ganj. This is a suburb of Dharmsala in Kangra district of himachal Pradesh, India. It is known as "Little Lhasa" because of its large population of Tibetans. It is the home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government.
Situated in a beautiful mountain region surrounded by stunning natural beauty we were instantly captivated by the energy and cleansing air. The course is one month of intensive residential training in all facets of the yoga lifestyle including mantras, breathwork, meditation, anatomy, philosophy and asanas (postures). What is not on the official course curriculum is what you will learn about yourself and life in general.
Planes Cows And Automobiles
The journey began in Dubai airport where we got on the flight just by the skin of our teeth thanks to a very kind friend of ours who drove to the airport not once but twice. The first time was to drop us off the second time was to deliver Elis's Passport after a miracle 1 hour speed limit smashing round trip and a lot of sweet talking to the guy on the desk... Phew... :) !
We flew from Dubai to Amritsar overnight and arrived early morning with a 6 hour taxi ride to our destination for the next month ahead of us. This was my first time in India and when I say nothing could have prepared me for what happened next is an understatement! We got into our carriage with our very friendly driver and took off on one of the craziest journeys of my life. India has an estimated population of 1.2 billion people, 60 million Cars and 301 million cows, on the roads it feels like every one of them is with you. The concept of lanes and direction is quite open to interpretation and it seems that some sort of miracle unseen forcefield surrounds each vehicle and animal so that they flow seamlessly past each other. Its not an uncommon sight to see on a two lane road 4 cars wide 3 cows and a family of 5 on a moped who had forgotten to pack the kitchen sink. Although at times this was a bit scary and completely crazy to me, originally from rural Ireland. Elis a native of Sao Paulo Brazil was blissfully unaware and sometimes even seemed to enjoy it :)
Somehow we managed to get to our destination around 5 and half hours later keen for some rest and to prepare ourselves for the first day of our yoga teacher training the next day. We were we warmly greeted by the lovely Rachel part of the Chandra team who was surprised to see we had only a small backpack each for one months stay. This decision was a deliberate one and proved to be a very freeing one as both of us had travelled in the past with our kitchen sinks too.
Teaching The Teachers
After a good nights sleep we had the opening ceremony with all our teachers and fellow students which involved a traditional fire ceremony to call in blessings for the whole group. It was led by our esteemed guru Dr Sushil and involved Sanskrit chanting which was a refreshing sign of things to come as Chandra like to honour the traditions of yoga handed down through the centuries.
The next step was to introduce ourselves to the large group of 30+ students. The group formed in a large seated circle and and through a clever word game introduced themselves in turn and we had to remember all the others names. We luckily were at the start so only had to remember our teachers names and our own. The people at the end had to name all 36 people that they had just met. Shout out to Lisa a massage therapist and Waldorf school teacher from the USA who impressively named everyone without effort. Is this a sign of the benefits of massage and alternative schooling? I think so.
The next 28 days where filled with living an breathing yoga. Everyday started at 6am in the upper room under the watchful gaze of Buddha and shiva , everyone joined, to chant sanskrit mantras and then pranayama and meditation. The mantras were sung by Dr Sushil and we repeated in chorus. On the first day we received a sheet with all the strange letters there and I wondered how I would ever be able to remember it all, but sure enough with the power of repetition after a few days it was ingrained. Those words and tunes are still ingrained deeply in me and they always bring back nice memories and feelings with great people. Unsurprisingly the pranayama was a particular favourite for us. The fact the we practiced 'bhastrika', a fast breath through the nostrils which is similar to the method we use in Activate breathwork was another bonus. This method of breathing is very powerful and can allow even the most addicted thinkers a welcome solace.
After breakfast we would have anatomy class which was very informative and I feel that everyone took something from. We then would have our first asana class where we would learn and practice the poses. The teaching was very thorough and professional and the teachers Taryn, Rachel and Sandy were always very patient and on hand to give extra help when needed. After a short tea break we would have a yoga philosophy class with Dr Sushil or Manoj. Both of these guys know their stuff having lived it their whole lives and these classes were very interesting to me in particular. Dr Sushil would always inject interesting anecdotes with humour and Manoj injected dynamic pranayamas when the odd snore was heard (Cezar) :) After lunch we would have some free time and self study then workshops or more asanas. These days were full of fun and tiring sometimes but all led to a well rounded professional course to prepare us to teach yoga to others.
Kundalini Rising, Sandy Cycles and Triund Treking
There are many highlights from the yoga course from the amazing people we met, the invaluable experience and beautiful surroundings but there are few moments that stood out for me. There were two yoga classes that really stood out and both for very different reasons.
Raj Rising Kundalini
The first one was a very intense personal experience for me on only day three of the course! The class was taken by one of our teachers called Raj. Raj is a softly spoken laid back character, from Delhi, his style was traditional indian with some kundalini elements that I loved. Raj added a lot of chanting both mentally and verbally during the practice and it helped a lot during some tough sequences. He focused a lot on the chakra systems and his classes always flowed perfectly. In this particular class we performed a lot of simple moves but with intense focus on the breath and chanting. In the middle of the class I started to feel an intense energy in the base of my spine and tingling in my body. Raj had us stand and do a simple neck roll towards the end of the class and something happened that I have never experienced before. I had my eyes closed and lowered my left ear to my left shoulder and I felt and intense rush of energy and everything turned green. It felt amazing if not slightly overwhelming. I slowly raised my head and turned it to the right and something similar happened only this time everything turned blue! I was at this stage slightly rocking back and forward with the intensity of the energy and with Raj's voice becoming like a distant murmur I slowly straightened my head to the centre and allowed it to fall backwards. In the instant that my head reached back as far as it could go, BOOM I felt this intense surge of energy words cannot do justice to describe. It felt like time stood still for a moment then this explosion of energy erupted from the base of my spine and started moving upwards through my chakras. It was vibrating ,spinning, shaking at the same time kind of felt like a spinal train chugging upwards. When this energy reached my forehead everything in my experience turned into a brilliant bright white light and I experienced a state of pure bliss. I dont know how long this lasted for but It wasn't long and after it subsided I was standing in the middle of the class vibrating and lightly rocking back and forward, not quite knowing what I was doing. I somehow made it through the last couple of minutes of the class and then just turned to Elis beside me with a face that indicated something other worldly just happened. I have read about Kundalini rising experiences before so I knew that this was some form of that. I will never forget that experience as long as I live and Elis will probably never forget that face. Thank you Raj!
Sandy Has Us Over The Moon
Later in the course we had the second stand out experience for myself and Elis. The class was with Sandy Lee, originally from Boston U.S.A. This lady is something special! Everything about her oozes yoga, energy and love. From her beautiful calming tone of voice to her style and beautiful demeanour she is a very easy to spend time with. Having missed her full moon class one evening due to being very tired we were sure to take the next chance we had to join.
The class was for a small group that we had been split into for our practice classes. We went to small room in a building up the 108 steps from our daily classes. The class was designed predominantly for woman on their 'moon' cycle which is the yoga term for the monthly cycle. Myself and Luka from Italy, the only guys were assured by Sandy that it was good for us to attend :) For the guys reading this, although we don't have this monthly experience physically all of us have will have direct contact with ladies who do. Our having a better knowledge and understanding of this can only improve our relationships and bring us closer to the women in our lives.
The room was flawlessly prepared with incense, candles, crystals, blankets and everything to ensure the upcoming journey was blissful and comfortable. The style was restorative and flowed smoothly with lots of hip opening and gentle poses. Sandy opened in her signature style with deep spiritual Dialogue that set the tone and I instantly became quite emotional. With every pose I relaxed and deepened more and more. Every pose seem to mould perfectly into the next and although challenging at times it was truly enjoyable on all levels. It is quite common to hold old emotions in the hip area and each pose gently guided us to release and relax this area fully. I was close to tears at various times through the class but it always stayed just under the surface in true Irish style. Towards the end we got into pigeon pose which is a deep long stretch for the whole lower body, I was able to go very deep in this pose and it felt amazing. We finished as instructed by Sandy and relaxed into the final relaxation pose of savasana.
With the body fully opened and released I lay in pure bliss under the blanket with not a care in the world. Waves of beautiful soft peace flowed through my body and I felt like I could have laid there forever, some tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. Thoughts were very sparse but those that did arise were pleasant loving and positive. It felt again like a timeless moment and it reminded me why I and many others come to the mat time and time again. Sandy slowly brought us back and instructed us to come to a seated position with our eyes closed and our hands outstretched for a mystery gift. She then proceeded to put a square of orange chocolate in each of our hands and asked us first to take some time and smell and savour the aroma. This is something that I do in Activate breathwork so it really resonated with me and its very rare that we take time to appreciate our food slowly with senses other than the tongue. For me smelling that chocolate was as far as I got as I had made a commitment to not eat chocolate or drink coffee for the month as a little challenge. I can honestly say I enjoyed smelling that chocolate so much that I did so until it half melted in my hands. It was incredible! It was passed to Elis to enjoy the taste.
The class ended and we got in a circle to discuss our experience and it seemed to be universally epic! There were lots of oohs and ahhs and smiles and Irish men trying to hide their tears. Luka the other man of the group had a very special experience that he shared with the group and it was just a really amazing beautiful experience. That glow, energy and gratitude lasted with myself and Elis for not just that day but for a few afterwards. I can safely say that the love and gratitude to Sandy will last forever. If you ever get the chance to experience yoga or just company with this beautiful soul, take it! Love you to the moon and back Sandy!
Stand Out Student classes.
I want to breifly mention two other classes that were really amazing in our time and they were both taken by other students!
From Russia With Love
The first one was by Evgeniya Zotova from Russia, a scuba diving instructor and all round awesome lady. This girl again is a born yogi she has the style the passion and the skills. For her one hour test she did and amazing class with us that combined all my favourite parts of yoga with plenty of the spiritual elements, challenging poses and notably for me she closed the session with Bhastrika pranayama. The class was amazing from start to finish and by the time it got to us giving feedback I was in floods of tears. The energy buzz and emotion was flooding through my body and I couldn't bring myself to talk, the tears were full of joy, release and happiness. Thank you so much to Evgeniya we love you! Contact Evgeniya for yoga and diving in Thailand here https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000962254838
Just What The Doctor Ordered
The second one was with Mansi a newly graduated medical doctor from the U.S. She has indian heritage and I was very inspired to hear that and will use and alternative healing alongside the traditional western medicine in her practice. Mansi has a wealth of knowledge on Sanskrit and Indian history and philosphy, so it was no surprise that her class was steeped in it. Again this was for our one hour examination and part of the qualification. Surprisingly to me Mansi was a little worried and nervous about her class and we talked a few times about it and I assured her that she would be totally fine. Unsurprisingly to me she absolutely nailed that class and had me in tears AGAIN :) She had set up the room beautifully, included lots of stories and history and generally made it a very authentic and enjoyable experience. The poses were thankfully less challenging than some of the others, as we were late in the month and the limbs were starting to tire. Everything flowed amazingly and it was a perfect class for all the family which interestingly is something that Elis and myself offer in Activate families as part of our work. Again I was unable to give verbal feedback but the tears of joy and gratitude were enough...i hope. Thank you Mansi!
Trekking To Top Triund
On one of our days off during the course there was an option to spend the day completing a 10 hour round trip hiking up Triund Mountain which is described as...
The website also states...
Neither myself or Elis had ever done anything like this before and tranquil is not the word we would use :) It was none the less very enjoyable, the views were amazing and felt like an achievement for both of us. The journey started early morning in Mcleod Ganj as the group set off happily in the pleasant weather. We started off through the town streets which are filled with the sounds of car horns at all hours and started the up hill trek. We passed some of the local monkeys playing on the rocks, which was exciting for us and our first glimpse of them. We made our way through windy paths and soon the the sounds of 'civilisation' were gone and replaced by the sounds of nature and multicultural chatter of our group. We spent most of the time at the back of the group taking our time a long way behind Taryn and the front group who were making impressive progress. Every so often we would pass donkeys laden with supplies for the few little rest stops along the way. At one of the stops the group rejoined and stopped for some tea, there was a guy with a radio and when I asked him what it was saying he replied that it was world yoga day. How fitting on the only day we didn't do yoga :)
I then realised that one of our group was missing our beloved adopted little sister Ananda. Ananda means extreme happiness, one of the highest states of being or bliss and this girl is all of that at only 20 years old. Elis and myself were drawn to her from the first day we heard her name and we became very close during our course. After some time Ananda appeared in the distance walking slowly, meditatively and blissfully on her own. She was savouring the journey and surroundings and was blissfully unaware of anything else :)
We Made it!
We weren't long on our way when the rain started and my shorts and t-shirt looked like a bad idea, it was too late to do anything about that now as my clothes were buried deep in my bag, so I soldiered on with plans of changing at top. The higher we climbed more impressive the views became and the clouds came and went like waves from the ocean. The smell of fresh mountain air was invigorating and helped us move onwards. As the rain got heavier we needed to take a few shelter breaks but kept going at a decent pace. The last part of the journey was quite challenging but the thought of making it kept us going. By the time we made it to the top we were very cold and wet and relieved. There are a few huts at the top which were full with people sheltering from the rain but luckily we found space and shelter inside one with a few others. There was a local guy cooking on gas and the offering of tea and warm food was irresistible. Myself and Elis sat down in a cramped corner with what looked like a stack of blankets behind us and rested our weary limbs. We were sat there for quite a while before we realised that the stack of blankets was actually a local guy sleeping behind us!
The decision was made that even though it was still raining we should leave to go now before our possible route got flooded. After purchasing a very colourful and hat and socks we set off again. The journey down was obviously quicker and easier and made all the more pleasant when the rain stopped. We were able to enjoy more of the views and happily moved down the mountain chatting, enjoying the company and various plant and animal life. By the time we reached home via a little semi cheat taxi at the base of the mountain we were well ready for some rest. If you are in the area this trek is highly recommended and you can find out more here http://www.triund.in/triund/TRIUND.html
Activate Breathwork In India
The Activate Mudra Is Born
The month wouldn't have been complete without some Activate Breathwork and we offered the session as a thank you to our teachers and fellow students. Both classes were full to capacity with 36 individual people experiencing the session in a very new and unique setting for us. I will document this in a further blog as it deserves it own space, but I want to share briefly about what came from these sessions.
As usual we had some amazing healing, releases and life changing stories from the people who took part and it never fails to inspire, excite and astound us. We didn't have the facilities to create exactly the same visuals and sound but we improvised with some materials and everyone agreed that it worked. We are very grateful to all who took part and we are excited about what will come from this going forward as we have big plans!
Many times after Activate breathwork sessions I encourage people to use what they have learned and experienced to put into their own daily practice. A lot of times I have been asked by people if they could train to deliver the session themselves. I have always shared as much as I could but as a lot of the work is very intuitive and in the moment I had never thought so much about training it. In India that all changed because after both sessions people came excitedly to me to ask how they can learn this, how they can use this with themselves and others. Since I started this work I've wanted to share it and empower as many people as possible so now is the time to grow the team. So I created the framework to train Activate Breathwork practitioners.
At the beginning of the course we had connected with many people and there were a few who we really clicked with right away and one of those was Zach. This guy is young in comparison to us but an old soul in every way his energy, knowledge and wisdom is far beyond his years. We were both impressed by him greatly right away. Zach is recently graduated in psychology from North Carolina in U.S. and one of the sharpest kind natured people we have ever met. So when he said he wanted to learn to teach Activate Breathwork we said YES of course. In what seemed like no time Zach had booked flights to come to Dubai with us and we had agreed to teach Activate Breathwork. Zach a Reiki master from USui Shiki Ryoho lineage agreed to initiate us in Reiki. The rest of the story and trip will be described in another post. The result of this is Zach Evans, in the next few months will become the first ever registered Activate Breathwork practitioner! We are excited to welcome him aboard.
If you are interested in becoming an activate breathwork practitioner please contact us here and find out the availablilty and when we will be in your area. We have plans on working with several people from our group from Canada, America, U.K. Germany and Australia so watch this space.
The End Is Only The Begining
To anyone reading who is considering yoga teacher training I highly recommend Chandra Yoga International in India and they have plans for other things around the world. Visit here for more info http://www.nathameditation.com/our-community/directory/
The month seemed to pass so quickly and it was like no time until we preparing for the closing fire ceremony and another seated circle group. This time we were all qualified yoga teachers and not only could we remember names but many intimate details of each others lives. We had become a family in my eyes and it was such a beautiful diverse group that learned and grew together. Gaining the qualification is just the beginnings of our new journey but I am sure that our paths will cross with many of you again as we take Activate Breathwork around the world.
We would like to send our heartfelt love and gratitude to everyone that made this a life changing experience.
Dr Sushil and all his team and staff, Rachel, Manoj, Taryn, Sandy, Raj,
Ishfaq, Aman, Siddarth House staff,
Alex Hop, Alexandria Shipley, Alyssa Hanke, Amy Lee Ellowitz, Ananda Rethschulte
Beate Bauge, Carla Bragagnolo, Cezar Santana, Claudia, Danika Montse Fuentes,Evgeniya Zotova
Josh White, Katherine Patterson, Katie Louise, Katy Merlet, Kelley Wigton, Kjersti Grimstad Øksnes
Lisa Mullaney, Lisset, Luka Arapaj, Lynda Gaida, Mansi, Mette Landquist Grønsdal, Nicky Sandhu,
Nicole Rose Heinle, Ninya Calleja, Paul Storry, Starr Smythe, Suzy Revel,
Turid Rivedal, Wesley Jobe, Yena Kim,Zachary Hammer Evans.
If I have forgotten anyone I apologise but you are all in our memory.
One Love and Namaste
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