Each morning, I woke up before the sun was up, threw on a tank top and yoga pants, bundled up in a sweater I had bought at the markets, and headed downstairs for tea. On my way, I would look out at the silhouettes of the Himalayas as dawn was breaking. Every day, I would breath in deeply, thankful for the opportunity to complete my yoga teacher training at Rishikesh Yog Dham. Ending up there was quite the journey, but as soon as I arrived, I felt right at home, and that feeling continued throughout the entire month I was there.
Since I had always wanted to practice yoga in India, it was an easy decision for me to get my 200 hour yoga teacher certification there. I was lucky enough to find a school tucked away in a town where the Ganges River makes its way into India from the Himalayas. Each day was magical and full of an energy I wouldn’t have had anywhere else in the world. Plus, it was an honor to practice yoga in the place of its origin and get my knowledge from the source.
After a crazy seven hour overnight cab ride from Delhi to Rishikesh, I arrived at four in the morning and was greeted by my pranayama teacher, Vikal, as well as the kitchen staff, who helped me check in and bring my bags to my room. Immediately, I knew I was going to like it there, I could just tell by the energy and how friendly everyone was even though my arrival had awakened them. I settled into my room and tried to sleep even though it was difficult, especially since my room’s front and back balconies offered stunning views of the rolling green landscape that surrounded the school.
Since I had arrived early, I had two days to wander around and get used to the ten and a half hour time difference. Slowly, I began to meet the other people who would be on this journey with me, but on the first Sunday night, we all finally gathered together for puja, a prayer ceremony, and to meet with our teachers. This left me feeling excited and a little intimidated by what I had signed up for, but an e-mail sent by the director and one of our asana teachers, Arvind, confirmed that I had made the right choice. He told us that we were bound to have some struggles along the way, but we were all there to support each other and he’d be there if we needed him. Even though I was nervous, I took comfort in his words and that he reached out to us right away.
Each day was relatively the same, as we woke up at five-thirty for tea. As the weeks rolled on, we’d all show up later and later to chug down our tea before classes. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we would meet outside, fill up our neti pots with saline water and clean out our sinuses. After two weeks, we also all attempted to use a Sutra (rubber) Neti to further clean out our nasal cavity. We were taught how to correctly insert the neti up our nose and pull it out of our mouth, and while many were able to do this, just the thought of it upset my stomach, so try as I might, I wasn’t successful.
After our morning cleansing process, we would head upstairs for pranayama and mediation, which included breathing practices and learning mantras in Sanskrit. It was such a calming and peaceful way to start the day.
At seven, we would have our first asana class with Yash, which would get our bodies up and ready for the day ahead. He was calm and soothing in his practice and made everything look easy, even when it wasn’t. But he was also supportive when we were practicing our asanas, and his class was one of my favorite parts of the day, even when it pushed my limits.
At around nine, we would have a breakfast of a flat rice, corn flakes with warm milk, oatmeal, or noodles, with a daily selection of fresh fruit, and if we were lucky, chai masala. Otherwise, it was a lemon-ginger tea, which was equally delicious, but in India, I seemed to crave chai masala more than anything else.
After breakfast, we would make our way back upstairs for an hour of philosophy, where we’d discuss yoga in further detail, specifically the teachings of Patanjali, as the Yoga Sutra is one of the most important texts in yoga philosophy. This class had a lot of information, but it was so interesting to learn about yoga in depth while situated among the Himalayas.
We’d then have about a half hour break before our anatomy class. This hour long class was a struggle for me when we would discuss the body, as science has never been my strongest subject, but it helped that the focus was on the bones and muscles in relation to the asanas. The lessons I enjoyed most were those on Ayurvedic medicine, since it was a topic that had always interested me, but I had previously known very little about.
Then, each day we had a break from lunch until our evening asana class, which was at four. During this time, we would either head into town to shop or we would rest at school and catch up on laundry, read, study, hang out in each other’s rooms, or nap. As much as I loved shopping at this time, I equally loved opening all the windows of my room, laying on my bed, and drifting off to sleep to the sounds of life outside.
A little before four, we’d meet upstairs to prepare for Arvind’s class, as it was always killer. We’d laugh that Arvind would show us a move and then promptly say, “Do it,” and we’d all attempt the move he showed us with ease, but struggle to get it right. Arvind’s classes were incredible, as he always pushed us harder and made us reach our full potential, but he did it in a way that was supportive and encouraging. Because of this, I was able to successfully achieve asanas I never knew I was capable of.
During the first week, Arvind focused on perfecting our alignment, but from there, this class focused on having us teach and correctly align each other. The third week was spent teaching a partner two half hour classes and one hour class, and the fourth week we taught a whole class with our partner. It was the perfect way to ease into teaching and invaluable for my confidence.
After Arvind’s class, we would have dinner and lights had to be out at ten. During our free time, we would all hang out together downstairs and play games or watch a movie, while at other times we would just talk or hang out around the wi-fi router, which was conveniently located right outside of my room. These were some of my favorite times during the day, especially as the weeks went on and we all continued to bond.
Our days played out like this from Monday through Saturday, although two Saturdays were spent practicing Shatkarma, where we would cleanse our bodies. The first week, we did an intestinal cleanse with salt water, and I’ll admit that this was something I wasn’t looking forward to, but afterwards, I felt light and airy, since it had cleared my body of all the toxins that were in it. Another week, we cleansed our esophagus with salt water by throwing up, and while this was something I was also genuinely not looking forward to, it also made me feel better than I thought it would.
Sundays were free for us and the first two were spent watching the sun rise over the Himalayas at a nearby temple and the second was a rafting trip on the Ganga. Aside from those activities, we spent our days shopping and exploring Rishikesh together, mainly just enjoying the break in our schedule and free time.
One of the best parts of my experience had to be the people. I genuinely enjoyed each minute and every single person I encountered. From the staff to our teachers and my fellow yogis, every one had a positive energy that made the experience even better than I thought it could be. Without the friendships I made and support I had, I’m not sure I would have had as positive experience as the one I enjoyed.
Leaving Rishikesh Yog Dham was difficult, especially saying good-bye to my little yoga family, but I know we will all come together again at some point. We created a bond together throughout the course time, one that I know will always remain. I also left feeling revived and transformed at a time I needed it most. For this, I am grateful and can recommend the school with full confidence that others will have an equally positive experience.