By Natasha Rogers.
My experience being a student at Arhanta Yoga ashram in India. Where do I start? The entire month from start to finish was incredible, challenging and completely unforgettable.
Before my arrival in India I was very nervous and intrigued about how it would be to live for a month in a country so different to where I have lived my entire life. I spent my time doing some research into Indian customs and culture. The online portrayal was not accurate to my experience, and of course researching what it is like to stay in New Delhi, which is crowded fast passed and noisy is completely different to the Ashram in Khajuraho! Arhanta ashram in Khajuraho is so tranquil and peaceful in contrast to the chaos that you will be greeted by at New Delhi.
My other main concern before coming to India was worrying that my yoga practice wouldn’t be advanced enough. I had been practicing yoga for a few years, but I practiced at my leisure. I would do a weekly class, and sometimes I wouldn’t have time to practice so I would skip it. Similarly with my meditation practice, I tried to practice daily, I would go through phases or practicing every evening, but I would often find myself skipping it, and I would quickly fall out of the routine. I had a deep fear that everyone else would have the perfect asana practice and I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Fortunately I soon realised that I wasn’t alone in having these thoughts. Everyone has a different experience of yoga and everyone’s body is different. Of course there were some poses which I found very difficult, it was sometimes disheartening to see that other people could do them easily, but there were also poses which I found easy and other people struggled to do. One of the biggest lessons I learnt in this month was to stop focussing on other people’s journey, and to really focus on my own practice, when your focus is inwards, you can’t focus on everyone else and compare your ability.
A huge gift from the course is meeting like minded people. I found that getting thrown into the deep, sharing a room with someone new, and spending the entire day with this group of people I had never met before, meant that you make very fast bonds and friendships with the group. I have been home for six months now, yet I still often talk to the friends I made on that course. Sharing such a life changing experience means that you stay in contact. I love hearing how they are doing, and we all celebrate in each other successes, supporting each other in applying for jobs and even starting yoga businesses. We have so many memories, having shared the highs and lows of the month together. We have the shared experience of the fun we had in Khajuraho, getting a massage and going shopping, we also have the experience of being so happy when we finally managed to do an asana we were having difficulties mastering, or celebrating a success in teaching a class. But we also shared in the stress of preparing for the exams, and understood each other when we were homesick. I am sure that these are friends which I will have for life.
I did find it difficult to give up western commodities for the ashram life. But it feels amazing to have a technology detox. After a week I stopped thinking about checking Facebook, or Whatsapping friends, and it actually feels great to not be constantly available to other people, sometimes a smartphone can really distract you from spiritual practice, it can distract you from the present moment. When I stopped looking at the world through my mobile phone screen I was really able to take in my surroundings. Listen to the beautiful sounds the native birds were making, enjoy the tranquillity of practicing yoga under a beautiful tree, and really notice and enjoy the stunning sunsets. It’s a great feeling to know that nobody can contact you, that you are taking time away from your home life to really do something you want to do. Nobody from home can demand your attention or give you undue stress. It was also very tough at first to only have cold water in the shower. My body did take some time to adapt to this, I started off by getting a bucket of hot water from outside to wash with, but after a week or so it no longer bothered me to shower in cold water, I found it invigorating. I actually really liked that there were no washing machines. It was nice to really experience washing clothes by hand, and drying them outside. It felt very humble to be able to do this, to experience the sun on the back on your neck as you were busy washing your clothes, usually it would become quite sociable because if you have free times, you can bet other people have chosen to do washing too!
Day to day I was busy, getting up for meditation at 6am and then being on the go until herbal tea is served at 7pm. I got very tried on some days. I would fall asleep usually at 9/9:30pm and not wake up until my alarm woke me up again. The how to teach class is the longest class of about three hours long, but it is so interesting that you don’t feel like it’s three hours. It is so great to straight away start learning how to teach a yoga class, and by the end actually start teaching fellow students in this class. It’s sometimes difficult to remember and you have to fit in the knowledge other people get in a two year course in just one month. But I believe you really learn everything if you put the hard work in for this month. Also you get used to working hard, physically and mentally. The first time you do two/three asana classes in a day you feel exhausted, but after doing that a few times, if you only do one in a day you crave for more. I must admit I definitely had a large appetite in this month. And I loved the food! Like everything I have described it is different from what I am used to, but really lovely nourishing food. Some people had some difficulties to adjust to the food in the beginning. I guess the more different the ashram diet is to what you usually have, the more difficult it is to adjust. But by the end of the month everyone was excited to be served yellow rice and tamarind chutney for breakfast.
I was very sad to say good bye to my wonderful home for a month. I will however always cherish the memories I have of doing my teacher training course at the Arhanta Yoga Ashram in Khajuraho. I have been fully prepared to be able to teach yoga classes at home and have been lucky enough to straightaway start teaching three classes weakly. I also feel equipped to continue in my personal development of yoga practice, I feel more disciplined and I love my daily practice. I also find it so encouraging to look back on my practice and see how far I have come in developing my asanas.