What I learned during my Yoga Teacher Training in Nepal
Joining a good quality yoga teacher training will be a life changing experience whether you want to become a yoga teaching professional or you're simply searching to enhance the quality of your life. Nepal Yoga Academy was the second yoga school I've attended and so I can understand the difference that the quality and structure of the program can make in your overall experience. This time I've joined the complete 500 hours training, lasting 8 weeks and starting from the very basics building up to advanced practices and deep dive into the Yoga philosophy.
The system taught in Nepal Yoga Academy is the Sanatan (Classical) yoga which is based on the traditional texts Hatha Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Although it is absolutely possible to have zero knowledge about these original texts and still be a brilliant asana teacher, learning the very basics from which all other newer styles derive is essential to understand the true original purpose of Yoga practice itself.
"The Sanskrit meaning of Yoga is to unite. To unite individual life to the universal consciousness changes the impure to pure, problem to solution, difficulty to smoothness and makes the world joyful."
Nepal Yoga Academy was founded by Dr. Chintamani Gautam who holds a master degree in Sanskrit and Phd degree in Yoga. He leads most of the classes which keeps the curriculum standards at an exceptional level. It is an eastern tradition to call your teacher Guruji. Gu means darkness or ignorance, Ru means destroyer and Ji is added as a sign of respect. Being aware of his impressive education background and the recognition among spiritual leaders in Nepal I first approached Guruji with deep respect. Only to learn that he is incredibly down to earth, has no problem making fun of himself, is open to suggestions and always ready for a friendly discussion about any topic. Under his guidance and influenced by the nurturing atmosphere of the Academy I've grown on a physical, mental and spiritual level more than I thought was possible in such a short time.
"Our body, mind, and soul desire different things. Generally speaking, mind is like a pendulum, it swings back
and forth between lower desires (stimulation of the senses, such as eating tasty food, sleeping more, sex,
pleasant smells, etc. ) and higher desires (intellectual stimulation/ knowledge gained by reading books.
studying, having deep conversations, etc.). Body usually desires natural things like healthy food, only eating
until you are satisfied, getting a healthy amount of sleep, not oversleeping, etc. Soul craves only pure,
spiritual, and satvic things, such as meditation. With the practice of yoga, one can unite the body, mind, and
soul to desire the same thing. The body and mind will be controlled by the soul, and all will harmoniously
desire to draw inward, raising the consciousness level."
Yamas are the Yogic ethics and social regulations that keep your mind pure and are the first step on your way to self realisation.
Ahimsa teaches nonviolence against any living beings. Here we are not talking only about physical violence, but also verbal or even mental one. Moreover, you are not only being violent when personally doing so, but also when supporting or simply approving a violent action. For example eating meat, joining in gossip about your colleague or only imagining verbally harming someone would all be examples of violence.
Satya means always telling the truth while Asteya teaches you non-stealing. Non-stealing of material possessions, time, attention, relationships or anything else that does not belong to you.
Bramhacharya is completely refraining from any sexual activity and instead preserving your sexual Kundalini energy and transforming it for spiritual purposes. If you would like to become a true yogi but this particular yama is a bit too much for you, you can instead look for inspiration in Tantra. Tantra philosophy is in many aspects similar to the Yogic one, while one of the differences is the belief that rather than suppressing your sexuality and desires in general you can transform this energy to generate more spiritual power.
Apiragraha teaches non-attachment. Understanding the impermanent nature of everything is the core of Yogic philosophy as well as of Buddhism. Being attached to something that can never last forever naturally always leads to suffering. On the other hand learning to recognise the few things that are worth caring about and learning how to be detached from everything else brings beautiful ease and freedom into your life.
For me, the practice of non-attachment is definitely the hardest of all. Especially in modern society, which teaches you that your worth is measured by your wealth, achievements or status, it is sometimes so hard to remember that none of these things alone can bring you happiness.
Niyamas are personal rules helping to maintain the yogic lifestyle.
Soucha means purity or cleanliness of your body, mind and soul which can be reached by carefully choosing what you consume. This applies to eating the right food as well as consuming the right media, reading the right books, listening to the right music or surrounding yourself with the right people.
Regarding keeping a healthy body, food is still the main building block of your well-being. The food here in the Nepal Yoga Academy is exceptionally tasty and very nutritious providing a wonderful introduction into the Yogic diet. Based on the Ayurvedic principles of only mixing compatible foods, perfectly balanced and always freshly prepared with love. Yoga encourages to eat slowly, never overeat and always leave one quarter of your stomach empty. It recommends avoiding snacking and maintaining long breaks between meals which has been now proven beneficial by many scientific studies supporting intermittent fasting while the recommendation to never eat after dark is now supported by the findings about the influence of your circadian rhythm on digestion and nutrient absorption. (1)
Santosha is contentment and the ability to be at peace with where you are and what you have in every moment of your life. This may be easy when your life is pleasant. But being at peace with the reality of your life becomes very hard when your business goes bankrupt, you become seriously ill or lose a loved one. That's where the practice of non-attachment and understanding of impermanence of your belongings, your body and the people around you becomes so important.
The last three Niyamas are mainly designed to lead you to the goal of realising your soul. Tapas means determination and the ability to work hard until you succeed. Swadhyaya is the self-study of spiritual texts and scriptures and Ishvar Pranidhana is the complete surrender and devotion to the higher power of God.
Sathkarmas are yogic cleansing techniques practiced to remove toxins and impurities from the body. Although these practices may seem strange at first, some become even enjoyable when mastered and modern science has now proved the effectiveness of most of them. (2)
Practiced every morning here in the academy is the Jalla Netti. During this practice the nasal cavity is washed to flush out mucus and debris from the nose and sinuses with the help of the Netti Pot - a simple device that pushes a flow of saline water through your nasal passages, entering through one nostril, washing the entire inside of your sinuses and leaving through the opposite side of your nose.
The first encounter with this practice is not exactly a pleasant one, with the salty water pouring to the wrong holes and making you choke. However, after a few tries, it becomes seamless and enjoyable, like brushing your teeth and I have experienced the great benefits of this simple practice myself. I used to suffer from blocked sinuses very often, having difficulty breathing especially in the morning. Ever since I do Jalla Netti everyday I have not had to use the decongesting spray once. The improvement came almost immediately. If you think you may benefit from this practice, you don't need to join a teacher training in Nepal to make it a part of your daily routine. Netti Pots can be easily bought online and the practice is so simple you can learn it from any youtube tutorial. Try it and let me know if it helped.
Kapalbhati uses the flow of your breath to purify your brain by reversing the natural breathing pattern and encouraging fast and energetic exhalations while leaving the inhalation to occur naturally. This induces a reversal of the flow of nerve impulses travelling to and from the brain and brings about a profound stimulation of your brain centres. Kapalbhati is practised every day before the start of the pranayama class.
The other cleaning practices mainly involve purifying different parts of your digestive tract. For example during Kunjal you fill your stomach with salt water and then make yourself vomit it out to eliminate any extra mucus and dirt in that area. Shankhaprakshalana, which again involves drinking huge quantities of saline water that is then pushed through your intestines with the help of a special asana sequence cleans your entire digestive tract from top to bottom. These practices should be only practiced under experienced supervision and they are all an optional part of the advanced teacher training.
According to the Yoga Sutras, there are only five main asanas, all for meditation. All the other postures are practiced only to fully prepare your body to sit in meditation posture for a long time. What we now mainly see as Yoga was originally only a minor preparatory step of this complex life practice. However, the asana practice is still of course the biggest part of this teacher training. Traditional Hatha classes consist of a warmup, sun salutation and sequence of asanas held for a long time separated by short periods of relaxation. The class always finishes by a longer full relaxation laying down on your back in Shavasana. Every posture is then studied into detail during the alignment workshops. You learn to understand the limits of your body and substantially improve every posture. You also gain the ability to safely and effectively lead your future students through verbal and practical adjustment. The awareness on the workings of the human body is then further deepened during the yoga anatomy classes led by medical doctors. First going through the theory, understanding the internal organs, all bodily systems and how much they influence one another. Learning about the muscular system of our body and then putting our knowledge into practice during the hands-on anatomy classes where you learn to recognise misalignment in the body and how to correct it.
The physical graduation in Nepal Yoga Academy consists of performing 108 rounds of Sun Salutation, facing the rising Sun, at the nearby Hindu temple. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I've had through the entire stay.
I've been using the asana practice to slowly correct the relationship with my body for many years but only now I feel I've finally arrived at the final destination. I feel unconditional love towards my body. I understand its needs and I listen to its signals. I become a good caretaker only nurturing my body with the things that it deserves. I no longer hurt my body with alcohol or sugar as those serve only to entertain my mind, I no longer push my body into physical exhaustion only to satisfy my ego. I am now a good loving parent to my body and my body is giving back this unconditional love amplified a thousand fold.
Pranayama techniques are powerful breathing practices that are often completely left out of the western view of yoga although ancient yogis believe that controlling your breath is as important as controlling your body. Yogis have known for thousands of years what modern science has discovered only recently. Your breath is the gate into your autonomic nervous system and slowing down your breath rate is the key to a long life. (3)
According to Classical Yoga your left nostril (Ida) controls the Moon energy - the cooling, calming, feminine quality of your body. Now we understand that the left nostril directly influences your parasympathetic nervous system, also called the "Rest, digest and heal" mode. On the other hand the right nostril (Pingala) controls the energising, heating and masculine Sun energy in your body. The "Sun energy" is your Sympathetic nervous system responsible for the "Fight or flight" response. Alternatively inhalation causes sympathetic activation and every exhalation switches you to the relaxing parasympathetic state. Balancing your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is the key to excellent mental and physical health. And it is exactly what pranayama exercises do.
You can use this wisdom to relieve stress and artificially switch your body into the resting and healing parasympathetic dominance. Close your eyes and inhale through your left nostril for 7, then exhale through you right for 9. Keep breathing this way until you'll feel your heart rate slowing down and a calming wave of relaxation washing over your body.
Yogis believe that you are given only a certain number of breaths in your life. When they are finished your life is finished too and thus decreasing the number of breaths you take per minute will make you live longer. Scientists now agree that slower breath rate is indeed directly linked to longevity and slow breathing is exactly the effect you get as a long term pranayama practitioner. People take on average 15 breaths per minute. For chronically stressed people the number is usually much higher. After only two years of regular pranayama practice my breath rate is down to 7 breaths per minute. The most optimal breath rate proven by science is 5.5.
What most of us see as meditation is according to Yoga only a preliminary concentration practice. First you need to learn to bring your senses inward and block them from escaping to the outside world. The stage when your mind is still often getting lost in thought running away from your point of focus is called Dharana (concentration). Only sustained long term practice of Dharana leads to Dhyana - Meditation. A beautiful analogy is the difference between pouring oil and water. Concentration is the stream of water, falling in separate drops, making lots of noise and splashes. When your concentration becomes smooth and uninterrupted like the gentle stream of poured oil you enter into meditation. Long and dedicated practice of meditation will eventually lead you into the last step of the Yoga path - Samadhi.
"Samadhi is a state of profound union with the ultimate reality that is undisturbed by desire, anger, or any other ego-generated thought or emotion. A state of joyful calm, a deep spiritual absorption."