So you want to complete your Yoga Teacher Training Course (TTC) in India?

It’s 2017 and the world is definitely not short of Yoga instructors or teacher training courses, that’s for sure. So where does one begin to look when exploring the wide world of Yoga. Firstly ask yourself this; if you were interested in learning Traditional Chinese dance, would you visit Australia to take a course? Seems a little disconnected right? Perhaps it makes more sense to journey to the heart of Yoga, the spiritual magnet, the Motherland herself – Rishikesh, INDIA.

Ok, so Rishikesh sounds wonderful. You’ve done some research and you’re mesmerized at the sight of the city at the foothills of the Himalayas and right beside the holy Gange River. The next question is how do you find the right school for you? Now days it’s easy to jump straight onto Google and search “Best yoga schools for TTC in India” that’s definitely going to give you several options. Or perhaps you can take the gamble like the good old days. Book your one-way ticket, pack your bags and embrace the process of the Yogic journey to truly begin before you even leave your home country. Show up open minded, take a few different classes, ask around and see what best fits for you and your needs on your personal journey, keeping in mind everyone’s different.

If you’re sneaking away from work for a short period of time and only planning a small stay in Rishikesh without the luxury to explore before your course, don’t fear! In Rishikesh you will find many schools offering short courses. Those who have flashy websites and appealing prices may not be the best choice for you, be smart and read people’s feedback, their experiences and follow your intuition (that’s the key). Now, you’ve visited a few schools but the question still stands what school to commit to? Although Yoga is Yoga and you will gain experience and knowledge wherever you decide, there are so many “types” of Yoga nowadays so be sure to research what you’re getting yourself into. Ask yourself, why am I embarking on this teaching journey? There are many reasons why people decide to dive into a TTC. Some people in your course will have never practiced Yoga in their lifetime yet some will be experienced practitioners. If you are considering a career change and think that a 200hour course will guarantee you the qualifications and ticket to teach, I hate to burst your bubble, it’s not that easy. Teaching requires time and experience. Understanding what you are teaching is the first step so be sure to really connect with your practice and understand the way in which your body, soul and mind work before choosing a course.

There are many courses available to choose from in Rishikesh alone. Each week there is a new influx of foreigners coming to take a teacher training course. For those interested in a very internal practice maybe Yin Yoga is for you? Interested in more of a powerful practice, perhaps Ashtanga is the way to go? Are you intrigued by a traditional format, Hatha could work best for you. Ultimately the choice is yours and all will be beneficial in the long run but take time to research before you find yourself knee deep in back bends. It’s like going to a new hairdresser… you kind of want to see a haircut before you let the scissors get close to your head. Research and experience the teachers offering the courses, feel a connection with your teacher, after all you will become a protégé of their works… Goodluck!

Ashtanga Yoga: Mysore, Teacher Training Courses, and Anatomy

Anatomy and physiology as western medicine understands it has not traditionally been apart of the Ashtanga Yoga system as it has been taught over many generations and centuries. But today as yoga related injuries are becoming more and more common and more people are interested in doing yoga, perhaps we need to reinvestigate the place that western science’s understanding of the musculoskeletal system has in the learning and practice of Ashtanga yoga today. This is not to say that Ashtanga teachers do not teach anatomy, as of course many do. It is instead to look at how anatomy can be a potent tool in making the increasingly popular traditional Ashtanga practice be safe and accessible to a modern and changing world. As Sri Pattabhi Jois so famously said, “Ashtanga yoga is for everyone.” Integrating anatomy into teaching will help to keep it that way.

Traditionally to learn and teach Ashtanga, one travels to Mysore for extended periods of time to practice with the living guru (the late Sri Pattabhi Jois or his grandson Sharath Jois) and learn directly from the source. When the guru sees that the student has sufficient understanding of the practice, they are then given the authorisation or, much more rarely, the certification to teach. This traditional way of learning yoga is called parampara in Sanskrit and describes the knowledge that is passed in succession directly from teacher to student. This is a wonderful, traditional and important way to learn any spiritual practice, under the direct and intimate guidance of the guru where information can be transmitted directly to the disciple.

This method of teaching yoga has worked in India for thousands of years. And it does work  very effectively if the student also conducts self-study (or svādhyāya in Sanskrit, one of Patanjali’s niyamas) outside of practice of important theory. Sri Pattabhi Jois always used to say Ashtanga is “99% practice and 1% theory”, as both will give us complete knowledge of the Ashtanga system. Most knowledge, or experiential knowledge, comes from simply doing the practice. But that 1% theoretical understanding of philosophy, scripture, and the anatomy of the body are just as important as they help to structure the knowledge derived from the practice.

This traditional and effective method of learning contrasts vastly from the modern methods of becoming a yoga teacher, i.e the yoga teacher training course. Within a short period of time, sometimes even in just a few weeks, students are eligible to teach yoga. Contrary to the Mysore method of becoming a teacher, this method requires a lot less practice but, conversely, it does often include a lot more theory. Yoga Alliance requires that teacher training programs include a set number of hours of philosophy and anatomy lecture. Therefore modern yogis aspiring to be teachers are forced to learn about bones, muscles, joints, and how it all works together.  Because of the general laxity of practice time requirement (Yoga Alliance’s requirement of 100 hours compared to Mysore’s standard of several years of practice), students in TTC courses (unless they have maintained regular practice for years prior) typically learn less experientially and more theoretically.

Personally, a combination of these two learning methods, the traditional Mysore way and the modern TTC way, would probably be ideal. Recently Sharath Jois has started conducting teacher training courses in Mysore for those who are already authorized to teach, and though I have not personally taken this course I can only assume that he will be teaching at least some anatomy in addition to other  theoretical knowledge. This, I believe, would be a nice balance between the two methods. But what does this have to do with anatomy and why is anatomy suddenly so important?

For five years I practiced Ashtanga yoga with many great teachers, none of which really mentioned anything about anatomy. I did a lot of self study from Gregor Maehle’s wonderful books on Ashtanga yoga to teach myself about anatomy, and every time something hurt I would turn to his books or the internet for answers. This is not to say that my traditional Mysore teachers didn’t know anatomy, but they probably were not taught to teach with anatomy as a regular reference. But understanding something so anatomically subtle and complex such a sacrum nutation will make or break (literally) your backbends. This is incredibly important, as such an injury can also break your practice. Learning anatomy can help with that!

It wasn’t until I began learning Ashtanga from Yogi Kamal Singh in Rishikesh, who places a strong emphasis on alignment and understanding the anatomy and physiology of what is happening to the body inside the postures, that I found a teacher who used anatomy as a strong teaching tool. Something as simple as the inner rotation of the thigh in most Primary Series asanas can prevent chronic  backspin down the line. And learning anatomy can teach us to prevent injury in the future. Yogi Kamal Singh always says that the injury begins the first time we do the wrong movement, even if the pain follows months or even years later. By teaching his students the intricacies but also the simplicities of anatomy it is undoubtable he has prevented and corrected many misalignment that would otherwise lead to pain or injury.

Anatomy is important because people are getting hurt while doing yoga. Particularly a yoga so dynamic as Ashtanga yoga. And though Ashtanga effectively brings us within and allows us to transcend our physical form in many ways, ultimately our body is our temple and it is our vehicle for that transcendence. In the same way that you would educate yourself on the mechanics of your car to ensure its functionally, we should also learn about and care for the vehicle that is our physical body.

Ashtanga yoga is so alluring often because it is so steeped in lineage and rarely veers away from tradition. But why isn’t anatomy included in this tradition? There are so many possible reasons why Ashtanga yoga or any traditional form of yoga was not often taught with the reference of anatomy. Aside from the obvious western versus eastern medicine view of the human organism, one hypothesis that an Indian teacher of mine explained that I really enjoyed was that firstly the Indian body is different from the Western body. And secondly that the average body from fifty years ago is different than the average body today. Up until relatively recently Indians lived similarly to how they have lived for centuries; eating local foods without preservatives or processing, sitting on the floor, working jobs that requires them to be relatively active, etc. This, unfortunately, has all begun to change as Westernisation has spread around the world, accounting for more intake of processed foods laden with chemicals, desk jobs, western illnesses, etc. The average Indian body of the time when Jois was teaching in Mysore was relatively flexible, strong, and limber  compared to the contemporary western body. Even the western body of fifty years ago, right around the time of industrialised food beginning to take over, was more lean and flexible. The contemporary western body is on average stiff, weak, toxic, heavy, and supported by an unhealthy spine. Today, in 2016, western bodies are typically unhealthier than the Asian body and even the Western body that Jois was teaching in the 1970’s. Food for thought.

So, how can we use Ashtanga yoga to heal an unhealthy body and spine without exasperating any imbalances or weaknesses? We can focus on anatomy and  structural realignment of the body. Krishnamacharya was a great example of this when he taught the Ashtanga system of yoga to a very ill and weak B.K.S. Iyengar in a way that healed and realigned his sick body. He did this by using props, focusing on alignment, and bringing awareness to anatomy and the dynamics of the body. This method is what is now known as Iyengar yoga. But perhaps Ashtanga yoga today can learn a little bit from this important example, otherwise our vehicles may not make it to their destination.

In the six years I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga I have learned from a variety of incredible teachers: authorised, certified, unauthorised, Iyengar based, etc. And though I have hardly practiced with every teacher out there, I did notice a pattern that those who had studied primarily in Mysore or under orthodox Ashtanga teachers discus anatomy relatively less than those who are unauthorised, have studied with first generation Mysore teachers (such as Tim Miller and David Swenson), or those who have an Iyengar background.

Views of Adam Binford About Yogi Kamal Singh

You so much for an amazing course Kamal.  I thoroughly believe i would not have gotten this same experience in another city or teacher.  I had a physically and emotionally draining month and would not change a thing, it was exactly what I needed ( and safe to say most others).  Below is a brief review you can use!

I attended the 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training Course at Tattvaa through the month of November in Rishikesh India.  There are many countries and cities to attend a TTC, but after my experience I could not recommend Rishikesh more.  There is a soul to the city that can be felt on arrival, and keeps your energy up till the end. Whether it be exploring the various markets, laying down by the Ganga River, or visiting the many ashrams, Rishikesh has a very unique spirituality that is perfect for practice.

Kamal offers a very intense course which teaches you or strengthens your previous work on the primary series.  Knowledge on the adjustments are second to none.  Kamal has surrounded himself and the students with amazing teachers to practice other areas of yoga outside the asana’s ie. philosophy, pranayama, yoga nidra which effected me as much as the practice on the mat.  I couldn’t recommend Tattvaa and Rishikesh more, a truly transformative experience.