February 14, 2018
This post is part adventure log, part review of my time spent Rishikesh Yog Peeth (RYP) for my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). You can find the review-specific section at the bottom. I learned a lot about yoga at RYP, but it was the people that made my stay really special. I’d like to dedicate this monster of a post to my classmates and teachers. Much love to you guys ❤ ❤ ❤
Back in September I got the idea that I should do a yoga teacher training (YTT) while we are on travel. Taking a YTT was an idea that I had been kicking around for a while, but back in DC I never really had the time. Or rather, I never took the plunge to sacrifice the many weekends necessary in order to squeeze it into my schedule. But looking at our travel schedule I figured I could do a 4 week training in India, which being the home of yoga itself, seemed ideal.
Rishikesh Yog Peeth had a lot of good reviews, was a reasonable price ($1550 USD, for tuition, housing, and food) and the training time frame fit our existing travel plans, so I signed up and put down my deposit.
Once in Delhi I had to figure out how to get to Rishikesh. The school offered a private taxi pick up service for $70 USD which I considered for a moment based on the convenience of it. But looking over the bus schedules and prices, I saw I could get a ticket for less than 1000 Rupees, or about $16 USD. So I went to the Kashmiri Gate bus station (which is adjacent to the Kashmiri gate metro stop) and got a ticket from Uttar Pradesh Roadways for 840 rupees with a 9 am Sunday departure. And that’s a fancy ticket, there were lots of cheaper options).
The bus ride was just under 7 hours, with a bathroom stop and a few drop offs before getting to the Rishikesh bus station. Once in Rishikesh I caught a rickshaw from the the bus station to the Ram Jula bridge for 200 rupees (white person price, real price is 30, fair is 50) and wandered across the bridge staring at the cows and monkeys that freely shared it with all the pedestrians and motorbikes, with the incredibly green Ganges flowing beneath.
It was then I discovered that where Google Maps put Krishna Cottage on the map was wrong. It was about 4:15 pm, and the opening ceremony for my class was at 5 pm, so I will admit I struggled a little bit with a freak out. However, I was fairly confident I was in the right general area, so I went to the second of two locations that Google showed me and found someone who knew where the cottage actually was. (I have since submitted an edit with Google Maps which was accepted.)
So I managed to check in about a half hour before the ceremony. I plopped my bag down in my shockingly enormous room with my own private bathroom (so excite!), and did what any rational traveler would do: I ate a pomegranate.
Krishna Cottage itself is several stories of rooms, painted green with patterned railings, surrounding a central courtyard. I am embarrassed to say that the only photo I took of my room was a failed attempt to photograph the back of my head when I got a haircut several days later; both the haircut and the photo are a bit of a mess.
My room and the cottage in general are a lot of tile and marble, and it’s actually pretty cold. While Dan and I intentionally came to India in January to avoid the heat, I didn’t realize how far we’d gone. While it reaches 24 C or 74 F at midday, the night time lows are not far above freezing, and the architecture is designed for the heat, not the cold.
The opening ceremony was held in the yoga hall where all our classes would be held: Yoga Hall 3. It’s the highest part of newest addition to the building with lots of windows. So it was bitterly cold at 7 am for our morning asana practice, but pleasantly warm in the afternoon sun.
During the opening ceremony a statuette of Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, and art) was seated on a low table surrounded by bowls of water filled with rose petals, and wreaths of orange flowers adorned the wall behind her. The ceremony involved much chanting, anointing of our teachers, and each student twirling a lit candelabra before the altar. At the conclusion, we had a red string tied around our right wrists and were given a small sweet to eat.
I had been incredibly curious about my classmates, and we got to know each other progressively over the first week. There was a large range of ages represented, from early twenties to fifties, and many different nationalities, including French, Australian, Indian, American, Italian, Irish, Egyptian, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean. Some were serial retreat goers, some brand new to yoga looking to deepen their practice, and some interested in teaching. A fair number were like me, extended travelers who either quit their jobs or took a break from school, though others were planning to go home and incorporate teaching yoga into their existing routines.
Six days of the week our day started with herbal tea at 6:30 am, followed by nasal cleansing (neti pot) in the courtyard, which one of my classmates has colorfully dubbed “the snot garden”. I’ve been using a neti pot to battle my frequent sinus drama for over a decade, but not many of my classmates had used one before, so that first Monday morning (Christmas Day no less) listening to my classmates coughing on saline solution in the cold predawn light was a little surreal and comical for a starting point.
After our nasal cleansing, at 7 am we started our first class, which including chanting, breathing exercises and asana for two hours. At 9 am we had an hour break for breakfast, followed by philosophy class from 10-11 am, then Anatomy & Physiology from 11:30 am-12:30 pm, and an hour for lunch starting 1 pm. There was an hour of “Library Time” following lunch, which in theory allowed us to walk to the library at the other building and check out books for our writing assignment. However, with no assignment yet distributed the first week, and our 3 pm class not beginning until Week 2, we were more or less free until 4:30 pm for our final class of the day, two more hours of physical practice, followed by dinner at 7 pm.
The food should get special note. Included with my tuition were three vegetarian meals per day. While my relationship with the food evolved over the month, my first week I was absolutely bonkers about the food. I ate way way way too much the first week. I had pictured maybe losing a bit of weight doing four hours of yoga a day and eating vegetarian food, and at that first dinner on Monday night I thought that I had been incredibly wrong. The fresh cut fruit and porridge that was served with every breakfast stayed a favorite of mine, and I think everyone stayed a fan of the chapati (flat bread) the whole month.
Something I had been very concerned about was getting food sickness in India and missing my training, so I had been very careful with what I ate before arriving in Rishikesh, though I had forgot and brushed my teeth with the tap water several times. But I got to Rishikesh with no problems. Then on day four of training, I got sick anyway. Not violently, but by the afternoon all I could manage to do was lie in bed with my fever watching YouTube and napping. I did, however, haul my sorry butt upstairs to class wrapped in the fluffiest blanket from my bed. I sat and watched class then went to sleep immediately after with no dinner. I got about 10 hours of sleep that night and woke up a little weak, but over the hump. Good job immune system!
On the weekends the staff treated us to outings in the general area. Our first outing was to see a sunset ceremony down by the Ganga, a short walk from Krishna Cottage. It was beautiful with the green water and the brilliant red sunset, but it was also a lot like church, which especially in a foreign language, can get kind of boring. Most of us bailed before the end.
While our first official day of class was on Christmas Day, and it slid past without much mention, New Year’s Eve did not go by unnoticed. Balloons were hung across the courtyard and a DJ booth complete with spinning lights and enormous speaker was set up. A feast was prepared with a wider variety of dishes than normal, and the tables and chairs were set up in the courtyard around a fire pit. After dinner, the students hung out standing and dancing around the fire. The DJ had a baffling obsession with Despacito, Tonight (the unedited version! yikes, so much f-words!), and I know you want me, and he played each of these upwards of five times, sometimes several times in a row.
When the DJ finally played some Indian music, the staff got out to dance and got super into it, which was a delight. However, I wasn’t the only one who had gotten sick that week, with a cold going around as well, plus with the early start the next morning, most of the students were back in their rooms a little after 9 pm. But the staff. The staff were up, blasting that music until well after midnight, and most of my classmates didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I definitely busted out my trust ol’ earplugs.
Week two marked a shift in our schedule, as now our teaching methods class started from 3 to 4 pm, and our writing assignment had been distributed, making us all a bit busier. More and more people began getting sick, either with food poisoning or with the cold. I felt like I might be getting the cold and began using my neti pot three times a day in an effort to escape it. Certainly the cold weather and lack of indoor heating didn’t help the situation, and by midweek, I believe at least half of the class actively had the cold.
During the second week, a bit of a polite mutiny also began. While officially 100% class attendance is mandatory, a lot of people began skipping class to rest, either just from physical exhaustion or from sickness. There was also an increase in grumbling about the state of the facilities. While there was supposed to be hot water for several hours each in the morning and evening, some people didn’t have any, or had trouble with their power going out, or only one of the lights in their rooms working. You also had to purchase your own toilet paper if you wanted it, and when one of my classmates complained about not having the bucket and dipper common to most of the bathrooms, she was told by the management that she had to provide her own.
The initial appeal of the food began wearing off, and folks began to start eating out at the cafes nearby. I was a bit of a home body, but even still I ended up working on my writing assignment at the cafes nearby, where I mostly just drank chai and lassis, though down the street many of my classmates went out for coffee. While I didn’t have any real motive for avoiding coffee (except the expense), I ended up going seventeen days before having a cup.
I also made it out to Laxman Jhula which is up the road about 20 minutes on foot, where there are a lot more shops, restaurants and cafes. I took in the sights, watching the monkeys frolic and steal food from tourists, people watching, and buying a few souvenirs for family.
Unfortunately I managed to injure a tendon in the back of my right hand, and one of my teachers sent me to the on-site Ayurvedic doctor to get it wrapped. I didn’t know anything about Ayurveda before arriving in Rishikesh, and so I found it fascinating to see a band new healing tradition. I didn’t get much explanation, but my hand was rubbed with heated herbs and oil wrapped in a cloth, then a paste of herbs was put over the injured area and wrapped to keep the herbs in place. I was told to keep the poultice in place for two hours, then to wash it with warm water.
Our outing for the second weekend was a trip to the Patna Waterfall. We were shuttled out to the trail head, and we hiked up to the retreat center where we had chai and snacks, and goofed around doing some acroyoga before going to visit the falls.
Week three represented yet another change in gears. While each of our morning and evening asana classes had been led by one of our instructors, on Monday we were split into groups and began teaching ourselves for the evening class. With 23 students, we were split into four groups. Mine was a group of six, so for a two hour class each person got a 20 minute segment slot to teach. This felt like the beginning of our metamorphosis into teachers, and I feel like it bonded us closer together as a group, with more interaction in as well as outside of class.
At this point, many of my classmates were sick of the food at school, and a lot of people were buying their meals out, so the crowd in the cafeteria got smaller. Most of the grumbling and mutiny of week two had either died down, or become the new normal. Some people begin to take a class off if they felt like they needed rest. The cold that had been going around finally started to taper as well, though one of my classmates ended up getting antibiotics to cope with it.
And it was still really cold. Quite a few students have purchased heaters for around $20 USD at the nearby electronics shop, but I held firm, refusing to spend so much money on something I will have to leave behind. Sadly though, my 5L water bottle that I’d been cuddling during lecture and putting in the foot of my bed sprang a leak (RIP Snuggles), and I spent a day or so a little cold as I drank down another 5L.
At the end of Week 3, we were assigned our teaching partners for our final assignments in Week 4. We had to teach two things with this partner: 1) a two hour asana class and 2) a 20 minute anatomical analysis of an assigned yoga posture. My assigned partner happened to also be my across the hall neighbor, and I believe she was also the first of my classmates that I met upon arrival. We got assigned an asana teaching slot first thing Monday morning.
My partner and I were planning our class at a local cafe with some other classmates when something jumped on our table from outside of my peripheral vision and I instinctively struck it backhand, sweeping it off the table before I even could recognize what it was. It turned out to be a monkey hunting wild sugar packets, and it was so fast it got two before I knocked it off the table. So I can now add to the list of weird things I have done “Hitting a monkey”.
Unfortunately by the end of Week 3 my body was having problems. I had developed a pain in my right knee from sitting cross legged for so many hours of the day, my left shoulder felt minorly injured, and an old injury in my neck had flared up. My teachers suggested a variety of things from a massage (yes please!) to more protein (why not?), and the internet suggested that maybe a vitamin C shortage could be to blame (I also bruised from my massage, another vitamin C deficiency symptom).
The thing about injury though, while it is a curse to one’s personal practice, it is a great boon to a teacher. Part of teaching is knowing how to suggested modifications to poses for students who may have old or ongoing injuries. And you will never know the modifications for an injury so well as the ones you have had to use yourself. So I behaved and modified my practice, sitting out of sun salutations and down dogs to baby my shoulder, and so on. It was hard not doing everything.
Then, on Saturday morning, we got a treat. One of my classmates had been very curious about cleansing practices beyond the neti pot cleansing, which are not normally taught during the 200 hour class. The one in particular he asked about is called “neti sutra” where sutra means thread. So, nose thread, getting an idea where this is going? Are you scared? I was. Thread is the traditional item, but the modern version uses a small rubber catheters for what is effectively nasal flossing.
Yes. Nasal flossing is a thing. I recommend skipping the next three paragraphs if you are squeamish.
It involves gently (this is important) pushing the catheter up your nostril. There’s no where to go but down into your throat, don’t worry, you won’t poke your brain out. However, making the bend is a challenge, so the angle of insertion needs to be more back than up, and a gentle twisting motion of the catheter can be used to get it started moving down the throat.
The next part is where it got tricky for me. It was surprisingly easy to put the catheter too far down my throat. To do it right, you need to push it just enough so that the end comes down behind your uvula, so that you can reach two fingers to the back of your throat and grab it. If you push the end too far, you end up grabbing it in the middle, and it’s nigh impossible to get out (it’s very slippery). Once you can grab the end between your index and middle finger, you pull it gently out of your mouth so that now you are holding the catheter at each end, one going into the nose and the other out the mouth. And you floss back and forth ever so gently before pulling it all the way out your mouth.
So… this involves a lot of gagging. And spitting. And in some cases vomiting. As I was struggling to get the catheter to the right place to grab it, I took a moment to observe my classmates. My curious classmate was having a rough go of it, but he was committed, I could tell. He wanted it, so despite the retching, he was not giving up. And he and I weren’t the only ones struggling. It was kind of pandemonium, and so what would I do in this situation? I broke down laughing hysterically. If anyone wasn’t awake yet at 7 am, I was their wake up call. That and all the retching sounds.
I am proud to say that I succeeded, and that I managed to floss both of my nostrils despite being frightened out of my mind. I won’t say it was pleasant, or that I will do it again (okay, maybe when a murderous sinus infection comes along I’ll get desperate enough to try again). But that fact that I was able to do it despite my terror gave me a lot of satisfaction.
And there’s even more intense yoga cleansing stuff if you’re curious.
Afterwards our teachers took us for a walk instead of our usual morning asana practice.
That Sunday I elected to pass on the group outing to a nearby temple, because I wanted to do laundry (in a bucket, there is no laundry service at the school) and work on my assignments.
Our fourth and final week was yet again a horse of a different color. There was no more teaching methods class in the afternoon, and most of us had finished our writing assignments so that we were free to work on planning our teachings. Monday and Tuesday we had asana class per usual all together in the main room, but when it came time for our evaluation teachings, we were split between two rooms. My half of the class was moved to Yoga Hall 2, and Anatomy and Philosophy classes continued in our original hall as usual
When Wednesday morning came for me and my partner to teach, I was excited. We were a little too prolific and we had to cut our lesson short lest we run over and create a mutiny by making everyone late to breakfast. But everyone really seemed to enjoy it. My biggest critical feedback was that I was too high energy for the meditation at the end. Surprise surprise.
For three days, we taught each other in asana and anatomy, and our philosophy class continued as usual. But then on Thursday, our teacher told us that this was the last class he would lead, and for our final class on Friday, we would speak. None of us were quite sure what to do with that. Some folks prepared short philosophical anecdotes or quotes to share, but most of us just spoke about our experience over the month.
And when we sat down in a circle, I knew I was going to cry.
It was something I did not expect, but I had become very attached to my classmates and our little month long bubble. One of the classmates I felt closest with, who turned out to probably be the youngest in our class, was completely unsurprised. He had already attended two retreats in the past year, and he said it was par for the course. Look who’s the old hat, eh? I came in incredibly curious about who would be in my class, and I left with a bunch of friends.
And so when we sat down to share in our last philosophy class, I straight up blubbered. When it was my turn, I tried to convey something about expectations. I had an experience a few years ago which taught me that sometimes its the unexpected things in life that are the most rare and beautiful. The sort of things that you can’t plan or see coming. And the friendship and camaraderie that we had over the course of the month was one of those things for me. It was as unexpected as it was beautiful, and I am incredibly grateful for it.
At least, that’s what I tried to say. I hope I was even marginally intelligible through the sobbing and the tissues.
Then, suddenly, it was Saturday: Graduation Day! We had our very last herbal tea, neti pot and asana class first thing in the morning. After breakfast there was a little time to kill, and then there was the closing ceremony. It was much like the opening ceremony, the chanting, the flowers, the fire. Only now, instead of sneaking glances at the strangers that were my classmates and teachers, I was in a room where I knew everyone’s name.
After the closing ceremony came the graduation where we were draped in a chrysanthemum necklace (like a lei, but not) and awarded our certificates. We clapped and cheered for each other. Some people were demur and took their certificate with a handshake. Others were huggers (yours truly!) and one student lifted one of our teachers off the ground.
There was a group photo on the roof, then lunch, and then… that was it. Some people had already gone before lunch. Dan and I stayed Saturday night and went out for dinner with those that remained.
The next day, Dan and I left first thing for Agra and our normal life as we know it.
Review of Rishikesh Yog Peeth
I enjoyed my time at RYP, but I don’t feel that I can whole-heartedly recommend it to others. There were wonderful things about it, and strange and frustrating things as well. My goal is not to dissuade anyone from attending RYP nor to give it a bad review, but to mention what I saw as the pros and cons so that any other potential students can make a more informed decision.
This course was designed for both beginners and advanced students. As such, it involved a lot of physical conditioning to strengthen those who had not been practicing daily. We had four hours of pranayama, chanting, and asana everyday. It began with very basic postures, and worked up towards more complicated poses progressively. While I did learn some very valuable things from these classes, I didn’t really learn many new postures (new to me). I’ve been doing yoga consistently (but not daily) for about five years, and while the conditioning deepened my practice and strengthened me, it didn’t expand upon my existing knowledge base of postures.
What I did learn a lot from were the Philosophy, Anatomy & Physiology, and Teaching Methods lectures. I didn’t have much knowledge in those arenas, and our two teachers who covered these subjects, Deepa and Vijeth, were very knowledgeable. However, I feel like the Anatomy class was a little rushed. Deepa was trying to squeeze a lot of information into a relatively short amount of time, but even still, it ended up being more of a survey class than anything else. Further study on the part of the student is needed in my opinion.
Some of my fellow students were unhappy that our asana teachers were not more highly certified or experienced. The complaint was that not enough cueing was given for the poses to really learn them properly. I personally had no complaints about the cueing, but I was doing postures that I was already familiar with, so it make senses that those who were newer to yoga would want more details than we were getting. Something that illustrated this was the day that Deepa substituted for one of our asana classes, and everyone who had been dissatisfied got all the cueing they had been craving. My impression is that our most experienced teachers were the ones teaching the lectures, while the newer (but still very able) teachers were teaching the asanas and learning on us as we learned from them. I didn’t have a problem with that, but I can understand why someone might want more than that.
I also found the amount of yoga itself rather taxing on my body, particularly combined with a large diet change (all vegetarian). I’m a pretty active person; before YTT, I was doing about 30 min of yoga a day, combined with body weight exercises, running, and longer yoga practices about five times a week. But it felt like every week something else was upset in my body. The first week it was pain and soreness in the muscles in my upper back from having to sit up straight on the floor. That got better during the second week, but then I aggravated a tendon in my hand. That went away, and then suddenly my neck, knee, and shoulder began to hurt. Yes, I’m in my thirties, not my twenties, but still! This point isn’t specific to RYP, but it is something to think about when considering a month-long training of this nature.
The issues I had with my body may have been exacerbated by the cold. While the absolute temperatures in Rishikesh in January are not much to look at, you have to keep in mind that this part of the world is usually very hot, and the buildings are designed accordingly. There is no insulation, and no indoor heating. You can expect tile floors, and lots of drafts: the walls and roof are mostly just protecting you from the monkeys. I think it is part of why so many of my classmates got a cold (and well over half of them got it).
The other sickness was food poisoning. Some people got it twice. I got it eating only food from the school kitchen, though since it happened on day 4 so it could have been something I ate before class. But I was pretty careful, and even I didn’t escape it. I want to say that about a third of my classmates got some kind of digestive problem, and some of those also got the cold. This particular con is probably something that can happen in any country where the tap water is not potable. So keep in mind when considering going abroad for a YTT, you might miss a class or two because something you ate didn’t agree with you.
Furthermore, at RYP some of the management decisions were odd. You get a code of conduct to sign at check in. Rules like no smoking on premises, turn the electricity off when you leave your room. But then there was stuff like “Turn in two passport photos to the front desk within three days” that no one explained or mentioned ever again, and when I inquired about it finally in the third week, I got chastised for not having done it within the first three days. I think some of my classmates never bothered with it. There was also the “100% mandatory class attendance” and “no admittance to class if you arrive later” rules, which I’m pretty sure everyone broke one or the other over the course of the month, but everyone still graduated. Technically you are supposed to apply for an absence, but who is going to haul themselves to class to “apply” for an absence when they are vomiting? No one.
As to the facilities, everyone got their own room and private bathroom, which after all the hostel dorms I’ve stayed in, felt like the lap of luxury. I really liked my room and I was happy with the bathroom as well. Some of my classmates had trouble with getting hot water consistently. This didn’t effect me, but if it had it would have been hard, since without a heater or a spouse, I was very dependent on hot water bottles in bed and in lecture with me to keep me warm. There were certain things about the building that didn’t seem well maintained, broken light fixtures, and dirty walls badly in need of repainting. My bathroom came with a bucket and dipper, but one of my classmates was told she would have to buy her own, they weren’t provided. Also not provided? Toilet paper. Toilet paper is not a thing in India. No laundry services either, we all did our washing by hand in a bucket.
Overall I was happy with my experience. I liked Rishikesh, the food at RYP, and the course curriculum. My teachers were lovely, and I feel really lucky to have had such wonderful classmates. If I could change something I probably wouldn’t have gone in January, and I’d like to see the school be better maintained with more transparent and open channels of communication with the management.