India has been my second home where I grew up most of my life and pursued my studies right from primary to graduation. It is one of the most holiest place for Buddhists and particularly for Tibetan Buddhism as it was originated from India, and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for this reason always addresses India as our guru.
My western friends and many people I encountered often express their fear and hesitation of visiting India by merely what they hear and see from news and social media of the unfortunate incidents of rape and other safety issues. I don’t deny and undermine any of these but, if one travels with little caution, it is a beautiful country with deep touch of spirituality, rich and diverse in culture, language and food. I had travelled alone to multiple cities in India when I lived there and never had any bad experience.
Somehow, it remains close to me - a home away from home - and love it for so may reasons, and of all the food.
When I decided to take up a course on Yoga Teacher’s Training , India was number one option for me because I was familiar with the place, people, language and most importantly, this is the land of yoga and expenses is much cheaper. For example, I could end up paying $ 3000 for 200hrs yoga classes (training alone) in Europe. Whereas in India, only $1400 covered me with literally everything; yoga classes inclusive of yoga materials, one month accommodation, food and airport transportation. Hence I decided to go to Northern India, a city in Uttarakhand so called Rishikesh; the birth place of yoga and home for hundreds of sages and enlightened souls.
Choosing a yoga school:
Choosing an ideal yoga school to ones’ preference in India could be very confusing as it was for me. There are over hundred of yoga schools only in Rishikesh and all of them looked equally impressive. My decision was kind of last minute and I briefly went through reviews of couple of schools and exchanged emails with regard to seat availabilities for my preferred date. I already had a fixed date, and have to begin the program by mid October due to my other schedules, this left me with limited options as most of the schools start their programme in the beginning of the month. I chose Ekattva Yogshala. To my liking, it offers multi style yoga course to small class size and provides well facilitated private accommodation. I am happy that I chose Ekattva Yogshala as my school. It was fulfilling.
If any of you are considering to take up a yoga course for self development or to become a yoga instructor/trainer, I would recommend India in general and Rishikesh in particular. Reading reviews are helpful in finalising your choice of yoga school. Another smart choice is to book the course directly from their website instead of booking through online portals; that is much cheaper.
Was it worth the money?
Absolutely, I was delighted with what the school offered at the given cost. As mentioned above, it includes the 200 hrs YTT Course certificate affiliated by Yoga Alliance USA with well experienced teachers, Yoga mat and other yoga logistics, three course meals including tea on breaks, clean and well air-conditioned private room, two free sessions of full body Ayurvedic massages, airport pick up and drop off and weekend excursions. Ekattva Yogshala conducts a ten days yoga and mantra chanting retreat twice every year and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to participate it for two days that took place in Devprayag. So I didn't have to take another trip to see this one of the most sacred place (Devprayag) where Alanknanda and Bhagirathis rivers meet giving birth to the mother Ganga. If you wish to join this school and take the opportunity of retreat, you should go either in the month of May or October. It could vary in the future, so always research and do ask the school. One of the best thing was meeting those incredible like minded people who I could connect with at spiritual level. And the food was very healthy, fresh and delicious. They were kind enough to provide food to our taste preference.
What my daily schedule looked like:
5:00am wake up and refresh, warm up/self practice
5:40 Tea (Optional)
6:00 -70:30 Hatha yoga
8:00 - 9:00 breakfast
9:30 -10:30 Philosophy
11:00- 12 :30 Self practice
12:30 - 14:00 Lunch time and rest
14:00 - 16:30 Anatomy
15:00 - 16:30 Asthanga Yoga
16:30 - 18:00 Evening tea and rest
18:00 - 19:00 Pranayama and Meditation class
19:00 Retire to bed.
It was an intensive course. There is six hours of daily yoga plus self practice. But Thursday was half working day, and free on Sunday for excursions, massage or do whatever one wishes to. You do not have to be super flexible or stretchy but you need to be fairly fit and enjoy yoga to do this course. Flexibility, strength and balance will develop over time with consistent practice. I was shocked at first when I realised how little I knew about yoga and how vast yoga is.
I was overwhelmed with excitement about the journey i was about to embark on. One month of YTT was like opening the door of yoga world to me and I have learnt so much and also made me realised how much more I need to learn and develop myself. At first, the schedule looked impossible specially getting up as early as at 5am in the morning. It was unimaginable to someone like me who was never an early riser kind of person. Somehow I managed pretty well and thankful to that schedule; now I have disciplined myself to getting up at 5am and going to bed at 9pm everyday. This enables me to be consistent with my practice, helps me sleep better and gives me more positive energy in everyday life. ,
What I enjoyed about YTT course:
All the classes were equally interesting , heuristic as well as challenging. But my favourite class was Asthanga class in the afternoon because Asthanga Yoga was designed in series/sequences which is easy to follow and remember. Or perhaps, because I was little more flexible in forward bending than holding on balancing poses and the first few series involves a lot of forward bends. I liked it so much that I ended up creating a sequence for my first Hatha Teaching practice class and the teacher said it was Asthanga sequence, not Hatha. Hence, I had to re-create for the next day. Sometimes I still get confused between the two. I enjoyed Hatha class too; it was fun and empowering. I learnt a lot from Anatomy; the teacher was with full of knowledge and wisdom.
I realised that it is essential for anyone who practice or teach yoga to understand what is happening within the body to increase blood flow to each muscle and how it affects the body. I also enjoyed philosophy even though I realised that it will take a life time to learn and understand philosophy of yoga completely. The things we touched upon were easier for me to understand, this could be because of my familiarity with Buddhist Philosophy. Many of the concepts were relatable and similar to some practices stated in the Buddhist texts. Our day ends practicing meditation and pranayama which was soothing and comforting to our mind, body and spirit.
What I liked apart from the classes was the people I met during the course. There were people from all over the world, from different backgrounds with full of experiences and wisdom. With some, I spent the entire month and with others a week or so. They were very welcoming, friendly, kind and open minded. And the best part was that since we shared a lot of similar interest, we became good friends and I highly value such relationships at a spiritual level.
Things that you must experience at Rishikesh :
I had spent 15 years in India until I left in 2015. I was in disbelieve for not having been to Rishikesh for all those years . It was one of the most fascinating place I have ever visited. The calmness, the energy of the place, kindness of people and freshness of the air were unreal. There is something unexplainable about the place that I personally felt but I don't have the words to comprehend what exactly it is. Your mind, body and soul could feel so much serenity and bliss. Some say it’s because of the holiness of the place; a birth place for lots of enlightened souls or perhaps because of energy of mother Ganga. Many people talk of feeling positive and good about being there.
Also there are couple of interesting things that you can do on your leisure times like walking across the holy bridges (Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula) for the view of forested hills, ashrams and temples and the Ganga river. Also swim or take a dip in the Ganga river. Dipping in Ganga gave me an ultimate feeling of purification, a feeling of liberation and uplifted.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram (also known as Beatles Ashram) is located in Tiger’s reserver park which is ten minutes walk from Ekattva Yogshala located on the eastern bank of the Ganga river. The Ashram was an international Academy of Meditation where Maharishi Mahesh Yogi trained his students during the year 1960s and 1970s and gained huge international attention after English rock band Beatles studied Transcendental Meditation in 1968. The Ashram was abandoned in 1990s and was taken over by the forestry department in 2003. Even though, the place was uninhabited and overrun by jungle, it was reopened in 2015 to public and became a famous international tourist attraction. In 2018, the ashram celebrated it’s 50th anniversary of the Beatle’s arrival in Rishikesh and renamed as Beatles Ashram since then. There were lots of broken walls and fallen stones but the place is very peaceful and the architectural landscape and the 84 meditation caves were equally fascinating. We got lost in there for an hours and hours in joy and surprise. Entry fee for a foreigner was 600 Rupees whereas for Indian, it was 50 rupees.
Devprayag town is another must visit place where you can see the collision of two rivers Alakananda and Bhagirathi rivers making the Big Ganga. You will be fascinated to see the clear separation of the blue water of one river and the brown water of another eventually combine to become the big brown Ganga River. People go there for retreats and perform mantra chanting at the meet point. There is a small ashram 2 hours from Devprayag where locals and people from all over India go to pray and do offerings. We got the opportunities to go with the retreat group but I am not sure if many tourists would be keen to see it given the fact that it is far and remote. Devprayag is about 2 hours drive from Rishikesh where you can share a taxi with group of friends or hire Motor bikes and go with friends in group but the roads could be little rough and dusty for a bike ride.
There are lots of cool places to sit near the river Ganga and simultaneously enjoy its view and sunset from cafes and restaurants of all kinds in Rishikesh . German Bakery, Italian and Israel restaurants, Nepalese Thali, South Indian Dosa, Tibetan dishes and many more to try and experiences. Honey hut was one of our everyday delights; our guilty pleasure. They offer fresh cup cakes, cookies, lassi and delicious coffee. There are Yoga book stores, beautiful and cheap hand made clothes shops, antique stores, jam stones and jewellery shops and many more to explore.
My general take on going to India for a Yoga course
Over all, I had an amazing experience, probably one of the best experience and I hope this information is insightful for those who are looking to do a YTT or to visit this place. Any questions or comments are most welcome.
Until next time.....
The term Yoga originates from the Sanskrit word Yoke meaning to join or a union between body, mind, and spirit. A dream is an involuntary idea, thoughts, images, and sensations that one experiences during sleep. We spend one-third of our lifetime sleeping and dreaming but rarely do we question if we use that time wisely or productively. We work hard on keeping our mind and body in good alignment by practicing yoga while we are awake and alert. But we barely think about what happens to our mind and body when we sleep, when we are not aware of ourselves or the environment. Can we practice yoga in our sleep too?. I have had this question in my mind for so long and have always been curious about the dream and its significance in real life.
For that reason, I started reading books, surfing on the internet and asking questions to yoga teachers and spiritual teachers. I learned that Yoga is more than just physical exercise. It is also a mental and spiritual practice that can be practiced by anyone, anywhere at any time. In another word, we can practice yoga also in our sleep. The yoga that we practice in our sleep is referred to as dream yoga; which is an advanced form of tantric practice of trance Bardo.
In hope of exchanging some insights and my experiential knowledge, I have written a concise account of Dream Yoga Practice to the best of my understanding but I strongly recommend you read the original books and do more research to know what is right and applicable for you as a unique individual.
How dreams arise?
It is believed that all experiences in life including dreams arise from karmic traces which are manifested through attachment, aversion and grasping as a result of ignorance. Karmic traces are the result of our actions (Karma) or the samsaric experience, the deeds, and misdeeds of your past. The simple logic here is the cause and effect relationship, If we do good in our actions at the present, it's like sawing a good seed for a good result and vice versa.
Our thought, mood, senses, imaginations, emotions, intellects and instinctive reactions are all results of karmic actions. For example, sometimes we feel an unexplained heaviness in your heart just after waking up and when we try to search for reason, everything seems fine' no reason to be sad or depressed. Every thought why?. This is because of karmic actions that are ripening. It could be actions we have done yesterday, a year ago or many years back but when the cause and effects are conditioned together, it starts to ripe and causes anxiety and depression, perhaps in your dream too. The same can be applied to an unexplained excitement and joy.
When we are awake, our brain is active and our conscious mind illuminates our senses which help us experience the world, entwined sensory and supernatural powers as a seemingly sensible real-life experience. whereas when we sleep, we are not aware of the worldly experiences because the consciousness withdraws from our senses but still vibrates in the brain producing dreams. This is because consciousness illuminates the darkness; karmic traces resulting in endless dreams.
Understanding the dream and benefit of practicing dream yoga
One-third of our life is spent on sleeping; whether you are a serial killer or a saint, a millionaire or a homeless, when in sleep, everyone is the same, we know no identities. We don’t understand how we fall asleep but as soon as we close our eyes and fall into the darkness, images start to rise (dreams). Whether we remember it or not, from the time we are born until we die, we all dream every single time we sleep. We meet people, see places, experience a million things that we may or may not know of in our awaken life. We can fly, we encounter non-human, transform into inanimate and many more. Dreams could be blissful, dreadful and non-significants nature.
More and more people in the modern world start paying attention to what dream is and it's significance in real life. Many experts and western psychologists started showing interest in using dreams in their spiritual journey but there is a little investigation on the nature of dreaming and the importance of practicing dream yoga.
Benefits of Practicing Dream Yoga
1. Dream yoga helps to increase awareness and insights resulting in positive decision making in our lives. Understanding karma and its consequences help us recognize that every experience in life is an opportunity for spiritual practice and to experience our lives more constructively. It also assists us in eliminating the seeds of future negative karma in dreams resulting in the development of propensity to choose spiritual behaviors even in dreams.
2. To help develop lucid dreams. lucid dreams are dreams where one recognizes that he/she is dreaming. Many of us would have had at least one lucid dream and some people experience more than once even without any conscious practice. To develop lucid dreams is not the ultimate goal of the practice but it is an essential acquisition along with the practice of dream yoga. If one can develop a strong lucidity of the dream, he/she will be able to control dreams as they come. More importantly, it helps to develop flexibility of mind.
Flexible mind in the dream is like the mirror which reflects whatever comes in front of it. It is not based on attachment or aversion and no grasping. It helps us to see the true nature of things and take them more positively.
3. Improves intelligence and skills. In ancient times people use dream practice to reduce negative thoughts, energies and develop positive thoughts. In the modern world now, research on dream practice proves to help improve intelligence and skills. This happens once we develop a stable lucidity. When we recognize that we are dreaming, we will be able to modify dreams, change the nature of a dream, transform and multiply our dreams. We can explore and experience as many things as we want in a dream that may be impossible to experience in waking life. We can change the size, quality, speed, and accomplishment of our dream as we like.
4. It helps to recognize clear light in the intermediate stage; apprehend Bardo of reality and Bardo of searching for rebirth. This is a common practice for Buddhists where one can recognize Bardo; the stage between death and the next life if one practiced dream yoga with sincere aspirations because they are similar.
How to put dream yoga in practice:
Firstly, it is important to develop a strong sense that everything that happens in the day time is nothing but illusions and dreams alike. Train your mind to perceive all the events that take place around you or in the world, people you meet or interact with, places you visit, objects you see and touch, the food you eat are a dream. Remind this to yourself by saying ‘This is a dream’. Practice such thought with great aspiration from your heart.
Then prepare yourself for sleep: Sit on a meditative posture keeping your spine straight, legs crossed or lotus pose with right leg on top and keep your hand on the knees, palms facing down. Take a few deep breaths, relax your body and relax your mind.
Then practice a quick gratitude meditation. Express your gratitude for the things you have in your life, for the people you have in your life, for the mistakes you made that sought you a lesson, for the food you ate, for the day you were alive and breathing. Even though they are also like the dream and illusions, we should be thankful to experience it.
At the time of sleep, generate a mind with great intention to practice clear light dream and verbally or mentally say ‘May I have a good dream, May I have a Lucid dream, May I understand My dream, May I remember my dream and May I see the clear light’.
Then lie down on a sleeping loin posture on your right side with the right hand under the cheek and left hand on left hip and head facing toward North. In Bon Tradition, it is practiced as the right side for male and left side for females due to Pranic energy flow. When you are in this position, think that your body is the body of your meditative deity or simply imagine that your head is resting on the lap of your meditative deity sitting next to your pillow with a smiling face. On your throat visualize Guru Padmasambhava and sincerely pray ‘Please bless me to recognize my dreams as dreams’.
If practiced with intense aspiration, slowly you will develop the capacity to comprehend your dream. When you comprehend them, you should think ‘ This is a dream and I can do anything I want in my dream’. Moreover, if you developed an intense wish to visit the Buddha realm, you will be able to visit the Buddha realm and receive teachings in dreams and you can transform the dreams into whatever you desire. Visit places you like, be the king of the world, transform into birds and fly, jump into the water, stop a wildfire with a blow without fear and also change the size from small to big, big to small or whatever you like.
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself ‘ I had many dreams and but all these dreams are not there when I woke up, the same way all the worldly phenomenons in my waking life are like the dreams I had last night. They are dreams and they are illusions’. Training your mind with such thought persistently will help you comprehend your dreams better.
Obstacles in comprehending dreams and their possible solutions.
We, human beings have a mind like a monkey. Too many thoughts, easily distractive and difficult to concentrate on one thing. In dream yoga practice, our mind can get diffused in five ways that avert us from comprehending dreams. (H. E Kunde Rinpoche: 2011)
1.The waking diffusion: This is when one wakes up as soon as he/she starts to comprehend a dream. To remove this diffusion, imagine a pea-sized black Bindu under two soles of your feet and go back to sleep.
2.The forgetful diffusion: This is where you get disturbed by multiple dreams that confuse the dreamer and are difficult to handle. To remove this diffusion, train your mind during the day that every apparent waking life phenomenon is of dream nature. when you go to sleep, tell your self ‘ I will recognize my dreams and will not get confused’. And in sleep, think that this is a dream and I will not get confused. This habitual stability of mindfulness will eliminate such a diffusion.
3. The deluded diffusion: Deluded appearance dreams are common and we often experience is due to our negative karmic traces. To eliminate this, train your mind to think that all daytime experiences are of dream nature and sincerely pray and make offerings to your root lama and deities. Confess your negative actions and meditate on compassion and lovingkindness.
4.The empty diffusion: This is when your sleep completely goes away and can’t fall back to sleep at all due to passionate aspiration. To remove this, Visualise a black bind of pea-size at the center of your heart and go to sleep.
5. The impediment of the stubborn diffusion: This is where you through a feeling of sadness for the suffering of this samsara. You attended a retreat and practiced dream yoga and might have comprehended dreams initially. But due to grasping and clinging toward desires of apparent pleasure, your practice becomes weak and unable to comprehend dreams again. To eliminate this, you should renounce your life and make an effort to practice by remaining in solitary to restore your experiences. It is also essential to have faith in your root lamas and also to have received the pith instructions.
The ultimate goal of dream yoga practice is to recognize the clear light and subsequently attend enlightenment/ Buddhahood in the intermediate state. This may sound too abstract and even unachievable, but the purpose of practice is not only the final result. As we live, it helps in certain ways to experience everything differently. To inculcate positivity, to observe and reciprocate gratitude, to minimize desires, and to cast away delusions.
Until Next Time.........
Bakasana is the Sanskrit name for Crow pose and it is also called Crane pose since the body in this posture resembles that of a crane wading in a pool of water. This balancing posture practice dated back to the 17th century where Crane poses is believed to be the 62 of 84 poses taught by Shiva.
This arm balancing is often practiced in Hatha yoga as well as in modern yoga and it is an excellent posture for strengthening arms and abdominal organs apart from many other benefits. Crow pose can be practiced alone as well as included in any yoga flows like the Sun salutations, alo move etc.
Techniques : Click Here to watch Vidoe
1. Squat down all the way down with feet together with soles and heels resting completely on the floor. Then rasie the seat from the floor and balance. 2. Widen the knees and move the trunk forward. 3. Exhale, wrap the arms around the bend legs and rest the pamls on the floor. 4. Bend the elbows and, rasie heels from the floor, move trunck furthers forward and rest shins on the back of upper arms near close to armpits. 5. Exhale, swing the body forward, lift the toes off the floor, stretch the arms and balance on hands. 6. Look infront and stay in the pose as long as you can (Maybe for 20-30 seconds in the beginning and more as your practice advances) with normal breath. 7. Exhale, bend the elblws, lower the trunck, release the legs and squat down and relax. Coming out of the pose is as importance as going into the pose.
Variations: Use blocks under palms to create more space between floor and the body or use blocks under feet to assist for lift in the benining. Use booster or pillow to rest the forehead as a beginner. Or use any props as appropriate as the practice advances. Explore and be creative with practices.
Benefits of Crow/ crane pose:
I was always fascinated by this pose but I had zero arm strenght to try the pose in the beginning . However, when I started my yoga practice for the first time, the first thing that I did was going straight to the floor on my palms and knees on my arms with no clue of how to do it ad I kept falling on my forehead. My teachers and fellow student thought I am the kind of person with no patience who takes an only short cut to success. They also feared I might break my neck by falling on it. And they were right because I didn't know how to do even a Sun salutation A and jumping striaght into Crow pose. which is relatively an advanced level. But my stubbornness didn't allow anything stop me from doing it even my upper arms were in agony with pain and bruises due to pressure from my knees. It took me months to finally master this pose and when I did, it felt liberating. I learnt that everything you do takes time, patience, encouragement and definitely pays off. However, this can be done better with good attitude, right knowledge and proper techniques. Keep Practicing and stay blessed.
Love and lights.