My STEP Experience – Yoga Teachers’ Training Course

Sooo…What did I spend Summer 2016 doing?

Yoga.

A few moments before I was back on the floor...thanks for assisting me, Hagy!

A few moments before I landed flat on the mat…thanks for assisting me, Hagy!

My STEP Signature Project took me into the Catskills Mountains of upstate New York, where I spent the month of June completing the Yoga Teachers’ Training Course (TTC) at the internationally-renowned Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch.  Over the course of the month, I had the opportunity to live at the Ashram with my 38 fellow TTC students, learn both didactically and experientially the scripture, philosophy, and practice of yoga, and make connections with the most incredible, diverse people and ideas.

Note: And because I loved it so much, I stayed one more month completing the Advanced Teacher Training Course – but that’s a story for another post!

 

Because of this experience, so much of what I understood of myself and the world around me was deeply transformed.

On an individual level, my initial perception of my abilities and limitations was completely overhauled by this experience.  Where I thought I would have extreme difficulty adapting to the lifestyle and schedule of the Ashram (which included waking up at 5:50 5:30 and engaging in 4 hours of yoga asana practice per day), I actually enjoyed it greatly.  I realized that my body was capable of so much more than I thought, and that it in fact was my thoughts – my own mind – that were limiting me.  That being said, the incredibly healthy atmosphere I was in during this intense practice definitely played a pivotal role in my doing so; as a result, I’ve come to understand – on a much more fundamental level – that who and where I expose myself to, as well as the food I eat and the words I speak – can either power or drain my ability to be resilient.

In addition, I entered the Ashram with what I thought was already an open mind.  Being Indian-American, I have spent my entire life working to understand and accept two separate cultures, calling both my own, and this has afforded me a broad perspective towards the world and how people live in.  But my time at the Ashram brought to light those things which I was, indeed, very narrow-minded towards, and guided me towards a more open worldview.  For instance, I believed that a truly successful person was one who went through secondary school, then college, then graduate school, then got a job, and then lived happily ever after (forgive my cliché-ness).  But at the Ashram, I met people who spent their lives teaching yoga at Ashrams all over the world, and people who, education in hand, travelled all over the world living with family and serving the impoverished using their knowledge, and still more amazing, amazingly happy, souls.  This gave me great relief, because as a pre-med student, I tend to spend hours agonizing over what the future might hold – but, as exemplified in the way these people lived their lives, I’m slowly beginning to understand that life certainly has a way of working itself out for the best.  To trust the process with a big ol’ smile on my face.

 

Now, I’d like to devote some words to those specific experiences that enabled these transformations.

So many aspects of the month spent during the Teachers Training Course led to my growth as a person.   In particular, it was especially compelling to me that the catalyst for all of these points of transformation – which connected me with new communities, new ideas, and new things about myself – was the practice of yoga.  (Incidentally, yoga is Sanskrit for “union.”) I’ll introduce these key, transformational aspects of my TTC experience with a photo and include further description below.

The room exploding with Indian classical music and dance, a hallmark of every Kirtan session.

The room exploding with Indian classical music and dance, a hallmark of every Kirtan session.

Of the 40 or so students in the TTC, 8 were members of the Deaf community.  Thanks to the work of Lila Lolling (read more about her amazing work at lilalolling.com and www.deafyoga.org, and her recent feature in Yoga Journal!) and the many other amazing interpreters, the TTC was concurrently available to both Deaf and hearing students this June – and for me, this was an invaluable opportunity to connect with a community I had never connected with before.

I was assigned the role of note-taker for the group so that my fellow Deaf students could watch the ASL interpretation of our philosophy, Gita, and anatomy lectures uninterrupted, and get a copy of the notes at the end of the day.  I enjoy writing, and, going into my third year at OSU, I’ve taken my fair share of notes – I didn’t think this would be a particularly noteworthy experience (please excuse the pun!).  But over the course of the month, I realized that my note-taking work meant so much more to me than I initially thought.  I realized that I found the task of molding complex information into a clear, understandable format an incredibly fulfilling one; in addition, viewing this work as an opportunity to assist others along their TTC journey filled me with so much more drive to put forth the best that I had to offer.

In addition, our days during the Teachers Training Course were book-ended by sessions of silent meditation followed by chanting Kirtan (Sanskrit for “musical narration,” much like the Praise and Worship one might engage in at church).  Again, Lila, in her utmost brilliance, found a way to bring this music to the Deaf community – this time through Bharatnatyam dance.  Mudras, symbolic hand gestures, are a major facet of Bharatnatyam, and represent the Hindu/Buddhist deities and philosophical ideals that our Kirtan chants expressed in words.  So, during Kirtan, there would be an interpreter performing the Bharatnatyam mudras for – as it eventually became – the entire room to follow.  This union of dance with song brought an incredible amount of light and life to the practices that began and ended our days.

 

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Believe it or not, this was on the second day I’d ever laid hands on a harmonium.

Speaking of Kirtan, these chants were often accompanied by a harmonium and a whole band of percussion instruments that anyone could pick up and play.  I had never played a harmonium before…but, as you can see, I caught on pretty quickly.

 

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Vani Devi, one of the wisest and most thoughtful people I’ve ever met.  This was taken right before she hopped on a plane to continue teaching yoga in Italy!

Apart from being one of the finest yoga teachers I have ever had the gift of meeting, Vani Devi exemplifies the global nature of my experience at the Yoga Ranch.  I travelled a mere seven hours from Ohio to New York, and yet, I felt like I had travelled across oceans to meet all of the people whose time and space continuums had all converged at this particular establishment in the Catskills.  Through Vani Devi, I learned much about Japanese culture; through many others (especially the kitchen staff), I got a (literal) taste of Chinese and Taiwanese life.  Swamis – monks  – and other presiding teachers at the Ashram – hailed from Israel, India, Yugoslavia, and the US.  And people had come to this Ashram from all over the world, simply for the purpose of either serving the Ashram for a few months or taking part in the Teachers Training Course – in fact, many of my fellow students hailed from the UK, Canada, Germany, Austria, and India.

 

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Izzy (L), Mariana (R), and me. The loveliest TTC roommates – brought together from Arizona, Florida, and Ohio! This was taken right before the 108 Sun Salutations challenge.

 

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With Ellen, one of the most fabulous London-ites (and dare I say, yoga teachers!) I got to meet.

 

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Snapping with Abby, my fellow 19-year-old TTCer! Such a shining example of authenticity and passion for service. This was taken on the last day of student-teaching.

 

Dani, one of my dearest friends from the TTC (and ATTC!) - from Austria, New York, and now, Munich.

Dani, one of my dearest friends from the TTC (and ATTC!) – from Austria, New York, and now, Munich. 

Each and every student and teacher at the Ranch brought diverse worldviews to the Ashram, enriching an already robust yoga immersion course.   Having the opportunity to live with these people for one month (and with some, even two months) was one of the best parts of my TTC experience.

 

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108 Sun Salutations had nothing on us.

Founded upon a vision for peace in all aspects of being, the Yoga Ranch has been dedicated for decades to living sustainably and providing programs that teach such methods to the public.  To this end, this past summer, the Yoga Ranch was raising funds to build a 300-module solar panel array to cover all of the Ranch’s energy needs – that is, to make the entire center an energy-independent entity.  And what better way to raise funds than a 108 Sun Salutation Challenge?

108 certainly seemed like a daunting number of Sun Salutations to complete (I remember finishing what felt like 108 rounds, but was actually 24 rounds, in a previous class – needless to say, I didn’t feel too confident after that), but there’s something to be said about the energy an entire room striving for the same goal.  Synergy in its most palpable form.

 

And for some fun pictures…

 

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Mariana, Dani, Abby and myself at Lake Minnewaska on our first break day during the course.

 

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Did I mention that I met a Bollywood and Hollywood star? Thank you Pooja Kumar, for teaching me so much about humility, groundedness, and freeing your creative genius!

 

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Selfie with Subhadra, queen of the Ashram, receiving alllll the love from the guests, and radiating the most sleeping – er, relaxed! – energy around.

 

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Asana by day, gardening by night. This was taken during a group Karma Yoga – selfless service – night, beautifying the Ashram gardens.

 

Because asana teaches you how to try, laugh when you fall, and pick yourself right back up.

No caption necessary.  *You’re welcome.*

 

Perhaps most importantly, these experiences have and will continue to benefit my goals for the future.

These transformations have proved and will prove invaluable in my personal growth and plans for the future.  From the most obvious perspective, my completion of the Teacher’s Training Course (and in the next month, the Advanced Teacher’s Training Course) gave me the requisite education and certification to teach yoga.  As a future integrative physician, my plan is to make yoga a central part of my approach to medicine, and having the ability to learn and to teach starting so early in my career is an incredible gift.  I cannot wait to hone my teaching and further my knowledge of this beautiful practice that I may better serve my fellow beings through the medical profession.

In addition, the vast amount of awareness – of the world around me, of communities with which I hadn’t come in contact prior, of myself – I gained through this experience contributed greatly to my personal development.  Meeting people from all over the world afforded me the opportunity to live with and learn about the rich cultures they brought with them, and for all of us to revel in the practice of yoga that had brought us together.  I had the opportunity to connect with and serve the Deaf community, which whom I had never interacted before.  And through it all, I got to learn so much more about myself, to the extent that every day enriched my life more than I thought that just twenty-four hours could.  I am convinced that this deepened self-awareness will allow me to harness those abilities with which I’ve been put on this earth and better integrate them into my future work.

All of this, thanks to yoga.

 

I am deeply grateful to the OSU Second-Year Transformational Experience Program, the OSU Eminence Fellows program, and of course, to my brilliant friends and family for making this dream of mine a reality.

To close, I’ll leave you with the words of Swami Vishnu-Devananda (1927-1993), founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, and wise teachings from Swami Sivananda (1887-1963), his Guru.

health-is-wealth-peace-of-mind-is-happiness-yoga-shows-the-way

 

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