Yoga for Your Digestion

March 4, 2010

Namaste from Goa!

I am in the midst of my 230ish hour Yoga Teacher Training course, Shakti Spirit (already 4 weeks down and only 2 to go). It has been nothing less than remarkable. I feel the need to give a pre-emptive warning- I think this is my longest post yet. I haven’t really felt up to writing until recently– there has been so much to absorb and try to make sense of, so here´s to packing it in. But to start, you can look at some PICS, starting with the train bathroom! And at least scroll down to watch the hilarious video at the end.

We sleep, eat, mediate, practice asana and do our vast amounts of learning all at Satsanga, an incredibly beautiful and well run yoga retreat center in Parra, Goa. It’s a bit cut off from everywhere, which has turned out to be perfect for much needed peace and concentration. The amazing food is thanks to the in-house Keralan chef and Aryuvedic natural remedy expert, Mani. She has one the kindest set of eyes I’ve ever seen. Everyone has his or her own gorgeous room (well, we do get roommates…small ants, big ants, lizards, frogs…). My room has a porch swing and over looks a very utilized pool–it is freaking HOT here.

There are only 11 of us yoga teachers-to-be (though just one male here with his partner– they just got engaged a few nights ago!!). It’s such an international group, including our teachers- U.S., France, Czech Republic, Poland, U.K, Lichtenstein, Australia, Austria, Germany, Croatia, and The Netherlands). We have a great group dynamic (thank the yoga gods!); we all gelled and support each other quite nicely.

So, the teacher training program is so great. Our main teacher, Rachel Hull, is an encyclopedia of knowledge. She has designed a very rich and full (often we go 6:30am-6 pm) schedule. It’s been a bit like a puzzle- many components that have all started to come together into a comprehensive picture. All of our teachers are amazingly talented, and kind. Each gives so much with their individual expertise.

This training falls into the Hatha yoga category, which is what’s most commonly practiced in the west but often misrepresented as simply easy stretching poses. I now understand Hatha to be a system of yoga utilizes the following to attain personal freedom: asana (physical postures) pranayama (breathing exercises), bandhas (muscular ‘locks’ for moving energy), and kriyas (cleansing techniques). In sum, our specific program schedule includes: asana class and teaching technique, pranayama & meditation, anatomy, teaching skills, aryuveda, and yogic philosophy. Here’s more detail on these main components for those interested:

Asana- our 2-hour classes, led by Rachel and Jodi Boone, happen at least once a day Monday-Saturday. They are intelligent and precise with great focus on alignment while being creative, relaxed, incorporating flow and full of intention. These classes, along with 2-3 hour ‘technique’ classes have prepared us but by bit for teaching- learning and practicing adjustments, detailed breakdowns of many of the postures and sequencing; and creating our own bi-weekly 2 hour self-practice sequences.

Emil Wendel teaches our yoga philosophy classes, as well as the pranayama and meditation. Emil is an amazing, wise man who has lived in India for over 30 years, is a Sanskrit scholar, and tells great stories. We’ve just started our philosophy classes, which I love—what is yoga? Where did it come from? How is it practiced? How do we humans relate to and understand it? Much more we haven’t yet come to. You know, easy stuff. Fantastic person to study under.

Meditation and pranayama classes are Monday-Saturday, 6:30am-7:45am. Most days, Emil leads the sadhana (practice) like this:
1) Centering, guided meditation;
2) Anapanasati (watching the calm, natural breathe);
3) Ujjayi pranayama- a diaphragmatic breathe (if you’ve been to a yoga class, it’s the one that sounds like an ocean wave). What’s actually happening is you are contracting a part of the throat called the ‘glottis’, which automatically activates your perineum floor, i.e. mula bhanda to direct energy in the body. Ujjayi also lowers your heart rate and helps calm the mind.
4) Shat kriyas (intense, cleansing breathe- kapalabati & bastrika); then back to anapanasati
5) Focusing pranayama (viloma, bramari, samavriti, nadi shodona; mantra- e.g. chanting OM for 10 minutes—TRY THAT; the vibrations and, if you are with people, harmonies, are awesome)
6) Anapanasati, Silent Meditation

Another component of our training focuses on Aryuveda, the ancient medical science and healing system of India. It parallels Chinese medicine quite a bit (e.g. Aryuvedic refers to ‘prana’ like ‘chi’, meaning life-force energy). We’ve only just scratched the surface, but here’s a jist of some aspects. In Aryuveda there exists 3 doshas that make up all life- vata, pitta, and kapha. Essentially the doshas are compositions of the body and mind. Everyone has at least a little of all 3, but usually 2 are dominant. Based on your constitution, aryuveda recommends certain foods to eat and avoid, lifestyle choices, specific cleanses to rid yourself of ama (toxins) and other treatments/remedies to keep yourself in balance- or rebalance/pacify the doshas.

Yoga and Aryuveda complement each other in many ways- one tangible example is that a certain asana sequence can help balance someone if a particular dosha has gone array. If vata is haywire, do a calming and grounding asana practice. If pitta is up, practice cooling and restorative asanas. If you’ve got too much kapha going on, do an energizing and enduring sequence. Oh, we also had a nice group yoga-aryuveda bonding experience doing a shat kriya (cleanse) called jala neti- pouring in a snotting out salt water through our noses!!

So, we all got to have consultations with a local and well-known Aryuvedic doctor. She diagnosed our individual doshas and gave any necessary treatments, seemingly by looking at our tongue, eyes, skin tone, feeling our pulse, and asking a few very direct question that made you go, ‘how did she know to ask that?!’ I am pitta-kapha, equally. And apparently my body is low on ama (toxins), but I consistently carry shoulder and spine tension. So, poor me, my prescribed treatment was a back massage and a special relaxation technique, called “shirodara” (for a 1/2 hour you literally get warm oil poured on your forehead).

Our anatomy classes with Chris Kummer were awesome. He’s a super dynamic, fun and incredibly knowledgeable teacher– for one class he bought a goat arm to show us some structural parts; very effective teaching style! We learned about pretty much all of our anatomical systems and how they all link together- did you know there is tissue in the body called fascia? One line of it literally links your foot to your head… Makes asana postures and their impact in the body sooo much more complicated, yet also fascinating. Chris namely taught from the perspective that its all about balance and awareness. And, almost everything is- tada!- changeable. Yes, you can improve the curve of your spine and create arches in those flat feet. If you get a chance, take a course or workshop with this man- I would for sure study with him again if I ever get the chance.

Teaching skills with Sue Pendlebury were super quirky, fun, exposing, brilliant. She totally brought us out of our comfort zone, helped us open up as a group, and seriously increase self-awareness and work on group speaking & communication skills. Of course, here we first tackled the hardest and scariest part– actually teaching. The first time was on the spot, and we were told to pair up and teach a sun salutation. I think my mouth and brain temporarily disconnected. Eeeeek, so not fun! But as they say, practice makes perfect (though, right, perfect doesn’t really exist- a nice secondary lesson to be reminded of in this training)…it’s gotten better, a bit easier, and fun. Umm phew! I still have, of course, far to go, but everything has been a good and valuable experience, in many different ways.

There’s so many other little details and little bonuses: taking asana class at a nearby yoga studio; karma yoga picking up trash on the beach; bhatki yoga (doing Bhajans- a wonderful experience of probably 50 people singing beautiful, devotional songs); yantra yoga (our beautiful flower yantra- before and 3 hours later), Sue leading this crazy vibrational wild dancing yoga class, getting chalked during the color festival…

For our much needed 1.5 days off we get out a little. On one Sunday evening outing, we were quite lucky to come across this ‘lil roadblock:

From Hilary's Goa Pics

I have learned so much, and there is loads more to learn and digest. Obviously, some days are harder than others and I am certainly not without frustrations, but it’s been really such an amazing experience. And truly an infinite process, this whole yoga thing. I feel like this is all a beautiful yet ever increasing mystery- definitely an endless journey of discovery and understanding. Hard to put to words (through I have written quite a few, haven’t I!)…hope I didn’t put in too many abstract details for those of you actually still reading, but hopefully it gave a good picture of what the heck I am doing. And of I’d love to share these practices in person!


4 Responses to “Yoga for Your Digestion”

  1. Chorizo Says:

    Booboo! I miss seeing you (almost) everyday. You’re life in India looks surreal! Much much much love.

  2. sfauthor Says:

    Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

  3. Cami Says:

    You painted a beautiful picture of what you are doing in India- complete with a drag queen dance party!!! I love it!

    I could hear the healing and comfort of yoga in your words.

    Enjoy! Soak it all up- the best you can! Lots of love…

  4. Margaret Woodside Says:

    thanks for sharing all these experiences, Hilary! I am so excited for you. And, for me, too. Loved the video.

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