My stay at the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, India for their Hatha Yoga Teachers Training Course started with an early visit to the nearest hospital. I felt very sick so I went to see the ayurvedic doctor from the ashram. I was a bit worried, I thought he would just recommend me an ayurvedic massage or tea but he actually gave me a very good advise.
He said "go to the hospital and get a blood test." What a relieve! I got my blood test and luckily it was just a viral infection, at least that's what I understood from the lady doc that spoke almost no English. She prescribed me a shut of antibiotics and paracetamol plus and IV (Intravenous Therapy).
Later, when the nurse asked me to lay down in the bed for the first shot I looked at the bed and thought "what the heck, it can't be that bad". So I lay down on my abdomen for the shut and a second later a big cockroach walk on the bed just in front of my eyes. I jumped back and out of the bed and all the lovely nurses ran out and started to laugh uncontrollably :-D And a few minutes later I had to lay down in the same bed for two hours for the IV.
Believe me, this is not the kind of hospital where you want to stay for too long. When I went for the pills the lady opened a plastic pot, like those that my grandma used to use to store sugar, and took out with her hand (the right one luckily) a few pills and put them in a paper bag. Unfortunately I had to come back two more days cause I was still feeling very sick. The third time the lady doc said, "you stay here tonight, tomorrow morning I see you again".... yeah right! I started to feel better right away :-D
So that was the beginning of my one month yoga teachers training course at the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Trivandrum but even though I was sick for most part of the training (I got the "pink eye infection as well!") I had an amazing time, though not necessarily in a spiritual sense. It was great to meet people from all around the world with similar interests.
The weekly talent show was very entertaining (read more in "activities" below). The hatha yoga teacher, Shamboo, was excellent, I mean he had a lot of positive energy and he was like a stand up comedian so the classes where really fun. I can't say that I felt very relaxed but we all had a good laugh at every class for sure :-D And even the philosophy lectures given by Swami Mahadevananda, a western swami from Italy, where pretty interesting and entertaining and perhaps polemic, not so easy to fall sleep.
|With the pink eye|
The training was intense, I wont say very intense but they kept us busy all day long. Swami Mahadevananda used to say "We keep you very busy so your mind don't have any time to think, and then one day all of a sudden the mind will stop and you will be able to see beyond"; unfortunately I never reached that state :-( We had two hours free a day but in that time we have to do our Karma Yoga (Selfless work like cleaning toilets), our own laundry (which was a nightmare cause it rained almost everyday) and homework.
|Sivananda Ashram Yoga Hall|
At the beginning of the course I was a bit negative and thought that I would not enjoy the course at all. I had a few hatha yoga classes in the ashram a week before and I realized that I hated their teaching style. The instruction during the pranayamas (breathing techniques) felt like if I were in the army and the instruction for the Sun Salutations felt like if it was giving by a robot, I felt annoyed by the constant chattering.
But during the TTC it was slightly different. I guess it all depends on the teacher and I also tried to be a bit more open-minded. The first day I was judging the teachers all the time, "Oh he is like this and like that, this is not correct" but then I try to be more open. Probably I was influenced by one of the first lectures, "The obstacles on the path of the aspirants - preconceived ideas about how the sadhana, the guru and the teacher should be" :-P
Video Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course
This is a sort of video summary of the Sivananda Teachers Training Course. I specially like the beginning of the video, it was the end of the very first meditation during the course.
Video Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course
If you want to know more about the training just keep reading further.
About the Ashram
About the training
About the food
About health care
How to reach the Ashram
About the Sivananda Ashram, Neyyar Dam
The ashram is located 32 km from Trivandrum in a beautiful green area, the Neyyar Dam Sanctuary with a beautiful lake created by the Dam. Some days instead of the satsang we would do a silent walk to the lake and then sit there for meditation or climb up a nearby mont.
|Meditation at the lake near Sivananda Ashram|
|Meditation at mount near ashram||Garden at Sivananda Ashram|
There are different types of accommodation. Twin rooms, dormitory or you can get a specific space outside in case you have your own tent. The rooms are very basic. Upon arrival to the ashram you will get a pillow, pillow covers, bed sheets and a mosquito net. The pillows and mattresses, were not so hygienic, very smelly probably because of the humidity. This was very disappointing, considering the huge amount of money that they charge for the training I would expect at least some decent mattresses and pillows. Luckily I'm always traveling with my liner (travel sheet).
The humidity was a bit of an issue, at least during November - December. I put some of my clothes on the "shelves" next to my bed where you can barely fit a book and after one week they were full of mold. Other people had similar issues.
Services offered by the ashram
Internet: During very limited hours and with the limited free time that we had it was kind of difficult to use it. Only three computers available and two connections in case you have your own laptop.
Laundry service: Run by two lovely Indian ladies but due to the weather they were always delayed and the clothes never smell really clean. Only hand wash.
Boutique: With books, cds, dvds, expensive yoga mats, soap, mosquito repellent, etc etc.
Staying connected at the Sivananda Ashram
Although the usage of mobile phones is normally not allowed at the ashram if you are discrete you can use a smartphone to connect to the internet whenever you need to. You can only use the internet service at the ashram during very limited hours which can be quite annoying but if you get a mobile internet plan for your smartphone then you can use it whenever you want and with a better connection, but be aware that the ashram won't take any responsibility if your phone is broken or stolen. You can get the best reception with Airtel. For more information about mobile internet check these links:
- How to stay connected with mobile internet while traveling in India
- The iPhone 4: Best Travel Gadget Ever
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About the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course
I didn't think that I would say this but yes, you can actually teach after one month training. Of course, that doesn't mean that you'll be a good teacher, but you will have all the basic knowledge, the class structure and a bit of practice to start teaching right away.
Actually the first day I thought that this was not a teacher training but rather an "introductory course to yoga", but very quickly it was made very clear that the aim of the training was really to create teachers. It was Swami Vishnudevananda aim to create yoga teachers as world leaders to promote world peace and understanding. If you understand the purpose behind the training you will probably start to enjoy it even more.
Some of my friends started teaching right away although in a very informal way, to family and friends and for free. I believe that like anything in life it all depends on how much dedication you put into it, how much you prepare yourself and what is your previous experience, and of course it's all about practice, practice and practice.
There were two asana classes each day. Normally during the first class we would focus on our own practice and during the second class we focus on how to teach, asana corrections and the sequence of the asanas. I think the classes were really good but not very deep.
We were also able to practice teaching. We were divided in groups of four and during four days each one of us had to give the full beginners class for one hour and a half. We did this exercise once more to give the open class. This was probably the best part of the training, the real practice. I wish we had done that at least two more times but one month was really not enough time. The training included instruction on how to give the beginners class, open class with asana variations, pregnant woman and people with limited mobility class and a children class.
I thought the training would be very physical but I was happily surprised to realize that it would also include plenty of philosophy. Of course that is different for everybody, some people love it, others hated it. We had one lecture a day given by Swami Mahadeva and a Bhagavad Gita class given by Mohini, the wife of Shamboo, the hatha yoga teacher. She was great, I loved the class, but probably because I loved the Bhagavad Gita.
Before the Bhagavad Gita classes started we had one week of Chanting class. That' really not my thing but the teacher, a lovely Indian lady, was so good that I manage to stay present in the class.
The lectures given by the swami covered subjects like What is Brahman, Brahma and the Three Gunas; The four paths of Yoga; The eight limbs of Raja Yoga; The Three Bodies and the Panca Koshas (Five Sheaths), Pranayamas, Meditation and more. All very interesting subjects but we didn't go very deep into any of them.
I think the idea was to give a general overview into many different aspects of yoga philosophy and probably we need to see the TTC and the Advance TTC as an integral course. All the lectures are given following the manual structure which was initially organized by Swami Vishnudevananda.
|Swami Mahadevanada Chakras lecture|
05.30 wake up bell
06.00 to 07.30 Satsang: Silent meditation, chanting and talk
08.00 to 09.45 Asana Class
10.00 Breakfast (more like a lunch)
10.45 to 11.45 Karma Yoga
12.00 to 13.00 Bhagavad Gita or Chanting class
14.00 to 15.30 Main Lecture
16.00 to 17.45 Asana Class
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About meditation at the Sivananda Ashram
Now, in many ways the training was very positive but if you are interested in meditation I believe this is not the right place. Yes, we did receive some theory about meditation but in my opinion it was very very superficial and although they always talked about how important it is you can easily notice how little importance they actually give to it.
There were two sessions a day for meditation, during the morning and evening satsang, however the longest meditation that we did was probably 30 minutes and it was usually for about 10 minutes and in several occasions it lasted 5 minutes only. So it actually change everyday cause it would depend on the program that they have for the satsang.
The meditation was so "relevant" that they would always cut some time from it in order to give enough time for whatever thing they have planned for the satsang but of course we never cut time from the chantings. And I really hated that we would end the meditation with three quick Om chantings and then right away we would start with the daily chantings. It was a horrible interruption of the peace and silent (check the video on top, it will give you an idea). And at the beginning of each meditation there would be somebody guiding the meditation but to me it felt just like "bla bla bla", very annoying.
Every Wednesday they have an open coaching meditation class for anybody who needs some advice on meditation but I never felt even slightly inclined to ask for this coaching, didn't feel this would be the right place. back to top
Every Friday the ashram organizes a tour either to Kanyakumari or to the back waters with a short stop in Varkala. I never did either of this tours cause you would leave at 6am and come back at midnight but I heard the trip to Kanyakumari is very fun.
You can also visit the Neyyar Dam sanctuary and do the "Lion Safari" for 500 rupees per person which includes the Lion Safari, the crocodiles pool and the deers although the only worth thing to see is the Lion Safari. The crocodiles are too far to see and the deers are invisible. The Lonely Planet says that during the lion safari you would must likely see only monkeys. I actually saw the lions right next to the bus but I didn't see any monkey at all, and I heard from other guys that did the lion safari that they did see the lions as well.
A funny thing is that from the ashram you can hear every single day the lions roaring, which are on the other side of the lake. The sound was so repetitive and apparently at the same time that we all thought it was just some speakers with the recordings of the lions roaring! So if you go to the safari please look for the speakers and let me know.
|Kathakali Statues near Sivananda Ashram|
On saturdays the Ashram give the oportunity to the students to organize themselves the "Talent Show". This would probably be the most entertaining activity during your stay at the ashram. Somebody is appointed the presentator/coordinator and anybody can volunteer to show up their talent, and believe me some people have great talents to show but it can also be just for fun. Take a look at this video of a girl playing the harp, it's amazing.
|Me with doctor Masaru Emoto|
Kalari Performance Video Sivananda Ashram
Kathakali Performance Video Sivananda Ashram
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About the food
Some people loved it, some people hated it. For my taste the food was pretty good, though by the end of the second week it started to get a bit to monotonous. It was Indian vegetarian but not spicy at all. The "Brunch" at 10 am (we had only two meals a day) was pretty good, with even some sweet stuff like dessert but the dinner was depressing, normally one curry sauce and rice!
But don't worry about the "two meals a day", you won't starve. You can eat as much as you want during lunch and dinner. Apart from this at the end of the morning satsang we would get some prassad, a small bite of something that was offered to the altar and right after that at 7.30 am you will get tea. That will give you something until lunch time. And if you are still hungry or just don't like the food you can go to the "Health Hut" and "buy" some additional stuff. They offer juices, shakes, cheese toasts, muesli with milk or fruits salad. You can also find nuts and biscuits. I never ate anything in the health hut except for some nuts and the famous GLH (hot lemon ginger honey tea).
|The Health Hut|
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There are a lot of options where to go in case you fall sick during your stay. The first option is to see the ayurvedic doctor from the ashram. He is very good and he can give you a good advice not only limited to ayurveda. If necessary he will tell you to go to the hospital. The nearest hospital is the N.R.S Hospital (50 rupees by Rickshaw), which is very basic actually. The next option is the Katakadha PMS Hospital which is about 20 minutes ride by rickshaw (150 rupees) and the best option is probably to go to the hospital in Trivandrum, but that would be about one hour ride by taxi. back to top
How to reach the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam
From the Trivandrum main train station you just need to cross the road to the bust stand and then asked for Neyyar Dam direct bus. I think there is one every hour. The ride is about one hour and a half. If there is no direct bus then you can take a bus to Kattakada and from there another bus to Neyyar Dam. From the bus stop to the ashram is about 5 minutes and a rickshaw should charge you 20 rupees. The first time they charged me 50!
From Kovalam beach you can take the bus to Trivandrum (30 minutes) and then follow the same indications as above. Note that the bus stand where the bus will drop you off in Trivandrum is in "East Fort". You will need to take a rickshaw from there to the main bus stand for about 20 rupees.
The other option from Kovalam is to go by rickshaw to Vizhinjam (pronounced Beereejnam). From Vizhinjam take a bus to Kattakada and from Kattakada take the final bus to Neyyar Dam. If everything is ok this should take about 1 hour 30 minutes but the last time I did it it took 2 hours and 30 minutes!
A taxi from Kovalam directly to the ashram is about 700 rupees and takes about 50 minutes. back to top
For more information about the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course and other courses you can visit the Sivananda website using the following links:
TTC Schedule around the world
Neyyar Dam Ashram
About the TTC
More about the TTC
If you want to read about other ashrams that I've visited you can go to the Ashrams page.
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Sivananda Yoga Books