Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course in India [Review]

Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course Kerala

My stay at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, for their Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course, started with an early visit to the nearest hospital.  I got so sick I had to see the Ayurvedic doctor of the ashram.

I was a bit worried, I thought he would just recommend me an Ayurvedic massage or tea but he actually gave me very good advise.

He said, "go to the hospital and get a blood test."  What a relieve!

I got the blood test done right away. 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 shot of antibiotics and paracetamol plus an IV (Intravenous Therapy).

Later the nurse asked me to lay down on the bed to give me 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 shot.   Guess what happened...  A second later a big cockroach crawl over the same bed, right in front of my eyes!

I immediately jumped out of the bed, and all the lovely nurses ran out of the room laughing uncontrollably.  Lol.

A few minutes later I had to lay down on the same bed for two hours to get the IV.

Sick at a hospital near the ashram

Believe me, this is not the kind of hospital where you want to stay for too long. When I ordered the pills the nurse opened a plastic container, like those that my grandma used to use to store sugar, and took out with her bare hand (the right one luckily) the pills I had ordered.

Unfortunately, I had to come back to the same clinic for two more days because 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.  Lol

So that was the beginning of my one-month yoga teachers training course at the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Trivandrum.

But, although I was sick for the 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 were really fun.

I can't say that I felt very relaxed but we all had a good laugh at every class for sure.

And even the philosophy lectures by Swami Mahadevananda, a western swami from Italy, were pretty interesting and entertaining, and perhaps polemic.  Not so easy to fall asleep.

Sick again with the pink eye infection
In quarantine because of the pink eye infection! Lol

About the Sivananda Ashram, Neyyar Dam

Garden at the Sivananda ashram

The Sivananda ashram was founded by Swami Vishnudevananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh.

The ashram is located 32 km from Trivandrum, in a beautiful green area, the Neyyar Dam Sanctuary, which contains a beautiful lake created by the dam.

The Neyyar Dam near the ashram
The famous Neyyar Dam

Accommodation at the ashram

The ashram offers different types of accommodation: twin rooms, single rooms, and dormitories.  The rooms are very basic.

If you have your own tent you can get a specific space outside, but cross your fingers that it won't rain.

Upon arrival to the ashram, you get a pillow, pillow covers, bed sheets, and a mosquito net.

In my opinion, the pillows and mattresses were not so hygienic.  They were very smelly, probably because of the humidity.

This was very disappointing, considering the huge amount of money that they charge for the teacher 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 and December. I put some of my clothes on the "shelves" next to my bed where you could barely fit a book.  After one week they were full of mold.  Other people had similar issues.

Ashram 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 too 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 prasad, 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
The health hut

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.

Ashram boutique
The ashram boutique

Staying connected:  internet service at the 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.

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, you can visit my article How to stay connected with mobile internet while traveling in India.

Hospitals near the ashram

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 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).  The best option is probably to go to the hospital in Trivandrum, but that would be about one hour ride by taxi.

About the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course

My overall impression of the TTC

The training was intense.  I won't say very intense but they kept us busy all day long.

Swami Mahadevananda used to say, "We keep you very busy so your mind doesn'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 had to do our Karma Yoga (Selfless work like cleaning toilets), our own laundry (which was a nightmare cause it rained almost every day) and also our homework.

Yeah, that's right, we had to submit a homework every day!

So not much free time but at least every Friday was a "day off". That means that we could leave the ashram at any time and come back later during the day.  The rest of the week was mandatory to stay in the ashram.

Some people felt desperate to go out each Friday.  I didn't have that feeling but I was looking forward to going to Kovalam beach and enjoy some delicious seafood or vegetarian food, although I did like the food at the ashram.

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 at 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 as if it was given 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.

I was probably 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."

The real purpose of the TTC

Evening satsang at the ashram

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 yoga teachers.

It was Swami Vishnudevananda aim to create yoga teachers as world leaders to promote world peace through self peace. If you understand the purpose behind the training you will probably start to enjoy it even more.

Quote by Swami Vishnudevananda
Swami Vishnudevananda

Some of my friends started teaching right away after the TTC, although in an 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.   Of course, it's all about practice, practice and practice.

The content of the course

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 into 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 practice the open yoga class.

This was probably the best part of the training, the real practice.  I wish we had done the same exercise at least two more times, but I guess 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's 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.

Yoga philosophy class with Swami Mahadevananda
Swami Mahadevananda giving a lecture about the seven chakras

Everything that we saw in the training was included in the manual. The manual is very complete, but again not so deep.

Related to the hatha yoga asanas and meditation practices it includes the same information that you could find in any Sivananda book, plus the class structure.

Additionally, the manual also includes the philosophy lectures, outlines for the asana classes, Bhagavad Gita summaries, and basic anatomy classes.

The teacher training daily schedule

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
18.00 Dinner
20.00 Satsang

My opinion about the meditation sessions at the 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 superficial and although they always talked about how important meditation 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 thirty minutes.  It was usually for about ten minutes and on several occasions, it lasted only five minutes.

So the duration of the meditation sessions changed everyday cause it would depend on the program that they had planned 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 had 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 "blah blah blah", 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.  I didn't feel this would be the right place.

Ashram activities

Silent walks

Some days, instead of the morning satsang we would do a silent walk to the lake and then sit there for meditation.

That was one of my favorite moments, and it was so good to have a break from the daily satsangs.

On other occasions, instead of going to the lake we would climb a hill nearby and do the short meditation there.

Meditation by the lake near the ashram

Meditation at a hill near the ashram

Tours and lion safari

Every Friday the ashram organizes a tour either to Kanyakumari or to the backwaters with a short stop in Varkala. I never did either of these 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 crocodile's pool, and the deers although the only worthy 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 most 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 every day, that we all thought it was just some speakers with recordings of the lions roaring! So if you go to the safari please look for the speakers and let me know.

Traditional temple near the ashram

The talent show

On Saturdays, the Ashram gives the opportunity 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 presenter/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.

Ashram events

The ashram also organizes some events, like talks given by experts in a certain field or performances.

During the TTC we had a Kathakali performance, a Kalarippayattu performance (Indian martial arts), and a performance given by children with disabilities.

We also had the opportunity to listen to an informal talk given by doctor Masaru Emoto.

Dr. Masaru Emoto is the author of the book "The Hidden Messages in Water" and his conclusions have been quoted in several books and films, including the movie "What the bleep do we know."

With Dr Masaru Emoto
Standing with Dr. Masaru Emoto after his lecture

His talk didn't seem scientific at all but he does have something compelling to say. One thing is for sure.  He is a very funny, joyful and loving man.

How to reach the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam

From the Trivandrum main train station, you just need to cross the road to the bus 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 drive.  A rickshaw driver 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.

Other ashrams and Yoga TTC in India

If you would like to visit other ashrams in India I suggest you visit my Guide to Indian Ashrams.

This is a list of all the ashrams that I have visited during my yoga journey around India.  It includes detailed information about each ashram.

If you are interested in doing a yoga TTC you can also visit my list of the Best Yoga Teacher Training Courses in India.  This blog includes a selection of some of the best YTTC you can find in India.

You should also you check my India Packing List to make sure you bring everything you might need to travel around India and to stay at an Indian ashram.

Sivananda Yoga Books

Related posts

Sivananda ashram contact information

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

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my experiences doing this yoga teachers training course at the beautiful Sivananda ashram in Kerala.

Don't hesitate to share it with your friends and also, please don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter so you never miss an update. Once you subscribe you'll be able to download my free meditation e-book.


  1. I am interested to know how much hands on yoga you get to do - I teach already and so am unsure weather to do this course or not as I am looking for an intense yoga course. Thanks for your Blog - it was really interesting to read. :)

    1. Hi. You get twice a day a 1 hour 45 min hatha yoga class so you do get to do lots of yoga. The TTC and ATTC are very intense for sure. If you already have done a teacher training then taking another teacher training might create some confusion in your mind because of different approaches and teaching styles so you will need to have an open an flexible mind. The strength in the Sivananda tradition lies in their integral approach to yoga and the connection with the gurus, if you are open to it. Thanks for your comment! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed reading my blog :-)

  2. Hey, I stumbled onto your blog while I was doing some doing some research on Neyyar Dam. I am registered for the January TTC course in Sivananda and really glad I found your blog. I wasn't too sure of what to expect so reading about your experience was really helpful. I decided to register for the TTC course because I really want to learn more about yoga in an intensive manner and not so much for the teaching. I've done yoga for almost two years but it wasn't very intensive. In your opinion, do you think the course would be too challenging for someone without extensive yoga experience? Looking forward to your reply :)

    1. Hi Liane, I'm so sorry I have taken so long to reply to you. The course is very intense, you hardly have time for anything so in that sense it can be very challenging but it doesn't matter if you have some experience or no experience at all, they will teach you everything you need to learn. If you hardly have no exposure to yoga philosophy you might need to study more, but asanas you will still have to do it according to your own capacity so that's the same for everybody. I'm sure you'll do fine, specially after two years of hatha practice :-). Oh I see, you were meant to do your TTC in January... So how did it go?

  3. Hi marco - great review thanks. I am on the verge of booking for the 200hr ttc at sivananda ahram in Kerala. - The only thing that's putting me off is the sheer number of students. In January 2014 the course had 259 people on it. I am worried that size of class would just be crazy and result in a poorer overall experience. Can they cope with these types of numbers logistically without it effecting the quality of the teaching and time spent with students? What do you think?

    1. Hi Jamie, sorry for the late reply. I think when they have this amount of people they divide the classes in two groups. During my TTC we were probably about 140 people. It all depends on your on perspective of things. I didn't feel that the teachings that we received were affected at all because we were so many people, I actually enjoyed it a lot. But if you want to have a less crowded course you can try the ashram in Madurai, and even smaller but more difficult to book is the ashram in Uttarkashi. Good luck!

  4. Thank you. This is one of the best reviews / reports that I have seen in a long time. Very helpful.

    1. Thank you Birgit, really appreciate your positive feedback :-) Namaste

  5. Hey Marco.
    Just found your blog on Sivananda Neyyar Dam. I am planning on enrolling for 200 hours TTC but I am not quite sure as to which among the Kerala and the Uttarkashi centres are better. Would appreciate your input.

  6. Hey Marco. Loved your blog. I am planning for a TTC myself and I am torn between two options- Sivananda Kerala or Yoga Vidya Gurukul in Nashik. I am leaning more towards the course in Nashik as the sheer 12 basic asanas with a few variations is putting me off. Does it get boring and repetitive to go through the 12 basic asanas for 28 days?