Yoga Under the Indian Sun
Agonda beach, India. Back where it all began. I returned along with my partner in crime Gabe to complete a 300 hour teacher training at Sampoorna Yoga. The 300 hour training is a more advanced extension of the 200 hour training. As such, everyone in the course is already a practicing yoga teacher with a wide range of experience. In total there are 10 of us: six men and four women. It has been a much different experience having a predominantly masculine presence in the course as yoga tends to draw a disproportionate amount of feminine energy. It is nice to ‘bro’ out in class, make inappropriate jokes, and let one rip whenever and wherever. Not to say this wouldn’t have been the case regardless of who is in the class, but it’s fun when everyone else joins in.
I could go into much detail about my experience but I’d prefer to just share some highlights over the five week training. First, I must mention the two main teachers of the course, Rachel and Gemma. Having them as our guides was certainly a highlight. The perpetually smiling Rachel leads a great asana class and makes anatomy class engaging. The instigating Gemma leads a strong asana class, is always keen to do something fun, and has a hilarious reaction to cockroaches being thrown into her room. My fellow students also brought a great deal of flavor to the course.
– Gabe: my brother from another mother.
– Ari: the compassionate Canadian who ‘for sure’ survived a snowboarding avalanche accident. Loves to make random birdcalls and looks like a monkey on ecstasy when playing instruments.
– Sid: the wizened Indian who is one of the most switched on people I’ve ever encountered. Not many people can explain quantum mechanics while grooving out to trance music.
– Ann: the cougar from Indiana and next room neighbor. That she didn’t kill us during one of our ridiculous late night jam sessions demonstrates she’s one cool cat.
– Roch: the hyper flexible professional guitarist with a great source of yogic knowledge and a laugh like a kookaburra. A fellow American and fellow ice cream addict.
– Mango: the awesomely tattooed, carefree Dane whose class may have you impromptu dancing, doing tai chi, or hopping like frogs. The manliest ex-figure skater I’ve ever met (as well as the only one).
– Sabrina: the feisty yet whimsical Greek warrioress with a great sense of humor. It seems she’s taken on some of my bike crashing karma.
– Niki: the sweet Cali girl with great taste in music. An absolute addict of everything edible at Blue Planet. Introduced me to my love affair with banofi pie.
– Shanine: the saucy Brit always ready with a well-placed comment and a love of photographing monkeys.
The collection of these personalities is what has made the course so enriching. Everyone is very nurturing and supportive of one another and we maintain a light-hearted manner. There was no negative energy in the course, which is especially necessary when trying more ‘alternative’ techniques, such as the ones below.
Laughter meditation is really quite simple. Just laugh. And laugh. And laugh some more. Until you feel like a hyena, grasping for breath. It may start out forced, but genuine guffaws start to erupt as you laugh at others ridiculousness, with their ridiculousness, and then at yourself for originally taking yourself so seriously.
Sufi whirling is also really quite simple by design. You twirl in different directions, extending your hand and making a ‘shh’ sound before returning back to center. This moving meditation flows along with sufi music, focusing on concentration. Then, you stare at your hand and spin around as fast as you’d like for 15 minutes. Distracting thoughts are flung away like moisture during the spin cycle of a washing machine. Amazingly, by focusing on your hand you don’t become dizzy. This taught me that it is possible to maintain your focus no matter how much chaos surrounds you.
It certainly is a little more difficult to do yoga with a bulging Buddha belly. Rachel had us stuff our shirts with sarongs to mimic being knocked up. We practiced as if we were really preggers, gossiping about our asshole boyfriends and how much we craved chocolate. It was insightful to see how limiting pregnancy can be. I have a great respect for what women go through during pregnancy and it is inspiring that some yoginis continue their practice, sharing it intimately with the life growing inside them.
Damn, kids sure do have a bunch of energy. Taking a kids yoga class was more physically exerting than a 2 hour asana practice. Rachel read us a story with certain key words (like cow, or monkey) that triggered us to go into different poses. We hopped around the room like frogs and ran around like dogs, barking and chattering like kids at recess. A set of rules were imposed with the punishment being taking ‘chicken’ pose, folding forward and wrapping your hands around your legs to grab your earlobes. The most commonly broken rule was no farting. When you forbid kids from passing wind it naturally turns into a farting contest.
One of the Sampoorna alumni is also a Bollywood dance teacher and showed us a routine she choreographed for a local wedding. We got the Indian head bob going, the hips gyrating, and changed a lot of light bulbs. Bollywood makes being a fisherman look like a blast.
Once again the course was a great experience. It is nice to witness your own practice and the practice of your friends become stronger. Maintaining a solid handstand or finding new depths in a backbend is always uplifting. The same idea applies to teaching. Incorporating little aspects of others’ teaching styles helps to develop a stronger teaching presence. I feel more capable and confident in both my personal practice and in sharing yoga with others. It certainly helps that this transformation takes place in a gorgeous shala, alongside the monkeys in the jungle, overlooking the mighty Arabian Sea. Though the sun has set on the course, it has been beautiful to witness alongside beautiful people.