I’ve just finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training at beautiful Ashiyana Yoga Retreat Village in Mandrem, North Goa – and I could not speak more highly of it. Just everything about last month was perfect. So in case you are considering doing the course yourself, or just want to hear about the experience, I thought I would write up a diary of my time.
Let me start as I mean to go on. Whether you want to carve out a new life as a yoga teacher or not, if you love yoga then my advice would be just GO. Find a way to take a month off work, get that visa in, and don’t think twice. A bubble of love and a voyage of self-discovery awaits. It’s the ultimate permission (not that we should need permission, but we do it would sometimes seem) to just take a month for YOU. To learn, practice, and explore your body, mind, and soul in an environment that is completely devoted to enabling you to feel your best self. Make no mistake, it was intense both physically and mentally, and there was blood (not too much), sweat (bucketloads) and tears (frequently). But I can say it’s been, without doubt, one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
A little note / disclaimer before I start – as trainees we were encouraged (well, it was kind of a rule) not to have our phones or cameras during the 6 day training week – to help us to be totally present and have a digital detox. So whilst I do have some photos, in places you’ll need to use your imagination!
India is the birthplace of Yoga, and is an intensely spiritual place. So, that question for me was a no-brainer. The easy decisions ended there! Yoga teacher training in India is big business, with hundreds (maybe thousands) of schools across the four corners of this vast country offering courses every month. Cost varies wildly, and so does everything else. So I did my research – and if you think it’s for you then it’s really important to spend a lot of time researching the different course types, teaching styles, teachers, and locations on offer, and to really think about what it is that you want out of your zen month.
Of the many schools I considered, Ashiyana, a big yoga retreat village in sleepy Mandrem, North Goa, was the one that pulled me in the strongest. Nothing much goes on in Mandrem – it’s a small, family-focused holiday resort with a few nice restaurants (not that I wanted anything except the amazing food at Ashiyana), all the necessary amenities, and the obligatory 10 or so clothes shops. This was perfect really, as you don’t need / haven’t got time for any distractions when your day starts at 7am and ends at 9pm!
The retreat itself is beautiful. Imagine a jungley oasis connected with cobbled pathways, four yoga shalas, a beautiful outside-in dining area, a pool, and lots of hideaway places to hang in a hammock and think about all the deep stuff you’ve been invited to usher in… and you’re imagining Ashiyana. Below is a very rough and ready video tour that I made of the retreat. I had actually planned on redoing this but didn’t get round to it – you can get the idea though.
The course and why I chose it
I wanted to study a hatha and vinyasa course because I love the creativity and playfulness of vinyasa, and asana sequences that make me feel like I’m dancing.
This was a 30-day course (all are mostly the same length), and was accredited by the Yoga Alliance, meaning my RYS 200-hour qualification is recognised worldwide – something to look out for. Ashiyana offers an inclusive package of accommodation and three delicious meals per day (the rave reviews of the food were a big pull for me!), but to save money I chose to take the meals but stay off-site about one minute down the road. The rooms looked beautiful, though.
I was drawn by Ashiyana’s teaching ethos, which revolves around empowering you to teach from the heart, and encouraging creativity and authenticity. So with this came the invitation to ‘go within’ and spend lots of time in quiet reflection throughout the month (read: total bliss).
But what really sold it for me was the teachers, and they absolutely lived up to every expectation. The Director of Yoga and one of two lead teachers, Linda d’Antal, has over 30 years’ experience teaching yoga and yoga therapy, and carries an impressive catalogue of yogis she’s worked with and studied under. Never mind Earth Mother, she was like Mother Earth herself. She came with so much knowledge, passion, and love for what she does – the epitome of the real deal. Our other lead teacher, Tobie Tomkinson, was equally brilliant. He had, many years ago, been Linda’s student, and he too brought with him an incredible knowledge and passion, particularly when it came to teaching anatomy. He knew so much above and beyond the syllabus, and I can’t help but have a big smile on my face when I think back to his lectures in the early weeks. Linda and Tobie were joined by Akilesh as a guest teacher, he was our philosophy guru, Iyengar guru, in fact… just Guru, with an infectious laugh, eyes that looked straight into your soul, and like, all the parables. Most of all, they were all lovely, kind, warm people, and they made a great trio.
The course began on a Sunday with an opening ceremony in which we all wore white. From Monday to Saturday, my day began at 7.15 am with asana practice with either Linda or Tobie. From pretty much Day 1, you are encouraged to get up and teach for 2, 5, 10 minutes at a time within these sessions – everyone was terrified at first, but we were all in it together.
I was blessed with a lovely group – we were 21 students from all over the world, all ages, walks of life, and we all just gelled so well. So much that I’m now happy to call each and every one of them my friend. I had so many insecurities before I started – that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I would feel self conscious because the other students had better balance or could bend their bodies more deeply than me, and that all just melted away within hours of arriving. We all had some experience of Yoga and asana practice, some more than others – and that was all good. I quickly learnt that it really isn’t about who is the most proficient at standing on their head.
After morning practice, the rest of the schedule was different every day, and only ever written up the night before (to keep us in the present moment). But in general, after breakfast in the first weeks the focus was mainly on; Anatomy, leading up to the exam at the end of the 2nd week; Asana labs, in which we dissected postures to enable us to cue effectively and provide assists and adjusts, and Philosophy lessons. In these sessions we all huddled cross-legged around Akilesh, eager to learn more about the Vedas or what happened to the donkey who was trying to cross the river. We learned about the therapeutic and psychological process of a yoga class, memorised chants and mantras, practiced massage techniques, and spent many afternoons beginning teaching practice with pawanmukhtasana (warm up or preparatory exercises) and sun salutes.
As the weeks went on, the focus shifted from theory to practice, and more and more time for self practice and teaching practice was added to the schedule. I lead an assessed 20 minute class at the beginning of Week 3, and took the Philosophy exam at the end of Week 3. Week 4 is all about the big finale – the 1 hour assessed class. It’s a tense time, but I felt so supported. And as the girl who was really, really, no good at sports in school, previously convinced I was hopeless at practical things, this course took deep preconceptions I held about myself, exposed them, and began the process of turning them on their head.
All this core syllabus was interspersed with additional activities to encourage us to loosen up, open up, and deepen our own practice – like Thai massage or chalk drawing meditation sessions. Some of my favourite times were the 8pm classes after dinner, which could be chanting (drums and guitar involved!), yoga nidra, reflection and journaling (basically – group therapy), or many other things. At full moon, we all lit a fire, sat in a circle on the beach, sang and chanted, and set intentions. It was all incredibly spiritual whilst being unpretentious and never too serious.
Remembering that the ethos of Ashiyana is to empower students to teach from the heart, to help us tune into ourselves we kept silence from 9pm when the last class of the day finished, until after morning asana practice and breakfast at 10.30am. I’ll admit I was initially skeptical about the silence, but let me tell you it was one of my favourite parts of the course (pipped to the post only by the chocolate balls that were sometimes on for dessert… just kidding). I’m as sociable as they come, and believe in a life filled with good friends and good chat, but it was actually beautiful to ditch the small talk for a while over breakfast, and to feel permitted (such is the theme of the course) to sit alone, and just soak in all that was happening. It really was a gift.
I couldn’t write an account of my time at Ashiyana without mentioning what happened on Thursday of Week 4. By this time the assessments were all mostly over, and I could relax and enjoy the final few days in my yoga bubble. The schedule blackboard said we were doing ‘Munchkin Yoga’. OK, I thought, learning how to do yoga with kids – that will be fun. So you can imagined how overjoyed I was to learn that yes, it was indeed yoga with kids, right now! Laura Kool, an Ashiyana YTT Graduate and a founder of Moving Children foundation, had arranged for a coach-load of around 40 four to six year olds from a school in Goa’s slums to come to Ashiyana for a kids yoga lesson. And we were all to be assistants! Many of these children will have to leave school at age six to work and help support their families, so Moving Children provide fun, respite, and positive interaction with adults through dance, yoga, and movement. It was a really special hour and is a beautiful initiative.
Yoga teacher training is a rollercoaster. From the highs of Week 1, to the crash in Week 2 and the realisation of just how much there is to fit in a short time, the self-unravelling, the soul-searching, the Eureka! moments, realisations, laughter, tears, fatigue, invigoration, bliss… it’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
A month is not a long time to learn and really immerse in this beautiful way of life, so as I sit writing this in a cafe perched on the top of a cliff in Kerala, I can not help but think 1) I am SO lucky and grateful to have been able to do this, and 2) it’s just the beginning. I’ll keep you posted.
Love and spiritual good vibes,