My Yoga teacher training experience @Padmakarmayoga in Kerala
I have just returned from a one month trip to incredible India. I did not travel around, as the purpose of my stay was an intense yoga teacher training course, but I got to see a glimpse of Kerala, the most Southern state, also tenderly called ‘God’s own country’.
During my 4 weeks stay, I have been able to breathe India, to feel her warmth, to smell her spiciness.
Yoga teaches me about life and myself, every time on – and also off the mat. And the more still I am, the further I seem to be able to go.
I met Padma in Sri Lanka 4 years ago, when I went for an Ayurveda & Yoga vacation at Ulpotha. Padma was not only our host at the village, but also our yoga teacher. Back then I thought: ‘one day I am going for a yoga teacher training, and it has to be with Padma’.
Padma manages to explain the most complicated things in short and easy ways. I manage almost every pose (even those that I have previously only dreamed of, like a scorpion) under Padma’s instructions. She gives me such confidence and makes everything sound (and feel!) so easy.
I had compared yoga teacher training courses in Europe and the US. Most offers stretch over a period of six to twelve months, with a weekend course per month. This may certainly have advantages for those working and doing the course parallel, but I felt this was not for me.
I prefer the course system that Padma offers. Her 200 hour Yoga Alliance certified courses always run from the 1st of the month to the 26th, with Saturdays off.
Yes, this is a very intense course (we start at 6 am, finish at 6 pm), and a lot to take in in a short period of time. However I like the controlled environment (no husbands, children, pets, every day stuff, work and whatever distracting me). I have likeminded people around me for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the entire course, that suffer the same as me.
Besides, I felt that I certainly wanted to learn from a teacher of the country of origin of Yoga. Padma has a lot of work and life experience, she has studied Sanskrit, she lives in Kerala and is deeply connected with her culture. She has such a profound knowledge and experience to share with us.
She takes us to temple festivals and explains her culture, yoga philospphy and history in detail, like we could have never experienced it somewhere abroad.
Where other yoga teacher trainings can be like glossy magazines,
Padma’s is like an ancient book full of wisdom.
I arrive Saturday after a night flight early morning, and meet my driver (organized by Padmakarma) outside the airport. As we cross the street into the carpark, I feel like an extraterrestrial in my grey winter coat and black pants and top, between all the colourful and more traditional outfits that the local women wear.
The sun hits me like a hammer, the heat and humidity are breathtaking. My first steps in India, I think to myself as I cross the carpark.
It takes me almost two days to arrive fully. After moving into my simple yet spacious room in the little guesthouse next to Padma’s Yogashala, I stroll along the short Lighthouse Beach, just under 5 minutes walk away. I acquaint myself with the little shopping facilities and fruit prices. Lying under the ceiling fan for hours on the bed, I sweat, and fade in and out of sleep.
On Sunday morning I manage to attend an 8 am yoga class (for yoga vacationers). Ouch. Oh boy am I stiff from the plane ride. And the heat. And some lack of sleep still to catch up on.
Back home before signing up for the training, I did check the climate in Kerala, only to find out, that April seems to be the hottest months of the year, with max temperatures of 34 C.
Pah, I thought, easy peasy, after all I used to live in East Africa for three years, I can easily cope with that.
Famous last words….
- I did not take the very high humidity into account (feels like 99.9%)
- I did not realise that this April in 2019 is a particular hot one, with temperatures more in the 40s…
Our training starts on a Monday morning at 6 am with a two hour yoga class. Our morning teacher is not one of the soft hearted. I can’t even seem to be doing the basic stuff I usually manage just fine. About 30 min into the class, my entire body is sore. A feeling, that is not going to leave me for about another 6 days.
Our itinerary is hefty. Every moment off classes or lectures I use to catch up on sleep. I am knackered, sore, hot, dehydrated. This week goes by like in a haze.
6 am – 8 am Practise class (Meditation, Breathing, Asanas) with Jeenu
8 am breakfast and morning break (that i like to use for a quick dip in
10 am – 12 pm lectures with Padma
12 pm lunch and rest (I take my afternoon nap)
2 pm – 4 pm lectures in the first week, practise the last three weeks with
Padma (Asanas, variations, adjustments)
4 pm – 6 pm Practise class (Meditation, Breathing, Asanas) with Arjun
6 pm dinner
Besides we try to get to know each other, to get to know the teachers, and the routine. At this point I am hopeful about us seven participants to bond and form a nice group. (Padma’s groups can be anything between 4 and 24 participants, depending on the month. She offers the training nine times per year).
Omg, how hot and humid can it be? I thought I was used to this climate from my years in Africa… I am dying. Melting away. There is not a second in the day (or night…) that I am not entirely drenched. Even lying still under my fan (in case there is power, which may or may not be the case). Sweat is constantly running down my face, my back, my arms. Endless wiping to no change. All my clothes are damp, the pillow in my bed, my mattress. I am breathing in hot pea soup.
After a few days, I can see a glimpse of doubt: Can I make this at all? How am I going to survive this? And we are only a few days into the program…
Finally, it is Friday afternoon, Saturdays are our days off. Between four of us, we decide to make an excursion on our day off and take a short Taxi ride to the famous Kerala Backwaters early in the morning.
When I wake up the next day at 5.30 am (usual time to be ready for class at 6), I feel energised, rested and hopeful. Week two, here I come!
Starts much better!
With much more confidence. My body suddenly starts doing what I know it can do. I can even try new poses, and am back to my normal practise. And realise: There is hope. Let’s do this!
Of course I am not alone in suffering from the extreme heat and other hardship. My peers have started to skip classes, and I am a little confused about the excuses.
So on the 2nd Tuesday, it is my first time I am missing afternoon class too. Just because everybody else does. Stupid really.
I am going to the beach instead and have dinner out. Although my body and mind are grateful for the rest, I feel I am betraying myself.
Tomorrow is a big day for us. After we have had about 10 days of 4 hours of lectures each day (and the same amount of yoga practise in classes), we will be teaching (ourselves in turns) for the first time in 1 on 1 sessions.
And we have a highlight this week. April is Temple Festival season in Kovalam, and we are going to attend a Temple fest in the evening. We take a short walk to the temple. What a colourful, joyful, energetic event in the honor of goddess Kali.
I wake up with an upset stomach the next morning (Kali’s revenge?), but am still going for morning class.
I love the morning mood with the sun just getting up as we start Meditation, the morning teacher who challenges me just the right amount, the jungle noises from the surrounding trees, the relative ‘cool’ air (that feeling lasts about 10 minutes into the class…).
During our 10 am to 12 pm lecture session, we have to take in lots of theory and background knowledge, it almost is like learning a complete new language too (Sanskrit).
TGIF: I am celebrating half-point-time (yep, week two done and dusted!) with a relaxing Abhyanga massage in a local low profile massage place.
We spend our day-off Saturday in Trivandrum, a hot, dusty, noisy, and busy city. Although we do some nice shopping, we are all happy to be back in our little beach village, back to tranquility.
The heat is rising. And I do not mean the climate and temperatures (they do as well btw).
I mean the pace of the course is picking up. Two more weeks, and I have to be able to teach a yoga class, know about Patanjali, the four paths of yoga, the Sutras, the Asanas in Sanskrit, Anatomy, Ayurvedic and yogic diet, Mantras and Meditation… you name it. Of course all of this without looking up my notes. I push myself even harder during practise, which results in some back pain. We are now practising 6+ hours a day.
Since after a few days of arrival, I noticed my outer ear was itching. And since it does not seem to be going away, I google… So yes, it is a bacterial infection, I bet from the heat and the constant moisture. My remedy: I sleep on several towels that I change during the night to always have a dry one under my face, and apply tea tree oil, which is known for its antibacterial properties. It works.
Our days are kind of uniform. So are most of our conversations. After dinner, and after we freshen up, we may go to the beach for an after sunset stroll, or have a cold water or juice at our favourite beach cafe. We order custom made clothes from the local tailors and buy souvenirs for our loved ones back home. Via Factime calls I keep up with husband’s and grandkids’ news. My bedtime is usually around 9/9.30 pm.
Our highlight this week? We get to be assistant teachers and models at a local school. Padma is regularly invited to teach a yoga class at a local police academy to the new intakes. The students are teenagers, and most of them have no previous experience with yoga asanas. Forty beautiful boys and girls welcome us politely and reward us later with grateful smiles.
The locals celebrate their New Year this week, and we have a special celebration lunch with local specialities served on a banana leaf. Generally our diet is very simple (yet delicious!): rice, coconut, vegetable / lentil / chickpea curries, and bananas. We supplement this on our own account with fresh fruit and nuts (delicious mango, pineapple, watermelon, and cashews that we buy from little local shop).
No meat of course, no eggs, no dairy (except for a little cows milk twice or three times maybe for breakfast), no fish. And of course alcohol, black tea, coffee, sugar etc are also banned.
The point of our very limited diet is the yogic idea of cleansing the body and mind by diet, Asana practise and meditation. I don’t mind, and eat only what is served during meal hours, plus the mentioned fruit. Some in the group however do not seem to be getting the point and feast on fried snacks, sugary processed sweets, sweet sodas, and more.
This Monday night I am not participating in the evening class again after this formidable celebration lunch. I just had too much to eat… However remembering the strange emotions that I had last week when I did not show up for the evening class, I sit beside and take notes. Great idea as it turns out, I learn a lot watching the class and teacher more closely.
Wait a minute, only a few more days to go? How did that happen all so sudden?
Padma takes us to a Temple fest luncheon, on election day. One of her cousins runs a small temple, that we reach by bus in about 20 minutes. What a marvellous demonstration of selflessness! The small temple fed about 1600 people that day alone. We share curries, chutneys, fruit and rice with local men, women and children of any age, sitting on seemingly endless tables set up in horseshoe form. Truly feeling blessed to having been invited to share this somehow intimate experience, so very off the beaten track.
After almost 4 weeks of constant and loud ‘acoustic irradiation’ with temple music tunes (remember: Temple Festival season!) and election campaigns (how come their electricity never goes off and shuts down the enormously loud loudspeakers?), the bus driver treats us to some Indian Bollywood headbanger music on the ride to the temple.
The Truman show: Life in a bubble
Over breakfast, one of us was talking about a path that takes you to the other side of the lighthouse (which marks one end of our beach strip). And how strange to think of ‘another world’ out there. Our range of motion is rather limited to maybe one square mile. Which reminds us of the movie ‘The Truman Show’, mixed with ‘Groundhog Day’.
That is us. We live in a bubble, with very little changes.
The Ice Cream Shop boy with his curly hair and great smiling waiving at me in the morning through the glass panels he is busy cleaning, when I walk to the beach for my morning swim.
The Fruit-vendors from which I buy regularly praising their best pieces for the day.
The cute little puppy hopping up my legs after speeding down the alley on my sight.
Yes, we do live in a bubble. A welcome idea, as it keeps me focused, no distractions. I just wonder how it is going to be diving back into ‘real’ life?
But then we learn about Adi Sankaracharya, a great sage and most eminent philosopher of ancient India, who teaches: “…this world is unreal. Brahman alone is real…”. There you have it.
Due to a misunderstanding ( we get one afternoon off before the exam for study time, however I get the date wrong) I am missing my third and last evening class for the famous Chavutti massage, of which I am telling you all about HERE.
My frustration about some members of our group rises during the last week, the lack of discipline, the lack of homogeneousness. I am surprised how eagerly everyone tries to remember the Yamas and Nyamas for the exam, however how little these concepts seem to have importance to their own life, let alone being implemented. Just thinking about ‘tapas’ – the discipline of the mind – alone.
On our last Thursday, we have the written exam in the morning. It takes the fastest students about 2.5 hrs to finish. Many questions, on all yoga topics you can imagine.
Friday morning is our practical exam.
And then it is all over, after our beautiful celebration at 2 pm, when we receive our certificates.
While I watch the others receive their blessings and certificate I wonder. Are we ready to teach Yoga? Will be make good yoga teachers? Do we deserve this? On the other side I am proud, somewhat relieved it is over, a new life chapter starting.
Afterwards we are free to leave, and I have opted to stay at nearby Somatheram Ayurveda Village for the two last remaining nichts in India, before a plane takes me back to Europe.
Anything I would have changed in the program?
Two things I would have loved from Padma: more yoga classes taught by herself (although she has awesome teachers working with her), and demanding more discipline.
Besides the great lectures and semi-practical classes (i.e. adaptations of Asanas), we had about 3 practise classes with Padma. I would have loved more classes with her, but also understand the time factor.
One thing I felt needed more attention was discipline. With participants all grown up and fully responsible for themselves, Padma did not insist on attendance. I think that was a mistake, especially with our group. There were too many missed classes, too many excuses, too little interest maybe. This had a direct impact on the entire group: not only is it terribly annoying when students show up late for class and disturb everyone else already in Meditation or Savasana, but I find it also highly disrespectful towards the teacher. And with almost half of the group not showing up for morning classes, it felt like starting over again every week with the same program. Which probably resulted in limited development for the entire group. Shame really.
For whom is this training?
Although there are no requirements to enter a 200 hrs Yoga Alliance yoga teacher training, I think it is not a good idea to attempt this kind of training with limited personal yoga practise.
Also, I suggest very good physical condition. The heat, the new environment, the time difference, the challenging itinerary, the lack of sleep, the different diet… None of this is serious. But each little hick-up is much easier to endure in good physical condition.
Many students sign up for this program because they only want to improve their personal practise. Nothing wrong with that. But keep in mind, that you sign up for a teacher training, so teaching is part of it. If you are not interested in learning how to teach a yoga class, maybe a yoga vacation is more what you should be looking for, as it may just be as beneficial for personal development.
An excellent foundation to built upon
So, with all the ups and downs, what am I taking home from this yoga teacher training experience?
I can truly say that I have a much deeper and wider understanding of Yoga, the philosophy, the history and roots, and todays applications. And that there is a lot to learn still. I am just grasping the tip of the iceberg for now.
On the last day of our course, some of us had a rather serious conversation about us suddenly being fully certified yoga teachers. Are we?
I don’t think it is coincidence that I find an interesting post on Instagram by @peterwaltersyoga (I once did yoga on the beach with Peter in SanFrancisco):
“…But a teacher of Yoga? I personally don’t take that that label lightly. Almost every day I wonder whether I am doing it justice…More than a teacher, I want to remain a student of Yoga and Life… We don’t need more yoga teachers being churned out of 200 hrs yoga schools. We need more dedicated, curious, compassionate and kind students of life!”
Well, certainly it is true what Padma gives us on our way during her little speech at the graduation ceremony: The real yoga teacher training only starts now. We are only at the very start. Our future experiences will help and teach us to become the life students and yoga teachers we want to be.
However I feel I have received an excellent foundation on which I am determined to build upon, every day I practise, every day I may teach, every day I read about a spiritual topic, every day I learn about a new posture, modification or approach.
And for that I am truly very grateful. Thank you, Padma.
If you are curious to find out what I did straight after the yoga teacher course, click here.