When I first signed up to do a yoga teacher training on an ashram nestled in the Himalayas, I never anticipated the challenge. I'd never done anything like this before and it was truly transformational. However, I didn't get the opportunity to fully take in my experience until I completed the course and finally understood the term used by a famous Swami - '' The practice starts after the practice ''
Prior to the training, my life had taken a bad turn professional and personally. But despite feeling low and vulnerable, something deep inside, knew everything was going to be just fine.
After two days of travelling and making my way through the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Whilst taking long scenic train rides through Northern India. Then being crammed into cars full of backpackers, swirling around the breathtaking mountains in the Himalayas, reading road signs like 'whisky is risky' or 'learn to drive, not fly' . Certainly not my idea of fun, when the taxi driver is on his mobile phone with one hand on the steering wheel, twisting around steep corners, not knowing whether you'd be met by an oncoming vehicle, person or animal. Finally we reached our destination.
The ashram was simple yet situated in a stunning location with the background noise of the sacred river Ganges. During the whole two day journey, there was a girl travelling with us from Europe who was highly strung and anxious. I remember thinking, I hope I don't have to share a room with her and felt sorry for whoever did. Too late! I should have put my energy and vision into what I wanted and not the other way round. This was my first lesson. In fact, in the end, I'd learned another: never to judge, as you don't know what is happening in someone else's life. We are now great friends.
Every morning, we had to make our way to the temple at 5.30am to meditate and watch the birth of a new day. After 2 hours, we were 'allowed' to have a milky tea and then off to a 2.5-hour yoga class. Following the class was brunch. We were fed twice a day on delicious vegetarian food and had to sit cross legged on the floor and eat in silence. This taught me to be present whilst eating. It really made me taste the flavour of the food and know when I was full up. It was the total opposite of eating while being immersed in a conversation with a friend about your broken heart or while typing away on the laptop frantically, catching up on emails. After brunch we would all be appointed to doing some 'karma yoga' which meant cleaning around the ashram. This took us into mid afternoon, where we would have a lengthy philosophy class, in our mandatory uniforms again, seated on the floor and forbidden to lean on walls. Following this was another 2.5 hour yoga class, then dinner and finally, we would end the day, the same way we had started: in the temple meditating. By 9.30pm lights were out and all was silent. But that was not all: somewhere amongst our rudimentary schedule, we had to find a window to study and prepare homework. Talk about discipline!
Imagine doing this non stop for a month? We had no other distractions. Being in the present moment was our biggest lesson. The electricity came from a generator and there was no signal for use of any devices. No stimulating foods such as sugar, coffee, alcohol, even garlic and onions were allowed. We had to persuade them to let us have tea in the mornings. Never had I appreciated tea so much in my life. It was my only saving grace - apart from one day, where I managed to risk escape for half hour during my 'karma yoga' period and stumbled across a hut which sold chocolate. I bought the whole lot from an equally happy shopkeeper ( I didn't even bother to barter with him ). I smuggled the chocolate into the ashram and hid the stash in my room. Within no time, word got out and I was getting frequent visits to my room. I'm sure I could have made a good business from this, yet I knew this was breaking the code of conduct and not very ethical. Having said that, in my eyes, it was a good karmic deed: giving away free chocolate to the sugar and caffeine starved students and generating revenue for the shopkeeper, as I'm sure he had a family to feed also. Although, somehow, I knew the Swami wouldn't have shared the same sentiment. In fact, one day he pulled me to one side and reminded me about 'simple living and high thinking' after I'd loaned some girls my Chanel, Rouge Noir, nail polish, as they wanted to have pretty toes in the classes. Cheekily, I replied, ''I prefer high living and high thinking''!
In the first week it was great meeting, interesting, like-minded people from almost every continent. There was about 35 of us in total with a higher ratio of women to men. In the second week, you started to break down and yearn to run away from what feels like an oppressive institution, wondering how you ended up there in the first place. In the third week, all your anger, along with suppressed, emotions arose and you want to scream- 'I didn't sign up for this'! Finally, in the last week, you all end becoming one big family and a conscious community. The collective group energy becomes magical.
I acquired so much insight from participating on this course. I came back to the UK feeling purified and cleansed and I was looking forward to meeting the next chapter of my life as a more enlightened person.
Ladan Soltani - author of 'fabulous fitness at 40' and a dedicated, rebel, angel yogi!