16/08/2010

Yoga teachers training: how I stopped resisting, and started living.

Ben, Vijendra, Sacred mountain
It’s coming towards the end of January, 2001 - and the end of my one month Yoga teacher’s training course in Kerala, India.


It’s been the longest month of my life - bar none. I’ve been ill for most of that time with bronchitis, tonsillitis, and flu (yes, simultaneously) and I never would have believed that it was possible to feel quite so useless. Having never been seriously ill in my life, and having come here with the idea that I would become God of Asana, it’s been a humbling experience, to say the least...





When I first arrived here a month ago, jetlagged beyond belief, I shared a room with a 52-year-old French guy who, a few days into the course, accused me of stealing his money. I was evicted from the room, and since then the whole French contingent have been giving me the evil eye. Standing in line for morning ‘chai’ and feeling fifteen French faces burning a hole in my guilty until proven innocent back didn’t make me feel better…

Next, I shared a room with a 52-year-old Serbian chap (Rade) who accused me of sitting on his pillow. I may well have done that by the way, as I admitted openly to him – I’ve been feverish to the point of hallucination, and some days didn’t know my own name, let alone my own pillow. However, this upset him so much that he wouldn’t speak to me (until recently)… needless to say the atmosphere in our little room hasn’t been all that amiable. That didn’t make me feel better either… nor did the fact that said Serbian snores frighteningly loudly, and gets up an hour early each morning for an extra hour of meditation. So his alarm goes off at 4.30, and then he does Neti in the tiny toilet joining our room. Most days I am just drifting off to sleep when his alarm goes off, so I have an hour of sleep interspersed with the sounds of his snot hitting the toilet water. Nope, that hasn’t helped much.

One of those mornings, when Rade’s alarm went off, I started crying. I was really at the end of my tether, so to speak. I didn’t think I could handle any more of this relentless hardship. All I wanted was to be home, and get a hug from my girlfriend. The thought of that hug… well, at that moment, I was closer to quitting than I’ve ever been in my life. I cried for a while while Rade cleaned his nose out very thoroughly nearby, and decided to stick at it. I steeled myself for more days and nights of misery, but I wouldn’t quit. I decided. That decision didn’t help me to feel better anytime soon, but I think it might have almost saved my life!

I really haven’t slept much. We work and study each day ‘til late, then have homework, and by the time we get to sleep it’s almost time to get up. Together with the jetlag, the snoring, the early starts, and the mosquitos…
Oh! I didn’t mention the mosquitos. Well, let’s just say that they are big; ubiquitous; and hunt in savage packs, like maniacal rabid dogs.
So, all in all, I haven’t had much sleep lately.

The schedule itself is relentless! We have two asana classes a day (two hours each), meditation and chanting twice a day, endless lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, Kirtan (chanting), anatomy, yoga theory… an hour of Karma yoga, which for me entails filling a large barrel of water with buckets from the lake. That would be fine normally, but since I can barely raise my hand, carrying buckets of water is pretty difficult.
We only get two vegetarian meals a day. I’ve never heard of that before. Where I come from, everyone says that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. Well, here there is no breakfast. They also say that you can’t survive without meat, because you won’t get enough protein. Well, we’ll see won’t we!
Speaking of which, I’ve just remembered a funny conversation I had with my Dad. I called home after about a week, and told him about the food situation. He told me that he’d read an article on cults. Apparently, cults brainwash people by starving them of protein – or so he read. ‘Watch out’, he said. ‘If you start feeling weak and susceptible, come right on home’.
Thanks Dad, very encouraging!

Recently though, I have been slowly feeling better.

I think that the massage helped a bit – the one where I lay naked on the hard stone floor while a fat, hairy Indian man walked up and down my arms, legs, and body, grinding my joints into the ground with his heels – he narrowly avoided breaking me in half by hanging on to a rope that hung from the ceiling. Perhaps when he massaged my genitals with his feet… yes I believe the sheer shock of that moment did me some good after a month of strict routine.

The chanting has definitely helped. When I first arrived, I was surprised to hear a chorus of strange, loud sounds coming from the building in the middle of the Ashram. Unlike any music I’d ever heard before, it was alien and uninviting. When I was sat in the middle of that hall the next day, and for the following weeks, and urged to join in the chanting, I couldn’t get past the fact that I didn’t understand what the words meant (what if Dad was right?!).
But slowly, the words of one of the teachers here began to sink in: “stop resisting”.
And one day, I found myself chanting with the best of them, lungs pumping like pistons, and tears streaming down my face as I somehow felt myself yearning for something that I didn’t understand. That yearning, that yearning… yes, that made me feel better.

I’m sure all the asana practice has helped too. When I arrived, I thought I was pretty damn good at the old asana. I figured I’d be one of the best here, and they’d probably be asking me to demonstrate stuff, and might even want to photograph me.

However, I was shocked to see that some of the people here can do things that I’ve never heard of and probably won’t ever be able to do. At first, I was pretty peeved about that. But soon I was too ill to think about it, and after a while the asana practice just started becoming, well, less competitive really. I stopped thinking about what I looked like, and what they looked like, and I just started breathing deeper. Deeper than I’d ever thought possible. It was like my whole body was one big lung! And each cell was breathing in harmony with every other cell, and the inhalation and exhalation were flowing into each other, and well, even though I could barely do much at all, what I did do felt great.

I’ve decided that I may not ever be able to do those asanas where you get your legs behind your head and then walk around on your fingertips, but I’m going to work hard at doing what I can do, and I’m going to master it. Setting myself that kind of goal without being ‘attached’ to the result, felt good.

I know the meditation helped. Sitting still for 30mins, observing my breath, repeating the mantra until my mind becomes so focused that all other thoughts dissipate and there is only this vibration happening, which is my life, my breath, my self, now… doing that twice a day has definitely helped. I’m going to keep on doing that, because when I do, I feel great.

And now here I am, up a mountain. It’s 6am, and the Sun has just risen. We all walked up this mountain together this morning, in silence, in the dark, and meditated while the sun came up and warmed our faces. Then we chanted to the sky, to the jungle, to the universe.
They say this mountain is a holy place. I believe. There’s certainly a sacred feeling in the air now. I feel as if I can do anything here. I feel no animosity towards anyone, for the first time in my life. If the devil himself were stood in front of me I’d wish him well. I certainly don’t have any ill feeling towards Rade: I went to him and apologized yesterday, and guess what? He apologized right on back. We didn’t say much, but there was such a feeling between us that it didn’t matter.

I don’t hate the French guy either. I guess he was having a hard time too in those early days of the course. I reckon he really did believe that I’d stolen from him, and he’s entitled to believe what he wants. Anyway, I’m too busy feeling great to worry about what he thinks now.

I stand here at the top of this mountain, and want to sum up how I feel in one word: it’s a word that I would never have used before I came here to India.
It’s a word that I used to associate with religion, and religion was one of the things that I used to think I hated.
But the word that comes to mind is Faith. I am full of faith. I stand here, full of faith. Not faith in God, or faith in a religion, or an institution like the church, or another person… but faith in myself.
I’ve been to the darkest of places in my self. I’ve wanted to quit, and I’ve had to find out what I’m made of. I found out that I may not be who I have always thought I was. Actually, I know I’m not. I’ve realized that nothing is what I thought it was. Nothing is for certain anymore, but I think I can handle that: I’ve finally stopped resisting.

I take off my sandals. I’m so full of faith that I know I can walk down this jungle mountain barefoot. Something in me tells me to do that, and I don’t question it. It just feels like a good thing to do, so I do it, because I don’t need any other reason. As I walk, I feel the rocks and soil and tree roots beneath my feet and between my toes, and somehow there is no pain. Somehow, it’s as if the earth moulds itself to my feet, and my feet find their way. I don’t even need to look down at where I put them – my feet just find their way. That’s faith, and that’s what I’ve found this last month.

I wonder where it’ll take me next.

29 comments:

vwhead said...

Thank You for this, I am not a yoga instructor just a practitioner. I am still struggling with resisting even though I know it is not helpful for me. Your examples are already helping me to re-frame my perspective in a small way. I enjoy your Blog posts, please keep making them available.

Ben Ralston said...

Thank you so much (vwhead). It really is wonderful to know that you enjoy and benefit from my writing. I will certainly keep putting the posts out there as long as i feel people appreciate them.
With love, Ben

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Ben Ralston said...

Thank you!

Ladygoodwood said...

I found this really interesting Ben and am very curious as to how you ended up in India. How did you first become interested in yoga? Although I do meditate, I have never studied yoga, perhaps I wrongly assume one must have the suppleness of a gymnast (I don't!)
I would love to hear the early part of your story and what drove you to find and follow your spiritual path.
Smiles and blessings.

Ben Ralston said...

Hi LadyG,
I ended up in India having decided to do yoga ttc; I knew Yoga was originally from India, and being a purist at heart I decided that was the only place I wanted to do it.
I became interested in Yoga over the course of a few years. Especially when I broke up with a girlfriend, had to move out of her apartment and back to my parents (tail between legs)... I immersed myself in yoga for 6 months, was celibate during that time too, and my life changed. Very healing...
Common misconception: flexibility = yoga. Being supple has NOTHING to do with yoga! It's about integrating physical, mental, emotional, and energetic aspects of yourself; you don't have to be flexible, and anyone can do it. Actually, the physical side of yoga - the exercises - are much more about preparing the body for meditation.
Thanks for the suggesiont - I'll write about the early part of the story.
Love! Ben

Jayney3210 said...

Hi Ben,

I really enjoyed this article, it’s made me think about challenges that I’ve experienced, where my expectations haven’t been met and I’ve had to adapt myself to my surroundings which is uncomfortable. I think you are very right, that when you stop resisting your perceptions of the situation change.

Jayney x

Ben Ralston said...

Hi Jayney,
I'm glad you enjoyed and found it thought provoking.
And yes, resistance is at the heart of all our problems.
Love, Ben

svasti said...

Great piece, Ben! I haven't yet made it to India, but it's on the top of my priority list. Ill health, discomfort and all! I'm quite interested in studying at KYM. This post has such a wonderful quality to it, and I know what you mean about faith like that. Only I'd say it's more about knowing at a very deep level. Really knowing.

Ben Ralston said...

Hi Svasti, yes!
Faith is knowing - without the need for thinking. :)
Love

Claudia said...

What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing.

Nick said...

Ben, you write with a passion and energy that I have rarely seen or experienced elsewhere, printed or online. A remarkable piece, truly inspirational!

I am so pleased - perhaps that should be relieved - that you mentioned that it's not all about being supple in order to practice (or enjoy!) yoga. I may look into doing more than just the 5 Tibetans...

Ben Ralston said...

Awesome! thanks Nick, lovely to get a compliment like that first thing in the morning :)
Yeah, yoga is not about flexibility at all really. That surprises a lot of people. I read that you're into Chi Kung - so you'll have a head start if you do start up yoga, because essentially, it's the same thing, just from a different angle.
Ben

Anonymous said...

"Faith is knowing - without the need for thinking"

That is an awesome line, Ben!
K.

Megajn said...

Your story made me cry happy tears... i don't know you, but i don't need to - to be proud of you for staying.

May goodness be all around you - always.

Nenette said...

Hello Ben,

I have enjoyed your insightful, funny, and often moving articles on Elephant Journal. From there, I started reading your blog and now look forward to every post. I have been practicing yoga for over a year now and it has changed me quite significantly on the physical level but the mental and spiritual transformations have been even more profound. Thank you for your writing. It has been quite a source of inspiration and education for me.

Ben Ralston said...

Thank you Nenette, it's really wonderful to hear that you're getting from my writing exactly what I want to share.
Thanks for taking the time to let me know!
Let me know how your continuing education and practice goes... and if you have any questions.
With love, Ben

Anonymous said...

Ben,
Great posts. But they have one fault for me: they are too short! I especially enjoy those parts when you describe your insight into yourself (not your knowledge and erudition - there is plenty of that everywhere). But those moments when you share your soul with others. Thats so inspiring!
All the best!
Pawel

Ben Ralston said...

Thank you Pawel,
I'll continue sharing my soul as long as you're reading...
And if it's too short, maybe I'll just have to finally get round to writing that book...
All the best for you too!
Ben

Kerry said...

Hi Ben, thank you for the article. What would you suggest one do to break through, as you did in India, if one is not going to travel there. I feel I need a huge break out is due :)
Kerry

Ben Ralston said...

Hi Kerry,
Strange... I thought I'd answered you already, but just saw that I haven't.
You don't need to go to India, although going to India is great.
You need to simply commit yourself to a period of intense practice: it's easier (simply because of discipline and motivation) to do it on a retreat, with guidance, but you can also do it at home: practice asana, pranayama, meditation, good diet, etc... every day, twice a day, for say, 40 days. And then get back to me and tell me if you don't feel like Superwoman, and if you didn't have a major breakthrough! Good luck, keep us posted ;)

Malina said...

Hi Ben,

I really enjoyed this article, thank you for posting it.

I am looking into doing a yoga ttc myself and don't really know where to start. Would you recommend the place you went in India? Can I read about it online? Or are there any courses anywhere else in the world that you could recommend? Many thanks,

Malina

Malina said...

Hi Ben,

I really enjoyed this article, thank you for posting it.

I am looking into doing a yoga ttc myself and don't really know where to start. Would you recommend the place you went in India? Can I read about it online? Or are there any courses anywhere else in the world that you could recommend? Many thanks,

Malina

Tmy said...

Hi Ben!
I enjoyed this so much! You, so eloquently and so humorously, described your experience! So inspiring!
I just did my 1st year of yoga/enlightenment philosophy, i had the same tears during chanting (and the same scrunched eye brows when i 1st heard the sounds!). Next year we are getting into the yoga practise/diet more deeply. I find i still have some resistance and I find it difficult to stick with meditation and physical yoga daily, i have a 2 yr old, so it's almost dangerous to do many poses around her (i look very good to jump on in some of those positions! lol) I also find it hard to keep my mind from being distracted with the baby... would you have any suggestions about that?
I just read your post on the Elephant Journal, I find you most intriguing!
Thank you for sharing you!

Ben Ralston said...

Hi Tmy,
Your comment was held up 'waiting for moderation', and I only just found it now! So, apologies for taking such a very long time to reply...
I also have a baby now, and I know how hard it is. It's actually almost impossible right? But... it's not impossible. What I have learnt is that when you have a baby EVERYTHING changes. You can still do what you did, but not the same, and when I practice yoga or meditation now I simply take it as a challenge - practicing in the first place is a challenge (do I have the energy / time to practice at all?!), and then focusing on the practice is also difficult. But challenge is good - and I feel that when the day finally comes when the baby is grown up a bit, and we have more time and energy to ourselves... then our practice will have been transformed by the perseverance and fortitude that we show now.
So, don't give up!
Thank you also for sharing! With love, Ben

haley said...

Boy can I relate...I felt myself experiencing your situations..or changes...only in a different time and place. I have the tools...can't quite put them into practice always...frustrating, Very uplifting and encouraging story...thank you for sharing!

with love Haley

ranndomized said...

Hi Ben,
I loved your post! I don't teach yoga, but have been thinking about this for a long time. Not too sure what's holding me back from making the decision, but your note to 'stop resisting' is definitely resonating with me! Was teaching something you had to give a lot of thought about doing, or did you just know you *should* do it? I love to practice, but sometimes find it difficult to get on my mat - I wish they'd invent an OFF switch for the ol'noggin!

While I mostly practice at home, I do attend a private practice every few months with my yogi dude, for what I like to call, a 'yoga tune-up.' The first time I did this, he ended our practice with chanting; clearly his expectation was that I would join in, but... all I could do was laugh :-D Then I came home and took a hot bath - and decided that's where I was going to try this whole chanting thing, LOL! I still have a hard time with it - but I think it's a subconscious thing. How do you get around that, I wonder!?

Thanks for the motivating post - I'm looking forward to future reads!

Ann

Ben Ralston said...

Hi Ann,
Thank you for the comment. I kind of 'fell into' teaching - I didn't ever mean to become what I became... I was an actor, and thought that yoga teaching would be a cool back-up job. But I've never even thought of acting after going to India...
There is an 'off switch' for the noggin by the way! There's meditation of course, and also the therapy I practice. It's all about making our head / heart / gut centers more coherent, so that the head is not so much in the driving seat.
And you get around the chanting embarrassment by just immersing yourself in it. I recommend you buy a Krishna Das CD with the lyrics. If that won't get you into chanting, nothing will. But it will :)

ranndomized said...

Thanks Ben! I'll see what I can find :) I've been reading about the healing that you do and am really intrigued. But,I have a question: how do you heal a person who can't pinpoint what's 'wrong?' Is this even possible? :) I'm thinking I stumbled across your blog for a reason!

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