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Becoming a certified Yoga instructor in exotic India

Here are some things to know before you take the plunge.

Yoga is hot, sometimes literally.  Over 36 million Americans now practice some form of yoga and the demand worldwide for yoga instructors has skyrocketed. Tens of thousands of westerners go to India each year to become certified yoga instructors. If you have the time, the resources and a desire for unique challenges, a visit to an ashram or yoga school in India is an enlightening, even a life-changing experience. Having said that, understanding some of the not so apparent pros and cons can make the difference between a truly great or truly disappointing experience.

Why become a yoga instructor in the first place?

As you are likely already aware, learning to teach yoga, especially in India is more than just demonstrating the practice of the Asanas ‘the positions and the movements’ that you see at the gym every day. To become a truly qualified teacher it is necessary to understand and embrace the deeper philosophy that interconnects the ‘spiritual foundations’ of yoga’s mental and physical health benefits and is the first step to achieving greater self-control of your mind and body, thus increased self-awareness.

So why venture all of the way to India to do it?

The Good

Eighty percent of Indians are Hindu and the practice of yoga in seeking the attainment of ‘Moksha,’ spiritual freedom and self-awareness, has been a part of their culture and identity for over five thousand years. India has the ability to give you fresh eyes and you can almost taste the underlying sense of spiritualism in the air.

Most schools in India teach the traditional styles of yoga and place high regard on the spiritual aspects. They all spend lots of time on the asanas because that’s what many students want, but if you’re looking for the ‘whole’ yoga experience India offers unique opportunities to experience it.

Many of my teachers at the school I attended had attained a university degree in various aspects of yoga and Ayurvedic medicine, many had spent years as students at ashrams studying under a Master.  It does not make them all great teachers, yet there is often a sense of grace to their movements and a calm relaxed radiance to their eyes.

The Not So Good

Ah, sounds fantastic so far, right? Here are some of the lesser advertised realities of studying yoga in India, the ones you do not see when they show you pictures of happy healthy people doing unbelievable yoga poses on the beach.

India is overcrowded, chaotic and poverty is a fact of life for most of the multitudes.

I want to be fair, but ask anyone who has traveled there, India is dirty. Public food hygiene and toilet facilities are often abysmal. Garbage collection is at best poor or even non-existent. Serious air and noise pollution are a constant reality even in smaller cities and towns. Part of the study of yoga is to learn how to tune out the small annoyances. India is full of them.

How to make your experience a truly incredible one

Make sure that you are in decent physical shape to avoid injury and gain the maximum pleasure from the often-strenuous asana yoga. Get all of your vaccinations before you arrive. This is a must.

You can’t take anything for granted! Be prepared for the unexpected. Relying on the internet to find a school that meets your needs will take you on your first steps but get as much person to person information as you can. Call the school directly and ask a lot of seeming redundant questions.  For example, when they say air conditioning is optional it means heating is optional as well. Is the room cleaned? What are the duties involved in the Karma Yoga (housekeeping by students)? Can you pay by credit card, and is there an added fee. What are the policies if you become sick or injured. Is there a curfew. Is there a dress code. Uncovering some of the more common issues before you arrive will help you focus on the bigger picture.

So, if being awakened by the call to prayer from a nearby mosque at dawn,  6:15 chanting of prayers in Sanskrit to focus your mind, a seeming lifetime of quiet relaxation, breathing and meditation exercises, tireless lectures on the philosophy of Hinduism and Yoga spiritualism and of course stretching your worn and tired body to the limits each day is for you, then India is full of opportunities. But keep in mind that most yoga teacher training programs are hard work. If you are looking for a relaxing holiday doing asanas on the beach, that’s available as well. Tailor your studies to your own personal needs.  Becoming a yoga instructor and taking your teacher training in India is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But it is not for everyone.

Just being in India you will have many eye-opening experiences, shake off many preconceived ideas and you will undoubtedly make new friends with interesting people on the same journey. As Swamy Omkarananda, (Swamy O) one of my teachers at the school was so fond of saying, the world we truly all inhabit begins and ends in our minds. Most importantly as you learn new skills and embrace the peace of greater self-awareness that comes with diving deep into the yoga experience, you may just meet yourself.

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