I consciously take a deep breath, trying to find my inner rhythm as my body flows through the motion of each instructed pose. My leg is in the air while my hands and other foot remain planted into my mat, trying to perfect the one-legged downward facing dog, or Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana.
I look around as my classmates are also shaky and unbalanced, some cursing as they fall to the ground. We are in the first week of our month-long yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India, and we are sore.
People asked me, “why India?” Why travel that far when I could obtain yoga teacher training in my very own city? Why thin old mattresses and unpredictable water supply, when I can have my luxurious bed with running hot water at the turn of a tap? Why simple vegan meals when I can have the best of Alberta beef? To me, the answer was simple – why not?
I was looking for a change: mentally, physically and environmentally and Rishikesh was just that. Surrounded by the majestic Himalayas, with the life-giving Ganges River snaking through, this tranquil place seemed like something out of a storybook. The streets, lined with treehouse vegan cafes and little shops packed to the roof with local treasures, presented a new aroma with every inhale. Gurus draped in orange fabric walk barefoot through the narrow pathways where stray dogs, chatty monkeys and sacred cows all cohabitate. The impetus hum of daily meditation chants echo through the air, bringing a sense of calm within the chaos of it all.
We would rise before the sun, starting our day with Pranayama, a series of breathing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety, stabilize blood pressure and strengthen the respiratory system. This would be followed by meditation, rooftop yoga at sunrise and a healthy vegan breakfast. In the afternoons, we learned about nutrition and Hindu philosophy before sweating through another intense yoga practice. With small breaks in between daily classes, we discovered every corner of Rishikesh as it unveiled little pieces of its mysterious beauty to us each day.
Dubbed the “Birthplace of Yoga,” it’s easy to understand the appeal it has for yogis and travellers from around the world. With multiple 200, 300 and 500 hour courses available at every ashram, Rishikesh has become a central study hub, whether one is seeking spiritual enlightenment, or just wanting to enjoy the many benefits yoga has to offer. If a month long commitment isn’t your cup of Chai Masala tea, many ashrams have open classes available to the public where one can join in on a meditation or yoga class for usually just a donation fee.
The list of benefits of beginning a journey such as this, in a place pulsating with positivity and beauty are endless. Not only will it leave you feeling refreshed, healthier and calmer, but the perspective you gain is something that will stick with you for a lifetime. After four weeks of intense training and transformation, we were donning our colourful market-bought saris for our graduation ceremony.
As I walked away from the line of teachers who have dedicated their life to yoga, holding onto the piece of paper that I had literally shed blood, sweat and tears for, it was then that I realized I would be leaving Rishikesh with much more than a yoga teacher certification.
- Getting there: Fly to Dehradun from Delhi, and enjoy the captivating scenery during a 45-minute taxi ride into Rishikesh.
- When to visit: The summer months are the most volatile, with temperatures hitting over 35C and heavy rains occurring regularly. September to April offer more consistent and tolerable weather.
- Regarded as one of the holiest places to Hindus, Rishikesh is vegetarian by law. Alcohol is also not served within the city.
- White water rafting down the Ganges River has become very popular and is offered by many companies around Rishikesh.
- During their visit in 1968 to study transcendental meditation, The Beatles wrote many of their songs in an ashram in Rishikesh, which later appeared in The White Album and Abbey Road.