Yoga teacher’s training: how I stopped resisting, and started living.

Via Ben Ralston
on Aug 16, 2010
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A true story.

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, jet-lagged 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 15 French faces burning a hole into 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 (otherwise known, rather charmingly, as “nasal irrigation”) 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 go 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, feeling very, very sorry for myself…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 jet-lag, the snoring, the early starts, and the mosquitoes.

Oh! I didn’t mention the mosquitoes. Well, let’s just say that they are big; ubiquitous; and hunt in savage packs, like 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 people would probably want to photograph me.

However, I was shocked to see that many 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 30 minutes, 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 6 am, on a cool January morning, and the sun has just risen. We all walked up this mountain together, 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…

For the end of the story, you’ll have to visit my blog, subscribe, and leave a ton of comments…ok, ok, so you only have to visit the blog, the rest is up to you!


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


20 Responses to “Yoga teacher’s training: how I stopped resisting, and started living.”

  1. go cry says:

    wow, what a cliffhanger – yawn

  2. MariahCharbonneau says:

    I love the way you write. It brings a smile to my face when I feel my own feelings (past or present) through your words. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    LoL (and I meant that literally). If you're looking for cliffhangers maybe you should find a cartoon site…
    Love to u too 🙂 Ben

  4. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you so much.

  5. Ben Ralston says:

    Via facebook…

    – Melissa Cawley Hentschel:

    I wonder how many of us think we must have the best Asana….certainly photograph worthy -then it hits us – it’s about the breath! Not much else matters, then we start to reap some serious benefits!

    Cute article….

    – Bethany Ambika Crose:

    I felt the same way- (not as ill)

    but one of the best months of my life!!!

  6. Melanie says:

    I love this! So insightful, good humored and admirable. Thank you!

  7. Ben Ralston says:

    Thank you Melanie!

  8. Abigail Wick says:

    I haven't enjoyed reading something so much in a long time. What an immersive, one-month journey!

  9. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Abigail!

  10. whereismyguru says:

    I love it. What a story. The practice becomes the journey, the journey becomes the practice. What a testimony to finding your "yoga" in all circumstances. It is always there – through sickness and health. Namaste!

  11. Ben Ralston says:

    Hi whereismyguru.

    Thanks, yes, this journey was for me the defining moment of my life. I’d suffered a lot before that, struggling to make sense of the world, and myself… and that month, the teachers, the tradition, in a word, the ESSENCE of yoga that I discovered – turned things around for me. I’ll always be grateful (more than I can ever express) to Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu Devananda, who sacrificed so much, and ultimately are resonsible for me having that opportunity…

  12. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Avuje, have a great time i India, it's a special place…

  13. […] To read more about my experience in India prior to the events outside the post office, read here. […]

  14. Laurie says:

    Thank you for this! It was not only humorous but also wonderfully insightful! The way you told your story was refreshing & as someone who could only dream of traveling to India to pursue yoga training, i found it was absolutely fascinating to get an insight on your daily routines and expeririences! Hope to read more of your articles again!

  15. martha says:

    i loved the honesty of this and how i can relate, warm and funny account 🙂

  16. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Laurie, read on, there's plenty there, and plenty more on the way.

  17. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Martha 🙂

  18. […] Before I left I asked my favorite Swami for a piece of advice. Here’s what he said: […]

  19. LynnBonelli says:

    Hey Ben…just came across this old post of yours but it's quite timely for me as I am headed to the "Farm" this fall for a one month yoga teacher training immersion…and yes, it's still only 2 meals a day (although I am already vegetarian so I'm not too afraid of protein deficiency). Although I am hoping not to have to deal with the snoring, snot-rockets, flu and bronchitis I DO hope I have the life changing experience you had (or something similar). Great article. I always love your writing.

  20. soulofspice says:

    amazing & too funny , esp your dad suggesting that cutting off protein is part of the cult. and your first exposure to chanting.keep on writing, so good to read .. you have a great way of expressing your experience..