When I was looking into doing an intense yoga teacher training course in India, I was struggling to find a thorough resource where I could get the answers to the questions I had. Still, to this day, there aren’t many people out there writing about such experiences, but I intend to change that. Let me start by recapping a day in the training course – from the moment your alarm goes off until the minute your head hits the pillow in the evening.
Before I go into detail on how a typical day at a month-long yoga teacher training (YTT) in India might look, I must note that there are many different courses each with its own syllabus and focus, length, resources and teachers. All of these factors and many more can affect how the schedule looks like.
I did my YTT in Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, at Vinyasa Yoga School. It took us 30 days to complete the 200-hour course – six days a week of intense studying with only Sundays off to catch our breath and catch up with homework for the course. Thursdays were the ‘easy’ days as we only had yoga classes in the mornings and evenings, four hours in total. All the other days looked as follows…
5:30 Morning Tea and Fruit
The first few mornings were quite a shock to the system – the 5 AM alarm sounded like screams from hell and the winter Himalaya winds battering the hotel did not make it easier for the yet unacclimatised yogis to make their way to the school. The bonus here was that the only thing you had to do before heading out was to put on your yoga clothes, grab your mat and off you go.
Morning fruit was always bananas, and if it was a good morning, we would get ginger tea to help wash it down. If not, it was the “boring morning tea” – something that very distantly resembled black tea. No, no, I’m not complaining. It’s just that at 5:30 AM you’re way more sensitive to everything. At first, it was hard to force that banana into my system, but as time went by, it was almost impossible to carry on with the day without one or even two.
A few days in, we realised that it is perfectly fine to make it to the dining hall just ten or even only five minutes before the first morning class – grab that banana, a gulp of tea and you’re ready to roll. In return – 20 minutes added to precious sleeping time!
6:00 – 7:00 Vinyasa Theory
Half of our course started the day with a 6 AM Vinyasa classes while the other half – with Hatha at 7 AM. One might think that the latter group is the better choice, but I was lucky to have joined the Vinyasa group. It was a rough wake-up on some mornings, especially if your body is still aching from the previous days, but it allowed us to get through the physically most demanding part of the day bright and early.
Don’t be fooled by the class name – Vinyasa Theory on most days meant a full hour’s practice. However, we did learn a lot on how Vinyasa classes should be structured, how to warm up and decompress our muscles, how to put together a flow of different postures and what cues and adjustments to use to guide our future students. This was also our biggest opportunity to try hands-on teaching from the very first days.
For my class segments, I got to teach a few rounds of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B, and my own standing posture sequence. I believe these are the main components of a full Vinyasa class and was glad I had the chance to try these out before putting together a full class at the end of the course.
7:15 – 8:15 Vinyasa Flow
On most days this class would be a full hour’s practice with some specific strength, flexibility or technique building exercises at the end. Our teacher seemed to have tips and tricks for each posture – how to lengthen the right muscles, how to work up to having more energy, how to modify the posture for different students etc. It was physically exhausting at times, but very satisfying once you get through.
We had two different teachers for our Vinyasa classes, and they were both great – with an established personal practice, a lot of experience and tips to share, very helpful and would answer the silliest of questions. I wish we had more time to learn hands-on adjustments and modifications for so many postures! But I guess, when you’re a yoga teacher, you’re learning constantly.
During the last week and a half, we all had a chance to teach our own 50-minute long Vinyasa class during these early morning hours. I was glad to find out mine was scheduled for the second day – it allowed me to get a taste of what others were teaching, but also get it all out of the way early on. The whole experience was a whirlwind to say the least but so amazing, and I think it deserves a blog post of its own.
8:15 – 9:15 Self Study Block
Given that we had just had two hours of intensive yoga and it was still two hours to go until breakfast, at this time of the day we would most likely end up munching on an energy bar and drinking tea to fuel up. Sometimes we would go on a short morning stroll through the town or study for the upcoming tests. A nice break to have, but at most times felt that it’s unnecessarily prolonging the day.
9:15 – 10:15 Pranayama
Pranayama or breathing techniques was one of the hardest classes to get through. Not because of the class itself, though. Imagine lying on the floor, focusing on your breath at this time of the day when you’ve just had a very early and exhausting morning followed by an hour of lazying about? I would be lying if I said that no one, yours truly included, ever fell asleep in this class…
Apart from that and the miserable knee and leg pains from all that sitting on the floor, some classes were quite enjoyable. For me, it was only during the last week when there was less stress and a less anxious mind to deal with, plus, my body got more used to the meditation postures.
At the end of the course, we had to present various topics and breathing techniques in groups for our grading. I was glad that it wasn’t a solo performance, as pranayama is not what I feel comfortable with teaching. But it was definitely a good experience and yet another chance to learn more.
10:15 – 11:15 Breakfast
It was only breakfast time but it felt like we have been up for ages. The long-awaited first proper meal of the day! On most occasions, we would get plenty of fruit, something different each day – either oranges, apples, pineapple, papaya, or bananas again.
Besides the ever-present Western breakfast staples like oats, yoghurt, milk and cornflakes, we would sometimes get a taste of sweet or savoury porridge, hummus with chapatti (our favourite!), Indian-style toast or pancakes.
11:15 – 12:15 Philosophy
The philosophy classes could definitely be named as the most confusing ones, however, it wasn’t the yoga philosophy to blame. As it later turned out, our teacher was only substituting for someone else and, even though she knew an awful lot about the different yoga philosophies, she was struggling to pass this knowledge on to us. She also loved to scare us with stories of previous courses failing on the first test, but in the end, it turned out to be quite an enjoyable test.
The last two weeks of philosophy classes turned out to be much more fun as we split up into groups to each present a different yoga philosophy. These presentations were very interesting, engaging, fun and sometimes even a bit too emotional if I’m being honest. One of them, in particular, left quite a few of us weeping with tears. But it was more of laughing than crying for sure! At the end of the course, we had another test on the topics discussed in the presentations.
12:15 – 13:15 Anatomy & Physiology
The human anatomy interests me a lot, and this was definitely one of my favourite classes. Our teacher was very knowledgeable and was eager to teach us everything he knew. The 200-hour program only allows us to touch on the surface, but I now have a good basic understanding of anatomy and physiology and I’m keen to learn more.
Three of the classes were devoted to the Health & Safety subject which touched on such things as how to prevent injuries and accidents during yoga classes, the importance of surroundings for either indoor or outdoor spaces etc. Each of these topics was enriched with stories from our teacher’s experience which made it very valuable if one actually plans on teaching yoga.
During the course, we had two tests recapping what we had learned in Anatomy and Physiology classes. If you pay attention and revise a bit, it is fairly easy to pass.
This was definitely one of the most-awaited parts of the day as it meant two things – getting rid of hunger and a long break after.
This was one of our favourite meal times when it came to food – it would usually be a combination of rice (plain or “fancy fried” with different spices and veg), chapati bread, curries, dahl and fresh salad. The school definitely made sure we got plenty of carbs, protein and greens.
With time, it did get a bit boring as the tastes repeated themselves, however, we would be ungrateful to complain as we were always well fed. Some students were eating out a lot during this break, but it meant spending extra money and wasting food at school.
Self Study Block
If the lunch was served early and we were quick with eating, we would get up to 3.5 hours of break. It was meant to be a self study block to revise course materials and notes, read books, prepare for presentations or teaching classes, and do our homework.
A lot of students, though, opted for naps or exploring Rishikesh (shopping, getting treatments or massages etc.), but for me, it was mostly time devoted to studying. I wasn’t much into naps anyways, and I didn’t want to leave studying for the evenings or later in the course to avoid late nights. Sleep was quite precious during these weeks!
On most days right after lunch, we would pop by the nearby corner shop for various snacks. My favourite was crisps and a can of coke. Yes, I know – not very healthy and yogic, but I’m quite sure this was the only thing that kept me going sometimes. Some of my best memories from India still, haha!
17:00 – 18:45 Hatha Yoga
Most of the schools and yoga teacher programmes focus on just one tradition of yoga, however, ours teaches both Hatha and Vinyasa yoga. I like Vinyasa more than any other yoga style, but I definitely enjoyed the in-depth learning of both. It does make the course more intense and physically demanding, but it definitely is worth it as I now can teach both.
This course also changed my perspective and understanding of Hatha yoga. If in Western studios the classes are relatively easy and relaxing for the experienced yogis (if you compare to the more dynamic Vinyasa and Ashtanga styles), here we had some full-on classes that left us exhausted and achy the day after. Our teacher was amazing, though, and made it so much easier for us to power through.
During the last eight days of the course, just like with Vinyasa, we had to teach our own 1.5 hour Hatha class to the others. This time – in pairs. I was very lucky with my partner in crime, and we pulled off a really nice and well-structured class.
It was amazing to hear all the good comments from our peers and the teacher. The latter, however, managed to fall asleep and snore during our Savasana (final relaxation)!!! To be fair, she repeated this same trick during other classes… I guess teachers get exhausted too.
18:45 – 19:15 Tea Break
To be completely honest, I never really understood the need for this break as it just made the day unnecessarily longer. Also, during the last two weeks of the course we never even got to enjoy it as the Hatha classes always ran late. When we had the chance, it was nice, though, to warm yourself up with a calming cup of tea before the final class of the day.
19:15 – 20:15 Meditation
Just like Pranayama, these classes were a bit of a torture for my anxious mind. Also, my knees and legs felt even worse towards the end of the day. Imagine clearing your mind of any thoughts and worries when all you feel is pain and all you want to do is think, think, think?
Yes, I know, I am not a pro yogi. But I’m a strong believer that some of us might need a different kind of meditation.
Don’t get me wrong – it was interesting to learn all the different techniques of meditation. My favourite was the laughing meditation for sure! But even that was a bit too much for me – 10 minutes in and my head was pounding with a terrible headache. A sensitive soul I am…
We also chanted a lot of mantras, and it could get truly magical. It can be a nice feeling when everyone is chanting in sync and in tune with a nice melody. At times, it reminded me a lot of the Latvian Dance and Song Festival when hundreds of singers sing as one big choir.
The food served at dinner was quite similar to what we were eating at lunch, but sometimes it felt like they saved the best for the last meal of the day. Another favourite moment of the day as it meant another day survived. If anything though, these meals seemed too late in the day, as most of us headed straight to bed right after to be ready for a 5 AM wake up.
As soon as we were done with eating, we headed straight back to our rooms. On most of the days, we were so exhausted that we had no energy left for anything besides getting ourselves ready for bed. I would usually put on a Friends episode to help me fall asleep – a very comforting show for when you’re far away from home and feel a bit homesick.
From my comments and personal view of things, it might seem that I was looking forward to getting through each day and the course as fast as possible. And I’ll be honest – on most days that was exactly how I felt. I did enjoy learning so many new things about yoga and the physical practice, but there were a lot of things that made this adventure quite challenging for me. And I will always be honest about my experiences, as I’m not here to paint a perfect picture of my life.
However, I’m still glad I went to India to do this, and I think this experience has and will teach me a lot. Most of all, I am damn proud that I have accomplished this and realised one of my biggest dreams, no matter how hard it was. Because what fun would it be if everything was easy to achieve?
P.S. All photos featured in this post were taken on my iPhone, hence the shabby quality.