In November 2016, during an epic world trip, I had an epiphany moment and decided to train to be a yoga instructor! I was already in Asia, and where better to train than in the birthplace of yoga itself; the Himalayas!
The popular belief is that India is the birthplace of yoga. Little did I know it, but I was about to discover another side to this well versed story. My husband was set on trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal after we visited India – this would be the 16th country on our route so far. So, I decided to do my Yoga Teacher Training 200 hour course in Nepal. Where I was soon to discover that Nepal is actually the birthplace of yoga – as well as the birthplace of Buddha.
And as Buddha famously said “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”
My Nepalese yoga guru Dr Gautam Chintamani coincidentally was born in Lumbini – the same place as Gautama Buddha.
As a filmmaker and photographer I collaborated with Nepal Yoga Academy (NYA) to help promote their amazing yoga school and retreat while training there. Here is a short promo film we made that gives a beautiful snapshot of what you can expect there:
I had researched several yoga schools in Nepal – where there is only a handful – compared to the zillions in India. I’d heard that Rishikesh was the world capital of yoga, and although it sounds like a fantastic place to visit, it also sounds like it’s overcrowded with tourists and not so off the beaten track anymore. So Nepal Yoga Academy was the school that finally won my heart.
NYA is directed by the highly qualified, immensely knowledgable and dedicated yoga Guru Dr. Chinatamani Gautam – or Guru Ji -who has a Ph.D. in Yoga and Sanskrit, and a Master’s Degree in Human Consciousness and Yogic Science from Gurukul Kangri University in Haridwar, India, and another in Sanskrit Literature from Sampurnananda Sanskrit University in Varanasi, India.
“He also has a beloved interest and a wealth of knowledge in Mantra chant and Vedic Karmkand which he conveys to his students with diligence and appreciation. He has studied extensively the ancient scriptures of the Vedas, Upanishads, the Gita, the Great Six Eastern Philosophies and many other ancient yogic scriptures with some of the top rated Sanskrit scholars and swamis in Nepal and India.”
I signed up for the Yoga Teacher Training (YTTC) 200-hour course and knew instantly that I had made the best decision. Certified by the Yoga Alliance (USA & Australia), the 200-hour training is an internationally recognized course that certifies you to teach yoga. The 500-hour course is a more advanced teacher training also available at the NYA. There is a maximum of 14 students per course, but on this occasion, they had two groups of 14 each; because NYA is becoming so popular!
At Nepal Yoga Academy Dr. Chintamani teaches classical Sanatan Yoga akin to Hatha yoga. Sanatan Yoga is based on classical Hatha yoga as outlined in the traditional texts, Hatha Pradapika and Gheranda Samhita, as well as traditional Astanga (8 Limbs of Yoga) outlined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Hatha yoga is the original style of yoga and a good basis to learn before exploring other yoga styles. In Sanskrit (the oldest human language – used in Yoga) Hatha combines the sun and moon meaning to balance aggressive sun energy with receptive moon energy.
Yoga is an ancient philosophy with a history of 5-10,000 years. Through yoga, you can develop a greater connection to your own spirituality; whatever religion you may or may not follow. Yoga is for everyone, all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Studying at Nepal Yoga Academy will enable you to learn the true, authentic yoga.
“Living in the stressful and hectic life of the twenty first century, people from around the world have sought an escape and linked their life to Yoga or want to be connected. Yoga has reached every corner of the world from its origin in the East but the two important questions should be asked, “Is Yoga being taught the way it should be?” and “Is Yoga becoming too commercial and diverging from its authentic track?”. These questions and others need serious answers. Yoga in the modern world has been developed as a fashionable form of exercise changing the fundamental essence of Yoga and downgrading its form. This watered down form of yoga, can bring fun and fitness to people for a while but they remain far from the real experience and benefits of Yoga.”
– Dr. Chintamani
Nepal Yoga Academy is set on a lush landscape, in an idyllic location, about 45 minutes drive from Kathmandu, so not too off the beaten track, but far enough away from the chaos of the city. Set on a hilltop, the school and retreat have two centers within walking distance of each other in the beautiful Himalayas. The scenery is literally breathtaking and the air is crisp and fresh! The staff are so helpful and welcoming, they really make you feel at home the moment you arrive; and their organic, yogic cuisine is simply delicious and mouth-wateringly nutritious.
The accommodation is very modern and comfortable and there is so much to do around the area; hiking, visiting temples; such as the beautiful Buddhist Bodhnath Stupa, as well as villages and markets. Performing 108 sun salutations at the culmination of the course, at sunrise on a Himalayan hilltop is truly magical! For those who are not looking to train as a yoga teacher, you can just visit for a shorter retreat, take part in the yoga classes, read a book on a hill top, go trekking, relax in their sauna, or enjoy a massage.
A Typical Day of a YTTC Trainee:
6.30-7.00 AM Satkarma & tea
7.00-8.00 AM Morning Mantras & Pranayama Breathing Techniques
8.00-9.30 AM Asana
9.30 AM Breakfast
10.30-12.30 AM Yoga Theory
1.00 PM Lunch
2.00-3.00 PM Self Study
3.00-4.30 PM Yoga Workshop
4.30-6.00 PM Asana/Meditation/Yoganidra
6.30-7.30 PM Dinner
7.30-9.30 PM Self Study
The Training Experience:
Students are all ages and levels, some are beginners, some are more advanced practitioners, some are in their 20s some are in their 60s or 70s. It’s an international mix of students, from the USA, Australia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, South America, Canada and the UK. There is a really homely, friendly and supportive environment at the academy. The training is a truly life-changing and soul-searching experience. So, of course, there are ups and downs for nearly every student, but the trainers and staff are always there to give you a supportive hug and help you with any concerns you may have.
Warren & Lulu are two of the NYA leaders. Lulu also runs yoga retreats in Mexico and Warren was the brainchild of the Yoga Flash Mob in Kathmandu (see below)
When you arrive you are given the Nepal Yoga Academy training manual, as well as a copy of Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Saraswati Satyananda Swami which is the yoga bible for yoga teacher trainees.
Satkarma – Cleansing your nostrils with warm, salty water (specially prepared by Krishna) first thing in the morning, is not easy at first, but you’ll soon get the hang off after Krishna carefully and patiently demonstrates. Vomiting after drinking several glasses of salty water certainly purifies the digestive system… It’s the best way for a yogini to start the day!
Mantras & Meditation – Mantras are an integral part of the training. These are performed daily, and practiced throughout, even at mealtimes, to help students master these ancient mantras. Dr. Chintamani also performs singing bowl meditations, which are truly mind-blowing! Most students leave Nepal with their own hand-made singing bowl, purchased in Kathmandu or from a local market.
Pranayama – Yogi breathing techniques are also practiced throughout, and integrated into the training practicums; in which trainee teachers demonstrate skills in teaching pranayama such as ‘Bumblebee Breath’ or ‘Nadi Shodhan’.
Teaching Experience – There is plenty of opportunity to get teaching experience throughout the course which starts with shorter asana and pranayama demonstrations of 5 or 10 mins building up to the final practicum of 45mins to 1 hour max, which usually take place in the school yoga studio. Though mine happened to take place on the beautiful Peace Dragon Lodge hotel roof top in Pokhara overlooking the magnificent lake…
Yoga Science & Theory – The science and theory behind yoga is truly fascinating. Workshops range from Anatomy, the Endocrine or Lymphatic system, Kundalini Energy, to Karma yoga. Dr. Chintamani is well versed in ancient Sanskrit, and texts such as the Upanishads, as well as mantras which he is also so passionate about.
Asanas – Learning yoga postures in two classes a day, with an extra yoga asana workshop, really helps students to master their asanas and alignments and how to teach each pose with confidence.
Graduation – At the end of the course, after performing 108 sun salutations at sunrise, the graduation involves an ancient ‘fire ceremony’ and students dress in traditional Nepalese attire.
Women wear dresses, men wear white clothes, both are presented with a necklace of yellow flowers and Mala beads. Because the course is so intense and challenging, the students are pretty exhilarated and excited to receive their certificates!
I had personally been practicing yoga on and off for many years, and had always wanted to deepen my practice, as well as meditation; as I realize the benefits of both for the mind, body and spiritual development. So for me, the YTTC 200 hour training was a personal challenge; which has also inspired me to teach others and share the yoga love, especially with women and girls, of all ages and backgrounds. Check out more about that on my FB page HER Yoga & Healing.
As part of the yoga course, we set off for a 4 day trip to Pokhara to enjoy the thrills of white water rafting (en route) and yoga trekking to the Australian base camp.
Here we not only got to trek and do yoga with the breathe-taking Himalayas as our wallpaper, but we got to practice our yoga teaching skills, and sing mantras around a camp fire.
Pokhara is a must-see if you are visiting Nepal, so joining the yoga trek with Nepal Yoga Academy will help you tick that box too!
Yoga & Healing Festival
In Pokhara I was also very blessed to attend the Pokhara Yoga & Healing Festival. This also takes place in Chiang Mai Thailand each year. It was an incredible experience sampling Partner Yoga, Contact Dance, Mandala Art, Singing Bowl meditation and many other workshops.
I was also fortunate to meet Imana Lightweb, a Reiki Master who led group healing workshops at the festival and also gave me the most incredible one-to-one sound healing with singing bowls.
Yoga to Empower the Locals:
During my course, I accompanied Dr. Chintamani to a Kathmandu Engineer College where he teaches students about the benefits of yoga. Even though I couldn’t understand Nepalese, I could see the impact his lectures have on young people and promoting yoga and a healthy lifestyle; through his engaging, charismatic and passionate approach towards a yogic lifestyle.
Yoga Flashmob in Kathmandu:
During our stay, yoga guru/coordinator of NYA – Warren – devised a Yoga Flashmob in Kathmandu: the first ever yoga flash mob in Asia. With my husband, they worked with local organizations and businesses to set up our very successful flash mob in Thamel – in the heart of Kathmandu. The police even helped us by blocking the roads to traffic to help our flash mob run smoothly.
The aim of the flash mob was to promote Nepal as the birthplace of yoga. Many of the ancient yogis and meditators, including Buddha himself, practiced in the magical Himalayas, which stretch mainly across Nepal. In recent history, Nepal was struck by some devastating earthquakes, which affected the tourism there, so our flash mob aims to bring Nepal to center stage for yoga tourism.
Teaching Yoga to Scuba Divers:
After graduating from the NYA I flew to The Philippines where I had recently trained as a PADI Divemaster. That’s where I started to get some real experience, teaching yoga to scuba divers as well as non-divers. I led daily classes to staff and guests at Scandi Divers Resort in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Island in beautiful Big La Laguna below….
In the locality there are no other yoga classes, so most of my students (mainly female locals) had never done yoga before. So it felt very rewarding for me to share my yoga teaching and inspire other women to live well, experiencing the mental and physical benefits of yoga.
There are many benefits for scuba divers who incorporate yoga into their fitness regime which include: improving air consumption and bottom time, dealing with anxiety and stressful situations such as night dives, strong currents, over-exertion, improving strength and flexibility, overall health and wellbeing. Even getting up close to sea-turtles and coming up for air with them!
As you can see the scenery in Puerto Galera is breath-taking! Coupled with the sound of the waves, and palm trees rustling in the wind it’s the perfect place to do yoga!
If you are thinking about doing the yoga teacher training then I highly recommend training in Nepal at NYA. I had travelled for 1 month through India, before arriving in Nepal, which is also an amazing country. But Nepal is different, the people are so relaxed and welcoming, and the environment felt much calmer and more conducive to studying yoga for me personally. Seeing is believing – why not take the plunge and discover Nepal for yourself!
I made so many new friends at NYA who I am sure I will meet again on the continuation of my yogic path – if not back in Nepal for the 500 hour course, then somewhere else on this planet! Check out the Nepal Yoga Academy & Retreat Facebook page here.