In January 2020 I spent a month in Bali attending a 200h yoga teacher training course with All Yoga. It was a fantastic, magical time. This blog post is mainly a memento for me. Perhaps other aspiring students will find it useful if they are looking into further training.
Here's a pic of the wonderful people I got to spend a month with on a remote island - but what was my history with yoga, how did I choose this course and how was my month in paradise?
My Yoga History
I first tried yoga back in 2007: I had time on my hands after losing my job and was frustrated with numerous running injuries. Since then it's been part of my life - sometimes a joy to do, sometimes a chore. There have been many benefits including allowing me to run freely again. Generally I've practiced in a studio, as part of a group and led by a teacher - I've also mainly focussed on the physical side.
Some of the many reasons for taking on a teacher training course included wanting to be stronger and more flexible, being able to put together and practice my own session and to get more of an understanding of the history and more spiritual parts of yoga.
Choosing a yoga teacher training
Doing a teacher training has been on my mind for a while - I almost did one between jobs in 2016 but lacking time for a full course I spent a week or two in Chiang Mai, Thailand attending a few sessions. The atmosphere was amazing and the jungle was great but I love the sea and felt that was missing.
My yoga teachers in London were great in suggesting a number of places with one of my favourite teacherssuggesting Radiantly Alive in Ubud, Bali.
In the end I was quite restricted in terms of dates - I had negotiated the whole of January off between jobs . After extensive googling I found out about All Yoga. This blog post by a previous attendee was incredibly helpful - Anna is an excellent writer and that post is pretty much identical to my experience! It sounded great, I got the sea, an amazing location and the dates fitted perfectly.
All Yoga is very active on Instagram and I started following them plus some of the teachers and students. Turns out most of my future classmates were doing the same. You're never 100% sure what you are getting when you sign up to something but being able to remotely be part of another classes journey showed the reality of the course - exhilarating, life changing but hard work!
Ten Days in Ubud
At the end of 2019 I finished my previous job, enjoyed Christmas at home then headed to Ubud to meet up with a couple of friends. There were ten days before the training started and this allowed me to see in the New Year, get over jet lag and explore the yoga options.
Ten years previously I'd visited Ubud and since then it has got much bigger and more crowded. I attended a couple of sessions at Radiantly Alive which were brilliant but I was glad I wasn't staying in town for the month. The best class was a morning Kundalini class at Yoga Barn - my friend Elena persuaded me to join and it was my first full on chanting experience.
The time in Ubud was great preparation for the 200h training - I acclimatised to the heat and diet as well as finding my yoga feet. Happy and bronzed I was ready for the next step - a boat out to the remote island of Nusa Lembongan off the East coast of Bali.
YTT on Nusa Lembongan
Arriving on the beach was quite surreal: there was the yoga shala just as I'd seen in Anna's blog and in hundred's of Instagram posts! Almost directly behind it was the wonderful homestay that would be my base for the month.
The next day we arrived at the shala and started to get to know each other. There was an initial yoga session, marking our mats and a bunch of games to help us learn each others names and backgrounds. In total we were about 20 people - I was one of the oldest and the only man. I was made to feel super welcome especially by the teachers who came over and told me that they were so grateful that I was there as they found some masculine presence helped balance the energy of the group.
We settled into our rhythm - 7.30am start then 90 mins of learning meditation, breathing and cleansing rituals. Following that a mega two (!!) hour yoga practice followed by a couple of hours for lunch. The afternoon would kick off with a two hour lecture on all aspects of yoga. A short break with snacks on the beach followed by a one hour workshop and then a final one hour yoga session.
We kept to this schedule with small tweaks and changes throughout the course with only one day off a week. I'd had visions of having lots of time to read, contemplate life and explore. In reality when we finished up for the day we were exhausted. There was the opportunity for further practice - but after a few attempts at some trickier poses the sea beckoned. A quick dip, take part in a few Instagram photo shoots, shower, then out for dinner with the group before collapsing into bed.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
In London I'm so used to mainly focussing on yoga poses but this course covered all the eight limbs of yoga. These range from guidelines on how you interact with others, how to live a good life, cleansing practices, meditation as well as the physical asanas. Lots of this was new to me and I tried to keep an open mind to all these new elements. So much to take in but plenty of fun including belly rolling, buzzing like bees and taking wild stabs at pronouncing Sanskrit. There were also contemplative and serious moments including a very powerful 24h of silence.
This is an Ashtanga course which focuses on a set routine which is practiced in the same way all round the world. We also got to experience a whole range of different types of yoga from powerful rocket yoga through to blissful yin yoga.
There were also sessions ranging from learning about anatomy through to how to teach classes, setup your own studio and protecting your physical and mental well being.
A highlight for me was the week we had afternoon lectures from a philosophy teacher. Dr Ganesh was a mesmerising presence and brought with him a lifetime of experience as well as an interesting history, including being a professional Indian footballer. He took us through the history and philosophy of yoga and discussed in more detail the cleansing rituals and mediations we'd been practicing. This was all new to me and absolutely fascinating.
So far it all sounds so amazing but there were challenging parts. The physical practice is tough and you had to know when to back off and not push through pain or sore muscles - there were some injuries. You expect to be more flexible but that takes time and often muscles would be tighter than at the start of the month! There were no seats - sitting on the floor takes some getting used to. It was hot and sweaty. The food was great but Bali belly affected some. It's a remote island which meant lots of insects, animals and jelly fish.
It was also challenging approaching new topics or dealing with past issues. The course surfaced lots of emotions and feelings - challenging but also rewarding.
The course was incredibly well run. A huge thank you to the wonderful teachers who managed to combined humour, grace and knowledge to help us all progress as well as have fun along the way. Marcela filled the shala with her elegance, flowing limbs and authority. Camilla was a beautiful, joyful angel with the most amazing experiences who was happy maneuver me into a bridge with as many props as possible. My birthday buddy Kholisma was a wonderful model, amazing teacher and blessed with a beautiful voice. Her singing accompanied by Joel's guitar playing was stunning. Finally Joel - was so good for me to have another yang energy in the group who also had broad shoulders and tight hips - he was an inspiration and I'm still jealous of his glistening abs. Thank you teachers and the whole All Yoga crew for a fun, challenging and rewarding course.
The group was amazing - we formed a fantastic bond during hours of sweating, bending, overcoming physical and mental blocks, eating together, swimming, chatting and sharing our space, our lives and our thoughts. Everyone was an inspiration and joy to be around: the morning belly wiggling; catching an eye across the room and giggling; those who flew into handstands, or twisted them selves in knots; the dancers, ice skaters, fitness instructors, pole dancers, those who drove desks and those who were in between things; the golden oldies; the wise thoughts and book recommendations; the ridiculous lion's breath; stunning Instagram poses; walking in silence and looking at the stars on the beach; late night swims; the challenges people had overcome to be there and the challenges and new experiences they conquered; those traveling outside their country for the first time; public speaking; better sleeping; the switching from fear and worry to glowing joy, the increased self belief.
Thank you to everyone for making me feel so happy and welcome.
Energy ebbed and flowed, the group found it's rhythm. We had amazing lunches out on the beach. One day off a week to either laze around or jump on mopeds and explore the island. We made friends with the people running the restaurants, played with kids on the beach but only found the luxury ice cream place near the end of our stay. We had one on one sessions with the teachers to get the most of our time. Afternoon tea break was a welcome pause in the days proceedings - the best breaks were when we had freshly made pancakes. There was the graduation party, the graduation ceremony, 108 sun salutations and sitting in a big sweaty hug chanting OM.
So many experiences well out of my comfort zone, so different from every day life and such wonderful moments. My hope was to carry some of that fantasy world back to normal life. Because the rest of 2020 was set to be just normal right...
Back to London with stronger arms, tight legs, bronzed skin and a more spiritual outlook and into a new job. After a week or two I went to a yoga class - the first one was all over the place - where was my shala, my crew, my teachers? But soon was back in the flow - my body was leaner, stronger, fitter. I could focus more. Work was going well, my yoga was great. We had a close small group of Europeans from the course who had got on fantastically well and were planning on meeting up. I wasn't planning on teaching as the course was mainly to improve my practice and knowledge - but my friend Elena (who I was in Ubud with) persuaded me to teach yoga on her fitness retreat. And then corona virus.
The virus has hit everyone. The retreat I was going to teach got cancelled. Yoga has been a big help and have been able to self practice during lock down. It's been great connecting with our group on Instagram or messaging for support.
It's been tougher for our small group that formed a close connection - our plans to meet up and cement our relationship in the real world were cancelled. We'd been messaging a lot when first back but the virus put us all under stress - we were all dealing with personal situations and the different phases of lock down. I can't wait for this to be over and for us to reconnect properly - I think the intensity of how we bonded has weirdly made it even harder to connect now as there is so much pressure.
Such special bonds forged in a fantasy world in January and I hope we can overcome the obstacles and the harsh world reality 2020 has thrown at us and meet up.
It was a brilliant month in Bali. I got everything I wanted out of it - stronger, slightly more flexible, happier. I was open to learning more about the spiritual side and it surprised me how much I enjoyed and engaged with that aspect of yoga practice. The teachers made the whole experience special and they have given me a solid base for my own practice and the confidence and skills to go out and teach.
I want to say than you to All Yoga, my teachers and to all my fellow classmates who made that month so special. Love seeing you all online and hope to meet some of you soon. Such stunning memories and experiences. Namaste.