|June 30, 2012|
Yoga Teacher Training On and Off the Mat
HERSHA CHELLARAM has studied yoga under the guidance of famed Sri Swami Satchidananda since she was a child. Now she is passing on the ancient yogic knowledge to other yoga teachers. VIVIENNE TANG speaks to her about the benefits of Integral Yoga and what inspired her to study it
Even though Yoga has become somewhat of a sports staple in Hong Kong, it is often difficult to find people who understand the deeper elements of yoga, despite its widespread reach. Most of the time students graduate from their Teacher Training but only understand the Asana side of it and don’t really know how to apply the yogic lifestyle to their daily lives. But that’s not the case with Integral Yoga.
Founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda in 1966, Integral Yoga is very much a lifestyle, incorporating the different subcategories of Yoga, such as Hatha (Postures, Breathing and Cleansing), Karma (Selfless Service), Bhakti (Divine Incarnation), Jnana (Wisdom), Japa (Mantra) and Raja (Meditation). It differentiates itself from other types of yoga because it places much importance on service, as well as marries anatomy and physiology with mental and soul psychology.
“When I used to go and visit his ashram,” says Integral Yoga Instructor and Teacher Trainer Hersha Chellaram, who has experienced Sri Swami Satchidananda’s teachings firsthand, “he would always say, ‘When you want true peace, you have to give something of yourself, without expecting anything in return.’ He pretty much taught that health and happiness is our birthright. He had a vision of universal peace, and his understanding of yoga really boiled down to not judging yourself, not judging anybody else’s path. Everything leads to the same. If you dig deep down it will all lead to the same goal, which is peace and happiness, which is what everybody is looking for in life. Just because you’re after it, doesn’t make anybody more superior or less superior. And in the search for finding your own peace, you have a responsibility to reach out to your brothers who are in need. As a result, you will find it. He completely lived that. He had hundreds and thousands of followers, but he kept personal time for each and everyone of them. He just gave to so many. It’s really very inspiring to see that. I was very lucky. If I think about all the time I spent with him, it’s that component that really influenced me.”
In an Integral Yoga Hatha class you would normally experience chanting, eye movements, sun salutations and a basic set of 12 postures, which is taught in the Integral Yoga Foundation Course. “That basic set is really all you need from there,” adds Chellaram. “Everything else is added on to that. Now that you’ve mastered the 12, there are optional poses that you can start to thread in to make the class more challenging or more therapeutic, depending on the audience.” Then there are the Mudras, the hand gestures, which are some seals of energy, followed by deep relaxation and 10-15 minutes of breathing techniques, and the class ends with a meditation and some more chanting.
“It’s a very complete form, “Chellaram continues. “The sequence is actually designed to bring your awareness inward and to help promote a meditation practice. So the energy of the body comes to a certain stage where you feel like sitting, and you feel like focusing, and it really is easier to focus. So that’s kind of the end result of an Integral Yoga class. You don’t necessarily feel like, ‘Oh, I had a really good sweat. I had a really good workout.’”
Integral Yoga has been a part of Chellaram’s life ever since she was little, with an enthusiastic yoga practicing father and summers spent at the ashram, “hanging out with the guru” and where she would witness the yoga master’s magical wisdom. So it is no wonder that today Chellaram, who has trained in the US and in India, passionately teaches Integral Yoga Teacher Training Programmes, such as the one coming up soon in September, Integral Yoga Basic Teacher Training (Hatha I). The course contains 200 hours and is taught over 11 weekends (including exam) once a month, with the part-time training being especially ideal for people with families.
“We’re getting together one weekend every month,” says Chellaram, “and in that weekend I would like everyone to have an experience of a personal practice and meditation. So it will be a little bit of everything, and then gradually we will go deeper and deeper. So on a Saturday we will pretty much focus on the technical part of it, the theory of teaching yoga postures, understanding the anatomy behind it, how to teach it, how to deal with people who walk into the class. Then on the Sunday, it will be the deeper element, understanding the different types of yoga, doing some kind of interactive exercise or actually practicing, while being monitored.”
Most people who will join already have a strong foundation and understanding of yoga, but the reasons for becoming a yoga teacher are different for everyone.
“Some are doing it more as a career path,” Chellaram adds. “Some people are doing it not to teach at all, but more to gain a deeper understanding of yoga. They’ve gone to the yoga classes, they love it, they feel better, and now they want to take it to the next level. When I did my Yoga Teacher Training, I actually wasn’t really considering teaching full-time. I did it more just for myself, and so do actually half of the participants there, and I’ve known many people to take the Yoga Teacher Training and never go on to teach. So it really depends on what you’re approaching. I really like it because people come in with expectations of what they will get from it. But if you go through a process like that, you just come out a little bit more mindful of so many aspects of your life that you could appreciate better, or any conflicts that you can start to resolve. A lot of people actually come out and they decide that they want to change their lives, and what I find beneficial in a part-time program is that people have the time in between to absorb, and they try to apply it naturally. So when they come out of the training, the changes aren’t so drastic. They are very gradual.”
So what can people expect from the training? “Number one; you’ll have all the tools you need to nurture a personal spiritual practice,” says Chellaram. “It’s called a Sadhana, and you have the freedom to create it in any way that suits your lifestyle. Number two; you will learn everything you need to know to be a competent and confident yoga teacher. By the time you walk out of there, you will have practiced teaching enough classes with your peers that you can walk into a studio, saying ‘Look, I know what I’m doing.’ Number three; you will have an element of service. They actually say that as a teacher you’re not put on a pedestal, but that you have a responsibility to serve.”
Furthermore, Chellaram will invite a physio/yoga therapist for the interactive anatomy part of the course, and there are plans for field trips for a community service project and for the cleansing part. However, fasting and Kriyas are optional. It’s not a requirement to pass the Yoga Teacher Training.
After the 200-hour foundation course, which will also include study groups in between in case someone misses a class, students can then go on to take Intermediate (Hatha II) or Advanced (Hatha III) or any other Integral Yoga Programmes, such as Raja Yoga, Prenatal Yoga or Stress Management etc. Furthermore, Chellaram also has ideas for a future 4-week intensive.
For more information on Dates & Times and how to apply for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training (Hatha I), click here.