Chatting with Yogacharya Bharath Shetty yesterday about the future plans for Indea Yoga and expanding the community of teachers, a really interesting thought occurred to me. (In fact, there are often many interesting thoughts after speaking with this man, but this is one I thought was quite significant which I wanted to share). We were talking about how to encourage existing and future teachers of the school to continue their practical training with Sir, annually for example, to deepen their skills not only as teachers but also as practitioners. We talked about common attitudes of acquiring a TTC certification whereby often teachers are preoccupied with getting the badge rather than becoming a quality teacher. There is an assumption the TTC is the only training required and it could be considered as a pass to no longer continue self practice.
Whilst I fully appreciate certifications are symbolic of hard work, what I’ve come to realize are two fundamentally important things:
1) Having a certification (or multiple) does not necessarily make yoga teachers good practitioners
2) Likewise, these certifications do not necessarily make one a good teacher overall
You see, when I completed my TTC, I was so preoccupied with getting the badge to flash that I’d completed my 250 hours, my 500 hours etc etc. But once I was out in the real world and began running my own classes, I was rudely awakened to the fact that my certifications did not necessarily translate into “you’re a great teacher Jessica.” My first class was a total flop! I’ll never forget it! Turns out, I can have every certification under the sun but without maintaining my self practice and combining this with experience leading classes, my popularity as a teacher was not going to increase!
In my opinion, to become a great teacher (and by no means am I professing to be a great teacher – this is a life long commitment) takes just 2 simple but crucial things:
1) A desire to teach. Without this, the students will never connect with their teacher nor will the teacher connect with their students. Teachers need to enjoy what their doing. Only then will they give it their all and ensure their intentions for the class are pure and for the benefit of the student.
2) A desire for self-improvement – as both a teacher and practitioner. Personally, I return to India for my self practice because my teacher is there. Because he can help to expand my knowledge as a teacher and practitioner. He can show me areas where I have become lazy, challenge me to reach new heights and guide me when it comes to safely correcting and supporting my students.
I do not believe I can be a great teacher if I fail to maintain my self-practice and self-study. I need to push my personal boundaries to ensure I’m not just a theoretical teacher who has studied the texts well, but that I am also one who is teaching from personal experience. From having experienced how an asana feels, the challenges we go through when trying to master an asana and the effects it has on the body. My brand, Naked Yoga (naked-yoga.com.au), came about because I deliberately place myself in vulnerable, challenging and often uncomfortable siutations as I know this is where I find my best self. This is how and when I grow – personally and professionally. To train under the guidance of Gurji forces me to reach new peaks and explore new depths. The experience is always confronting, emotional and down right hard - but I know it’s what makes me a better student, practitioner, teacher and human being in general. This is why I come. This is what it’s all about.
You see, whilst I may have certifications to teach, I consider I will always be the student, for I will never stop learning, growing and trying new things. From the moment I was certified, I considered it my responsibility to keep learning as I know it is only in doing so that maybe one day I could be the great teacher I aspire to be. If you ask me, my TTC was only the door to becoming a teacher – but it certainly didn’t mean I was a teacher. With patience, passion and commitment, slowly, this is coming. And I hope it is coming for you also.
What a funny morning. Honestly, I laughed so much it almost appeared as though I wasn’t taking this seriously. Or I’m just slightly odd and find these unusual experiences fun…Today we did Jala Neti (pouring water in the nostril and it comes out the other nostril), Sutra Neti (putting a catheter in the nostril and pulling out through the mouth) and Vamana Dhauti (drinking 3-4 litres of saline water within a couple of minutes and throwing up immediately after). As disgusting as it all sounds, it really was a fantastic and fun experience.
To paint the picture. This morning we started class a little later, 6.00pm. I arrived early as usual as it’s always nice to have time to read and stretch before class starts. But the Shala was shut, so I sat on the steps next to the door reading my manual, preparing for next week’s exam. A couple of us ended up waiting until Bharath came and opened the Shala about 15 minutes later. This was unusual as his wife is normally the one to open the Shala. But ok.
We set up our mats in preparation for our morning asana practice. Either I missed something or we weren’t told, but there was no asana practice today. Instead, I heard Bharath from behind shuffling a plastic bag which he was taking to each of us. I noticed everyone was pulling something out. Soon it was my turn to pick from the mysterious plastic bag and it turned out to be a little plastic bottle, which resembled a miniature watering can, and in Bharath’s hand was a packet of terra cotta coloured rubber catheters. With a huge grin and very curious look on my face, Bharath laughed as I took my bottle and catheter from him, which naturally made the rest of the class laugh also. Looks like there was no asana practice after all. We were going straight into it!
With bottle and catheter in hand, we all sat on our mats looking front and listening closely as Bharath talked us through the ‘how’ to perform these Kriyas. Then before we knew it, we were all outside on the sidewalk, directly out the front of the Shala, watching a proper demonstration. Ragu, one of the other teachers and assistants (who has the most infectious smile and clearly found this entertaining), stood on the stairwell with a blue bucket full of warm saline water and the familiar scoop and tumblers we used last week when doing Shankaprakshalana. Flashbacks!
Bharath, standing on the edge of the gutter of death out the front of his house, lifted his little bottle up to Ragu’s level where Ragu then filled it with water. Bharath then proceeded with his demonstration of how to do Jala Neti, bending over the deep gutter, tilting his head to one side and placing the spout of the bottle into his nostril. I smiled as I watched water pouring from my teachers nose, knowing I would be doing the same in a matter of minutes. It’s fun when Bharath get’s involved in our practice. There is so much confidence built up when our teacher is beside us in class performing the asanas. So seeing him doing the Kriyas was also really fun - and reassuring.
After rinsing out little bottles, we each approached Ragu from different angles, (base of the stairs, gutters etc) to have our bottles filled. Everyone seemed to be in a rush to get started. With warm saline water ready to go, I squatted at the end of the gutter, tilted my head slightly and placed the spout in my right nostril. At first the water dribbled back out from where it came, but with mouth open and a focused mind, I too had water pouring from the opposite nostril. Water and snot I should say. Let’s not beat around the bush here! I didn’t find Jala Neti too difficult to do which was a great start.
Next came Sutra Neti - using the catheter. This was a little more challenging to say the least. My gag reflex is generally pretty good, but this took it to a whole other level.
Bharath again squatted at the end of the gutter, and after dipping his catheter into the saline water, with eyes closed and a clearly focused mind, Bharath fed the catheter through his nose and out of his mouth. He then pulled it back and forth, back and forth just like someone drying their back with a towel. Again, I couldn’t stop smiling. I thought it was hilarious we were about to do the same and I was so eager to try.
Now it was our turn. With fresh saline water in my little bottle and catheter in hand, I walked to the side of the road where I squatted among others in preparation for this new experience. I drew my attention to the rocks on the ground and committed to stilling my mind. I knew without 100% focus on what we we’re doing, that catheter would go nowhere!
Pressed between my right thumb and index finger, I began feeding the rubber catheter through my right nostril. At first there was a slight burning pain and then a very uncomfortable pressure, but as I worked with the catheter, knowing I must have been going up the wrong way (as we had been warned) I suddenly realised it was just going in and in and in and in with no pain at all. I then felt the catheter enter the back of my throat and this is when the difficulty came. I instantly starting gagging on it. All I wanted to do was swallow but this just made the gagging worse. I was worried I was about to do my own version of Vamana Dhauti on the side of the road but with the wrong Kriya! All around me I can hear people dry reaching as they try to pull the catheter through. With eyes watering, dribble and snot running down my arms and hanging from my mouth and nose, I was determined to keep trying. My difficulty was in the grabbing part. I just couldn’t get hold of the catheter as it sat so far in the back of my through. But after a few more attempts, and still focused on those rocks, I pulled it through. The immediate response was to vomit, but after a couple of deep breaths I managed to control that feeling and actually walked over the Ragu and asked he take my picture! I was so proud of myself. I wriggled the catheter back and forth through my nose and throat, just as Bharath did, before pulling it out through my mouth. That was probably the most sickening part. It felt like I was pulling my insides out. I can’t even describe it, but let’s just say it was not a pleasurable sensation.
I then did the left side also. Same story. A little tricky at first, then gagging, then retrying again whilst trying not to vomit, then getting it through! To finish, you then do Jala Neti again to clean the nostrils completely. I was really chuffed with myself by the end of it. I was so pleased I did it. All the people who, earlier in the week, had repeatedly said they don’t think they can do it, or complained about doing it, struggled and didn’t end up completing the Kriya. Their negativity about the process made their bodies completely shut down when it came to doing it. This is why an open mind and acceptance is so important. Then anything is possible.
Finally, we were onto Vamana Dhauti. The grande finale! Ragu stood on the steps with a full bucket of warm water, tumblers and the scoop ready to pour the cups of water. We needed to work quickly here to make the vomiting happen. Bharath selected two of the boys in our class to begin as he was confident these boys would set a good example of how it’s done. Bharath said he needed people who won’t struggle to start this off so everyone else is not affected. If one person struggles, then everyone thereafter will struggle also. Tio and Paul, our two Frenchmen, stood on the edge of the gutter near to Ragu and prepared for the race to drink. The goal was to drink 10 tumblers, about 3 litres, as quickly as possible. Paul was ridiculously quick. I think he downed his in about 2 minutes. Tio was a little slower but not far behind.
And then then vomiting starts! With fingers in throats, bending over the hole in the ground Paul started heaving and water just gushed out of his mouth. All over the floor and into the drain. Bharath stood on the other side of the gutter with his hand Paul’s back, patting him firmly to encourage Paul to keep vomiting. Tio then started. My goodness what a sight we must have been. With the entire class plus strangers on the street stopping to watch, this was not for the faint hearted.
Next was me. Tio was pushed along the edge to make room for me to start also. Ragu handed me my cup and filled it to the brim. The all too familiar warm feeling of the metal tumbler was enough to cause a shudder. With my left hand I held onto the black metal post of the fence, focused on a small black spot on the white paint, took a deep breath and went for it. I sculled my first cup within about 5-8 seconds, the next the same and just kept going. The pressure in my belly was building up so quickly but as soon as I thought there was no more room to keep drinking, the pressure would mildly release and another tumbler would go down. Water was dribbling down my chin and running down my arms. At this point another student had also commenced the process but I think he only drank about 4 cups before starting as he clearly struggled to drink. I could feel the water from his spew spraying all over my feet. Not nice! But it was just water so nothing to stress about.
I lost count after tumbler number 7, so I think I ended up drinking 9 when Bharath said it was ok to stop. I honestly thought my insides were about to explode. I handed my cup to Ragu urgently and then turned to face the hole in the ground, where my friends had just vomited, and started heaving. Water just started pouring out, like turning a tap on high. As I started to slow, as I was using reflexes alone, Bharath told me to put my fingers down my throat - so I did! With Bharath’s hand on my back making me feel completely safe throughout the process, I kept heaving and throwing up. The amount of water which came out was incredible. Water was gushing all over the floor and my feet. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience, but it was an experience! Bharath kept willing me on to keep going, always sounding so pleased the more I threw out. I think he really loves doing this stuff with his students. Because it is just fun!
With legs shaking, snot pouring from my nose, dribble all over my hands and eyes watering profusely, I wasn’t sure I could keep going too much longer before collapsing into the hole! I probably stood there, bent over, for about 3 minutes and then it was done. With a proud pat on the back, especially as I was the first girl to give the challenge a go, I was sent upstairs with the others to lay in Savasana for half an hour.
The others who were very negative or fearful of the process told me they weren’t going to try it - and so they didn’t. I think this is really unfortunate, as these experiences offer so much learning. Not only about the technical part of the Kriya, but about our own minds. Our ability to control our thoughts, remain focused and challenge ourselves. This is so important and is the whole point of yoga! But, I appreciate not everyone is comfortable so of course it’s up to them. I just know I would have been terribly disappointed had I not tried all three of these Kriyas, and I feel pretty proud of myself that I completed them all.
After spending some time in Savasana, Bharath gently tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention. He told me to pack up and go downstairs for the famous kitchari his wife had made. The same, bland kitchari with olive oil (for me - others have ghee) as last week. Again, this is important as the oil needs to help coat the lining of the stomach again, whilst the lack of flavour stops any irritants from harming the digestive tract whilst it’s vulnerable.
Myself and Tio sat in my favourite front room of Bharath’s home, as we ate our breakfast. As I had my camera with me I couldn’t help but get a couple of pictures of the glowing sun coming through the gorgeous bay windows. Bharath came and sat with us, explaining how important it is that we now take time to be silent and notice the pranic body. That it is only those people who have an inner awareness who will experience the pranic body and as teachers, we need to experience what this feels like. Its not about theory - its about the experience. Only then comes wisdom. I love this.
Bharath explained that those people who are too focused on the outside world are unable to do Kriyas like this. Their body is not open to it. This meant more to me than he probably realised. Considering I am someone who has really struggled to find balance in my life, to block out all the noise - I really felt like I must have made progress with my practice as I was able to complete the Kriyas. Yay!
So that’s my story. My experience with Jala Neti, Sutra Neti and Vamana Dhauti. Three kriyas which I definitely recommend people do under the right supervision and with the right mindset. The benefits can be infinite.
I shall now rest and study for the rest of the weekend before returning to class Monday morning.