What It’s Like to Do Yoga in Rishikesh, India

I sat alone in the dark yoga studio, waiting for the class to begin. I had arrived early, but was now wondering if other students would be joining the class. I had been in India for 2 months and had still not experienced the stretching, strengthening, breathing exercise in its country of birth.

I was looking forward to finding out how similar or different the practice would be from what I had done in the US. Yoga is one of my favorite forms of exercise and I wondered, would I also love yoga in India?

The teacher arrived and began the instruction. Apparently, I would be getting a private class. The young bearded Indian man started with Oms, a practice sometimes skipped in American yoga classes. I worked and often failed to hold the tone out as long as the instructor.

Sun salutations followed. I easily fell into the familiar flow. The balance poses were trickier. Out of practice, I had to lean against the wall for some poses.

Then I was instructed to sit on the floor cross legged for a breathing exercise. This was something new. The teacher demonstrated his special technique. He bent his elbows and clasped his hands over his chest. Pressing down on his chest, he blew forcefully out of his nose repeatedly. Stopped. Blew his nose with a tissue and continued.

Now it was my turn. I was given a tissue and told to begin. Flapping my elbows like I was doing the Chicken Dance, I blew air out of my nose with the same rhythm. It was immediately obvious that I would be needing the tissue.

After blowing my nose, the technique continued. For several minutes, the teacher chanted for me to breathe and press on my chest, faster and faster. At this point, I started to fear that the whole thing was a rouse to get me to hyperventilate and pass out.

But eventually the exercise ended and we finished class with relaxation. Never have I been so grateful to lay on my yoga mat. And I have always loved shavasana pose.

The class finished and I paid and thanked the teacher.

“Did you like my special breathing exercise? “ he asked.

“Yes,” I lied and didn’t return to this yoga studio during my time in Rishikesh.

Rishikesh

Yog Breath is a strange breathing practice. I wasn’t a fan.

Next I tried Swami Vivekananda Yoga and Medition School.

Rishikesh

The room was filled with western travelers for the afternoon Vinyasa Flow class. We began with Oms and then sun salutations. After this, because this was a flow class, we moved quickly from one pose to the next.

The afternoon sun warmed the room and soon I breathing hard and sweating. It felt good keeping up with the young travelers in the class. When it came time for headstands, I impressed myself by being able to push my leg straight over my body with my head and hands in a tripod.

Then I went to a beginner’s class with Rand and the girls.

The girls giggled some in the balance poses, but managed to succeed at many of the other poses.

Later we enjoyed quoting the instructor.

“Push yourself, but don’t cross your limit.”

“Enjoy the painful parts.”

At this school I also took a Astana Vinyasa class, which was very similar to the Flow class, but, you know, without the flow.

In this class I learned that I wasn’t exactly doing the yoga headstands correctly. It turns out you are supposed clasp your hands behind your head and balance on your head and elbows instead of using your hands to make tripod. This was a lot harder, but I did manage to get my legs in the air and keep them there for a few seconds once.

The Classic Hatha class was the least strenuous of the ones I took at Swami Vivekananda. And thank goodness it did not include a strange breathing exercise like at Gyan Yog Breath.

All of the classes ended with chanting, a practice often left out of yoga classes in the US. Chanting isn’t my favorite part of yoga, but during my time in Rishikesh, I gained a appreciation for it. I liked the rhythmic pattern and the vibrations I felt as the whole class chanted together, like a choir holding a final note.

I really liked the drop-in classes at Swami Vivekananda, but wanted see what a class at an ashram was like, so I did a drop-in Vinyasa Flow class at Shree Sant Shiva Ashram. The class ended up being taught by one of the same instructors from Swami and followed the same pattern.

If you find yourself in Rishikesh and want to participate in drop in yoga classes, I highly recommend Swami Vivekananda School. The instructors, all small young Indian guys, are very professional (and extremely flexible!).

The classes will seem familiar if you have done yoga in the west, but have added some elements of Indian spirituality.

I had wanted to stay in an ashram for part of our time in Rishikesh to participate in a daily schedule of yoga and try out the savic meals. The one ashram I tried to book ahead was full. I thought I might be able to find one once we got there, but most seemed to be like very basic guesthouses that offered some yoga classes. We were happy with our guesthouse, so we just stayed there while I took drop-in yoga classes.

I still think it would be fun to stay at an ashram and maybe even do a yoga teacher training class to learn more in depth about this ancient practice. Perhaps next time.

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