India is a country that means a lot to Steve and I, it’s where we first met in 2011 and somewhere that we both feel connected to. India is also a fantastic country to sort yourself out, whether emotionally or physically or both due to the range of courses and spirituality that are simply electrifying in India. One thing I know for sure is, I always leave India feeling a lot more patient.
Steve and I both knew we needed to come to India to overcome some battles in our lives, and when we found Atmavikasa, a one month yoga therapy course in Mysore India, we knew this was where we needed to go even though we didn’t have much yoga experience at all.
Firstly, why come to India to do a yoga course?
Believe it or not, but spending four years in Sydney, trying to save every bit of money so we could travel, was ultimately hard work and quite traumatising in itself with the pressure we put on ourselves.
I’ve been sick with SIBO for three years, a condition I got apparently from food poisoning at a restaurant which causes very bad back pain and severe bloating which makes me look 8 months pregnant pretty much all the time. It’s been emotionally and physically damaging beyond words but I’ve still tried to remain as a positive person.
I had also read this post which explains how simply breathing can cure SIBO. I’ve tried a lot of stuff to get rid of this condition and I’ll keep trying until I’m back to feeling like me again. I thought this was the next step to see if by incorporating yoga into my life will help or best yet, make a massive difference.
How much yoga had we done before?
Honestly, we didn’t have much experience at all. We had done a few beginner Ashtanga courses in Sydney which we loved but it was always the same course so we didn’t learn anything new and worst of all, we never made it a daily practice.
We also did a few Hatha classes on Varkala Beach when we arrived in India a few weeks before the course started which we absolutely loved and decided Hatha seemed to be more appropriate for us with slower moves and what seemed to be more meditation involved.
From my lack of yoga knowledge, I’ll be using very basic terminology as you can already see in this post to describe what the course was actually like.
Why did we choose the Hatha Prana Intensive Course at Atmavikasa in Mysore?
Funnily enough, Mysore is famous for the Pattabhi Jois shala, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, now ran by his grandchildren. Yoga fanatics come from all over the world to come and do their mysore practice at this shala.We randomly walked past the famous shala in Gokkalam. It looked like a beautiful shala too!
We however chose a hatha course instead that was nowhere near the suburb of Gokkalam (the yoga centre of Mysore). Based 5KM outside of the city, we chose this course because firstly you didn’t need any yoga experience whatsoever and we later learnt it’s better if you don’t have any because you’re taught everything from scratch from one of the world’s best backbending experts.
But, it wasn’t just a yoga course, this course is designed to actually transform your life for the better. A course that’s designed to make you look deep within through experiencing good and bad pain. There were also more elements added in like yoga philosophy and a detox diet. It ticked all the boxes for us so we signed up for this course.
The timetable looked like this:
9:00-9:30 break (we had to bring at least four bananas with us to eat straight after yoga for breakfast)
9:30-10:30 yoga philosophy
10:30-15:45 free time but we had to sleep at least one hour from 12pm onwards
15:45-16:45 Back bending class (then eat 4 bananas straight after)
How much did the one month yoga course cost?
This was actually the most expensive course we found in Mysore at AU$1,100 each. We also had to find our own accommodation and pay for food on top. Food was actually very cheap and our accom was overpriced for India standards, see below for more.
Total cost each in AU$:
Accom: $350 for the month
Food: $200 (approx)
Total each: $1650 (roughly £825)
How did we prepare for the course?
We finally found Decathalon, a sports store to prepare for the course.
One of the hardest parts was actually finding everything we needed for the course in Mysore before it started. Obviously if you’re coming from the West, it will be easy peasy, but in India, it’s impossible to find simple things we take for granted.
For this course, we needed to wear plain white t-shirts and leggings below the knees. We also needed yoga mats too and we found all of this eventually at Decathalon store in Mysore which is a big sports store. We loved this place and went there most days on our time off from the course. We found white tees for $1 each, a yoga mat for $20(we later bought really awesome travel mats from there when the course finished to take on our travels for $40. You don’t need a fancy mat to do this course) and leggings were like $3.
We also needed to have a 1 litre water bottle which was also a mission to find (go to the Kitchen Shop), notepad and pen for the classes and photocopies of our passports and visas. We were able to buy all of this on Udayaravi Road next to Suvarna Residency hotel.
Where did we stay?
Our room at Golden Bells Apartments, Mysore
We spent two days searching for somewhere to stay and ended up caving in and staying at Golden Bells which was recommended to us by Atmavikasa. When I say we caved in, it’s because they charged AU$700 a month (R35,000)between us which is insane. The manager is bonkers but glad we stayed there in the end because it was the only place close to the shala which was a 6 minute walk away, something you’d appreciate at 6am. But, don’t expect much from this place – it’s a soulless building and very hot inside (the aircon didn’t work too well) but it is India so you can’t compare to back home really. It’s also supposed to be a serviced apartment and when we did eventually get them to clean it, it was more of a sweep the living room and put some bleach in the toilet kinda job.
The sunset views from our apartment at Golden Bells.
Gokkalam is a beautiful part of Mysore and if you feel confident to get a scooter then you could find somewhere there for much, much cheaper. Because we arrived at the end of the season in March, most of the yoga tourists had left by then so accom prices had dropped. We found some places that were charging like R15,000 for the month (AU$300) so you can save on money. We would have had a much nicer time if we stayed there but we didn’t feel confident to rent a scooter (loads of girls on our course rented them and were happy), and we worked out it would probably cost us more with tuk tuk rides twice a day than staying at Golden Bells in the end.
One piece of advice is to join the Mysore Ashtanga Community FB page to find accommodation and tips on living in Mysore. As soon as we arrived in Mysore we just went for some food at Depth N Green (turned out to be our favourite place too!) in Gokkalam and asked other tourists where they were staying. We got leads from there and started looking at loads of apartments.
We spent the first few nights at the Suvarna Residency Hotel which is the closest hotel to the shala. It was really dirty and the worst place we stayed in, during our entire travels. I’d stay elsewhere when you first arrive in Mysore.
The Detox Diet
Part of the course required a detox diet. This meant no processed sugar, and a vegan diet to be maintained throughout the course. One requirement was to eat at least 4 bananas after each class (in the morning and afternoon).
Luckily a new supermarket opened around the corner from the shala and we bought bananas from there which were super cheap.
We didn’t cook at all (even though we had the appliances to do so in our apartment) and paid R130 each for lunch from an organic shop next to the shala which lasted for both lunch and dinner. This shop was great and had some awesome health food such as protein balls etc. We bought lunch from here everyday during the course.
A typical South India lunch and dinner during the course from Truna’s shop.
Otherwise we went up the road to The Family Restaurant for more traditional South Indian dishes like veg curry and rice, or dosa.
There wasn’t a huge selection of places to eat at and we often zipped over to Gokkalam to Depth N Green for some good healthy food (the vegan thali is incredible there!)Vegan thali at Depth N Green was just amazing! Try the smoothies too!
Old House is an Italian restaurant we went to when we broke the diet for vegan pizza or a veg sandwich which was nice to break away from the constant rice dishes.A vegan pizza at Old House Restaurant, Mysore.
And we also went to the Olive Garden which is part of a hotel which was incredibly cheap ($4 for a main) considering how swanky it was and also to The Raddison for top notch service at again cheap prices.Having dinner with some of our course friends at The Radisson.
There’s also not a great deal to see in Mysore apart from the beautiful palace and there’s a few day trips to be had like to visit the Tibetan town a few hours away as well as various waterfalls.
What were the other people like on the course?
In my head, I thought we would have a laugh with the other yoga students, but I quickly learnt that everyone was on their own path, maybe trying to conquer emotional or physical pain and therefore they kept to themselves. We were living with a French girl in our apartment who was also on the course with us and we hardly heard a peep out of her during the entire time.
But it made me realise to look deep within myself too, I mean, that’s why I was there.
The course was made up of about 15 of us, mostly women and Stevo and another guy. People were from all over the world and all spoke good English.
We became friends with our neighbours at Golden Bells who were also on the course, three women from Scotland. Angela (left, in picture above), had met the teachers before during a 5 day intensive course in Scotland before and came back to help with her own situation.
Angela’s story was not only fascinating, but courageous and it really brought perspective into my own life. Three years ago, as her father died from Parkinson’s disease, she then found out she too had it. At the same time, her husband was having an affair and she had to give up her job she loved. This all happened to her within a year, ONE YEAR! I couldn’t believe it. After she had to quit her job, she became a yoga teacher and finds that Parkinson’s disappears when she’s on her mat. She got a lot out of the course, and probably her biggest achievement was being able to swim again after the course. I felt really happy for her and it’s always a story I will remember whenever I think something isn’t going to plan, I will think of what she’s been through. Her strength was unbelievable and she’s also doing a fundraiser in Scotland in November 2018. Read more here if you want to get involved.
What did I learn from the course?
A before and after of my body changes from the course.
Although Angela taught me alot on the course, I actually found the course to be one of the hardest things I have ever done for not only my mind but for my body.
They taught pure yoga, where you have to hold each pose for a period of time. It was hard, like really hard. The teacher was incredibly disciplined, but I wondered if I had gone back to school and I quickly learnt his teaching technique was not only effective but it all made sense to me as time went on. He was in fact a really caring and lovely man whom I felt very inspired to be around.
Good and bad pain.
The physical pain was undeniably confronting. Holding poses for long periods of time (OK, maybe 5 minutes but it felt like forever!), meditating whilst sitting on your feet gave me the worst pins and needles I’ve ever experienced and as a whole, I’ve not ever put myself through this kind of pain before. But it was about figuring out what pain is good pain and bad pain. I needed to embrace the good pain within this course.
SIBO came back with a vengeance.
After the first 3 days of the course, I was struck down with the worst SIBO pain of my life. I was in so much pain, I could hardly walk let alone lie down without being in any pain in my stomach and back. It was horrendous having to stay in the hot apartment for days whilst I tried to get over it and emotionally, it was one of the worst times of my life. I felt alone, I was gutted I was missing out on the course whilst Steve would come back looking radiant (which I was so pleased for him), and I started to feel like the course wasn’t for me.
In the end, when I did go back, I found it very hard to do the yoga poses when mentally, I was very fragile. In the end I felt like this needed to happen in order for me to get better, and as they called it, it was part of the ‘detox’ process.
So once I pulled myself together, I started to really enjoy the classes. As a SIBO sufferer, I actually never realised how weak my body really was. I was the worst in the class, I couldn’t hold poses well enough and more than anything, I learnt how weak my back was. As a competitive person, this was soul destroying and a very confronting time. Because I was truly confronted with my condition, it was something I needed to let go of.
A huge turning point for me was learning about hydration. I can openly admit that I have never drank enough water. I don’t know why, but I’d struggle to drink maybe even a litre a day, regardless of the climate. During the course we had to literally down a litre twice a day after class and then sip two more litres in between classes. That’s four litres a day we had to drink. I started to see the benefits straight away, it was incredible. I felt alive again, stronger, and my body was loving it.
Hydration is probably something I’ve maintained since the course finished and something I will continue to make sure I drink those litres everyday. Our faces started to change with the process, skin was clearing up and both Steve and I were starting to look younger!
Although the water made a huge difference, because we had to sleep an hour between classes in the day, we constantly felt jet lagged the entire month. We both had really random dreams, I was dreaming about loads of things and people in my past that I haven’t thought of in years, it was quite amazing with the detox process.
Did yoga cure SIBO?
I went into the course actually thinking and hoping it would cure my SIBO. Obviously it didn’t, and although I was faced with some of the worst SIBO times of my life, I ended the course feeling much better. I realised that doing a one month yoga course wasn’t going to be a quick fix, that it was something that would change the rest of my life, as long as I put the effort into it.
The course taught me to accept what I have and to embrace it. I know I have a weak body but I also have a very strong mind. Sometimes SIBO takes over and diminishes my mind but the course taught me to embrace the pain. I lost about two inches off my waist during the course and the swelling went down massively. Interestingly, constipation would alternate most days for me but the main thing was, I was more regular than I had been before.
What did each week look like?
I wrote down some notes to share what my experience was really like at Atmavikasa.
I felt an instant shift in my physical and mental body in the first three days and was absolutely loving the course. Once I got ill during the middle, I felt like I had fallen into a black hole. It was horrible. I found out that apparently I was experiencing all of the detox symptoms in the first three days rather than what one would experience in the first three weeks. My body was aching a lot from the intensity of the course, which eventually got easier as time went on. Steve on the other hand was doing amazing with the course, and I felt a huge amount of guilt for burdening him with my illness.
First two days were hard and emotional, but by the end of the week I felt amazing.
I started to realise what the course was about. The idea of accepting pain whether good or bad and being able to embrace it. I found myself fearful of pain when trying to hold poses but I realised there was still a lot of pain emotionally and physically still to come out of me.
By the end of the week, I had jumped milestones. I started to notice improvements in my practice and the one thing I really wanted to do by the end of the course was to touch my toes and I already knocked that one out of the park!
The back bending classes were the most beneficial for me. I was shocked to learn that my back was indeed incredibly weak but I found the classes both difficult and rewarding at the same time. I felt like my back was getting stronger and it felt amazing, something that maybe was helping with my SIBO.
I was afraid of the creole, a technique where you pull your stomach muscles and organs in and up into the rib cage but I somehow knew this would be good for SIBO so I eventually embraced it again during week 3.
I had eventually got into the flow of the course by week 3. I really started to embrace the pain both good and bad and I finally felt like I was getting something out of it.
Would I recommend the course?
By the end of the course, I felt a million times better than when I started it. I felt like the course opened up a lot that I needed to get out of me and so I wanted more. Although the course wasn’t instantly life changing, I knew the course was designed so we can change our own lives, not someone else do it for us. I knew I needed to make yoga a daily practice, to really be able to connect with myself and not live indenial of my condition or of my emotional state. We have so many distractions in the Western world that it’s easy to forget or not know who you really are.
So, we decided to continue with our healing journey and left the course a few days early so we could head up into the foothills of the Himalayas to go back to the Buddhist course where Steve and I originally met, called Tushita. A course designed by two Tibetan monks for Westerners, we knew we needed to continue the emotional journey to better our lives. Then we also decided to top it off with a trek to Everest Base Camp (a 13 day walking meditation as I saw it!). More to come on those soon!
If I could recommend one thing about the course, I wish I did the meditation course first to clear my mind before I did this yoga course. I think I would have found it more beneficial but who knows what would have happened? I’m glad I did this course even if it was confronting, it taught me an awful lot about who I was and who I now am 🙂