Best Iyengar Yoga Teacher in Rishikesh: Usha Devi

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Now I’m going to tell you about notorious Iyengar yoga teacher in Rishikesh, Usha Devi. I was taking her class for a few weeks 2 years ago, and I got back for a few more weeks this year. Once again I concluded that nothing works on the body level as deep and as profound as Iyengar yoga. Before Usha, I was visiting classes of other hatha yoga teachers, all of them are very good masters, but once you go to Iyengar class, you know for sure that your body starts to work in much more profound way, and you engage not only big and superficial muscles, but deep, small, medium – all muscles that you can engage as much as your nervous system allows you to.

The effect also largely depends on who exactly teaches you principles of Iyengar yoga, as some Iyengar classes from other teachers here in Rishikesh may be quite boring, self repetitive, and not conductive to total involvement of student’s attention into the process of body alignment. Usha is the best teacher to get you working on the brink of your abilities, not only due to precise and detailed instructions, but also by really demanding maximum efforts from everybody in the class. This is done quite in a military style, and you will often hear words like “Hey, what are you doing?”, “Are you sleeping?!”, “Hey, what is this, I said open your fingers!”, etc. You may also get occasional slap on the buttocks or on the back if you aren’t following her instructions. For some very sensitive people, such military style of class may seem too much and not conductive to the spirit of yoga, where you should relax and let go of all the tension. But it surely serves the purpose of perfect body alignment and concentrating on mental attention on the body, on particular parts of the body that you’re currently working on.

Why do we need perfect alignment? It’s not as much to make you look perfect in the asana, as sometimes you may use straps, blocks and other props that do not look actually beautiful and appealing. Perfect alignment, as I see it from my experience, serves several purposes:

  1. Safety during yoga class. By following instructions of Iyengar yoga teacher, which are very precise and quite “medical”, as Usha describes them herself, you can enhance physical possibilities of your body in a safe way, being sure that you will not dislocate your knees, compress your spine, or tear some ligaments.
  2. Enhanced control of your body, and awareness of body processes. Iyengar yoga students who learn to control movements of smaller muscles and direction of skin, immensely enhance control of their body, which can be used afterwards in any style of yoga or physical activity at all.
  3. Improvement of health. This point logically follows previous two. Iyengar yoga is able to work profoundly on some problematic areas of the body, and alleviate physical problems. Usha herself is a great example of this. She got into serious car accidents two times during her life, that impacted her health significantly. Her pelvis and the bones of her legs were crashed, and the doctors told there was no way of her being able to walk again. Unbelievably as it may sound, with the guidance and strict help of her guru, B K S Iyengar, he got on her feet back again and now teaches Iyengar yoga, inspiring hundreds of people who visit her classes every year. In her class, I saw several people of age definitely over 60 who were as light and flexible as Russian ballerinas. One of such women told me that just a few years ago she was crooked and experienced difficulties in moving.
  4. Attainment of dharana though concentration on the body. During Usha’s class, you will have no opportunity to think of anything else besides following her instructions, which lie in watching and controlling your muscles, skin, and breathing. All the process is rooted in the body, and with good Iyengar teacher, your attention will be in your body during entire class. And as yogis say, wherever is your attention, that’s the place your energy goes.

There are few other teachers in Rishikesh that teach Iyengar yoga, but they are not as brilliant because they are not able to bring students’ attention to their body as well as Usha does, and cannot attain similar intensity of the class. For some people, however, because of same reasons, these other teachers may be a good option. As thought the benefits are numerous, increased intensity of the Usha’s class leads to increased nervous strain, which may lead to some nervous tension or even breakdowns for unprepared students. Of course, with time both body and psyche adapts to the level of intensity of the class, and there are many devoted students of Usha who feel great and attend her classes every day. Other people however, need some rests from these classes. In any case, it’s very beneficial to have additional meditation sessions, as shavasana in Iyengar’s class is very brief and may not be enough to relieve all nervous tension.

This, however, is not the reason to skip the class. If you’re serious yoga practitioner, or moreover, if you’re yoga teacher, you must learn Iyengar method of body alignment to make sure you understand your own or your student’s body and don’t harm yourself or your students. Afterwards, you can teach any style of yoga, but you will be greatly enriched with understanding of safety principles and mechanisms of intensifying body work.

With all that said, it’s not that easy to get to Usha’s class as her intensives are booked several months ahead, and her classes are always full. You should sign up for the next week class on Saturday, at 7 :30 PM, if you have place after all the students participating in previous week’s classes have signed up.

Time of classes: 6-7:30 PM from Monday till Saturday, every morning from 7:30 to 11 AM is a self-practice in the same hall.

Place of Class: Omkaragaganda Ganga Sadan Patanjala Yoga Kendra, next to Taxi stand near Ramjhula, Rishikesh. If you go from Rishikesh, you don’t need to cross the bridge, the center is on the same side of the bridge where Rishikesh city is.

You can read other people’s reviews on Usha Devi on yoga review and recommendation site, TopYogis. 

Back to Rishikesh for yoga

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Hi guys! It’s been a while since I wrote my last post. That’s all because I was traveling around Asia for 2-month long “visa run” to India. Now I’m back in Rishikesh and will attend some more classes of really good yoga teachers here. I will report on them in my blog, so that you could be fully armed with references before coming to Rishikesh.

So for the a few next months, I am going to visit classes of Usha Devi (Iyengar yoga), Surinder Singh, Yogi Vishvaketu (Akhand and Kundalini yoga), Yogananda Baba (Yoga Sukshma Viyama), Japanese woman teaching in Shivavanda ashram (don’t know her name yet, but got a good reference from friends), Vinay Chaitnya (Hatha yoga, Raj Yoga and Tantra), Kamal Bhatt (Hatha yoga), Naveen Joshi (Akhand and Kindalini), Kamal Singh (Ashtanga Vinyasa) and perhaps some more teachers. I will post my feedback on classes of these teachers, with complete details on timing and place. You will also get details on other teachers whose classes I don’t plan to visit (anymore) but you may run upon them once you’re here. So stay tuned!

What you should avoid if you go to Rishikesh for yoga for the first time

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Rishikesh is a great place to go to if you’re into yoga, but to use most of it, you need to know a little about how to navigate around the place.  The city is so publicized as yoga capital that some local entrepreneurs take advantage of it and flood the place with their yoga services, even if they are not really yoga masters or even good practitioners. Some people, inspired by stories about Rishikesh, pack their things in anticipation of finding great knowledge there, but can end up in some questionable ashram or low quality yoga class and quickly get disappointed about entire affair.

Of course, you can ask people around – that’s in case you arrived in the high season and there are a lot of westerners there to advise you. But it’s always better to be equipped with some practical advice before you go, not to get into the same trap as some malfortunate yoga lovers before you did. So here’s the list of the first don’ts that come to my mind about visiting Rishikesh as the first timer:

Don’t trust guidebooks.  I relied on the guidebook advice when I first came to Rishikesh and really got to very mediocre places in terms of yoga. In fact, I got so disappointed that I wanted to leave the place right away, and I would do if one traveler did not advise me to visit a good yoga class. In fact, you can use such guides as Lonely Planet mainly for good maps, because everything else just does not work. Why?

First, hotels and guest houses that get to Lonely Planet quickly become very expensive and lower the standards of quality, because they assume that being into the guide is already a competitive advantage over their rivals. So you better seek accommodation somewhere near the places that are in Lonely Planet, not in them – otherwise you will overpay.

Second, what these guides advise you on yoga is mostly rubbish – I have a feeling that journalists have one day or so to write on the city, and they don’t have very good experience in yoga to judge whether the place is good or not. Some local people say, that Lonwy Planet journalists even don’t try out the classes they advise – they just go into the place, get details on classes, and enter them into the guide. So there, they can recommend you even some courses that are really low quality. Imagine that you trust the guide, come to a place, and engage with such course right away… Of course, there are always good exceptions – last time I checked they had Usha’s classes in their guide, and also Bhuwan Chandra’s music school is a place that really deserves to be referred to. Still, many other places are just really strange selections in terms of quality of yoga classes.

Don’t assume that every “ashram” in Rishikesh is a real ashram – most are just hotels. I assume that governmental regulations on who can call their hotel an ashram are missing or very scarce, and business minded people in Rishikesh are using that. There is a great number of “ashrams” in Rishikesh, mostly at Lakshman Jhula, that are not ashrams at all – in a sense, they don’t have any spiritual activities, they don’t have any gurus living there, they don’t have any children or monks living/studying there. They are plainly hotels with paid yoga classes, and very often with yoga teachers of dubious quality. Try to pop in at Sri Sant Sewa Ashram at Lashshman Jhula and find at least one sign of a real ashram there. And still Lonely Planet recommends them as “ashram”.

Others, like Parmarth Niketan, used to be really good ashrams but got so commercialized, and spiritual activities are so reduced, that you will basically pay for a nice garden and aarti ceremony in the evening. There used to be a 103 year old baba teaching free morning yoga class, but management stopped the class, and as the rumor goes, the reason is that baba is not bringing money. The food that’s included in stay is not very good, is not one of the most delicious sattvic foods around the place, and for a price you pay in Parmarth, you could find much better options in regards of both accommodation and food. And of course in regards of yoga and meditation activities. The place is very advertised in guidebooks, and that again brings us to the first advice of the post – don’t trust guidebooks. If you’re in Rishikesh for yoga, after staying in Parmarth for one month, you can finally look around and regret that you lost so many other opportunities.

Don’t assume that every baba in Rishikesh is a real baba – most are just beggars and drug dealers. Some foreigners come to Rishikesh with acutely romantic view on people in orange robes. It seems to me that even some guides contain warning regarding such people. There are no regulations on who can wear such clothes, and no special procedure of initiation. Just whoever buys an orange robe is considered a baba. While there are some really powerful babas out there walking in the same plain orange clothes, like Yogananda Baba or Beatles Baba – there are quite lots of them, – there are still even more fake babas that use the reputation of the place to beg or sell hashish. The ones that sit on the main bazar roads smoking hash are most likely to be that kind of babas. So please use discrimination and advice of timed travelers if you want communication with real sadhus.

Don’t expect that smoking hash with baba will give you some transcendental experience or enlightenment – most often it will just give you problems with police as many babas have “referral program” with local cops – they report some naive tourists for a share of bakshish. I know this information from local’s stories. You better get your transcendental experience from quality yoga class, but if you sill want to smoke, I assume that conversation with long time foreigners is much more useful for finding things out around the place.

The last advise concerns Rishikesh as well as any other city in India. If you’re in India for the first time, I advise you to eat local food and go less for “Western food”, even if local food may seem too spicy at first. There are reasons behind Indians eating such spicy food, and one of them is protection against parasites and bacterias. We, western people, are not used to local flora and fauna, and we don’t have inborn immunity towards their “animals”, so it would just be much safer to start with local spicy food. Of course, you can experiment, and once you’re acclimatized a bit, you can try any kind of food, but initially it would be nice to go with local.

Well, these are the advises I could come up with right now. I will add more if something else comes to mind, but also I would greatly appreciate your input and opinions on things to do and not to do in Rishikesh. Please, share your experience in comments so that other people could use it.

Good popular yoga teachers: Surinder Singh

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surinder yoga in RishikeshSo Surinder Singh is the first name I mentioned in my blog, thus I will tell more about him here. He’s one of very good teachers in Rishikesh teaching Hatha yoga with elements of Iyengar style and traditional yogic warmups (Sukshma Viyama). He does not give any advertisements anywhere, he’s not mentioned in any guides, he does not spam the walls of the city with his posters, and still he’s the teacher that has so many students, that some of them don’t fit into the class hall. He gets new students solely by referral. It’s a nice idea to ask people around in a local cafe on what they can recommend about yoga. It also depends on the area you’re asking in, but if you ask about yoga teachers in Ram Jhula, most likely you will be referred to Surinder.

What is so good about him? Well, in the first place, he’s a very special Indian yoga teacher that does not try to bend you into final position against your pain and limitations (as most Indian teachers tend to do), he sees the limits of every person and tries to expand what you’re doing into doing it more effectively. So he adjusts you very gently, barely touching you with a finger, and you suddenly feel the area that can be enhanced and that you need to work on. Or he can not touch you at all, just tell you to roll the tailbone or press your sitting bones, etc., and you can see that your posture is significantly improved, not only in regards of physical alignment, but concerning work with energy and attention. This is a very good type of adjustment, as you don’t depend every time on teacher that just puts your hands/shoulders/whatever in some position and you don’t realize what is going on. With Surinder, you can understand inner effect of the posture and apply his recommendations every time you work on your own or with other teacher. So this is a very extraordinary quality that you definitely have to check out.

Another quality of this teacher is that he’s not entirely about physical postures in his class, neither he tells you too many stories from Indian philosophy or some irrelevant things. He’s somewhere in the middle, connecting your physical practice not only to mental work, but spiritual awareness as well, if you allow me such a word. He may be able to connect certain position of your body in asana to your ego, or awareness of your breath to the attitude of letting go. Headstand is an opportunity not only to gain physical benefits of inverted posture, but see things in new light, upward down, which is extrapolated to your attitude to see things in different light in everyday situations. So these little things make his classes not only physically beneficial, but expiring and charging you with positive attitude.

Of course I should mention things that some people may not like. With Surinder these are very few. First, people who are used to very dynamic styles like Ashtanga Vinyasa my find his class too slow, and the postures too static. Even Sun salutations are done in a very static manner, with at least few breaths for each stage of salutation. But very often, this is very positive side. People who are used to dynamic styles suddenly find themselves shaking or sweating extensively on Surinder’s class, because they just lack static strength. Yoga is about balance of all dualities, and every practitioner should find beneficial the opportunity to balance their static and dynamic strength and stamina. So for many lovers of Ashtanga Vinyasa, Surinder’s class can improve their performance, and what’s even more important, create better alignment of each posture, so that they can practice in dynamic regime more consciously and effectively.

Second thing that some may not like concerns mainly hard core Iyengar fans that are not happy that Surinder does not give such detailed instructions as they expect. Well, not every Hatha yoga teacher should explain one asana for twenty minutes – the way it’s usual in Iyengar class, and still Surinder is one of the best explaining teachers. Compared to other folks around here, he talks a lot, not only about muscles and bones, but about energetic effects of each asanas as well. What’s more interesting, he does not give uniform instruction to anyone and he adjusts the instructions every time according to the personal situation of the practitioner. For instance in dandasana, some bend too much and they should work on rolling the tailbone in to make their spine straight, while others are stiff in the lower back and they should roll their thighs in and try to bring the lumbar region forward. So you see, two opposing directions for 2 different people. It all depends on the person, and if you’re lucky to get in non-busy class, you can get some good advice from him. So for anyone except hard core Iyengar fans, the information that Surinder gives will seem more than enough. Moreover, I believe that Surinder’s approach is much better for beginners, because too detailed instructions of Iyengar style can confuse, discourage them and make them miss the big picture of each asana and yoga practice in general.

UPDATE

Places for class:

Surinder has built his own centre that is located between Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula,in a willage behind Moondance cafe and Gita ashram. When you’re in the village, you will see his guesthouse as it’s the highest intensively green building.

You can get to the village in several ways: from Laxman Jhula, when you take the road that jeeps go on to get to Ram Jhula, somewhere in between Laxman Jhula area and Ram Jhula area, there will be one turn to the left that will lead to the hospital (you can ask around). Walk past hospital gate forward and take the first turn to the right. Walk straight and soon you will see a high green building on your left. Find a way to it in the maze of village streets 🙂

Other way is to take the road from Ram Jhula taxi stand near Gita ashram and Moondance cafe, the road leads to local temple and backside of Parmarth Niketan and is otherwise called “elephant road” (because one can literally meet elephants there in a winter time). Take a second turn left, you will see advertisement of Rajdeep palace there, but you don’t need to go to Rajdeep, turn right when you face the wall. Then you will have to take second or third turn left (just find a good looking street that does not look like a drive to one particular guesthouse) and as you walk the street, you will see the green building, that’s your destination.

The timing can change between 8 – 9 AM in the morning depending on the season. For the afternoon, currently, timing is 4:30, but can change with the season as well. The duration of the classes is about 2 hours.

Cost: 200 rupees/class

Now additionally to drop-ins, Surinder conducts teacher training courses. Visit his website, http://swastiyogashala.com/ for dates and more info

You can read more reviews on Surinder, get his contact information and check the exact location of his school at Surinder Singh’s TopYogis page. 

 

Why Yoga in Rishikesh

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Hey everyone interested in exploring yoga in its World Capital, Rishikesh! It’s already third time that I’m in Rishikesh, and every time I stay minimum for three months here, doing yoga morning and evening, 5-6 hours a day. And still, coming here for a third time, I have come across some amazing discoveries that I did not know about 2 last times. This mostly concerns good amazing yoga teachers and yoga centers in Rishikesh.

It may seem surprising that finding really good teachers here may be a difficult task, but it is. The recommendations on yoga in Lonely Planet and other guides are just ridiculous for anyone more or less seriously interested in yoga. It seems like their journalists banged in the first door and recommended classes even without trying them out, or trying them as complete newbies. This results in a situation when you come to a place that is recommended by a guide and get so disappointed in the “yoga” they teach that you want to pack your things and urgently get out of there.

Rishikesh is a heavily publicized place for learning yoga, and at the same time there is no governmental regulations on who is allowed to teach yoga and what certification they should possess for this kind of activity. This results in emergence of huge numbers of yoga teachers and centers that start teaching after completing some weekly or monthly course. So for many “teachers” here yoga is not their passion or even interest, it is just a business of giving lessons and receiving payment for it. So when I arrived in the place for the first time, I got to classes of a few really bad teachers that obviously counted on complete newbies and could not offer anything of value about the subject. I even wanted to leave the place, so much the reality was different from my expectations. By then purely by chance I was advised to visit a class of Surinder Singh, and after that I stayed in Rishikesh for the entire time that my visa allowed me (though I planned to travel a bit previously).

The point of the story is not about Surinder actually, as he is not the sole good teacher here. The point is about the fact that for a newcomer in Rishikesh, it’s very difficult to find someone of value as they are like diamonds in a pile of fake teachers. After going for 2 years to Surinder only, and occasionally to Usha’s Iyengar classes, this year I was surprised to find that there are a lot more great teachers around there, but little people really know about them. Therefore I am making this blog to tell you about my discoveries on yoga in Rishikesh, so that anyone interested in good yoga classes could come here equipped with information from long-time practitioner.