Tag Archives: yoga teacher

Pankaj Sharma, an outstanding yoga teacher

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1918639_378943776943_3339646_nI visited Pankaj’s course in December 2014. I did not write about him then because of the lack of time. But I feel the need to do it anyway because the notes and sequences that I made on that course turned out to be so helpful, that I just feel I must write about this teacher.

Pankaj Sharma is a teacher of asana alignment (mainly, though he teaches pranayama as well) with many years of practice and teaching experience. He started in Rishikesh with local Iyengar teacher Rudra Dev and other Iyengar teachers that contributed a lot to his understanding of mechanics of the human body. Pankaj was a well known teacher in Rishikesh, then some 10 years ago or so he moved to Germany to live there with his family and chose his own path of practice – not strictly Iyengar, but still drawing a lot from similar sources and approaches. He’s Ashish’s brother and comes to Rishikesh to give just one course per year, usually in December, which he conducts in the place where Ashish normally has his classes, in the Green Hotel. This is usually 3 weeks course including 2 classes per day. The course is designed for experienced students and focuses on making them be more aware of their bodies, and learn approaches and tricks to control it better.  Over the time of these three weeks Pankaj shows a path from simplest asanas towards the most challenging ones, developing awareness, motor control, strength, flexibility and endurance.

Usually Pankaj does not allow drop-in classes, you have to take the entire course. The reason for this is very simple: Pankaj designs the course in a way that each class relies on the practice done in the previous one. The first class contains only 3-4 asanas with a lot of explanations and practice of basics, the next lesson builds on those basics to introduce new asanas, refine the previous ones, engage various parts of the body like feet or shoulder-blades or calves. So each lesson expands your understanding of previous practice, deepens and adds more nuances, and by the end of the course you see the whole picture, you are really equipped to do your own practice and know how to work with your body.
One word of caution: this is not a course for beginners. You will be doing pretty intense stuff and you better skip this course and practice with other teachers if you’re only starting your path in yoga, otherwise intensity can hurt you.

If you are interested in yoga alignment, you need to check classes of Pankaj. There are several factors that made his classes very valuable and definitely worth visiting.

He gives really well structured course

Each class is connected to previous, building wholesome picture of human body machine. It’s like you’re looking at the body through magnifying glass, learning to control one muscle at the time, and lesson by lesson connect everything together.

Good expert

Pankaj reads bodies excellently. You have probably heard those notorious anecdotes how alignment teacher looks at the student struggling with hand stand and finds the reason of those difficulties not in weakness of arms or shoulders, but in the fact that the student does not properly press the second phalanx of his index finder, or does not extend the right heel enough, or something like that. Well, jokes aside, it works. Pankaj will look at your body and will be able to identify the reason of your difficulties in certain pose, and very often, this reason will lie far away from the parts of body you think you’re doing this pose with. For example, he can fix your back bends with correct engagement of your feet, or arms, etc. It’s really amusing process and the most amusing part of it, it works.

Right degree of strictness

Pankaj is a strict teacher, he has rules and demands the students to give their best, but he does that with such softness that you never feel stressed. And you always feel that his demands are fair and are there for your own good.

Passionate encouragement

Pankaj can shout, but not in the way that some Iyengar teachers do (maybe because he is not an Iyengar teacher after all). He shouts instructions because he’s so intensely in the moment and wants everyone to pay attention, that it actually gives you encouragement and that extra energy boost. I have never felt any tension, let alone irritation, from his classes. By the contrast, some other “shouting teachers” made me want to kill someone after their classes.

He’s a practitioner

Pankaj practices and can show all those crazy things on his body, which is really helpful because you can SEE what he wants you to do. He is also one of those few teachers in Rishikesh who practice before the class. It’s also great, because you can use that time to approach him with some questions.

Charisma and friendliness

Pankaj socializes with people, very often invites everyone to join him for dinner in Chotiwala or juice place, organizes some picnics and celebrations. You feel a genuine desire to connect with people, to know them more. And this gives a wonderful effect: the whole class becomes like a one unit, one community of friends and colleagues. He knows everybody by name and jokes about himself and students, which makes classes entertaining and more “intimate”. He is really charismatic and open-hearted person.

He’ s not afraid to get his hands dirty

Once Pankaj saw Green hotel’s cleaning lady wipe the hall floor with the same rug she used for toilet. So Pankaj “fired” her right away and cleans the practice hall himself instead. That’s a rare combination of attentiveness and lack of unnecessary pride.

He does not seem to be focused on money-making

When I heard that Pankaj is coming to Rishikesh to give just one course, I thought that the prices would reflect the scarcity of that offer, and would be higher than usual Rishikesh prices. But I was wrong. Each class of the course in December of 2014 cost 200 rupees – that was the one of the LOWEST price asked by teachers in Rishikesh. Long are gone the days when yoga classes in Rishikesh cost 1 or 2 dollars. Now yoga in Rishikesh costs pretty much the same as you would pay in your home country. $5 is good price, and some classes can cost $10 or $15. 200 rupees was a very modest price in 2014 that only few people in Rishikesh charged (including Pankaj’s brother Ashish). But when you think, a teacher that comes from Germany to give just one course per year, and he does not allow drop-in students in the middle of the course (most teachers allow drop ins as it means additional income for each class), then you start thinking that money is not among the primary motivations for such teacher. Maybe this year the prices have changed – I would appreciate comments from those who have visited the course of 2015.

A teacher who gives more

Pankaj has conducted several breathing classes during the course. One of them was based on hyperventilating technique. Pankaj was giving instructions for each inhalation and exhalation to pace the breathing properly. So he was literally shouting “INHALE!!!” – “EXHAAAALE!!!” for 2 hours, very fast and without stop. And as we were doing it, I could not help thinking, “he does not have to do it, putting so much effort, just to make us have that experience”. Being a yoga teacher myself I understand very well how much talking during class is “giving”. And when you have to shout so intensely for 2 hours without stop, that tells something about your motivation and care of people.

So I hope you see, there are a lot of reasons to come to Pankaj course next December. I will just add a personal note that in what concerns physical practice teacher, Pankaj is by far my ideal teacher – knowledgeable, bringing you to the limit but gently, not forcing; charismatic, fun, easy going yet keeping structured discipline, generous, compassionate, communicative.

December 2017. Rishikesh.

You can reach Pankaj and via his page on TopYogis
Or any other time Frankfurt. His personal site for studio in Germany

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Yogi Vishvaketu, Akhanda & Kundalini Yoga Teacher in Rishikesh

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Yoga teacher in RishikeshYogi Vishvaketu is a well known master of yoga in Rishikesh that teaches in his Asharm in Tapovan, high bank of Rishikesh. Besides Rishikesh, he is particularly known in Canada, where he spends half of the year teaching in Canadian yoga centers, taking part in yoga festivals, and living with his wife and children.

Yoga style

Yogi Vishvaketu has registered his own style of yoga which he calls Akhand yoga, “akhand” meaning “whole” in sanskrit. According to Vishvaketu, this style is a holistic approach to teaching yoga which includes not only asanas, but pranayamas, mantra chanting, and meditations. The only thing you will not get in his drop-in class is perhaps shatkarmas (yogic cleansing) except for kapalabhati of course. I’m almost sure that yoga teaching courses cover this component as well.

From my own experience, his akhanda yoga class is a good, considerably intensive hatha yoga class with 10-20 minutes of mantra chanting at the beginning and end of the class, and excessive breathing exercises, done mainly in beginning, but also throughout the class. The breathing exercises are not limited with classic breathing techniques like kapalabhati, bhastrica, udjaya pranayama, but include also some new combinations of breathing which he calls “chair breathing”, “happy breathing”, “shoulder breathing”, “disco breathing”, etc. I suspect that some of these breathing techniques were invented by Vishvaketu, while some are borrowed from less known traditions of Himalayan yoga. For instance, I saw some of similar breathing exercises at sukshma viyama class. Most of the breathing techniques are fast and intensive and intended to “wake the body up”, so if you have any physical or psychic condition that is not well-matched with intensive breathing, you better exercise caution.

His asana sequences are quite intensive, with particular attention on strengthening the body. Vishvaketu likes chair pose, especially placing it in already maddeningly exhausting sequences right after Warrior III or other standing balances of the like. One very interesting feature that he does is giving themes to all of his classes. The theme touches upon both mental attitude (what is the focus of mental work in the class), and physical focus. This helps to direct attention to certain sensations and processes within the body and mind, and provides some diversity to each class. So as you see he’s quite creative guy, not afraid to experiment with breathing, asanas, lesson sequences. So be prepared, as his class may get you infected with such creative atmosphere and you may start to experiment with your own approach to yoga. That’s, to my mind, is a great benefit and a thing to learn from him.

Besides Akhand yoga, Vishvaketu occasionally gives kundalini  yoga classes, that are more dynamic that his ordinary classes and directed not so much at developing physical strength and stamina, as at  awakening chakras with fast movements and breathing techniques. All this awakening requires enormous amount of repetitive movements that can try your patience and stamina.

Who is Yogi Vishvaketu

And of course nothing adds better to the benefits of the class like personality of yogi Vishvaketu. He has great sense of humor and can uncharge your body tension by very appropriate jokes. He has quite gentle voice and approach, but very confident adjustments. He also gives mindful and sufficient instructions on asana alignment and breathing techniques. So as you may guess, the atmosphere in his class is very light and easygoing, beneficial both for physical workout and self-insight and meditation.
With all that taken into account, but still considering large amount of students and “high status” of this yogi, I perceived him as somewhat distant. What melted my heart towards Vishvaji is this. During mealtimes, various people living in ashram help people from the kitchen to serve food and drinks to everybody in canteen. So, as I witnessed Vishvaji serving food and tea to his own students, this changed my attitude completely. As far as I can tell from my perspective, he’s living what he’s teaching, and that’s the best you can expect from a yoga teacher.

Class schedule, yoga teacher training courses.

In overall, you surely won’t waste your time if you pop into his morning class which starts at 6 AM in his ashram’s yoga hall. Besides drop in classes, Vishvaketu offers yoga teacher training courses certified by Yoga Alliance, that cost about $2500-3000 per course. The fee, besides yoga course, includes living in his ashram and 3 daily sattvic meals. This might seem a little bit expensive compared with overall fees throughout Rishikesh, and yet he has many students for each course who value his quality yoga classes and want to teach his style, akhand yoga.  The training courses are also conducted by people from Canada and besides yoga classes and lectures, trainees are offered many opportunities for entertainment or diving into Indian culture. This includes excursions to nearby trekking places, friendly visits to other ashrams, music concerts, live music playing during the yoga classes, lectures from famous people, guest appearances of local yogis and babas, group visits of local restaurants, etc. To most of these events, visitors are also invited.

Ashram Living in Rishikesh

Besides all this, you may also like the very experience of living in Vishvaketu’s ashram. You may do so without signing up to his training course. The ashram was built by Vishvaketu and his wife some 6-7 years ago, and it’s a very light and comfortable place. It’s situated in Tapovan, in the middle of a beautiful valley, surrounded by quite high mountains. You will get the experience of living in ashram environment without actually having to live in a cave or something resembling a cave. Rooms in the ashram are light, the meals are very good, everyday you can participate in fire puja and kirtan, and of course practice in his beautiful and spacious yoga hall at the rooftop, which I consider one of the best yoga halls in Rishikesh. The time of practice, 6 AM, may seem scary to someone at first, but after you come to the class for a few times, you will feel that it’s the perfect time for a yoga class. During the class, you will witness beautiful transition from the blackness of the night to very gentle sunrise which starts somewhere behind huge mountains right before your eyes. It’s a great feeling and I guarantee that after some time you will find 8-9 AM yoga classes too late and  not conductive “to spirit of yoga”.

What else to say? Yes, after you have visited Vishvaji’s lessons, you may be sure you’ll stay connected with him. Vishvaketu is quite active in Facebook, I don’t know where he finds time for this activity with his schedule and amount of friends in his account, but he replies to all the posts and comments and does follows his friends closely. So here’s another address of good yoga teacher in Rishikesh not to miss:

Anand Prakash Ashram, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh. If you know where Ayurveda cafe is, the Anand Prakash building is right beside it. If you don’t know how to get there and go from Laxman Jhula, after the bridge, turn to right and ascend the stairs near German Bakery, take right turn again and follow the narrow road first above Ganga, then between locals’ houses. When you see a small temple on the left side, turn right to the small street that goes up. From here, after 3 minutes walk, when you see that the main road goes up and ahead and there’s a side turn to the right (opposite to the small shop on your left), turn right again. You can also notice the ad signs and ask people around 🙂
Time of classes: 6 AM daily from September-October to December, and from February to March-April. For exact dates and schedule of teacher training courses, visit his website, http://www.akhandayoga.com/

You can read more reviews on Yogi Vishvkety and see exact location of his ashram at his yoga teacher page at TopYogis

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.