Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training

By Dharma Doodles

After a long and unsuccessful hunt for a nice Ashtanga program in Belgium I decided to return to the place that made me fall in love with yoga. Delight Yoga studio in Amsterdam is where I gained most of my knowledge about yoga. They opened a branch in the Hague not too long ago and were offering a pre teacher training program that I decided to take. My first week of training is already over and I thought it might be a good idea to share my learnings with others out there thinking of pursuing a similar program or are just curious to explore what goes in these training programs.

The Studio

Before I get into the details of the program I want to tell a little bit about Delight Yoga Studio. It is a chain of yoga studios with four branches in Amsterdam and one in The Hague. They offer classes with a broad range of yoga styles: yin yang, hatha, ashtanga vinyasa, restorative, meditation, and even a course on Ayurveda. I believe any yoga enthusiast whether a beginner or advanced can find a place in their studios. One of the best things about the studio is that there are four branches all over the city of Amsterdam so you can never have an excuse to miss your daily dose of yoga. And did I tell you how beautiful their studios are? You couldn’t find a better place to practice unless you live in a palace. All their studios follow the same design philosophy which is minimalist with a lot of attention to detail. The studios even smell the same! It definitely helps to make you feel at home if you’re taking some classes at one studio and some at the other. Because of the minimalist design and the right amount of greenery the studios look very bright and spacious.  A lot of attention has been paid to ensure a calm and soothing experience (which includes customer service) so as soon as you enter the studio you feel happy and light hearted. The ambience is absolutely dreamy!

The Pre- Teacher Training Program

It is an intensive training program with emphasis on developing a solid foundation. The idea is to give you enough knowledge of the Primary Series of Ashtanga with the correct alignments so as to safely practice without a teacher when you have to. For those who aim to become yoga teachers this serves as a pre-requisite for the 200 hour yoga teacher training if you don’t already have a consistent self practice. I have seen a trend these days among gym trainers and fitness related entrepreneurs who know nothing about yoga to enroll in teacher training programs. It is either for money making purposes or to boost their CV. I think in a way the Pre-Teacher Training tends to filters out people who are serious about yoga and understand that yoga is more than a physical regimen. The Pre-TT is spread over four weekends. You spend Saturday and Sunday at the studio from 9am to 5pm learning the philosophy, methods, and practices of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system.

For the current training course, we are a group of ten people being taught by Jurre Twijnstra and Marilou van Hoek. Just a week before the start of the training I strained one of my oblique muscles. I spoke to the studio host  about it who immediately put me in touch with the teachers to find out whether it would be a good idea to take the training or postpone it until the next session. Both the teachers wrote to me the same day to inquire further about my injury. We discussed and decided that doing the program with my injury would be a great opportunity for me to learn how to modify the practice according to my body’s abilities. I felt quite comforted by their prompt response and encouragement.

Day 1: The first weekend was led by Jurre Twijnstra. We started off by introducing ourselves to the class and the teacher. Each student explained his/her motivation for the training, experience of yoga and general doubts and fears about it (if any). It was a nice ice breaker and we realized that most of us had similar thoughts and concerns.

With breath being the important aspect of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system, we started off with some breathing exercises. Jurre taught us various body movements that would help us feel our breath at a deeper level and with more intensity. I felt that it was the first time I actually understood what moving with the breath during asanas should feel like. He then moved onto explaining the basics of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system – the philosophy and the asanas. Afterwards there was a led class for half of the Primary Series. We broke for lunch and returned after an hour for an alignment session. He took us through both Surya Namaskar A and B step by step with each inhale and exhale. We spent the rest of the afternoon practicing and learning to make our breath in sync with the body movements. Even though I already knew these asanas well, I felt that the practice really helped me get more in tune with my breath. It was a very interactive session where Jurre helped each person with his/her alignment and breath movement. I think by the end of the first day the ten of us had asked him to explain the breath at least ten times. Each time he explained it to us without a moment of hesitation. The session was followed up by a general Q&A session about eating and sleeping routine, the yoga life style, its history, myths and facts and a general chit chat about student experiences. At the end of the day despite extremely tired bodies we all left the class with a big smile and a light head looking forward to the next day of training.

Day 2: We started the day by watching a video of Sri Pattabhi Jois’s led class. The six students in the video are some of the leading Ashtanga teachers in the world. We saw how the led classes were traditionally taught and observed some differences in practice of the students in the video. We noticed how each student did the same sequence according to his/her own flexibility and strength. We discussed these with Jurre in detail as he demonstrated some of the differences in alignment that we see nowadays. Each of these renowned students brought their own learnings and adaptations to the Ashtanga Vinyasa system. This is why there is a range of techniques for the doing the same posture in the yoga community these days. Most of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system we know today is through these teachers who played a great role in spreading this knowledge in the Western world. However, the traditional system is constantly changing and evolving as more knowledge is being gained about the human body. Many health-based alignments are being added that emphasize the fact that physical form of asana practice needs to be adapted to different body types. The analysis and discussion was followed by a led class and this time we tried to make it past the half primary series. Throughout the practice I modified my postures according to what my body could stand with the injury and felt no pressure to push myself. I loved the fact that Jurre kept the class environment so relaxed that I don’t think anybody felt embarrassed or judged for not being able to do a certain posture or for not bending a certain way.

After the lunch break in the afternoon we delved a little bit more into yoga philosophy and explanation of the opening mantras. We also practiced chanting for a while until we had digested our lunch a little and were ready for the ‘adjustment clinic’. Just like on the first day, Jurre broke down each of the standing posture for us and explained each body movement with the breath. He not only demonstrated each posture himself but also made the demonstration on each student while going through various alignments and modifications. Some people had back issues whereas others had weak upper body strength; some were stiff while others were over flexible — we got instructions for each case. Often during the adjustment clinic we would get so keen on exploring that we would just stand up on our mats and get into the asana to see what various adjustments felt like on our own bodies. The second day again ended with tired but happy bodies. However, this time with even more enthusiasm to jump back on the mat as soon as we’d had a good night’s sleep.

I can’t wait to get back to the training again this weekend and learn more!

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