Why traveling to India isn’t as tough as you think
Unofficially known as the Yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh is really the place to be if you’re thinking of furthering your practice. A fully immersive yogi’s environment, a wide selection of schools, yoga styles and different adventures to embark on. Yoga in Rishikesh has got to be on every yogi’s bucket list!
I honestly only heard of Rishikesh 3 days before I made the decision to quit my job. Was speaking to a yoga instructor while in Bali who did his Teacher Training Course (TTC) there and before I knew it, I’d signed up. Yes, it was that enticing.
After spending 3 months in all the craziness of cow dung ridden floors, cute but deceiving monkeys, and nonexistent traffic systems, I loved it and know I’ll still be heading back.
There’s a certain charm about being immersed in place like that – from the comforting sounds of mantra chanting by the Ganga river to the uplifting scent of masala chai…
One thing I wished someone had told me before the trip though, was how I really didn’t need to worry as much as I did about the safety there. Every person I’d spoke to had chipped in a bit of horror story they’ve heard about India. Even locals think it’s really unsafe. While that didn’t stop me from going (even if it was alone), the worrying really wasn’t necessary.
*Of course when traveling (to anywhere for the matter), it’s always useful to be extra aware of your surroundings. But you’ll soon realise for yourself, there’s more good than evil people out there. Strangers really aren’t as malicious as we think.
For those who’ve decided to take the leap of faith and do your yoga teacher training in India, here’s a guide on what it’s like.
Table of Contents (click to jump to relevant section)
Styles of Yoga in Rishikesh
You’d be surprised after practicing yoga for as long as 5 years, some people (erhem.. like me) aren’t aware of the distinct styles of traditional yoga out there.
Before learning about this myself, the only styles of yoga I knew was Power yoga, Hot Yoga, Vinyasa/flow Yoga or restorative – while there’s nothing wrong with these classes offered in most studios back home, it gave me a false sense of what I knew about yoga. I ended up getting quite a culture shock when I took my Yoga TTC in Ashtanga (which is just one of the many traditional styles offered in Rishikesh).
Here’s a quick introduction on some of the more prominent schools and styles offered in Rishikesh:
Hatha is probably the most common style of teacher training out there and it’s a pretty good place to start out. In short, all yoga styles stem from the teachings of this. Hatha is simply a set of asanas(postures) designed to develop a balance of strength and flexibility. Schools usually introduce a range of asanas that you can design into your own 1 hour class when you start teaching.
Hatha classes are normally quite basic and are suitable for first timers and beginners. Asanas vary although there is a certain structure to it.
School in Rishikesh: YogPeeth, offers 200 & 500hr Yoga Alliance Certified Hatha teacher trainings.
This style was developed by K. Pattabhi Jois (who passed away in 2009). It’s a series of dynamic flows and static postures, each one designed to work every part of the body.
Although physically challenging, it’s not exactly true that Ashtanga is only for more advanced practitioners. (Read more about Mysore style below)
Upward dog. Probably the most relaxed pose you can find in Ashtanga
The practice is based off a particular sequence of poses practiced to strengthen your core, detoxify your organs and clear the mind. You walk out of the practice feeling light, clear headed and more likely than not drenched entirely with sweat and effort.
Ashtanga schools typically run 2 types of classes:
Ashtanga Led Class: Great for getting an overview of what the style is about. The instructor gives specific step by step instructions guiding you through the series. However, due to it’s dynamic nature, instructors may not be able to give enough attention to the specific alignment of poses during the class.
Ultimately, the goal of Ashtanga is to memorise the sequence entirely to be able to practice it Mysore style (at your own pace).
Mysore Class: Mysore is how Ashtanga was traditionally taught. Starting with sun salutations on your own, the instructors slowly introduces the next pose once the individual has mastered the pose before. In these classes, most students already have the sequence memorised and are able to practice at their own breath and pace while the instructor is able to give personalised adjustments to maximise each student’s potential. You kind of get the best of both worlds – enjoying the group energy of the class while getting 1-on-1 attention with the instructors. The personal progress you’ll experience going to these classes on a regular basis is amazing.
I used to be a variety-lover, never going back to the same class twice if I knew the sequence was the same. But Ashtanga was really something different. It feels like a total body work out and not a single part of the body is left unworked. I especially loved how every time I came back to the practice, I’d notice changes from the last practice – whether it was more flexibility, strength or even mental clarity. It’s been a really fulfilling one for me.
School in Rishikesh: Tattvaa Yogashala, which is where I got my 500hr RYT certification from in case you’re wondering. They also offer 100hr, 200hr and 300hr teacher training courses as well as drop in classes for Pranayama (Breathing techniques) & Yoga Philosophy. Kamal Ji has quite the reputation in Rishikesh for being the king of adjustments.
Tattvaa Yoga – 500hr Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Graduation
Founded by BKS Iyengar, this style places strong emphasis on perfecting the alignment of asanas with the help of props – blocks, belts, ropes, cushions. Each class only consists on a handful of poses that are held for a pretty long time. While it might not break you out in a sweat, it’s an assuring way to get deeper into stretches while protecting your body from injury.
Centre in Rishikesh: Omkarananda Ganga Sadan, this place doesn’t offer teacher training courses but has 10 day intensive retreats which are bound to improve any style of yoga you’re already practicing.
Based off Swarmi Sivananda, an author of more than 300 books on yoga and health, this style of practice (somewhat similar to Ashtange) has a set of asanas practiced in an exact order. There are 12 basic poses practiced in a slow, meditative pace to work every major part of the body in a balanced way that enhances prana (life force energy).
School in Rishikesh: I remember seeing a Sivananda Centre on the banks of the Ganga but can’t seem to find their website. There is also a Sivananda based Ashram in the Himalayas.
A restorative style, this is the total opposite of Ashtanga (which is dynamic and Yang) but also very complimentary. We were quite lucky one of the school’s graduates came back as an assistant instructor and gave us a nice healing session of Yin yoga once a week in place of our usual Ashtanga practice. An extremely slow style of yoga, each pose is held for 2 – 3 minutes. Some poses can be quite torturous but helps tremendously in opening up the muscles in a different way when stretched actively.
School in Rishikesh: I don’t think there’s a school that teaches this style in Rishikesh at the moment but do look out for mini workshops held by returning graduates of schools.
*Note: this isn’t an exhaustive list of Yoga styles offered in Rishikesh. It’s a quick growing little city so I’m sure there’ll be a couple more popping up but these are ones that have been around for a while now.
What to expect in most teacher training courses
Yoga Schools Vs Ashrams
The main commonality of staying in either for an extended period of time (10 days to 10 weeks) is that you really get a feel of how it’s like to live a minimalistic life that’s healthy for the mind and body. I’ve not lived in an ashram although I’d definitely love to experience it one day. But the feel I get is that the schedule is a lot more structured and disciplined. Yoga schools also have a tight schedule to follow but are less restrictive in the sense you’re still allowed to explore the outside of the residency during breaks or off days.
Accommodation in schools vary too – from 12 bed dorm rooms to twin sharing and even single rooms for some. You find yourself very quickly acquainted with everyone when you’re living in the same building and seeing each other at practice for the bulk of the day.
At Tattvaa, most of the rooms were twin shared with an attached bathroom. We did our practice on the 5th floor (sometimes at another building nearby), and had our meals on the rooftop. We basically didn’t need to leave the building but were allowed to during breaks and off days.
Yogis typically consume a Sattvic diet to keep up with the energy needed to get through the day. Sattva comes from the Sankrit word which means pure so the diet avoids meat and spices which are known to irritate and dull the body.
The whole Rishikesh is pretty much vegetarian too. You won’t find alcohol or meat in any of the cafes or restaurants (on the menu at least).
Tattvaa had their own cook and he made really good food! We almost always over-ate but you really don’t gain weight with the sort of schedule we have at a TTC.
In the second week (I think some schools start as early as the second day), we were introduced to the weird but fascinating world of Kriyas (internal and external cleansing). I’ll spare you the details in this post but here’s sneak peak from Hendric:
The schedule was surprisingly packed but after a while, it felt quite assuring to have a day of productivity planned out for you. Here’s what the schedule at my TTC looked like:
5:30am: Wake up, Jala Neti (nasal cleansing)
(it eventually became 6, and 6:15 when I mastered jala neti in a more efficient way)
6:30 – 8am: Pranayama & Mantras
8:30 – 10:30am: Mysore Practice (early brunch if your practice ends earlier)
10:30 – 12pm: Brunch (we only had 2 meals a day)
12 – 2pm: Lectures on either Yoga Philosophy, Vedenta, or Anatomy
2 – 3pm: Nap Yoga Nidra (a form of yogic sleep)
3 – 4:30pm: Workshop with Kamal where he’s either breaking down the alignment of a single pose for an entire hour, stunning us with adjustments or torturing working on intensive stretches for specific muscles. (I honestly loved this part of the day the most)
5 – 6:30pm: In the second part of the 300hr (out of 500), we took turns during this time to lead our own public classes which was one of the scariest yet most fulfilling part of the entire course.
6:00 – 8pm: Dinner
8 – 9pm: Meditation
9pm: Lights out
Any free time we had in between classes and meals were spent doing laundry, heading out for juices, catching up on reading or sometimes squeezing in a quick nap. There’s so much going on physically and mentally that it really puts you in a nice deep sleep every night.
What to pack
Here’s a few pointers to help on packing what’s relevant!
Backpack. Highly recommended if you don’t want to risk having cow poop on your luggage wheels while dragging it over uneven, “holy” grounds. Also definitely easier to hitch a ride on a motorbike if needed.
Regular yoga attire and sleeveless tops are generally accepted when you’re in the school compounds and the areas nearby. Although you might want to carry around a shawl if you’re walking along the main street or heading to the main town area. Rishikesh is a lot more liberal than the other cities and the locals are pretty used to foreigners. A little modesty never hurts of course.
The rule of thumb for any length of trip is to pack about 1 weeks’ worth of clothes because you’ll be doing laundry. Clothes dry up really quickly (usually by 1 afternoon) during the summer months. Even in Winter, the afternoons get pretty warm on most days. You can easily purchase laundry powder from the convenience stores scattered every few metres.
Good walking shoes to hike/bungee in if you’re planning on it and a good pair of flip flops for most days.
Most toiletries can be found in the local convenience stores with pretty decent brands. The Himalayan brand is definitely much cheaper than back home! A good conditioner however might be hard to find.
Good to have:
Hairdryer, sleeping bag liner (in place of bulky bedsheets), lightweight travel towel, torchlight (whole city blackouts are really common), sufficient hair ties (I couldn’t find any decent ones when all of mine broke), water bottle, Charcoal tablets (be prepared to receive the welcome gift of a Delhi belly. But that one episode really kicks up your immunity).
The school usually provides a list of recommended reading before the course starts but this is something I’d recommend not bringing from home. You could get the digital versions if you plan on reading beforehand but the books at the bookstores in Rishikesh are such a good bargain! I ended up mailing 9 books home for the price of 1 book’s cost back home.
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How to get to Rishikesh from Delhi
By Flight (From New Delhi Airport)
Time: 45 minutes
Flight is probably the safest, quickest and most fuss free option although definitely costlier. The nearest airport is Dehradun which is a 30minute taxi ride to Ram Jhula in Rishikesh.
By Train (From New Delhi Station)
This route can feel overwhelming but if you’re brave enough, it can be quite the adventure! It’s an interesting experience that really isn’t as dangerous as you might believe.
Note that Rishikesh doesn’t have its own train station so you’d have to stop at Haridwar and take a 45-minute local bus (30 rupees) to Rishikesh’s main bus station, followed by a 2km tuk tuk ride to one of the main bridges (Ram Jhula or Luxman Jhula).
Delhi Railway Station – International Tourist Bureau Office on the second floor. Source
Buying train tickets: From Delhi Railway Station, head to the International Tourist Bureau counter on the second floor to purchase your tickets.
There are 4 classes to choose from:
- First Class: Your own private cabin (not all train have this class)
- 2A.C Class: 4 Bunk beds in each section, 2 on each side with a/c
- 3A.C Class: 6 Bunk beds in each section, 3 on each side with a/c
- Sleeper Class: Same layout as 3A.C but without a/c (usually less than half the price of 3A.C tickets)
- General: Super cheap tickets but seats are on first come first serve so you might have to fight for a bit of personal space. This was a little too much of an adventure for me to try at that point of time.
I took the Sleeper class on a 4 hour journey to Agra and the 3A.C for the 6 hour overnight journey to Haridwar. By the time we got on the 3A.C, it pretty much felt like luxury. But honestly, with an entire bench to stretch out while enjoying the scenery outside, the sleeper class wasn’t too shabby either.
3A.C has a proper mattress and clean bedsheets which you have to set up yourself.
Pro-tip: The Tourist counter at the Delhi Railway station is open 24/7 so don’t trust anyone who says it’s closed and to get it from them somewhere else.
Pro-tip 2: Book the top most bunk for more privacy.
Haridwar to Rishikesh: Now this part can be quite the adventure – upon alighting at Haridwar, walk over to the bus station right next to the train station. The system can feel a little messy since there’s no centralised ticket counter – basically walk around and ask the drivers of buses that look like they’re about to leave if they’re headed towards Rishikesh. Usually there’ll be a guy standing at the edge of the entrance shouting out the destination too so listen out for those. Tickets are sold on the bus itself (30 rupees to Rishikesh). The overhead compartment is really small so if you’ve got a big backpack/luggage on you, you might be asked to purchase an additional seat space for your bag (which we were more than happy to).
The bus stops at Rishikesh main bus station which is about 2-3km away from the main bridges (Ram Jhula or Luxman Jhula) where most of the Yoga schools are. A tuk tuk ride shouldn’t cost more than 20rupees but it will not take you across the bridge. We were a little stunned when the driver stopped us a place that looked like a tuk tuk station with nothing around but rows of tuktuks. We quickly realised the only way across the bridge was to walk (motorbikes were also allowed on the bridge).
Pro-tip: Watch out for fresh cow dung and sneaky monkeys if you have food on you!
Time: 6 – 8 hours
I took the bus back from Rishikesh as I didn’t want to worry about all the transfers going by train. The pick up was at the Rishikesh main bus station and it stopped in the middle of a highway (due to the jam) near the Connaught Place Metro station in Delhi. Different bus companies stop at difference parts of the city.
Bus prices can range a lot too depending on the company but are typically kept on the low side. Local buses without aircon cost as little as 100Rs to 700Rs for the “luxury” Volvo buses.
By Taxi (shared or private)
Time: 6.5 hours
The more budget yet safe option is probably to book a shared taxi that the school can help book. It costs about 2000Rs for a private taxi to Delhi (which can be shared with 3 other passengers to split the cost). You may need to hitch a motorbike ride with your luggage across the bridge as cars don’t have access to the Ram Jhula area.
What to do in Rishikesh (other than Yoga)
White Water Rafting along the Ganga
Rapids level rated 3 out of 5, stop for a mini cliff jumping opportunity along the way.
Costs 450Rs and includes the ride up to the top of the river when the rafting begins.
White Water Rafting before the TTC started
Catch the sunrise up on Kunjapuri Temple
Some of the shops around Ram Jhula organise shared taxis for this but if you have your own group of 6 – 10, you can hire a jeep for 2000 rupees up to the temple and back.
Catching the first light in front of Kunjapuri Temple
Explore the abandoned Ashram the Beatles’ used to live in for 3 months
They’ve recently cleaned up the area and are officially charging 600 rupees for foreigners. While it’s a bit on the pricy side, I’d say it’s worth exploring it once. Look out for these strange egg shelled domes on the rooftop of some buildings. Our favourite part was climbing in and singing mantras and current tunes – the structure created a really powerful resonance and made everything sounds amazing!
Beatles’ Ashram – Main Meditation Hall
Beatles’ Ashram – Egg shelled domes on the roof
Take a hike and hunt for waterfalls
Neergah Waterfall is probably the nearest and most accessible although it was quite the adventure getting there ourselves – through a mixture of tuk tuks, hitchhiking on a car with 8 people, a motorbike and a lot of walking, we managed to get to the waterfall just before the sun started setting.
Neergah Waterfall in Rishikesh
Go Bungee Jumping
Run by jump instructors from New Zealand, the procedures and equipment were legit!
Costs 3900 rupees + 750 rupees (for video)
Shopping & Cafe Hopping in Luxman Jhula
It’s often misunderstood that India only has curries and naans and you’d be sick of the food in no time. While they have some really good places for those traditional dishes, Rishikesh has lots of cafes selling fruit and granola bowls, grilled vegetables and one of my favourite are the Momos (Tibetian dumplings)! I could probably talk about this all day but the point is, cafes and food alternatives are spread out around but Luxman Jhula has an entire row of these goodies. Also a great place to shop for Malas, jewelry and accessories to bring home.
Sit by the sand beach along the river
Most of the places in India can be pretty crowded at any time of the day but it was quite a treat to find a quiet sandy beach not too far from the Yoga school where we would watch the sunset on some evenings after classes.
Recharge in the River Ganga
The water clarity might vary but on most days is quite clear and a refreshing spot for locals and foreigners to recharge and “wash their sins”.
Bonus: Take a 2 hour bus to Devprayag
There’s honestly not much to do there but enjoy the views of the river. This is the last meeting point of 2 rivers merging into 1 forming the Ganga that flows through the rest of the country.
View of the Ganga River from Devprayag
Hope you found this useful in planning for your Yoga adventure in India!
ENFP, fuelled by yoga, the outdoors, adrenaline and anything that spells adventure. In 2015, she quit her job to complete a 500hr Ashtanga Yoga Teacher training in India for 3months. Follow her adventures on Instagram @cheriesyw.