I chose to do my basic 200h yoga teacher course at Akshi Yogashala after an extensive research, having spent endless hours reading reviews of various schools. There are more than 1000 yoga schools and ashrams in Rishikesh, so choosing the right one may be a challenge. First of all, I’d like to say that we’re all different, so the school that’s right for one person doesn’t have to be a good fit for you. Follow your gut feeling. Here’s what I would have liked to know before I went to India to do my 200h YTT at Akshi Yogashala.
I chose Akshi Yogashala because they have really positive reviews, they offer a single-room accommodation, hot water as well as filtered drinking water throughout the day and night, and former students wrote reviews such as „It completely changed my life!“ or „The most intense spiritual experience of my life.“ (I’ll get back to these misleading reviews later.) Hygiene, food and cleanliness were also important criteria.
First of all, I feel that all the 5* reviews which you can find on Trip Advisor are misleading, so to anyone who REALLY wants to become a teacher, I’m writing a bit more sober review, trying to be as objective as I can.
Schools in Rishikesh accept just anyone
Most of the people in the course were total beginners with very little yoga experience and generally not used to physical exercises. (Some of them had attended only a few public yoga classes before signing up for a teacher course!) It’s apparent that, given the high number of yoga schools in Rishikesh, they compete and accept just everyone.
That being said, it’s clear that the level of most courses is rather low. We’re talking BEGINNER level – both physically and spiritually. Why these people don’t go for a yoga RETREAT, that I don’t know. Lack of self-reflection, from my point of view. In Europe, you’re usually expected to have been practising yoga intensely for at least 2 years before signing up for a YTT. Not so in India.
Consequently, some of the participants were not interested in doing self-study whatsoever, going out drinking and smoking, and it seemed that half of the girls signed up just to lose some weight. Not my battle, sure, but you’re spending one whole month with those people, and they form the whole atmosphere of the course…
Not having a physical challenge (no advanced asanas in hatha classes) certainly was a yogic challenge by itself, and I’m grateful for that experience.
Hatha yoga disaster
The first teacher we got was not explaining anatomical details/adjusment very well, but he was really kind, had a wonderful, peaceful energy, and the lessons were enriching.
Then a few discontent beginner girls complained that „it didn’t feel nice how he was adjusting them to asanas,“ and we got a new teacher: Rahul. 29 years old and the worst and most arrogant teacher I’ve ever seen in my life.
The whole class felt more like a therapy for injured or retired people, definitely not a teacher course. Maximum 3 asanas in a 1,5h class.
It was a challenge for my patience – and that is a good thing, but I didn’t have to go to India to get that.
I gradually stopped participating, as it was of no benefit to me, and one girl even interrupted her course and left early.
The teacher had very strong opinions about everything: „Gymnasts perform only because they want an applause; if they don’t get an applause, they’re depressed!“ (Very interesting for me as a former gymnast to hear such disrespectful and arrogant statement in a yoga class). Or: „Bodybuilders have muscles, but they have no strength whatsoever; it’s not healthy, they can’t really move!“ (Wonder what the American bodybuilder-girl at the course felt like..)
He stubbornly insisted on whatever he said even if it was obviously nonsense, i.e. not using back muscles at all in Bhujangasana). His self-confidence about his limited strong opinions about just everything was very inappropriate – especially in yogic context.
Challenging ashtanga lessons
Ashtanga yoga is arguably one of the physically most demanding branches of yoga. I have my objections to its principles, but that’s for another article.
The ashtanga lessons at Akshi Yogashala were lead by another Rahul. A charismatic 22-year old Indian with an admirable physical condition and a lot of practical a well as philosophic yogic knowledge. Most of those girls in their early 20’s immediately fell in love with him – and I understand why.
The level of the ashtanga lessons was high (meaning both quality of teaching and that they were physically demanding). 90% of the paticipants were not able to perform most of the asanas of the 1st ashtanga series, doing simple modifications. Most of the people were just sitting on heir mat at the end of each class. Not Rahul’s fault, but just a necessary consequence of accepting beginners to do a YTT.
Anyway, Rahul turned out to be an excellent teacher, and despite his young age he’s a highly spiritual, knowledgeable and considerate person. I loved him saying „your body is not weak, your mind is weak“ anytime someone sighed that they can’t do a certain asana.
„Your body is not weak, your mind is weak.“
This variation of the classical ashtanga quote became a popular running joke, which my Chinese best friend escalated to a provocative „it’s not hot, your mind is hot.“ Well, try that in the Indian reality of temperatures above 40°C.
Pranayama, philosophy and anatomy teachers
The rest of the teachers were a bit older, and thus more experienced and relaxed. Beautiful, knowledgeable and enlightened beings. The atmosphere, their personality and the content of the classes was a great experience. Nevertheless, I don’t really share the opinion of other reviewers of Akshi, that „it was the most amazing experience of my life, I learned so much.“ Sure, if you wake up one day and decide to do a yoga teacher course out of the blue, then it’ll probably be a unique experience with lots of new information. If you’ve been on that path for a while, don’t expect too much.
Pranayama and meditation, however, was exceptional and on a high level. The teacher was just great, very far on his spiritual path, and able to pass his knowledge further. Eventually, he earned a nickname „spiritual gangsta.“ I learned a lot. Meditations on the rooftop with the view of the holy Himalayas were a particular highlight, as well as singing mantras and meditating at the bank of the holy Ganges.
Anatomy is not taught as in Western terms: you’ll learn about nadis (meridians), chakras etc. Which is okay, it was very interesting, but be prepared that it won’t be enough to teach in the West.
We also had 3 lectures of ayurveda: a very young and arrogant teacher (seems to be common in India) who basically presented the 3 types (vata, pita, kappa) as „the worst“, „better“ and „the best“.
This was a new and nice experience for me. The teacher – wife of the school director – was amazing. She was explaining the Sanskrit words and their meanings, which was particularly interesting for me as I study Sanskrit. But it was way to much. Singing mantras at the beginning and end of each class and before meals is something you’ll just have to live with. And don’t think I’m exaggerating: singing one single mantra again and again for ONE WHOLE HOUR can really get on your nerves.
Food at the school
The course is includes an ayurvedic vegan diet consisting of three meals per day. Hygiene is not an issue, although some participants did get a diarrhoea. I was well prepared; I had all minerals and vitamins, probiotics and active charcoal from Europe with me. Eat probiotics and charcoal preventively and you’re fine (I suggest to start taking them 1-2 weeks before you go to India and double-triple the recommended dosage).
During the first week, I wouldn’t eat anything raw outside of the school – no street food, no mango lassi. Just to let the gut microbiota adapt.
I liked the taste of the food at the school. BUT. Given that even in ayurveda there are body/metabolic types that should eat up to 6 small meals during the day, it was just wrong. Well, I kept buying a lot of snacks or taking fruits from breakfast for later (which I don’t recommend in that heat). But the main issue lies elsewhere.
The diet is absolutely inappropriate for most Westerners, especially for non-vegetarians, and even more so when you sleep 6 hours a day and give away so much energy both physically and mentally. If you’re not a vegetarian, depending on your metabolic type, switching to such drastic diet under such conditions can be really bad for you. The food has basically no protein and no fat.
From the middle of the course, most of us were going out to eat eggs, cheese or even chicken. You can get eggs in some restaurants nearby, and I strongly recommend it. Do bring supplements and protein powder. All the course attendants have lost a lot of weight during the course. Some were excited, but if you’re already skinny like me, your muscles are gonna deteriorate and you’re gonna become a skeleton. I went from 50kg to 46kg, despite eating large amounts of food. I ended up eating a lot of protein bars and unhealthy sweets just to get some instant energy in form of pure sugar.
Note: I’ve seen some reviewers complaining that they had to wash their own dishes after each meal. Yes, if you’re a princess, don’t go for a yoga teacher course like this, and under no circumstances to India. 😉
Accommodation at Akshi Yogashala
…was absolutely OK! It’s India and the course is cheap, so don’t expect much luxury, but it was nice and comfortable for 1 month. Hot water working, western toilet, bedsheets nice and clean. I recommend bringing a mosquito net.
Also, pretty much all of those in double rooms were suffering from sleep deficit. Imagine that your room-mate gets sick (which many did) and keeps running to the bathroom all night long… I was happy to have booked a single room.
Well, I’ll be repeating myself, but: it’s India. I believe that for Indian standards, the school is very clean; but as the air is overall dusty there, it’s really dirty by European standards. It’s particularly annoying in the yoga hall. I do have to include the picture of my feet – there’s no better way to understand how dirty India is. This is what they looked like after just 10 minutes walking in the yoga hall.
It’s very intense, you sleep max. 6 hours each day and have almost no time for yourself. It should be structured differently. One has no time to do the laundry, nor to read and self study. I read similar reviews before I went there and kept thinking „that’s minor, I can make it.“ Yes, you can. But it will be a very intense month, and there will be moments when you’ll have no energy whatsoever.
At the beginning of the course, we were told that we shouldn’t miss any classes. But as a result, people being really sick (with diarrhoea, menstrual cramps, tired after a sleepless night for whatever reason…) came to all classes and suffered and lied there on the floor, sleeping. For what purpose…?!
I think that Akshi Yogashala is a relatively good school by Indian measures. I am immensely happy I decided to go there – and that I made it back in one piece (I did get a heatstroke and had to fly back to Europe earlier, but that’s another story). It was a life-changing experience, indeed. But did I learn a lot about yoga? I definitely learned more by self-practice and self-study back home. This was more about the life challenge and cultural experience. And I can’t even start comparing it to the extraordinary quality of the YTT courses I did in Germany and in Australia.
The main point is whether to do such course in India at all. It’s cheap, sure. It’s where yoga developed, and it was nice to experience the culture. But the culture is also reflected in the yoga practice and teaching methodology – and not necessarily in a beneficial way.