Cat Easterbrook

Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 2: Opening ceremony


Preparing for the fire ceremony

Missed part 1? read it here:

Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 1: Rishikesh

We were sitting on our mats in the yoga hall, a little apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen.

We needed to get used to this whole not knowing thing. The schedule was a mythical document for the first few days and we discovered what was going to be happening right before it happened. I think in part this was to help wean our Western minds off the obsessive need to know / schedule / plan / control what was going to be happening in every moment… but it was also probably partly because Surinder himself didn’t know yet.

I looked round the spartan room at the people I’d be spending the next month with. I was feeling a bit nervous, listening to conversations breaking out here and there, expectation in the air.

I got chatting to my neighbour, an Israeli girl. She was new to yoga but had lived with a girl who trained with Surinder the previous year. Watching her roommate blossom throughout the course had been testament enough and so she signed up. I was impressed by her courage. It’s not an easy undertaking even if you’ve been practising for years.

For me, I had been practising for years but still felt like a beginner in some respects. My yoga journey had begun in response to illness and had largely been based around meditation. I’d never been sporty or a dancer so felt nervous about the whole physical aspect of yoga, especially the idea of demonstrating a pose. It felt like the opposite of what yoga was about for me. But here I was, wanting to deepen my own yoga journey, and hoping I would gain the confidence and knowledge to begin to help other people with theirs.

We gathered around as Surinder and a Hindu priest started to prepare for the opening ceremony. This involved a lengthy and complex procedure of sprinkling powder, arranging the statues of gods, preparing bags of garlands and pots of ghee and rice and woodchip, laying out incense and sweets. The preparations seemed endless but alas were nowhere near as long as the ceremony itself.

Finally we began and the priest was off at a pace, chanting in Sanscript, making offerings to the gods, burning incense, throwing rice and flowers. It was transfixing to watch but long and hard for me to connect much meaning to other than a generalised please let this course go well.

Finally the time to participate came and we were able to chuck woodchip onto the fire on the cue of a specific chant. It was symbolic of letting go of the old – letting go of patterns, beliefs, thoughts and habits that don’t serve us any more – the mind stuff that keeps us stuck, the stuff that a course like this could transform. That I could connect to.

It reminded me of the Buddhism course I had done, where I learnt the power of ritual. It’s not necessarily about believing in mysterious things or fear-filled faith, it can be about setting an intention and performing an action that symbolises it. The action and the intention come together to create resolve… and humans can go pretty far with resolve on their side.

At the end of the ceremony we ate some Indian sweets that had been blessed. Sitting in a smoke-filled yoga hall eating balls of sugar (even if they were blessed balls of sugar) was perhaps not the healthiest of starts but at least it was entirely clear that we were indeed in India and we would not be bowing down to the Western gods of Health and Safety.

Once the fire had been put out and the smoke had cleared we gathered once more to introduce ourselves. Surinder kept it short and sweet and encouraged us to do the same. I was relieved, not being so into the whole ‘Hi guys, I’m Cat and this is my story!’ thing.

He asked us why we were there. The responses were varied – health, a new direction, calming the mind, a new way of moving, a new career, wanting to help others, wanting to go deeper into yoga.

Surinder pulls a pretty grounded crowd because he himself is very down-to-earth, despite being an accomplished yogi and a deeply spiritual person. It was refreshing to see this. Later on in the course he shared his view of enlightenment, which was to focus on efforts not results, to focus on being a good person, on doing your best, and to let the results take care of themselves.

My own reasons for being there were varied, but most of all I wanted to be open to the possibilities, open to the way we were being taught. I knew that it might be a bit haphazard, that it would lack the slick organisation, planning and structure of a yoga course in the west, but I knew that it would be all heart, genuine knowledge and offered with the purest of intentions.

In the opening talk we were gently guided not to fixate on the idea of being teachers. Not to seek to gain just another label, another identification, or to inflate our egos, but to end the course being more real, more able to help others from a genuine place, not simply because we had gained a certain qualification.

And so we began, without much bravado or fist pumping… or indeed a schedule or training materials, but it seemed that we had all the important things in place.

Go to:

Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 3: the course

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