Heal Your Spine With Iyengar Yoga in the Himalayas

Source: http://www.hiyogacentre.com/en/

Over a year ago, I had just finished a very sweaty yoga class in Siem Reap.

I walked over to my teacher and asked him for recommendations on where I could do a yoga course and take my learning to the next level (but not too next level, I’m not looking to do a teacher training course!). I wasn’t interested in becoming a yoga teacher, I just wanted to learn more about my alignment and ensure I was doing the poses in a way that was helpful to me rather than harmful.

He suggested the Himalyan Iyengar Yoga Centre in India. They have two centres, one in North Goa and another in Dharamkot Dharamsala, to cover both seasons.

He also mentioned it was the best place to learn about authentic yoga AND it was really affordable unlike a lot of other courses out there.

Well, fast forward one year and I finally made it to the yoga centre in Arambol, North Goa this year (although the Dharamsala centre would definitely be my preferred and recommended choice for next time, unless you’re into the extreme hippie backpacker vibe then Goa might just be your ideal spot).

It’s the end of February and I arrive in Arambol, North Goa after spending a week in North India, where it’s cool and pleasant. It’s starting to near the end of peak season in Goa now and I can see why — humid and stuffy isn’t the ideal weather for holiday makers and it’s only going to get warmer. Not knowing where I’m going to stay, I remember searching for Piya Guesthouse on Google, placed right next to the yoga centre, so I tell the taxi driver to take me there. I’m quite early, it’s not even 9am and the owner tells me to wait until my room is ready.

Apparently this town isnot a good place to be for Digital Nomads (I’m sitting in a cafe opposite the guesthouse while my room is being prepared. The guy on the table next to me asks me about the area, we’re chatting away and it turns out he’s a Digital Nomad too…woohoo a fellow nomad to co-work with!

I tell him about the HIYC course, he’s convinced and signs up.

Moments later, I check into my room. It looks like a bit of a prison cell but I figure this will do for a few days until I find something better. I’m too tired to look around and just need some sleep (Btw don’t stay here if you do ever make it down to Arambol).

On Monday morning, I’m ready for my first yoga class at 10am (a 3 hour class everyday except weekends).

The teacher is South African and her presence doesn’t go unnoticed. She’s vibrant and full of energy.

For the first hour, she asks each of us to mention any injuries or health issues so she’s aware of what she’s dealing with. And after that, we’re learning how to stand properly.

Feet, one foot apart, heels digging into the ground so you can feel pressure on the middle point of your feet. Heels and mounds should be touching the hard floor with your big toe gently touching, your toes need to be spread apart but don’t let them have any contact with the floor.’

We spend at least an hour trying to perfect this pose, focusing all our attention on the mid-point of our heels so we’re keeping our balance. It sounds so simple but it’s pretty amazing how my entire stance changes and each muscle in my body reacts, with just the soles of my feet changing position.

We continue to practice some more standing positions — positions I’ve done in previous classes but never quite like this. Our teacher tells us over and over again, ‘forget everything you’ve ever learnt in your Vinyasa or Bikram yoga class. ‘This class isn’t about your flexibility, it’s about healing your spine and correcting your alignment and it all starts with how you stand’.

It’s quickly very clear that the teachers here are not huge fans of yoga styles that have been altered to western standards. They believe Iyengar is the truest form of yoga and have no hesitation is expressing how Vinyasa is nothing but a ‘mix of a gymnastics and an aerobics class’ :o

We’re not changing the temperatures here to put you in a sweaty environment, like they do when teaching Bikram Yoga (another ‘not real yoga style’ apparently). Let’s start earlier at 8am, so we’re practising yoga during the coolest time of the day.

Personally, I like to think the different styles of yoga have been progressed over the years to suit our lifestyle today, as well as our individual strengths. A flexible person would most likely welcome the demands of Vinyasa yoga, the same way a person with aches or injuries would crave the benefits of Iyengar.

Over the next few days, our practice gets deeper and more challenging but not exhausting. Three hours a day of yoga practice sounds intense but it’s not at HIYC. We’re not moving from one pose to the next as you would in a fast-paced Vinyasa class. The practice consists of learning poses using the correct props for our individual needs and holding each pose for a long period of time. The results are instant too. After the first day, I no longer feel this constant shooting pain in my right shoulder.

Each pose requires props to ensure that we’re not over-stretching or harming our body in any way. The props are what make this style of yoga doable for anyone, seriously you could bring your grandparents here and they would love it.

Have you ever done a supported shoulder-stand, using blankets and cushions? I hadn’t, before coming to this class. Apparently, when doing a shoulder stand without props, we’re putting too much strain on our necks and not actually getting the benefits of hitting the right points on our shoulders.

Look at the difference:

No neck strain and the pressure points in your shoulders are being massaged when you do a supported shoulder stand (www.hiyc.com)
Shoulder stand without support, just looks uncomfortable and strenuous on the neck (http://www.elsayoga.com/)

I seem to have this constant pain in my right shoulder (probably a cause of numerous things I’m not doing correctly). So the two options are:

1)Getting a massage (which gets a bit expensive if I’m doing it on the regular)

Or

2) Doing a supported shoulder stand regularly (just need some blankets or cushions)

My go-to treatment is the supported shoulder-stand, it seems to be doing the trick so far (I just wish I had a ready made, travel friendly, perfectly shaped cushion to slide into for my pose — a girl can dream).

Back Pain Poses

If you suffer from lower back pain, then here’s your answer: 30 backward bends a day (ok just do 3, you’ll feel a huge difference I promise).

After completing the 5 day introductory course, some of us choose to continue into the second week.

By the end of week 2, we’re able to do handstands, hanging headstands, downward dog hanging from a tree and many more adventurous poses to align our spines!

Hanging Headstand
Downward dog, hanging from a tree

If you’re interested in checking this course out, then you can sign up to their 5 day introductory course for just 5500INR (subject to change) and I recommend doing at least 2 weeks, more if you can spare the time. That way the poses really stick and you can go back and incorporate them into your daily yoga practice :)

And if you decide on visiting the Goa Centre, there’s a bright blue building right behind the Centre owned by Maria, where I ended up moving into, thanks to my fellow yogis’ recommendation. Her rooms are really decent for 500 INR (6GBP) a night but they’re fan only rooms. If you want AC rooms then Arambol Plaza Beach Resort have rooms from 2000 INR a night and it’s a very short walk from the Centre.