Welcome to this episode of SURVIVOR: Yoga Teacher Training, where 14 contestants struggle to obtain the title: Level III Advanced Integral Yoga Teacher.
Why do they want this title? No one seems to remember anymore.
Location: The beautiful Opoutere Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand, where recently deceased blue penguins have been washing ashore.
4:30 AM: The sound of iphone alarms ring throughout the still-dark morning air. Some of the Tui birds now imitate this wonderful sound, warbling it through the windows into sleepy ears.
Stumble across the grass from your caravan by the light of a clear half-moon. Stand in line for the bathroom. Don’t brush your hair. Wander into the sadhana room, sit on your mat. And wait.
Practice postures in a carpeted room full of cat dander. No matter how many times it is vacuumed, you still sneeze. Breathe deep anyway. Meditate, on the spine, on the heart space, in the chiddikasha mind space. Open your eyes, refreshed. Even if they are red and itchy from the cat dander.
7 AM: Have a piece of fruit and tea. Wander from table to table. At one, they discuss the merits of wolf breast milk versus dolphin breast milk from a naturopathic perspective. At another, German and Italian politics.
In the end, you opt for playing trucks with Laszlo on the beach. You are a truck, running and then (Big Crash) falling face first, over and over, while he collapses in laughter at the chaos and destruction.
8 AM: Feed the chickens. Watch them high-tail it toward you, picking their legs up delicately even at such a high speed, when they see the blue feed bucket. Separate the cannibal chicken from the flock and put it in a separate coop. Hear it squawk like crazy. But it can’t keep eating all the eggs, its beady eyes darting from one nest to the next. Name it Lector.
9:30 AM: Have a break. Drink some water. Check facebook for your brief connection to the outside world.
10 AM: Grab a box of tissues and head to the sadhana room, for satsang with Shanti. You are discussing meditation, again. This time, the focus is on the koshas.
He asks if you have questions. You wonder why, when you close your eyes now, you see bright pink circles. He says the color symbolizes anahata, a movement toward love and devotion in the unconscious space. You think that’s pretty cool. You also ask why you usually only see black when you close your eyes. Some of the other contestants see all kinds of visions and colors. He says something about a consolidated astral body. At more elevated levels of consciousness, he tells you, you can work with the higher mental body.
“What does that mean?” you ask.
He tells you that this is the very first tiny step toward being able to send your consciousness through time and space. But it doesn’t really apply to discuss this because you are nowhere near that stage. You agree. But you are secretly thrilled, because you’ve been reading books like Autobiography of a Yogi and A Search in Secret India, which describe ancient yogis performing magical feats like this.
Noon: Rush to the beach with the other contestants and plunge into the cold clear water. “Lunchtime crack,” you call this ritual. You’ve come to crave it all day. The rush is icy in intensity like a high alpine lake, but you try to move your limbs enough to swim. Stay in longer if the sun is shining out from behind the clouds, making the surrounding space a glittering limitless blue.
Clamor around the pots of rice, sabze (vegetables) and dahl, trying to get some splashes of food in your bowl. This is where the competition really heats up. Sit near Karmamurti, age 86,who might read your palm or dispense a word of advice. Usually, it’s “relax,” which always seems to apply, no matter what the situation is.
1 PM: Lie down on the sadhana room floor for Yoga Nidra, a special session from Karmamurti. You close your eyes and hear him ask you to breathe light in and out of your heart center. You don’t remember anything until you are asked to repeat your san kalpa, your personal resolve. You say silently, three times, “I love and approve of myself.” Then you sit up, chant aum, and wonder if there’s a snack. There isn’t.
It was the greatest leap ever taken. The speed of Hanuman’s jump pulled blossoms and flowers into the air after him and they fell like little stars on the waving treetops. The animals on the beach had never seen such a thing; they cheered Hanuman, then the air burned from his passage, and red clouds flamed over the sky… (Ramayana, retold by William Buck)
Around you, the other contestants take their Hanuman poses. Josie feels like she is flying. Samar is concerned about her knee. Erika’s hamstrings aren’t warmed up enough. Tonya knows a better way to get into the position.
4 PM: Practice Bhramari, the humming breath, with Shanti. Hum the breath all the way down the spine, from ajna to mooladhara. Then he leads you in Spinal Awareness meditation. You focus on moving the breath, and prana in the form of bright white light, up and down the spine.
5:30 PM: Surya Namaskara practice: Sun Salutations that you learned on Survivor: Season I. This time though, you close your eyes while flowing from downward dog, to eight-point pose, to cobra, to ardachandransana, and you imagine the white light moving from trigger point to trigger point. You move the awareness, breath and light from endocrine gland to endocrine gland and when you are done, you are lightheaded and nauseated. Atma says you are detoxifying through the glands, and you lie down with your eyes closed.
6:30 PM: Dinner. (Your black market supplier Samar hands you half a ripe, perfect avocado.) Afterwards, you walk along the beach, sun squinting beneath clouds bouncing off water and jagged edges of broken seashells. The wind exhales gently through the tall grasses above you and the surf softly rumbles. You think this is the best thing ever said about God (via Thomas Merton).
7:30 PM: Nada Yoga and Kirtan. Shanti explains Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound as “a non-confrontational way to deal with our ‘bits and pieces’, due to its tendency to dissolve emotional content.” “Nad” means “flow” in Sanskrit, referring to the constant flow of consciousness within us, underlying everything. Piercing this content with sound (especially Sanskrit, which is a precise mathematical language) can be transformational. So you chant along with the other contestants and you lose yourself in the larger sound.
9 PM: You lie down under two large comforters in your caravan and turn your head to peak out through the front window at the waning light over the water. Settling your head on the pillow, you close your eyes and wish your anahata would settle down, let everything turn from pink to dark. Regardless, you fall asleep.