April 13, 2014


Related: Find out about the next course

This year, I’ve been focusing on my health by
  • eating better
  • sleeping earlier
  • exercising more
The big challenge is exercise. Good intentions haven’t translated into ongoing habits,

Intentions vs Actions

Visiting a fitness club takes time, planning and waiting for equipment. Yoga looked like a good way to exercise at home before breakfast. Since pure yoga melds body, mind and soul, I wanted
  • sevaks (teachers) who knew the ancient ways from India but taught in English
  • an extended, structured course (rather than a workshop)
  • personalized attention (rather than a student in a large class)
Is that asking too much?

The Solution

A fellow Toastmaster told us of a free 16 week course in West Toronto (Etobicoke near Kipling/Rexdale). My wife attended Shri Ambika Yoga Kutir and recommended I join. That’s a big commitment. The classes take place at 7:00:00 AM on Saturdays. I’m not a morning person and don’t like sleeping early on Friday nights. Would I have energy to travel and take a two hour class before breakfast?

I made a commitment and haven’t missed a single class despite the extreme winter. Since lessons build on each others, that’s important.


Here the main benefits I’ve already achieved
  • more energy all day: the breathing exercises help you get more oxygen into your blood  — especially via Kapal Bhati (shallow bellows breathing)
  • better posture: you tone muscles which often get ignored (e.g. in your spine and neck)
  • more flexibility: we don’t use positions like padmasana (lotus posture) in our daily lives
Perhaps the greatest benefit is the confidence that comes from persisting and not quitting. My life has changed and will continue to improve as I continue the yoga.

The Catch?

The course is free and that’s not a trick. You’re not put on a commercial mailing list. There are no attempts to upsell you (because there’s nothing to sell). The only way you can spend money is on the optional course materials. The best ways to repay the generosity of the volunteer sevaks is by
  • continuing to practice yoga
  • encouraging others to join (a goal of this post)
You attend to learn. Students (sadhaks) are discouraged from the usual networking and exchange of business cards.

The Format

handwritten notes for yoga class 10Each class starts with all students on yoga mats facing a row of teachers at the front of the large room.

The week’s agenda is shown on a whiteboard. Different teachers explain the theory behind the new postures, the benefits and the precautions. There are demonstrations of the new postures.
We then go to one of four groups based on our age and gender. My group (males 45+) had about a dozen students and two teachers. That’s an excellent student-to-teacher ratio. As we practiced, we got personalized attention. That’s what I really appreciated since I wanted to do the exercises properly. You can’t get that from YouTube or a conventional show-up-if-you-want class.

Each student in my group had his own strengths and challenges. We weren’t competing, though. We were encouraged to do what we could. We weren’t pressured to do exercises for which we made us uncomfortable. Some exercises had variations for different needs.


For the best results in the Shri Ambika Yoga Kutir class
  • take notes (photography and videography is discouraged; manuals aren’t available until near the end)
  • practice daily (I averaged 5-6 days a week … only skipping mornings when travelling or having unusually early meetings)
  • invest in a proper yoga mat (e.g., the well-cushioned, nonslip Manduka BM71 with a lifetime warranty)
After you graduate, you can return anytime you want to repeat the basics or take advanced classes. If you’re interested, get details about the next course.

It’s funny how our bodies respond when we take care of them. What better investment can you make?


PS I’m thinking of redoing the beginner’s class to learn the basics better and stay on track.

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