How to Pick a Yoga School in India

Posted on June 16, 2016 in India
How to Pick a Yoga School in India: Fire Ceremony in Rishikesh

When I first arrived in India last September, the last thing I wanted to attend was a yoga class. Sweating in the never-ending humidity of monsoon season and making a complete fool of myself in the process was a thought that paralyzed me. I sure as hell wasn’t going to endure an entire yoga teacher training course. 

Fast forward to November and at that time, I had been living in Rishikesh for a little over a month. I had relegated most of the hippies that flow through this sacred town by the river as culturally-appropriating try-hards who refuse to actually learn a damn thing about Indian culture beyond hash and jam sessions. Looking back now, I realize that was terribly presumptive and judgemental, but also not 100% innaccurate.

Despite my best efforts to be anything but a Rishikesh cliché, my life path was somehow leading me to a yoga school where I would spend the next two weeks as a meditation student. It was there that I would fall in love with yoga, stay two months as a volunteer and earn my 200-hour yoga teacher training certificate. I didn’t really see that one coming, but as the old Indian adage goes: anything’s possible!

That yoga school is really where the next chapter of my life began. You see, I came to India with many questions. And don’t get me wrong, I was never expecting India to provide me with any answers. I won’t go all “Eat, Pray, Love” on your ass, although I do love me some Elizabeth Gilbert. The truth was that I was far too caught up in the sticky webs of anxiety to even give that a thought — the typical post-college existential crisis was in full swing. I really do have the timely exposure to yoga and a few select people to thank for helping me through that hard time.

Getting your yoga teacher training certificate in India does come with its merits, one of them being that this is the country where yoga was born and the yogic way of life was cultivated. With the commercialization of yoga and India’s tourism industry in full swing, it’s important to take certain considerations when deciding where to embark on your personal yoga journey. So, I’ve gathered some of my most useful tips and suggestions for navigating your way to the yoga school of your dreams, and hopefully they help you along the decision-making process!

How to Pick A Yoga School in India: Welcoming Ceremony

What Experience Do You Want?

This is the best question to ask yourself while first initially trying to narrow down where to get your yoga teacher training.

What are your priorities? What are your goals?

Some schools specialize in certain yoga styles, like Hatha, Vinyasa or Ashtanga Vinyasa. Some schools tend to be more experiential and less technical based in their teachings, so you’re more likely to partake in some level of introspective, personal growth.

It’s crucial to note that not all course curriculums at yoga schools are created equally! If they are Yoga Alliance-certified, then they’ll have to follow certain guidelines but they’re also allowed to add additional coursework and classes if they so choose. Attend a school that’s heavy on yoga philosophy if that’s what you’re into, or maybe a school that incorporates Ayurvedic teachings into its program.

Do your homework and peruse online reviews (like TripAdvisor and Google) with a critical eye. Take them with a grain of salt, but also make note of anything that seems a little off about the school or its curriculum. Some yoga schools have their reputations for a reason.

How To Pick A Yoga School in India: Rishikesh, Ganga River

Beautiful, peaceful Rishikesh is where I decided to do my yoga teacher training.

Location, Location, Location

If you’re ready to get down with Ashtanga Vinyasa, then you better head to the beautiful and culturally immersive city of Mysore (Mysuru) in Karnataka. Other yoga hotspots in India include Rishikesh (right next to the Ganga River), Dharamsala (heavy Tibetan Buddhist influences) and Goa (tropical and relaxed, but the party atmosphere may be less than shanti shanti). Every place has its own distinctive characteristics and personality that will impact your experience.

Have you thought about whether you want an ashram or a more westernized teaching environment? Choosing a more westernized or “upscale” yoga school won’t make your experience any less authentic. In my opinion, the yoga instructors are what make the training special and worthwhile. If you find sensible and inspiring gurus to learn from, you’ll be golden!

How To Pick A Yoga School in India: Spiritual Supplies

Spirituality Is (Sadly) a Business

I’m not trying to scare you out of coming to India or have you abandon your spiritual quest, but if I’m being completely honest with you, I did leave Rishikesh a little disillusioned. I’ve witnessed enough cautionary tales to make me weary of the yoga industry in India. I’ve seen many well-meaning foreigners come to India in hopes of pursuing their yoga dreams only to leave broken-hearted after uncovering the truth behind the artificial facade of “spiritual” guides and witnessing fake gurus who take advantage of people.

What I mean here is, be smart and keep your wits about you. It’s all fine and dandy to believe in the legitimacy of mystical and esoteric concepts (I certainly do!) but be aware of those who might possibly be treating spirituality as a commodity to line their pockets with. This is not a problem exclusive to India because it’s happening in many places around the world.

Despite all this, India is a deeply spiritual place. Just one day there will make you realize that. I think a big reason why I initially got into yoga was because of my love and respect for Indian culture, which is why getting my teacher training in India was really the only option that I considered. I couldn’t be happier with my experience!

How to Pick a Yoga School in India: Fire Ceremony in Rishikesh

This beautiful photo was taken by a dear friend of mine and yoga teacher, Kharem Kavita.

I wish you the best of luck in making your decision. Feel free to contact me with any more questions you may have or if there’s anything else you’d like me to expand on in this blog post. When all else fails, trust your intuition. If you can, try to visit the school in person to feel out the vibes and verify the photos they post online. For further reading, check out this great article from Christine at GRRRL Traveler who discusses what you should expect when studying yoga in India. 


Do you have any advice for picking a yoga school in India?


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  • Reply RunawayBrit June 22, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    “I had relegated most of the hippies that flow through this sacred town by the river as culturally-appropriating try-hards who refuse to actually learn a damn thing about Indian culture beyond hash and jam sessions.” Ha ha ha! I LOVE this comment. I adored Rishikesh, but I really struggled with the flood of unwashed backpackers spouting on about love, peace and tolerance, without a scrap of knowledge or understanding about the real India. Survival in India is cut-throat – not even spiritual gurus can live on love alone, they gotta earn money like everybody else!

    I would love to take a more intensive yoga course now that I’m getting better at it. I did a few days in Rishikesh and a few days in Goa (man, that was too hot!!!). Maybe I’ll return in a year or so, if I stick with it.

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 5:55 am

      I am so happy that I’m not the only one who feels that way about some tourists in India lol. And I totally can relate about the heat! Luckily I did my yoga teacher training in February when it’s pretty cold. March is a much better month for yoga in North India but Rishikesh is way too busy with tourists at that point. I tried doing yoga in late April when I was in Kerala.. big mistake. It was way too hot!

  • Reply Dora June 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Although I haven’t tried yoga yet, I love your story and post! Wishing you all the best in your travels

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 5:56 am

      Thank you dear. Sending you lots of love & light on your travels <3 xx

  • Reply Flo June 22, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Great advice, Lauren! I did my RYT 200 training in San Francisco but am hoping to spend some time in Mysore next year as I primarily practice ashtanga – I think it’s so important for anyone looking to complete their training anywhere, not just India, to research properly before committing. As you said, the quality of teaching and programs does vary across the spectrum!

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 5:57 am

      Thank you! 🙂 Mysore is THE place for Ashtanga. You won’t be disappointed! I agree, research is totally key. 🙂

  • Reply Susanna Kelly June 22, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    My roommate is a a yoga teacher, but really wants to head to India to learn more. I will have to share this information with her. She’ll love it. Thanks!

  • Reply Suzannah Sylvian June 22, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    What an interesting read! I’ve dreamt of going to India for other reasons, but after reading this, the spiritual aspect as certainly caught my attention. Thank you for sharing such an honest opinion too.

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 5:58 am

      You are very welcome! So happy that I could inspire you, even if just a little bit. India is a fabulous place to travel and do a yoga ttc. I really hope you make your way there some day soon! xx

  • Reply Jeanette June 22, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    What great experience and tips. I enjoy doing yoga and it’s always been a dream of mine to go to India. Cheers!

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 5:59 am

      Thank you! I am so happy to help 🙂 Best of luck!

  • Reply Travel Pockets June 22, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    How awesome that you learned yoga in the mother land. I’m not so much a yoga person, but reading your story has inspired me give it another try 🙂

  • Reply Wanderlustingk June 22, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Really cool to read your story about doing this in India. I personally am not into yoga (I wish I was more patient), but great advice for people looking!

  • Reply Marteen June 23, 2016 at 7:20 am

    I love how life can take you down a road you weren’t expecting 🙂 I try to practice yoga for its health benefits. It’s good you touched on the other side of yoga and spirituality with it being a business. You certainly need your wits about you when choosing a yoga retreat or school.

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 6:01 am

      Yes, exactly! It requires quite a bit of research but ultimately you need to trust your instincts.

  • Reply Swati June 24, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Would you believe if I say I’m from India and haven’t attended a formal Yoga class ever. Haha the things we take for granted when available easily. That was an informative post for someone clueless about how to decide on a course/class. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Piraro June 25, 2016 at 6:02 am

      Haha! Isn’t that always how it goes? 😉 Thanks for the sweet words! xx

  • Reply Eliza June 26, 2016 at 2:06 am

    I love this post! So helpful, thank you Lauren! 🙂 xx

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