A few weeks ago I finally committed to doing my yoga teacher training. I’d been thinking about doing it for quite some time, and even started two programs while in India 8 years ago, but the timing and feeling never were quite right.

Feeling somewhat aimless as I drifted around Colombia last month, I thought it was time to commit. I had investigated a couple of schools and finally I chose Durga’s Tiger School on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador. I wondered how woo-woo it might be, with a name like that and a reported focus on Tantra, Yoga and Shamanism. Each of these things I believe in deeply, however part of me is always suspicious about authenticity and didn’t want to be lulled into a centre that watered down sacred rituals as a soft cultural experience for foreigners.

This school is not that.

With 14 students, two of them men, we come from all walks of life. Some local, some (North) American, Spanish, German, Swedish, a guy from St. Kits. We’re a rainbow of sorts, with varying levels of experience. Obviously none of us have come from the depths of South American jungles, nor do we have a sadhu in our mist, but the atmosphere we’ve entered has catapulted us into a space of genuine connection and real vulnerability with each other.

The first night of teacher training started with Temazcal at Ruben and Tatty’s house, a 10 minute drive from the yoga centre. Temazcal is a ceremony, similar to a sweat lodge, where you enter into a pitch black tent and hot rocks are brought into the tent with a big pitchfork. Sweet grasses and herbs are added to the rocks, and the door of the tent is sealed, enclosing you in total darkness with only soft scents and the clammy leg of the person next to you touching your hand in the blackness.

Immediately a girl in our group begins to cry… The feeling is claustrophobic and the darkness is complete. I like it, but can see how scary it is. Water is then poured on the stones, and Ruben begins to tell the story of Temazcal, with Tatty translating. Ruben explains the significance of 4 rounds of Temazcal: each round represents a different element, with each getting progressively hotter with the addition of new stones. As the stories go on, and songs are sung together, there are several people in our group of 15 feeling uncomfortable, scared, too hot, too cold, suffocated. The girl who was crying breaks into a panic. Ruben directs his words to her, telling her how we’re all here for her and to stay with the experience. It’s powerful; collectively we pray for her, hoping she will remain in this experience to ultimately let go of the fears holding her back. We all are awed by her strength as she choses to stay – not just this round, but for the first two. Going around the circle, we all identify ourselves, explain why we are here and what we wish to release during the ceremony. As we sing and pray our way together through the four rounds of Temazcal (Water, Air, Earth and Fire), each round gets more intense, but thankfully each is shorter than the last. In the blackness I lay down in the fetal position. It’s comforting – the ground takes the heat from your body and you feel supported by the earth below. Finally, leaving the Temazcal four hours later, the sky has turned to night. We stumble out head first, our exit from the tent, a symbolic rebirth into the world. The cool air hits sweaty skin and immediately you feel lighter, physically, mentally, spiritually. This sets into your body at such a deep level that there’s nothing to do but lay on the grass and let it soak down into your bones.