Magical… surreal… unbelievable.

Nichole Baker’s eyes are glazed over, recounting her trip to Pune, India.

The owner of StudiOm Yoga in Woodland Hills Shopping Center, Baker spent a month at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute to take her certification as an Iyengar yoga instructor to the next level. She describes it as “intense.”

Baker is a Junior Intermediate One teacher now. Going to India, she says, saves up to two years of training stateside. She’ll have to wait another two years before testing for intermediate two, Iyengar’s way of forcing you to practice what you have learned. It’s also the chance for Baker’s students to grow with her.

During her time in Pune, Baker says her class of 100 students from around the world spent two hours in class each morning, practicing afterward for an additional three hours. Exhausting? Yes. Exhilarating? No doubt.

“I’ve heard about, read about and studied Iynegar,” she explains. “But to actually be there, to take from BKS Iynegar’s children (Geeta, Prashant and Sunita)… I felt blessed for them to be my main teachers. To be in that heritage, to take from them, was surreal. To study with people from all over the world gave it a camaraderie I can only describe as a sorority-fraternity bond.”

Baker felt like a foreigner for the first time in her life. With a population in Pune at almost 2.5 million, she says, there are people everywhere, no matter the time of day. Though the locals were friendly, Baker was an obvious stand out. “Entire families approached me on the street for photos,” she recounts. Baker is taken back, remembering another difference. “There’s a smell you have never smelled in life. It’s a mix of food they eat, animals roaming the streets, the plant life that’s different from ours and the exhaust. Everyone has a scooter. You have one, your wife, your child and your grandmother have one.” Baker wore masks and scarves to combat the smell.

Observing the local architecture on optional heritage tours, Baker noted the thousands of years old structures being like “something from the Bible.” “Even in a big city like that, the architectural community is trying to build back,” she notes of large bath houses and homes that were occupied during more opulent times. She notes the amount of temples she found, akin to the United State’s “church on every corner.” “With that many people, there are ‘churches’ but these temples allowed you to stop in for a moment and make an offering or pray.”

Returning to thoughts about the reason for her trip, Baker says Iyengar yoga in India is truly a practice. “Students sign up for classes for a year,” she says, somewhat modeling her own practice after this method. “That’s why we do sessions, not only to help me out, but to make you accountable to see how you progress over a 12 week period. By the end of three months, you’re doing inversions and back bends and understanding your body more. Iyengar, is making you accountable for yourself and how you move your body and learn. It’s not a simple yoga of movement without mental understanding.”

Baker’s first major trip away from her family came after the realization that her 14 year-old son was old enough — with his father’s help — to take care of himself. It also came with a takeaway, yoga certification and training aside. “I had no worries about anything while I was gone: feeding my family, going to work or paying bills. I was submersed in that culture for four weeks and it helped me to let go.”

Baker’s experiences leave her with simple advice to share. “There are certain things we have to do,” she says. “But we need to detach ourselves from what we feel controls our lives. ‘If I don’t do this, the world will fall apart,’ you might think. Well, I left for a month and nothing fell apart!” she laughs. “A month is long time to be away. Things can work without you.”

Baker plans to return to India within two to three years for additional training.