There is so much about my experience in India that just can't easily be put into words. Flying from Thailand, my mind and life were awhirl with both uncertainty as well as possibility. This past year on sabbatical from my job, I've enjoyed great flexibility and spent much time reconnecting with family and friends. Although I truly enjoy what I've been doing in my work, it had become lonely on the road and and even though my "nomadic gene" keeps me looking towards the next opportunity and adventure, I was definitely feeling more lost than found.
Completing a yoga teacher's training course has been on my bucket list for a few years. Teaching yoga as a "job" was not the focus of going through such a training. My goal was to deepen my own practice and gather more understanding and depth. The opportunity to take a course in India arose and I made the commitment a couple of months in advance which in itself was difficult, as so much of my life was already out of balance. It felt like a splurge on myself, but also a chance to dig deep and accomplish something that I wasn't even sure I could do. One of my American friends in Thailand had done some research and identified a couple of schools that stood out to her and had been highly recommended. We were supposed to attend together but at the last minute she couldn't get her visa straightened out so I went alone. It turned out to be what I needed at that time, and of course I met some amazing people.
India has intrigued me from my first visit. The mashup of noise, grime, and poverty is barely balanced by the splashes of colour worn by the women and the shy smiles of the children. The depth of history, culture, and spirituality that is woven through everyday life is evident if you take the time to look.
Living in an Ashram for a month in Rishikesh, considered one of the holiest cities in India was perfect for me. Rishikesh lies in Northern India, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and is a 6 hour, wild road trip from New Delhi. If you haven't read my previous blogs about India, just know that riding in any vehicle is downright frightening in the cities. I discovered it was worse in the countryside. Luckily I lived to tell the tale of this adventure. Passing on blind corners, careening along at max speed alternating with abrupt brake slamming to avoid the frequent cow or ox cart is normal. Luckily, having lived and dealt with traffic in many SE Asian countries it isn't quite as alarming to me as it probably should be.
Rishikesh itself is known as the "Yoga Capitol of the World" and is meat and alcohol free. It is considered a pilgrimage city as devout Hindus seeking enlightenment have travelled to the area since ancient times. The Ashram building was set up on a high hill above the hustle and bustle of Rishikesh itself so we were treated to birdsongs and stunning sunrises. The walk to town and the heat kept us on task and studious during the week. The highly revered and sacred Ganges River flows directly through Rishikesh. Of course, cows roam freely in the streets and monkeys are common both in town and in the surrounding countryside. The Ganges remains relatively clean around Rishikesh but we did see a funeral pyre and celebration along side the river during one of our outings. To drink the water is considered a common part of the blessing at local temples. If you dare!
One weekend during my course was particularly auspicious. As per the HIndu calendar it was THE weekend to hold a wedding so we also had front row seats to parties all around our neighbourhood. One night, I heard pumping, Bollywood style music growing louder as I was studying in my room. Curious as to what may be coming up the road, I walked out and was able to view the groom, gliding by on a white horse. He was decked out in full regalia and was headed up the hill past us towards his bride with many revellers in his parade. I'm sorry I didn't bring my camera out but it was just as you may have seen in the movies, but better.
The Association for Yoga and Meditation provided a wonderful course. We started at 0700 with a meditation and pranayama (breathing) class, then a short tea break, followed by 1.5 hours of Ashtanga yoga. We then inhaled our breakfast and spent a few hours in lectures. The daily topics included Anatomy and Physiology, Teaching Methodologies, Mantras, Teaching Practice, and one of my all time favourite topics- Philosophy. During my time at Gonzaga, the Jesuits had us consume equal amounts of philosophy and religion, a perfect compliment from my perspective. We ended the day with 1.5 hours of Hatha yoga, basically a 7a-7p schedule. The weather was getting hotter by the day, the air was full of smoke from all the local burning, and we were tired but fulfilled. I have to give a shout out to all of our teachers, led by the course director, Yogi Chetan Mahesh. Such a dedicated, knowledgable, and kind group. The course was all I expected and more.
We had Sundays off which meant that any exploring had to be done that day. One day, a few of us walked almost 30,000 steps and climbed over 76 floors according to my Apple Health app (see proof in my slide show below). Every Sunday we eagerly roamed all over town; rafting the Ganga, hiking up to waterfalls, poking around the Beatles Ashram, eating in local restaurants for a change of pace, and of course- shopping.
Did you know the Beatles stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Ashram in Rishikesh in 1968? They composed most of the White Album and many other songs while studying Transcendental Meditation. The Maharishi Ashram is now in ruins but houses some amazing urban wall art. There are quite a few pics below of the artwork. Make sure you view this blog in your browser by clicking on the title so you can see the many slides imbedded below.
Our AYM Philosophy teacher told us, "Yoga is not exercise, it is not a religion, it is not just the asanas (poses), Yoga IS excellence in all actions." This was something that I loved to hear and plan to continue to work towards, excellence. A quote I recently came across is a very basic definition of yoga: "The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. It means union, integration, or wholeness. It is an approach to health that promotes the harmonious collaboration of the human being's three components: body, mind, and spirit." ~ Stella Weller
As per the title, I did find my balance again on this journey. My body became strong and my mind clearer and full of hope and excitement for what life may have in store. The people I met at the Ashram were simply wonderful and made up a big part of my experience, infusing joy, hugs, and smiles into every day. I'm back in Oregon now, at our lovely beach house, writing this as I listen to the sound of the ocean. Once in awhile I glance up and peer out at the Pacific, then close my eyes and give thanks for my life, my health, family and friends.
Here's to you, faithful reader. May these words and photos make you smile.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti- To my heart this sings, "Dear God, grant peace to me, to those in my life, and bring peace to the world." In light of yet another terrible mass shooting today, I hope you join me in a prayers for peace.