Yesterday, while doing yoga alone on the shores of the Ganges river, and later browsing through the products in the local ayurvedic store (India’s version of naturopathic remedies) it occurred to me. I’m turning into a hippie, and I’m okay with it! I’m not sure if it’s Rishikesh, my introduction to yoga, or both, but…
It’s not all hard work at Rishikesh Yog Peeth. We are now in our third week of a four week course and we’ve made many new friends along the way. There may even be some romance blooming amongst some students (shhhh). We have a lot of fun between classes and on the weekends, so you can hear laughter ringing through the halls on a regular basis. The ashram obviously tries really hard to build a sense of family and to create some fun memories for everyone. Here are just a few things that we’ve enjoyed, along with a short interview with a couple of my new friends.
Trek up to a temple for an early morning blessing
A large group of students went on a short hike up a mountain to a temple to receive a special blessing from a spiritual leader. My weekends have been busy with Kirti because we have only a few days left to enjoy each other’s company for a while, but it sounds like the group had a wonderful time. Many of the students here are clearly enjoying the spiritual aspects of the program.
This was a special New Year’s celebration for me. It was my first one in India and I was blessed to spend it with Kirti, my boyfriend for the last 11 months. He got into Rishikesh on Saturday night and we wasted no time in finding something fun to do to ring in the new year. We headed back to Anna’s Café hoping for more dancing, but this time they had a drum circle going on instead. A few other guys were playing the digeridoo and the result was a beautiful tribal sound that almost left us in some sort of euphoric trance. At the stroke of midnight, the starry night sky was temporarily interrupted with a fantastic display of fireworks. 2016 instantly became history and we welcomed 2017 with open hearts and a special kiss.
On Our Way to Jumpin Heights
The next morning, we were up early to catch a taxi up the mountains to the famous Giant Bungee Swing at Jumpin Heights. It’s a lot like a bungee jump only the harness is connected to your chest instead of your feet. Also, instead of just bouncing up and down you are swung way out over the Ganges River. We were really looking forward to the experience and were in good spirits.
Before I came to Rishikesh Yog Peeth I had never done a single yoga class in my life. Now I intend to make yoga an important part of my everyday life. In only 2 weeks I have observed a few major changes in my mind, body and spirit, so much so that I only want to learn more. I know now why it is a lifestyle. Here’s how I’m feeling.
I thought the only real way to strengthen my muscles was by lifting weights in a gym. Boy! Was I wrong! I didn’t realize that the best way to build strength is by simply using your own body weight. There are so many yoga poses that once held, build your muscles. A good example is the tree pose. Stand with both feet together. Now lift one leg and press the flat of your foot into the other thigh. (Be careful not to press your foot against your knee). Now lift your arms straight over head so they are next to your ears. Engage your legs and arms and core so they are tight and maintain your balance. Make sure you are standing straight. Tuck in your butt and take 5 long deep breaths. My legs started quivering on the second breath, but I know it’s because it’s improving my strength and balance. I see the tone in my muscles already.
I was watching a funky looking Indian Santa Clause shake his fake balloon belly on the dance floor when it hit me. It was my weirdest Christmas ever. While all my friends and family were enjoying turkey and opening gifts in America, I was spending my Christmas in Rishikesh, India.
It all started out as a pretty traditional Christmas Eve. My yoga ashram, Rishikesh Yog Peeth, decorated the courtyard with Christmas lights, played classic Christmas music for us and lit a nice bond fire. They even had a small Christmas tree set up. It was a really lovely start to the holiday weekend.
Unexpected visit from a friend
My phone rang and it was Kirti. He surprised me with an unexpected visit and I was delighted to spend Christmas weekend with someone special. I wouldn’t be alone after all! We wasted no time heading out on the town to find some festivities. Someone told me that Anaa’s Café was having a nice Christmas celebration so we climbed into a taxi to go check it out.
I’m finishing my first week of yoga training at Rishikesh Yog Peeth Teacher Training School in India and it’s been an enlightening time for me so far. I’m learning so much that at times I feel like my brain is going to explode. I’m not only learning about yoga, more importantly, I’m learning about myself. The study of yoga is a process, and the process is beautiful. Yoga means awakening, and I see now that that is precisely what is happening to me. I’m awakening from a toxic sleep caused by stress, poor health choices and other environmental factors. Through yoga I am evolving and it feels marvelous. We learn new things every day and I can’t share them all with you, but here are the 5 major things that I’ve learned about yoga so far. If you want to know more, you should come to Rishikesh and experience it for yourself. It’s life changing.
Yoga is a lifestyle
Many of the students here at Rishikesh Yog Peeth have been practicing yoga for 5 to 10 years. They practice every day, not necessarily in a class, but more often in solitude. Some people travel from place to place on “yoga vacations” where they learn from various masters or instructors. They read every book they can get their hands on, starting with something simple like The Art of Joyful Living (a thoughtful new friend just bought me a copy) and ending with Yoga Sutra. Sure, you can choose to do “yoga” by just going to a couple of classes a week at your local gym, but that isn’t real yoga. That is just exercise.
I was in the middle of a downward dog pose today when I felt tears filling my eyes. Our instructor was slowly counting to ten, very slowly, and I couldn’t hold the position any longer. I collapsed on my yoga mat, frustrated and feeling like a failure. My whole body ached. We were on our third hour of yoga for the day and I had never done yoga before. A whole host of emotions were overwhelming me; anxiety, fear of failure, feeling homesick, along with emotional and physical exhaustion. I wasn’t sure I could push on and then a sweet young girl holding the pose next to me quietly asked me if I was okay. Those few kind words encouraged me. I somehow managed to dig deep within myself to find the strength to finish the class. It’s the little things like that here that make all the difference. Isn’t that the truth everywhere? There are 60 of us going through this program together, but individually we all have our own personal challenges to overcome.
Getting here was a trip, quite literally. My driver drove me the 7 long hours from Delhi to Rishikesh. He stopped to ask for directions 6 times, although I had given explicit instructions to his boss on where we were going and who to call for directions on how to get here. Finally, my driver gave up next to a foot bridge that our car obviously couldn’t cross. I called the nice people at Yog Peeth and they sent one of their workers over on a scooter to get me. We managed the impossible by stacking two large suitcases, an overstuffed backpack, me and my handbag all on the back of his little scooter! I wish I had a picture of that, because it was India at its finest.
Yesterday I shipped a box full of stuff home to the USA. Let me tell you, shipping and receiving in India are exercises of pure frustration. An hour and a half later I left the DHL office feeling ready to punch someone. Here is what to expect if you are trying to ship a box or receive a package in India.
They will repack everything
Whatever you take in to ship will be opened and repacked. So, if you are thinking of shipping home any highly personal items, note that they will be handled roughly and questioned. If it is packed in bubble wrap they will rip it open and you will have to repack it. Furthermore, the people handling your items are laborers. They don’t know how to treat a fragile antique and have never seen an adult toy. You will have to watch them very carefully and be prepared to explain everything. They won’t speak English well either (if at all), so it will just exacerbate the issues. I’m sure the reason they do this is to make sure that the box doesn’t contain some sort of explosives or prohibited items. But I’m an American shipping a box home to America. I hardly think I’m a danger or fit the profile of a terrorist.
For the first time in my life I have the freedom and means to travel a lot and it feels wonderful! Everyday my bucket list grows with new places I want to visit; Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, Croatia, Italy, the Greek Islands, Bora Bora….it never ends. Fortunately, this year I have scratched off a few destinations too; Nepal (check), Dubai (check) and Amsterdam (check). Each time I set out on a new adventure I feel free to explore the world on my own terms. When the trip is over, I find myself longing for the next one. I wish more people would travel. It brings us together as humans and we learn things through our adventures. Here are the 5 reasons that I enjoy traveling and I hope they will inspire you to get out of your comfort zone and visit someplace new.
1. It opens your mind
When the boundaries of your world extend only to the next state or county, your perception is limited. Your world exists only within the confines of your own limited experiences.
The world is huge. There is so much to see and do, and every time I travel I see things from a fresh pair of eyes. Things are not black and white, right or wrong. There is a massive grey area when it comes to other cultures. They have different values, ethics and traditions. They see me through those limited perspectives as well. The only way to bridge these gaps and narrow our judgments of one another is through travel when you can experience such things for yourself. The Discovery Channel can’t make you feel what it’s like to see genuine poverty with your own eyes. It can’t make you feel the desperation from a street kid begging for money. Even the beautiful videos and pictures can’t make you feel the cold from the Himalaya Mountains or really appreciate the hardiness of the people that live there without heat and electricity. These things must be experienced first-hand to really be appreciated and understood.
I have an amazing announcement! I’m going to do something outrageous and way outside of my comfort zone! Wondering what it is? Well keep reading.
This year in India has been brutal. Seriously, it’s been the hardest year of my life, surpassing even my two divorces and the death of my mother in 2004. Never mind all the cultural differences, demanding work and loneliness. Each of those challenges has been exponentially compounded by a single factor, my diminishing good health.
The Cause of My Declining Health
Now to be fair, I can’t blame it all on India. Yes, the pollution is awful! I can taste it in my mouth and feel it in my lungs. I’ve developed a persistent little cough since I’ve been here, much like many Indians. I’m always hacking up phlegm and sneezing. I usually have at least three sneezing fits every day.
Aside from the pollution problem and its effect on my health, I haven’t been eating right. Indian food is very greasy and heavy on carbohydrates. The sauces (they call them gravy) are loaded with butter and oil. They use very few fresh fruits and vegetables in traditional Indian food. Slowly but surely I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve nearly gained 10 pounds this year.
I haven’t done a great job at exercising either, which also explains my weight gain. Usually I go to the gym and work out several times a week. Unfortunately, due to the time difference (currently 13.5) hours I often have conference calls very early in the morning or very late at night. Add to that the demotivation I’ve felt because of being away from my family and friends, feeling sluggish from a poor diet and my lungs being full of crap, and well, I’ve just fallen off the gym wagon.