Phir Milenge Ganga ji

On Monday, around a hundred of us gathered in the yoga hall to receive our certificates in Yoga teacher training. Some were in more extended courses, but all of us felt like the time of training had gone by in an instant.

How to record a months worth of memories? There were days that pushed this body (and mind) to the limit and beyond. But like metal in the forge, both became stronger in the fire of training. I’m now able to hold poses which I was unable to do at the beginning of the month.  And through reflection I’ve learned more about the nature of mind. I’m feeling a bit lighter these days as well, physically and also mentally from letting some things go.

Yet I did not do this alone. From the excellent staff who provided instruction, to those that prepared the food, kept everything clean, and handled a myriad of unseen administrative tasks, we’ve all been well supported this month. Further support has come from my new friends and fellow students. Through the last month we’ve commiserated, laughed, cried, screamed, moaned, sweated, sang, danced and smiled together, and pulled each other across the finish line.

 Now the time has come to say goodbye. Most of my classmates have already left, and I depart tomorrow for further travels. I find myself wishing I was back at day one, with all the experience still yet to unfold. But in Yoga as well as Buddhism, expecting the impermanent to be permanent is ignorance. Time moves on and all conditioned things change.

The last week was quite busy studying Sanskrit chants, asanas, breathing techniques, and yoga philosophy for the final exams. Add teaching practicums and doing 108 Sun Salutations, and there wasn’t much time to spare. So in my last days here, I’ve returned to the pastime in which I engaged when I first got here back in August: darshan with Mother Ganga-ji. 

She reminds me of the passage of time and the never ending flow of all things. 

My well-used yoga mat
Our class with our Hatha Yoga instructor, Ravi-ji
Traditional Indian Music
Graduation dancing
Ganga Aarti Ceremony
Local color

Yoga Teacher Training Week Three: The final stretch

The week has gone by fast, and I’m sure it will continue exponentially until we’re done at the end of next week. As of today we’ve learned all of the asanas required, and have started teaching in some of the classes. Yikes. It’s getting real, folks. And really busy. There’s a ton to study for and do for our final exams, making exit travel plans, and money adventures due to the decision by the Prime Minister here to suddenly make the 500 and 1000 rupee notes extinct. But that’s for a future post when school’s done.

For now, we’re just enjoying this opportunity, and taking the time to make connections that will spread around the globe. 

And studying our asanas off.

So just a few pics this week. Just wanted to let you all know I’m still alive.

Even monkeys want to hear Sushant ji teach yoga philosophy
Having a well-earned chai after doing over 25 sun salutations!
On the other side of the chai group table
“Are you serious? He really stole your banana?”

And for a look at our daily experience (although we walk across at night instead), here’s a trip across the Laxshman bridge in Rishikesh.

Yoga Teacher Training Week Two, or, Monkey Mayhem

At the start of training I was a little self-conscious about being a beginner. That’s now gone. I’ve thrown the self consciousness into the Ganga-ji and embraced my beginner status. As a result, I’m learning more, and feel more motivated. And I’m also more likely to stay within the limits of this body and protect it from injuries. I’m still pushing myself, but am now more likely to say no when the body needs some slack.

We get a few hours of self study time in the middle of the day, and along with studying, we’ve been entertained by the resident monkeys. We’ve been warned not to feed them, but I think they’re quite used to humans and have lost their fear. This past week we were studying on our courtyard when the troupe arrived and started raiding the garbage can. It was all fun and games until they started coming towards us. My friend ran and a baby grabbed at her before she got away. Another came for me and I fended it off with a chair until they ran off. They’re not quite as cute as they used to be. 

The other highlight of the week was a trip to Vashistha cave. According to Hindu philosophy, Vashistha was the son of Brahman and one of the great Seven Sages. The cave is where he meditated, and is a short 25km away. So nearly 60 of us piled into jeeps and rode out to the cave. In smaller groups, we took turns meditating in the cave, and then we all went for an extended dip in the ice cold but clean Ganga. It was great to do here where the water is tuquoise and lovely, but I fear I don’t have the dedication to repeat today’s adventure farther downstream in Varanasi. Here it made for a lovely day, and a great outing with fellow classmates.

Yoga Teacher Training Week One, or, getting my asana kicked in Rishikesh

If I’ve got one, it’s sore.

For the past week I’ve been in a 200 hour yoga teacher training course. It’s a very rounded mix of training in not only Hatha and Ashtanga asanas, or poses, but also the philosophy behind yoga, as well as breathing and meditation.

I knew coming into this that as a relative yoga newbie and as someone a bit older than most other students, that I’d have some work cut out for me. But the environment has been really supportive, and the only pressure I’ve had to get the poses perfectly (vs what this body is able to do) has come from my own delusions. 

Still, there’s a lot to keep up with: lots of reading about Indian philosophy, Sanskrit pose names and chanting to memorize, and of course, the physical aspects of the yoga as well. We’re up at 5 each morning, and finish the day around 9pm. Apart from some midday study time, there’s not much time to do anything else. We get one day off a week (Sunday), which will be mostly filled with study and practice.

Yet I’m really enjoying it. It’s challenging and at times painful, but feels worthwhile. The instructors are great, and my fellow students are a joy to be around. It turns out I’m not the only newbie, nor the only non-twenty something in the class. And we’re all feeling the crunch of both memorization and challenging our bodies.

So if I live through the next week, I’ll tell you all about it.

Return to Rishikesh 

I’m back in Rishikesh for a month of yoga teacher training, and have arrived a few days early to see (and hear!) Rishikesh in the midst of Diwali.

Diwali is celebrated over five days, with the third day being the main festival. Many homes have rangoli (colored sand decorations) on their doorsteps, and have colored lights strung up on their houses. On the third night, there are also candles put out both in homes and on the water.

I was able to watch some rangoli being made, and henna being applied during some celebrations at a local hostel. And there’s been no shortage of fireworks since I got here, going off all day long, but mostly at night. I rather feel sorry for the animals – it must be terrifying for them.

I’m studying at Shiva Yoga Peeth, which is nearly next door to the ashram I stayed in during my visit in August. Imagine my surprise then, when I checked in with some other women and they showed us our rooms – in that same ashram next door! Sadly, I don’t have a balcony like last time, but the actual rooms are nicer this time around. They’ve definitely spruced up the place!

If you’re interested in what the class entails, click here. I’m including some pictures of the ashram, and the general area, and will include more in later updates.

In the meantime, shanti, shanti, shanti.

Inside the Sant Seva ashram courtyard

My room. Pretty spacious for a room in an ashram.
The main yoga hall

Yogi going onwards

Today after one last yoga class I’ll slowly make my way to Amritsar.

I seriously considered staying here longer, but there are other places I really want to visit on this trip.

I realize that my initial report wasn’t glowing, but the town has really grown on me. The people here have been very friendly and helpful, the surrounding landscape is quite beautiful, and there is a spiritual vibe here that one can sense once one settles down long enough to notice. Staying here has helped me do that.  Two yoga classes a day have helped this body become more flexible, and spending time just watching the Ganges river flow by has been great for the mind.

I’ve been told the best time to come is in the early spring, and I have to admit that coming back here for further yoga training at some point in the future sounds pretty appealing.

But for now I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Monkey mayhem

Another amazing sunset

Rishikesh at night

Watching the river run

Avoiding the void

The rain has stopped, leaving the air a little cooler and misty clouds drifting over the forested hills. Monkeys make their way on rooftop railings to observe their domain. Families splash in the water at the ghat (steps going down to the river) next door. Pujas sound from loudspeakers across the river and horns honk steadily from nearby roadways. A procession of locals and tourists alike walk to and fro across the Lakshman Jhula bridge. The mighty Ganga flows through all this activity, like time, waiting for no one.

And I sit on my balcony, watching it all.

I’ve been here in Rishikesh for a few days now, visiting restaurants, looking in a few shops, and going to yoga classes. I’ve developed a schedule of sorts, and in the heat of the day I’ve also been reading, sending emails (when Internet is available), napping, and otherwise killing time.

Some of this latter activity has been necessary as this body adjusts to the monsoon climate, and I’m not beating myself up over it. But take away the ability to walk for miles or to be engaged in any long-term activity, and I’m faced with….the void. 

We’ve all got it. The itch to do something, anything, versus be with our own mind. That roommate that never shuts up. The yearning for more: having more, seeing more, doing more. And I’ve realized I’ve been avoiding it instead of just being with it. Taking time to just be.

It’s going to be hot and humid wherever I go. I was going to go to Shimla or Mussoorie next, but I’ve settled into a rhythm here. My room costs less than $10 a day, two yoga classes less than $7, and food less than $10. The room isn’t the greatest I’ve stayed in, has no AC, but this balcony view is priceless. The first day I got here I was ready to go, but perhaps now my clock is being reset to Rishikesh time. Eventually I’ll move on, but for right now I think Rishikesh may be as good a place as any to slow down and just be for a while. 
Me and the void.

Ah, that’s the India I remember

I said goodbye to my friends in Delhi, and took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver had been asked to help me find a bus to Rishikesh, but little did we know that there’s a system in place: one usually takes an AC bus to Haridwar, then catches another bus to Rishikesh, an hour away. Unarmed with such info, I ended up on an old, non-air conditioned, crowded public bus for the seven hour ride to Rishikesh. Well, I did want the experience of India.

The bus idled at the station until the driver felt there were enough people to make it worth his time. We pulled out and crawled eastward out of Delhi traffic at an inchworm’s pace until we reached Ghaziabad. After squeezing through, traffic opened up a little bit, and more greenery appeared by the side of the road, increasing as we headed north until we got to Haridwar. 

Here are some of the things one sees on a north Indian road trip:

Punjabi dhabas: the original McDonald’s, Indian style, at which one can expect to find tea, biscuits (cookies or crackers), bottled water, and all manner of Indian snacks and fried food. There are probably millions of dhabas in existence.

Houses in varying states, ranging from palatial to merely consisting of a tarp stretched over poles, all mixed higglety-pigglety with stores.

Cows, donkeys, chickens, goats and dogs. 

Trash thrown about. There are no collection bins to speak of, yet there is a system, as the loose garbage provides food for the wandering animals, and a livelihood for those who go through it for recycling, cloth, metal, etc.. Garbage processing happens in India , it just isn’t hidden away like it is in the west.

Oh, and of course, the thousands of buses, lorries, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians all with somewhere to go.

So add plenty of dust, the smell of burning things, open toilets and who knows what else, and plenty of honking, and you have the basic North Indian driving experience.

Having done that on a crowded, vibrating bus for seven hours, I disembarked in Rishikesh with my luggage, 85*F temperatures, and 95% humidity. I soon felt like a used washcloth, and after walking for about a half hour, waved the white flag and hired a rickshaw. Since I never would have found the hotel I was looking for, and it was up on a hill, I’m glad I did. It was definitely worth the $1.20 I paid. 

The town of Rishikesh itself is a bit run down, dirty and crowded. The nearby Lakshman Jhula area just north of Rishikesh, is nestled between the banks of the Ganges and forested hills. It holds most of the ashrams and is slightly more appealing, but still has a little bit of a seedy aspect to it. I tried a hotel on the first night, and the Shri Sant Seva ashram the next. My rooms at both places were pretty sparse and the bathrooms were a bit dingy. But my room at the ashram is right next to the river, and if I jumped over my balcony railing, I could go swimming (I wont). I was looking at how to move on at first, but after spending the first day recuperating from running around in the heat with luggage, I feel much better and think I’ll stay for a while. 

My room at the ashram

The bathroom. eek.

But check out these views!

Yup. Its the monsoon season.