"External circumstances can only cause you physical pain. Suffering is created in your mind."
India and I were on much better terms after the initial panic and sickness wore off. Once I started my 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training Intensive I leapt enthusiastically into an exciting new routine. Unfortunately I couldn't sleep more than a few hours a night for the first 12 days. Someone had told me that it takes one day per time zone crossed to adjust to the jet lag. I knew I just needed to be patient.
My daily schedule Monday - Friday:
5:30am wake up and personal morning mediation
6:30am herbal tea & Jala Neti (nasal cleansing)
7am morning yoga practice for 2 hours
9:15am breakfast of fruit salad, oatmeal & honey
10:00am mantra practice
10:30am yoga history & tradition lecture
11:45am yoga anatomy & philosophy lecture
1:00pm lunch of lentils, vegetables & rice
2:00pm rest, hand wash laundry, study, explore
4:00pm adjustments workshop
5:00pm evening yoga practice for 2 hours
7:15pm dinner of curry, vegetables, rice chapati, desert
8:30pm personal evening mediation practice, reading
10:00pm lights out
Our first evening gathering as a group I receive the above schedule and a bundle of yoga goodies. A stack of textbooks, notebook & pen and my most prized possession from the training, a woven yoga rug. I had agonized before my departure on many inconsequential little details. One thing I hummed and hawed about for ages was taking my fancy expensive western yoga mat. In the end I decided to pack really light, I mean really... light. So no fancy western yoga mat. Instead I brought a yoga towel and that served nicely on top that beautiful woven rug.
For context it's worth noting that at one time I traveled with multiple suit cases. One for shoes, one for outfits. In the heady days of my European adventure there was occasion for multiple pairs of shoes. I certainly did not want to be responsible for lugging around a lot of stuff while negotiate crowed Indian streets. In a mad departure from my former habit I took just one small suitcase. This was a very good decision not only for practical reasons but for advancing my yoga practice of non attachment as well.
Those first couple weeks I was consumed by a singular thought. It crept up while in postures. It was in the back of my mind during nearly every śavāsana I used precious internet time when both power and internet were inconsistently available to research possible solutions. It was even making its way into my dreams. "Oh my god I didn't pack enough yoga cloths!"
I can't type that sentence without laugh. It sounds absolutely ridiculous in hind sight. Like, really embarrassingly ridiculous. And I would probably not type it at all were it not for the fact that this was one of my greatest insights about myself and the nature of reality during the intensive.
It was really really hot in India in September when I first arrived. The average daytime temperature those first couple weeks was 38 celcius. I have hardly in my life ever encountered that type of heat not to mention the humidity. I was sweating buckets. In the evening the sun would go down at nearly the exact same time we would find ourselves lying in corpse pose after our evening practice. I would feel awful stinging like I was being bitten by the most sadistic mosquitoes you could possibly imagine.
Thing was I was wearing 30% Deet repellant at the insistence of my travel clinic consultant and there were never any bite marks. It just didn't make sense. To this day I'm not sure what was happening but my best theory is this. My sweat pours were stretched so wide open that their contracting as the temperature dropped slightly was actually painful. Anyway, I digress, the point is, I was sweating a whole heck of a lot.
The few yoga clothes I did bring were of course expensive synthetic active wear. I can tell you, synthetic does not hand wash worth a damn. Every piece I took with me was absolutely destroyed by my rough attempt to beat the sweat out of it through sheer brute force. It never dried properly and so I just stank like a wet worn sock all day long. This further exacerbated my anxiety about the lovely clean yoga clothes sitting neatly in my closet back home rather than with me during yoga teacher training.
After talking sheepishly to one of my teachers about how anxious I was feeling about being away from home plus how terribly I was sleeping I found myself slipping in the fact that my lack of yoga clothing was making me uneasy. Then I realized, my teacher wears the same yoga clothes every day. A simple baggy white cotton long sleeve shirt and baggy white cotton pants. And he is doing pretty darn good with that.
For my teacher this simple yoga ensemble is a conscious choice. However, throughout India a limited wardrobe is a side effect of real life threatening poverty. And I am freaking out over a lack of stretchy pants. What the hell is the matter with me! My teacher listened attentively and calmly explained that this being the first time I had traveled to the East and alone at that I was was simply experiencing the stress of radical newness. I needed to practice evening meditation for a number of minutes equal to my age. So I did. In my 34 minute meditation practice I came to a realization.
My western capitalist upbringing had me absolutely convinced that I could control the universe with the right pair of technical fabric leggings and colour coordinated weather appropriate footwear. I believed this in the core of my being as if it were a law of nature. Without a thick insulating layer of stuff surrounding me I was feeling quite exposed to the uncertainty of life that pervaded every waking moment of my experience in this very new very different setting.
During insight meditation assumptions must be questioned. They are practically begging to be questioned. So I questioned. Is there truth to this assumption that I wield greater control over my destiny with the right stuff? A memory flashed in my mind from earlier that day when I was walking towards Lakshman Jula bridge shopping for cotton clothes.
A couple Sadhus were just lying in the shade of an archway resting during the hottest point of the day and looking quite content. Sadhus are a type of yogi who vow renunciation from worldly possession so that they can work towards moksa or liberation. They wear orange robes are nomadic and live off of alms, the food donations of strangers.
There they were with nothing but their orange robes and a pair of wooden walking sticks. Meanwhile I was going through the motions of a familiar dance, seeking some comfort in the hunting and gathering of more than I need in-between commitments where I engage in activities that help me pay for those excesses. The Sadhus I realized were not just lying there, they were a meditation in the form of a life. While they were contemplating Brahman, non fluctuating blissful highest reality, I was stressing myself out. Who had greater influence over their destiny they or I?
That weekend our first Sunday activity was white water rafting. I hadn't packed a swim suit as the recommendation on the email I received from the school was to bring bathing clothes. I won't go into the detail of that miscommunication. Suffice it to say I thought bathing cloths was something other than a bathing suit and was quite sure I would find them in India. Anyway, I found some Iyengar shorts and a tank top that were both good for swimming in and relatively conservative.
As we were crossing under Lakshman Jula bridge the guides suggested we jump out of the raft to float in the Ganges. I did so. And as I was floating in that holy river wearing Iyengar shorts, a tank top and a bright orange lifejacket I glanced up at the bridge packed as it always is with people coming and going about their business. A few waved down at me and I back up at them. Most were to busy to notice. I was contemplating Brahman, as I floated with the current of the river. Quite literally going with the flow. There was nothing to do but enjoy the moment. The moment was a cornucopia of delights. Letting go of everything, including the raft which had carried me to that point, I had gained the coolness of the water, the sweetness of the air, and the magnificent blue of the sky. As I type this I can't help but tear up a bit at the memory. This was a kind of yoga of powerful insight but no stretchy pants in sight.
"One should lift oneself by one's own efforts and should not degrade oneself; for one's own self is one's friend, and one's own self is one's enemy."
~ Bhagavad Gita 6:5
This past fall I attend a 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training program at Rishikesh Yog Peeth at a remarkable school located just outside Rishikesh India in Uttarakhand Province. I went for a couple important reasons. Firstly I wanted to deepen my personal practice and learn more about Yoga in the context of exploring the land where it's originated. Secondly, I was desperately in need of a quest. I was in a place in my life where I needed to confirm that I was able to navigate the world independently and thrive. A little part of me believed I could but the greater part of me was absolutely terrified.
My first evening in India was full on. My traveling buddy, for whom I am endlessly grateful, and I spent 6 hours by car from Delhi to Rishikesh on narrow dirt roads lined with animals, garbage and very poor people sleeping on the ground. Our driver was impressive to say the least. I can't even begin to comprehend how traffic functions in India. To me it was just like a bumper cart alley somehow minus the crashes.
At one point I hallucinated an elephant because I was so exhausted and stressed. It was just a harmless patch of trees immersed in a thick fog. We made it to our destination at 3am. Rolling our ridiculously inappropriate western suitcases through narrow alleys around the sleeping cows and their numerous leavings we eventually found the school and were let in by a very sleepy gentleman in charge of Shiva Resort whom I would later regard as one of the kindest individuals I have ever met.
That first days in Swarg Ashram I was so overwhelmed. The smell of everything was so pungent I could hardly make it the short 3 minute walk from sleeping resort to school without gaging. I got sick on that first day after drinking a freshly prepared passion fruit juice. It was also so incredibly hot and humid that when combined with Jet Lag I was a fragile emotional mess. I felt so soft and sensitive to all the differences surrounding me. I was really concerned that I had made an awful mistake coming to India. What was I thinking!
But on night two I did sleep a little and that next morning I awoke to an entirely different experience. The mild sickness from the day before had abated but left me with a profound sense that India had quite literally entered my body and somehow changed it making me more resilient better adapted. A symphony of crickets, birds, monkeys, dogs, cows, children, mantra & motorcycles beaconed from outside my window compelling me out of bed. The crimson sunrise falling upon the lush green hills looked quite inviting so I ventured outside. To my surprise the air smelled really sweet and I have no explanation for that shift in my perception.
I made my way up to the roof of Shiva Resort where a yogini was silently practicing. The sun was rising late and bright by this point over the foothills of the Himalayas and Swarg Ashram was waking up. A large grey monkey bounded across the roof above me and I was awe struck by the exotic unconventionally beautiful sight of a northern India city sprawled out before me. The spaghetti tangle of power lines, the rough hand built brick buildings, the complete disregard for symmetry and order, the half domestic half wild animals roaming everywhere.
My heart broke open. I could feel layers upon layers of preconceived notions about the world and my place in it cracking apart exposing a part of me I didn't know existed. This malleable soft inner stuff wanted to stretch out in that wild place. It was a melding of the raw organic within me to the un-apolagetic authentic being-ness that is India. I wanted to take off my shoes and practice yoga in that intoxicating setting.
At that moment I fell completely head over heals in love with the experience of India. This was the beginning of the true journey, the moment when I started to trust and see myself as I truly am.
Stay tuned for part 2 in January's newsletter.