Many Culinary Delights For The Mind, Body & Soul
Never Give Up
Always Let Go
The program was in full swing and I was getting close to over the jet lag, I had let go worrying about stretchy pants, the hot humid weather felt nice rather than oppressive and I was really starting to enjoying my new temporary home of Shiva Cottage in Swarag Ashram. No where in Rishikesh will one find meat. The primarily Hindu community is vegetarian so there were many beautiful vegetarian dishes on offer that I enjoyed immensely. In the school we were fed a fully Sattvic diet with three herbal teas per day. I loved the food but found myself starting to crave things from back home around this week three mark.
The hardest thing to live without was coffee. Part of the school policy is to abstain from caffeine while on the premises and preferably for the duration of the 6 week program. The main reason a yoga student does not want to ingest caffeine is because of how it alters the nervous system making one slightly agitated. This means the practitioner is unable to remain fully present during practice. I used to think this was just the kind of old world abstention for the sake of abstention that one sometimes sees in old traditions until I found myself naturally giving up coffee during my 200 hour teacher training in Nelson BC. For some reason my body didn't want caffeine once I had gone deep into the practice. I decided to trust that and I experienced a really beautiful natural stimulation effect from the practice alone.
I knew from the school information that this was coming so I tried to ween myself off coffee in preparation for my departure. I also had the experience from my 200 hour training where I didn't want caffeine so I thought it would be easy. It wasn't. As soon as the travel stress hit I was downing coffee in an airport in-between flights so as to boost my waining brain power during that long journey.
However, once I started the program I told myself, I would give up caffeine no problem. This was actually easier than one would imagine given you just couldn't get it on school premises. I felt really different during my practice. This is when the big slowdown occurred and to this day I haven't quite been able to speed up to my previous frenetic pace. I was walking slower, I was talking slower, I was talking less. I could feel my practice from the inside out. Everything was a little more visceral, a little more raw and wide eyed. Sorry, I feel like that doesn't really explain things well. It's one of those things you really need to experience for yourself.
However, it only took till week three to discover where the cafes offering coffee to the numerious caffeine starved westerners attending yoga training were. And they were good! Coconut milk iced lattes, Americanos, Mochas. These crafty cafe owners had done their market research and knew exactly how to pander to our western yogi cravings.
On one particularly exhausted morning I convinced myself that I really needed a coffee because I hadn't slept well for days and a whole day of study and practice lie before me. It would help me, I argued. In fact it would be good for me. Really, it would be negligent of me not to have a coffee leveraging the brain boosting power of caffeine to focus more on the brilliant offerings of these amazing teachers. So, just like any drug addict, I rationalized jumping off the wagon until it made perfect logical sense.
So I went to The Health Cafe in-between classes with a couple class mates and ordered a coconut milk iced coffee. It was just a tiny glass but it was so marvellous! Paired with these delicious caffeinated beverages one could avail of numerous tasty reasonably portioned organic healthy option deserts like apricot coconut slices, small coco chocolate balls and almond paste sweets. But these seemingly harmless treats were merely the gateway to hard deserts.
Things like nutella pancakes giant syrup covered chocolate balls, banoffee pie and the mother of them all, hello to the queen, were on the back page of the menu at cafes strategically placed around the perimeter of this school buildings. Hello To The Queen is a delicious graham cracker, caramel and banana base topped with a generous helping of ice-cream, whip cream and chocolate sauce. It's quite a shock to the system when your living in an ashram eating Sattvic and drinking nothing stronger than ginger lemon honey tea. Under these circumstances a Hello To The Queen, although tame by western standards, will totally f**k you up.
So I went there finding pasta, pizza, coffee and deserts that by western standards would still be considered very healthy vegetarian small portion options but by Indian yogi standards and my teachers standards completely inappropriate to the aims of our training. I argued irrationally to myself why this was acceptable. At one point I even argued that this was good Tantric Yoga practice. I was merely affirming the validity of this reality and experiencing it in it's fullness. However, there was no escaping the truth because during my deeply introspective practice be it asana, pranayama, mantra or meditation I could feel the difference on the couple days where I slipped.
And here's the really interesting thing. I didn't judge myself. I still don't and that's probably how I am able to write this tell all expose now. Yoga is not about becoming perfect through force of will. Yoga is a process of peeling back layers upon layers of misconception and recognizing the truth that we are already perfect. When this realization dawns, even if on the preconscious level, we no longer crave things that are not good for us because we directly experience that sense of connection and are totally fulfilled.
Tis what happened to me during the 200 hour training when I spontaneously gave up coffee. The thing is it doesn't last. It is easier to fall into this realization when we are beginners absent of preconceived notions or expectations about the practice. It becomes measurably more challenging to revisit once we are seasoned practitioners full of our own ideas about the good and bad of things. This is how well intentioned yogis can start to become a little elitist midway through their journey and you start to see bumper stickers proclaiming things like "I will totally kick your asana!" You can tell I am in the neighbourhood of midway through my journey because I have strong opinions about that bumper sticker and what it implies.
And yet it seams that really seasoned practitioners like my very disciplined teachers both in Nelson and India and the wise old sages meandering barefoot though the streets of Swarag Ashram somehow find their way back to the beginner's state of mind. With seeming effortlessness they conduct themselves to the highest standards of the practice and in some cases even according to the traditional texts, which is really hardcore. I don't yet know how they do it but I have seen that it is possible through their brilliant examples. So my practice continues with plenty of observation and a lot less judgement after my experience in India. I am hopeful this is a good recipe to help me progress to a point where judgement will no longer be an issue.
Enjoying the series? Stay posted for Part 4 in my March newsletter!