I have been so drained since I came back from India. This weekend as Summer turned to Fall the last of my energy just slipped through my fingers. Time to settle in, slow down, rest and rejuvenate. Time to find a tranquil space and just watch the leaves turn colors for a while.
Wishing you all peace, love and serenity this season.
Yoga instructor Kate ( left) with a teaching assistant
Preeshawn giving a demonstration
The incredibly bendable Anand
I went to India to study classical hatha yoga from where it originated. I wanted to learn the asanas, the mythology and the spirituality behind the practice. Greater insight brings a clearer sense when teaching, and this presented itself as a perfect opportunity to really expand my knowledge base. As an added benefit I have a boatload of field notes. As I stated in the first sentence I went to learn the origins of this practice and in doing so discovered where were going is sometimes more important than where we've been.
The program began with mantra and meditation before the dawn each morning. We start practice with mantra and meditation facing south looking toward the mountains and a picture of Shiva. In yoga one's practice should only face east or north. This ashram was one of the few places in the world it was auspicious to begin the practice south. That is because it quite literally faced a mountain where Shiva resides. After meditation we had a two hour class in the morning followed by 4 hours of lecture with a break in the middle for yoga nidra. In the afternoon we either prepared for our own teaching class or practiced karma yoga. This was followed by another two hour asana class and later Sanskrit or stories.
The yoga followed a sequence and a pattern which never changed. The belief was that yoga should be developmental. First you are lying down, then sitting and later you learn to walk, therefore the practice starts in supine,prone,seated and finally standing. You begin each practice with mantra and three omkars followed by two warm up exercises. We then moved on to sun salutations sixteen to twenty four usually. The sun salutations are accompanied by a very pleasant mantra before embarking on each one. The teacher mantra's and we respond. Before each asana or set of asana are two warm up exercises. Pranayama is always after the asana. The belief is the body is not ready or warmed up enough in the beginning of class. Breath work includes fast breathing, deep breathing and pranayama. Class ends with a mantra devoted to the universal mother, 11 omkars, three om shantih's and three asana.
Throughout the training I practiced 89 asana's, hundreds of sun salutations and several types of breath and pranayama exercises. In this training it was felt one should demonstrate the ideal position or as I like to say the full expression of the pose. (see photos above for examples of full expressions) I attempted many things I don't think I would have tried before this training. Some areas I simple declined knowing my body is not strong enough. For example, I cannot stay in unsupported headstand for 45 seconds to one minute. Sorry.... never going to happen... at least not without crushing my cervical area. And there lies the base of my problem with classical teaching. We were never given props, or taught how to assist the student. We were taught to give verbal correction with very little hands on and not blocks, straps, or blankets. They did teach modification but I found since we were being taught the ideal pose the modifications were fine for an intermediate or advanced student but I feel too difficult for a beginner. Each asana was presented with benefits and precautions. Some positions should not be practiced with certain diagnosis and this was clearly stated although no alternative was suggested. The ashram also preached no yoga before the age of 12 or after 50 years old, pranayama meditation and light warm up only. After 80 no movement only meditation.
East meets West....... I think we have a lot to learn from each other. The ashram taught pure classical Hatha yoga. The same yoga people practiced three thousand years ago. For me that was the problem. The form they were teaching hadn't evolved from the the time before Jesus was born. B.K.S. Inyengar - who incidentally will be giving a workshop at the ashram starting the 21st of September- is considered a bit of a wild man for his visionary and completely alternative approach to the practice. Iyengar at 93 years old is still one of the very few trying something different. The East has a deeper understanding and insight into the practice but I feel if you want to move outside the box you have to look toward the West. A proper warm up, modification (Kripalu), assistance (Baptiste), music in class, props, (everyone) new ways of presenting a class ( ie Yin, Forest, Anusara) using a wood floor rather than hard tile, opening the practice to a variety of diagnosis and disability (Patrica Walden), no age requirement (Peggy Cappy, Yoga for the rest of us) prenatal classes( Gurmukh).
I hope we can come together and swap stories. We need to.
Settling back in, thrilled to be home, and feeling completely grateful for every aspect of my life. India was vast and life changing. In trying to wrap my head around all of it, I've decided to write about my experience in three parts, the conditions, the yoga and the culture. My reflections are personal and by no means meant to generalize the country or the people as a whole. Just a little snapshot from what I personally saw, heard ,and felt.
The majority of my stay was on an ashram north of Mumbai in the small village of Talwadi, about thirty minutes from Nasik. The areas surrounding the ashram are hills and rice farms. From the ashram you could walk along dirt paths through rice fields to the village of Trimbak where the Trimbakeshwar Temple is located. I arrived in a van from Mumbai with three other students. It was raining the day we arrived. This was to be a main theme which ruled our lives and psychological state. The monsoon pounded for 16 straight days before the sun finally cracked through the sky and our Psyche on August 17th for a total of 15 glorious minutes. Much of the time we were soaked, cold, and damp. The rains flooded the roads, blasted through roofs, and left us without electricity the majority of the time. Every living creature great and small sought a dry warm area. Snakes, scorpions, bedbugs, cockroaches, dogs, cats, cows, lizards, spiders and birds all vying for a dry spot. I learned quickly to inspect everything before I sat on it, climbed into it, or put it on my body. No hero here I used my net when sleeping! Keeping dry was nearly impossible. Clothes were damp and moldy and many of us had rashes, jungle rot on our feet and itched from head to toe. The washing machine was always full but rarely in use because electricity was limited. Hand washing clothes was a poor alternative because things took too long to dry, days and days, and by the time they did, they were covered in mold. Our living area had four beds to a hut/room with "western" facilities. This consisted of an outside toilet and a bucket for washing clothes and the body. In our initial room the toilet didn't work consistently and the system to heat the water wasn't working much better than the toilet. Eventually we had to evacuate that room due to pest problems. The new room had a bathroom in the hut, consistent hot water and a toilet that worked. Heaven!
Once a week we had a day off and were able to go in town if we liked. Nasik was a thirty minute drive from the Ashram. I loved my day off. My classmates and I would pile into an overcrowded jeep and head down a bumpy dirt road in search of a hot meal, Internet and basic commodities. Nasik considered a small town had a population of one million. When visiting I indulged in sinful delights such as coffee, spicy foods, and the incredibly clean and well working toilet in McDonald's. (which I dubbed the raj of toilets.) I bought things like towels, socks, toilet paper. and umbrella's. There was one large store for commodities called the big bazaar. Once after scoring packages of that elusive and rare commodity, toilet paper, I was sauntering to the front of the store, pleased and happy when I nearly tripped over a rat making an Olympic sprint past my feet. I screamed and ran to the front of the store, toilet paper flying behind me.
Crowded and overpopulated I got used to being just one more in the hustle and bustle. This swell of population consisted of people and animals. Many animals, lots of cows. Cows congregated at every corner, kibitzing, sleeping, shitting, eating and just in general living their lives as they saw fit. Cows are treated very well in India and from what I saw, often as a member of the family. In turn these cows had incredible personalities and characters. Affectionate, fun, communicative and all with definite individual personalities. The ashram had cows as well. One little fellow Krishna was quite young. He had lost his mother shortly after she gave birth. Krishna was quite comfortable with humans and would often trot up to the mess hall for a chapati and a little snuggle.
This of course was not sanitary but in my estimation cleanliness in general was pretty relaxed. Coming from America the land of the clean, cleaner and cleanest I was appalled by the standard of hygiene. I mean do what you want but consider the health factor... please!
When the rains finally gave way we could see where we were living. The surrounding areas was absolutely exquisite. Hills and mountains with dozens of waterfall bursting out of the mountains. Hunnaman the monkey king was born on one of the mountains so monkeys freely inhabited the area as well. Men and boys peacefully tending cows everywhere. Cows grazed outside the main hall where we practiced. Sun salutations and mediation with cows peacefully sauntering past. Morning sun was the most glorious of all. The dawn never ceased to fill me with a sense of a new day and renewed feeling of hope and peace. Everything so green and lush with the added benefit of fresh clean unpolluted air. Stunning India could bring me to tears and leave me speechless with its beauty.
Twenty hours later, most of it flight time and I've finally landed back home. This was the most amazing, frustrating, dazzling, irritating, gorgeous, confounding, earthy, grimy, resplendent place and I'm forever changed from the experience. "So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked." Mark Twain.
Good bye sweet India, blessings and love now and always.