Well initially it was probably instigated by observing my niece, herself twenty-something and trying to find herself, travel to India herself to do yoga teacher training that brought me there. She came back from that trip a much more refreshed, peaceful person and I was curious to know more about what had inspired that 180 degree change in her outlook and direction.
But what kept me there, enjoying every ascetic, challenging and sweaty minute of the program, was its ability to almost instantly free my mind, reframe ingrained thought, consider the beauty and power of a human heart, and detox my body and spirit with daily doses of mindfulness.
It was a powerful experience.
We began at 6am with pranayama, instilling calm in the day through such a way I had never experienced before, and ended with Yoga Nidra by 5pm. In between there was asana, methodology, philosophy, anatomy, aryuveda, vinayasa yoga, physical therapy and meditation. All of these classes were different but interconnected, and lead you to a deeper understanding of authentic yoga practices, with special attention to information gathered from original yogis, though only a small fraction of their oral tradition has actually been inscribed.The postures have made a difference in my life. Since leaving the ashram my morning routine begins with exercises that open me up to experience the day. I never understood what I thought before was the overly simplistic slogan, “just breathe” until the pranayama flooded me with oxygen I didn’t realize I’d been missing.
But it is also the philosophy classes with Yogi Ram that I continue to revisit in my thoughts. One of the first notes I took in his class was paraphrased as, “Don’t die and not use all your resources. Cultivate your mind.” And “Greatness becomes nature through thought.” “Thoughts are actions.”
Perhaps these are the same lessons that the Beatles, Steve Jobs and even Mark Zuckerberg early on before Facebook became big, under the insistence of Jobs, took in as they sought inspirational Ashram experiences in Rishikesh.
And yet for me this still isn’t everything the ashram gave me. The beauty the heart cultivates in an ashram is something that has also made me develop quite an unexpected love and admiration for the country India, whose deep-rooted culture draws from the principles of yoga.
All things coexist in India. Nature is the country’s mother. Animals are part of a spiritual family, sacred and protected. The Indians I met all believe that different religious beliefs have more similarities than differences. They call each other brother and sister as a sign of respect. And positive vibrations, even in the face of obviously very harsh circumstances, prevail. As an example, I witnessed firsthand a great act of love and kindness that touched my heart with an Indian classmate and friend I made, Abishek:Another ashram student from Switzerland and I were walking with him on a day off coinciding with a festival where he and other Indians would customarily go to bathe in the Ganges. On the way we were accosted by two street urchins–probably not older than eight—the kind you see too many of in India, asking the Indian native with two western women for money. (Note: It is against the law to give beggars money in India. There is a fine because the government has said it is a means of exploitation of children). After saying no to them a few times, one boy finally shouted at Abishek, “But we have nothing!” And then to my surprise, I watched Abishek put his arms around the two, as if they were his own, draw them to him in a bear hug, without regard to their filthy condition, and tell them, “Boys you have each other. Don’t forget that.” And then off they went, bothering us no more. It was beautiful! It makes me tear up now to just think of it. Later he told us for them to realize that means more than any money people can give them. And he is right.
So all the above is some of what I learned from the Ashram. And some things perhaps remain unrealized that only the heart releases as time continues to pass. “Your beautiful heart,” as Yogi Ram would always describe it as he led us to gently cover it, after brushing over other parts of the body, in conclusion of meditation practice. In this way our senses ignited with acknowledgement, followed by the divine mantra of “Om” — the thankful and healing frequency of the universe that belongs to us all, at whatever age and way we find it.