It is 6.30 and the sun is just starting to come up. The beautiful Indian Pranayama teacher is sharing his wisdom from the ancient traditions of Indian yoga. He lives an ashram life and his whole being glows and lights up the room. I am humbled and equally tired as I peal myself out of bed each morning, transcending my fierce resistance to alarm clocks in order to meditate to the mountains and allow the sun to rise and glow through the window panes reflecting off my plain weary face.
Here I am in the inspiring town of Rishikesh, India. The home and mecca for all things yoga. Where spiritual seekers have been traveling to for many years on their transcendental journeys and devotional pilgrimages. It was common and still is for many men here, once they'd served their duty as a householder, husband and father, to renounce their material possessions in order to achieve higher levels of spirituality and consciousness here. Babas (hindu for 'innocent'), the spiritual men, donne their bright orange loin cloths and walk around barefoot asking for alms. So there's a mysterious energy in the air, uplifting and almost tangible one can taste the nectar of liberation as one gazes meditatively on the infamous Ganga that washes through the valley.
While India has a way of lifting the spirit so high one hardly touches the ground, she can also take you to the dark depths of your soul. It could be the gruelling schedule I have of 6am meditation followed by an hour and a half of Ashtanga before breakfast, that and the pouring of salt water through my nostrils, lack of sugar in my diet or the tangible distance I have from my nearest and dearest, I don't know, but the emotions have been riding high and I am learning to watch and breathe through them and ground in the routine here. Cultivating a practice the yogis call compassion and understanding while watching how this process takes one a little deeper, moves the inner world to bring up to the surface what impressions are ready to be felt, accepted and surrendered.
Seeing the dogs on the street hungry and uncared for really upset me; it was a challenge not to get entangled. I have found taking action a way of channelling this upset in to something more hopeful. Hence the other day a friend and I were feeding a little street puppy biscuits and leaving some with the local shopkeeper to take care of the innocent little life. And then there is the begging and the dirt that one encounters when walking through market towns in India. A poor old man without limbs who looked like he was just waiting to die broke my heart. I give what and when I can but well, it's challenging to see on our planet. Sometimes I think we don't know how lucky we are.
Then as I am all too familiar with in this country, there is of course India's magical gift of inspiration and awe. The light on the river at sunset glows rays of pinks and golds. Poetry flows through me with a hint of romantic tenderness. The Himalayan air is so crisp and clear. And I love the food and the opportunity to get tactile with it, dipping my finger tips in to touch each morsel before it reaches my mouth. Only with my right hand though. Left hand is exclusively for nether regions post squat so I am training myself not to touch my face with it in front of Indians. Unless I want to be naughty. Then I lick my left hand fingers, ha!
The beauty of living in an ashram is that there is routine, discipline and seclusion. Morning meditation one watches the sunrise and my classes are filled with so much insight and challenge. I chose to do a yoga teacher training course because I felt ready. Life on the road has been very much supported by a meditation and yoga practice. For a while I felt like I had broken up with yoga, reluctant to get on my mat, resistant to my own practice and stuck in old patterns. It took some gritty gruelling times and a lot of self care to humbly step back in to a committed practice and being at an ashram practicing twice daily certainly empowered me to dive a little deeper in to the ancient healing art form.
I feel endlessly humbled and try to remember that this is a practice and not to compare where I am in my downward dog to others. One sometimes forgets to appreciate how far they have come. Sometimes it has been self-limiting beliefs that have entrapped and yoga certainly teaches me to gentle move beyond. My philosophy teacher is also a psychologist, which I love relating to and the lofty spiritual concepts can ground in science - to some extent - and understanding. Beyond theory I am getting my backside worked of course. Bridges, head stands, sweaty salutations to the sun and the moon. I am taller folks! I feel like I have extended by an inch which serves me well as such a pocket size person.
Last Friday we had bhajans, recited mantras sang from the heart with lots of clapping and dancing. You know the ones? Those skin-headed dudes you will see in gowns on the underground chanting away. The teacher said to us "This is a time for you and God, to express your love completely unafraid" so I donned my bright pink sparkly sari and danced full throttle, I even pulled out the funky chicken and some break dancing moves which weren't so sari friendly but it was nevertheless ecstatic and joyous.
The group here are from around the world and life here could easily become a spiritual sitcom with various characters and expressions. We have got the proverbial die hard seeker who has read every spiritual teaching going, blended them, confused himself and is desperate to meet his guru to achieve enlightenment. The shanti chic who lives in Hollywood and all she owns is a bed (I really dig this girl actually), a few off the wall types buzzing in another dimension that they seem to only glare at you as they download a plethora of information which speaking English requires too much energy so they float on by, there is an awesome shamanic lesbian called Mia who burned spots on my leg the other day, doused the wound with frog poison (Kambo) which made my face swell up and my insides release everything within it. I was ready for it but am in no hurry to medicate myself again with this ancient indigenous concoction - although it did cure my cold (dear parents thank you for being so open minded). There is a lovely man from Bolivia who described jumping in to the river 'like taking a chocolate' in his latin accent which made our hearts melt. Soft reserved types, open hearted and playful types, crazy spiritual and grounded and real. So far just sitting and chatting with people here has been one of the most interesting highlights and in our togetherness we grow.
And then there is my roomie. Chloe Barber. My notorious rival at school and the only person besides my brother I have had a physical fight with only to be peaced out with an offering of conkers and marbles. We were 10 after all. I love that The Universe has reunited us here of all places. She is a cool London lady now, classy and elegant with a hilariously provocative sense of humour. 'I am so hungry, I could eat a cow' she said as we walked in to the dining hall the other day. Cows are holy in India. People just don't eat cows. I am really happy to have her company here and she keeps me in check and not too away with the fairies. As much as I love them.
And so that is me folks. A month of yoga teacher training in an ashram of the Himalayas loving life and all its textures while growing, laughing and healing along the way. I will continue to share my yoga practices with friends and family, perhaps over time more and more to the wider community as I nurture the inner Buddha and slowly master an asana or two.