Day Fourteen – Keeping My Head Above Water

This jeep hauled 9 people AND these rafts through the mountains

On our day off this week, sixteen of us went rafting on the Mother Ganga. Most of us were prepared to get wet, so having our first day of rain since starting our training wasn’t a big deal. The lightening all around us was a little more concerning, although I seemed to be the only one counting to see how close it was (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four – thunder). The guide really wanted us to enjoy jumping into the river, so there I was, desperately trying to keep my head above water while just as desperately trying not to picture new parasites getting into my system.

Geared up!

River bank scramble

Downriver

The rapids were fun and wild enough to thrill everyone, yet for me the real thrill was starting the trip surrounded by steep mountains and wilderness, eventually paddling past elaborate temples and ashrams as we floated into Rishikesh from a new perspective.

 

 

Mixed into the beauty was the reality of steep rivers of refuse feeding into the Ganga, the stench of rotting garbage, and the clear mountain air replaced with the visible exhaust of tuk-tuks, generators, scooters and trucks. Ever-present are the people lining this sacred river – bathing, washing clothes and dishes, and making offerings.

 

Back on solid ground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of a sudden I looked around and realized two weeks have passed, and soon I will be on my own to process this whirlwind adventure. Until then, I’m doing all I can to keep my head up through the rapids and appreciate the rare moments I can simply lay back and float.

Crossing over Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge with Johanna and Brad

Day Ten – Letting Go

Welcome back! I’ve missed writing the last few days. I had to rest more and try to fully recover from whatever was effecting my insides. I’m happy to report I’m about 90% well and back to trying to sort out my experiences.

Kundalini yoga is a mind/body/spirit practice, meaning it isn’t really possible to focus on just one aspect of my being. Many of the meditations focus on releasing old emotions that aren’t healthy to hold on to. For someone like me, who has historically welcomed in an emotion to stay and make itself at home, learning to let go can be a bit of a challenge. I was looking for a challenge when I signed up for this; I guess I planned on the physical struggles but not the emotional ones.

We had the children and teachers from a children’s home and school in Rishikesh, Ramana’s Garden, come for a visit. The kids were 4 years-old and up, including 20+ year-old’s who had grown up at Ramana’s and are now in college. It was a humbling experience to hear of their stories and to share their joy of playing in the river, celebrating birthdays, and decorating rocks and faces with paint. “Seva” is the yogi term for volunteering. This day with the children was to give us a glimpse of one of the many ways people can use compassion to make a difference.

Joy

Swing happy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kundalini yoga also teaches the importance of having “grit”. I learned more from the children and young adults about grit than I could ever put into words. The time with them certainly helped put the meaning of life into perspective and fill me with gratitude for the life I have, this opportunity to be in India, to study to become a teacher, and to have support in letting go of any old shit that is trying to hold me back.

Day Seven – Routine

After a day off, life has quickly fallen back into our daily routine. Two more full weeks remain to fully immerse in this experience.

0354 – 0355 Dip in the river
0430 – 0700 Sadhana (meditation/yoga/chanting)
0700 – 0845 Breakfast and rest
0845 – 1230 Morning session (yoga and training)
1230 – 1515 Lunch followed by break
1515 – 1900 Afternoon session (yoga and training)
1900 – 2030 Dinner
1930 – 2100 Occasional optional classes
ASAP – Lights out

Sat Nam (I recognize the divine within you)

Day Six – On the 6th Day We Rested

Approaching mountain village

As much as I have been trying to savor each moment, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to a day off, and today it arrived! Most of the students rode in jeeps the hour to town (Rishikesh), but about 16 of us stayed behind. I was one of those not traveling, in part due to some intestinal purging that made me think I shouldn’t be trapped in a jeep for an extended period.

Village matriarch

Instead, I hiked with a few others up the mountain we look at every day, to a small village at the top where I felt like I had stepped into a painting of a time long past. The bold colors of clothes, houses, and fabric tied to stakes flashed across the terraced hill, bright against the greenery. The hike up and down was not for the faint of heart, as much of the ‘up’ was on stone steps covered in gravel and leaves with a significant drop if you slipped, and the ‘down’ was pretty much a gravel slide down a watershed that must be roaring in the rainy season.

One of our homework assignments for when we leave here is to continue a specific 11-minute meditation daily until we have done it 40 days – without skipping a day. Today was day four. I sat with two other women on the grassy bank above the river, as we did the meditation that involves holding your right arm straight out with your hand cupped as if water was spilling into it. The sound of the river while doing this particular meditation was nothing short of magical (I think Eva would have agreed).

This afternoon I watched as a woman from the village walked along the river’s edge with a bundle of firewood on her head and her goats, including a small, very vocal, kid who didn’t want to wet its hooves. Without breaking stride, she snatched up the kid with one arm and crossed the river, letting it down to run along on the other side. The dogs gave them an escort, as it seems that also falls under their job description.

As the sun sets and folks start to return exhausted from walking the city all day, I am content I chose to stay behind and unwind.

Day Four – More Than Yoga

You may have gotten the idea that we are doing a lot of yoga, here at the Kundalini Level One Teacher Training, and at about 10 hours a day you’d be right! On the surface, that is why we are all here. Look around, scratch the surface a little, and you’d find so much more that is happening.

Anyone can add their own creative touches~

Something other than yoga…

Some are really obvious, like this amazing folk art style mural designed by a visiting artist from England. She started it in November during the Level Two training. Everyone is encouraged to add their own designs, and then sign their name or initials. It’s fun to see the painting change and deepen as more and more details are added. Anna, my Kundalini teacher at home, was here in November and had told me all about the beautiful mural. I love that we have both added to the same painting on a wall in rural India!

Under the surface, this intensive style of training requires people to face their fears, egos, attitudes, and commitment. For most of us over 40, it’s been decades since we shared a tent with someone we didn’t know. None of it is easy, and generally involves a mix of tears, joy, frustration, and laughter. Along with the aching joints and sore muscles.

Day Three – Learning to Nap

The place of dreams

I’m not a good sleeper. I’m an early riser – never learned the art of sleeping in – and I also like to stay up late. Another art I never mastered was The Nap. As much as I love the wall tent I’m staying in (with my lovely tent-mate from Germany), there is room for improvement. Specifically when it comes to the bed, okay really it’s the pillow that’s the problem. Forget the fact that it’s a single pillow when I’m used to three; this pillow is at least three inches thick and unbendable. All this to say I’m not sleeping well.

So after the 4:30am – 7am yoga session and a quick breakfast, I stumbled back to the tent, opened up my Insight Timer app, and searched for sleep music. I found “Delta Waves and Oceanic Sounds for Deep Rest”. Sounded good to me! I crawled fully clothed under the covers, put on this music, and went unconscious for nearly half an hour when my alarm went off. Heaven.

Training this afternoon included reviewing the correct form and how to teach various yoga postures, and what the benefits of each posture are. I learned that resting or sleeping in Baby pose can be as restorative as 4 hours of sleep, and doing 3 minutes of Bridge pose before bed is very beneficial for insomnia. Great!

I think my sleep life, and thus my awake life, may be forever changed thanks to these two poses and my newly discovered ability to nap. I’ll let you know. Zzzzzz.

Day Two – Feeling Grateful

I expected a roller coaster ride, and that’s what I’m getting. This type of intensive training pushes one to their limits and then pushes a bit more. There are 77 students from all over the world including Iceland, Columbia, Russia, Italy, Ireland, and Canada. Ages range from early 20’s to early 60’s, with a diverse patchwork of why people were drawn to do this work and come to India to do it. No matter the reason for being here, we are quickly becoming a big family and there’s plenty of support when the going gets tough.

I’m in India, so of course I’m having curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And delicious dal, paneer, yogurt, lots of fresh fruit, and always hot lemon ginger tea and “milk tea” which is chai. They are feeding us well but I imagine I will be ready for just about any other food by the time I get back home.

On the job

There are three wonderful dogs on the property, which is really helpful for those of us missing our pets. Along with their pet therapy role, their jobs include running off the monkeys and cows, and barking like mad when a leopard comes around. They take their jobs very seriously which I, for one, am grateful.

Day One – I survived

My intention is to write each day of this training. Emphasis on intention. Today’s will be brief as muscles I have never felt before are screaming at me making it hard to think. The day started with a very brief cold shower, encouraged to do before Sadhana (morning practice). As there is no coffee here, it turns out to be helpful in staying awake although the yoga room was quite cold. Everyone dressed in multiple layers, but I expect most will be adding more for tomorrow morning.

There was an elaborate welcome outdoor ceremony for the all of the students late morning. I mention outdoor because as cold as it is at 4am, by 10:30 we were baking in the hot sun. The fire pit didn’t help the heat factor either… Many of us headed to the river for a cool swim as soon as possible!

Gurmukh and her husband Gurushabd

The most exciting part of the day was having our first class with Gurmukh, the teacher we are all here to study with. At 75, she is in better shape than anyone at the training. I’ll leave out the gory details, but this was one of the more physically challenging experiences in my life. Gurmukh is a quiet, graceful powerhouse with a great sense of humor. She sets us up doing a 13 minute yoga movement that is impossible and then plays loud, fast electronic music to keep us going. It mostly works. Not sure if my body will work tomorrow though…

Day Zero

I suppose I over slept by waking at 0915 for a 1030 pickup. In all fairness, I was up blogging until 0200 – partly because I hadn’t written in over a week, and partly from excitement/anxiety/effects of chocolate. Again, I was 99% packed, which means there was a large 1% of odds and ends to squeeze into my already complaining bags.

At 0920 my guardian angel, Jitendra, food and beverage manager at the hotel, called to tell me my friends were looking for me to eat breakfast with. My new friends are a group of 14 from Singapore who arrived two days prior for a yoga retreat. I met them in town with my afore mentioned angel, squeezed into a tuk-tuk with some of them, was invited to join in their evening (advanced) Hatha yoga class (which went pretty well until the foot-behind-the-head part…). I enjoyed a laugh-filled dinner at their table, became hugging friends with 3, What’s App friends with 2, and lifelong friends with one (a social worker working in a home for abused teenage girls).

Goodbyes said all around, bags packed and stacked by the front desk, and then the waiting began. By the time I asked for my 3rd cup of coffee – a request received in disbelief by the staff – my taxi was half an hour late and the anxiety had set in. My G.A. stepped up once again, called the resort that was supposed to send the taxi, and ended up arranging one for me himself. I’m not sure who paid for it, but I didn’t!

Just last night I had read up on how to actually use the beautiful Mala that I had had made (and not just wear to look ‘spiritual’ or whatever), so I pulled it out and set to it. By about the 54th bead I had reined in the tears and by ‘god’ bead I was calm. So far, so good.

Road to Nirvana

Leaving Rishikesh in the taxi, we were soon in the foothills of the grand Himalayan mountains. Almost as quickly, the road turned to dirt and gravel, winding up and around, honking the entire way as I unsuccessfully searched for a seatbelt. We passed many tent resorts along the way, none that I was hoping to be staying at. When we finally reached Nirvana River Resort, I knew this place was going to be special.

Home sweet home

Registered and assigned to my wall tent, I was happy to see I was there before my roommate and quickly set to re-arranging the furniture (two cots and a wide wooden coffee table – didn’t tackle the wardrobe), and picked the bed closest to the electrical outlet – and bathroom. My roommate is a lovely German woman my age, and so far we are getting on famously.

The antidote to my challenging journey here was to change into my suitably modest bathing suit (burkini-esque) and join the few other yoginis in the river. Brisk, clear, mostly shallow with lovely deep pools, and in the toes of the Himalayas – day zero had just passed over into the blissful zone.

Entered the blissful zone

First Impressions

I had the fortuitous timing to be in Rishikesh during the 2018 International Yoga Festival, held at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram on the banks of the Ganga, what most of us know as the Ganges. I was able to get a day pass, and on my first morning in India was up and crossing the Ganga on the “footbridge” at Ram Jhula as the sun was rising over the nearby mountains. As there were only a few people on the bridge at this hour, I formed an early impression of Rishikesh as a calm, quiet city nestled against the feet of the Himalayan mountains.

To back up a bit, it is worth noting I have been staying in a small, fairly luxurious, hotel on the southern edge of the city, with a rooftop restaurant that directs your gaze to the mountains and swirling water of the Ganga across the street. To get to the bridge was a thirty cent ride in a tuk-tuk, which is a metal box on wheels, a few bench seats, a two-stroke engine and a horn. (The last item being critical.) There wasn’t a bridge in sight when I was dropped off, and no indication of where to find it. So I took the first alley, I mean road, in the general direction of the water and came upon a five and a half foot wide bridge that mysteriously had a short rail at the entrance to funnel people into left and right lanes.

Eventually finding my way to the ashram (mostly by following other white people carrying yoga mats), I registered by handing over copies of my passport and visa, and instead of a map was handed a schedule. This made finding the first event challenging, and along the way I realized my decision to not bring my yoga mat that morning was a wrong one. I found a vendor setting up to sell items tripled in price and grabbed a blanket to disguise as a mat.

Finally! I am outside steps from the river with dozens of people from around the globe to take my first class with Gurmukh Kaur – Kundalini yoga master and the teacher I am here to train with. This 75 year-old woman led a class that scared the crap out of me, knowing I am going to be spending the next 3 weeks studying under her.

The rest of the day was bonus – lectures, Buddhist meditation, lunch in the ashram canteen, meeting people, and shopping. Unfortunately, by the time I found a bathroom I had numerous bags hanging off me that I had to keep off the ground while aiming for the porcelain trough in the floor.

Heading back to the other side of the Ganga after dark, I realized the divider rail was merely a suggestion and just how wrong my first impression was as I dodged scooters, cattle, bikes and masses of people on what is definitely not a “footbridge”.