After almost a month exploring the dusty, loud and chaotic treasure chest of Northern India, we arrived in Rishkesh and were immediately seduced by the clean, relaxed magnetic energy of the place. We had arrived expecting to maybe stay a week, perhaps two if we really connected. But here we are, 10 days later and 1 week into a 1 month esoteric yoga course; ensconced in an ashram apartment overlooking the Ganges and enjoying more than 6 hours a day of yogic activities focused on balancing the mind, body and soul. Surprised – wasn’t quite on my radar either.
In setting out on this travel adventure, our goals had always been about using this time to focus on rebalancing & realigning ourselves; to clean out some of our baggage and forge new experience’s and perspectives on life. From our auspicious early experiments with the detox, this focus has resonated particularly well and here, now, with the fresh start that a new decade and the onset of the “year of the tiger” augers (we are both tigers!), yoga & meditation seems especially relevant and Rishkesh – the right thing in the right time and place.
Made famous care of an extended stay by the Beatles in the 1960’s – Rishkesh has been a major destination for Westerners seeking the spiritual delights of the Indian sub- continent ever since. The Rishkesh of the pilgrims and travellers though, is set back from the main town, among scenic hills that conceal several settlements either side of the beautiful, smoky aqua waters of the Ganges. Largely car free, it is packed with hundreds of Ashrams, guru’s, sadhu’s (ascetics), yoga / meditation centres, shops and vegetarian restaurants, all linked across the holy river by a pair of long walking bridges.
The yoga course we have signed up for is called Trika Yoga & Meditation under the Agama school. Focused on the esoteric traditions of Indian & Tibetan tantric yoga, it purports to represent many of the secret spiritual, mental and physical techniques as they have been practised for more than 5,000 years. The curriculum is a modern construct though that draws from a range of Yoga practice areas – Hatha Yoga (Physical), Kriya Yoga (Purification), Meditations (including music, yantra’s) and others, along with ideas integrated from other eastern (Tibetan, Zen, Daoist etc), Christian or alternative medicine practices. This is all neatly presented as a fusion of theory, practice, science and philosophy that engages on many levels and seems especially suited to the curious requirements of the enquiring Western mind. In truth it is a bit “new age in a box”, perhaps trying to integrate too much in places and a tad over zealous in its approach to others, but overall it is well structured and captivating; a sound and comprehensive introduction to the path of becoming a Yogi.
Along with a dozen or so other fantastic and engaging classmates from all over the globe, our daily routine has become fairly regulated and full. In the morning, following an early meditation session that I in truth rarely make (Megumi is a star); we learn a new “Asana” (A yoga position) and receive a small lecture on its relative physical, healing and Chakra related effects (ie key body energetic flows). From there we jump into an hour and a half of practice focused as much on holding and visualizing the energy flows of each position as on physical movement or flexibility(rather gratefully). Then in the afternoon, we do a solid 2 hour practice of the various asana’s, which is often supplemented by other practices (ie music meditation or mental concentration) and following a short break, finish with a 2–3 hour evening lecture and discussion on a specific aspect of an esoteric Yoga practice (ie Meditation, Ethics, Mental concentration, Healing etc).
It does all feel a long way from the yoga classes that I had managed to avoid so effectively to date (My classic stereotype of popular yoga as mostly just physical exercise at any rate). In fact, ‘downward facing dog’ has not come up once in any class to date and I hesitate to think how I could rationalize its energetic and healing benefits if it ever actually did. The experience thus far has been transformative and thoroughly enjoyable, not least because it provides an intriguing insight into all those mystical Indian traditions that endlessly fascinate; but also because it forces one to allocate time and systemic study for genuine self analysis and does so against a potential blueprint for self improvement and realization. In truth, I am not sure what will actually really stick and become personal dogma at the courses end, but I can definitely see many seeds for further practice and investigation on several fronts and I look forward to updating these in more detail down the track. For the moment though, mired in the physical – I still have not managed to touch my toes. But I am closer than I have been in years & happily I now realize that this is not really the point anyway…