An asana is position in yoga that shapes our bodies and consequently our minds. At this moment, I am “waterskiing” amidst the Himalayan Mountains.
I have worn but still strong belt strapped around the waist of my raven-haired and extremely bendy co-student. She is in downward dog position where her she is bent forward, hands on the ground, feet on the ground and hips up high in the air dreaming of being Mt. Everest. Our fiery yoga teacher tells us to check our alignment – that our fingers are even spread out with weight distributed to prevent wrist injuries, our feet are parallel with our pinky toes in line with our heels and to shift the weight of our bodies more onto our feet rather than our hands –an 80/20% ratio he said. To help this process out and to help our hips reach the heavens and tilting our tailbones upward, we are doing partner work. Thus, here I am with two hands grabbing a relatively short strap that is looped around my new very close friend’s waist and through her legs and pulling backwards with my toes on her heels to make sure they’re flat on the ground. Waterskiing asana. Happiness, friendship, laughter fills my mind.
There are about 50 of us in the 200 hour yoga teacher training course from all over the world. Lots of us are from Canada and the USA but there are also some from Singapore, Ireland, Mexico, Slovenia, Russia and India. Everyone is very nice and has amazing stories. We have all come to do yoga for different reasons but there was an underlying theme of wanting to explore the something-more to life.
Our mornings come early here with a 4:30am wake-up. The sky is just barely starting to lighten, perfect for sunrise yoga, which apparently sunrise and sunsets are the best times to do yoga. All of a sudden, the sun salutation yoga sequences make more sense to me. Yoga originates in Vedic traditions dating back to prehistory. In the ancient Indus Valley Bronze Age civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro dating back to 3300 BCE where archaeologists have found stone seals with carvings of people in yogic positions surrounded by cattle, suggesting the early cultural value of the position and cattle. Around 1800 BCE, there were signs of a gradual decline theorized to be due to drought, decline in trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt and in migration of pastoralist Aryan peoples from Central Asia. Vedic culture developed from combination of the in-migrating Indo-Aryan peoples and the richness of Harappan civilization. Though Vedic culture is an oral tradition, orality and teacher/student still emphasized today as our yoga teacher told us today that something is lost in books and wisdom travels from person to person, it has been faithfully passed down to us today orally then textually in the form of the Vedas, four sacred collections of texts. The Vedas, with veda translating to wisdom in Sanskrit, contains mantras for rituals. Many rituals are associated with the sun, moon and natural forces like thunder which I think has a lasting legacy today in modern day yoga with sun salutations (and moon salutations).
There are also many rituals for purification in the Vedas and after a morning herbal tea at 5 in the morning, we have yogic cleansings before our yoga asana class at 5:30am. Our “nettie pot” is like a cheap, white plastic version of an Aladdin lamp that if you rubbed it, a genie would pop out and give you three wishes. With its rather phallic spout, I hesitate to contemplate the three wishes. You crouch by and lean over the garden and pour water from the spout into one nostril until water comes out of your other nostril. Then we snort all the water out with strong diaphragmic breaths. As someone who has an issue with nosebleeds, I was pretty hesitant on pouring water up my nose and the feeling the water in my nasal cavity is a truly strange experience but it wasn’t actually that bad and my nostrils felt very clean and clear afterwards.
At 5:30am, we have pranayama, mantra and asana practice. Pranayama is breathing exercises, such as diaphramic breathing or breathing through alternating nostrils while blocking the other nostril, to bring a more meditative state but also to cultivate energy of your life force. Mantras are chants; many of which are developments from Vedic traditions. Mantras as one of our yoga teachers told us are healing sounds, sounds being vibrations of energy. These healing sounds consequently help us realign our vibrations, our energy, with that of the world around us. Asana are the poses and movements we commonly associated with what we think of as yoga. We started off basic with joint stretches and strengthening exercises and now are just starting into the actual yoga positions. My body is loving it. The 3.5 hours of yoga practice a day is amazing for my body. I’m going into poses that I was never able to do like full lotus and refining others like how half lotus seems natural to me now and I can actually get my heels down in downward facing dog!
The relationship of the body with the mind and the self is explored in philosophy, anatomy and physiology classes from basically 9:30am to noon after breakfast at 8am (which is a buffet of delicious fruit salad including succulent mangos, papayas, watermelon and banana and some starch like porridge or curry rice or etc.). A healthy body, a healthy mind and healthy actions that help create healthy relationships and a healthy world all around us are all related. Roshan says,
“There is a mind inside you but you are also inside mind. You are inside the universe but the universe is also inside you”
In other words, how you treat yourself is a microcosm of how you treat other people and how you interact with the world around you. Through your attitudes and thought patterns, you create your world that you live in. Roshan further says,
“For some, life is a struggle…but you can also say that life is an ever happening festivity… We are going to experience what we are looking for so what do you want?”
At 12:30pm, we get lunch, usually a tomato and cucumber salad, rice with always a special treat (one day it had mint in it, another day it had diced tomatoes in it, another day it had paneer chunks in it), a lentil/bean stew dish and butter carrots and cabbage dish. All meals are vegetarian. We get a long break after lunch when we explore the city of Rishikesh including wander through its markets and try our luck at bartering, going for delicious juices and lassies (a kind of yogurt smoothie) and I recently found ice cream! Yay!
We’re back with another asana yoga class from 5:30 to 7pm. After 7pm, silence time starts where everyone remains silent for the rest of the night except for any essential communication. I thought it would be really weird, especially to eat dinner with other people and not talk to them but it is actually really nice. Dinner is at 7:15pm and usually consists of chapatti, a soup, a salad and a curry dish. It’s kind of crazy to think that we have no refined sugar in our diets as far as I can tell. The only sweet comes from this molasses like honey that’s dark, thick and flavourful. We get honey with our porridge and in our herbal teas (ginger-lemon-honey and mint-lemon-honey). At 8:30pm, we meditate for half an hour and then it’s “lights out” at 10pm. The lights don’t actually go out but it’s more like a suggested bed time. Since we got up at 4:30am, I am usually in bed right after meditation at 9pm.