In our morning asana yoga practice, our teacher was demonstrating the correct alignment of a seated spinal twist pose. Echoing a lesson from a standing revolved side angle pose which also featured a spinal twist, he pointed to his armpit and said, “This is called armpit. Put it on the knee and twist.” We then all got into groups of two and helped each other get into the proper position. For the seated spinal twist position today, one leg was bent with the foot flat on the ground and the other straight leg and the arm corresponding to the straight leg aimed at putting the armpit on the knee, the arm internally rotated so much that the forearm can then shoot towards the back where the hand can clasp the other hand that is twisted behind the back. Describing the position as a seated spinal twist is a bit of an understatement as there is a lot of twisting of the shoulders as well. Needless to say, some of our shoulders were not yet that flexible so we would start get into position as much as possible and have our partners brace their legs on our shoulder and the bent leg’s thigh and pull with all their weight on our hand…trying to get that armpit to the knee. As we contorted ourselves in positions our bodies resisted but are said to be our actual natural range of motion, monkeys walked on the rails past the windows. They probably wondered what the crazy humans were up to.
At around sunset, we had a more relaxed yoga practice where our teacher took us on a mental journey up a snowy mountain. This class started with some joint stretches and the sun salutation sequences and then sat to do various breathing and meditation techniques. We breathed in for a count of five, held our breath for a count of five and then exhaled for a count of five. The purpose of breathing exercises typically is to make the breath slower and more rhythmic. The goal is eventually two breaths per minute, which as a group we did a series of 108 om chants last Saturday taking us approximately 30 minutes and consequently about 2-3 breaths a minute. Basically, with breathing exercises, the aim is to slow down the breath and eventually go into a kind of bodily and mental hibernation where you connect to everything in the world. They say that sleeping is unconscious meditation and meditation is conscious sleep. We did more om chanting – emphasizing each of the syllables and the vibrations the sounds made travelling through our body. Om is actually a-u-m sounds with the ‘a’ sound deep in the belly, the ‘u’ sound vibrating from the chest and the ‘m’ sound from our nose and bringing the vibrations higher. The om chant aims to bring our energy levels higher. Interestingly, we all sat in a circle with our palms out and almost touching as we chanted some more and I actually felt energy build between our hands. It was a pretty magical feeling. After, we laid on our mats in savasana pose, or corpse pose, as our teacher led us through a guided meditation. We were walking up a mountain in the early predawn morning, she said. A large crescent moon hung in the sky behind us and the twinkling lights of the town below us. We climbed up on top of a snowy peak and watched the sun break over a range of snowcapped mountain and in our meditation, we visualized sitting down at the summit and meditating.
We contemplated the questions, who are we? What do we truly want?
I might want a sailboat but why do I want the sailboat?
…To be happy.
We all do things to be happy or to feel satisfied in some manner. This is what yogic philosophy says unifies all of humanity. However, in conflating the sailboat with happiness, or in other words that stuff will bring you happiness, your well-being always fluctuates and is conditional. By saying that, “If I do or get this object, then I will be happy”, you are actually delaying your happiness. Rather, be happy and be open to all experiences life may throw your way. Each experience is an opportunity to learn, grow and understand more. Instead of getting a sailboat to be happy, rather be happy with a sailboat.
As Roshan says, “Don’t fall in love, rise in love.” In other words, don’t make your love conditional where it can fall but rather raise yourself and others through your love.
So what is yoga? This question was asked to us on our very first class here. Is it contorting ourselves into poses or relaxing and contemplating reality? Is it a focus on the armpit or on a smile?
They may seem like two very different things but actually it is the same. They’re both about being present in the moment, experiencing to the fullest and being aware of ourselves and our bodies.
Talking to some of the other students here, it seems like we’ve been here for an eternity yet arrived not that long ago. This is how I feel about most of my travels – I feel that I have lived multiple eternities, multiple lives in my various trips. Time somehow loses its meaning a bit. It loses its urgency and rigidity. I think travelling is a form of meditation (or at least how I travel). The future is considered for travel plans but really the focus is on the present and experiencing local environments and cultures.
Our lives are falling into a bit of a blissful routine. Morning comes too early as usual and we have sunrise and sunset yoga asana practices, two hours of philosophy and anatomy classes before lunch and our afternoons free until the evening to relax, explore Rishikesh and do too much shopping. We take naps, read and chill with friends over chai and snacks.
I had a Ayuvedic massage the other day, which is my first professional massage! For under $14 CDN, I had an hour long full body massage with two massage therapists working simultaneously on both sides of my body. After the amazing massage, I had an herbal steam. It was pure bliss.
I think this is yoga too.