YOGA IN INDIA
Are you: Over weight?
Bitten by the travel bug, years ago, and never having recovered, I decided that a trip to India was worth the risk of flunking out of Yoga school. So I booked the flight and enrolled in a yoga course at the local YMCA as preparation.
Our ashram, with its colorful red roof is built on the side of a hill. It is winter, the grass is brown and the few trees dab the plain with green dots. A ring of ancient mountains face us and we can see trimbakeshwar sitting at its feet. There are a couple of villages and lots of farmland nearby and we often get the chance to meet the friendly village people.
We are provided with a pillow, sheets, a couple of blankets and mosquito netting. Each cabin has an attached toilet and is shared by four students. A bell calls us out of bed at five in the morning. It is dark and cold; the contrast between night and day temperatures is unbelievable. I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and groggily walk a few steps to the dining hall for a morning drink before a half an hour of meditation at 6 am. During which time we sit with our backs straight in the dark focusing on either the Chakras or the Sanskrit symbol representing the sound OM, or at least we try to.
Two hours of yoga practice follow, most of which I cannot do. I feel humiliated, but only by my own sense of inadequacy. I am never treated as anything but equal by either staff or classmates, who are supportive and encouraging at every turn. And despite my initial reluctance to go, to this day, I continue to flash back to those magical moments at the end of class when we are standing on our toes in mountain pose and my eyes are lifted high enough to peek out of the thin strip of windows above us. At this time I am able to snatch a peek, for just a few moments, of the breathtaking ring of rock formations that surround our ashram. It is about 9 am in the morning and, as always, the sun is shining brightly and casting a deep shadowy tangerine hue that drapes the dew covered landscape. I sweep the horizon with my eyes and remind myself, as I do every morning, that I am really here and this is not a storybook rendering of the romping grounds of the Hindu pantheon. I actually exist here and now, in this place. I am actually looking at a dollop of solidified stone that is Hanuman, the monkey gods, birthplace as I stand swaying on my tiptoes trying with varying degrees of success to avoid toppling back down. It is at this point every morning that I confirm with every cell in my body that I made the right decision when I decided to undertake this journey.
We are now warmed up and hungry. Breakfast is ready for us and we help ourselves to a cereal, chapaties and lots of fresh fruit. The dining room is cool and shaded, open to the fresh air.
In the afternoon we have a couple of hours of free time, we shower, do laundry and prepare for our next class. We befriend a little girl who tells us her name is Tulsa. Although just a tiny thing herself, she is responsible for taking care of the baby of one of the workers. Friendly and fun loving, we enjoyed teaching her, helping her learn to read and write her first English words. A bright little girl, I am sure she continued to learn after we left. I would love to know her progress.
Now another lecture, sometimes we hear the sound of bells and hoofs as bullocks are raced to the river as we sit in class and take notes. This is followed by second two-hour yoga class and karma yoga before dinner. After dinner we get together for what feels like a social event but really is Sanskrit training and Mantra Chants.
We have one free day a week, if we want to go to Nasik were we can shop or catch a movie, the staff help us arrange a ride. Sometimes we go to Trembakeshwar instead, an hour walk away across the dry plain. On one such day we saw a young boy drawing water from a well. He poses beside his animals and cart for a photo, and then runs forward, a smile on his face, to see what we have captured on the camera. A young woman runs across the field, chasing a water buffalo out of her garden. We feel like part of the landscape.
Another option for a free day is to take walks past the villages, or down to the river, through banana fields, where we swim in the shade of the trees. Even here we get a glimpse of village life as we watch a woman doing her laundry while bathing her children.
On one extremely memorable day our class is invited to visit a healer, an extremely enlightened man whom we call the Marble Baba. His lifelong devotion and practice of yoga has elevated him to a plane of understanding that allows him to diagnose and treat illness. He has a large herb garden at his mission. He is anxious to give us the details of his plants healing properties so we can bring this information back to the west and heal more people than he can reach from his mission. He is able to place a piece of Marble on the head and diagnose any and all illnesses that you may have. In fact, in the absence of the patient, he can diagnose from clothing or belongings. He is uncanny. There are hundreds of patients around the clock lining up to see him. He has two assistants, who stand by and at his instruction, will write a prescription for the patient. If you overindulge or have any bad habits he will expose you in front of everyone. One young Indian man with a taste for alcohol is given a firm slap on the back of his head and a stern admonishing, much to the delight of those waiting in line.
Bobbi takes her place in front of the Marble Baba and is told that she is perfectly healthy and need not be here at all. Apprehensively I take a seat in front of him and feel the marble block placed on my head. Is it possible he could find something serious wrong with me? He quickly tells me that my blood pressure has to be taken care of immediately and in a few moments I am sitting on the sidelines waiting for my prescription to be written up. Meanwhile, the Baba has already moved on to the next eager patient in the long line that wraps itself around the room and continues out the door. A young man has a faded green floral print dress belonging to his mother. The Baba holds the dress firmly between his hands as he informs the man that she is suffering from advanced liver cancer and that her prescription will only serve to alleviate some of the discomfort. The man accepts the information with a dispassionate and seemingly resigned expression and like all of the patients thanks the Baba with great respect and gratitude.
An early morning walk takes us pass the local
school and we allow the excited children to practice their English on us. Walking farther
we encroach on the village itself. Visitors seldom stray this far and we are stared at as
we disturb the morning ablutions. Out in a field a woman is patting dung into flat pie
shapes to dry in the sun for fuel. A few steps further we meet another woman with water
jars on her head, returning from the river.
At the end of the month I leave the ashram. My classmates and teachers goodbyes ringing in my ears. I promise to come back and I mean it. I am 20 pounds lighter despite 3 full meals a day. My sky high blood pressure is actually within normal range and I feel as fresh as a newborn baby. Most importantly, my racing thoughts are, for now, as calm and tranquil as the refreshing water in our secret water hole.
Whenever I feel nostalgic, I pull out my tape of
Indian music and relive our daily sunset ceremony and imagine the incredible experience of
watching the sun dipping below the horizon, an enormous deep orange globe that seems to be
slowly swallowed by the shadowy fields as we chant;
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