Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ashramarama - Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

Rishikesh is the yoga capital of India and has enough ashrams to surely enable me to reach enlightenment in 10 days. Situated on the picturesque Ganga nestled against the mountains , Rishikesh has been the epicenter of swamis and sadhus (Hindu monks generally clad entirely in orange) for centuries. I looked online for many days trying to find the perfect place to practice yoga and learn a little more about spiritual life in India. After a thorough and sometime frustrating search I found Ashram Dayananda. The program included Iyengar yoga, Sanskrit, meditation and chanting. It was a little more than I wanted to spend but how can you put a price on eternal salvation. I was looking forward to all of it.

Exhausted from my jarring and cold ride, I reached Ashram Dayananda at 8AM looking for respite and peace. I quickly went to bed and when I arose I was greeted with a clean, quiet, surprisingly large ashram on the banks of the Ganga. The first few moments were spent just listening to the water rush by as the sun warmed my face. Finally, a quite place in India.

The days that followed started at 6:30Am with 3 hours of yoga, breakfast, 1 hour chanting, a video pertaining to yoga, lunch, 2 hour break, 1 hour Sanskrit class, 2.5 more hours of yoga/meditation, dinner and then usually a guest speaker or musical performance from 8:30-9:30PM. It was much more than I anticipated and had little time to myself oddly enough.

Where astanga pushed me physically, Iyengar pushed my focus as we stayed in the asanas much longer and the emphasis was to be aware of every part of your body while maintaining the asana. Luckily, we had an amazing instructor in Nanda Kumar. His knowledge of the human body and the exceptional way of relaying that information to students made learning very accessible and enjoyable. Nanda's assistants, Amit and Ricardo, were also indispensable when Nanda couldn't tend to you, inside or outside the yoga shala.

Swamiji, who taught Sanskrit and chanting, is a large humorous man who would dispense pearls of wisdom as easily as he would jokes. Some days chanting class was spent discussing philosophy leaving you thinking for the rest of the day, other times class would be on the roof of the lecture hall with the backdrop of the mountains above and the rush of the Ganga below as a chorus of westerners butchered the Hindu language.

I knew I would meet some nice people at the ashram and share some laughs but I never imagined that I would meet so many wonderful people that would so quickly become good friends. I think the over abundance of chapati, rice and dal bound us like nothing else. How much rice and dal can one man eat. "Hello sir, dal or dal this evening? If you prefer dal I can bring that as well." That was my only complain about the course. Well, not so much mine as my lower intestines.

On one occasion 250 sadhus came to the ashram and sat outside the temple to have lunch. Easily one of the greatest things I've ever seen. Massive pots of, you guessed it, dal, rice and chapati were made and doled out with great efficiency. Sporadically a lone voice would rise from the crowd and chant, then silence, then another and another till the meal was done. Thirty minutes into the event someone bellowed a short statement and in military precision all 250 sadhus got up at once and immediately left the ashram almost sweeping me away in the parade. There was so much orange that afternoon that everything had a orange tint to it for the rest of the day.

When the course was over Amit, his friend Om, fellow student Mirko and I rented motorbikes and rode into the mountains to visit 2 temples. The first was a modest temple with 300 steps needing to be ascended to reach the top and possessed a good view of the Himalayas. The second however needed a 3km hike to reach the top and half way up became covered in snow. This temple was bigger and had amazing views of the Himalayas. Since shoes were not permitted the visit became chilly quickly. We all took turns doing asanas with the Himalayan backdrop. Super cheesy I know but just be glad I wasn't doing the robot. On the way back to the ashram we ran into 3kms of snow covered roads. Since both groups had a tumble on the bikes because of snow and ice we opted to walk the bikes this time. On account that it was a 16 hour day and I was already weary from the course, I slept the next day blissfully away.

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.
B.K.S. Iyengar

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