06 March 2016

Yoga in India, Part I

Like every other yogi, I’ve always wanted to go to India to study yoga. While I chose to study with two excellent Western teachers who I respect, I decided that before and after my yoga teacher training program I would study as much yoga as I possibly could to learn as much from the Mother Country of Yoga.
My first few days in India were mostly absent of yoga; I practiced in my room in Delhi, but there were no classes I attended in Jaipur, Delhi, or Amritsar. When I told my Indian friend Arun I came to India to study yoga, he told me, “No one does yoga here that’s Indian.” Not exactly true, but there were more non-yogis than yogis.
I made a decision to cultivate a strong home practice whenever I couldn’t attend a class. I had some mala beads and some stones I’d put at the corner of my mat, practice from some selected asanas, follow a sequence I had from the latest Yoga Journal, watch a YouTube video if the Internet was fast enough (rare), listen to some nice Indian music if I could stream it. I would be in a dingy room in Mumbai or my glorious Richard Gere suite in Dharmashala with a stunning view of the mountains and the results would be the same: I’d reach inward and find a bit of peace within myself.
My home practice grew stronger; I challenged myself with poses that were difficult for me. I wanted to be a dedicated and a regular yogi so that during my teacher training, I was not overwhelmed. (And I wasn’t.)
But wherever I could, I took classes.
In Dharamshala, most of the ashrams and shalas and studios were closed due to the low season (aka COLD), but I did visit Om Ashram. I pondered doing further training there, but felt the pushy style of the owners made me lean away a bit. And something wasn’t right, so I couldn’t dive in. I did attend one of their classes, and we began by running in place. “Bring your knees higher!” It felt very different than the classes back home where we began with cat-cow. But as we practiced Sun Salutations, arms up greeting the sun that was peeking over the mountains, I felt full of light and love.
In Rishikesh, I was in yoga heaven. I attended two classes a week. Rishikesh doesn’t provide heaps to do in ways of tourist attractions, so I was content to fill my time taking two yoga classes a day and writing at cafes with steaming chais in between. I had my first taste of ashtanga yoga, and rather liked it, though I found it immensely challenging.

In Varanasi, I practiced with Siddharth in the cold morning on the rooftop of my hostel. The next day, his assistant picked me up on the back of his motorbike and we rode like two badasses around the windy crazy narrow alleys of enchanting Varanasi, around cows and people and bicycles and fruit sellers and everything. We practiced overlooking the Ganges, and the very special place filled me and pushed me forward.
In Mumbai, more home practice.
In Bangalore, I stayed in my friend Barbara’s yoga room. I practiced by myself, took Iyenger classes, saw a yoga therapist/guru. Barbara taught me the primary sequence and I went to take ashtanga classes with her. She went to a teacher 6 days a week, and I was allowed to come to the Saturday class only. It was illuminating and challenging and I loved how much I was pushed.
In Mysore, I was once again in yoga heaven. I liked the vibe better than Rishikesh; I saw how easily yogis could stay in such a lovely place for 30 days to study ashtanga. I took classes in Iyengar and Ashtanga, sometimes two classes in a row. In between, I wandered, dreamed, drank chai, had smoothies at the western cafe with a Sikh man who used to live in New York City. He made me feel at home.
In Hampi, I took several classes, two a day. I took hatha and ashtanga classes, and in between, studied Reiki with a swami.

And then I got to Goa, where I did my yoga teacher training, unarguably, the yogic highlight of my life.

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