Friday, February 8, 2013

Yesterday was my favorite so far. Instead of heading into the throngs of the Mela, we went in the other direction. We walked along the Ganges for a while then veered off into a large prairie and walked along a path toward a village. Here we saw sheepherders with large flocks, and herds of an antelope-type animal. It was so nice after the heat, dust and noise of the Mela.

The village we were walking through was expecting us. As Westerners only walk through a couple times a year, generally with the Himalayan Institute, HI went there the day before to tell them we'd be coming. That way they could stay in and out of sight if they wanted. However, a lot of villagers were out, and it was wonderful.

This village is a "healthy" village, meaning not a poor one. They do have electricity, although from what I could see it looked like maybe a bare bulb or two per household. Houses are clay or brick with thatch roofs. Each house has several  cattle, usually tied to a ground post in the yard. I think I heard some goats inside the structures, but I didn't see any chickens, as Hindus generally do not eat eggs as well as meat. 

It definitely felt awkward taking photos; on one hand I don't want to leave without something  to remember this walk, on the other it feels intrusive. However, again, the curiosity seems to go both ways. Several women and I made eye contact and smiled at each other; I think if I spoke Hindi or they English it would have been wonderful, but not so exotic. One woman spoke enthusiastically at Doug and I as we were admiring her cow; we had no idea what she was saying, but it seemed to be encouraging us to take a picture. So, we did, and right on cue as we snapped the shutter it let out a huge bellow. We jumped back and she laughed hysterically. I think she had that cow well trained.

Kids, of course, are the great equalizer, and they LOVE having their picture taken. They run up saying "hello!" "hello!" "hi!" and ask for a picture, which you then show to them on the screen and they laugh. They shake hands and generally love visitors.

My favorite was a boy who met us on the road with his camel. He let me pet it, and then asked if we wanted to see it lie down. Our guide spoke Hindi and everyone said, no, because it looks like so much effort for a camel to get up and down. But the boy really wanted to show off for us, so finally he ignored us and started saying "sit!" "sit!" and the camel with much effort lied down on the road. Then he got up and the two of them ran off, camel on a leash like a dog, into the field.

While I'm loving the cultural part of this trip, there are also lectures in the ashram on the symbolism of this place, visits to temples, and lectures on meditation. I am particularly enjoying Rolf Sovik's lectures on meditation and mantra.

Finally, weather has its highs and lows. Daytime temperatures are beautiful, sunny, high 70s. But nighttime has been quite cold, high 40s. As Sunday is an auspicious bathing day at the Mela, crowds are growing, and the fervor is building. This means that any hour of the night I wake because of cold, it'll be equally tough to go back to sleep due to noise. 2:00, 4:00am, the Mela never sleeps, and from 4 kilometers away, the din is consistent.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Yoga is a Spiritual Practice

Most of us that practice yoga seriously know this is true: Yoga is first and foremost a spiritual practice. If we don't know it through our classes and our studies, we certainly may have experienced it during a yoga class; that feeling of wholeness, one-pointed focus, and vibrating awareness that happens when the pranic energy is flowing freely through the body and the mind is focused and calm.

This feeling is what keeps many students returning to their mats, even though their real interest is the physical benefits of the practice. But, there is something about yoga that transcends the physical freedom created.

Over the next few weeks I'll be visiting India to dive into the spiritual component of this ancient practice. Yes, I anticipate spending plenty of time on the mat at the Himalayan Institute "ashrams" where I'll be staying. But, the emphasis here will be highly spiritual, as myself and fellow students are embarking on a "pilgrimage" to the Maha Kumbha Mela in Allahabad.

"Maha" means great. "Kumbha" means container or vessel. This title refers to the vessel that holds the elixir of life. Ancient Indian legends tell that every 12 years at this time, this elixir of life pours down from the heavens to a point near Allahabad where three rivers meet: the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mystical Sarasvati. This creates a powerful vortex of strong spiritual intensity at this location, where millions of pilgrims, yogis, saints, and sages have joined to practice during this event for over 5000 years.

I'm excited to see the culture of India, to practice at the birthplace of yoga, to listen to lectures by esteemed teachers, sages and saints, and to be a part of this event. I'll be joined by my husband and two daughters. They are not practicing yogis, but they know down dog from plank and even can belt out a chant or two. Who knows? Maybe they'll feel the buzz??

I plan to blog as often as our schedule and internet access will allow, so keep an eye on the Focus Yoga studio blog here for updates, as that will be my primary posting point.

When I return the end of February, I'll be hard at work planning our next Focus Yoga Immersion and Teacher Training, so stay posted for news.