I never really thought about India before. After having spent over 4 months I can now say that whatever preconceived notions I had about India, were wrong.
Before coming here, many of my friends or relatives tried to warn me. “Be careful Ben… you know many people who go to India are traumatised when they come back. You can really be shocked there; things don’t work there like here in the West. The place is really dirty and poverty is everywhere” or “don’t take a dip in the Ganges, it breeds infections” (which I did btw, in peak winters!).
While travelling, I’m not generally the scared type (refer above about the dip in the Ganges in winters). I have been to places that some people may consider dangerous and I like travelling alone. But with so many people warning me, it got me thinking about what I could find there. After all, it’s not like I did any kind of research. The truth is I didn’t know anything about the place. This did not change my plans; I went anyway.
I can still clearly remember my first day in India. I was dragging my “very wrong” suitcase in the dusty dirt road of Rishikesh, desperately looking for the ashram where I would be spending most of my time- Parmarth Niketan. At that time I really felt like a true alien. All the excitement of travelling had vanished. I was exhausted from my journey and the truth is that, as the hours passed, I was more and more doubtful about my choice of coming here.
Everything was different! First, the place was dirty. To get to the place where I would be staying, I had to go around so many cows and stray dogs, with all the “holy things” that they dump on the ground, monkeys jumping all over the place; showing their teeth at any person confident enough to look at them in the eyes. Motorcycles drivers honking relentlessly to force you to move, and very “convincing” children that will absolutely not give up until you give them money.
This place was so overwhelming that all I wanted to do was to find this ashram, get a room and rest there in silence.
The next day was the registration for my first ever YOGA course. As I sat there I began to worry more and more. I even doubted that this was for me at all! We got acquainted with the teacher and the schedule for the week and went back to rest. Later that day, I sat down at a coffee shop and e-mailed the ashram to tell them that after all, I would be staying only for a week!
The next morning the class started at 6.30am. I woke up even more tired, having been cold the whole night and still jet lagged. I managed to get out of bed, wore the white yoga outfit and went in the direction of the Yoga hall. It was complete dark! Not even a soul. The class began with Pranayama and loosening exercises, followed by simple asanas.
At the end of class I went out, and everything looked different. The sky, the sun, the trees, the flowers … everything was brighter and more colourful than ever. I felt better than I did in months, after only a morning class of less than two hours. Right then I felt blessed and I knew this was the right place for me. I also felt quite stupid for shortening my stay without giving the place a chance. So I quickly went back to a coffee shop for wifi to send another e-mail to the ashram to tell them to ignore my previous email. As it turned out, I spent four months at Parmarth.
The next day I felt really happy, and started to believe more and more in the power of YOGA. During the evening aarti (fire ceremony along with chanting on the banks of the Ganga) I felt like something had moved in me. This marked the beginning of the purification process. If you are new to YOGA, don’t expect to always be happy and peaceful. In fact, to purify the body and mind from all the accumulated toxins and emotions, all of it has to come out at some point. So be prepared to move from a state of undisturbed peacefulness to complete unrest in a matter of seconds.
This happened to me on one of the last days of the course. My roommate had locked me in so I had to miss the morning yoga class! I felt so angry. Not the regular anger. But I could feel my heart closing. I couldn’t even face my teacher, as I felt unable to hide my rage. As a scorpio (sun sign), I always try to remain composed and neutral with my emotions, and being angry like that was completely new to me. So this proved that yoga was working, I was boiling inside. But the effects were much stronger than what I had expected. All the benefits of yoga that I had felt that week were completely gone, until someone told me that this was normal and expected.
The first week in India taught me many things. The main lesson being, that the problem with having any preconceived ideas is that it cuts you from seeing and experiencing things as they really are. I arrived in India and in the ashram with a lot of negative thinking. I was seeing things from my own perspective, and that kept me from being in the moment and having an open mind.
This is a very important concept of yoga. Moving the mind from the unreal to the real; from ignorance to knowledge and that is what my quest is all about – Open Mind, Open Heart.