Intense, fascinating and mind boggling. These are the three phrases that spring to mind after my first week at Rishikesh Yog Peeth.
After a gruelling day of travelling from London Heathrow to Rishikesh (a 9-hour flight, followed by an 8-hour car journey in mainly stand still traffic) a small group of us arrived; smelly, tired and hungry. After wolfing down some palek paneer at a nearby restaurant for £1.50, we sprinted back to the yoga school in order to make it back before the 9.30pm curfew and collapsed into bed.
The following day, myself and my fellow taxi friends – Courtney, Erica and Alexis – headed out into Rishikesh to get our bearings and see some of the local sights. Rishikesh is a perfect blend of India. It is chilled out and slightly hippyfied but also has the mad, constant, hustle and bustle which is such a beloved aspect of Indian culture. Little shops and stalls line the streets selling anything yoga or Ayurvedic and the calm waters of the river Ganga run right through the middle of the town.
Having perused the shops and stopped for a delicious cup of chai, we decided to go and listen to Guru Maiyaa. None of us had a clue who she was but there were processions and flyers being handed out here, there and everywhere, so we thought we should at least see what all the fuss was about. We meandered up and down various streets in an attempt to find her and were starting to get slightly less enthused after nearly half an hour of walking and still no sign of her. I had just reached the conclusion that we should just give up, when a helpful local pointed the building out to us and we headed on in.
Guru Maiyaa was seated in a white marquee, with a small group of people sat before her. As we entered, a South African man was asking her a question on the ego and negative karma. Maiyaa listened carefully and then began to speak. The certainty and clarity with which she presented her ideas was both refreshing and stimulating. Probably in her thirties, she was incredibly beautiful, elegant and confident. She spoke eloquently about becoming the Master of yourself and your own Guru. The need to find your own truth and to decipher between those actions which come from falsehood rather than purity. She then delved into meditation and the pros and cons which this provided. How it can provide serenity and truth but can also lead some away from reality and their body. These people, she stated, could not fully take care of their human form if they were constantly within the cosmic realm and as we were given this body for a reason, why should we not care for it to the best of our ability – starting with our health, relationships and lifestyle. Continuing, she touched upon the discrimination she experienced from male Gurus and the controversy that many of her beliefs evoked particularly due to her female form. Yet her certainty within herself and her own truth was unmoving. Maiyaa was confident that she could challenge (as she has already done so) many of these discriminators and her honesty and unflinching defiance towards these people was empowering.
Unfortunately, after half an hour of listening to her in complete rapture, we had to leave for our opening ceremony, minds reeling. It is hard to fully capture what she was like to listen to but as a first experience of Rishikesh, I felt energised and stimulated already!
The opening ceremony took place within one of the yoga halls. None of us knew what to expect but we all walked in, sat on a bolster and proceeded to watch the small group of Indians at the front who were encircled around a statue of Vishnu. One of the men began to chant, waving incense, powder, laying flowers and doing all sorts in front of Vishnu. This went on for nearly 15 minutes whilst we all watched on. Then, two young boys began to make their way around us, placing a red dot on our third eye and tying a red, yellow and orange piece of thread around our wrists. The chanting continued and we were told to form two lines facing the statue. I ended up near the back and had no idea what was going on in front of me but as I got closer, I ascertained that we had to take a mini candelabra from the person in front and wave it around in front of Vishnu for a little while. At this point I got a near fit of the giggles due to the seriousness with which everyone was taking part, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, when, in actual fact, no one had a clue what on earth was going on. Nevertheless, I maintained my straight face, waved around the candelabra in front of Vishnu and went and took my seat again. After the ceremony had finished we were finally told what had just happened. The yogis had been asking permission to teach us and we were making a promise that we would fulfil our training to the best of our abilities (the red thread tied round our wrists symbolised this promise) and thankfully, we had been granted permission to embark upon our yogic journey. All in all, a lovely ceremony to take part in.
Before we headed to bed, we met our prospective teachers and were presented with our daily timetable, which follows the same pattern everyday, bar Sunday.
Our daily routine is as follows:
6am: Wake Up
6.30am: Herbal Tea
6.45am: Neti Pot (nasal cleansing)
7am: Asana, Pranayama and Mantra
10am: Anatomy and Physiology
2pm: Library/Study Period
3.30pm: Teaching Methodology
5pm: Asana: Modification and Adjustment
I couldn’t wait to get started.
After the first day, however, numerous questions and thoughts plagued my mind. What had I been thinking? This is impossible. How will you survive a month of this? What on earth had I signed myself up for?
Following the second day however, knowing what to expect, I found myself really getting into the swing of things. Neti pot cleansing was weirdly satisfying and my sinuses were finally clearing. Asana practice, although rigorous and incredibly challenging with Abhi, was invigorating and I loved being pushed to my limit. Anatomy and Physiology with Mimi was fascinating and Philosophy with Roshan (the director of Rishikesh Yog Peeth) was confusing but also completely eye opening. Days began to fly by and although it seemed to be moving rapidly, it also feels like I have been here years!
Within this first week I have already come to realise that Yoga is so much more than just asana. It is a way of life and it requires discipline, perseverance and dedication. Asana practice barely scrapes the surface of what yoga truly is and as each of the teachers keep on telling us over and over again – they still know nothing of it as well.
A week in and my strength and flexibility has increased noticeably. My way of thinking has altered into a more present and focussed state and my knowledge of the human body has definitely increased/been refreshed! The food is super tasty and the teachers are infectiously enthusiastic and humble. On top of all that, I am with a great group of people, from all backgrounds and countries, who make the experience interesting in itself! Aside from the small issue concerning the 500 and 1000 rupee notes – the notes were made void due to too many counterfeits flying about – and of course the horrific tragedy regarding Manish; it has been a really phenomenal first week.
All in all, my yoga initiation has been a huge success and I cannot wait to build upon what I have already discovered.