Saturday, April 13, 2013

Yoga, Meditation, and Transformation

I arrived in Trivandrum in the afternoon on Saturday March 16th with a knotted stomach and cold feet. It was POURING rain outside and I was about to enter a month of yoga at an ashram. So many questions ran through my head as I commuted 2 hours from the airport to the ashram in the pouring rain: “Maybe I should have stayed one night in an ashram before agreeing to stay one month at one. Maybe I should have practiced hatha yoga before coming. Will they really make me check in my cell phones upon arrival?”

Upon arrival I was given a nice warm cup of tea from two friendly boys a bit younger than me- one from India and one from France maybe. I remember thinking of how sweet it was that their first question was would I like tea or not. I agreed and sat at a table to fill out my registration forms. So many people filled in that modest sized reception. Within 15 minutes I had my luggage in hand was being shown to the dorms where I had registered to stay. “Are there western toliets? Hope there aren’t many bugs… Oh no! What if the shower stalls are dirty?” I was pleasantly surprised- the area was clean and bustling already. The first floor seemed crowded and there were no outlets so I ventured up. I was the first one up on the second floor and enjoyed the quiet there. Set up shop- sheets on the thin mattress, mosquito net above bed, shower supplies and three different mosquito repellants on the shelves behind head. My home for the next month.
My cubby-mate, Malavika, and I.
The setting of the ashram was gorgeous. An excerpt from journal when I captured my mental image that afternoon:
Green all around. A Krishna Radha statue in front of me. To its left a jackfruit tree. To my left, the boutique. Whispers in at least five different languages flutter by as already-friends walk past. A huge statue of a deity on a lotus flower in the background. Wonder who the statue is of- hoping we learn that here. A wide range of people here- Indians and foreign, modest and not so modest. The smell of damp Earth fills the air, water still trickling off the luscious surroundings.
The beautiful flower of a Cannonball tree in the ashram.  
Krishna statue in front of the dormitory.
One of the statues I saw when I first entered the ashram. (Learned later it is the goddess Lakshmi)
The next month went by faster than any month before has. We studied Vedantic philosophy and its relationship with yoga. We learned a bit about anatomy and physiology, as well as the importance of diet. There was also a study of the Bhagavad Gita (a bucket list read of mine). The importance of karma yoga (selfless service) was taught through experience and each student was given a daily chore. Some students would serve food or clean the dorms, I was asked to help in reception- a warm welcome back to Microsoft Excel in a surprising setting.

There were two asana (posture) classes a day and after two weeks we were broken into smaller groups and asked to teach each other during the afternoon class. The change from Bikram yoga to Hatha yoga was tough for me. I missed the indoor heated climate and the sweat I experienced in Bikram. After a week, though, I was getting the hang of new postures and starting to conquer fears about sirsasana (headstand) and kakasana (crow pose).

The daily grind: personal journal, course book, meditation cushion, water bottle, and yoga mat.
A personal variation to sirsasana (headstand). I call it "inverted namaste".
Finally got the hang of kakasana (crow pose).
Yoga by the lake in Neyyar Dam
Yoga in the hall- a twice a day experience
I also tried to learn to meditate during the morning and evening satsangs (community gatherings) but it was been an uphill battle. For the past 4-5 years I’d wanted to learn to meditate (another bucket list item) and practice it regularly, but it’s so difficult for me. I will continue to try but no success to share thus far.

All in all, it was a packed month. We had a day off each week that a few of us would escape the ashram and head to Kovalam to lay on the beach and enjoy food we didn’t get at the ashram (chocolate, eggs, coffee- not in the that order). The month ended on Saturday night when I received my certificate and graduated the Sivananda course. I’m still in disbelief that the month is over and I have a certificate in my hand. Excited for more yoga study to come and keeping up my practice! Moving on to travels now…

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