On re-reading it, it seemed like a fun story and an interesting insight into what crazy stuff advanced training in yoga offers! So I thought I'd share it with you guys. Hope you enjoy!
I’m either woken by chanting or firecrackers from the temple downstairs, or by my alarm at 5am. My bed is small. Even a 5’2” shorty like me can barely stretch her legs out, so the poor 6’4” guy must be having a terribly uncomfortable sleep.
It’s hot overnight. I doubt it goes below 25 degrees. I leave my fan on but it barely makes a whisper on my skin. Anyway, the power has gone out again, so no lights, no fan.
I shower in the dark, letting water fall into a bucket to soak the last few days’ clothes. Shower done, I soak my eyes. Part of the morning cleansings, or ‘Kriyas’, I fill a small cup full of water and let each eye soak for half a minute, rolling my eyeballs around and around to make sure they’re properly cleaned. We leak protein from our eyes, so it’s a good idea to wash this off after they’ve been sitting in it overnight.
I dress in white for the meditation class later. Pure unbleached cotton clothes are preferred, but white will do. It’s 5.30, so I head down to the food hall to gather with my fellow students to perform our nasal cleansing. A pot of warm salty water has been left for us on the ledge outside. With bare feet we perch on the edge, leaning forward and tilting our head. First right, then left, allowing the salt water to drain through each nostril. A few sharp exhalations through the nose to clear the water and we’re done. It takes only a few minutes and my nose feels clearer after only a few days practice. I can breathe easier.
We head up to the yoga hall to prepare for meditation. We perform Agni Sara Kriya, an abdominal breathing exercise that I’ve not quite mastered yet. Essentially, I start standing up, inhale then fling my torso forward, exhaling forcefully and drawing in my abdomen. Leaning forward at a 90-degree angle, but looking up, my breath is retained outside my body as I manipulate my abdomen in and out. I can manage about 25 or 30 movements, so far. I’m aiming for 100.
Then we sit and do three rounds of Kapalabhati (another breathing technique which involves forceful exhalation) plus three rounds of breath retention. We’re holding our breath for up to a minute each time. I come out of this practice, not only light-headed, but with my teeth buzzing from the vibrations. I feel lighter somehow though. Like my brain has been given a gentle shaking to loosen it up.
It’s still dark at 6am when we begin meditation. The sun will be up by the time we open our eyes again half an hour later. It’s a shame to be up so early and to miss the sunrise. Sometimes I creep my eyes open a fraction to see the dusty pink sky through the window. Swamiji leads the class. He’s a great teacher with a warmth and easy humour that I’m drawn to. He leads a lovely meditation, chanting softly to help us sink deeper. But I have a sore back, I’m not sure I’ve mastered the sitting position. I’m cross-legged with one knee higher than the other, so I’m pretty sure that’s making me lean to one side and it causes sharp pains in my middle back. Something to work on.
Settling in to meditation doesn’t come easily to me, but this morning with Swamiji leading, I find myself lost, thoughtless, and before I know it, he’s leading us back out into the world. The sun is up and we make our way, in peaceful silence, back to our rooms.
We have asana and pranayama class for the next two and a half hours. We lie in wait, in Savasana, for Bhoomaji to arrive. A tall, peaceful, beautiful man who moves with grace and ease, Bhoomaji is one of the most supportive and encouraging teachers I’ve had, of any subject. He clearly finds great joy in teaching us, and challenging us to go deeper and try harder, without making us feel inadequate when that’s not possible. I love his classes. We’re allowed to giggle and make mistakes. As long as we’re safe, happy, learning and putting in our best effort, Bhoomaji will support us.
Today, he leads us first through a relaxation exercise, then we chant the opening mantra, chant OM and perform 12 rounds of Surya Namaskar. That’s 12 on the right side, 12 on the left. It’s enough, in the early heat of the day, to get our bodies lightly sweating and warmed up for some more intensive asanas.
The routine each day (and evening) follows much the same pattern, but with some small variations in the poses. After sun salutations come core work, then headstand, then the shoulderstand series, forward bends, back bends, twists, balances, standing poses...and we usually end with Peacock. It’s a challenging routine, but easy to memorise and easy to add variety. This morning I’m a little stiff. We’ve been here 6 days and our one day off a week falls tomorrow. My body needs a rest. But I’ve come a long way since day one and I’m now able to hold myself in Peacock for longer without falling on my face.
We finish the asanas with another guided relaxation, where I gently drift off to sleep. There may or may not be drool. It’s a lovely rest and well-deserved. We rouse again and begin the pranayama section of the class. Kapalabhati, breath retention and 15 rounds of Anuloma Viloma with breath retention. Blissful. Ok, sometimes it can feel like it’s dragging on forever, but when I allow myself to fall into it, it’s a beautiful meditative exercise. Much like the whole program. There’s no denying that it’s hard to leave my partner and my normal life for a whole month (longer because I’m spending another month after the course ends getting to know this amazing country). But I figure if I allow myself to fall into the program, the way of life here at the ashram is blissful.
It’s 9.30am and time for breakfast. I need food STAT! I really ought to shower, but I’m just so hungry by now that I figure it can wait. We eat in a large dining hall on benches. We sit side by side facing the serving table. Swamiji sits opposite and leads the prayer before we tuck in. I’m so eager to eat, but this moment we take to appreciate what we have is very important, for me. It’s something I’m keen to take back home with me. Just spending a few moments before each meal to fully appreciate how fortunate I am to have food. To be grateful to the people and the forces that make it possible for me to eat as well as I do.
Pappadums for breakfast should be made law. Masala dosa. Chai. I’m in heaven, the food is SO good.
We have an hour of free time after breakfast. Sometimes there is WiFi available. It’s a good chance for us to stay connected with family and friends, or to make plans for trips around India once the course is over. I appreciate that it’s preferable to live in the moment, but it seems to me I do a lot of that here and a little amount of online time isn’t going to jeopardise my learning. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. So I get online. Today I receive a lovely Facebook message from Tim. We’re into week 2 of the two and a half months we’ll be apart. So it’s lovely to be connected and it feels very much like I’m living in the present moment when I get that message and my heart skips a beat.
Philosophy classes are next, with Swamiji. First we study one hour of the Bhagavad Gita, then an hour of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. There’s only time for a small portion of each during the course. We study one small section of that portion each day, so it’s pretty intensive. Luckily, Swamiji is an engaging and fun teacher and we’re encouraged to participate and ask questions. We sit outside on the balcony to get fresh air and natural light. As good as Swamiji is, the humidity and the early starts take their toll on us and it’s hard to maintain focus. Basically, I nod off. Oops.
Lunch is fruit. After the mega breakfast, it’s more than enough and I sometimes skip it to have a lie down instead. Today though, I’ve snoozed enough and head down to the dining room. Coconuts! Fresh off the tree, the one we see from our yoga hall. We could almost reach out and grab these coconuts up there, but one of the guys from the ashram has shimmied up the tree and brought them down for us. He lops off the top of the nut and pops in a straw for us to drink the water. Delicious! Then he opens it up so we can scoop out the flesh to eat. It’s a bit tasteless, but still a very special treat.
For the 500-hour course, we do Karma Yoga. A way of giving back to the ashram, we put in half an hour of labour each day. We are given the responsibility of keeping the yoga hall and surrounding balcony clean. Not all students turn up every day, so there’s definitely some learning to be done here. Even though the hall might not need to be cleaned every day, I think it’s important for us to put in the effort, together. For me, the disappointment I feel in those who don’t turn up is the interesting learning. What is it I actually feel? Disappointment? Frustration? A sense of injustice? Self-righteousness? Is it important what others do or don’t do, or should I just be happy the floor is clean? Tomorrow, I’ll have a day off too.
The afternoon asana and pranayama class is very different to the morning session. We’re awake, warmed up, it’s hot (about 36 degrees today) and humid. Before we even start moving, we’re sweating. It’s like Bikram Yoga without the pressure. We get into poses that just weren’t possible in the morning. Those students who’ve had massages during the break (there’s an ayurvedic clinic here at the ashram and hot oil massages are available) are now super-flexible, if a little slippery. We get our legs behind our head. We slide into the splits. It feels fantastic! More relaxation, more pranayama. We open our eyes at the end of the class and it’s dark outside.
The temple downstairs is gearing up for tonight’s celebration (we’re here during a 41 day festival, so every night is a party). The drummers begin, the devotional ring their bells, the firecrackers explode. We look down at the scene from our balcony. There are people everywhere, all lit by candlelight. We’re welcome to join in the ritual, but I sit out and people-watch with some of the others. There’s half an hour until dinnertime. It’s the longest half-hour of the day.
A few different curry dishes, rice, chutneys, raita and chapatti. The food here is so tasty. We’re offered milk, but I’m not keen. It’s very creamy, straight from the cow who lives here too.
One more class before bed: Anatomy. Our teacher is a young doctor/researcher from a nearby Ayurvedic hospital. He’s charming, funny and super smart. He’s rapid-fire. We have a lot to cover in 6 classes, so there are no breaks in his flow and he expects the same from us. He puts us on the spot and I love to rise to the challenge. One of us performs a pose and another talks through all the physical aspects of it. Effects on bones, joints, muscles, breathing, brain... He has information coming out of my mouth that I never knew I knew. This is the kind of teaching I like! I come out of his class feeling energised and as though I remembered rather than learnt about anatomy.
It’s 9.30pm though and I’ve been going since 5 am. It doesn’t take me long to unwind and snuggle onto my little bed. It’s still hot...I reckon in the high 20s. The power is on (for now), so my fan struggles around and around and lulls me whirr by whirr into sleep. What feels like 5 minutes later, I’m awake. It’s 5am...here we go again...
If you're thinking of enrolling in an intensive Yoga course, I can't recommend Bhoomaji's courses enough. Do yourself a massive, life-changing favour and sign up. Here's his website: http://www.yogaindiameditation.com/