I have to admit it – I got stuck. I got used to the convenience of a corporate life and regular income. I fell into the sweet trap of fancy meals, nights out and long weekend citybreaks – all in exchange for hours and days spent in the office.
But my spirit was suffocating…
I was just consistently restless. I missed the adventure, I missed getting to know new people and I missed marveling at every corner of a world I have not known yet.
Until this one day 4 months ago, when I woke up, came to work and handed in my notice. The next day, I was buying a one way ticket to India.
This wasn’t meant to be my regular travel . I spent most of my travel life exploring the world outside and my only motto for picking a destination was “as far as possible, and as different from everything I know”.
But this time, I wanted to know what would happen if instead of going out around the world, I would turn inside and spend a month in India doing nothing but practicing yoga and meditation.
If that sounds crazy then that was exactly what I wanted to do. And so I found my yoga ashram in Rishikesh and went on a journey to become a yoga teacher.
You don’t know what you are going into – and that is the best part of it
I am a strong believer that what keeps us travelling is the constant flow of suprises we get all the time. Our mind loves surprises. They give us the sweet rush of dopamine in blood that really is the cheapest drug on the market.
In India, you get all types of surprises. You will be surprised there are much more men than women in the streets, you will be shocked to find cows in cafés, restaurants and yoga halls, you will make peace with monkeys entering your room and stealing your food, and you will drink so much massala tea that it will probably start flowing in your veins.
But the biggest and the most beautiful surprise is the people. I have never met a society so calm, accepting and friendly. They will do anything to help you, they are the most generous hosts and they radiate such peace that you can feel yoga penetrating every cell of their body.
Yoga is your daily bread
Although “yoga retreat” sounds very relaxing and almost rejuvenating, believe me, it is not.
On the first day, they will tell you that your classes every day start at 5 AM and they will not be joking. Throughout the course, you will be doing about 4-5 hours of yoga every day, your muscles will hurt, your joints will ache, and you will shiver every time you hear the word “chaturanga”.
But you won’t only do exercise. You will also learn how to breathe and meditate, you will learn about yogic philosophy, energy channels in your body and how they match with the body anatomy. You will have several spiritual experiences so profound that it will feel like someone pressed the “restart” button on your mind.
Want some good news? There will be some “time-off” between 1pm and 5pm. The bad news – you will probably sleep through most of it ;).
But even though things will not be easy and a strong discipline will be required, you will soon find out that all the teachers are the most precious and beautiful souls that show endless understanding and forgiveness even if you miss the class due to severe stomach or body ache.
Rishikesh – Everything you want
Ok let’s be honest – Rishikesh really is “a western town”. About 70% of the people in the streets will be westerners, in restaurants you will find variety of cuisine including Mexican, Italian and American, you will have specialized shops where you can buy your Cadburry’s chocolate and Skippy peanut butter and every other café will have a rooftop yoga hall so that you can take your ridiculously beautiful yoga pictures with the river Ganges in the background. 🙂
But not to forget where we are at, the street vendors will try to sell you beautiful Hindu art and jewellery, self-invited Yogi gurus will chase you around to give you a blessing and the air will be filled with mixture of exotic spices and burning sandalwood. The raw India with the European comfort – what else do you need?
You will see your new family emerge in matter of days
The wonderful thing about yoga retreats is that they attract a specific type of people with similar goals, values and interests. The chances are you will develop strong bonds over a very short time – needless to say, what else can you expect from a place that is built on the pillars of “acceptance, tolerance and love for one and all”?
The big challenge will, however, come at the end of your stay. As our philosophy teacher Mahesh said in our very last class: “This is the time you have to detach and go.”
Yoga is not only about acceptance and love, but also about detachment, liberation from the need to posses, freedom to go with the flow. You came to this beautiful place and you got to know these wonderful people, you were blessed to learn from them and share with them some days of your life – now these people are moving on and so do you, so that you can carry on everything you learnt and spread in new places, to the new people you meet along the way.
“You leave Rishikesh, but Rishikesh never leaves you.”
At the end of the day, I must admit that Rishikesh completely transformed the core of who I was as a person, I found the way to reconnect with the nature, with people around me and most importantly – with myself. The main lesson I took from my stay in Rishikesh is finally summed up in the words of my Hatha yoga teacher Sonu:
“We dont practice yoga, we live yoga. Yoga is in our words, in our actions, in the way we treat others. Yoga happens when what we say and what we feel is in harmony, when everything we do comes straight from our heart.”