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Published: October 13th 2013
So, with our sightseeing almost well and truly over in India, it was time for some more Yoga. Going for a different angle than our last bout of limb stretching, this time we booked into an Ashram rather than a Yoga healing centre. The Ashram itself, Parmarth Niketan, is actually quite famous around the world and is located in the worlds epicentre of Yoga, Rishikesh, made famous by the Beatles when they came here back in the sixties during their ‘hippy faze’.
As soon as we arrived in Rishikesh, Donna and I knew this would be a place we would enjoy. Crossing the bridge over the Ganges to the Swarg Ashram area (where most of the Ashrams and yoga fraternity are based), we were immediately away from the noise of the traffic of the opposite side, and thrust instead into a more tranquil, peaceful surrounding. Sure there were still plenty of people this side from tourists to yoga students alongside Sadhu’s begging for a couple of rupees and of course, the compulsory half a dozen cows or so, however it definitely had a nicer feel this side of the Ganges. As we walked along the banks of the fast flowing
river, we finally approached Parmarth Niketan and straight away, we were glad we made this our home for next 2 weeks. The grounds themselves are beautiful with the stunning green hills in the background setting off this peaceful and calming area. Being shown our room, we were again relived as although simple and unassuming; this room was just what we needed for our time here at Parmarth.
The following day we needed to check in for our course, but we pretty much had the whole morning and most of the afternoon to ourselves. To start filling this time, our first meal at the Ashram was imminent, and we walked into the dining hall with our fingers crossed. Breakfast was always the meal that we dreaded most in Nasik whilst there, and so we knew we would be able to tell a lot from this one meal as to how this was going to go. Spooning ourselves a bowl-full of what looked like rice and potatoes and pouring ourselves a cup of tea, we both sat down on the floor with our low standing tables and started to tuck in. Fortunately for us, the food, though simple, was absolutely fine.
I’m still not completely sure what this meal was, however what I do know is that both of us went in for seconds, which could only be a good sign. To add to this, the Chai tea was perfect for our tastes with just enough sugar and spices to quench our thirst and to tingle our taste buds. Eating here was not going to be a problem, and for me, this meant less time being grumpy and therefore more time to enjoy the experience.
When it came to our first Yoga class, our group which we had met the previous evening were split between those on the 4 week intensive course and those like us on the Beginners intensive course over 2 weeks. Starting our asana session at 6.30 every morning was never going to be easy for us, however seeing as the other group started at 6, we couldn’t really complain. Our session started off with some Pranayama (breathing exercises) followed by an hour of Asanas (Yogic Poses). Straight from the off, both were fairly challenging, especially after a break of quite some time from Yoga, but far from showing any apathy, we relished the physical impact it
had on our unfit and un-toned bodies.
For the first few days, we got into our cycle of Asanas, Pranayama, Chanting and Philosophy, and quickly felt at ease with our routine. The sessions were always challenging and insightful whether it be a physical class or theory class, and all the time being able to practice Yoga in this environment meant we really felt like we had found a special place here. Each evening as the sun went down, it was mandatory to watch the Ganga Aarti ceremony on the bank of the Ganges. Here, like in Varanasi, songs are sung, torches are lit and the River Ganges is worshiped by what seems to be half the population of Rishikesh. We have to admit that our first experience of this didn’t really do much for us, and we were again, like at the Varanasi Aarti, a little lacking in enthusiasm and lost as to what was going on.
After our first week here, we began to get more and more into the various classes we attended each day, and really started to feel the physical and mental benefits of living in such a place. Without the worries and stresses
that come with everyday life, we had found a place we could really let go, and try to experience a different way of living. Back home, we practice Yoga Asanas a few times a week and for us, we are ‘’doing Yoga’’ or ‘’going Yoga’’. Coming here however has really shown us that Yoga is a lot more than just a few stretches and poses, and that actually, Yoga is literally a way of life for many people around the world and is made up of everything from chanting, to the way you treat people on a day to day basis. Attending a 2 week course, we were never going to come away and call ourselves enlightened yogis, however it did give us a chance to fully immerse ourselves in this lifestyle and therefore give us a great opportunity to learn so much about what Yoga really is.
Having the weekends off, a few of us decided to go visit the now famous Ashram that the Beatles came to back in the sixties. It has actually been closed to visitors since 1997, however you are still able to see inside the grounds and are able to see a few
of the remaining buildings that the famous foursome would have resided in all those years ago. After walking around this strangely spiritual place, we headed to the bank of the Ganges, and decided that despite all the reasons not to, we would take a dip in the river as the locals do, in an attempt to purify ourselves, washing away our sins in the holy water of India. At one point, there was talk of drinking some of it as we have seen so many locals do, however knowing what Delhi Belly feels like and not being quite brave enough, we all decided that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea in the world. Having dried off and walking back up the riverbed, we noticed a small tributary that fed into the Ganges, and were immediately thankful that we decided against drinking any of the water…. the tributary was filled with waste and garbage from the street, and drinking some of this water could only mean another 5 days toilet bound for us weak-stomached Westerners! The following day we headed back out with a few of the others from the class, and went exploring in some famous caves along the Ganges.
Notable for their tranquillity, many people visit these caves in order to meditate. This being something we are all learning in our classes, we entered the cave and attempted to clear our minds in meditation. Being new to this, I’m not sure anyone quite reached Nirvana in the cave; however it certainly was a peaceful, spiritual place and was an excellent experience for us all.
So, after a fantastic first week in Rishikesh and the Ashram, there is only one week left to go. So far, we have learnt way more than I think either of us assumed we would, and have enjoyed all aspects of our time here. Whether this continues into week 2 or not remains to be seen, but after the initial aches and pains of the intense workout we get physically twice a day, each day, we now feel fit, fresh and have a thirst to learn as much as we can in our time here. What will week 2 bring us…..?
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