Yoga has always seemed like a drag to me. Sitting on a mat for one or two hours, stretching, bending and breathing was not my cup of tea. However with yoga gaining so much popularity around the world as a new lifestyle sport, I thought maybe its time to venture and try out this ancient life changing sport and where best to do this but the capitol of yoga, Rishikesh.
If the Beatles thought a place was good enough to do some soul searching, chill out and write some famous songs, it probably might be a cool place to visit.
Rishikesh – known as the birthplace of yoga – is located at the foothills of the Himalayas along the sacred Ganges river. It is a haven for travellers looking for spirituality and solitude.
To get there, one can fly into Haridwar Airport in Dehradun or take a bus, taxi or train from the bustling Indian capitol city, Delhi. It is seven hours away by road from New Delhi.
After the arrival of the Beatles in the 60’s, the small river town saw an influx of hippie travellers, some of whom have transcended to Hare Rama Hare Krishna tribes, and to this day dance around the street in excitement chanting ancient Hindu verses in their orange garments, wearing pigtails at the back of their head.
Spirituality is mostly at sale in this town with hundreds of yoga centres, ashrams, horoscope readers, palm readers and psychics.
It’s a pretty little town spread across beautiful crystal green waters, a place to chill and relax and venture into some yoga. The town is alive with western travellers, sadhus, yogis, monkeys (lots of monkeys), lazy cows, goats and dogs. It’s always nice to sit along the sacred river to witness a monkey-dog fight as they tussle over a stick, a sight most entertaining in these parts of town.
More importantly it’s a town abundant with yoga classes, from Ashtanga to Hatha, Iyenger to Kundalini; various ashrams , gurujis and schools offer different levels of yoga training.
I signed up at Phool Chatti Ashram, which offered a 7 day introduction to the basics of Yoga. It’s a semi-silent retreat that teaches beginner yoga and meditation principles. The centre is nestled on the banks of the Ganges Rriver. For just 12,000 Indian rupees I had accommodation, food and days full of yoga and meditation activities.
On arriving there, I was ushered into silence. I was fearful at first; how strange it would be with this group of people in silence, when I love talking and communicating.
However as each group member stepped into the centre, the silence was actually welcoming. For the first time I didn’t have to make fake small talk, I could just be and it was really refreshing.
The accommodation was basic and simple, but it overlooked the Ganges River. At night you can hear the rush of the river, and in the mornings one can wake up to lush greenery and the flowing crystal green waters.
We started the first day with a yoga and meditation class. Every morning a bell awakened us at 4am to meditate till the sun rose, and then we would begin the basic yoga instructions.
In the late morning we would practice Karma Yoga – which helps to clean the body’s centre – and then we would be taken on tranquil yoga meditative walks, up waterfalls and past beautiful streams.
In the afternoons we would continue with more meditation, followed by a yoga and discussion session. Each day they would teach us something new, such as different poses we can use for meditation, different mantras and different breathing techniques. We were also taught the importance of breathing and meditation and its correlation to yoga.
It was only after the first 3 days, that I truly began to understand and enjoy yoga. It was not so much about being able to do the postures at first. The breathing, meditation and yoga moves are all inter-related, and it’s crucial to know how to focus the mind and breath towards the postures. Once I was able to do that, my body began to relax.
On the last day of the ashram, the whole group of us beginner yogis built a campfire on the river beach together in silence, as part of a team effort. We also had a dip in the sacred Ganges river, and were briefed on the history of the importance of the river in relation to Hindu culture and mythology.
In the evening we sat by the fire and sang songs from our hometowns. The group was an international crowd from France, Russia, Australia, Germany, Canada and India.
I came out of the seven days like a battery that had just been re-charged. I bounced through the town with my backpack like a happy puppy. The seven days of yoga posing and chanting Hindu mantras was a culturally enriching experience. It offered a great insight into the actual principals of yoga. Yoga didn’t seem so boring anymore
Coming to a place like this is actually worth it to immerse oneself in a traditional practice that may not be actually explained properly in a modern gym. Asanas and all, Rishikesh is full of spiritual practices and a beautiful environment, and to all I say the ashram has been positively OM!