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Rishikesh, India

Updated: Apr 25

When the flight touched down in New Delhi, the airplane hadn’t even pulled up to our gate before people took off their seatbelts and started walking towards the front. It was unbelievable how in a rush these Indians were to get off the plane and this larger man across the aisle from me couldn’t really get out of his seat so he started arguing with the guy in front of him or something about not being able to get out and then we were finally ready to get off after all of this commotion. I had my earplugs in most of the time so I could somewhat ignore what was happening around me and realized very quickly that you really need to be forceful and loud and cannot be polite if you want to get what you want in this part of the world...there doesn’t seem to be any manners in India (I learned this right on that airplane). The Australian girls and I kind of looked at one another with bright eyes and then joked about it as we walked to immigration and baggage claim, which was a fairly simple process. I got a SIM card and cash right away and then made my way to the bus to take me to the other terminal for the domestic flight to Rishikesh. It was late afternoon, almost dusk as I walked outside to the polluted air of Delhi (something I was warned profusely about), and it was hot...just the beginning of a compelling evening. I had to wait about 30 minutes for the right bus to arrive and once I boarded the bus with my 3 backpacks, I placed them on the ground so I could stand near them. The bus was so old it had dirt and dust all over the place but my bags wouldn't fit on the seats and I didn't feel like sitting...but then the bus driver drove like crazy and there was this cute little girl in the back staring at me on her father’s lap who had bare feet. It took forever to get to the other terminal and it was difficult standing, the drivers are crazy and constantly honking just like in Asia...there was tons of traffic so it was a lot of stop and go. I arrived at the domestic terminal with enough time to grab a bite to eat, so I walked up to the closest Indian fast food looking place and ordered the most simplistic “meal” which turned out to be a large pancake thingy with spices (or what they call a "dosha"). Not really what I had in mind, but it did the trick and glad I tried one for the first time and then finally I went to my gate to board the last freaking flight of the day. I was off to Dehradun Airport (out of Rishikesh) where I would be picked up from the yoga school/ashram - they confirmed the adjusted time would work.

I arrived around 7:45pm and had to go straight to the bathroom where I overheard 2 older white ladies dressed in yoga pants in the bathroom gossiping about their yoga experience which made me feel weird because I wasn't really ready or in the right mind-set for the typical "yoga experience" that I had already gone through last February, but hoped there would be more diversity here seeing as though this was where "yoga" was born. I got my checked backpack and looked for the taxi driver who was holding a sign with my name on it (thankfully there were no issues with that). We walked towards this other lady who was in the same school/ashram as me and also an already established yoga teacher herself, Jessica, from China. Thankfully she spoke English well so we talked during the taxi ride to the ashram which took longer than expected as we were both really tired and dizzy from the windy dark roads. As we approached Rishikesh an hour later, there were open window stores filled with souvenirs and small marts and tourists walking around, as well as cows in the middle of the road where I experienced my first honk at a cow in the way haha. The taxi driver dropped us off near this bridge and told us to walk to the ashram 5 minutes away, which I didn’t like because I didn’t see the building or sign and it was late at night with no one around. It was also difficult with all my bags, walking up these tiny streets, maneuvering through cows, but it wasn’t as bad or as far as I assumed and thankfully a small mart guy was able to point us in the right direction so we made it within 5 -10 minutes. After opening the gate to the ashram, as we approached the front office, there were 5 Indians sitting and chatting in the entrance way. The woman in charge, who I had been in contact with throughout the whole signup process checked us in and the teacher (who I didn’t know was the teacher at first) was there, Dinesh, who greeted us with open arms. After filling out information and signing my name in one of the largest notepads I had ever seen (which apparently is the norm for reservations in India, even at hostels), I was given my silverware/plate settings for all the meals and taken to my private room, which was on the second floor and had a shower and toilet in the same room (similar to Asia). The room had a lock with one of those old school large keys and the room was had tall ceilings and doors to a balcony (which I later used more towards the end where I saw tons of monkeys hopping from one balcony to the next). When I was checking in, I overheard this loud woman complaining about all the commotion going on next door because this Indian couple was fighting very loud next door, rambling about something. She ended up being across the hall from my room, so when I started to unpack I heard her come back to her room as she was showing Dinesh the couple fighting outside the building and so I introduced myself. Turns out she’s from South Africa, her name Hyon, and we became close yogi friends throughout our time at the ashram. I had a very busy week ahead of me and I was exhausted from all the traveling that day. I tried to get organized and find something white to wear for the opening ceremony in the morning at 7am. All I could find was my white dress and white/black striped long sleeve shirt (I had taken from that backpacker hostel in Christchurch, NZ). It was also very cold in the mountains, which I didn’t realize would be this cold already, so thankfully I had some warm apparel, but it definitely was another climate to deal with yet again and I probably needed to get some more warm clothes. I also was thinking about my knee and hoping it would be okay for the training, it was almost back to normal but I needed to take things slowly. As well as my brand new tattoo, I had to be careful with, and continue to put ointment on it so it wouldn't dry out. Again, constantly monitoring these things was tiring but worth it all, part of the whole experience.

Om Shanti Om Yoga TTC - Week 1:

On the first day of training, I had to wake up at 6am in time for the opening ceremony and it was very difficult waking up that early only having had 5 hours of sleep, but I was excited and nervous at the same time. Everyone was already sitting around the larger carpet area in the middle of the studio/classroom up on the rooftop of the ashram where we would be spending most of our time and I sat next to Jessica who had also just arrived. The main teacher, Dinesh, was sitting in the center playing the drums and then the other teachers started to arrive with instruments and eventually we all joined in singing and clapping for the puja ceremony commenced. It consisted of many repetitive chanting songs and each of us had to go up in the center one at a time to get blessed by Lord Ganesha with orange/red paint, as Dinesh wrapped a ribbon around our wrists and marigold flowers on our heads. To give a little bit of background, red indicates both sensuality and purity and yellow indicates knowledge and learning. Red/yellow symbolizes turmeric (which they cook a lot with in India) while white symbolizes flour and green for leaves as well as new beginnings. Puja is a prayer ritual performed by Hindus of devotional worship to one or more deities, or to host and honor a guest, or to spiritually celebrate an event. Lord Ganesha removes all obstacles and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honored at the start of rites and ceremonies As it became my turn to go up, I was a bit nervous as I only knew 3 people in the room out of the 20 or so and there were no instructions so just had to follow what everyone else was doing. After I returned back to my seat, the manager of the ashram, Prya (who I later found out was married to Dinesh) came up to me asking if I had any pants because she said my dress was too short. Apparently, even though it almost went down to my knees, it was still too short, so I had to go change right away (she said because of pictures), which kind of ruined the moment/ceremony for me. I was confused because I thought it was more important to be wearing white as opposed to covering more of my legs, but that wasn’t the case. It ended up being a fairly long ceremony where we took many pictures at the end and then went to get breakfast downstairs and share our first meal together. I ended up speaking to my first yogimate, Peter, from France, about our backgrounds of how we each got there and somewhat introduced myself to some other yogimates. The other students included about 6 Chinese ladies where 3 of them could barely speak or understand English, a couple from Barcelona, a lady from Ukraine, a lady from South Africa, a lady from France, a guy from Israel, an Indian guy and a few others from America. After breakfast, we made our way back to the classroom in which we had an explanation of all the rules and details of the ashram as well as an introduction of each student and guru (teacher) and then it was time for lunch. After lunch we started off learning a bit of philosophy and then had our first hatha class, thankfully, I was craving it. Dinesh ran the class and it was a very simple, easy going class. Then it was time for mantra chanting which included repetition after repetition of the same Sanskrit phrases, following after the other main teacher, Jihendra. After a couple hours of chanting (which I was starting to get tired of quickly, mainly because I didn’t know what it meant), it was time for dinner. I was exhausted so I tried going to bed early and woke up myself up with a shower, that ended up turning cold after 5 minutes, which is the way it was the remainder of my time there. I actually really got the hang of it after some time, taking really quick 5 min showers at 5am (it was new for me but in a good way). Throughout the week I slowly got to know my fellow yogimates and on Friday and Saturday we had outings that were fun and social, and I finally was able to get out of the ashram which I somewhat felt trapped in all week because during breaks I would nap instead of walk around. I needed to catch up on sleep, so it was worth it to me during breaks to sleep a bit. It was the same schedule pretty much every day, starting with 5:45am pooja tea (chai tea - my absolute favorite tea in the world and the best way to start my day), 6am mantra chanting, 6:30am pranayama, 7:30am hatha yoga, 9am breakfast, 10am philosophy, 11:30am anatomy, 12:30am lunch, 2:30pm meditation/pranayama with KP and Kanna (other guru), 4pm hatha yoga, 5:30pm meditation, 6:30pm dinner and then bed by 9pm. KP (from India) and I were the only 2 students who had signed up for this specific Pranayama & Meditation 100 hr training, so while the others were being taught alignment, we were being taught more about Ayurvedic lifestyle. I really liked the schedule, it broke down the day pretty well and you got used to the chanting in the early morning and changing up the teachers throughout the day, it was a nice shift. Also, the food everyday was absolutely delicious and I felt so much better eating this type of food rather than the junky or restaurant type food I had been eating recently. There was a good variety of Indian vegan dishes made by one chef and a helper, and I really got a taste of what it's like to live in an Indian home with tons of spices, especially turmeric and of course rice. I had learned so much, by the end of the first week, I was satisfied but also very exhausted at the same time.

That first Friday we walked to the ganga river (my first time seeing in person) and had our own practice and ritual by the river at sunset, it was magical. Then some of the group got separated as we were supposed to meet back up at the ahsram, but one of the Chinese ladies and I stayed back to take some more pictures and then we got a little lost trying to get back...trying to weave in between cows and not look like we were scared...I eventually found a place that looked familiar and knew where to go. She was the cutest lady because she was so scared for some reason and was so happy I could help her find the ashram and became my second Chinese best friend. That night I rested and studied a little before heading to bed and then Saturday some of us went to check out different cafes with different healthy foods to try which was fun and then had to meet back up for the group outing that evening. We visited an ashram up on a hill with a great view of Rishikesh right before sunset and then made our way back to the ganga to a gathering puja ceremony. It was a very unique experience and interesting scene seeing all the Indian locals and tourists gather at these steps for this family’s ceremony that lasted about an hour or so with many blessing gifts being given. There were tons of instruments playing and everyone chanting this one song, certainly an eye-opening experience with the sounds and prayers taking place as a blessing by the ganga. I knew one of the mantras but other than that it was mostly watching and listening to the chanting. Afterwards, some of us went to get some coconut chai masala (delicious) at this cute vegan restaurant near our ashram and then it was time for dinner. Unfortunately, I had dropped my phone in the toilet that morning so I left it turned off in rice for at least 8-9 hours before turning it back on returning back. Thankfully it worked when I turned it on that night but still kept it in rice when I was sleeping.

Sunday was the only day we had off over the full two weeks and it started with the normal breakfast at 7:30am. Pooja (from Delaware) and the other Audrey (from France) I had talked to that morning wanted to join me in going to the Beatles Ashram and Buddha Cafe. We were also joined by Caro (from Spain) who had joined the group the night before - she was on a one-week retreat to India, not part of the training. It was a nice group of us four walking to the Beatles Ashram, we really enjoyed our time there with the graffiti and old ruins. It was where the Beatles came in the 60s to try transcendental meditation which became a popular thing back then and wrote many of their popular songs, so it was somewhat of a sacred space. We walked back towards town as the other Audrey and I got a head start from the rest of the group who ended up joining us at the cafe. Buddha Cafe was set up with a nice view over the ganga, very cute, chic-like, healthy foods place and packed with foreigners. It had a very comfortable cafe vibe to it with cushioned bungalow-type tables on the sides and we sat in one of them with an inlet table, sharing some small bites to eat (thankfully Pooja’s family is originally from Nepal so she knew what to order off the menu). I was obsessed with chai tea and ordered 2 rounds because of how cheap it $2 each. After a delicious lunch filled with multiple foods I have never tried before, I met up with Paola (that girl from Chile I had met in Byron Bay) and enjoyed a lovely afternoon exploring different shops, eating different foods, and chatting with her by the ganga at sunset (said goodbye) before my free Ayurveda massage at 6pm (included with the training). The massage was surprisingly great and felt very soothing and relaxing with tons of oil all over my body and hair (I guess the other students didn’t agree so much because when I returned to the ashram for dinner, they had different/bad experiences so I guess I lucked out with that). As I walked back to the ashram in the dark, it was a different experience than during the day (about 20 minutes). I saw a wedding or event being set up with all these different tapestries and colorful decorations and then many more homeless people and random walkers here and there. I was tired that night and had to be up early for the second week of training so I tried going to sleep right after was a long day.

Om Shanti Om Yoga TTC - Week 2:

As the second week began, we were all accustomed to the schedule and each other. The only downside was that Dinesh and Prya had left on vacation without really telling anyone. There was a different hatha teacher, who was not as good as Dinesh and didn’t seem to have much teaching experience. I really had a hard time with him because he would teach the same asanas and say the same instructions all week, there was no variety so I wasn’t learning anything new. And if someone asked him a question, he wouldn’t really answer it. The way he instructed, he didn’t warm up for the final asanas as much as I would expect and didn’t warn students about any injuries that could occur during more advanced asanas. It was a mental challenge for me as I wasn’t enjoying his classes - I tried to give him chances to improve and see if he could change things up but he didn’t. Of course, the one time I decided to skip his class and the meditation class afterwards (it was 2 nights before I left) they decided to hand out mine and KP’s certifications. I was expecting to receive it on Saturday since Prya had messaged me this would be the case but KP called me and Peter came down to get me in my room to come up and get my certificate. I was a bit embarrassed and annoyed since this was the one time I had skipped a class (to pack), but it was fine. The following day, my last day, I thanked all the teachers and was able to get a lot of shopping done with Caro - my last country so I could actually shop. We walked around the main streets, comparing prices and I bought some Indian attire as we chatted about our backgrounds and got to know each other more. Looking back, I really got to know some of the group and will definitely be keeping in touch with them especially since we shared such a special sacred experience.

Overall, the training was exactly what I had hoped for. I learned more about Ayurveda than I expected, but honestly was very interested in every bit of knowledge. I have so much to review and read up on about this lifestyle as I would like to bring it with me wherever I end up living for a longer period of time. The philosophy and history of yoga that the gurus taught was the most cherished part about the training as I didn’t get that as much in my last 200 hr training in Costa Rica. I learned more about religion and lifestyle rather than how to teach and provide assistance. I noticed the many differences in the two trainings I had completed within a year of each other, proving the fact that no matter where you go for training, you will always be taught something different or in a different way to become your own version of whatever you're training for. Anyway, those 2 weeks in Rishikesh were intense days and I will never forget them, it was a lot to take in though every little bit of information I learned, I hope to share with others in the near future. That place will always hold a special place in my heart...there are many more stories to be shared in coming posts about this experience.

On my last night at the ashram, it was hard falling asleep even though I was tired. I had started to really get to know the group and the people working at the ashram and create special bonds with certain people. And I got a little used to having a routine again, which I hadn't had since leaving my job a year before (wow!). As I reflected about my time and the people I met, it was a deep feeling I will never forget. Though I had to wake up again at the same time as every other morning, 5am, to catch my flight to New Delhi, and had a long day ahead of me. I left those dark cool mountains, feeling grateful and warm in my heart, somewhat ready to leave, but also not. I couldn’t sleep on the plane, but it was short and quick so didn't matter...I was about to be hit with the dust of Delhi.

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