“Just so that you know, here, we get up at 4am.” LOL. That’s how I felt. I looked around at my fellow yoga students. No one laughed. No one even looked vaguely impressed. Ok, come on – 4am? Are you serious about this? Swamiji sat there, in her orange robe, and didn’t blink. I remembered a warning I had read in one of the Lonely Planets about India: “Be aware, not every one in an orange robe is holy.” Indeed. Some of them can be really nasty.
So I had signed up for this intensive yoga course (the stress here was on intensive, as you will appreciate…) in the middle of nowhere. Not, that there was anything to do in the evening, so it didn’t really matter, I mused while putting my alarm at 4am. The last time I remember getting up at that time was when I was at university, but rest assured, that wasn’t AM.
Why was I here? Essentially, to breathe. I know, you’d think I had figured out that one before. But according to yogic principles, we all don’t really breathe. We have that sort of shallow breath which the yogi calls chest breathing (raised eyebrows here…), so basically it’s not a breath. It barely keeps you alive. What you want is that deeeep breath, the belly breath – exactly, the one that makes your belly look like a ball, like huge, and which is therefore not a favourite with women anyway. But again, here, it didn’t matter. Here, where everybody was wearing some sort of XXXL shorts and t-shirts. “We actively discourage figure hugging clothes” the ashram rules state. Following this rule, some people really pushed it to extremes.
But w h a t e v e r – if you sit down to do 360 pumpings of Kapalbhati (which looks like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYFf0KE1o8E) you stopped caring about what you look like. Probably that’s actually the reason why they tell you to close your eyes during all these breathing exercises, so that you remain focused and don’t realise how much like an idiot you look.
Some people asked me what I did all these weeks and weeks at the ashram. Well, essentially, that was it. I breathed. Six hours every day. Of course I inhaled and exhaled 24/7, but you know, not the yogic way. Every morning they gave us this long list of breathing exercises which we had to perform during the day in our self practice sessions, just interrupted by food, twice a day, at 10am and 6pm.
This, of course, was the other sticky topic: the food (or rather, the absence of it). In order to withdraw the senses from the outside world and to completely focus on the breathing exercises and the effect they have, namely to increase your energy level and supply you with more oxygen, the food had to be bland. Some people found different descriptive expressions, but maybe that’s not the place here. Essentially, we had dhal, chapatti and rice twice a day. Oh, sometimes they would throw in a banana for good measure. It tasted like nothing. The first days were incredibly difficult. No coffee, no black tea ( = no caffeine), no onions, garlic, salt, sugar, pepper or any other spices. You gotta have faith to keep on going with this.
After three, four days the change came. The vegetables, beans and even the rice had taste. It was like a revelation, a miracle. The taste buds had recovered, you could almost hear their sigh of relief, not being overwhelmed by all these “taste enhancers” anymore. The food tasted its natural taste, and it tasted great. My relationship to food transformed, from a source of comfort and pleasure to a source of nourishment to keep the body alive. Eating with my fingers helped too, as – like in many ashrams – there was no cutlery. You can feel the food’s consistency and above all its temperature, so there’s no burning your tongue any more.
After about a week skin and eyes looked bright and I barely recognised myself in the mirror. I woke up before the alarm went off. I slept like a baby, within seconds, at 9pm. I felt full of energy. It was incredible. I almost bounced from place to place. Thoughts evolving around the “outside world” disappeared as there was no computer, no internet and no cell phones. It was a bit like two years ago at this other ashram in Kerala, where no one had the slightest idea that all our flights were cancelled because of the ash cloud over Iceland and Europe (“Ash cloud? Which ash cloud?”…).
It all boils down to one thing: In what we call our normal life, we’re actually in a rat race, and we even tell ourselves that we rejoice in it. It’s crazy, really. We like to think that all these people at the ashrams live in a bubble. But what if it’s the other way around? 🙂