WHEN A TEACHER BECOMES A LEARNER – MY VERY SPECIAL YOGA ADVENTURE IN RISHIKESH

Lights have guided us home, to the Siddhi yoga place where we’ve found our comfort for the past week.  It was a long journey for the nine of us crammed in an old exhausted taxi with a smiley driver who was patiently waiting while each and every one of us took their photographs, completed a waterfall hike, safely got through the ‘monkey zone’ or simply finished their chai break. It was a superb first day off where the sound of waterfalls replaced our daily mantras, the breeze from the holy Ganga was stronger than pranayamas and the views at the top of the Himalayas have substituted asana charts, skeleton structures and sutras of Patanjali. It was a great day and an even greater first week. A very happy week of discoveries, learning and realisations…It was also the only day when we could freely escape from the spartan Hotel Moksha and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the majestic Rishikesh. Since then studying, revising and practising have never left us until graduation on the very last day.

As we all finally settled down after shifting rooms around due to some basic inconveniences generally unknown to the western visitors with the help of the kindest hotel crew, there was no longer room for distraction.

I remember like yesterday the trouble of waking up at 6am on a chilly morning, but dedicatedly going for self-practice, yawning and munching a handful of almonds on the way up to the yoga hall. Passing through the reception area where the oldest member of staff already awake greets you with a reserved but very kind smile.

Nishi would already be there on her mat, going through her surya namaskar, and softly smiling ‘good morning’ at me as I walk into the hall. Slowly the hall gets busier with only a few of us and the awe-inspiring figure of Praveenji appears at the door. There is something effortlessly powerful about his presence – not in an intimidating way, on the contrary, in the way you can trust him, look up to him and work hard no matter how little sleep you’ve had, how tired you feel. You always want to do your best as gratitude for his very thorough attention and invaluable knowledge… He gently puts his stuff away and begins chanting the beautiful ‘Dhyana mula’ mantra which brings us all closer together. At least, that’s how I felt.

Now, I think we have a visitor – a cute sleepy face obstructed with a bulky lense camera – Rahul’s always here no matter how many hours of sleep he got. He’s on the daily duty, which he seems to be enjoying, it makes him happy, I can tell, catching us in between chaturangas and adho mukhas.

And then a continuous unbreakable flow of building up the asana practice where looking around, softening the muscles, day-dreaming are not accepted. ‘Holleeeee, straighten your knees’, ‘Vandana, is your thigh parrallel to the floor?’, ‘Did I say to raise your arms? Your mind is somewhere else, you should focus!’ To avoid any distraction I would always stay at the front of the class, so as not to see how others cope with asanas and to have no temptation to copy, compare or judge. Your mind should be entirely absorbed by your own practice and no other thoughts should be running through it – one lesson I’ve learnt in the course. Strict and precise on the outside with a great sense of humour, he’s also got a kind heart. The blessing of spending Holi together has brought out his soft and caring nature. Even though he still can’t remember all our names :))

After two hours of the uplifting asana class, where we are always joined by the competent young trainee Monu, we all head down to have our porridge and healthy papaya cubes. There may also be a surprise Indian dish, the names of which haven’t quite stuck in my head as much as trianga mukhaikapada paschimottanasana, but I know that the porridge is always there! This is also the time to finish off our messy drawings before we get strong guidance on keeping our knees lifted and rolling our thighs in. And most importantly how essential it is to make friends with the wall, blocks, belts and blankets and stop seeing them as crutches that undermine your practice.

‘Problem nowadays guys – sitting jobs, is it?’ – the key statement from Dr Sumit whether it’s the forward neck problem, pain in the back, closed hips or tight hamstrings. If I learnt one thing from Sumitji, that would be giving up my office desk for a much happier body. It’s not an easy decision to make, but is certainly a goal to accomplish. It’s fascinating how he’s managed to make all those weird anatomic names sound so simple, visible and practical. It’s a talent! And it’s pair work again to make us feel each others’ sloppy quads and curvy thorasic spines. ‘Come here Ankie’, – she’s our model again, we hastily grab our mobile phones and try to catch the best image of when to push, pull and release our not so strong muscles. I’ve still got those very first pictures of arches and corners drawn quite distinctively on Vimal’s foot. ‘Make a circle guys’. The ‘happy song’ follows, we are out of tune, but is it really that important when you are feeling happy? He makes you laugh from your tight hamstrings and slowly his mildly serious expression turns into a very warm smile. Mission accomplished!

With the lunch break fast approaching, I’m looking forward to a cooling shower and clean clothes to throw on. Maybe even a quick walk to the coffee shop with my dear Holly and Patricia to grab an energy ball and a cappuccino – such a rarity in India. And as we are back, Anil greets us with a happy face and slightly random singing, but it always does the job! We laugh. As my mind is still on my closed hips and tight hamstrings, so I promptly change back into my yoga gear, download some mantras and head up to partner with the wall for my stretches. When Taraji arrives, I’d like to have energy for his special pranayamas and sharp vinyasa flow. Always serious at first, it only takes a few seconds to reveal his charming smile. It brightens up our grand yoga hall, where heat is at its peak, monkeys outside are playing their usual afternoon chasing games, but our mind is with Taraji’s instructions. He always knows how to engage us after a long day of studying – no one can resist the fun of the monkey walk, the depth of pranayamas or powerful sound of his ‘Om’.

 

Two hours fly by and we find ourselves looking for our comfortable Siddhi chairs for the last session of philosophy discoveries with Siddharthaji. We start with our mantra .’You are a singing batch, last batch didn’t like to sing’, he drops. Micha bursts into laugh. Yet again that word comes up and we almost give up trying to explain that ‘group’ would suit us better – he smiles. It’s not just the yoga sutras that we learn, but most importantly the common sense and daily human values that he’s teaching us to embrace. His voice is kind and soft. It’s giving your mind the comfort of relaxing yet focusing on his inspiring stories and beautiful unfamiliar sanskrit terms of citta (mind) and vrtti (activity). As Siddharthaji gets out his harmonium, you immediately drown in meditation through the mesmerising sound of his mantras. They are just beautiful..

Dinner – the usual rice, dal and veg; perhaps tomorrow we can ask for something different if not too much trouble. These wonderful people at Moksha are always overly helpful and never say ‘no’, meeting all our needs with a smile – always there to provide you with some hot water to sleep better, a bowl of honey to dilute the ginger tea or nutella free pancakes as some of us happen to dislike that nutty flavour. I don’t know how they do it! Always assisting, always positive, always in great mood as if there is nothing impossible for them.

And finally some precious alone time to collect thoughts and reflect on the long and demanding hours, days, weeks of hardwork, tears when it feels a bit too much, joy of happiness when you get things right, help from your dear peers, minor fractions and disagreements which get resolved, sudden sicknesses when Rahul’s bike is most handy – they all have made us stronger. Tapas (hardship) should always be there, it should never be easy, but instead always challenging.

It hasn’t been all too hard with all the fun stuff we’ve done inbetween our yoga adventure – it all started with an Indian wedding, which Rahul has smuggled us into without any invitation. We danced, ate their food, a young boy took millions of pictures. Where they’ve gone to no one knows. We had fun motorbike rides with four of us squashing each other in one big hug. Sipping the iced lemon and mint juice while watching the sunset over the Ganga. Taking late evening strolls and accidentally walking into the cow poo – not pleasant, but hey! You have to experience that in India! It felt as if our time flew as one continuous line, no breaks, no interruptions, no pauses, just different sounds taking their turns to remind us of the magical space around us. And then it’s the final assessment..

‘Gradually feel the presence of the floor, bring awareness back to your body…Thank our teachers for sharing their knowledge, helping us grow and bringing the light into our lives.’ No more grounding with all four corners of your feet, no sitting comfortably cross-legged through chanting, no memorising asana names (though I have to admit I quite enjoyed that!), no joyful singing in a circle or laughing from your seat bones. The worry of the final exam has left Marcia’s face at last.  Our very last savasana, rolling up the mats, names finally remembered, feedback, hugs, graduation, tears and smiles to mark the end of this very special journey. The journey of happiness, patience, acceptance, growth. The journey created by the very special people, all so different, but equally beautiful. The people who will always remain deep in our hearts. Namaste