I must start this blog by emphasizing that my time in India is not vacation. It is not tourism. It is not fun and games. It’s sole purpose is to reignite the flame of the inward journey through spiritual study. As usual, the mission of this trip was successful. The discipline and devotion of the yogic path have become even more deeply ingrained in who I am.
1. Don’t underestimate the healing power of time and space
While tearfully leaving my home on February 26th and heading to JFK, I asked myself, “why am I traveling across the world?” “Is it really necessary?” “Must I really leave my family for a whole month?” “Can’t I just improve my practice and my life while at home?”
Having done this 7 times prior, I knew the answer to the last question was a resounding “NO”. So I boarded the plane and arrived in India early on February 28th. As soon as I registered at KPJAYI and saw Sharath’s face, I was glad I had come. The next morning, as I walked home from practice at 6:30am, I was reminded there is no replacement for doing this practice in its birthplace. The energy shifts and the way I see myself change instantly. I needed this month of study more than I ever realized.
Anyone who knows me knows I like to fix things. Yet, simply being away from home and not getting so involved in every little thing around me solved A LOT of problems. I didn’t micromanage. I didn’t nag others around me to do their own spiritual work. I didn’t try to control the outcomes of work, finances, school meetings, and social situations. They sorted themselves out. I still communicated and organized when appropriate, but the sense of urgency was gone. With a 9+ hour time difference in place, stepping back was often the only choice. Imagine my surprise when much of what I was trying to control sorted itself out while I was sleeping! In letting go, I let God/The Universe/The Divine handle things better than I ever could have. Miracles occur when we stop suffocating our lives.
2. Ceremony exists for a reason.
I have learned a lot about spirituality from ordinary people in India. Tradition is everywhere, and EVERYONE finds the time and energy to keep it alive. Every home in India contains a small puja (prayer) room. It is common to see shop owners blessing their space as they open for the day. Each morning, women wash off their front stoop and draw a rangoli, a symbolic design which brings good energy to the home, using chalk or rice powder and pigment. While a simple rangoli will suffice, it is common to see intricate designs (see photo below), which require both time and skill to make. It doesn’t matter that the design will be wiped away by the day’s end. It is an act of devotion done to invoke sanctity and positive energy for the day.
Much like a yoga practice transforms our energy and allows us to see the day through a clearer lens, these acts of devotion which permeate everyday life in India create a tangible shift in the person doing them. By shifting our own consciousness our energy rises to more vibrant level. We all know like attracts like, so when we change our energy we attract a higher vibration into our lives.
True story on this topic: During the last week of my trip my Australian housemate informed me a category 5 cyclone was due to hit her home on the Great Barrier Reef. Concerned for her loved ones, we made a stop at the temple in town and participated in a brief prayer ritual to Ganesha, the Hindu deity responsible for removing obstacles. We gave flower garlands to the altar, poured blessed water over our heads for purity, said our prayers, and went home to bed. The next morning she informed me the storm had veered south and missed her home entirely. Coincidence? Maybe. Placebo effect? If it works, who cares?! Even if the storm had hit her home, she felt more peace within herself knowing she had done all she could, including shifting her own energy.
3. Transformation does not occur within your comfort zone.
This is a common theme not just in yoga, but in most spiritual traditions (and many of the self help books you’ve read). This India trip was not only powerful because of the intense yoga practice I did daily, but also because there was risk involved. There was the risk everything at home in New York would fall to pieces due to my absence. There was the risk I would have to hop a plane home at anytime to be there for my family. There was the risk I would travel thousands of miles and not be given any new poses. Because of these risks, I made the most of every day in India. There was no room for B.S. in my world. I knew what a gift it was for my family to support my spiritual journey, so I made the most of it and poured every bit of myself into my practice and the daily routine supporting it. I thrived as a result.
Regarding the comfort zone thing, have I mentioned that March in India is not exactly comfortable? The high on my last day there was 100 degrees F (38C) and by my 8:30pm bedtime it had cooled off to 90. When I got on my mat daily at 4:45am I broke a sweat within 15 minutes. I don’t mean a pretty glow, either. I sweat buckets worth during those 2 hours in the shala, and practically risked drowning every time I went upside down due to the sweat pouring into my nose. And you know what I realized? I can handle it. New poses, fear, mental chatter, missing my family, sleeping fitfully while sweating, and more. I can handle just about anything, and I would never have realized this if I had stayed home and remained comfortable.
4. At the end of the day, it’s just me.
Let’s face it, we all feel “lifed” at some point. You know what I mean. We get a case of the “I can’ts” and proceed to pin blame on the reason we can’t squeeze in our full practice, get more sleep, etc., on our family duties, career, and general lack of time. It’s so much easier to make excuses for ourselves, isn’t it?
There is zero space for that practicing at KPJAYI in Mysore. I am there alone and it is my duty to show up every morning willing to give everything I have. Interestingly, my mind searched for excuses my first week there. It turns out it isn’t our daily lives at home which get in the way of our spiritual path, but our mind’s willingness to make excuses. My monkey mind searched for excuses even though I was in India alone. I would feel too tired after a bad night of sleep (and sweating) and fear I’d do a bad job, but I showed up anyway because I knew my guru was expecting me. I’d feel stiff and think it better to not go than show up and fail. But I showed up anyway. As I continued to ignore my mental chatter and just show up, I realized I simply cannot blame the circumstances regarding practice (or life in general) on anyone else but me.
Nobody is going to rescue me. If I want change, I can create it. It is my responsibility. If I want to go further into 3rd series, it is my duty to work on what I already have, perfect it, and open the door to possibilities. Excuses are just a grand way of procrastinating. When you let them go and learn to depend on yourselves instead of anyone or anything else, you can begin to access your true potential.
On that note……
5. I am SO much stronger than I ever expected.
When you STOP making excuses and start depending on yourself to go to the next level, it doesn’t take to see great change within you.
This was the case for me and it always is when I’m in India. My focus becomes sharper and I am blown away by how strong I become, both physically and mentally. I know I’m going to go to the shala in the morning regardless, so I stop making excuses. I stop telling myself the story that I’m not good enough. I learn to handle anything and everything which comes my way. Whether it is a new pose, a major work responsibility, or a family challenge at home (of course one kid got sick while I was away), I take a deep breath and handle it. The only way out is through.
6. Everyone needs a guru.
I often hear folks in the yoga community make comments like, “be your own guru.” I’m sorry to burst that bubble, but you won’t get far with this as your motto. Don’t get me wrong, listening to your body and it’s feedback is incredibly important. However, it is your MENTAL feedback, which is both more powerful and more pervasive, which needs managing. In ancient yogic traditions, knowledge could only be handed down via parampara, or lineage. Meaning, spending time with your guru in person over many years, in a trusting teacher/student relationship, was the only way to transcend worldly issues and achieve mastery on the spiritual path. Ashtanga yoga still holds this to be true, which is why I practice it. Why can’t you be your own guru? Well, the yoga sutras remind us that when we are in an obstacle, we can’t see a way out. Only later, in hindsight, will we understand why the obstacle occurred and what we needed to learn from it. So how do you go from the murkiness of being stuck in the mud to the blossoming lotus of contentment and knowledge? Your teacher leads you. That’s all and that’s the entire point. Would you try to lead yourself into heart surgery? Or into a PhD? Or into a 12 step program? Of course not, it’s preposterous. Yet, in the west, we think dabbling in a spiritual tradition is enough to solve our problems and take us to the other side. It’s not. As my guru, Sharath Jois, says, “A real guru shows you the obstacles within you.” Once that happens, it is YOUR duty to work through them.
The moral of the story? Embrace the work. When you think you have done that, embrace it more and see how committed you can be. The energy you put into your practice will come back to you a thousandfold.