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India blog 15 (head stand edition)

May 19, 2010
Ashrams exist all over India.  All over the world really.  They have been around forever, in the form of a place of learning.  Normally, a guru, teaches disciples what he knows, in this case the vedantic lifestyle (yoga, meditation, inner peace, absolute bliss etc).  This one I am attending specifically teaches the Sivananda style of yoga.  The difference between this and other styles I will have to find out because I have no clue what I am doing.  This Swami Sivananda lived from the late 1800’s to 1963.  He was trained as a doctor and worked for a while, but eventually was led to walk from the south of India to the Himilayas (really fucking far).  When he got there he achieved self realization (loss of ego, ability to see and understand reality, absolute bliss).  So he starts an ashram in the north and has many disciples, writes over 300 books and becomes really really really famous.  One of his students, is this military soldier who saw a quote from Sivananda accidently.  This is Swami Vishnu Divananda.  He is asked by Sivananda in the 50’s to spread the yogic lifestyle around the world.  Swami Vishnu is given 10 rupees (jack shit) and sets off.  He gets to the states as well as many other places and spreads the lifestyle more than just about anybody has ever done to the masses outside of India.  Devinanda, once Sivananda is dead (Mary tells me that he didn’t die, he left his body because apparently he decided the day he wanted to die before hand), spreads ashrams around the world; he is the first to do so.  I am staying at the modern incarnation, which can be seen as a bit of a yoga teacher factory, but still has a lot of charm.
My day consists of:
530 wake up
600 Satsang
730 Tea
800 Asana class
1000 Meal
1100 Karma Yoga
1130 Free
130 Tea
200 Lecture
330 Asana class
600 Meal
800 Satsang
1030 Lights out
5:30–  Waking up this early is nowhere near what I am used to but after the first day I am tired enough to fall asleep at a reasonable hour, which means I can get up relatively refreshed.
6:00–  Waking up isn’t that bad because I go right to Satsang, meditation, which is possible to sleep though, especially if I find the practice difficult or boring or if I am just plain tired.  Sitting still is difficult for me anyway, but when you add other people, an unfamiliar atmosphere, flies, ants, and other bugs and shiny things, meditation is not easy.  I used to make attempts at it with a friend in high school, and even succeeded marginally a few times, but I think I need my own space to do it.  Nonetheless, I try my best.
Concentration is at the crux of it, but first I must get past the physical side.  This includes keeping my eyes closed, my head, shoulders, and back loose and my crossed legs, from bothering me.  I have gotten better at sitting still and concentrating everyday but I am by no means above average.
I would imagine many people meditate thinking they can concentrate on something and get some clarity, but really, you are supposed to move toward the goal of having no thoughts whatsoever. The mind is a tangle of thoughts that need to be isolated and evacuated.  I have been questioning the practice in my own mind though because of the end to this road, enlightenment, or spiritual reality realized.  There are many unexplainable things in this world and people are definitely capable of more than they allow themselves to think.  Freak acts are not what I speak of, though some might label them that.  The gist is believing anything is possible, basically believing that nothing is real.  This is spiritual clarity or a higher consciousness.  The teachers I have had call it self-realization.  I don’t believe this has ever been done by someone on a yoga vacation like myself, but I do believe that a heightened control of one’s body as well as growth in intuition and faith in the self are available to those with the means of achieving them.  I guess that is the closest my mind will allow me to get to understanding spiritual evolution right now.  I mean right now because I am still amazed at how much more of the world I understand after spending the last 3 years traveling.  If that is possible, what would happen if I spent the next 2 decades working on reaching out to the world and within myself.
There are many ways to meditate.  One way is to use a mantra.  There are 1000’s of existing ones to choose from.  Mantras are sayings used to focus the mind and there are 3 different kinds.  First, Niraguna, which means without form.  These are not prayers or salutations to a deity.  An example is So Ham (I am god). Second is Siraguna, which means, with form.  They are prostrations to a deity, like, Om Nama Narayanaya or Om Namah Shivaya Gurave.  Don’t ask me what those mean, I only know the god they speak of.  Most mantras of this sort include the word Om, which is the universal sound that means nothing but is everything.  The third is Bija Mantra, which is the sound associated with the chakras.  Chakras are the energy points on the astral body.  There are seven from the third eye down to the base of the spine, which I will not name unless asked, as well as many on the top of the head depending on the religion or spiritual practice being observed.  Different chakras have associations so the sound focuses the mind on an energy point and opens it up, allowing astral energy to flow more easily.  The chakras seem like acupuncture for the soul.  Yoga and meditation open the chakras.  The baji mantras are simple, like Om, Ham, Nam, Sam etc.  Most mantras are said internally on the inhalation and exhalation, but some are split between the two, like So Ham.
So…Now I must conquer the physical, then use mantras to focus my mind and empty it of thought before I can turn myself into water or elevate or become the bright light of love and serenity emitting from the palm of Vishnu upon a world of bleak yet open minds waiting to be self realized and spend eternity basking in the glory of true spirituality ensconced in a realm well beyond heaven.
The rest of this time is devoted to song and lecture.  The songs are like mantras of different lengths, mostly devotional and with a strong pungent odor of religious services, but without the belief in an elderly man of excess white facial growth and tending to focus on the world as one and a spiritual connectedness for all with stories that are there simply to guide us but taken seriously enough to sing and devote one’s life to certain characters in order to gain the benefits of their wisdom through similar actions such as bravery and piety.  The lectures are sermonish, using stories to illustrate ideas and instill interest in this new culture from yoga trainees from around the world.  Many of the stories are taken from the Ramayana and the Mahabaratra, the 2 major Hindu stories that make up much of the cultural structure of India.  We also hear stories about the gurus, mainly the ones who started this Ashram.  I enjoy the stories and song more than the meditation but am slowly coming around to the feeling of serenity I get from all 3.

730:  Tea sucks, so do the snacks of bananas etc.  I want something cold, anything at all that is cold to drink or eat.  I would love to stick my head in a bucket of ice.  It is fucking hot.

800:  I am not flexible.  I hurt my back about 4 years ago and am only getting back to being a little more athletic in the last 2.  My weight has been getting better but I am still fat.  There were very few overweight people at the ashram but at least there were a few.  You can still find them panting through stretches, fidgeting during meditation and going back for seconds at lunch as we speak.  I am not that bad but do have one or two of those qualities.                                                   The yoga is twice a day and each starts with lying on your back.  Sivinanda, which is the type of yoga, is probably the least stressful athletic activity accepted by the Association for Strength and Stretching Essential to Sexiness (ASSES).  I have heard of other types where the teacher will continue to push and prod you until you are broken or doing the position.  This either leads to stories about injury or stories being told by a person who can turn themselves inside out.               Anyway, we start by lying down and breathing (I am good at this) then sit cross legged and breathe (sometimes not so good) then comes the sun salutations.  I have heard of ancient civilizations worshipping the sun and never had a problem with them, so I decide to worship.  This 12 step process is where the whole body is stretched by moving incrementally up, to the ground, and back up again in a specific fashion.  The sun salutations warm you up and prepare you for the rest of the asanas (the positions).  Each asana has a english name as well as a sanskrit one, so an example, dhanur asana, is the bow, where you lie on your stomach and grab you ankles lifting both ends into the air ( I suck at this).  There are many others with animal names etc.  The whole class takes an hour and a half or so and ends the same way it started, with lying down and breathing, except now we concentrate on each part of the body individually in order to relax fully and meditate.

1000:  Meal 1 cannot be called breakfast.  Though India does have morning food like dosas and the many incarnations of rice pancakes filled or served with curry like masala spiced goodness.  Meal 1 is curry of some sort, rice, a yogurtish substance, some vegetables often curried and water treated pink.  I mostly enjoyed the food, but, 2 other elements must be taken into account.  Everybody eats with their hands, even soup.  This is supposed to heighten you sensory appreciation of the food and its done all over India, but especially at places like ashrams, which stand out more now unabashed from the modern technocrat jungle that is the major Indian metropolis.  Heightened sensory awareness is everything the guru teaches, up to and including senses you didnt know you had, like the extensions of the astral body into the spiritual plane.  So, getting to know your food a little better serves the purpose of this place.  The other element is sitting on the floor.  Have you ever tried to eat mushy food with your hands off a plate on the floor while sitting cross legged?  It’s actually not bad for someone like me because it is served all you can eat.  I am a buffet champion who has been known to discuss the rules of buffet like it was fight club.  This is bad if you want to lose weight and get better at yoga, except, if you are totally uncomfortable while eating and can only sit for 2 servings.  I think this is the new Hollywood diet.  It will sweep the nation.  Eat what you want but you have to do on the floor with you hands in front of 100 other people.  Can’t wait for celebrity involvement.  So I eat less.  Oh, and we eat in silence, which enhances the whole sensory eating argument.  It’s fun to watch other people eat with their hands because some are very uncomfortable with it and others have been waiting their whole lives to satisfy their culinary primal urges.

1100-  Karma Yoga makes sense.  I get the opportunity to sleep comfortable, practice yoga twice a day with instruction, immerse myself in entertaining amenities, eat decent food at 2 meals, and live happily for 10 dollars a day.  The least I can do is take out the trash, so I do.  Other clean floors, serve food, or work the computers or boutique.

1130:  Free time is excellent.  I can either do laundry or go swimming in the lake just outside the ashram.  I wish the lake was cooler though;  it is like a giant jacuzzi, but with fish that try to bite you and hidden crocodiles.

130:  Tea Sucks, its hot.

200:  Lectured are hit and miss.  They are always on interesting subjects but I have trouble backing some of the absolute faith and mysticism.  Either way, I enjoy learning about a belief system different from my own, and I have even taken bits and pieces into consideration, such as a universal connectedness and positive thinking.  This doesn’t mean I believe in either of those, it’s just that I am pondering those maxims more now than I ever have.  With universal connectedness, they even went so far as to show the movie, What the Bleep do we Know, in order to show science riding a 3000 year old yogi coat tail.  The problem is that there are no answers to the questions of life and connectedness, only more questions that require a form of scientific faith that I am not so sure should exist.  Positive thinking is great to think about and discuss, but when the discussion leads to how it is your main form of fighting the cancer you have, like our lecturer told us, I tend to be a bit too practical, or brainwashed, whatever.  Also discussed, were how the history and current yogic lifestyle is defined and practiced as well as an attempt at understanding how meditation works, with my own personal conclusion that one can use too many metaphors.  Our lecturer tended to use this time as therapy with us nodding and asking her how that made her feel, but in between sob stories told with a calm stoneface which was a bit creept, we did learn a few things.

330:  More yoga, I am more limber in the afternoon.  Headstands away.

600:  This meal is smaller and not satisfying, but I should eat less anyway.  There is a food shop on the grounds as well if I am still starving.

800:  Meditation then lecture, just like the mornings except for saturdays, when the worst talent show of life is put on.  Maybe these people couldn’t fit the props needed in their backpacks.  Bad songs, bad singing, interpretive dance, old camp songs, letters to home read aloud, and a digeridoo.  Actually, the letter was written by a 50 year old retired army colonel to his war buddy and was hilarious.

1030:  Light out.  long day. need sleep.  The ashram life is great for me because it is structured.  I have been all around Kerala on a bike following instincts and trying not to get smushed under a bus.  My only worry now is when I’ve sweated enough to warrant a shower.  But I also have personal responsibility in a way I haven’t had for a long time.  I have the purpose and the means to improve myself physically and mentally through hard work and exercise, as well as contemplation and meditation.  I think I could spend a long time here and want to come back and do just that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2010 3:00 am

    LOL so many times.

    Insightful. Ha. Good.

  2. mama permalink
    May 24, 2010 2:42 am

    Great description of the yoga experience. I understand what you mean about the structure of the ashram. I think I’d find that to my liking too. Must be a rosenbluth/nachlis ADD thing.

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