Reflections From India & The Practice of Yoga

As I slide slowly back into reality these past two weeks, I reflect over the month that I spent in India. We were in some of the poorest areas of India, spent time in the Kumbh Mela with about 60 million people all doing their own practices with their communities, and we completed a 12 day practice at our own campus for collective consciousness. We meditated for at least two hours a day, bathed in the richness of the energy of the rivers, and surrendered into the power of the fire. It was a transformational experience on so many levels, most of which I have not even fully digested yet. It will be in the months and maybe even years to come that I will still be processing everything that we went through. It was filled with ups and downs, beauty and disgust, fire and water, joy and hatred. It rocked me, shook me, lit me up, and loving held me. Here are a few things I want to share with you all.  

I will remember living in tents for two weeks with a constant dampness that left you freezing cold to the bone, thunder showers (plus not really water proof tents by the way), and sitting outside for over two hours with literally four layers of pants on to keep warm. I will also remember watching the millions of people that have been living in tents much thinner than ours, sleeping on the floor and having maybe only three layers at most even to their name. 

I will remember longing for some sushi and freshly roasted veggies as I was complaining about how I will never want to eat potatoes, rice or bread ever again since that composed at least 60-70% of our diet. And at the same time realizing this is most likely all these people can ever afford to eat and they are grateful for even that. 

I will remember feeling constantly dirty, dusty and like I could not breathe. Half the camp was sick and the other half was coughing because of the air quality. And then realizing these people breathe this every single day of their life with no relief. 

I will remember being exhausted from constantly being stimulated by noise at all hours of the night and living with over 300 people. But I will also remember being surrounded by the people in the villages that are so happy just to get a smile and a wave. And sharing space with the most amazing and inspiring seekers who I feel have become a part of my forever spiritual family.

I will remember waking up at 5am every single morning with so much excitement to go sit for morning prayers, meditation and our fire ceremonies. Only to find that about half the time it was so cold and my knees would start to ache from being out there on the floor after a while. But I will also remember the fire of my practice that was ignited inside of me and how humbled I became at the feet of a teacher who is the most scholarly person I have ever met, knowing every mantra and spiritual text of our tradition by the page and who has dedicated his entire life to helping people reach the acceptance and reality of fact that the essence of life is beauty and joy. 

I will remember the beautiful shrine of our tradition I was lucky enough to meditate in for a week in Khajuraho, the teachings of Sri Vidya that my teacher elegantly presented, the four days of complete silence I willingly chose to observe and all the other living shrines we visited throughout India. 

I will remember feeling agitated, joyful, fearful, serene, annoyed, privileged, humbled, alone, filled, provoked, and so many more emotions. And I will tell you all as my students, that if this surprises you that I had all these reactions then you have been missing a huge piece of the true teachings of yoga that I embed not just in my classes, but in my life. 

Practicing yoga does not make me perfect. And if you are looking for that, please let me know when you find someone that has practiced so much that they don’t have any reactions or flaws because I would love to meet them. At times my practice will bring up my darkest areas and shine a bright light to illuminate them enough for me to see them very clearly. We are all souls having a human experience, which means all of what we label as good and bad will show up. This will never just magically vanish from practicing yoga every day. But can you find the good even in the bad? Can you step into the part of you that never changes and be the witness of those reactions? Can you contemplate where you react, what binds you, enchants you, provokes you? Do you stay angry, anxious, doubtful for an entire day? Maybe two? Maybe even for years? Or can you come back to a balanced state in 10 minutes? 2 minutes? Can you catch those reactions sooner and turn it around back to the fact that life is inherently joyful?  

That is the practice. That is yoga. Not every class you walk out of will be blissful. Just like in life you can be churned and stirred by anything, even things you love at times. But it is the awareness of both the dark and the light that changes us. If you are not aware of these polarities and shifts in your life or if you find yourself running away when something churns or irritates you, I invite you to stay. To sit with both the good and bad. To be in the space of you that never changes.