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Did you know that the entire purpose of the physical practice of yoga is simply to train the body to better handle the demands of meditation? Or that this yoga is called hatha yoga, and it is one of five different kinds of yoga?
I, who had been taking yoga classes on and off for about a decade, had no idea. This was just one of the many revelations I had this past November, when I spent eight days at my third yoga ashram in India.
Every ashram is unique, and nowadays they vary significantly, but the premise remains the same; they are secluded hermitages meant to help one grow spiritually. This means living a simple, peaceful life where you join a daily routine often with a strict diet, early waking hours, and lots of yoga and meditation. To read about my first ashram experience in 2016, CLICK HERE.
At the end of 2018, two months after a rather bothersome knee surgery, I went to Pune, India for my second ashram experience. This time I spent four days at an ayurveda and yoga retreat called KARE. It was evident that I wouldn’t be able to handle the ashram I had already been to where you eat sitting on the floor and live a minimalistic lifestyle, so I used this as an excuse to go to a “fancier” place. It was an entirely different experience, complete with massages twice per day – if you’ve had one of these ayurvedic oil massages you’ll understand my meaning – tea brought to your door as part of your wakeup call, and chairs to sit on during meals.
The yoga style was also entirely different than what I was used to, as this centre practices iyengar yoga. Like usual, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but my hindsight is 20/20. This style of yoga uses props to assist with poses, and as a result everything can be modified easily. Additionally, there was the added benefit of having my own assistant during yoga classes who anticipated my needs even better than I.
While it was a restful and blissful experience, I somehow found myself missing the rigid structure provided by the concrete floors, one hour a day of internet, and karma yoga (volunteering) that I had experienced at the previous ashram. This is why, when planning my next trip to India, I decided to go back to a Sivananda ashram, but at a different location.
This brings me to my ashram experience this past November, the one with the revelations. I chose the ashram in Andra Pradesh as it was only a four hour drive from my grandmother’s place, whereas the others would have required a flight. The first revelation was learning that after two days, the other students would leave and I would be the only student at the ashram. Unsurprisingly, I was immediately full of useless questions like “what is so wrong with this place that there are no students”, and “why have I put myself in such a strange situation once again.”
It turns out this centre is very new and people just don’t know about it yet. The lack of other students did mean a lot more time spent alone, but it wasn’t too bothersome since yoga class still went on, and it meant I had more of a choice in what I cleaned during karma yoga. I quickly fell back into the same routine that I cherished from Madurai; waking up at 5:30am, practicing yoga two times per day, meditating two times per day, eating two times per day and showering a minimum of two times per day. The two main differences were the amount of mosquitoes – meditation and savasana pose really laid me out on a silver platter for them – and the revelations about what yoga actually means.
Possibly the most interesting part of my time at the ashram was the daily one-hour lecture where the five points of yoga and the reasons why were explained. The teacher started by telling me that in the modern world we always ask why – we are intent on understanding why something is the way it is and what the factual reasons are behind every statement. However, in any ancient culture, its traditions don’t always have a scientific or factual reason that answers our question of why. She was here to help me understand, as much as possible anyways, what yoga actually means.
My world was rocked when I learnt that the physical practice of yoga, also known as hatha yoga, is one of five different types of yoga, and that each type leans and depends on the others for balance. When all five are combined one can achieve union, or higher consciousness.
I was then even more thrown when I learnt that meditation is the ultimate goal to be attained from the physical practice of yoga, and the various intricate poses are meant to make the body fit enough so that one can meditate comfortably and not be distracted by aches and pains. The point wasn’t to become flexible and have amazing control over your breathing, it was to sit cross-legged. The rest were simply by-products…mind completely blown. I felt like all the yoga instructors of my past had been hiding this information from me and I was left wondering why most of the world associates the word yoga with tight pants, flexibility, and only sometimes a little spirituality. It seemed as though, alone in this tiny village in an almost unknown ashram, I had discovered a hidden secret about the world!
Thankfully, or possibly not, I had a lot of alone time to contemplate this new knowledge as my only constant companion was a lizard who seemed to live in my room. Eventually rational thoughts prevailed, and after attending more lectures and albeit coming to my own interpretations of many of the concepts that were explained, I no longer felt like I had been cheated by growing up in the Western hemisphere. That is not to say that I don’t feel a little sheepish that I had no idea about this ancient practice that stems from my own religion, Hinduism, but hey, better late than never. And in even better news, if you’ve read up to here and managed to follow my train of thought, either you already knew this (not so secret) secret of the yogi world, or you now have some new knowledge to share with your circle.
I will not even pretend to have much knowledge about what I have just written about, so I will instead recommend everyone to visit an ashram in India. If that sounds a little out of reach – especially in this time where even speaking about travel seems taboo – you can just pick up one of hundreds of books about the meaning of yoga that I seem to have overlooked for 28 years.
Will I master all five points and attain higher consciousness? Who knows. In the meantime, I’m excited that I’ve stumbled upon this information that can lead to learning how to better control my mind and body. It’s yet another reminder that there is so much knowledge to be gained, if only we are open enough to throw ourselves into strange and wonderful experiences.
To learn more about the Sivananda ashram I stayed at ⇒ CLICK HERE