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From Moon to Moon

A month in Rishikesh

sunny 32 °C

A whole month in Rishikesh- what a privilege. The Yoga Capital of the world. And it is so beautiful. When you walk over the bridge you could be walking through a painted backdrop of Heaven. I spent a month just working on my own Ashtanga practice with the teacher Louise Ellis. She is one of the relatively few women accredited to teach by Pattabhi Jois and her teaching style is classical- little interference and low key which was exactly where I needed to be this month. The Ashtanga practice is, for me, a Yoga practice that works in ways others have not, again, that is just in my experience. There is an austerity to the practice, a Zen like quality of doing the same thing day in day out, nearly getting to where you think you want to be and then it all goes to Hell and you get frustrated and flounce off to 'Vinyasa Flow' but Ashtanga calls you back. And this last month I practiced more intensely than I have in too long and remembered why I love it. Louise did some afternoon Yin classes where she would talk about aspects of the Ashtanga practice. Like the frustration you can feel. And she said two things that stayed with me. One, that sometimes when nothing seems to be changing, change is still happening, just because its not the change you want its still there, still happening. And that sometimes its your attitude to it that needs to change. Two, that you can disengage with your thoughts using this imagery- of diving beneath your thoughts like going underwater. And its true. When you stop worrying and just do it things seem to come together. When you do your practice like a prayer, in thanks, and endeavour to get back to source- to disconnect with your monkey mind and practice without the burden of your thoughts and situations, which, in the great scheme of things, are not so important, it feels different. If you have a dedicated self practice, no teacher, this occurs over time. Its not an accumulation of circus tricks like some people seem to think. Its more of a letting go of everything that prevents you. Sometimes when I am doing my asana practice I think of a fresh dead body- before rigor mortis sets in you could pretty much bend it anyway because the personality is no longer there to inhibit the motion. Hatha Yoga comes from the Tantric mindset- that is, body and mind are the same. Hence the emphasis on treating the body with respect, as it is your channel, the instrument with which you can experience the true beyond. And just as religious dogma hinders true spirituality, being stuck in physical/mental patterning inhibits true soul growth.

It feels as if I was there for about three months rather than four weeks. And its funny, I don't think I travelled there with any particular agenda other than to work on my practice, and to meditate, as since early this year in the dark of winter both seemed to lapse and sometimes you get stuck in a wheel of bad habits, like TV, not enough sleep, and its hard to break out of. And taking responsibility for your own health can be a tough one, especially when your human need to socialize doesn't necessarily sit will with your greater need for space, for practice. Though this was my shortest trip I feel like I've learned the most this time.

I was practicing every day and meditating most days, sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for an hour and a half. Something about the place. Definitely theres something about the place that makes the recounting of events there without sounding like some Woodstock throwback entirely impossible. I mean, take Shiva, the archetype of him, the stories of him. You feel him in every corner, every tree, every piece of woodland, in the smoke curling skywards from every roadside chillum. The way you can always hear music. The forked white markings in the hillsides. The motorbikes thundering across flimsy bridges. Shiva Lingums everywhere. I went into a Shiva temple in the last week and it was terrifying. Something about it- I felt like I was walking into a space where really, anything could happen. The statues were on the verge of life and I felt that if I had touched one it would have burned or something. And this thick thick stillness of the darkest air. And this encapsulates the essence of Shiva- this stillness, this witnessing. The notion of Shiva-Shakti is of course something I am familiar with as a Yoga student, but I never really took it on board that much. And what is interesting is that Shiva, generally accepted as 'male' is the stillness and Shakti, the 'feminine' dynamism which is the opposite of the archetypes of Western religious thought. And yet I can't help but think likening these elements to gender roles at all is kind of clumsy and certainly I have met people who use these ideas like coatpegs to hang their egos off. I was talking to some local guys in the last week and we were having a long debate about the nature of this world, the beyond, life, death rebirth, moksha, samsara etc etc... light stuff... and I mentioned that I wouldn't mind coming back here time and again because life can be so much fun, sensual pleasures, dramas, beauty, etc etc and Ravi said "Well you see, thats Shakti...". And then I thought of that Thea Gilmore song where she sings "I'm the song and You're the Radio", and that could be Shakti the song and Shiva the radio...

I also bathed in the Ganges nearly every day. Which got nicer and nicer as the weather got hotter and hotter. My friend Jane was here and we had a little Beltane celebration here for the fire festival and then a bit of a dance around a Vedic fire that evening.

What else? Oh, so much. I befriended a slightly dissolute Vaishnavite monk who was just adorable and made me laugh so much. He really inspired me to make some changes too. And I read some more Tantras and made a start on the excellent book on Tantra by Andre Van Lysebeth. Well worth reading, it is wonderful.

So for Ashtanga classes in Sheffield, at weekends, watch this space- 90 minutes of asana practice, followed by half an hour of guided meditations. For all, levels...

Posted by victoria8 10:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

Rishikesh Days

swimming in the Ganges and staring at the stars......

sunny 30 °C


Rishikesh in April is pretty warm. But theres this magical breeze that keeps it all from being too intense. Every morning I get up at just after 5, have a bucket bath, drink water, and walk along the winding hillside road to Tapovan to do the Ashtanga Primary Series for an hour and a half. The walk there is such a joy, I can't believe I'm privy to such beauty. Its like walking through a backdrop of Heaven, or how I imagine Heaven to be. Misty hills, woods, turquoise river, white butterflies... The slight smokiness in the air, its hard to not wax poetic. Sometimes after practice I can't sit down or speak to anyone and so I cross the bridge at Lakshman Jhula and walk the 2 or 3 kms to Ram Jhula and back up the hill to where I stay, like a walking meditation, not thinking, just being. And this trip has really brought home to me how much I love the Ashtanga practice, every time you are on the mat, its like you're home. And after practice you feel so free. And no matter if you don't have a perfect practice, the important thing is that you practice. I've had some mornings when it felt sublime and some mornings like this morning when I was exhausted and everything hurt. So I took it gentle. Louise Ellis creates this beautiful atmosphere to practice in and we have been doing some amazing Yin sessions some afternoons with some Pranayama and Meditation too, and an introduction to Tattwa Shuddhi that blew me away.

I have been reading some of the Tantras, the Jnana Sankalini Tantra I've been enjoying. I think in the past I've read too many books about, rather than the books themselves, and when you are in Rishikesh, where Shiva is everywhere having hours to read evry day with no distractions is a blessing. What I love about the Tantras I have read so far is the practical nature of them, they are like recipe books or travel guides. And I keep hearing this Captain Jack Sparrow voice saying " The Tantras? Well they're more like guidelines than rules....". Because you can follow a disciplined path, a disciplined practice, but you have no way of knowing what will come of it. Chances are by the time you get results you no longer care about any of the stuff you wanted in the first place. One of the guys from the Yoga class was saying to me the other morning he never read that much about Yoga but the Yamas and Niyamas have just arisen naturally. Tapas (discipline) and Svadhyaya (studying sacred texts) are something I have paid lip service to in the past, making half hearted attempts to give stuff up and failing and then thinking of clever arguments why it doesn't matter or taking advantage of my speed reading ability to skim read the Sutras so I can quote from them and sound like I know what I'm talking about but it was always more perhaps because I felt like I should. Now somethings shifted and I've been reading more slowly and meditating on the words and new pathways open up all the time. Like a body discovering it has a whole other set of veins. Or finding a pathway to a passge that takes you up but the doorway was hidden too long. I embarked on the Rig Veda ( hey my readings not in logical order) and the beginning of it, the acknowledgement of Agni sent shivers through me. And being disciplined- well thats not got anything to do with being a Holier Than Thou raw foods tosspot, just simply working towards speech, intent and action all matching one another so theres no confusion- the development of magical will in a sense. And once you've mastered a habit or addiction its no longer an issue and you are free. And theres an element of Svadhyaya too, in Tapas, because its leads to you finding the source of a lot of your 'issues' and unravelling them. Self study, DIY cognitive behavioural therapy. It wasn't invented in the USA in the 50's it was happening a long long time before that....

Nearly every day I have been going for a dip in the Ganges too. It feels sparkly clean here and I just float around on my back and look at the sky, the trees and the mountains. Theres lots of nice little beaches here with quiet spots to swim. You have to go in fully dressed if you are female but thats ok, I just jump in in my Yoga stuff and have pretty much perfected the Indian womens technique of getting out the water, wrapping a cloth around myself and emerging in a new outfit modesty intact..! The nicest place to swim I've found is just left of Ram Jhula Bridge, the Choti Wallahs side, and theres a beautiful little chai stand there too. My friend Janes here and we had a great day today, riding on the back of a motorbike with Jeremy from our hotel, who's a beautiful man from London and looked after us while we swam so we didn't have to put up with hoards of starers, we also went wandering round the bookshops, lunch at the Little Buddha Cafe, home made corn chips and avacado salad and Lemon-Nanas, a slushy ice drink made from fresh mint and lemon juice, beautiful... And I bumped into a friend from Mysore so he came too, and it was great to catch up. I love this international Ashtanga community..

And I have been chatting to Saddhus here and there, I've been reading a book on the Saddhu culture also. Interesting stuff. Some of them shine but many of them don't. You can wander India and get a card to say you're a Saddhu. With your address listed as 'The Cemetery' if you're an ash smeared Tantric... But what struck me was the rhetoric of some of these guys, like the rhetoric of classical Greece and the way they communicate their belief systems to one another and outdo each other in terms of who can be the least egoistic. Some of them refer to themselves in the third person. But this book I've been reading is about a truly wise man. Some of them live their Tapas in terms of meditating constantly. They seem to fulfil the function of being Holy examples, the real Saddhus, not the ones hanging around for the tourists. And people do seek out their wisdom and look after them. As if they are divine portals. Sometimes business men on their way home will go for a chat and to share a chillum before going home to the wife and kids. Hashish is legal for Saddhus, the use it in the way Shamans would use Fly Agaric. One guy I spoke to, he said his name was Lakshmi, he was nice. He greeted me as I came up the hill after a Yoga class with "Ah you've finished in the office for the day!" in a jovial way so I sat down for a chat, he had nice glowy eyes, he knew more about British politics than I did,( so I hastily changed the subject to Yoga) and he said "Well all the Yoga practice in the world makes no difference if you have the bad lifestyle and no discipline". Tapas again. My lifestyles not bad but I'm reassessing a few things. Like how much I have my computer on at home and how to get more sleep...

Anyway, Saturdays day off tomorrow.... swim in the Ganges with Ferdinando from class, loads of coffee, some reading and a little Sivananda class with Jane in the afternoon. The fierce Japanese lady from 4 years ago is still teaching, she tells me off for wearing eyeliner but I ignore her as Krishnamacharya wore way more makeup than me....

I love Rishikesh...

Posted by victoria8 07:47 Archived in India Comments (0)

Arriving in India

Delhi Airport and then on to Paradise.....

sunny 30 °C


So my third visit to India happened at last...! I got the Finn Air flight from Manchester, had a long and boring 5 hour wait in Helsinki and then got the overnight flight to Delhi. As it was only half full this beautiful stewardess let me have a whole row of seats to myself with awesome window views and I got entertained by a New Yorker called Barry who told me he's a full-time traveller, hasn't worked in 10 years, had a certain manic quality to him, got quite drunk, asked me if I'd ever considered joining the mile high club and then passed out and snored contentedly until breakfast...

And getting into India was curiously stress free, maybe because the flight got in at 5am there were no hoards waiting to pounce, just a guy called Deepak who had my name on a piece of paper. We got in the air conditioned car and he drove us the 7 hours to Rishikesh- its actually not that long a journey, only about 240 kms but the amount of time is due to roads, traffic jams etc. It was hot hot hot and Delhi was as grimy as ever and my God it is such a huge huge city, makes London look tiny. And I slept some of the way in this curious half awake/lucid dream state as Deepak had long, loud, lengthy conversations on his mobile, it sounded like he was doing some kind of second job. He was really nice and bought me 2 badly needed cups of coffee in a roadside Punjabi restaurant.

And then finally we got to Rishikesh. Rishikesh! It is so so so very beautiful here. One of the most charged up places I have ever been. You can feel it in your body, its as if the very ground buzzes. And the scenery is like a dream landscape by Claude Poussin or something, misty forests, deep turquoise rivers, caves, temples and woodland. And it has its own smell, an indefinable sort of smoky, spicy, woody smell like nowhere else. I got to my hotel- no need to check in- the owner said "Don't worry about it Madam, I think its more important you shower and rest"...! Yes, clearly after 29 hours of travel I was a sweaty hollow eyed wreck.... Anyway, I had a blissful long cool shower and then went walking down to Ram Jhula. Its funny, I haven't been here for 4 years and was expecting it to look different and to get lost but it was exactly the same. I walked in bliss down towards the bridge and had a happy hour looking at the Ganges. Then just as I was perusing a clothes stall this voice went "Vicky, is that you?!" and it was Soma, a guy I met here last time who took me to the Beatles Ashram, really lovely man, a Yoga teacher, who has been in Paris for nearly 2 years and it was great to catch up. We went to the Madras Cafe and had chai and Idly. Idlys are South Indian fermented steamed rice cakes, served with coconut chutney and sambar, very very good. And The Madras Cafe is my favourite place to eat here, proper Indian home cooking with an emphasis on health, so not too heavy on the ghee and spice. You always feel great after eating there.

I got an early night but it still turned out to be too much for me to go to practice at 5am the next day. I made it most of the rest of the week, apart from being ill for 2 days with a very bad stomach. I call it India conversion sickness and I never seem to escape it... I am practicing here with Louise Ellis who I practiced with last time. She is a beautiful teacher and her teaching style is quite low key and she's accepting of people limitations, but at the same time you don't feel that she imposes limits on you which I think is a very important quality in a Yoga teacher. She doesn't foster some competitive Ashtanga performance sport space, rather, you feel the magic, and the transformative quality of the practice. Because there is magic there. Like Mula Bandha. When you start to engage that in the practice everything seems to change but its so very subtle its near impossible to teach. It just seems to come over time, at different stages for everyone. On Wednesday she did an afternoon Yin practice which was just lovely. And talked about the importance of acceptance. Being able to sit with whatever occurs and letting it pass, after accepting it, whatever that is, even if its vomit-y sickness. Practical Advaita for the everyday. Talking of Advaita, although I'm not on much of a shopping trip this time I have spent a few happy hours wandering round the bookshops here. One of my favourites is the one near Laksmanjhula bridge, beneath the Swiss bakery. I picked up a copy of Nathamuni's Yoga Rahasya- a wonderful Yoga text, one of the few to talk about women practicing Yoga. And I got some Upanishadic and Tantra texts I haven't read so far. One of my things at the moment is to read original source material rather than books about it. Because even if you don't understand it straight away I think theres something in these texts that works on you, that makes you ask questions.

Apart from that, I have been spending a lot of time just sitting, meditating, enjoying the peace, enjoying the space. Looking at the misty foothills of the Himalayas. Drinking lemon water and having a natural detox... Rishikesh is a very clean place, you don't really crave anything and I feel great, even if slightly weakened by the sicky thing.. Saying that though, I'm not doing mad detoxing like last time, South Indian coffee is good good good. And theres health food shops that sell all different kinds of nuts, my favourite saffron tea, and cheikku fruits which are beautiful. Just as long as you put them in a shoulder bag where the monkeys can't spot them.. I also made an appointment to see a really wonderful astrologer here, Amodini, the week after next. She is an amazing woman and I can't wait...

Rishikesh... Its All Good.... :)

Posted by victoria8 01:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

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