YOGART STUDIO :: Life Lessons from a Goddess

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A Goddess in the flesh

YOGART STUDIO :: Life Lessons from a Goddess

Before I left for India, one of my dearest friends gave me a very sweet card as a gesture of love and support for the adventure ahead of me. I realize now that when I initially read the quote on the cover of the card, I didn’t fully grasp its true essence:

Slow down

Calm down

Don’t worry

Don’t hurry

Trust the process

– Alexandra Stoddard

I brought the card with me and have referred to it countless times this past month because my yoga teacher training experience has left me feeling uprooted in my understanding of myself -body, mind and soul. It’s challenging to articulate but Alexandra Stoddard’s words have finally registered. It may take me weeks, months or even years to fully gestate the effect this last month has had on me.

To begin with…

The ashram is walled in by the godlike Himalayas. The holy river Ganges (also known as Ganga -the river goddess), roars south of the ashram and a stunning 100 metre suspended bridge connects the ashram and main road with the neighbouring elementary school and homes across the river. I sleep 15 feet away from Ganga and have since manifested a fixation with her (the river). If I feel happy, I smile along with the river. If I feel anger or physical pain, I rage along with her.

Life here is simple for most people who live in the village of Netala. Daily life consists of tending to the land, livestock, perhaps going to school and an occasional trip into town. Despite the hardships many people face here, most homes have a satellite attached to the roof. It’s daunting and mind-bending to consider how a persons opinion of their immediate surroundings develops; fully knowing how the rest of India and the world lives. From my travels, I’ve come to realize that millions of people in this world learn to live with hunger, disease, and extreme weather conditions and yet we all still share the commonality of channel surfing our free time away.

My yoga teacher training class is made up of 32 talented and inspiring people from all over the world. Fellow yogi’s from Germany, France, United States, Japan, Slovakia, Holland, United Kingdom, Belarus, India, Scotland, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, and Canada have gathered to learn, study, practice and grow in one place. Needless to say, this amount of like-minded people makes for some illuminating energy.

Depending on our mood and energy time seems to move quickly or standstill. Days are packed with philosophy lectures, chanting, asana (yoga) classes and chores (karma yoga). We study anatomy, Hindu deities, dharma, and the Bhagavad Gita (which by the way, David Benioff and D.B,Weiss, creators of Game of Thrones need to get on this epic book for their next series).

The morning bell wakes us at 5:20AM and the day does not end until 9:30PM (at which time we all happily crawl into bed). This busy schedule was intentionally designed to keep our minds locked on our studies and it wasn’t long before I began to fear what the subject matter revealed about myself. An endless stream of consciousness is incredibly exhausting and my every breath manifested into a static reality of who I was. It was the act of staying in the ‘present’ that proved to be the most challenging obstacle to overcome. Wrangling my body into the scorpion posture seemed like a fun pursuit whereas stilling my mind to remain in the ‘here’ and ‘now’ seemed impossible. With a habit of getting lost in my daydreams since I was a little girl, my body literally rooted me in the present. The expected aches, pains, sore muscles and pinched nerves presented themselves and were immediately followed by my immune system shutting down and a variety and steady stream of illness followed. This included everything from the common cold to perpetual fevers to worst of all, skull crushing head pain from pressure caused by water lodged between my ear and nose. Coupled with strange dreams and terrifying nightmares, these were the moments when I could only feel anger and disappointment towards Ganga. Eventually I began to develop the ‘even-mindedness’ my teachers hoped we all would. I accepted my physical ailments and came to expect and embrace the bizarre dreams. I finally recognized a calmness in myself and surroundings.

I write this with only a few days of the course remaining. I’m beginning to think about how much I will miss this place and the incredible people I have come to know. Last night we had another puja (a ceremony of worship). We honoured the goddess Devi -Divinity in its female aspect. Lamps were aligned in our satsang hall and lit up the room which otherwise would have been blanketed by the dark night and even darker silhouette of the mountains. Devi representing light and knowledge, was being worshipped to help prepare our studies for our upcoming final exam. The priest lead the ceremony and as we chanted the mantra we simultaneously offered rice, flowers and kumkum (red powder) to the light.

This morning the monkeys got into the garbage again. There are 2 different species of monkeys in this area that I’ve enjoyed watching over the last several weeks. I found two monkeys rummaging through a garbage bag pulled from a bin near my dorm. I quickly ran into my room and grabbed my camera in one hand and a mango in the other. I made way towards the very cute yet unpredictable monkeys. I rolled the mango towards them and right then and there I shared a moment with a wild animal. In well found suspicion of this generous gift, the monkey hesitated reaching for the mango. The primates’ eyes said it all, “Is this for reals?!!” As I happily savoured watching the monkey devour the juicy mango it once again dawned on me just how far from home I really was.

Why do people pay thousands of dollars to fly to remote places, enrol in yoga certification programs, sleep on hard beds, take cold showers and subject themselves to (both physically and emotionally) gruelling schedules? I’ll have to get back to you on that one because I’m still trying to answer that for myself. But what I do know is that these experiences offer permanent life-changing consequences, adjustments, and shifting perspectives that cocktails by the pool cannot quench. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely cannot wait to get in a bikini and lounge at the beach with a cold beer in my hand, but I’m grateful and proud to say that I’ve learned to anchor myself in the here and now. With our lives filled with endless distractions, memories, choices, flavours, schedules, to-do lists, bills, prescriptions, playlists, green lights and stop signs, refillable water bottles, chores, celebrations, milestones, heartaches, smiles, calls, texts and Facebook updates -we’re so busy that we rarely remember to concentrate on our breathing. To focus on the inhalations and exhalations that define our every non-thought. To observe our mind, the consciousness of I AM, it’s the most powerful state I have ever felt. I’m going to hold onto that feeling and go back to that state whenever I need to be reminded of intuitive happiness.

Intuitive happiness will steer my YOGART STUDIO goals, values and curricula because as an educator I feel obliged to guide learners in a direction of understanding beyond desire for external incentives. It is my belief that the future seeds of respect, empathy and social responsibility will be sown from happiness that comes from within and guides development, actions, and awareness of self and others.

Over the last few days my health has begun to improve. I’m feeling physically and mentally stronger and back to working on wrangling my body into scorpion. I’m looking forward to sitting by the riverside and sharing a few more memories with Ganga -her and I are back on good terms 🙂 I feel like I owe her a debt I cannot repay. The sound of her strength and force of her energy will be a guiding memory to help bring me back to where I know I need to be – in the here and now.

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The ashram

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Pranayama – breathing exercises

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A Monday morning puja to honour Shiva

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An offering of flowers for Shiva

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Ganesh, remover of all obstacles -at the alter

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In the satsung hall for an afternoon lecture

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Stretching before a 2 hour yoga class

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Mural painted outside of the local elementary school that reads, “Sympathy is the purest form of the human heart”

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Such a sweet face!

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Some more illustrations outside of the neighbouring elementary school

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The ashram from across the river

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Neighbouring rooftop cafe -an escape for much needed chai

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View from the bridge

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This guy

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I had the top bunk and used the wall to stretch my tight hamstrings and look up at my dirty feet

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Lots of smiles and friendly waves

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The infamous Thumbs Up beverage

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Tiled Ganesh outside of the ashram temple

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Early 6AM silent walks

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Warming up

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Another roadside hangout – great for studying

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Bobbi being a good sport to demo during our prenatal lecture/class

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My study notes

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Another puja to honour the Goddess Devi

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Lights, camera, alter!

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Devi

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Taking advantage of the scenery to do some promo YOGART shots

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One of many snack runs with Lindsey

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My final offering to Ganga -flowers and my bracelets that commemorate previous pujas

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A big thank you and goodbye to Ganga

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