I write this as I am midway through planning my next trip to India. Teachers and students of Yoga in the UK seem to be divided on this issue. Do you have to go to India to study Yoga? My instinctive response is ‘No’. Transformation occurs within you, wherever you happen to be. I wouldn’t say that in the past I hated people who went on about their travels in India but they did sort of get on my nerves. And living in Brighton for years I met more than my share of Jade Jagger trust fund babe types who were ever so ernest about it all….
When I first went to India I was miserable. And when I returned I was still miserable although better informed on the subject and practice of Yoga. Everything I learned in my last trip of 3 months there needed time to assimilate. I remember one day I was in Rishikesh, looking at the Ganges, the most amazing and beautiful sight on earth, and all I could think about was some ex. It was at that moment I realized that true freedom is all in your mind. And if my mind was in some scuzzy flat in Brighton reliving some old argument then my being in India was a bit pointless. And that was my first practical lesson in the power of citta vrtti and how very important it is to be present- Atha Yoga.
There is something about being in the country of origin which lends romance to the study- like wine tasting in Bordeaux or painting in Florence. You could do either of these things in Scunthorpe but it wouldn’t be the same would it? I remember the first Yoga class I attended in India. When the first Om was chanted I closed my eyes and felt this sense of expansion- I saw a vision of my body being made of sand, being shaped, broken down, and reformed time and again, because just as the wind changes the formation of sand, our actions in this life, and the beyond, the Gods, reform us time and again, we are all essentially the same- what we perceive as differences are, in the great scheme of things, so superficial. Anyway, all this came to me within that first practice. There was a focus there, and a weight that came from the teachers.
When you are around a teacher that lives Yoga, really lives it, and there are obviously a lot in India, there is a magic and a focus that rubs off on you and adds ‘weight’ to your own practice, and depth. As if the teacher has the power to still the waters, as characters from the Bible could. And the moving waters are your thought patterns. And in a class in India you are likely to be in a room full of people who all care enough about the study of Yoga to have travelled all the way out there from wherever in the world and so that level of focus does create what some might describe as a magical ‘group mind’ which is a whole different level of intensity. And whilst it is not mandatory, it is certainly an amazing experience.
I thought when I returned from India I would be magically transformed- I wasn’t. But I had some tools of transformation and over the next year, setlling back into my life, into my work, I started to use them in my day to day life as well as my Yoga practice, and slowly things changed. I have a level of happiness now that wasn’t there before, and that comes from within, rather than being precariously balanced on other things or relationships. And I learned other stuff from India. Like how to take pride in your work and pay attention to the details- as thats something that really struck me- how hard people work there and how seriously they take it and the pride they take in it. I’ve got a better work ethic now. And my Yoga practice is better too, for just being able to accept where I am now.
I cannot wait to go back- to Mysore, to the ashram at Nasik, and to Rishikesh. And this time its to go towards something, rather than running away. Oh- and for the really extreme Ashtanga adjustments they do in Mysore- getting your feet lifted off the ground in Up Dog- can’t wait for some of that!!! And I’m going on a Vipassana retreat too.
If you are wondering whether to go practice in India I would say GO. Go with an open mind. India is a fascinating country with a million facets to it- one of my favourite books is the ‘Tell Me Why’ childrens book on Indian history I bought out there last time…
More on this to come…