Back in New York, we had enjoyed our routine of Friday night yoga at a studio in the East Village as a way to unwind after a long week of work and we thought we would be remiss to come to India and not experience yoga the way it is practiced here. We knew that it would be different, but were not sure of what exactly to expect. So to learn more, we boarded a train to Rishikesh, a city in northern India and known as the yoga capital of the world.
We had decided to spend two weeks living and studying at an ashram to really become immersed in the yogic lifestyle and pace of life. Our home for the two weeks was Parmarth Niketan ashram, a beautiful place located on the banks of the holy Ganges River, where we were two among a group of thirty students. Each day we rose around 5:30 am to get dressed – in all white,of course – and get ready for our first class, where we practiced pranayama cleansing practices, followed by stretching and then more formal, Hatha yoga practice. After class we ate a vegetarian breakfast in silence and then before we knew it we were back in the yoga hall learning Vedic mantras. Afterwards,we had the opportunity to have our yoga questions answered by our teacher. After a short break, we had lunch and then spent a few hours relaxing or wandering Rishikesh. At 3 pm we had another yoga class followed by meditation and then headed to Aarti, the nightly fire ceremony on the Ganges. Sitting among a crowd of the faithful, we chanted songs of devotion and committed our sins and worries to the cleansing fire burning on the bank of the river. After the closing songs of the ceremony, we would follow the spiritual leader of the ashram, Pujya Swamiji, to a small courtyard in the ashram for satsang, where we could pose questions on any topic and hear his wisdom.
We had a wonderful two weeks at the ashram and came away from the program with not only greater flexibility and a wide knowledge of yoga poses, but also a deep understanding of yoga as a union of body, mind, and soul and a path to self-realization.