Many western yoga enthusiasts flock to India to experience yoga at its birthplace. The lure of accessing undiluted yoga in an exotic and sunny location (usually on a shoestring budget) is strong enough to see people put down roots in places like Mysore, Rishikesh, Pune and Goa for weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
Working in a yoga centre in India for the last seven years I have seen thousands of students arrive from all over the world with the same goal – to experience ‘authentic’ yoga. India is a wonderful adventure like no other but practising yoga at the source comes with its highs and lows. Here are some considerations that can make your yoga journey in India a smoother one.
Your Guru Is In the Mirror
Find your inner guru before you head to India. A spiritual seeker should have developed strength and resilience through a robust and steady practice, preparing them for the often-bumpy path of self-discovery. There is a danger in seeking out a practice or person to fulfil you mentally or emotionally without being in a steady spiritual place. Be clear about what is motivating you to take the journey deeper into your practice: is it because you are ready or running away?
There are many wonderful teachers in India who can enrich your life and practice immensely. These teachers hold an abundance of wisdom, spiritual intelligence and experience – it is truly an honour to receive teachings from them. Always remember that a good teacher will empower you rather than expect you to hand your power over to them. They will present themselves as a conduit to deepening your practice and never encourage you to become dependent on them. Self-determination is paramount to having a healthy experience when it comes to spiritual development.
You Will Finally Understand Why They Call It A Discipline
My yoga teacher in Australia used to tell us that yoga was a practice of discipline. I would feel rather the achiever as I floated out of class into the café next door for my well-earned latte. When that 4am bell goes off in the ashram and you stumble out of your bunk bed to get ready for your practice at 5am, you realise that your twice weekly yoga class back home didn’t quite prepare you for this version of yoga discipline.
Traditional practices such as being in silence, a Sattvic diet and a rigid schedule can push you to the edge of reason. Sitting cross legged on the floor with burning knees and hips, listening to a lecture on Ahimsa with sweat rolling down your back can give you an urge to squash that mosquito into oblivion with your text book or lash out at your teacher; don’t worry it doesn’t make you a bad yog i- it makes you human. Try not to run away in the middle of the night and check into the nearest 5-star hotel with a 24-hour bar. Remember to take it one day and sometimes one moment at a time. It’s not often we get the chance to be in silence, to connect with ourselves without distraction, to stand and face ourselves without the usual escape routes. Being outside of your comfort zone is part of your practice; it’s where your growth will take place. We can all make shapes on a yoga mat but the real yoga happens when we can cultivate a steady relationship with ourselves.
Your Yoga Teacher May Seem A Little Mean – It’s Not Personal
I once stayed at an ashram for 10 days in Rishikesh; the teacher who was in her 80s carried a big stick with her during class and barked orders at us about correct alignment. Consider yourself lucky if you meet a teacher like this early on – she will prepare you for the host of excellent teachers in India who have no time for narcissism or self-indulgence but will instead guide you to a healthy place of self-inquiry.
The traditional student teacher relationship is one of deep mutual respect. You respect your teacher’s knowledge and experience and they respect the trust you have placed in them. You probably won’t hear the comforting ‘yoga-babble’ about your blossoming heart energy that you will hear at a class in New York. Your teacher will not try to be likeable, they don’t have time or the inclination to tell you how wonderful you are, none of their energy will go on maintaining your ego. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for most of us who come from a culture where we are always praised and rarely criticised. There is however great satisfaction in knowing that the encouragement you receive is genuine, well-earned and based on your achievements; also there is nothing quite as satisfying as that hug you will get from the 80 year old lady with the stick when you are leaving the ashram.
It’s Yoga – Enjoy It!
Many yogis come to India for deeper adjustments, more challenging classes and stronger teachers. Often they are a little let down when the intensity they feel about yoga is not seemingly reflected by some of the most established teachers and students there. Remember, you don’t ‘do yoga’ in India – you live yoga. Yoga does not finish when you roll up your mat; because it is a lifetime practice that permeates through every day it can seem less intense than a two-hour class of punishing vinyasas. You don’t have to have an ‘Eat Pray Love’ breakdown moment for your experience to be real.
Yoga in India is a balanced expression of thousands of years of exploring a well-rounded science. No one cares about your jump backs if you can’t sit with your eyes closed for two-minutes. It doesn’t matter how many arm balances you can do if you aren’t striving for emotional balance too. It’s not meant to be another addiction or way to be hard on yourself. It’s a healing science designed to bring us happiness.
Come to India with an open mind and heart. Enjoy the practice, your achievements and the challenges. Enlightenment is not about getting heavy or more weighed down. Travelling to India to practise yoga is one of the most life changing and enriching experiences you can have- enjoy the ride!
Written by Eveanna De Barra.
Eveanna is a global traveller and writer and passionate about all things India. She divides her working year between Himalaya Yoga Valley, Goa www.yogagoaindia.com and Ireland www.yogacorkireland.com with plenty of adventures in between.
About the editor
Passionate about wellness, yoga, meditation, and raw food – Cheryl Slater heads up the social media team for Yoga Magazine and her business Soul Seed Media specialises in providing social media and PR support to holistic businesses.