A Spiritual Journey in Rishikesh

To have all my bases covered, after returning from Goa I flew to the north to head to the yoga capital of the world, otherwise known as Rishikesh. It lays at the base of the Himalayas, and the holy Ganga river flows right through the city. I stayed up there for about a week at a retreat center called Vedansha, where I engaged in 6 hours of yoga, meditation, and philosophy each day.

To begin my trip I flew into the Delhi Airport, and then took the airport express metro to the center of the city. I went on a little walk around the central park, where I was lucky enough to catch a Hindi flash mob play in the city that I think was about various social issues. I stumbled upon an art showcase, so I got to watch some dances before I located my bus to take me to Rishikesh.

I arrived early the next morning exhausted and cold. I had not anticipated the chill in the air, and I huddled in the back of a rickshaw with my travel backpack beside me, ready to rest. On the drive to my accommodation, I noticed the huge amount of monkeys in Rishikesh. They were everywhere; monkeys digging in trash, climbing trees, and staring at the passerby (one day I even witnessed a monkey steal a cabbage right from a vegetable cart!). When I arrived at Vedansha, I was greeted with tea, smiles, and adorable dogs fighting for my attention. I napped, then participated in my first yoga philosophy class, where I met my fellow yogis, who were all beyond kind and for the most part much older than I.

After class I found out it was excursion day! That meant we were going to go river rafting on the Ganges River! We drove to the starting point, which had amazing mountain views, and then got a quick intro into how to row before we set off. There were 5 rapids we went through, and we went for a swim midway through. The water was absolutely chilling, but it was the Ganga River so I had to dip in it!

That night I found out some more rules of the retreat, and learned that I would also be going on a detox! That meant we got special juices everyday depending on our dosha (a component of Ayurvedic medicine), and all of our food was made from organic Ayurvedic ingredients (and lacked salt!). We weren’t technically allowed to eat outside food, but the next day was Sunday which was a free day (read: cheat day).

On Sunday, I bundled up and went for a walk around the city, walking down to the river and the over the Laxman Jhula, one of two major bridges in Rishikesh. The streets are full of the usual cows and scooters, in addition to monkeys and monks all over the place. I walked along the river for a bit, and eventually got to the Beatles Ashram, which is the famous ashram that the Beatles retreated to in 60’s. It has cute little stone huts and a museum with pictures of the Beatles.

That night I got dinner with my friends from GCY who had just arrived in Rishikesh, and we went to the tempting ‘authentic’ Italian restaurant right by Vedansha, called La Tavola Te. We ordered pizza, lasagna, cannelloni, and mousse, and it all ended up being absolutely delicious. It was so great to catch up with my friends and hear about their trip experiences.

The next day began the official yoga program. That meant waking up at 6 AM for nose cleansing with a neti pot, then a quick detox tea before we began an hour of pranayama (breathing) exercises. That woke us up a bit for the next activity, which is an hour and half of hatha yoga, which is a slower yoga class. I could feel my flexibility and form improving a lot in this class, and learned that a lot of my pain during yoga has been from doing poses slightly incorrectly, or from teachers pushing too hard too fast. It was a relief to have such caring and knowledgeable teachers this week. Next was a healthy breakfast, then a small break before yoga philosophy class, where we talked about everything from chakras to mantras, and had a lot of interesting discussions. After lunch, we had another break and then ashtanga yoga class, which is a bit more intense of a yoga class, and involves starting with sun salutations, the various asanas (poses). I loved this more difficult class, and was even able to get my foot behind my head one day which was a huge accomplishment! After an hour and a half of ashtanga, we winded down with an hour of meditation. Each day was a different type of meditation, from chanting om for 45 minutes to a fun, active dance meditation.

During the free times I enjoyed walks to the organic stores nearby which were full of vegan and ayurvedic goodies, as well as down to the Ram Jhula, the other major bridge. I loved these quick little energizers throughout the day, and when I went to sleep at night it always felt like a jam-packed majorly successful day, but at the same time I was incredibly relaxed and felt zero stress. I even got a massage one day and saw an astrologist another. He told me all about my future, and it’s looking good!

The next few days were full of yoga and meditation, and I did a lot of thinking about my own spirituality and relishing in the freedom I had. I even experienced rain for the first time in 5 months! The whole week made me realize the importance of taking time to yourself just to think, write, and meditate, to create space to just be. I need to work more on just allowing myself to be, with no expectations and no plans. Oh, and do some more yoga as well!

With love,
Leonie

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