Vinyasa Yoga School

Perhaps arriving in India skidding sideways with excess weight due to overindulgence of beer and pad Thai in Bangkok wasn’t the optimum beginning for my yogini journey in Rishikesh… but that’s how it happened.  

What a screeching halt! Strictly vegetarian and no alcohol… WTF was I thinking? Perhaps the liver booked my flight and yogic journey? Needless to say, my body and mind will thank me for the experience.Always wanting to try a detox or health retreat (with occasional bacon and pina colada) for 5 days on some warm tropical island, but super nervous about pushing my comfort zone into a state of complete health, this Rishikesh trip was REALLY going to test me.

I had a few days to myself before other students arrived and before school started so I went about exploring. Beatles Ashram – which was quite good, albeit in ruins – taking hours to get around on foot due to more family photos and offers of chai with shop owners etc etc. There was some sensational photography of the Fab 4, with captions about which songs they were writing at the time of each image, in a gallery that I wasn’t allowed to photograph, sadly.Rishikesh16_1Rishikesh17_1Rishikesh18_1Rishikesh19_1Rishikesh20_1

What came first? The Ashram or the Egg man? Goo Goo G’joob (who would’ve thunk it wasn’t koo koo kachoo? – Thanks google) – Beatles Ashram

The welcoming ceremony at Vinyasa Yoga School was beautiful. Chanting, burning ghee and mango wood, plus we added a woody aromatic mix (I’m unsure what it was) to the fire that filled the room with relaxing scents. We all received our own fresh orange marigold necklaces and had to choose which class we wanted to start with of a morning – this is how the school determined which classes we took each day so the classrooms weren’t too full. We’ve since learned that there’s normally 40-60 people here at one time…. We had a total of 16. An even split of 8 per class and my group stupidly chose to start Vinyasa (the evilest of the two choices) at 5:30am!

Early to bed every night for us.The first week I really struggled with vinyasa classes.. perhaps it was my dismal ‘man-flu’ or the sudden halt in all the naughty Thai delicacies, but – if I’m brutally honest – I actually hated Vinyasa – yes, I had a melt down. Would you believe that it’s now my favourite? There’s nothing like waking at 5am, groaning, feeling old and as though all those beautifully stretched muscles from previous days have contracted further than when they started, to pushing the limits and re-stretching them.. sweating profusely, grunting and coming out of the class with shaky arms and legs but feeling like it’s a perfect way to start the day. The mental clarity after these classes is pure perfection. All this yoga seems to have helped my Fibromyalgia loads too. Hopefully I can share this positive gem with other sufferers.

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Rebellious Vinyasa Yoga class escaped one morning…

Yoga classes:  Philosophy – with Simon, Pranayama – with Pankaj, Health and Safety – with Leevka (super important for my nanny country of origin – Australia), Anatomy – with Kusshal – yeah, I guess we need to know what body part is going to break during each pose, Vinyasa – with Deepak (superstar guru and all round nice guy – even with his cheeky evil ‘I’m going to hurt you today’ grin) & Telissa, Hatha – with Sarita, and Meditation – with Moshka & Mandeep – 6 days per week from 5:30am to 8:30pm (incl breaks).

You know the hardest part of all this? It’s not the lack of meat, eggs, bacon, bacon, bacon, cheese or wine, or eating so much spicy Indian food to make your sphincter incompetent (or is it incontinent), or so many hours of study, it’s the weather!! Without researching the temps before booking my flight – which was spur of the moment, only booked a week before the course started – I expected the base of the Himalayas (locals pronounce them ‘Himarlia’) to be relatively cold.

Man, was I wrong. As I type this it’s just under 50 degrees CELSIUS! Geez, am I glad I purchased and packed that hoodie!? Sure, there are three air conditioners plus ceiling fans, that have regular power failures, but nothing… absolutely nothing helps reduce that kind of degrading heat. Deodorant is futile and underwear screams in panic when we start climbing the 5 flights of stairs into those hot boxes (no pun intended).

Speaking of stairs.. we average around 40 flights per day. One day I must have either forgotten lots of things on different floors or had energy to burn because my Fitbit registered 270 flights of stairs! (a flight is calculated at 10ft each) My buns are strong enough to crack walnut shells now.

So, here we are at week 3 and it’s aaaaall about the complete yoga journey. Purifying the mind and body to reach Samadhi (illumination/realisation). What a task they have ahead of them with me. Ok, maybe there’s some wonderful bonding going on between all 16 students as well, but we’re all here for a yogic (mental, physical and spiritual) change.

Now that we’re at the business end of the course there’s a mild concern about actually leaving this peaceful yet crazy haven and venturing back into the temptations of sleeping in and Singha beer on my brief return to Bangkok. I’m determined to keep up my morning yoga… repeat: something about morning yoga blah blah.

Vinyasa yoga school is such a perfect platform for sending out the wonderfully positive messages of the yogic world via us yoginis. The teachers are spectacularly calm, knowledgeable, super kind and infectiously happy. When, and if, I ever grow up, I want to be like them.Rishikesh21

Only a  few of our wonderful teachers on our Graduation Day.

If I actually gave high-fives, I’d give our marvellous man on reception, Manoj (Manu), a big high-five and even a fist bump. He looks after us all too well – he would do anything to help us students out, anytime. And a caring youngster he is.

In our yoga fees we are covered for accommodation, Sunday activities, all meals and classes. The measly sum of $1,900 USD is all they ask and a lot of that money goes back into the local community. Possibly to the cows, but it’s a great set up. Business aspirations right there.

Sunday activities organised by Vinyasa Yoga School… sunrise over the Himalaya at Kunjapuri Devi Temple – Hindolakhal Hill, meditation in a cave that JC (Jesus) apparently hung out and meditated in (I arrived too late to find out all the real goss on this one so excuse the lack of information), Ayurvedic massage and the f’ing awesome white water rafting down Ma Ganges River. We were given permission to jump overboard and body surf the milder rapids.. yup, I did! First overboard! There were times I was just casually floating on my back looking up at the foothills of the Himalayas wondering what I did right in this world to be given such an incredible experience.

Kunjapuri Devi Temple view at sunrise plus an evil Macaque monkey

I have briefly touched on the critters here in Rishikesh, and there are plenty of them, but there’s one evil monkey incident that will stay with me forever. During hatha class we were doing a move called chopping wood. You swing your arms, palms together, from above your head to down between your bent legs quickly (like you’re chopping wood) and expel air from the lungs – which causes us to make a “hah” noise – like when we were kids pretending we knew karate. Our class took that noise and accentuated it.

Two of the girls from the 300 hour class were in their yoga studio in the opposite building across the narrow lane. They heard us chopping wood, came out to their balcony and copied us – noises and all. It was really amusing so our class stopped, went to our window and watched whilst laughing.

Then out of nowhere a beautiful, huge, grey, male langur monkey raced along their balcony and used one of the girls as a springboard to another balcony! The girls moved so fast back into their room that Barbara dropped and severely scratched her glasses. It was incredible!!! The monkey would have been 3/4 of my height and thankfully didn’t have long nails. Poor Barbara was a tad shaken and is only just able to chuckle about it now. It was one of those moments where it happened so fast and yet appeared to unfold in slow motion.Vimyasa28

Female mini versions of above mentioned evil monkey that had used Barbara as a springboard.

Here I sit in a cafe sipping my fresh ginger, lemon and honey tea watching one of the ‘cafe boys’ (that tend to have women from all walks of life falling at their feet and in love with them) burn numerous incense sticks, ring his small bell whilst praising the Ganges – I finally realise that I’m officially qualified as a yoga teacher. I’ve extended my stay by a few days and now I’m wondering why I’m leaving – especially without any specific destination in mind.JPEG image-26F6DA55AAF8-1

I passed!

After school finished I decided to move hotels – this hotel and relocation across the bridge has already brought me some intense experiences. The lovely Kamal, who manages Seventh Heaven Hotel, upon my arrival felt I needed a hug. I initially thought it odd, but hey, when in India right!? This hug had so much energy and healing that I was almost brought to tears. There was absolutely nothing sexual about it, just pure loving energy that I’ve never experienced before. Kamal agreed that it was a bizarre experience. Wow! Confirmation that broken hearts heal and in the strangest ways.

Seventh Heaven Hotel itself is beautifully quiet and far enough away from main roads filled with constant beeping horns, no evil monkeys and no cows blocking narrow lanes. The balcony views at the surrounding green and smokey Himalaya foothills are superb.

On my way to the Beatles Cafe (fantastic vibe and food here) to meet the remaining students I got sucked in to having a brief reading from captain shady on the street. I’m impressed that he was able to write things that I was thinking on little pieces of paper, place them in my hand before he’s even asked me the questions to those answers scrunched up in my palm… but FARK! It cost me waaay too many rupees. Hopefully he’s honest enough to give that money to the under privileged kids as promised.

Enough digression, back to the yoga experience… 3.5 hours of yoga per day is going to be hard to uphold, but I’m all too keen to do it. I’ve not felt this fit, happy and healthy in years and I can’t wait to spread the loving message with everyone.

The importance of breathing properly is more apparent than ever. I always knew it was beneficial and after Pranayama classes we’re reminded just how paramount the deep, proper breath is to your whole physical, emotional and spiritual systems.

Do I really need to mention meditation? I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing me preach about it before this course, so I’ll keep quiet… for now.

My mission before this course was to complete a headstand unaided. Tick! No photographic evidence due to limelight panic and my hasty exit of said pose, and the inability to do it again under pressure.

Graduation day was a mixture of emotions for all of us I think. The excitement of completing 200 hours of our yogic journey plus the sadness of leaving all our new found and strong bonded friendships.Grad_Girls

Such inspirational women. ❤ Love and miss them loads.

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Not usually on this end of the camera – but as a lean, mean, yoga machine in a pretty frock I thought I’d better show off.

If I were negatively geared mentally, I’d still struggle to find anything awful about this Vinyasa Yoga experience. Grateful and blissed out just don’t seem like strong enough superlatives.Vinyasa Yoga School, I love you.

Now hand me some cutlery for my steak and refill my wine.. it’s time to plan the next educational expedition.

What do you think I should do next? Tai chi in China, acupuncture in Taiwan, massage in Thailand, back to Rishikesh for yoga therapy? Have you had experience with any of these? Let me know.

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit.. and evil monkeys.

!ncredible !ndia..

I’m off! Leaving the comfort zone of Thailand and my new buddies at Bradman’s Bistro (perfect place for sports loving, Aussie food devotee wanderers that miss the traditional pub) for an unforgettable journey in India, solo. I’ve heard some female solo travellers state that India is either the best place to go alone or the worst.  I will advise at the end of my trip – assuming I allow it to end, sorry Ma. So far, I’ve had nothing but pleasant country and people dealings. 

Thai Airways flight to New Delhi. I’m glad this is only 4.5hrs because I’m wedged in this dickie middle exit seat, between two Indian, possibly deodorant wearing, business men. Thankfully both men were super helpful and thoughtful by putting my bags away and lending me an extra pillow to rest my arm on due to the lack of space in my seat. Food average, another rubbery frittata and baked beans. I wonder if there’s a methane barometer in the plane?

Delhi airport is REALLY easy to navigate. Even though I joined two separate, wrong, long queues before locating the shortest e-visa queue. Why didn’t I find the shortest queue first and work backwards from there? As I walked up  to the start of the non existent line three immigration specialists did their best to attract my attention by calling out to me and waving their arms so that I would visit their window. They were obviously bored.

I was in such a hurry to find my way out of international and locate my domestic flight that I neglected to attack the ATM and didn’t grab a SIM card. Rookie mistake, I should know better! Thankfully I had $150 AUD in my purse to exchange. I’ve heard that the ATM’s run out of cash in Rishikesh, so I had better spend wisely. All of a sudden I’m grateful for the lack of alcohol in Rishikesh..

Jet Airways flight to Dehra Dun (finally someone taught me how to say it correctly – Dehrra doon). I was at check-in about 4hrs early, but the kind man directing Jet Airways human traffic said I could check in now and go through the exclusive priority lane (all lanes were empty) if I filled in a customer service review form. Of course I said yes and gave him a glowing review. Thanks Adnan!

Two sides of the one ridge.. incredibly diverse.

Paid my way into a lounge for some Indian food and wifi. Just having somewhere comfortable to sit, with an ok array of food, wifi and charging stations is worth the $23.  Alcohol is not incl in the lounge price btw, not that I purchased any – I’m taking this abstinence seriously now. You can also pay for showers, sleeping pods, massages and just about any added extra you can think of here. Thank you Premium Plaza Lounge at Terminal 3 – Delhi Airport.

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Look at all those colours!

My pre-organised taxi driver had my name on a card, spelled correctly mind you, as I exited the airport. Not only does he drive me the 16+km to Rishikesh, he plays the knowledgeable tour guide around the place – these discussions were in between an almost constant beeping “Warning! I’m coming through” of his car horn trying to compete with every other driver and rider on both sides of the road. Lanes are merely rough guidelines apparently.

“Over there is the forest where tigers are. Also, elephants are walked through here every night.” Guess where I’ll be heading soon!?!? Then we stop in an area where it’s clear that cars can’t go any further. The narrow laneways really only fit humans, dogs, motorbikes, horses, cows, monkeys and donkeys. Then my driver signals to a young boy who comes, picks up my 15kg backpack (most of that weight is my pillow – perhaps another discussion) and my camera case then leads me through tiny lanes, down some stairs, across a big bridge (Lakshman Jhula) over the ‘Mother’ Ganges river, down the street, up another two narrow laneways to the Vinyasa Yoga Training centre. Poor bugger! I felt bad, but not quite bad enough to offer my weakling assistance. 

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Example of the narrow streets and a temple with loads of shoes.

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Lakshman Juhla Bridge over Mumsy Ganges River. How patriotically painted is that bridge rail?

I’m finally settled in to Gangotri – the accommodation supplied to us students by Vinyasa Yoga Training Centre (if you visit, don’t expect Westernised service – nobody is in a hurry here) and I’m ready to explore.. 

Today I feel like a rockstar (not THE Rockstar) because my morning exploration consisted of being asked regularly to join the travelling family photos. My calling has been answered after 20+ years of photo bombing or taking selfies with other peoples cameras – it pays to be persistent.

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One of my new families seem quite proud of me taking photos of the laneway.

After my delicious Middle Eastern breakfast from Little Buddha it’s time locate an ATM and SIM card. It took me nearly three hours to walk 2kms. Why, you ask? Well, so many shop keepers want to sit and chat with me plus all the requests to have my long lost Indian families include me in their photos takes time you know! I’m offered an interesting and accurate aura and body reading by Raj from Rajasthan in his shoe shop (he goes in the book of people whose names sound like their location or career – like Matt from Ballarat, Thomas from Thomastown and Jason the Stonemason), milky, sweet chai tea with Ahsp (this is what I deciphered from his note with his phone number) from Mumbai and to buy a pair of pants for a man who is dressed in faded and well worn Buddhist orange pants and top is casually reading, sitting on a concrete bench seat beside the road.

If you haven’t heard about India and their cows already…

Cows are sacred here so they roam freely and willy nilly, being dodged by the locals in cars, on motorbikes and meandering tourists. How wonderful it is to see EVERYBODY walk, drive or bike around our bovine friends whilst napping in the middle of a bridge or road – no matter what the chaos caused surrounding them may be. I saw one cow chase a lady across the crowded bridge so to free herself she dropped her small bag of puffed rice for the cow to devour whilst nasty cow mentally laughed at her lack of comfort. Cow 1, Lady 0.

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Iddy biddy baby cow.

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Lakshman Juhla bridge with cow photobomb – clearly my spirit animal.

You will definitely notice that cows have 4 stomachs here, it is dung-a-plenty – which needs to be skilfully navigated when walking about the packed, dusty streets and laneways. I wonder if I’ll be picturing these magnificent creatures walking around roasted with gravy and veg in a month’s time? Ooooh, note to self – don’t walk around town with my gorgeous Graine leather wallet.

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Baby shadow dawg followed me around. Cute love heart shaped nose.

If there is such a thing called nirvana for hippies and wannabe’s, Rishikesh is it! It’s cow stinky yet incense infused, bright, colourful, noisy and yet calming – every sense is assaulted. You can’t walk more than 5 paces before stumbling across some form of Ayurvedic medicine, massage, crystal or music therapy and of course yoga. I came for the yoga and some form of personal spiritual awareness campaign, but having only been here less than 24hrs I’m all too excited to sign up to study everything. I already feel at home here and have to pinch myself to confirm that I’m really doing this. It makes me smile with pure gratitude.

Like I’ve said before… it’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit.. and dodging cow pats.