Reunited in Rishikesh
They say that 'India' stands for "I'd Never Do It Again", however I couldn't disagree more. I practically fell madly in love with this majestic land as soon as I stepped off the plane. I mean coming from a very large (and slightly nuts) Greek family, you kinda have to learn to embrace the chaos and craziness from a young age, which is why India certainly felt quite like home. India is definitely not for the faint hearted, and if you have a problem with or fear of germs/lack of hygiene.. Warning: DO NOT COME HERE (you will be immediately freaked out by the squat toilets and a usual lack of toilet paper).
I think it's fair to say that India will wrench your heart out and reduce all of your 'first world problems' to crumbs not even worth sweeping up. Especially when you become a witness to the realities of how people actually live, and the struggles that they bravely face on a daily basis. It will seriously knock you out of your comfort zone and you're either going to love it or hate it. If you haven't already of guessed, it's safe to say that I loved it.
I actually got told that I was an Indian yogi in a previous life, and I was drawn back to India to relearn yoga (as a westerner), as a part of my soul's journey. Perhaps this is to contribute towards spreading yoga to the west, in order to save humanity through fusing the best of the Eastern and Western values together (for example, the West's innovations in technology and traditional Eastern moral standards, such as non violence etc). However despite yoga spreading to the west, we’ve tended to focus upon viewing yoga as a superficial tool to tone our bodies, rather than understanding the complexities of yoga as a tool/pathway for enlightenment.
That's one of the things that I've seriously taken on board since being in India, is not to be so bloody obsessed with this meat suit that we're wearing here on our time on Earth. I mean yes, it is very important to look after the body, in order to ensure that it carries us gracefully through to old age (without acquiring too many health problems along the way). But do we have to be SO obsessed with it's appearance ALL THE TIME!? I'm not saying I don't like to look good because who doesn't, but do we really have to let how we look (or how we think we look) affect our emotional well-being so often? "I've put on so much weight (I therefore no longer value myself as a human being). So and so is better than me". Is this seriously a rational conclusion that we so commonly draw as an appearance obsessed society?
As if to think that our appearance is more important than our actual worth as a human being? Well anyway, since being in India I've recognised that the people here have far too much to be worried about than stressing over petty vanity ("Does my outfit match, is my hair greasy, does my figure look good in this piece of clothing" etc). This has helped me to turn my attention inwards and to no longer give a f**k if I get a spot or two (it's not like they're going to last forever anyway), and who cares if I put on a few pounds here or there (weight comes and goes and doesn't define who I am as a person. Weight is simply in fact our relativity to gravity (in other words: WHO CARES!?). I don't care how much you weigh, you don't care how much I weigh...yet why do we allow such an abstract force to dominant our lives?
So anyway, these feelings led me to look at the daily impact that “tools” like social media and Instagram were indefinitely having on me. After scrolling through my Insta feed, I came to notice that every other photo was some fitness chick, posing with her ripened abs and enormous glutes. I thought wow, flashback from the past. That was me a few years ago when doing my fitness competitions (having being motivated to compete due to graduating from a sport and exercise nutritional advisor diploma, and wanting to prove I knew my stuff). Despite my some what positive intentions, I was still well and truly immersed in that judgmental world of how the body looks compared to someone else's.
So anyway, when I scroll through my Instagram and come across such pictures, I instantly become focused on how my body looks and have the thoughts "Oh, I should probably workout harder today". But then I come to realise how ridiculous it is, that looking at a (most likely heavily edited) photo of someone can suddenly draw me to be so conscious and critical of my own body. So anyway, to make a long winded point, I unfollowed most of the fitness chicks (unless they were vegan-I'm slightly biased and have a lot more respect there), and began following more of the accounts that inspired me (more travel, nature, spiritual and yoga accounts).
Now every time I look at my feed, I feel inspired. It's filled with positive quotes, beautiful landscapes from all over the world, beautiful animals and places. Now that's how it should make me feel, not left questioning myself worth. Before I move on with my experiences of my final weeks in India, I would recommend everyone to turn off their instagram, facebook and any other social media notifications on your phone. This way, you have more control over your use of these apps, rather than these apps having more control over you (by pulling you directly out of the moment and distracting you with the inescapable need to check your notifications or check how many likes you received on your latest pic).
Reunited with Momma Bear-
I had already been in India for six joyous weeks (completing my yoga instructor course) before my Mum was due to arrive. It had been a total of 18 long months since we had last seen each other upon my departure of the UK (to begin my six months of travels and a year living in Australia). Words can't describe how excited I was to FINALLY be able to spend time with her; especially as we've always been super close (with a relationship more like sisters than a mother-daughter dynamic.
Update: since writing this part of the blog, my mum went to see an astrologist in India when I got back to Australia, and he told her that we were sisters in past lives-how funny). But anyway, despite our unique relationship dynamic (where I tend to be the one telling her what to do and worrying about her), it was so magical to be back in her arms at last. And I can honestly say that it felt like no time had past at all (which is a sign of true unconditional love I would say); Not to mention, whilst I've been away for all of this time, we talk on the phone at least every other day, which certainly keeps us in the loop of each others lives.
We spent the first couple of days together exploring the streets of Rishikesh (in other words, me showing her all of the best cafes to hang out, like Shambala and Tat Cafe near Luxman Jhula bridge). I think my mum was also pretty quick to recognise that, despite all of the chaos, traffic and low living standards, India is an undeniably special place. Especially Rishikesh (located in the foothills of the Himalaya's), which is regarded as spiritually significant and consistently attracts many spiritual seekers from all across the globe.
The first week that my mum and I spent together, consisted of taking an intensive course in Ayurveda massage, at the Ayuskama Ayurveda Institute in Rishikesh. This was super interesting, as I've always loved to give and receive massages (being a very kinesthetic person by nature). Throughout the course we covered massage for the entire body (including head and face), which will certainly come in useful with my yoga and Reiki. It was great to do the course with my mum (as she is also a Reiki 2 practitioner), and it was hilarious when the course instructor began referring to my mum as 'Mommaji' (Ji being used as a term for respect). Actually as a matter of fact, anywhere we went together (be it shop, restaurant or back to our hotel), everyone simply referred to my mum as 'Momma' and therefore hardly anyone got to learn her real name (Michelle).
During our time in Rishikesh, we stayed at the hotel/school (Leisure Palace), where I completed my 200hr yoga teacher training. Everyone at the hotel was extremely accommodating, and would consistently go out of their way to make our stay as enjoyable as possible (they even came with me to pick my mum up from the airport without charging me). Another reason why it was a great place to stay, was because the new batch of people had arrived for the next yoga teacher training course (who were all seriously amazing people). It was a much larger group than my previous course (where there was only three of us in total), so the energy was completely different at the school, with the dining room filled to the brim, rather than three of us sat around a very long, lonely table.
My mum and I spent a fair bit of time with the new group from the course, as we attended the weekly outings that the school takes everyone on. Although I had already visited the outings from my previous course, it was still fun to tag along and gain whole new experiences: such as taking a dip in the holy-yet-ice-cold Ganga River-not to mention my mum and I hitch hiking our way back to the hotel (because we were too hungry to wait 30 minutes for the taxi). And of course it was my mum's idea to hitch hike, and also her idea (to my reluctance) a few days later, to hitch a ride on the back of someones motor bike because she couldn't be bothered to walk. (It really is the case that she's the one who acts 22, and I'm the one who acts like a 50 year old).
During our time spent hanging out with the new group, we were privileged enough to gain a peak of insight into everyone's life story and what initially drew them to India. It's always a treat to experience the sheer diversity which each individual brings to the table, especially with their unique backgrounds, nationalities, languages and past experiences. From ex drug dealers, runway models, psychologists, world travellers, spiritual seekers, business women to martial artists, there was a whole bunch of contrast bursting from the seams, yet simultaneously all tied together by one commonality: Yoga. I think that this just goes to show that no matter who you are, where you come from or what your life experiences and journey have been on so far, yoga is always a pathway which is open for you to follow (no matter what depths of darkness you may have experienced in life).
Realisations in Rishikesh-
Since spending precious time in Rishikesh, I have come to realise the importance of giving and being of service to others. Whether that be feeding as many street cows and dogs as possible, offering food and necessities to the homeless, helping an elderly lady walk down some steep steps or simply offering your time and hand to someone who needs help with a tedious task; Giving to others (without expecting or giving for anything in return) is essential. Not only does this help us to divert the attention from our ego-encapsulated lives, it also helps us to develop compassion and a sense of purpose in life.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” (Charles Dickens)
I have been immersed in what is referred to in yoga as: Svadhyaya (study of the self and the scriptures). Thanks to my cherished earthly possession of my kindle, I am able to swiftly switch between reading a number of different books (depending on whether I'm in the mood for study or spiritual entertainment). I have lately been focusing on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's (the core principles of Yoga), Autobiography of a Yogi (how yoga was brought to the west) and Commentaries of the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred text in the Hindu tradition).
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna states the importance of selfless service (also referred to as Karma Yoga). Karma Yoga is the act of helping others without expecting or desiring anything in return. Krishna even goes onto state that those who do expect something in return for their service, are in fact worse than those who do not help others at all. This is a really interesting point as it makes you wonder how many people are out their “helping others”, often only to gain something for themselves. It’s also made me reflect upon my own actions to realise where I could be helping more (without ego or desire involved).
For example, I tend to catch myself now (or my ego), when I don’t want to do certain things because I don’t really have to. Cleaning other people’s dishes for example. Previously I would avoid the act at every cost, however now I approach it as “what are the small things I can do to make someone else’s day a little easier”. So sometimes taking small actions throughout the day, such as washing up someone else’s plates or helping to unpack with the groceries can add up to create a very meaningful experience for the other person. Perhaps they may feel more valued and appreciated, which is something they may not be receiving from loved ones at home. Moral of the story is, a bit of karma yoga can go a long way and you never know who’s life you’re going to change.
Is it really worth the visit to India, if you’re not going to learn how to cook a few of the local dishes? I was lucky enough to stumble across a local Indian lady, Rajnee, who happened to offer authentic home cooking lessons for tourists. We decided on a few (vegan) dishes that we wanted to learn to cook (dal-staple dish in India, vegetable biriyani, kofta balls and a coconut curry), and we were soon invited over. Rajnee had one of the posher houses in the area, located right near the Luxman Jhula markets (great location). However despite this, her home provided just one measly bedroom (despite having a husband and three children), and a kitchen just about big enough to squeeze the three of us in. This quietly made me reflect on how blessed I have been throughout my life.
Within no time we were cooking up a storm with all of the traditional Indian spices, including turmeric, chilli, garlic and garam masala. What a treat it was to learn first hand, from a lady who has been cooking up delicious Indian meals for most of her life. I have no words to describe how delicious the food tasted, it’s simply something one has to fully experience with their own taste buds. I seriously can’t wait to try out my newly aquired Indian culinary skills back home (the van that my boyfriend, Henrik, and I live in).
Asides from the mouth watering food, India also boasts an inconceivable amount of temples. For our final evening in India, my mum and the ladies from the yoga course and I, decided to take a trip to a Shiva Temple in the mountains overlooking the Ganga. We were lucky as one of the ladies with us, Shoba (from Malaysia), follows the Hindu traditon and therefore turned into our personal guide, explaining to us all of the stories behind the statues in the temple (such as why Lord Shiva is depicted with a blue head in the Hindu statues-due to him swallowing poison to save another).
I actually feel super grateful to have had Shoba around to explain the deities and the stories behind them. Hinduism is something that I’ve always been interested in learning more about and I’m so happy to have had a great overview of the tradition since my time in India. I’ve learnt a number of different aspects of the tradition, such as why Ganesha has an elephant head, their beliefs of death, burning the bodies on the Ganga and afterlife. From my own experiences, I would definitely say that it’s a very beautiful religion, which encourages self discovery and personal experience rather than blind faith.
Leaving Rishikesh was a bit surreal as I honestly felt like it was home for me, especially as I was leaving my mum and a new group of friends behind. I had been offered a short term volunteering position in New South Wales (Australia), teaching yoga and running daily activities at a private holistic addiction retreat. This meant that I had to book my flights back to Auz slightly earlier than initially intended. (A top travel tip of mine is that I never book flights untill the very last minute, as you never know what opportunities are going to arise in different countries).
Mum didn’t come with me to the airport as she said she would be too emotional, I thought maybe she just didn’t want to cop the hour journey though-can’t blame her haha! Due to my last minute booking (the downside of last minute), I had a 12 hour stop over at Kuala Lumpur airport to look forward to. When I landed there at 7am, I was a little apprehensive of leaving the airport to explore as I was soo exhausted from the journey (and the screaming baby on the plane) . However something inside of me said “no, get your ass out there”, and I’m super glad I did!
It was easy enough catching the metro from the airport and exploring a bit of Kuala Lumpur. I ventured out to the Batu Caves, as recommended by my lovely Malaysian friend, Shoba. I must admit, it felt so good to be travelling by myself again. And don’t get my wrong, I LOVE being around people, friends and of course my mum, but sometimes it’s nice just to be in your own world, wandering wherever you feel like without consideration of others. Perhaps that’s inherently selfish, but everyone needs their alone time.
The Batu Caves were pretty awesome and were filled with an array of somewhat creepy, somewhat life-like statues (all perfectly scaled to average human size)-which all happened to represent stories within Hindu mythology. There were also a load of other temples in the same area to check out, so I would definitely recommend having a look around Kuala Lumpar if you ever get the opportunity!
When I land Down Under, my next adventures will consist of volunteering at a holistic addiction retreat centre with my boyfriend Henrik. I’m super excited as I’ll be running physical activities and teaching daily yoga classes (which I’m keen to try out my newly acquired yoga teacher skills from India).
To keep up with my journey, check out my insta: @TheVeganYogiTraveller