14 Days in India by Phyllis Viner, TriYoga Instructor
In February 2012, with the holidays over and weeks before Spring officially arrived, it seemed time for a vacation. After seldom missing class in nearly 5 years of teaching at the Y, and beginning my eighth year of TriYoga practice, I was ready for an adventure.
As a TriYoga instructor, I was curious about India, the place where yoga originated and inspired this practice. Thousands of years old and one of the most overall helpful exercise disciplines, yoga was first and foremost used to improve the practitioner's ability to sit for long periods of time in prayer/meditation. Today, Yoga attracts more followers from beginning students to advanced, regular people and celebrities alike. It is no longer considered bizarre, religious or only for the flexible, but has helped many realize how yoga's numerous health benefits can support more satisfying lives.
In considering an exploration of India, I investigated information about the tour my mentor and yoga inspiration, Kali Ray was planning. Two weeks traveling to Southern India, including Mysore, Bangalore and the Kerala district on the Western border sounded like a pleasing vacation. She had experienced India many times before and a smaller than normal group had signed up to join her. I viewed this as an ideal way of better getting to know Kaliji*, since I had previously only brief moments with her during workshops in the US. As an added bonus, this would be my opportunity to be shown a genuine view of India.
I had never traveled to another country, and soon learned I needed a Visa to enter the country in addition to airplane tickets and my dusty passport. Securing a Visa was the first real step before buying my ticket. I organized these details within my Davenport home using my iPhone, the web, and FedEx. When my Visa arrived, I reserved a flight through the travel agent TriYoga uses and packed my bags.
Exotic as it may sound, all I saw as I connected in Paris was the airport. My 36 hour trip from the Quad Cities to Bangalore was uneventful until I finally arrived. My luggage had been delayed in Atlanta but luckily I had an extra set of clothing in my carry-on bag. So much for buying the biggest, brightest orange bag I could find to avoid this very occurrence. Seeing this as perhaps a reminder that I could benefit by leaving my “baggage” behind, I would make do until my luggage was delivered.
Getting off the plane, I immediately realized the stark cultural contrast with Iowa. From the Bangalore airport to my first destination of Mysore I was struck by the sound of honking traffic, drivers seemed to communicate their every move with their horns. All forms of transportation were used, from large city buses packed to capacity and beyond, to scooters carrying whole families, often 6 at a time. Vehicles moved smoothly and accidents seemed infrequent as motorists used an unspoken agreement of first come, first serve. Roads are bumpy there so in addition to the noise, getting anywhere was always an adventure.
Traditionally the Indian people are accustomed to adapting to their circumstances and finding contentment with their lives. The affluent and less fortunate coexist closely, mostly offering friendly smiles and assistance. Westerners are conspicuous but welcomed.
I soon joined Kaliji, the creator of the TriYoga system that I practice and teach at the Y, and the other members of our group. Since Kaliji knows her way around and has so many excellent connections, I knew we would have plenty to do and see. The first day, I enjoyed a foot massage to help ease the affects of such a long trip. This proved to be a very short hour.
In Mysore we stayed at the Ashram of Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji. Sri Swamiji is renowned for His Healing and Meditation music and honors all religions, teaching that it's possible to reach God by many paths. A spiritual leader and prolific musician and producer, Swamiji uses proceeds from the sale of his music and international concerts to fund the multitude of social projects he directs in India, including a home for destitute women in Hyderabad. At the Ashram's bookstore I purchased at a bargain price, a CD of Swamiji's live concert at Lincoln Center and have taken his advice to “Listen with your heart and not with your intellect”. His music is inspirational, healing, and fuses the sounds of many instruments with his use of the synthesizer.
In Bangalore, a primary region of the origin of yoga, we attended The First International Conference on Yoga and Naturopathy. Yoga and medical experts from around the world gathered here to share knowledge of how yoga and naturopathy can work together. At this conference Kaliji presented her expertise of hand gestures called mudras* and shared the technique of several of them during her appearance. She has documented over one thousand mudras and includes many in the TriYoga practice.
Following the conference, we traveled by plane to the tropical Kerala district for leisure time enjoying boat rides and sight-seeing near our resort in Kumarakom. Poolside yoga practice at the Whispering Palms resort was led by Kaliji and brought other tourists out of their rooms to film our class.
A member of our group from Moscow, Ira had come to Kerala to join her friend, a TriYoga teacher named Tanya. Here at the resort, Ira enjoyed her first yoga class. How fortunate she was to have Kaliji introduce her to yoga. Dr. Rivera, affectionately known as Dr. G, and his wife, Ganga, Kaliji's assistant and photographer, were also traveling with us and provided wisdom and guidance in many circumstances. Maxim from Russia and Hari, Kaliji's secretary, from India and more recently California, completed our group.
Partway through our stay in Kerala, we took a 7 hour bus ride to the mountainous tea and spice area of Munnar. After an overnight stay, we all enjoyed an elephant ride before returning to our resort. Many photos were taken of the honeycomb like patterns of the tea trees as well as views of the mountains. Return to Whispering Palms, we enjoyed a houseboat ride complete with catered Vegan lunch. Awesome!
Indian food is exceptional and many times eaten off the plate with the right hand. Cows are considered sacred by many as the belief in reincarnation offers the fear that killing a cow could be taking the life of a relative from the past. The food in the Ashram where we stayed while in Mysore was the best of the trip as it was prepared with love and the intention to share with whomever came through the door.
During our stay in India our diet was strictly Vegan as one of the beliefs of yoga is Ahimsa, which means non-violence, non-harming so our meals were veggies, fruits and rice with awesome traditional Indian spices. We sometimes had a difficult time when eating out to get meals without dairy as certainly not everyone there is Vegan. We could also not take the chance of illness with anything uncooked so even fresh garnish had to be sent back. Vegetables and fruits direct from the market could be eaten but only after at least a 2 hour soak in mild iodine water to eliminate any possibility of bacteria. This was our routine everywhere.
Aside from using a bucket and cup to bathe at the Ashram, brushing my teeth with bottled water and converting Rupees to Dollars, multiple lessons were learned in acceptance, tolerance and simply letting things flow, realizing they will happen whether you stew about them or not.
While no singular moment in India exposed any magical experience like I had expected, my goal of discovery in India did reveal a greater sense of peace during my meditative yoga practice. This new “peace” is an improvement, yet it may still be interrupted by my reactionary lapses of focus returning to judging and impatience, a reoccurring consequence of being human.
When I meditate now I have the opportunity to more clearly view my inner self that is teased by glimpses of the essence of my focus; to be the better me. This self improvement goal I strive toward, if ever actually achieved, would surely just reveal the fuzzy beginnings of the next step of the task. The here and now is the prevalent priority. Emphasis on the moment and it's peace requires separation from my intellect and a lifetime of images and impressions. A meditative moment of clarity can allow us all to evaluate, or not, how important feeling at peace in the present is as an alternative to the usual stream of edited thoughts from the past or things anticipated in the future.
When the time is right, the next adventure will include the Himalayas and the Taj Mahal where I will experience more of this magical place where yoga began and continues to be a significant influence on the people throughout India and for me as well.
I invite you to attend my class if you'd like to hear more or see additional photos, as there are multiple stories to share.
*Adding 'ji' to the end of a name denotes reverence for the teacher.
*Mudra is a Sanskrit word that means 'seal' and helps maintain energy, focus and awareness. We often demonstrate exuberance with our hands as we speak so this is a natural way to express ourselves.