When a monkey pees on your head upon arrival at the train station in Delhi you know it’s gonna be a sweet trip. Or at least an “auspicious” one- like a bird shitting on your head in the west… which also happened (except it was someone’s face, but that’s another story.) Welcome to India.
I shattered my collarbone 2 months before our departure. Outside of being legitimately nervous my body wasn’t ready to take a group of uninitiated Westerners deep into the mother of all Motherlands, my biggest dilemma was: do I bring my girlfriend’s bright orange rolling suitcase or my trusty Indiana Jones pack? Even now, pressure straight down on my collar bone makes me want to throw up a little (much like rolling onto my right side when I sleep feels as possible as a press handstand on my left pinky). Due to bad acid reflux, I needed a bag large enough to fit a lot of beef jerky (that’s right vegetarians, don’t be haters) and a few pair of chonies, but small enough that I could ask Joey to shlep it without feeling like an asshole. Not Joey. Joey is never an asshole- me. I chose the pack anyway. Live on the wild side.
My students ask me what India is like. I say, how does it feel to levitate? Exactly. That’s not why we go, though. We go to see the birthplace of this beautiful practice we all love with our own eyes. Like archeologists, we go to excavate back in time. The thing is you don’t have to. It all happens right there in front of you. When you land one of the first thing that strikes you is that everyone looks like they are either in a 70’s movie or like they are from thousands of years ago. You see history collide: past and present still very much alive and coexisting. The sadhu (the renunciate) dressed in rags with a cellphone. The gangs of monkeys going in for your sunglasses and bartering with you for a banana (they aren’t going to give back your shades). You go into the Shiva temple and worship the lingam (the black phallus, which represents Shiva) by spilling yogurt over it and rubbing it with your hands. Yes. It’s like that. Very raw. Very tribal. The old and the new head on in a chaotic encounter creating some sort of bizarre alchemy that releases a sweet nectar, a rasa. It feels so familiar. Like coming home. Because ultimately somewhere inside of you, your spirit knows no time and it knows all time. All the worlds crashing and happening simultaneously. It’s like that. That. That is the real yoga, what India has to offer. Right there.
Which makes it confusing for the Westerner because we crave structure. We want a delineated path. Tell me what to do next. And yet, it’s simply not how things work in India. What I see when I go are a plethora of practices, literature, and philosophies happening simultaneously. And much like Indra’s web, which has a jewel at every juncture, wherever you look, each practice has its sparkle and benefits if tried on. In India, all seekers or sadhakas are yogis. From the Rishis, living in caves, looking scary with ashen skin who are said to have wild sidhis or boons where they can live without food or be in two places at once; to the regular old person petting the cows. (One of the ashramas we went to had a rule where you had to pet the cows at least three hours a week. Great rule. I hope to come back as a cow in India.) No one practices asana, for example. Not really. What? But we practice so much of it. And never like we do in the west. Especially not women. When they do practice it is to find a better seat for meditation and strengthening their connection to God; or to teach thousands of westerners who flock there yearly looking for the holy grail and to steep themselves in the “tradition.” But there is no “one” tradition. There are a million little traditions out of which we have plucked a kind of random backbone depending on what lineage we are from and given that ritual importance and meaning.
Hence, India can be very uncomfortable as you feel the maya (the illusion) of what your mind has decided is the real yoga, crumble before your eyes. I love it for this reason. Well, honestly, I love it because there is nothing more magical than bathing in the Ganga and getting banged around and honked at in traffic, or being told by the waiter very candidly to please change my mind now, or bathing an elephant. *seriously. I bathed an elephant. (If you haven’t done this, Go! Bathe. An. Elephant. Did you know they smile? And are incredibly playful? Playful giants.) Everything in India is exposed- except the human body. That stays covered. But the trash, the animals, homelessness, the dirt, the wealth, the smog, the joy, the smells, they are all out in the open. And in the heat of it all, you become exposed, all of your inflexibilities and your stuff.
Yoga, yoking, integrating, binding is happening everywhere, at all times. You don’t have to do anything extra other than show up. Really show up. Perhaps what ritual you chose is less important than doing it fully and letting the repetition of it and the practice of it inform your life. There is a lot of allure in the exotic. But nothing is more exotic and fascinating than working through something within yourself, masticating it and creating your own relationship to it. And I’m not even talking about asana. I’m talking about yoga- you! Your life. Cultivating the ability to stay engaged and move things even if they get messy and awkward. Practice. One foot in front of the other. See what happens.
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”