by Gina Marie CroninRishikesh—a city celebrated as being the “birthplace of yoga”—is a wonderland of vegetarian food, yoga schools and ayurvedic medicine. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and energized by the swift current of the Ganges River, this is an area of peace and harmony where human, cow and monkey walk side by side.
I joined a teacher training program in the quaint neighborhood of Ram Jhula, across the river from downtown Rishikesh, where I spent six weeks on a rigid six-day-a-week schedule full of pranayama, asana, meditation, philosophy and anatomy. The emotional release and spiritual inspiration imparted by the instructors, experience and atmosphere are beyond the capacity of sentence structure.
Mental blockages were broken by countless hours of crying, metaphysical bridges built by countless moments by the river and physical strength increased by countless repetition of chaturanga. The lush beauty of the landscape matched with the rich wisdom of the local teachers made for a powerhouse experience that often left all of us speechless and joyful. Every moment of my day was infused with stretching and developing, whether it was my body or mind.
It wasn’t always easy; the piles of cow poop on the streets, flies attacking during meal time, and trying to sleep on 99 degree nights were a test of patience. In fact, from the moment I got to India until the moment I left, I was covered in sweat. I was constantly almost getting hit by cars, kept awake by packs of dogs, and getting followed by families for photos of me holding their baby.
On the flipside, my experience was dotted with rigorous hikes to mystical waterfalls, ecstatic chanting in local temples and late-night Bollywood movies paired with aromatic Indian feasts. I was surrounded by people that want to share love, healing and creativity with others (and cup after cup of chai). Although all the students can say to each other that some weeks were “ouch, I can’t move my legs” or “damn, I got food poisoning again,” everything culminated to a deeper sense of what it means to be awake and breathing.
The best experiences in life are not always comfortable. They are not always easy. When I listened to my heart to go to India, a month later I was there. This was very inconvenient; I had to quit my job, cancel my trip to the Grand Canyon, and give up a beautiful summer with my boyfriend. But I felt it in my heart, and my mind hushed its doubt. Life isn’t meant to be convenient or comfortable. It is meant to be raw and real and make you sweat and laugh and grow as a human being. For me, India was a way to pull myself out of my bed of roses and into the fire of being alive. Because of it, I am more alive, more aware and ready for the next step in my journey. Don’t fear the unknown, embrace it.
Gina Marie Cronin is a contributing writer for Natural Awakenings magazine of Long Island, as well as a meditation guide, registered yoga teacher and Reiki healer.