I wrote the following a few days ago while I was in Rishikesh (I’m back in Delhi now). As you will read, internet connectivity was an issue in Rishikesh, which is the reason I’m posting this after the fact.
It’s been a while since a posted anything; the reason being that I have not had access to an internet connection sufficient for uploading photos (I have many to share!). I have also undertaken an effort to eschew from any unnecessary use of my laptop and phone as I have been intensely focusing on cultivating my yogic practice. There is a yogic method of Bandha (literally to “bond” or “arrest”) in which the practitioner engages muscles contractions described as “energy locks” to seal in the practitioner’s energy. Traditionally there are there are three Banda corresponding with the perineum, abdomen, and throat. However, as a 21st century yogi, I have come to value the importance of a fourth Bandha — the cyber Bandha.
For the last month I have been in Rishkesh, a northern Indian town bifurcated by the (“mother”) Ganges. Cows roam the streets and have the right of way over traffic (not that motorists really have any choice). There is also a surfeit of friendly stray dogs to play with. The dogs and cows vie for the good favor of street vendors who feed them scraps. Also on the scene: the rhesus macaque and gray langur monkeys locked in perpetual conflict with the street vendors guarding their fruit stands with bamboo shafts and curses. The monkeys get no love, except from one another (in the biblical sense) seemingly whenever I try to meditate.
Meat and alcohol are banned in Rishikesh as to maintain its spiritual environment. However, marijuana and hashish (although illegal) are very popular among locals and tourists and some establishments offer special or “bhang” lassi upon request (I have been told). Most travelers, especially those here for yoga, are content with the intoxicatingly sweet chai tea sold on the street.
Rishikesh is yoga Disneyland. It is a mecca for spiritual tourism of and the study of Yoga and its methods is a sine qua non for tourists. There are hundreds of Ashrams and yoga shalas offering intensive courses, drop-in classes, and teacher training. Following in the footsteps of the likes of the Beatles and Beach Boys, I ventured to Rishikesh to stay in an ashram.
I had an underwhelming experience at the ashram. It had the feel a hostel with a yoga element that the guests used for a base to explore the area and visit the cafes — not ripe conditions for the spiritual experience I had wanted. The rigorous schedule was mostly ignored by the ashram guests (save the daily asana (posture) classes). Even one of the yoga instructors, who was also the ashram manager, would come late to 5 AM meditation. He was also very outwardly romantically involved with one of the Ashram participants and the two of them were constantly whispering to each other during the silent breakfast. At one point, the two of them just disappeared for a few days and a fellow guest had to help out in the front office to check guests in.
Although it was not the buckle-down spiritual environment I had been hoping for, I found cheer in the ashram library and a harmonium, which filled a lot of my time which would have otherwise been spent distracting myself in the local cafes.
After 8 days of making the most of the ashram, I decided to move on and I checked into a guesthouse. I intended to only stay a couple nights before checking into an ashram an hour drive from Rishikesh, which I had visited a few days before. This ashram was really a beautiful place. I admit that I felt a good energy there. I admit that because I usually don’t talk that way. Most places just seem like a tangle of energy to me — the balking confusion that is the aggregate sum of many humans beings in one place. Maybe it was the fact that I had just driven a scooter for an hour through Indian traffic (which would give any New Yorker’s definition of “clusterfuck” a one-over), but I felt an energetic calmness in the place — a lack of the turbulence I experience in most places. Everyone spoke quietly and without ego. The environment even succeeded in taming the New Yorker I met there, who had been residing there for two years. The psychoanalyst and I had silent lunch with the guests of the ashram, which included fresh vegetables and milk from the ashram’s garden and cows. I enjoy silent meals as an opportunity to practice mindful eating, which is the practice of cultivating a deep sense of awareness of the activity one is presently engaged qua eating. The psychoanalyst was probably thinking about his mother.
I have yet to make it to this ashram. The first morning after leaving the ashram I had been staying at, I encountered an I-have-killed-over-100-people-and-broken-every-bone-in-my-body American ex pat, who, after a career with the Special Forces, now spends his retirement studying yoga and meditation. We chatted for a few hours and he recommended local yoga teachers and yogic literature. These teachers proved to be so excellent that decided to stay here for a while and make my own ashram schedule al a carte. G.I-Yogi also gave me 8 GB of yoga literature of which I’ve been filling my hours in-between classes studying. Currently I am reading Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Mathews (which I am revisiting) and Taimni’s exegesis of the Yoga Sutras, The Science of Yoga. I highly recommend both.
Right now I am staying in the Ved Niketan Ashram, which doesn’t have an ashram schedule and is essentially just a place to stay (although two hatha yoga classes are offered each day). It is one of the cheapest stays in Rishikesh and the conditions are very basic (e.g., no power outlet in the room). The Ashram is a peaceful place and I spend my waking hours there sitting in meditation or emulating Indian classical music on my “Givson Crown Special” guitar that I rented from a music store. The Ashram also houses an eight week old litter of stray pups. There is also a very psychedelic room with a disco ball and a statue of the Ashram’s founding guru adorned with sunglasses (see below).
I will be back to Delhi in a few days — hopefully somewhere with good internet. In the next few days I will be publishing photos and posts that I created while in Rishikesh including a black and white series of photographs documenting daily life there, and posts on the Beatles Ashram and Ganga Aarti (a Hindu devotional fire ritual).