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Rishikesh Yoga Retreat – The Rewiring That I Needed

Past few months had been intense and unsettling for me. In the midst of work life challenges, personal life disappointments and family life complications, life was beginning to get overwhelming and I was feeling more anxious than usual. I started noticing the initial symptoms - irregular heartbeat, lack of interest and focus in reading (many of you know that I love reading), constant need to move my body to counter the restlessness (sometimes spending the entire day working out, which is great but the underlying cause was alarming) and once in a while, that momentary appearance of a dark cloud over my thoughts (the depression scarecrow that scares me to the bones). External circumstances do have the tendency to throw us off our growth trajectory time to time. It was a sign that some work and re-centering was needed.

Being a Yoga learner myself, I have been following Ira Trivedi, a renowned Yoga teacher, on Instagram and have been intrigued by her yoga retreats. As soon as I found one scheduled in Rishikesh on the occasion of Mahashivratri, I got excited, made my payment and applied for work leaves without much overthinking. And what a decision!

The Retreat

The 5-day retreat was being held at a famous Ashram, situated by the Ganges in Rishikesh, which also boasts of a beautiful Ganga Aarti experience. I arrived a day early to settle in and explore the Ashram complex and waited for the group to arrive the next day. The retreat started with an Ice Breaker activity – more than 50 people, all strangers, sitting in a circle in pairs of two, getting to know each other and then introducing their paired partners to the group. So now we knew each other by face and city, knew many by names and some by their interesting life stories.

The yoga schedule for the retreat was simple - 2 yoga sessions a day – morning and evening. Morning sessions were high on intensity (read 27 rounds of Surya Namaskar for instance, and hey, it’s easier than it sounds once you get into the flow). The evening sessions were restorative in nature - calming asanas that are healthy for our toxicated organs and our anxious minds. The restorative sessions were often accompanied with the sounds of chants or ragas (once even with live flute). Different people may experience different personal reactions; I personally felt a state of heightened sensory awareness during one of these sessions. Every note, every instrument was falling on my ears as a separate harmonic rhythm and every part of my palm could sense the ground underneath with complete awareness. Was it a kind of meditation? Maybe yes. Maybe no. What do I know of meditation yet? Without trying to label it, I would just state that I had never experienced something like this before and it was a revelation that our minds and bodies were capable of such sensations (without taking the help of any substance :P). One evening, after one such blissful session, we were all made to sit in the gardens of the Ashram in one big circle. It was already dark and we were slowly rising from our meditatively quiet states. ‘It’s a surprise’, said Ira. And what followed next was pure magic. Two traveling artists performed flow movement dance with the element of fire. The serenity of the night, the nature around us, two beautiful human bodies moving with fire and music in perfect sync – Oneness, this is the only word that I can think of to even attempt to describe such surrealism. In that moment, the dancers, the nature, the night sky, the fire and us - all seemed to be One with the universe, connected through an invisible string.

We also had other group activities as a part of the retreat, one of them being the Ganga Clean-Up drive, where the group dispersed in pairs and collected garbage from the river bank (It’s addictive! I continued spotting small plastic wrappers on the road during the rest of my Rishikesh stay and even almost picked them up each time out of reflex :D). Of course, there was also Ganga Snaan wherein the cold Ganga water took away all the muscle ache from our 27 Surya Namaskaras. However, the most fulfilling experience was The Ganga Aarti at our Ashram Ghat. On the occasion of Mahashivratri, the whole city was buzzing with kirtans, chants, satsangs and celebratory dances, and the Ganga Aarti in the midst of such atmosphere was out of the world. I am not a religious person; I do not even fully believe in our mythological stories. I am just someone who is exploring spirituality and values tradition. However, I wondered how, in that moment, religion was providing me with a spiritual fulfilment and a sense of community and belonging. Isn’t that the reason why humanity created religion in the first place?

The People

Let’s put a spotlight on some of the beautiful people I met during the retreat.

The 70-year old single mother of two sons who was participating in the retreat along with her son, with her radiant face, warm smile and an unparalleled grace which I would like to embody when I reach that age.

The retired IPS officer who started practicing Yoga 12-years ago because of the stressful nature of his work (and who was holding the Chaturanga Dandasana 10-times better than me, while probably being double my age).

The actor and fitness trainer who would recite stories from Ramayana, getting us all to sing ‘Ram Siya Ram’ in chorus while sitting at the Ghat around midnight.

The London-educated film producer turned personal coach who switched to the field of coaching after a few unfortunate incidents in his own life.

The girl who works in treasury banking but also does Tarot card readings.

The local boy who was helping manage the event and knew Rishikesh inside-out, who loves interacting with travelers, sharing his personal anecdotes and giving customized recommendations for Rishikesh. (And prefers foreigners over Indians because they are punctual. True that Eeshu, guilty as charged! :D ).

Last but not the least, Ira, an MBA from Columbia University, a Miss India contestant, a journalist, an author and now a Yoga Acharya. She walks tall with a glow that comes from the inside and speaks with such warmth, humility and grace, that her mere presence inspires people.

While I can go on and on about the other 50 people too, we have limited time here. So, ending this blog with two important learnings from this retreat:

  1. We humans thrive as a collective entity. Find your tribe, discover like-minded people to achieve common goals, but also engage with people with differing viewpoints to develop your own perspective.

  2. Once you decide to look beyond the day-to-day stress and let life flow, anxiety loses its hold over you. Life starts to flow like a river with its beautiful highs and lows. Ride the waves, don’t resist them.

Credit: Shubhi Tomar

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