Rishikesh: A Whole New Perspective on Yoga

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After Nainital, we got to trek down the mountain to Rishikesh, which is well known for being the yoga capital of the world! Before this trip, the only perspective I had on yoga was the Westernized version of it which includes using it for more a fitness aspect. From learning more about the theory and context behind yoga in such a holy place in India, I completely shifted the way I perceive yoga. I thought I would attempt to shift your perspective on yoga as well by sharing some of the little tidbits I learned during my week long stay in Rishikesh!

I never knew that yoga could be much more than giving peace to the mind and becoming more flexible. Here, it walks hand-in-hand with religion and a lot of their religious beliefs are incorporated into the practice of yoga. It’s often easy to forget that yoga originated in India so a lot of the ways it is practiced are extremely traditional and aren’t particularly in with the times. I got to learn that yoga is viewed here as more of a journey than a practice of fitness. Yoga is the journey of your inner soul uniting with the higher soul (also known as their form of god). The overarching goal is for your inner self (known as the chitta) to find its inner self. This can only be done if our innate tendencies (known as our vrittas) detach from our surroundings and take shape with ourselves. There are five stages to achieving this discovery of the inner self (Moodh, Kshibt, Vikshibt, Ekargra, and Nirudh). Each stage is defined by certain behaviors and as you move up, you become less prone to your natural tendencies and more controlled and concentrated. The Nirudh stage also means complete detachment from all surroundings. This sense of detachment that yogis try to attain was really hard for most of us to empathize with and fully understand. We couldn’t really grasp why someone would want to fully cut themselves off from family, friends and everything around them. I personally feel like we were all born to unite and form community amongst one another so we can share ideas and perspectives so we can gain renewed ways of how we view the world. Considering this, it was difficult for me to understand how or why someone could just complete separate themselves from their surroundings. I think it is important to be mindful that the point of yoga is to find the inner self. Yoga sees life as a journey within ourselves and not outward with other people and things.

We also got to learn about the eight limbs of yoga (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayam, Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyan, and Samadhi). I am obviously not going to go into the specific details of each and every one, but I will go over some parts that stuck out to me. We mostly focused in on the first limb of yoga: Yama. Yama is basically the guide to how a yogi should be. There is one part of the Yama that is called the Ahimsa, which is nonviolence. We got to gain insight into a different definition of nonviolence and how it is applied in yoga. In yoga terms, a simple (seemingly harmless) movement of your arm can violate the harmony of the universe. Apparently, yoga is used as a way to minimize our efforts that destroy these harmonies by slowing our movements. I never thought that just by us moving, the air particles in the atmosphere are disturbed. I soon came to the realization that it is simply impossible not to violate any kind of harmony with the lives we live, therefore, all yoga can do is minimize our movements but never completely eliminate our disturbances.

1. Yama: How a yogi should be
2. Niyama: Rule yogis must follow
​3. Asana: “Places where you can sit”
4. Pranayam: Enhancing withdrawal of your breath
​5. Pratyahar: Controlling your senses
​6. Dharna: Concentration
​7. Dhyan: Meditation
8. Samadhi: AKA Nirvana or liberation (complete control and detachment)

We also learned a lot about the tantra practices of yoga and how they view sex. People who practice tantra see sex as the supreme energy where all other energies come from. It revolves around the premise that when a man and woman come together, they have the potential to activate the Moola Chakra (a Chakra is a focal point of meditation), which is the root of all Chakras which can further evolve from the coiling of the Moola. The main goal is for the Shakti (the female energy in the root) to meet the Shavi (the male energy in the crown). I could see the parallel between this idea and how Christianity approaches the topic of sex. Christians see sex as a beautiful union between a man and woman done within the confines of marriage. It is believed that once marriage is consummated, the husband and wife become one, which relates to the joining of the male and female energies in the tantric beliefs. One could also relate to the concept of one’s soul going on a journey to unite with the highest soul to the general religious belief of joining a supreme being in the afterlife that a lot of religions hold. I found it intriguing to make these connections between my own personal beliefs and some of the ideas and beliefs that are upheld here in India. It kind of proves that the whole world is intertwined is some sort of way.

At this point, you must feel like you just drank out of a firehose, because, trust me, I felt the same way! Our yoga instructor who taught us all about yoga theory and context mentioned that the information we crammed in 3 days is usually what is covered over the span of 2 years in yoga school! Although I got to gain a whole new perspective on how yoga is approached in the part of the world where the practice actually originated through class and lectures, I think what stuck with me the most was how to be content with myself and my progress. You must be wondering…Ally, what the heck does that have to do with yoga?! Well, you see, there is actually a part of the Niyama limb called Santosh, which stands for contentment. It basically states the rule that sometimes our expectations are simply unattainable, and because of this we sometimes get depressed. Santosh means being content with your results and understanding your limitations and accepting them. The past few days I have been putting this unnecessary pressure upon myself to gain a complete peace of mind and stillness in our time in Rishikesh; however, I have soon come to realize that this standard I have for myself is simply impossible to achieve in the span of 5 days. That is going to take time, patience, and intentionality. It has nothing to do with the fact that we are in the yoga capital of the world. If I’ve learned anything from this week, it’s that if it takes years upon years for yogis to reach full meditation, it will take me a heck of a lot longer to gain full peace and stillness (maybe never)! I realized that I just need to be content with where I am at the moment and work forward one step at a time.

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