7 things I learnt from living in a yoga ashram for a month

Date: August 2016
Google terms: “India”, “yoga”, “farm”.

I had just left my job, and searching for ways to build mental and physical discipline. I needed space to explore what brings me joy, and how to manage emotions better.

Life till then was a mad race; everything, everyone was not good enough. I lived in fear of mediocrity, complacence and stagnation. Clearly, I had trained myself that we must never think we are good enough, only then we will continue to work hard and improve.

A friend suggested I try a yoga teacher’s training programme in an ashram in India.

A magical-looking place came up from a google search – Ayuryoga Eco-Ashram

Friends were skeptical. Even I was, of myself. Can I really do this?

I had never had a dry day, much less a dry month (dry = no alcohol). I lived to eat; I couldn’t even visualise eating the same vegetarian meal every day. I had lived nocturnally for as long as I could remember; would I really wake up before sunrise? I had never successfully followed a routine. This was going to be completely uncharted waters. How is living in an ashram even going to work?

But worked it did.

And below are the 7 things that I learnt to live better with myself, amongst others that are completely changing the way I make my choices today.

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The ashram looked like it walked out of a painting.

 

 

1. Is that a reaction or an action?

If we sit quietly and observe our minds, our day is spent mostly on reactions. Why did she say that? What is he thinking about? Why are they like that? What are they doing?

We often react to make ourselves feel better.We want to rationalise and self-validate our choices. I wanted explanations and reasons to tell myself: “I made the right choice.”

When you practise yoga, yoga tells you when you are reacting. You rush into a headstand; it just won’t work. Your body tells you: take time to move consciously, don’t react.

2. Is that just a story you’re creating in your head?

How often do we say things like, “She’s such an idiot.” (roll eyes) You are walking and the person in front of you is blocking your way. “This person is so irritating.”

When we cannot get into a headstand, or we are struggling with a pose, it is almost instinctive to say, “My shoulders are too tight. I cannot do this.” While everyone has some physical limitations, every pose can be modified for different stages of progress. Every body is a yoga body.

All these are stories we create in our head, because the human mind latches on to narratives. We experience one situation and extrapolate an entire assumption from there. If we do it over and over again, we begin to believe that what our mind thinks is truth.

Practise every day even with small thoughts and emotions. Slowly, you don’t even realise it but the thoughts are just coming and flowing through you, not staying and not simmering. You have thoughts, but you no longer react to them.

3. You can’t stop thoughts and emotions. Learn to observe them.

When I was searching for ways to manage myself better, the one thing I kept hearing was, “Empty your mind.” “Stop thinking that way.” “There’s nothing to be angry about.” I got even more frustrated, because I don’t know how to stop thinking or feeling.

The truth is, you are biologically wired to think and feel. Your nervous system has thousands of signals and effects happening every second. Even if you think  you have emptied your mind, that is actually not possible.

But you can train yourself to observe your thoughts and feelings. Every mind has tendencies and patterns due to historical experiences. The first step is to be aware of your triggers and tendencies. You start to recognise patterns and say, “Okay, I can feel anger coming today. What is happening? What can I do about it?”

4. Love, and be loved.

How many of us feel burdened by expectations out of love?

We could be the eldest child, the star performer, the top student, the well-loved teacher or the popular dude. It is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed, because people tend to revere others and put them on pedestals. Your parents want you to be lawyers, but all you want to do is play soccer and sit in the flower fields.

When someone loves you, meditate on that love. Fill your heart with gratitude, appreciate it, but never resent love. If love is expressed in the form of expectations, don’t react to that. See through those layers and focus on the love. Love begets love, and nothing else.

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Meditate on love.

 

5. Just show up, and do something.

I used to lie in bed and think, “Okay, the sky won’t fall if I I don’t show up today.” Snooze.

Every day at the ashram, we had 4-5 hours of yoga training and 4-5 hours of theory classes. I stopped thinking about the schedule, and just showed up and did something. I told myself, “Wake up. Drink Water. Wash Face. Lie on the mat. Do something.”

And something did happen. My body started regulating itself. I started sleeping better. My bowel movements became daily clockwork like never before. Interestingly, when the body was being taken care of, the mind became clearer. The emotional fluctuations became less frequent. I was becoming better at observing and living with myself.

The day I stopped thinking and started doing, I started living.

6. Life is one big, giant practice.

We are habitual creatures. The same way we practise dancing, running to get good at it, we need to practise to better manage our minds.

We can define values for individuals and communities. But if we don’t practise it, choose it and live it each time we have thoughts, emotions and actions, that definition is pointless.

Put up reminders around your physical and/or mental space to remember who you choose to be every single day. Never say, “Oh, I’m naturally non-emotional.” No one is non-emotional; but you can learn how to be conscious and not let your mind control you.

7. There is no right way to live.

Every day, someone will ask in class: “Are our hips supposed to rotate like that in this pose?” “I can’t touch my heels on the floor. Is that okay?”

One day, I asked: “If I can’t see, how do I know if my spine is straight?”

Don’t they all sound like questions we ask every day in life?

We want someone to tell us if we are doing things the right way, if we are making the right choices, if we are on the right track. We don’t know how to tell, so we subscribe to programmes, to brands, to deadlines, to systems. If all these cease to exist today, do we know how to live?

There are so many ways to live; none of them are right. Unfortunately, it is a tough, long road to keep choosing for yourself the way you would like to live.

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Learn to laugh, every day.

So what did I really learn from practising yoga?

When K. Pattabhi Jois was asked whether yoga is spiritual or physical: “Both. Practise, practise, practise. You take practice, automatically it is coming. Two methods – outside, inside. Outside, correction possible. Inside, correction not possible.”

Living is about being connecting your body and mind. When you have a strong, disciplined body, you will have a strong, disciplined mind. That inner centeredness makes every day a conscious, joyful process, not a mindless run to a non-existent end.

Today, I naturally wake at 8am. I practise 60-90 minutes of yoga; 30 minutes on days when I feel the body needs a rest. I eat breakfast. I write an article, do an online course assignment, read a few chapters and spend time with uncluttered hearts. And I have not gone a day without engaging both the physical and mental bodies.

Slowly, but surely, I am learning how to breathe again.

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And some days, we will learn how to fly.

If you prefer to watch a film, this is a good starting point: Enlighten Up – Can Yoga change someone’s life? The filming style got mixed reviews, but it has concise interviews with many yoga gurus, including BKS Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois.

The author would like to thank Krish, Vinod, Sanjay, Vipin, Lillie and all at Ayuryoga Eco-Ashram who have taught her how to breathe, in one of her favorite places – Incredible India. Om, shanti, shanti, shanti.

 

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