Spiritual Journey, travel

Traditional Hata Yoga

India changed my life. Studying at Shrimath changed my life. Being at Shrimath changed my life. It changed me. It changed everything.

Rather, Shrimath facilitated a major internal transformation for me. I feel much more at peace and centered than before I arrived. It provided a safe space and container within which I was able to study, practice, learn, and just be. It connected me with beautiful, like-minded people from India and around the world.

I came to Shrimath not knowing what to expect at all. Heck, I barely made it there! Click here for the full story. I didn’t even know what kind of yoga we were going to learn. Hatha, I thought. In my mind, hatha was a vague term that meant non-Kundalini yoga.

As it turns out, it’s not even spelled hatha or pronounced hath-a. It’s hata, pronounced ha-ta. Ha is the sun/masculine energy, and ta is the moon/feminine energy. Hata yoga balances these energies.

In 21 days, I learned over one hundred mostly new poses. This amazed me because I have practiced for 11 years, and thought I was at least familiar with the vast majority of asanas. Not so. I learned traditional Indian asanas. The real deal. No joke.

The principal instructor Hema offered us disciplined, compassionate sequences. She pushed me to stretch deeper, hold longer, and be a little–or a lot–uncomfortable for a while, which sometimes felt like an eternity. Hema fully prepared me to teach and establish a practice of my own by creating lists of asana sequences along with the main manual. Although I taught only one practice class during the training, I now feel totally comfortable teaching classes. I can still hear her voice in my head reminding me to place a “gentle smile” on my face when I practice alone, and I absolutely welcome it!

But Shrimath was so much more than asanas…

I learned pranayama (breath regulation). I learned how to combine these techniques to facilitate meditation, destress, assist with digestion, and clear the brain. Some breathing sessions were so powerful that I felt compelled to sit in meditative bliss for a long time afterward.

Krishna, the program coordinator/director/spiritual guide so to speak, shared with us the historical context for the teachings and techniques as well as yogic philosophy, Sanskrit meanings, and the rich, living spiritual tradition of yoga. Each day, wave upon wave of information was unleashed. I found it incredibly helpful to engage the intellect in this way in conjunction with kinesthetic learning through the practices themselves. All senses were engaged and informed.

I learned mantras and a beautiful morning practice sequence that energizes and uplifts the soul. The surest way to raise my vibration. Now whenever my mind starts rolling through a negative thought pattern or obsessional loop, I simply change the tape and repeat the mantras I learned. Talk about brain retraining. Literally changing the physiology by changing the content of what is being repeated from a worry or self-judgment to right divine order.

We also did kriyas (cleansing techniques) that really pushed my limits. I transcended my likes and dislikes to embrace what were largely unpleasant experiences. But they were temporary! Like everything else, of course. And, going through these unpleasant processes together with my batchmates really enabled me to participate and see them through.

The group energy really was fantastic. We were blessed with a diverse group that ended up being more men than women, believe it or not! A first for Shrimath. It’s a great sign in the world that so many men are showing up to study yoga at an ashram.

The group absolutely felt like a family. A soul family bound by a bond unseen and deeper than blood. Everyone was super supportive and kind, holding space for each other exactly where we were at. Each of my batchmates and each member of the Shrimath team inspired and touched my heart in some way. I will forever cherish the connections we forged and the energy we co-created.

There was plenty of time for silence (mouna) and inward reflection. This was definitely one of my favorite parts. Plenty of time to just be! Most people don’t even know what that’s like. For me, it goes like this: you get to be fully and completely yourself, uninhibited (still in line with the code of conduct though!), detached from ego and 3D personality, and liberated from expectations and judgment. It’s a totally distinct paradigm from the doing-obsessed Western culture, but closer to the true nature.

We had two hours everyday after lunch to rest and read. I managed to read 7 spiritual books from the amazing Shrimath library during this time. I felt like a raw vegan at a fruit market with the vast array of spiritual texts and stories available to me.

Another favorite part was the lack of wifi. Never thought I would say that! At a maximum, we had wifi for only 45 minutes per day, but there were many days we did not have wifi at all. I thought about getting a SIM card initially, and I am really glad I didn’t. Not having wifi gave me a chance to read all the books and to disconnect from online distractions. I must say that I have not been as drawn to mindless social media scrolling as I was previously, and I am better able to be intentional with my wifi usage.

Oh, and the food! The sweethearts at Shrimath accommodated a raw vegan diet for me. They bought me heaps and heaps of fruit and veggies, and made sure I had what I needed for good digestion and mental clarity. I am so grateful for their openness and generosity. I so enjoyed swapping salads with Smrithi, the incredible Indian chef, and playing with all the fresh spices. Tea time everyday was awesome! Most, if not all, of the herbs were grown on the property.

*If I can round up enough raw vegans, Shrimath has offered to host an all-raw 21-day yoga course in the future. Email me!*

The way we ate was incredible also: seated on the floor atop mats in a circle in total silence. The silence promotes the best digestion and allows you to fully experience the food. For some, it was unnatural, but for me, it felt so right to take the pressure off participating in conversation during meals when we’re really just supposed to be present eating food.

The accommodations were simple, but extremely comfortable. I enjoyed a private double room for the vast majority of my time there. The bed was comfortable, and the bathroom nice. Everything was very clean, because every four days, we cleaned everything. I loved breathing fresh air all day and night through the screened windows.

The campus is relatively small, immaculately kept, and beautiful. Honestly, I thought I was going to go stir crazy when I first arrived. The first couple days I took walks with another batch mate around the village. In a week’s time, I had no desire to leave!

All the spaces–from the spacious yoga hall upstairs to the kitchen, the rooms, the porch, outdoor sitting areas, and of course, the forest and gardens–exuded a consistently high vibration and the opportunity for stillness and peace.

Another special, unexpected bonus was getting to do service work. It wasn’t work at all though! Each morning we walked to the village school and played with the children. We taught them games and songs. In small groups, we played cards and drew. They absolutely loved rock-paper-scissors. Every time I left with a big smile and an expanded capacity for love in my heart.

Fortunately, we spent time gardening daily. Some of the tasks included: collecting herbs for tea, collecting seed pods used for holy oil, collecting leaves and natural rubbish, cracking seed pods with sticks, watering plants, and harvesting eggplant. Sometimes it involved watching Kumar throw stones to scare large families of monkeys away. They really loved eating the fruit compost! Eventually, this issue resolved when Shrimath welcomed in the first and only bovine family member who loves fruit scraps even more.

Oh, and there was YOGA NIDRA EVERYDAY! Yes, every day. Lindsay, the assistant instructor and Shrimath graduate, lulled us off into complete physical relaxation every afternoon. It was so so so freaking awesome. If you have not done yoga nidra before and you are a person that is sometimes stressed and high strung (aka human being), then please youtube yoga nidra, and give it a shot. Practicing yoga nidra in a group with a live voice and chirping birds is even better.

During yoga nidra, the level of relaxation obtained by my body grew ever deeper, as the sharpness and focus of my mind increased. We were guided in creating a proper resolve or wish to dedicate the practice to. They say that every resolve in yoga nidra is bound to come true.

Bottom line: it was awesome. I could have stayed there a year. I honestly would not have left had it not been for my 30-day visa. Even then, I left 1 day late, and had to pay a fine at the airport!

Next time, I will definitely apply for a longer visa, so I can be immersed in the stillness and peace of Shrimath, and perhaps make another pilgrimage. Yes, we made a pilgrimage down south around a mountain and met some hatha yogis and saints. Incredible! See, I could go on and on.

*If you are interested in doing a yoga training in India, please visit the Shrimath website.*

*If you’d like a raw vegan experience there, let me know, and we can arrange something amazing.*

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