The Home of Yoga – An Adventure in the Himalayas

It’s currently raining in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh, one of the Northernmost populated towns in the Indian Himalayas.

Meanwhile, I hear that it’s been 26 degrees in Ireland. Typical!
Monsoon season here is in full swing, and as irritating as a downpour can be in the midst of exploring new towns and places, the people that you meet when huddled together with a street of strangers under a bright blue tarpaulin to shelter from the rain often make it seem worthwhile.
Another plus is that the more strenuous yoga classes have not proven too overwhelming. My practice in Bali and Cambodia last year showed me just how exhausting naturally heated yoga can be – there is no escaping the heat when you’re already outside!

Attending classes at both Universal Yoga in McLeodGanj and now a rigorous 5-day intensive at Himalayan Iyengar Yoga school in Dharamkot has been a fascinating, self-exploratory and humbling experience so far. Although I had reservations about exploring Iyengar Yoga further – even during the first day or two I doubted my decision and considered seeking guidance elsewhere – I cannot help but marvel at the depth and intricacy of the practice over here, and have already learned to open up and trust myself and those around me more thoroughly than I thought possible. This for me is what yoga is all about – opening up (both physically and mentally) and accepting what is – trusting what you have and that which surrounds you instead of creating unnecessary anxiety worrying about things outside of your control. Harmony in body and mind. Harmony within your place in the world.

My place right now just happens to be India in the middle of monsoon season.

India as a country is as dense as it is beautiful – there are so many layers just waiting to be peeled back. So many aspects, so many different sides and underlying elements to this ever-changing and evolving landscape. This kinetic energy in itself is a perfect emulation of human nature as a whole. We too are consistently changing. We hide beneath layers, personas, images and complete strangers that we for whatever reason so often strive to emulate – the list goes on. Yoga helps us peel back those layers comfortably, to open up and purely exist in acceptance of what’s around us, learning to enjoy the process instead of thinking about what will or may come to be.

Practicing yoga here has been challenging both mentally and physically, and especially difficult on realisation that the warm and cosy bed usually awaiting my arrival after a tough practice is in fact a flat, hard slightly damp resting space of a room costing less than €2 a night! Not exactly my idea of luxury but then again, I shouldn’t complain, right? I’m pushing boundaries. It’s not supposed to be comfortable.

My mental stamina, moreso than the physical has been tested to the point of breaking, and it may sound extreme that I have now experienced first hand what it’s like to be positioned upsidedown with tears streaming out of my eyes and down my forehead – not out of pain, but out of sheer exposure and lack of familiarity to..anything! Succumbing to the unknown? I can’t quite describe it.
It’s a new perspective, anyway. It’s been freeing.

The sheer amount of yoga schools and meditation classes around Dharamsala, McLeodGanj, and Dharamkot is testament to the deeply moving and widespread popularity of the practices in India, and it has even been predicted by the Dalai Lama himself that ‘if every 8-year-old is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation’. I’m not sure how accurate I believe this statement to be, but I must admit that my own sense of peace has been heightened purely by being present in this beautiful part of the wild animal that is India. There’s definitely something in the air over here, whether it’s because every second Westerner you meet is a hippie-pants wearing yogi with feathers in their hair and mandala tattoos on their arms, or simply the proximity to the birthplace of Buddhism – it doesn’t really matter. Peace of mind is peace of mind, and for every way there is to find it here, whether it’s attending morning Puja or Vipassana practices or simply attending a yoga class a day, you’re guaranteed to find likeminded souls who share your search for space, calmness, and self-acceptance.

For now I’m happy just being here, uphill walks, bugs and language barriers aside…

Until next time…Namasté!

On Finding Calm in the Chaos – How Yoga Can Help in Managing Anxiety

 

A sweeping, dangerously powerful wind.
Big waves in the sea so strong they steal the sunglasses from your head.
Very loud, thumping music.
Crowded Saturday-streets, and flashing lights everywhere as night falls and you suddenly find yourself alone in your head; alone with your thoughts.

 Quick! Run! The bar! The fridge! The gym! ANYWHERE to escape spending time with this egotistical and self-centered, ugly body I’ve found myself inhabiting.

 Hold it right there. Breathe.
Look around.
Sure, it’s chaotic. The outside; everyone rushing to be here or there, meet so and so for dinner or drinks to discuss where they went for dinner and drinks with him or her or what’s the latest on THAT guy and how’s your mother doing and what about those politicians, eh? Sorry I have to dash I’m not too drunk I just can’t be around all these people and all the thoughts in my head at the same time because I end up spinning around before we even start to dance and then I look in the mirror and remember what I should have worn instead and also have to do tomorrow and where the hell is my purse and what is that guy staring at my hair must be a mess and dear GOD please just get me out of here.

So leave.
It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to think these things, and feel that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation – I’ve been the one to leave and run away from my problems, finding other ways to forget about and ignore them, and, more recently, I’ve been the one to stay and push through. To remain where I am, and work through the unbalancing extremes of thoughts and emotions that send my head reeling and wobbling on a regular basis.

In yoga, what do you do if a pose makes you wobble?

You do your best to straighten the hell back up, is what you do. You push down through your feet, and certify your stance; your position; your space in the world.
Because it is yours.
It’s about the only thing we don’t have to pay for in this world – our bodies. It’s an involuntary, but rent-free location, that we somehow have to figure out how to stand up straight in, and learn to navigate through whatever environment we find ourselves.
It’s not an easy task. Don’t listen to anyone who pretends it is, or who pretends they’ve never struggled. Because every single person does.

 The asanas in yoga are merely a physical manifestation of our mental state – I know if I’ve had a particularly off-day or feel unusually anxious about something, my yoga practice is weaker than normal and I tend to wobble and lean and shake quite a bit more than usual. Because I have succumbed to the external chaos. I have assimilated it into my body, a place that has been created and cultivated for singular, simpler, and more straightforward thoughts, with no consideration for the external chaos that may or may not happen on any given day. I’ve let it in.

When we consider how many things in life are uncontrollable by our own bodies and minds – the weather, the financial state of the country, the popularity of a bar or restaurant or public place from which we suddenly want to hide, to list but a few, it’s remarkable how blurred the lines can become when we start thinking we have influence over more than just ourselves.

In taking control of our own inner situation, we are taking responsibility for the little space we inhabit on earth. Sure, we may not have asked for it, but we are here now regardless, and may as well make the most of it.

 My yoga mat has travelled with me, and shown me that it doesn’t matter where I find myself; chaotic, over-populated, noise-polluted city, or tranquil, isolated and balmy beach miles from anywhere – I am always, always within myself, and returning there is the only way to truly find this ‘peace of mind’ or satisfaction we so often seek in all the wrong places. Yoga serves as a reminder of this. A healthy, lighthearted little poke in the back that injects a sense of calmness into even the most uncontrollable and chaotic situations.

 Things don’t have to be so complicated.
Breathe. Just breathe. And Be. Even just that is more than anybody has ever asked of you.

I Want To Write

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I want to write, but ideally I don’t want to present you with repeated and recycled bullshit that I’ve seen online, and endless lists of things people don’t really care about purely to get ‘views’.
I want to write, but not be the kind of writer that is rude and/or judgemental of people who really don’t deserve it, again, purely to get attention or views online and in print.
I want to write, and not have to care about how well a piece of work is received or spread, because spending the entire creative process of writing it worrying how people are going to percieve and view it defeats the entire purpose of expressing my thoughts in the first place. The second I let a thought concerning other people’s opinions of my work enter my head, it no longer belongs to me. It has been tainted.
I want to write because I feel it is my way of communicating with the world, of putting some sort of solidity on the blinks and glances of thoughts that flit through my brain on a daily basis as I move from place to place, and possibly to make some sense of the more ambiguous ones; to really break them down in order to be able to put them all together again.

I want to write because I want to understand. I want to learn from what I see around me, I want to be able to structure some solid opinions and views on the world that are just not possible for me to clarify without writing them down.
I want to write to be able to support myself and feel a sense of fulfillment; to ensure I am able to travel around and see all there is to see, learn what there is to learn, and write about it while I go.
I want to write because I want to travel, and I feel that pictures can only capture the brink of what it really is to experience a new culture; a new country; a new climate or timezone.
I want to write because writing for me feels as natural as breathing, and having nothing and nowhere to write about is as suffocating as sitting at an office desk where the windows don’t open and the heating is stuck on high in the middle of Summer.

I want to be a writer, and I’m not going to pretend I haven’t bought into the current trends of trying to write ‘hilarious’ reviews with catchy or crude headlines, or pieces that will go viral online and receive a high readership – because I have. I’ve tried to write things people will find entertaining, interesting, insightful even. And sometimes I’ve succeeded. But where my heart truly lies, and it’s taken me a while to figure this out – is in movement, travel, and observing the world around me as I go. Staying still prevents the flow of words that comes like a torrent of ideas, emotions, and possibilities whenever I step foot into the world outside my door, whether it’s on board a plane, boat, train, bus; anything.
I want to write, and I will always continue to write and recount life experiences I have around the world, regardless if I ever eventually make it to Bali, Tokyo, or the Amazon. Anywhere will do. I just need to be moving. I need to be in motion for the channels of inspiration and structure to work together and allow me to produce something that makes sense.
I want to write, but I also want to travel, and the World is my destination.