Day 41

Style: Hatha
Teacher: Sivdas Chaitanya
Studio: Sivananda Ashram

My mind and body betray me. Gently waking up to the distant reverberating of a bell, my eyes slowly regain their focus and I remember where I am. Transitioning from sleep to waking life with no alarm clock is a welcomed luxury. Showering and dressing into warm clothes, Meredith and I make our way out into the dark morning, back to the Krishna temple.

Last night was my first experience of Satsang. As we entered the temple we were greeted by exotic aromas straying from burning incense. The temple looked exactly how I might imagine it: carefully decorated altars, statues of deities and gods, and pictures on the walls of the founding Guru's, Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu-Devananda. Places were set out on the floor, consisting of a small rug, a pillow and a book with the title "Kirtan: Mantras and Chants". I notice a woman in an orange robe bowing down, forehead to the floor, angled toward the main altar with a life size flute-playing statue of Krishna, and I do the same. When in Rome... After everyone silently took their places we entered into meditation. Sitting with my legs crossed, I closed my eyes. The instructions were to focus on the space between the eyebrows, the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, as well as inwardly repeating a mantra. If we didn't have a personal mantra, we could focus on the sound and vibration of Om.

As time began to bleed with infinity my mind was slowly growing restless. Focusing on my breathing and silently Om-ing, I continued to calmly and kindly reset my focus. Again and again my mind would burst into theatrics and one-way conversation, struggling against my attempts to control it. After endless back and fourth, my inner world slowly started chilling out. The success, however, was very short lived. A subtly increasing numb pain had slowly been building in my crossed-legs, completely unaccustomed to the position. Now as the battle was increasing in magnitude I slowly started to lose my grip and my mind used the window of opportunity to blurt out an opinionated rant about everything and nothing. It's astonishing and perplexing that the majority of modern mankind has little to no control over their own thoughts. I'm subtly fidgeting as my attention wavers uncontrollably and I struggle to keep my lower back from collapsing and curling over into an exaggerated slouch. I experience desperate relief as we're given our cues to return to earth. Painfully unwinding my legs and crossing them the opposite way, we opened our book of sanskrit writings and proceeded into the chanting segment. This is another first for me, and I found myself fending off a self-conscious stage fright. Closing my eyes and humming along with the melodies, I drifted away with the hypnotic music emanating from the harmonium, pakawaj drums and karatal hand cymbals. Everything about this place is other-worldy.

Outside the temple doors early this morning, we pick up where we left off last night, diving back into a meditation. Now my legs and hips are burning and my mind concocts hellish visualizations of being shocked to death strapped to the electric chair. I feel a cold sweat on the back of my neck and a panic rising up my spine. I'm about to lose control and possibly burst into tears or uncontrollable psychotic laughter. I feel like I'm bordering on schizophrenia. Breathing in as deeply as I can, I blast out a silent ear-shattering internal Om, drowning out my inner chaos. It's scary. It's scary, but with some dedicated practice the chance to rise above the chatter exists. Still, it is pretty unnerving how intensely my mind and body rebel a few short moments after I request stillness. It's as if they fear for their own well-being, terrified of their own demise. To keep any change from occurring they're willing to lash out, setting me on fire.

Later in the yoga studio I feel relieved to be back in my comfort zone. At this point, even with its inherent struggle, yoga is safe and familiar territory. I twist, bend, and stand on my head, distancing myself from this morning's internal altercation. Yoga is mysterious, but pure meditation is far more unknown for me. It's a strange, undiscovered world full of bizarre landscapes and lifeforms.

Style: Hatha
Teacher: Jananadev
Studio: Sivananda Ashram

I could get used to Ashram life. After spending all afternoon reading, hanging out in the library and napping, I eventually make my way to the second yoga class of the day. I take back comments about Hatha being boring and plain. They call this yoga classic Hatha, and it's anything but boring. It's a rigorous sequence containing a four-minute headstand and rivalling the exertion of any Ashtanga or Power class. I'm only back in my room for half an hour before the evening Satsang, and I'm feeling anxious. I'm not really looking forward to sitting cross-legged and making the pilgrimage into the darkness of my inner world. Overall though, that's a lie. I am looking forward to it. It's a new adventure, and an intuitive Jiminy Cricket is perched on my shoulder, whispering in my ear just how unbelievably important and beneficial this process truly is.


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