I recently had an opportunity to “experience” a trip of a lifetime to India with my brother, my brother-in-law, a business associate and 17 other people from the fitness, spa and wellness industries. The trip was organized by Mehrad Nazari, PhD, and Michele Hébert (Inner IDEA® presenters) and was influenced by Mehrad’s relationship with Swami Veda Bharati. The 25-day trip took us from New Delhi to Mumbai—where we had the opportunity to see Gandhi’s house (we were there on the 60th anniversary of his assassination)—to several temples and forts and, of course, to the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The purpose of the trip for me was to better understand yoga and its origins; to experience some personal wellness (neither Kathie nor I has ever been away from IDEA for more than 10 days); and to spend some time with family and friends.
But the really unique aspect of the trip was going to Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram. Mehrad’s connection with Swami Veda Bharati provided us all the opportunity to experience traditional yoga at this authentic ashram. The Swami is the spiritual guide of the Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International. He has spent the past 60 years teaching and providing spiritual guidance. The entire trip was beyond description—we witnessed the extreme poverty, traffic, spirituality, odors and colors of India.
Since the theme of this month’s issue is mind-body-spirit wellness (including a yoga research review), I want to focus my comments mostly on our time at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama and what I witnessed regarding its yogic tradition. The mission of the facility is to
- restore yoga and meditation to their ancient and traditional purity;
- teach them in a modern, scientific framework;
- explore the application of yoga and meditation to the modern world; and
- fulfill these purposes by training spiritual guides and teachers of international stature.
Yoga in the Western world revolves around asanas—or the physical postures; sometimes people mistakenly believe that this reflects yoga in its entirety. In the Himalayan tradition, asanas are a small part of the total yoga experience and are usually used to prepare the body for long hours of meditation and silence. In India, yoga—meaning “to join together” or unite—is a total lifestyle.
A typical day at the ashram unfolded like this: we started with early-morning meditation, a 6:00 am flow class, shavasanas (relaxation meditations) and a vegetarian meal. We moved on to breathing exercises and classes, a 1-hour meditation, hatha yoga classes and more breathing exercises. We were mindful of every action, gesture and breath. We even focused on the simple, yet important, acts of placing our shoes neatly outside the door and on the proper way to fold and prepare our blankets before meditation (creases are very uncomfortable during long sittings).
For me, a key ingredient missing in the whole experience was music or any audio aspects (which I find inspiring) during classes; but each instructor was very professional and well trained. Instructors were also very kind, compassionate and without judgment. When someone made a mistake, they would gently suggest another option. For example, during shavasanas, it is considered impolite to point your feet toward the leader. Instead of embarrassing anyone, our sweet Korean instructor said, “I suggest you turn your body the other way so you can hear me better.”
Conditions in the ashram were quite austere. There was no television, radio, Internet connection or central heating (which would have been welcomed, as it was very cold each morning and night). Overall, though, it was an amazing experience. This is not for everyone, but if you are interested in mind-body-spirit exercise, you would have thoroughly enjoyed it. One tradition I appreciated and hope to incorporate into my routine here at IDEA was called the “2-minute meditation.” Throughout the trip, Mehrad would have us sit in silence for 2 minutes to mark the transition from one activity to the next. This would happen at the beginning and end of each bus trip, before going to any tourist site, before each meal and so on.
It was a wonderful and memorable trip, but it is also nice to be home. It sure makes me appreciate what we have here in the United States!
I invite you to enjoy this special mind-body-spirit issue that the editors have mindfully prepared for you.