India: My Experiences
By: “AJ” Amy Jo Crowell, Publisher Dallas Yoga Magazine & Co-Founder Cosmic Yogi Movement
I recently returned from a month in Rishikesh, India. It’s difficult for me to put into words the incredible experience I have been blessed with including meeting the kindest Indian people, swimming in the Ganges, petting the roaming street cows, traveling up through the Himalayas, dodging the mango throwing monkeys, the delicious food, my yoga teachers, my fellow yoga students, the ashram, the guru…it all seems like a sweet wonderful dream.
I traveled alone to Rishikesh and it took over 24 hours stopping in Amsterdam and in New Delhi’s airports before finally arriving at a small airport in Rishikesh. I was happy to meet two ladies going to the same ashram at the airport, so it made the trip to our “home away from home” much more pleasant. The taxi driver got lost and couldn’t find the ashram but after stopping to ask the locals where it was he finally maneuvered his way past the cows and monkeys and behind the Police Station to the Samadhi Yoga School.
My heart warmed when we arrived…this was where I was going to be spending the next month learning Kundalini yoga and meditation. I knew this experience would change my life in ways I couldn’t fathom. We were welcomed with smiles and hugs and were shown to our rooms. After an entire day of travel, I was exhausted and happy I came a day before classes began so I could rest and get acquainted with my surroundings. I was not sure what to expect from a room at an ashram in a 3rd world country, but I was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. I had a private room with a large bed, a Western style bathroom with hot water, and plenty of drawer space to empty my over packed suitcase. There was Internet, plenty of lighting and an air conditioning unit in my room with a large ceiling fan. Even though I was coming from summer in Dallas, Texas, I was concerned about being overheated because I am used to depending on air conditioning. But my concern turned out to be a non-issue and I kept myself properly hydrated and took time out to sit under fans or in a cool room during my stay.
Summer time in India is Monsoon season not only includes extremely hot temperatures but also a lot of rain. Since Rishikesh sits at the bottom of the lush Himalaya mountains, the rain isn’t exactly surprising and really wasn’t an issue. The only factor that developed because of the rain was the electricity went out nearly every day. On the bright side, it was only for short periods of time and the ashram had a generator, so we weren’t completely without. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to sit on the balcony with the most breath-taking view of the city, Himalayas and the Ganges. The evening views were gorgeous with the mountains turning purple and the buildings in the distance glowing with lights. To add to the calmness was the chanting started in the early evening. One of the temples had their chanting on loud speakers and it echoed through the entire valley through the businesses, homes and up the mountain side. It was mesmerizing, and you could hear it everywhere. This was one my favorite traditions of the culture. They were spreading love and peace with their vibrations to everyone in the world.
Classes started the day after arriving with a demanding schedule starting at 4:30am in the morning. Meditation started at 5am with Vishnu, the Ashram’s Guru. He was the most endearing person I have ever met. When Vishnu would smile at you, you could feel the love from him flowing to you. His presence warmed my heart. He sincerely wanted to teach each one of us the proper way to meditate. Vishnu spent time with everyone adjusting our backs, our shoulders, our chins and showing us how to fold blankets to get just the right amount of lift for our butts so we had the proper posture. Everyone had different adjustments and he made sure we understood and continued with the correct posture in the following days. When Vishnu’s mother was there, he would bring her for meditation before we began early in the morning. He would sit with her while they both meditated together. I realized what a special connection to have between a mother and son…the gift of meditating together and just being.
I was so happy to be at the Samadhi Ashram. Vishnu has other sister-Ashrams like the World Peace Yoga School where he is the Guru, but Samadhi is where he lives with his wife and children. It’s where his brother, other family members and the volunteers for the Ashrams lived. Staying with these beautiful Indian people in their home was a rare experience and I am truly blessed they welcomed me.
After morning meditation, we began a day packed with lectures, classes, pranayama and meditations. There were 21 students at the Ashram with 6 of us working on our Kundalini Yoga Certification. I was surprised to find that only a couple of us were living in the United States. Our group was comprised of yogis from all over the world with backgrounds and religious beliefs just as diverse. There were people from Japan, England, Mexico, Canada, India, Norway, Switzerland, Cambodia, Germany and Dominican Republic. The group was energizing with all of us supporting and encouraging each other on the days when we were completely exhausted.
My schedule included Anatomy, Yoga History, Kundalini History, Kundalini (Yogi Bajan Style), Pranayama Class, Adjustment and Alignment class, Meditation Techniques, Asana Class along with our yoga and meditation practice classes. The Kundalini yoga certification program was just created and it was called the “Warrior Program.” I quickly found out it was because we were completing our 200 hour certification in 18 days. That meant most days we were attending class, lectures etc. 12 hours or more a day. Like I said, we started our first meditation at 5am. We had approximately 2 hours off during the day and we had class sometimes until after 8pm at night. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done but it was also one of the most rewarding. I’m 54 years old…the oldest at the Ashram…but that didn’t stop me! I kept up with everyone and my classes and did everything the other students did. Even when we were all ready to collapse, we encouraged each other, pushed each other and were there for each other. I will always treasure the bonds and friendships I made there.
Two of my favorite teachers were my Kundalini teachers. The most wonderful part of Samadhi’s Kundalini teachings were the different perspectives both teachers offered. Rohit Kumar was one of these teachers, we nick named him the “Silver Fox” because he was so handsome and adorable. His laugh filled the room every day with a relaxing light heartedness. Rohit’s class entailed lessons from the book “Kundalini Tantra” written by his Guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati. It was beautiful when he talked about his Guru, he glowed with excitement when he shared lessons he had learned from him. Rohit wanted us to understand the basics of Kundalini, the meaning, the awakenings, in-depth knowledge of the chakras and the symbolism in Sanskrit pictures and words. We practiced ancient pranayama practices associated with Kundalini and how to have a solid personal Sadhana program when we left the Ashram. He explained it was important for us to start by focusing on one chakra a month (maybe longer) and then moving on to the next. Usually the Sadhana would continue for eight months to give each chakra special attention. There were Kriyas to learn, very precise pranayamas, mudras and so much more. Rohit was filled with so much information and he wanted to enlighten as much as possible to help us grow spiritually. We talked greatly about the chakras and he commented, “In our various incarnations we have developed different chakras. If when you practice concentration on the chakras, you feel one chakra more than the others, it means that from that point your evolution is to begin.” Rohit also stated he did not believe in calling “Kundalini” a yoga. He explained technically the yoga of Kundalini was a combination of a variety of yogas including Hatha, so he believed you shouldn’t separate Kundalini from the other forms of yoga. He believes Kundalini should be presented as a “teaching” not a yoga.
Another favorite Kundalini teacher was Amarjit Singh. He was an American whose journey lead him to becoming a Sikh, teaching Kundalini, and traveling the world. Amarjit taught the Yogi Bhajan style of Kundalini yoga. It’s the style Yogi Bhajan brought to the United States in the late 1960’s and most of the Western world practices this style of Kundalini to this day. His story of letting go of his materialistic life in America and leaving it behind to seek more was inspiring. He challenged us to ask ourselves “What is the most complete way to express my true nature?” His classes consisted of practicing the kriyas, chanting sacred mantras, seemingly non-stop breath of fire and postures. Even when my arms felt like they were going to fall off, his words of encouragement kept me going. Kundalini is known as the yoga of awareness, as a result, the students often find themselves bursting out in tears or laughing uncontrollably. It all happened…everyone had their moments of release leading to a new level of “awareness.” Amarjit was very accepting of where each of us was with our practice. He would say, “Don’t listen to the mind when it tells you not to do it. Just go do it. The more you repeat this to yourself the more fear goes away.” He explained the importance of the Eight Limbs of Yoga given to us by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The Ten Bodies were also presented to us with Yogi Bahajan explaining it best as, “If you understand that you are Ten Bodies, and you are aware of those Ten Bodies, and you keep them in balance, the whole Universe will be in balance with you.”
One of the most difficult classes was Pranayama class. The class was scheduled after an hour of Kundalini yoga, I was worn out and feeling that “Kundalini High” when I went. The teacher was very knowledgeable, but it was challenging keeping up with all the breath work. I learned many variations and styles of pranayama it was well worth the effort. I was amazed when I learned breathing exercises in the heat of India that sent cooling breaths throughout my body and made me forget the outside temperature. Learning how to balance feminine and masculine energies through intense pranayama was a huge gift to my practice. I have continued to practice more pranayama in my daily sadhana and it continues to bring a calmness to my inner self.
During the Alignment and Adjustment class, I realized I was not doing my Warrior Poses correctly. I had been doing these poses for years and had never been corrected. My hip was not in alignment with my body. I was pushing my hip to one side and I was completely out of alignment. What a difference that small adjustment made to my practice! Learning to focus more on proportionately distributing the pressure on my feet and hands also improved my balance and posture significantly.
One of my favorite meditations was the single-pointed meditation using a lit candle. I had heard about this type of meditation before, but I had never experienced it or learned the techniques to get the most out of it. I realize staring at a candle flame for a long period of time seems a little odd to most of the Western world, but it was a mind-blowing experience. The calm, peaceful, relaxation that ensued was so amazing I knew this meditation would be a practice I would share with others.
After 18 days, cramming to study, taking 4 tests, going to countless classes, pushing my body to an extreme, practicing new techniques to calm my body and mind it all came to an end. I had made it through the course and became a certified 200 hour Kundalini instructor. Something I never thought I would ever have accomplished….let alone at 54 years old! My heart could not be filled with more gratitude for my new friends, the teachers, the ashram, Vishnu and Swing. I was not ready to leave but I reminded myself there is always a next time.
My adventure to Rishikesh, India and Samadhi Ashram was extraordinary. Everything about the trip was special and exciting. I ponder how the people of India are so friendly and welcoming when many are living in extreme poverty. They seem to be much happier than many who are living in first world countries with every luxury imaginable. Many in India don’t often have electricity or clean water, yet they would stop to lend a hand or offer you what they had. I experienced this first hand. A foreign female in a very strange land just didn’t feel strange at all. I felt the flow of love everywhere from the Great Ganges to the gurus, sages, temples, ashrams and shop owners…there was a continuous unforgettable out pour of love.
I love India.
If you are interested in Samadhi Ashram:
Contact “AJ” Amy Jo Crowell by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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About the Author:
Publisher of Dallas Yoga Magazine and Co-Founder of Cosmic Yogi Movement and Festivals, “AJ” Amy Jo Crowell, has been in advertising, marketing, publishing and large-scale event planning for over 20 years. AJ printed a weekly entertainment guide throughout Texas for many years. For the last decade, AJ has been teaching inner city Dallas high school students. She implemented Peace Makers classes and taught the importance of acceptance, diversity and giving back to the community. She is also the “Best Selling Author” of Loved Back to Life, a book focusing on recovery from addictions. AJ is a certified Kundalini yoga instructor and leads sound meditations with crystal singing bowls.
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