Ashram Life- 108 Sun Salutations
I’m cheating a little in this instalment as you can see from the dates. My time here at the ashram has sadly come to an end and I figured it’s easier to talk about the closing chapter in one clean post.
At the beginning of the week, I had realised that stress levels were basically non-existent. Everything, from walking, talking, eating and even reading seemed to have slowed down. I took this as an indicator of being more conscious in my day-to-day activities. There was one unlikely source of stress, however. These came in the form of flying, beetle-like, mini helicopters. They are as loud as a real Boeing Apache helicopters and fly around with zero control, crashing into absolutely everything at top speed (but really). It’s as if they are both blind and drunk at the same time. At times they would crash into my face or try to penetrate my ear. It was at these moments where my levels of anxiety and heart rate would spike exponentially in a matter of milliseconds. Everyone else would be chilled with their presence but I was secretly on guard and ready to whip out the kung fu if they tried to attack me. I guess stress sources can come in the most unlikely form and it’s up to us to change our perception on them. Personally, I’m not ready to change my perception and so if I ever see them again, I will buy a biker helmet, a leather suit and a flamethrower.
Once a week, the ashram plays some kind of documentary in relation to yoga. This week we watched a show called Enlighten Up. It involves a man called Nick Rosen who is a rock climber and filmmaker. He knows very little about Yoga and travels around the world to learn more about the ancient practice. Sound a little familiar? Well get this, he has the same birthday as me too! I think the universe is telling me that I need to reach out to Nick so that he can take some gnarly videos of me climbing in Hampi.
Okay, let’s get juicy and talk about the Yoga. I’ve now completed all 28 days at the ashram and what a journey it has been. Throughout my time here, I have enjoyed one particular constant. This constant was practicing Yoga & Meditation from 6–9am. It is thought that this is the most conducive time for higher yogic practices, the atmosphere is pure and quiet and the digestive system has come to a standstill. There really is something special about waking up before sunrise and finishing the class with the sun beaming down on your skin. I need to give a special shout out to Sanjay for leading the morning classes. He is highly knowledgeable and instills warmth with every asana. During adjustments, he synchronises his breathing with yours so that when you exhale, you exhale together, with Sanjay sending you relaxing energy as you go deeper. It is these small but very important details that I must commend Sanjay on making the morning classes such a joy to be a part. Bravo Sanjay!
Monday came back around and it was my penultimate day at the ashram. For the first time, both the teacher training course and intensive programme joined forces at 6am for a very special class. We started with some Om chanting to settle the mind and I really felt a different energy level with everyone under one roof. Next we were told to come to the front of our mat and ready our selves for 108 sun salutations, facing the sunrise of course. For those who are unaware please see the below diagram:
Sun Salutations are typically used right at the start of the session to raise the body temperature and increase muscle elasticity. As you can imagine it’s effectively stretchy cardio due to its flowing nature. 108 Sun Salutations usually take about 1 hour and 40 minutes depending on how quick you are. The initial rounds started off slow and easy with the teachers instructing every step of the salutation. As the rounds went by, the speed progressively increased. With this increase came A LOT of sweat. At the front of my mat was a newly created, sweaty ocean. My chin often came in contact with this salty ocean during step 6. Before I knew it we were told that we had completed 40 rounds, at this point Vinod gave us a little tip for breathing. He asked us to open our mouth as much as we can and breath on the back of our hand (try it), you should find that your breath is hot. Then we were asked to breath with a small gap in our mouth, as if you were blowing out candles, here your breath should be cool. This is called moon breath due to it’s cooling nature. Once we resumed I activated my moon breathing and it really helped me to cool my core down. There were certain breaks of periodic rest, gladly welcomed of course. Throughout the session, I very much enjoyed the constant flow. The only aspect which my brain was thinking about was foot placement during steps 9 & 10. I wanted the placement to be quiet, slow and right at the top of my mat every time as this was representative of good awareness. 4 different teachers led the session. Different instructors had different styles, injecting new energy with each change. In the final 12 rounds, all 4 teachers led 3 rounds each without stopping. Perhaps, my favourite part was the changeover in these final rounds. It would happen in between breaths. One teacher would ask you to inhale and the new teacher would tag in and ask you to exhale and take over. It was completely unexpected and was like a really efficient Formula 1 pit stop. Overall, I loved whole experience and I know I did because it went by in a flash! The feeling after was very similar to going on a long, oxygenating run.
In the evening of Monday, we self organised a little talent show. Various acts had been practicing their vocal talents throughout the week. In total we had around 7 different acts including:
- Scottish dancing
- Improvisation/acting/creativity/cultivating the inner kid- I don’t know what to call it but it was interactive and super fun
- Poem reading
- Acapella singing which got me all goosebumpy
- Group singing with a guitar
- Capoeira (Brazilian dancing)
It was a super fun evening jam and a very nice way to learn more about each other outside the commonality of yoga.
Tuesday, my final day, sad face. Once again, all yogis assembled in the main yoga hall at 6am for what was to be our last yoga session together. The teachers had organised the mats in a circle so that we were all facing each other (my first time doing this). For the next 2 hours, we basically turned into kids. We also did a bit of partner stretching which was actually amazing. Having a partner is like driving with cruise control and means you can really focus your energy on your breathing to gain a deeper asana.
After class we had some time to freshen up and ready up for the closing ceremony. It was a big moment for those doing the 300 hour teacher training course and felt very similar to a university graduation. I felt like a proud dad taking photos of all the teachers as they collected their certificates. It was a very special moment that captured all our hard moment over the course of a month. For many, it had been a deep journey filled with emotions. Swamiji gave a little speech and mentioned something that really struck a chord with me. He mentioned that when you step onto a Yoga mat, you are stepping into a new way of living. Yes, you will be practicing asanas but you’ll also be making a lifestyle choice. The ashram regime had in many ways shone some light on what this should be on a daily & practical level.
After the ceremony, the chefs had lined up a big feast for us which included paneer for the first time! It was like being at an indian wedding and I was on a mission to eat as much food as I can. Of course, this never ends well and by the end of the meal I actually had difficulty breathing. Gravity was very strong and even the smallest task felt like an absolute mission. Never again!
Soon after eating, Sanjay and Vinod came into the dining hall to say their final goodbyes. We flocked to them and had a pretty epic group hug to thank them both for their immense efforts. I am very grateful for the experience and really cannot thank Sanjay, Vinod and the whole AyurYoga team enough for all their hard work. As Sanjay and Vinod left the ashram, we all watched in silence with teary eyes. For many people, Yoga teachers help turn the dark into light, hard into easy, bad into good. Through acting as our spiritual guardians, they paved the way for introspective change and opened up the possibility of pivoting one’s life forever, myself included.