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Ayurveda and Ashram Antics

Our first encounter with ayurvedic health was in the form of a massage. After days of trekking and travelling on Indian roads Carl and I thought we thoroughly deserved one. We both emerged dripping in herbal oils and extremely relaxed. For the rest of the day we were floaty light, like quavers. That’s when we got the great idea to move into an Ashram and sign up for a gentle yoga course. ‘Yes it’s a beginners course’ they told us.

The course started in the evening so we moved into our riverside room, right on the banks of the Ganga and relaxed in the Ashram for the day. Before our first two hour yoga class we met two German girls who had also signed up for the course. We were glad not to be the only students, but after the two hour session of ‘intensive yoga’ (as the class was advertised to others) they decided the course was not for them. Stupidly, Carl and I had paid up front. On the plus side we would now have our own personal Yogi teaching us. Yogi Pardeep was 24 and although not a very spiritually realised Yogi, he was an extremely good yoga teacher. We learnt that he was an accomplished yoga champion but not the best communicator in English.

We awoke at 6:30am the next morning wondering what our first class of yogic purification would entail. We met Pardeep Yogi outside and an older Russian man joined us for the class. Pardeep Yogi bought out a bucket of water and handed us each a little watering-can-like plastic container. Carl smiled at me and raised his eyebrows, ‘we’re going to be watering the plants’ he said. ‘Awwww, that’s lovely’ I replied. Then Pardeep Yogi filled his watering can device, lent over and demonstrated Jalaneti; pouring the water through one nostril and tilting your head so that it comes out of the other. ‘But the plants…’ Carl protested. Although perplexed at even the idea of this, Carl and I kept open minds and started to pour. At first our sinuses stung and our eyes felt heavy, but after a few pours the sensation started to feel rather refreshing. This isn’t too bad we thought. Then Pardeep Yogi bought out the catheters; small orange plastic rods that we would have to insert up our nose, reach back into our mouths, pull it through and then rub. This hurt. This hurt a lot. Carl’s nose bled which made Pardeep Yogi laugh ‘yes, yes, little blood first time’.

We retreated to our room for our homemade peanut butter and banana sandwiches and hoped the next class would just be intensive yoga. The yoga was intensive and for 5 hours every day, but our lectures were more like listings. Pardeep yogi would recite the name of yoga asanas and we would scribble them down. One day he bought in what we first thought was an old science book from his school days. He proceeded to show us diagrams and explain to us where each internal organ was situated. This is stuff that we had been taught in school in the UK, but in India Pardeep Yogi had gone to a medical college to get the Year 7/8 level education that we often take for granted. Sometimes the lectures were interesting but they weren’t really lectures, and Pardeep Yogi would answer questions like ‘so why does sticking a rod up your nose help your breathing?’ with a simple ‘yes my friend‘.

The meditation was different from anything we’d tried before and a little gimmicky. Another yogi with long frizzy hair and a matching beard bellowed instructions like ‘you are getting more and more relaxed’ at us. This was Hindu meditation, it involved conjuring up situations in your mind, all meant to help you investigate and discover what’s inside. It was an interesting experience once our layer of judgement had dissolved. This kind of meditation felt more like a guided dream, floating just below full consciousness trying to break into the unconscious.

After only one day of yoga both Carl and I started to feel the benefits of the intensive routines. Our bodies felt bendy and free and our minds relaxed, although we’d both developed sore throats, unarguably down to the catheters. Each day Pardeep yogi tried to introduce new Kriyas (yogic cleansing techniques). On my birthday he wanted us to drink water until we vomitted. It would definitely be the first time that I would vomit from water on my birthday but I decided I didn’t really want to do it so he let us both off. The next day Carl attempted Danddhodi; drinking water and then swallowing a big catheter into your stomach and expelling the liquid through the big orange rod. It was much thicker than I expected. Carl didn’t manage to get it all the way down to his stomach so he just threw up instead. Our Yogi was very proud, I was rather disgusted.

My sore throat developed into a chest infection so Carl and I wondered down the road to buy some antibiotics from the local chemist. Unfortunately antibiotics are not part of ayurvedic healing, the only kind of healing in Rishikesh. I was taken to a damp room in the back of the chemist and made to lay out on a damp table while a spooky old doctor examined me. I told him I had a bad chest but he continued to drip oil on my face, prod my feet and cast spells over my body. After about 20 minutes of this he decided I needed some medicine. He left and came back quarter of an hour later holding some off white powder that he was cutting with a match. He then mixed in some honey and handed me the paper to lick. I was to do this three times a day before meals. I decided that I wouldn’t do this in public.

The next day the rains came in heavily. As our yogic purification class was usually outside it had to be cancelled – much to our delight. During yoga that evening one of the staff came in and told us that we had to move out of our room. We ran down to see that our lovely room on the Ganga had turned into a not so lovely room in the Ganga. Whilst I tried to pack everything and rescue our possessions from the muddy water Carl took pictures. With the help of the ashram staff we got everything out and were relocated to a room a little higher up. We completed our yoga and meditation class and came back down to see our old room, and the Ashram restaurant completely full of Ganga water; it was touching the ceiling of the room where we’d slept last night and the place where we’d eaten lunch that day. It was still raining and the vicious river eroded the Ashram stairs that lead down to the river pretty quickly.

The bad weather stayed and the river didn’t go down for a good few days. When it did finally subside there was not much left of the restaurant, which was also home to an Indian family and the riverside rooms were going toneed more than a lick of paint. Somehow the rise in the river had managed to disturb the Ashram’s water supply. There was either no water, or muddy Ganga water. Rather than calling a plumber the yogi’s built a small Shiva shrine out of sand in front of the water system and preformed many rituals into the night. Surprisingly this didn’t work, so we could not complete our final yogic cleansing class. We were due to eat a 7 meter white cloth, wait for it to digest and then pull it slowly back out through our mouths. As there was no water to drink we couldn’t complete it. Carl suggested using bottled water but myself and another girl, who had joined the course a few days previously, soon shut him up. Luckily for Carl and I, we had completed our course and were now free to leave the ashram. Yogi Pardeep said that we were welcome back for the yogic cleansing class the next day, but we chose to decline that offer. We retreated up to High Bank away from any danger of flooding and waited there for the monsoon to leave before making our way to Dharamsala.

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