Some people come to India in search of enlightenment. The place just oozes with mystical tales of transformation. Signs point you to yoga and meditation and Ashrams. Yogis and babas and swamis and gurus beckon. There is barely a street you can walk down without crossing the path of someone, who knows someone, who knows someone ~ who came to India lost, and was found. Somewhere. In some way. By somebody.
I guess I was no exception. It was the plan. Although the plan was always not to have a plan. But everyone comes to India seeking something… Everyone you speak to has an interesting tale to tell. There’s something about this place that just challenges all you were, all you wanted to be and all you really are. Reason is transcended. Some path leads to another path. Plans change. Everything takes time. If you aren’t organised, it can really take time. Wrong buses. Delayed trains. People who nod you off in a direction, just to make you smile, when they really had no idea what you even asked to begin with. India is not an easy place to travel. You must roll with the punches.
If you don’t hate it, you are destined to love it.
It’s just kind of like that.
Here, days melt away into chats about life, and love, and roads less travelled. You might even find those days become your plan.
A whole new world opens up. One you can’t control or really understand. You just have to be in it, be a part of it and let it become a part of you.
I guess that’s how I ended up living in the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh.
To begin with, it was simply easy.
It was nice to let my feet touch the ground. Nice to be still awhile. Nice to wander friendly streets. Nice to eat fruit and muesli for breakfast instead of potatoes. Nice to speak to some other native English speakers. Nice to let out a big, heavy sigh of bliss.
But it sucks you up. Quickly.
Yoga. Breakfast. Chai. Lunch. Yoga. Dinner. Sleep.
Throw in some good company and your day is mapped out before you even get out of bed.
So that was how it began. I was never a yoga fanatic. I liked yoga. I have always enjoyed it and have memories of first trying it at a very young age. But I’ve only ever dipped my toes in. And a few yoga classes from time to time in a commercialised western world is a very different thing to showing up for class in an Ashram to study yoga in the yoga capital of the world.
Cue: chanting ‘ommm, shanti, ommm’; breathing, panting, growling and puffing in ways you did not think yourself capable of; pulling faces where your eyes roll back and your tongue sits somewhere down around your chin ~ no dribbling ~ ’grrrahhhhhhhgh’. Like a lion. A very glamorous one at that.
Rolling in laughter as your teacher suddenly twists himself inside out and talks you through what he is doing in broken English: and you put this arm around this leg and fold your other leg, and reach around and from behind, push yourself, up ~ and touch your head on the ground… and smile!
And I try to follow but I get confused about which arm goes where and collapse into a fit of laughter and suddenly look at the silliness of it all. It makes me feel like a kid again. I really like it.
I struggle to imagine anyone at home sitting in the gym, or in some downtown yoga studio, doing these things (particularly the lion). At home it seems to be all about the physical aspect – both controlled and beautiful. But the study of yoga contains very many parts. The contortion of ones body into various poses, is just one.
The others, I am soon to learn all about.
So I have spent the last five weeks travelling through north India. And suddenly I am here. My stomach is bloated and full. I’m quite proud of it. I have invested much into it. The curry, so divine it cannot be described, scooped up with fluffy, buttery, garlic naan. Dosas filled with potatoes and onions and curry and more potatoes. Thalis containing a smorgasbord of delicacies – maybe eight different curries and sauces – and rice, and chapatti, and papadams and delicious, syrupy sweets. Buttery, black dal. Beautiful, soft paneer cheese. Ghee. And chai. Sweet, sweet chai. I could go on, and on, and on.
I have eaten more food in one sitting in India, than I could eat in a day at home. I hardly even eat potatoes at home. Suddenly, in India, no rules apply. I’ve indulged my tastebuds in ways I didn’t know possible ~ sweet, buttery, carb-loaded bliss.
It feels incredible. And I feel better in my body than I ever remember feeling.
And the chocolate. I don’t know why, but chocolate tastes better here. I didn’t really know it could taste so good. I swear. Chocolate balls. Rich, dark, German Ritter chocolate. Oreo shakes. Dark chocolate Kit Kats. Banana chocolate pancakes. Banoffee pie. With Icecream. Oh. My. God.
So I’m not sure how it happened but here I am, with this belly, which is not soft and flabby, but tight and round and full. It sits proud and pushes itself out like a beautiful chocolate ball.
And the strangest thing is – I like it. I’ve had much joy in shaping it. It marks the happiness I have felt as I have eaten these delicious, delectable foods that hardly even appeal to me at home. And I have thrown away any pants that have a waistband and now just live in stretchy, comfortable, yoga clothes that allow for as much growth and movement as my buttery belly desires.
And I keep thinking of Eat, Pray, Love and asking myself: who the hell comes to India to eat?
More to the point, who comes to India to eat themselves silly and then decides to sign up for a one month intensive Yoga Teacher Training course? Umm. That would be me.
When it was still ten days away it seemed completely rational. I’m kind of in shape. I have walked up a lot of stairs since I arrived in India. Yep. I’m fit. Ish. Ten days is plenty of time to reshape my life and prepare. But now, suddenly it’s only four days away and I’m eating chocolate and garlic naan like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. Because now they tell me -no garlic, no onion, and no chocolate.
I’m already living in a town with no meat, and no beer. And suddenly I’m about to give up garlic and chocolate?! Madness doesn’t quite define it.
I have a secret theory that the no onion and garlic rule is more for the benefit of the yoga teachers who will be sitting in a room with us for a minimum of four hours a day while we contort ourselves into various positions, which are quite conducive to farting.
I could be wrong.
But seriously. Eat a spinach curry for lunch, scoop it up with that delicious garlicky naan (it simply cannot be denied) and go to a yoga class at five, wrap yourself up like a pretzel and try not to break wind. Not so easy. I swear there are times I am so afraid that if I push any further one of those big, loud India farts might just sneak out like a song. It scares me most when the teacher comes near because I know he’ll grab my leg, or arm, or back and push it just a little more and if it’s the wrong moment, well, what can you do?
Lady like. Hmm. On the path to enlightenment? Debateable.
“Smile! Yoga is about being happy!”
“Anything is possible in India”.
‘Anything’ includes rich chocolate brownies, and caramelly banoffee pie, and desserts with names like ‘Hello to the Queen’. Grand it is.
On the brink of intensive ten-hour days of study, six days a week, for a whole month in freezing cold weather, I’m starting to think that perhaps I could have found enlightenment through chocolate instead.
Regardless, right now I am satisfied with my aching limbs that are stirring from their slumber to proudly support my India body.
And tummy aside, I am suddenly feeling more flexible than I have in years. I’m doing yoga twice a day. I’m bending into positions I had given up on at home. And through puffing and panting I’m finding a new sense of calm. So my India belly is disappearing, rather rapidly, try as I might to keep it. And enlightened, or not, I am feeling very happy, very content and very full inside.