I know its been a while since I wrote and for that I apologize. I wasn’t neglecting blogging purposely, but rather I didn’t have access to the internet or even a computer for weeks. Reason being, I was in India. In an ashram. Doing yoga. Well becoming a yoga teacher to be exact. Ever since I was first inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of her travels around the world in Eat Pray Love, about 7 years ago in my apartment in New York, spending time secluded in an ashram somewhere in the ancient Indian lands had been on the top of my bucket list. I honestly didn’t think I would do it until I was older, like in my 40’s, (if I ever actually would do it at all) after a mid life crisis or something, and I honestly didn’t think I’d ever come back having learned to stand on my head. But I did both. And a good 20 years earlier than I thought I would. Maybe I had the mid-life crisis early then?!
It came about when my sister did a Feng Shui course and a girl on it too mentioned how she was heading to this ashram in India for a teacher training course afterwards. My sister was intrigued and when she told me about it we both expressed how unbelievably amazing and romantic that sounded and how much we would love to just take off and do that.
Weeks followed and we were busy with the music, touring and singing and we had put the notion to the back of our minds, but then it came leaping forward again when Fiona ended up talking to her friend after she had returned from her month long stint and when she described it as “one of the most physically challenging but also life changing months” of her life, (with 5 am wake up calls, cold showers, three plain vegetarian meals a day, no sweets or chocolate, hours of challenging Yoga, and washing your clothes by hand in the blistering heat)… we were sold! We decided at the end of summer that we would just throw all caution to the wind and go do the next course they had coming up. We had no music events going on for a few weeks so we realized that if we were ever going to do it, this would be the time. We secured our places on the TTC, booked our flights and flew into the little town of Khajuraho in Northern India on a warm October morning.
When we first arrived at the crockety little airport, admittedly Fiona and I both looked at each other wondering if we were absolutely out of our minds? We wondered what had possessed us to fly half way across the world to put ourselves through… well, we weren’t even fully sure what we were about to put ourselves through. Something inside me just hoped that in the ashram we were about to go to, somehow I would find the missing part of myself, a part that I had always felt the absence of, and I would end up back at this little airport a month later a more enlightened and much stronger version of Naomi then I was going in and then hopefully I would be proud of myself for making it through. It was definitely going to be a challenge, and really I was curious to know if I could do it more than anything. To say I was nervous, scared and completely unsure is an understatement but a little voice inside told me everything would be alright. And after all, if it was really terrible we could just leave, right?!
My fears subsided significantly when all the other students started to show up at the meeting point outside the old airport. Various characters from all over the world, Bermuda, Nevada, Austria, Holland, New Zealand saying pretty much the same thing…they had left jobs, homes and even family behind in search of something bigger. None of them were even sure what they expected out of this, most didn’t even have the intention to teach Yoga afterwards. None of us quite knew why exactly we were here, but in that first morning, at the side of a dirty Indian road, under the shade of an old leafy tree I felt like all our souls had almost planned in another existence on meeting here at this time in our lives for some good reason none of us yet knew.
We met the ashram co-ordinator, Omkar, dressed in his uniform of maroon and white, and he quickly told us that as soon as the last few showed up we would be on our way. All our suitcases were hoisted up onto the awaiting white jeeps and we scrambled into the seats. We took off in the opposite direction to the sign pointing towards Khajuraho town, and after about the craziest fifteen minute car journey I’ve ever taken, dodging cows lazing about in the middle of the road, beeping herds of goats, and being overtaken by mopeds with entire families hanging on the back, the jeeps came to a stop outside a large gate. Everyone piled out and the luggage was thrown down. Fiona and I had without doubt the heaviest biggest suitcases and I could tell everyone was looking at them quite amused. Truth is usually we travel light and I’m quite a good packer, but Fiona’s friend had pre warned her to bring as much clothes as possible to avoid having to do too much washing. And so when we had to struggle to drag our heavy cases down the rocky long path to the big plain white building that was the ashram in the distance, as everyone else ‘swan’ed past with their travelling rucksacks, I cursed having followed that advice, and hoped that somehow it would end up having been worth it.
Everything fell into place quickly after that, we were given our rooms on the top floor of the two storey accommodation building,, our two uniforms that were to last us the month, our first, less than delicious meal in metal trays reminiscent of something a prisoner might eat out of, and we were given the rules and schedule.
Rules; we couldn’t leave the ashram grounds without permission, no hugging or kissing, phones only to be used in our rooms… I felt like I was back at school.
Schedule; 5.30am wake up, 6am mediatation and chanting in the yoga hall, 7.15am breakfast, 8am How to teach class, 11.15am lunch, 12pm Karma Yoga 1pm Philosophy 3pm Asana Class, 5.15pm Dinner, 7pm Self meditation, 7.30pm tea, 9.30pm lights out. …….. Shoot me now! Again I wondered what had possessed me to come here and by the second morning as I arose exhausted at 5am, took a cold shower and headed to the yoga hall to sit uncomfortably in half lotus position with spine straight for a whole hour, while imagining my thoughts disappearing out the crown of my head in a vacuum, I questioned my very sanity. I mean my life was pretty good at home… I was doing what I loved, (singing and touring the world) had a handsome loving boyfriend and a family that supported everything I do… so what the hell was I doing here in the middle of nowhere in India chanting Sanskrit with 23 familiar strangers and four Yogis?! Was this normal?
But then later on that second day in philosophy class as the main guy and owner of the ashram Yogi Ram spoke about how at this stage our minds were probably questioning our very sanity and convincing ourselves that this was a terrible idea and we should get out now, that we shouldn’t listen to it as it was completely normal for the mind to react that way to something so out of its comfort zone, I relaxed a little and found some peace. He said that after the third day it would give up its rant and we would settle in.
He was right we did settle in but it was never comfortable. The routine was grueling and challenging, not to mention the nightly infestation of gigantic bugs in our rooms and our three frog friends that were sitting on the toilet to greet us every morning definitely added to the experience, but at the end of everyday I felt a whole lot stronger. Every day felt like a little win, and we even grew to love the bugs.
On some mornings we took beautiful walks through the mint leaf-covered countryside to watch the sunrise, and through the local villages as well where we were as much a novelty to look at for the locals as they were for us in their third world shacks, dirty torn clothes and curious smiling faces. The kids of the village would follow us up the sides of the mountain as though it were a game and the best fun they had had in ages. They wanted their picture taken and they laughed the whole time. I had really never seen anything like it in my entire life and it was only as I was laying down in shavasana for final relaxation later in the day as I let my mind wander back to what I had experienced walking through those people’s lives that morning, that the extremity of their poverty really hit me. Had I really seen that? It felt surreal when I had walked through it. How could people be living in such extreme circumstances in the same world that I lived in? We aren’t really living in the same world though are we? Or at least we don’t know we are. Yogi Ram’s philosophy lesson on human ignorance rang in my mind. We were ignorant of the world around us and caught in the illusion of our own ego-based material existence. The illusion was crumbling around me more and more. My life at home with all my spoiled wants and worries seemed so completely ridiculous and unimportant on the grand scale of things. But that was my ignorance. I knew better now. And I would have to do better from now on. I could no longer hide beneath the blind fool’s cloak. I knew I would have to use all the knowledge and discipline I was gaining within the walls of this ashram to become a human being worthy of living on this beautiful earth among such beautiful souls.
And they were all beautiful souls, from the little 12 year-old boy Yogis who I made friends with in Khajuraho town and told me of his love of math and dreams for being a doctor one day, to each and everyone of the special people who shared the experience with me and my sister on that course, each on their own journey, sharing their inspiring life stories every evening under the big tree as we drank chai tea with several spoons of sugar to satiate our collective deprived sweet tooth.
The lovely 18 year old Lisa from Germany who seemed far beyond her years and had taken a year to travel all by herself hoping to find companions along the way, the crazy and funny Francesco from Italy who had traveled to 89 countries and brought much comic relief to the heavy month with his hilarious stories and personality and his creation of the production “ashrams got talent” for all our amusement, the beautiful Maureen and Linda from Holland, both in their forties with figures worthy of Hollywood celebrity status and hearts as big as their beaming smiles, and Meena from Mumbai, the oldest and natural mother figure of the group who had been through such turmoil in her life but was so full of wisdom and strength that we all often sat around her listening to her as though she too was a yogi and teacher in the ashram. Every single person we were lucky enough to share the experience with was truly inspiring and amazing. I would mention them all but I think it might add another thousand words to this already lengthy post. Nevertheless, each and everyone of them were incredible and I honestly feel that I learned as much from spending time with them as I did from the equally amazing teachers.
I may sound like im gushing and perhaps being overly dramatic with my explanation of how wonderful the whole thing was but I promise you I’m not. Was it incredibly difficult? … yes of course, were some tears shed?… sure. But when on the last day, I was able to fully stand on my head, unassisted (something I never imagined in my life time I would be able to do) I realized I had broken boundaries in my mind of all kinds that month that I would never allow myself to have again. And when we headed back to the airport with our certificates in hand, we were all equally as happy for it to be over, as we were sad to leave each other. And I was proud. I was proud of myself. I had done it. We had done it. And it was maybe my biggest accomplishment to date.
We are all so much stronger and more powerful than we even realize. Yoga holds so much more for me now than it ever did. The philosophy, the practice, is not just some trendy new workout as some might believe. It’s a boundary breaker. An empowering tool to help us realize the divine beings that we are. We really can achieve anything. It took 30 days of terribly bland food, and such physical exhaustion to where I felt like an 80 year old woman by the end of it, but my soul felt new. My mind felt new. I had created new beliefs and no boundaries. I left India with quite a heavy heart but I already know I’m returning. Its an incredible, special and beautiful country and one worthy of everyone’s attention.
And though it was sad to see all the lovely traveling souls set off in different directions from the ashram on the final day, I’m also excited to see where life takes each and every one of them.
So to finish up all I can tell you is push yourself outside your comfort zone, explore your limits and boundaries and push past them because you can, don’t wait until your 40 (or just older than you are now) to do the things you can just as well do today, and don’t get so attached to everything, enjoy it for the moment but know that it too shall pass. Nothing is permanent, only the soul, so work on that and make it the best you possibly can.
Oh and everyone should learn to stand on their head 😉
Namaste my lovely friends,