Our last stop in India would bring us to Rishikesh— the birthplace of Yoga.
Peter and I both had our separate dream destinations. His was a surf trip to Indonesia on the island of Lombok. Mine was to visit an Ashram in India where we could meditate and practice yoga. And yes I may have gotten this idea from Eat Pray Love. Due to the nature of Peter’s business, however, he couldn’t be without internet. Most ashrams in India are very, very bare boned with little to no amenities, so we compromised. We could do my dream trip under the circumstances that I could find a place for us to stay that offered reliable WiFi.
After much research I discovered an oasis in the foothills of the Himalayas called Ananda in the Himalayas.
As far as I could tell our experience there would include yoga, meditation, healthy meals, spa services. Oprah had been a guest and she referred to Ananda as “the best spa I’ve ever been to.” With Oprah’s endorsement how could this not be a huge win?
Like most things in life, pictures and research cannot substitute or prepare you for the actual experience. I had no idea how much I would get out of the next five days. How much I would learn and how much I would take with me.
Getting to Ananda in and of itself was an experience.
We had flown back to New Delhi from Varanasi and had stayed overnight. Peter had lined up a driver for us who would be arriving bright and early the next morning to take us on the long journey to Rishikesh. The road to Rishikesh would end up being a tough six hours of terrible driving by a man who had the unnerving tendency to slam on the breaks followed by an abrupt switch to gunning the petal to the metal. Adding to the experience Peter at one point glanced out the widow and saw a dead body on the side of the road. He kept this information to himself initially. Good call Peter.
We were in the final stretch, 20 minutes to the retreat, when we started making switchbacks up a mountain. Peter was eerily quiet as he lost color in his face until he blurted out to the driver, “please stop.” He hurled himself out of the car and hurled out his breakfast seconds later. Like I mentioned it was a rough ride.
We finally arrived to Ananda in the Himalayas a bit out of sorts and disheveled. This however dissipated quite quickly after checkin. You know how some places have a certain energy that immediately encapsulates you? Ananda has an incredibly calming, soothing, and zen like feel that put us both at ease and the memories of the intensity of the car ride suddenly seemed far from us.
Here are some pictures of the grounds which of course do not translate the energy.
The first is the view from our room.
One of my favorite things about our stay is that they provide you with oversized pajamas that you wear all day everyday. Pajamas all day without judgement. Yes please.
Peter and I were each given our schedules for the next 5 days. The days were almost entirely planned out with just a bit of downtime. Each morning started with 7 am yoga followed by a healthy breakfast. Then a classroom setting where we learned about Vedanta. More on that later. After that we’d typically stroll over for a spa service followed by lunch. In between lunch and dinner would be another Vedanta course, spa service, private meditation class or unstructured time by the pool. We would end with a healthy dinner around 7 pm and debrief on the day. Shortly after dinner we would call it a night. The retreat hits all human components of mind, body, and soul which made everyday rich, but also tiring.
The morning yoga was not what I expected. I am use to practicing Vinyasa Flow in the US where the yoga is intense, strenuous, and pop music blasts from speakers. At Ananda it was very light, easy, and quiet. Quite a contrast but nevertheless a very pleasant way to began the mornings… and I got to wear my pjs. Here is where we practiced.
After yoga I would join Peter for breakfast and then we would attend a Vedanta class together.
Vedanta is a Hindu philosophy which in my understanding of the teachings is a belief in finding ones true nature or an ultimate goal of self realization. It’s in that inward journey that one can find the key to happiness. A goal of Vedanta is to strengthen and flex your intellect which is the power to think, reason, judge and decide. In doing this you will consequently be able to use your intelligence to direct yourself on the path of success, peace, and happiness.
Throughout our time there we attended a number of lectures. Topics covered were many and varied: karmic values; harmonious relationships; joy of giving; meditation; stages of human evolution, etc. The most packed with standing room only though was of course—harmonious relationships. Something all of us want.
Here were the takeaways and the most pertinent points for me throughout all the courses we attended:
If you are ever angry or upset with someone it is because you want/need something from that person. Ask yourself what is it that I need from that person? Is it reasonable what I need or do I really need it? So this is inward. It’s something you need…from someone else. You should never allow someone else to control the needs of your own happiness.
Which leads to the fact that so many of us measure our happiness on other people and things. We put our own sense of happiness into people and things that we have no control over. People are entirely unpredictable but yet we source our own happiness from their actions. Or we measure happiness from things. For example a house. That house can be gone due to a fire, or a loss in job, or a change in the market. We can’t control people or things, but we can control our thoughts, our perceptions, and self love. It’s pretty crazy to think that we put our own happiness into the hands of people and things that we cannot possibly predict while putting so little time into self-improvement and internal growth and strengthening.
As taught by Vedanta, in order to have harmonious relationships it comes down to the laws of “assess and adjust.” This simply means assessing the nature of a person then adjusting them to a safe distance from you. The instructor used an analogy of a snake. If you are out in nature and you come across a snake you might admire it from a distance, but you won’t get up close and personal with it because the snake will harm you. It’s all about holding people as far away or as close a distance that is safe for you. Sometimes people will change or you will change and you will need to reassess and readjust those distances.
Life is fluid and assessing to your surroundings is necessary. Clinging onto the past means your putting your happiness into something that is gone. Adjusting to the present in order to maintain a harmonious co-existence with one another is a great lesson we took away from our classes.
The other thing about relationships is perception.
Perhaps you will categorize someone as a snake, but they seemingly get along with others. This boils down to all of our different natures. One person will receive pleasure from a cigarette. Another person will detest it. Or a woman can be so miserable in a marriage that she ends it in in divorce while another woman craves the same man and marries him. Pleasure and pain are not inherent in people or things. It is how we relate to people and things that determines our pleasure and pain. Everyone’s nature is different. Therefore, people are going to get along differently because of their perceptions, how they were raised, what they have been through, etc. We might question why someone gets along better with another person. The simple answer to that is our individual natures. So instead of feeling insecure about other people’s relationships you can simply understand that some individuals and natures are better suited together.
Also while assessing the nature of others you must approach it with a heart full of compassion. If you perceive someone as having a very difficult nature chances are there is a reason for it. More than likely it stems from unhappiness, self hate, and an inability to self accept. Chances are there is pain and suffering involved with that difficult nature. In forgiveness we recognize peoples nature and have compassion for them. The more challenging of a person, the more compassion required. So have compassion but adjust accordingly.
A much mentioned key to happiness is a life of generosity.
One quote was, “Kings give. Slaves take.”
It’s the generous people in the world that are the happy ones, the kings. The people that are constantly taking are unhappy, imprisoned by their greed. If you think about people you know, isn’t it the generous people in your life that seem to be the happiest? They’re the ones that have figured something out – not the strategic one that have mastered how to take.
Another point that struck me was the topic of selfishness. Some people wear selfishness with a badge of honor—proudly claiming they are selfish with their time and energy. In Vedanta teachings happiness is about taking care of yourself first. Then in order: your family/friends, your community, your country, and finally the world at large. This doesn’t mean we should all go teach English in Cambodia. Although that is a wonderful idea. It means that as you go out into this world do right by people. Give love, a smile, positive energy. Think beyond yourself. Live with a heart of compassion and forgiveness. You will find you are happier for it.
With Vedanta there is obviously much much more. These were the teachings that have stayed with me and months later that I have applied to my life. I can honestly say it has made me a happier person.
We were recommended a number of books to dive deeper into the the teachings which I intend to do.
One class we attended was an introduction to hypnotherapy. It was led by two doctors, Ms Roma Singh and Pretti Sethi. During the intro course the teacher asked if anyone had any aliments. I volunteered Peter who had been having a good amount of stomach issues while in India. Peter shot me an irritated glare which I returned with a smile and a wink. We started the mediation and a couple things happened. It put us both in a deep relaxation which gave us a sense of peace; Peter responded that his stomach sensitivity had decreased. We both decided to dig in deeper with the doctors in private sessions where we would experience hypnotherapy involving past and present life regressions.
Note to reader: Please read the following with an open mind. Although I don’t need you to.
Here’s what happened during my two sessions:
The first session started off with filling out some paperwork on fears, phobias, and relationships.
In Hinduism it is believed that we have lived many lives and that phobias are due to something that has occurred in a previous life. By going back to that life we can clear the karmic path to let go of that phobia. It does seem like a reasonable explanation for unexplained phobias.
My phobias are claustrophobia and a fear of waves.
I was brought down to a deep sense of relaxation. This consisted of laying on my back and breathing deeply while the Doc brought me “under.” I didn’t go into a subconscious state but some somewhere in the middle. I remembered my experience but my body also felt heavy in the sense that I couldn’t lift my arms and my eyes were fluttering in a constant state of REM.
Once under they started with a previous life.
I was asked where I was, my age, and name. Suddenly I was in a bathtub fighting for air. I was drowning. Someone was drowning me. I was seeing all this from the eyes of that person. Myself. The age five came to my mind and the name Sara. In order to clear the karmic path I had to offer support and love to this little girl and forgive the person who drowned me. In doing this, I cleared out the negativity and cured my phobias. I can’t say if it worked, but it was still a thrill to experience.
The next exercise we did is forgiveness through “empty chair/chord cutting.” With relationships that we have been deeply hurt by the only real solution of forgiveness is in the “soul world” where we can shed karmic ties. The relationship can be a previous or present one. For example maybe growing up you didn’t have a great relationship with a family member but you do now. That karmic energy from the past still needs to be cleared because it can still effect us.
This practice consisted of envisioning that person in a chair across from me. Attached to me and that person is an umbilical cord. While that person is in the chair I get to say anything I want to to them. How much I was hurt, disgusted, angry, etc. I get to lay into them as much as I want. Some tears were shed during this process. After that I then go into forgiving that person and then finally forgiving myself for the role I played and for allowing it to happen. I then sever the cord which disintegrates into the earth and that person slowly floats away. I was able to do this with as many past and present relationships I wanted.
In this exercise I cleared out any bad karma/energy that had been draining or weighing me down, consciously or subconsciously. Once finished I had a sense of freedom and peace. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted. Afterwords I had never felt lighter.
The last exercise I did was to clear out any pain/trauma in this life. I was brought into a room where a former self was located. The doctor asked me the age of her/me. As I laid there in a deep relaxation the number 21 came to mind. I was then instructed to walk over to her/me. I was then asked what was going on with her. Suddenly a hollowed face showed up in my mind and a feeling of profound sadness and a sense of being lost came over me. I told the doctors, “she is very lost and lonely.” I was then instructed to hug my 21 year old self and tell her, “I am here. I am older now and I will always take care of you. You never have to feel lonely or lost again.”
Just like Vedanta teaches everything you need you have inside of you. Everything in order to be happy, successful, rich lies within each of us.
After this last exercise as they were bringing me out of hypnotherapy I began to see the most beautiful purple color. The purple appeared to be moving across what I can only describe as a surface like the moon which was a grey color. The purple seemed be breaking up the grey matter. It was so vivid and bright.
Once I came out I explained to the doctors what I saw and questioned them on what it was. Dr Roma gave me a pleased smile and told me, “Purple is your crown chakra which means spiritual enlightenment. The purple was a spirit breaking up and taking away the grey which is the bad energy and karma in your life.”
I went into hypnotherapy knowing absolutely nothing about chakras or colors. The purple was the most vivid thing I saw during my sessions. I can still perfectly envision it. It’s something I am grateful for seeing and I do believe was a sign of change, of letting go or as the the Doctor explained—enlightenment.
I am admittedly much more hippy dippy in my doctrines than my pragmatic husband. However Peter also did hypnotherapy and he too benefited it from it. But that’s a story for him to tell. Not me.
Mixed into the days were also a number of varied spa services: Salt scrub, Swedish massage, facial, reflexology, and 4 hand massage. There was a specific order that the services were given to obtain maximum benefits.
The other slots of time were filled with mediation classes with breathing techniques. Our favorite one was Yoga Nidra which is a state of conscious sleep, or “yogi sleep.” You are guided through breathing that puts you in between wakefulness and sleep. It is unbelievably relaxing and helps to quiet the agitated mind and awaken awareness.
As you can imagine having five full days that are filled in this manner can only make one achieve a completely relaxed and content state. Here is Peter and I on our last day at the retreat.
I don’t think I have ever seen a more relaxed picture of us. Peter thinks we’ve never looked more cultish in our lives and are two seconds away from being hypnotized into Scientology.
Here are some other pictures that were taken throughout our time at Ananda.
Our trip to India was coming to a close. I had told Peter when we had arrived in India that I wanted to submit a picture to Glamour magazine for the “where has Glamour been” section. Readers send it pictures holding Glamour magazine in all parts of the world. I figured India would give me the best chance to be selected. The only problem was that we were leaving and we hadn’t taken a picture. So literally while we were checking out I asked Peter if we could do a picture real quick. As our driver waited we grabbed a spot and Peter snapped this photo.
To give credit where credit is deserved the pose was Peter’s idea.
Much to my surprise three days later I was contacted and informed my picture was being passed along for consideration. Then six days after that I received a fact-checking email. They wanted to know if indeed my location was Fairbanks, Alaska. Since I was homeless at the time I figured Alaska would give me an edge over California. About three weeks later this hit newsstands.
Just another thing that happened to add to the magic of India.
I left India incredibly happy and with a greater sense of peace than I had ever known. India had always called to me and I left there knowing exactly why. It’s been fun to talk to with friends and family about our trip there, especially about Ananda. I typically get similar responses and questions that involve people wanting to get there someday. Including a text from a girlfriend this morning that wrote me “What was the name of the place you went in India that was the yoga spiritual cleanse…? I want to plan something for the fall.” I hope she gets there.
As Peter and I left Ananda we faced that same long road trip back to New Delhi. Although this time we were too zenned out to be bothered. We didn’t need a better driver to be happy. We weren’t going to let a car ride shake us.
Thanks as always for following along. Now that we are back in Bangkok I plan on getting caught up on the blog.
“Everything you need lies within yourself. All source of power, all source of strength, all source of love, all source of happiness, and all source of peace lies within yourself.”