I am hoping to have Practice available on Amazon (paperback and e-book) and iTunes (e-book) within two weeks. Until then, please enjoy this chapter.
Yoga at the Green Hotel
A few days into my first visit to Rishikesh, I set out to discover the yoga scene. With my camera in hand and yoga mat hanging from my shoulder, I began to wander.
It did not take long to discover signs advertising all types of yoga classes. The sidewalk board for Om Shanti Om highlighted a daily schedule that included Hatha Yoga, Beginner’s Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Meditation, and even Laughter Yoga on Sundays. Just across a small bridge, the World Peace Yoga School featured similar drop-in classes along with 200-hour teacher trainings. I was definitely in the self-professed “Yoga Capital of the World.”
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the choices, I walked to The Juice House to satisfy my nutritional needs. I sat at a community table and began to quiz my fellow travelers about their recommendations for Rishikesh yoga. One friend said, “You will never go wrong with Ashish. He teaches Iyengar at the Green Hotel.” Another stated, “If you want strict instruction, cross the river to take a class with Usha Devi at Patanjala Yoga.” A third person added, “You should do Surrender Yoga, but take a friend the first time or you will never find the studio. The classes are packed, so go early.” I remember thinking about the coolness of the name, Surrender Yoga, and was sure to add this to my short list.
Since the Green Hotel was only a few blocks from my ashram, I decided to make that my target for the next morning. The class was set to begin at 9 a.m. so I arrived at 8:40 to allow for some leeway. After finding the hotel, I was quickly confused and could not locate the famous class. My lack of Hindi language skills handicapped my ability to communicate with the reception desk workers. Slightly frustrated, I walked out the front door and was then happy to see two young women with yoga mats hanging from their shoulders. I followed them down a short alley that led to a skinny metal staircase. The top of the stairs had barely enough room for one person to stand. When the first lady reached the top, she used some yoga skills to balance on one foot, remove her shoes, and place them on the metal wall rack. I nearly tumbled down the stairs attempting to emulate her performance.
The white marble floor tiles were cold to the feet and helped retain a lower temperature in the room. Piles of yoga mats, boxes filled with straps, mountains of wooden blocks mixed with some foam ones, and bundles of colorful blankets lined the room. Copying a fellow student, I selected a few props and placed a bolster on my mat. Lying on my back, I covered my body with a light blanket and waited for Ashish to arrive. Around 9:15, I broke the silence in the room and asked, “Where is Ashish?” Laughter filled the space and one student responded, “Anything between now and 9:30 is on time for India. You must be new to the area.”
Around 9:40, Ashish entered the room, set up his mat, sat down, and dryly said, “Join me in chanting ‘OM’ three times.” Iyengar Yoga is very focused on alignments and uses straps, chairs, walls, and fellow students as aids to achieve the appropriate postures. This class began with a five-minute flow warm-up followed by Ashish picking a student to demonstrate the downward dog pose. The young lady chosen seemed to be very advanced in her practice. Ashish then dissected her efforts and was quick to identify at least 15 things she was doing wrong. He wanted an arch at the wrist, thigh rotation, toes off the ground and extended.
I was lost. I had no idea that any pose had so many elements. I thought the downward dog meant putting my hands at the top of the mat, feet at the back, and raising my butt to the sky. Toes extended? He must’ve been joking. After thoroughly kicking her ass, Ashish divided us into groups of three, and we helped each other perform the asana (yoga pose or posture) to the stricter standards. The class continued along similar lines—Ashish selected a guinea pig to model the pose, then we broke into small groups to practice.
About halfway through the class, a young lady grabbed a rope, expertly tied it into wall hooks, and then entered the contraption. With her feet on the wall and the rope supporting her midsection, she hung in place. I casually walked over to ask what she was doing, and she replied, “Stretching my back.”
I had never seen a human tethered to a wall. I seemed to be in an alternate universe. In that exact moment, I also saw six monkeys playing on the rooftop, occasionally looking through the glass windows. Feeling like an outsider, I could easily relate to their inquisitive viewpoints.
A few times per week for the rest of my stay, I climbed the metal stairs and practiced yoga at the Green Hotel. The hard exterior of Ashish softened with each lesson, and I found him to be a humorous and loveable teacher. I met so many great people in these classes.
Werner, the German in his mid-60s, wore a biker jacket with a “Masala Rider” logo. His wiry gray hair was contained in a ponytail, and his face was never without an engaging smile.
Chris, a giant man from England, was another regular. He rode to class on his Royal Enfield Classic motorcycle. One day while sipping chai, he told me he’d ridden this bike from the southernmost tip of Goa all the way to the Himalayas. He described the epic journey as being “so many smiles, that my face hurt.”
From my Camino experience, I thought I was an expert on packing, but I asked him how he chose for the trip.
He replied, “It must be useful and beautiful.”
I thought about this for a moment, then asked, “What is the most useless yet beautiful item you brought on this trip?”
Without hesitation, he said, “My Superman costume.”
Several months later, I smiled at a rock music video he posted on his Facebook page, wherein he was featured running down an Indian beach, dressed in his beautiful Superman costume, chased by screaming girls.