If you’re on your first proper trip to Asia, India can indeed be a very intense and full-on adventure, and most people will probably experience some form of a culture shock. While on study breaks from my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, I wanted to share with you my very first impressions of India, Rishikesh and the course.
Given that my course workload is quite intense, and I still have not fully adjusted to the time zone change and our schedule, this will be a “fewer words, more pictures” kind of post. Plus, a few snippets of the most colourful moments I have experienced so far.
Even before landing in New Delhi, I couldn’t help but notice the heavy smog which covered the Indian capital as a thick wool blanket. Currently, it is so bad that local medical experts are advising people against being outdoors, especially when exercising. Unless you want to add a few spoonfuls of toxic ash to your lungs! Even the locals seem to be concerned as we saw a lot of people covering their faces with masks or hand towels while in traffic.
We are lucky, though, to be away from it all as our yoga teacher training takes place in Rishikesh – a small city (India small) at the foot of the Himalaya mountains. Even River Ganga, which flows through this so-called yoga capital of the world, is considered to be fairly clean here and you might even enjoy a swim in its turquoise waters.
Another favourite aspect of mine – Rishikesh has way fewer people and traffic on the streets. Nevertheless, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious when out and about. It is so intense that highly sensitive people (like yours truly) might have a hard time adjusting. For me, it took about three to four days to shake some of that stress away.
But still, sometimes it is just too much for the Westerner – the intense smells on the streets, roaming cows, dirt under your feet, never-ending traffic rushing by, horns beeping, people yelling, monkeys stealing food, dogs barking them away, street sellers inviting you into their shops, and locals asking for “just one selfie please madam“.
With all that combined, it just sends your senses through the roof until you do not even understand what you are feeling, where those feelings are coming from and what to do with them. What I have been trying to do from day one, is to just accept the experience, accept the confusion and let it go. My thoughts are not me, my emotions are not me.
I wish it was that simple! The thing I struggle a lot with at the school is meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques). I find it so hard to stay still and clear my mind. My knees and legs are close to exploding from pain after the long hours we spend sitting on the floor (we have no chairs and desks at any of the classes), and my thoughts are racing 200 mph whenever we are still and quiet.
On top of this mental discombobulation, pretty early on we were introduced to physical exhaustion. After the first three days into the training (each with about four hours of more or less intense yoga practice), my body was screaming of pain. I’m quite sure I have discovered a new kind of pain and muscles I never knew I had. My only hope is that my body will adjust to it and it will get easier soon. I can’t deny though, that I’m very much looking forward to seeing my progress at the end of this journey.
One thing that helps us get through this, is the delicious food we are fed at the school. Currently, I don’t consider myself fully vegetarian, let alone vegan, but it is an amazing chance to try it out. I think I really enjoy traditional Indian cuisine, however, I still try to keep in touch with the Westerner in me.
One reason for this is my fear of getting sick while in India. And let me be honest – for the first few days it was at obsessive levels. I still don’t eat food from street vendors or at sketchy eateries, but I’m easing up a bit. The thing is, with everything that we are going through here, radical changes in your diet can easily cause tummy upset. But I need to stay healthy and full of energy.
And if we’re talking about staying healthy, there are a few other things I do. I avoid tap water at all costs and any milk products, while meat just really isn’t much of an option in Rishikesh and the school especially. I wash my hands as often as I can, plus use hand sanitizer before each meal. After meals, I sometimes take probiotics and drink a can of coke once a day. Plus, a lot of strong ginger-honey-lemon tea.
Let’s hope I will have more free moments to write all the stories I want to tell you about my experience here. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!