Sunday, August 4, 2013

Neyyar Dam, Kerala, India

Where Swami Vivekenanda
achieved enlightenment
When I signed up for my 500 hour teacher training in India, I thought I was going to be staying at an Ashram like I did for my 200 hour in The Bahamas. In The Bahamas I had wished I had been able to stay longer and do some Karma Yoga to let all my new knowledge sink in, but I wasn't able to change my plane ticket. When I found out my 500 hour would not be an Ashram and again no chance to stay on and practice Karma Yoga I decided to find an Ashram where I could do just that.

I decided on the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala in the south western part of India. I flew from Rishikesh to Kerala rather than taking the train as I was now on my own and the train would have meant two full days and nights of traveling and transferring with all my luggage. No thank you!

Where the 3 Seas meet
I arrived at the Ashram just in time for breakfast. Breakfast was already laid out as I walked into the dining hall. The plates and cups were on the floor in front of bamboo mats. No utensils. Good thing my friend Huda taught me how to eat with my hands in Bangladesh! Seriously, I'm not talking about finger foods here, I'm talking about rice with sauces and gravies, vegetable curries and things that you wouldn't normally consider eating with your hands, it takes skill. There was a cup with some pink colored water in it so I assumed I was supposed to dip my fingers in that to clean/sanitize them before digging in to my food. I also used this cup to dip my fingers after they got covered in slimy food. Nope...I was supposed to drink that water which was infused with Ayurvedic herbs giving it the pink color.

After finishing breakfast I went to find out what my karma yoga duties would be. I was going to be working in the Health Hut, making smoothies, juices and all sorts of snacks for other guests of the Ashram. I was actually excited about my duties. When my shift ended I could make my own snacks. I had to pay for them of course, but I got to make them myself.
Sunrise Satsang at Neyyar Dam

Every Friday at the Ashram is a day off. I arrived on Thursday and you don't have to work on your first day. So I chilled on Thursday and found out about an excursion happening on Friday to the Southern tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea all meet. I paid the fee and got up early the next morning to go visit this place where 3 seas meet and visit some temples including the place where Swami Vivikenanda (the first Swami to bring yoga to the west) achieved enlightenment. It ended up being a really long and seemingly unorganized day, so I promised myself on the following Fridays I would just stay at the Ashram and relax.

Around the Ashram
I believe this is Brahma
I wanted to stay at this Ashram as a karma yogi and use up the rest of my visa there. However while still in my training in north India an opportunity arose which required me to come back to Hawaii sooner than I had originally intended and it also required me to start putting together some slides on my computer. So I figured I would return to Hawaii in early May but everywhere I went I could not get internet access to purchase a plane ticket. The Ashram was no different.

Without internet I felt like I couldn't really get anything done that I needed to do. So on the next Friday I went to Varkala with a couple of friends I had made and we spent the day at the beach, eating amazing meals and using internet. I booked a flight back to Hawaii but I also found a room to stay at in Varkala and decided I would go back to the Ashram for a couple more days but then I was going to spend the last 3 weeks of my journey at the beach, where I belong.

As much as I wanted to stay and be a karma yogi in The Bahamas, and I feel I would have also loved doing that in North India with the group of swamis that were teaching us during my training, this Ashram in Kerala had a different vibe to it. The "staff" and "karma yogis" that were there were very negative. The were like yoga nazis. It's not uncommon for Ashram food to make you a little sick while your body is adjusting to it. However, the staff would give you a hard time if you missed any of the events you were supposed to be at, like Satsang or lecture. The initial reaction from them was always a condescending "why aren't you there?" or "You need to be at such and such" without ever checking to see if you were okay. There was just no compassion in it. Myself and friends of mine were all having trouble dealing with the staff. I felt bad because for most of the people there they were on "yoga vacation" which is like a way to come see the ways of an Ashram and how it works and decide if you might want to take your yoga practice deeper. For them, this was a terrible experience. I kept explaining to them that I had been in other Ashram settings and they were amazing, even with the same organization. One big thing that seemed to be missing was the guidance of any swamis. There wasn't a single swami at this Ashram, only Chaitanayas (teachers of yoga) and they had apparently let "power" go to their heads. In the end, I decided I didn't want to be a part of this Ashram and finished my time up at the beach. However, I made a lot of new friends at the Ashram, and two of them decided to head to the beach with me!

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