Yoga in Rishikesh

For all my other India posts I’ve always had an idea of what I’m going to write before I’ve sat down and written the post but with this post about Rishikesh I just don’t know. Sat here in a noisy Delhi airport waiting twelve hours for my flight to Kuala Lumpur I can’t help but reflect on the two weeks I’ve had in Rishikesh. The one word that come to mind is gratitude, I’ve been so grateful to be immersed in the amazing yoga community yet again. Two weeks of focusing only on myself but in a completely non selfish manner, I’ve worked on my yoga practice and I’ve worked a lot on my mind and what I see my future being. That probably seems like a really deep thing to say but two weeks of nothing but yoga and thinking does that to you!
I was lucky enough to spend my first week at the Anand Prakash ashram in Tapovan, Rishikesh and arriving at this warm yellow building after a long day of travelling from Delhi was a relief. To say my journey from Delhi was a little longer than expected is an understatement! I set off from my hotel in a taxi at 6:30am in order to get my 7:30am train to Haridwar from which I could get a taxi to the ashram hopefully arriving in the early afternoon for a class and dinner. This smooth travel was not meant to be though and the Indian rail system failed me! Having negotiated my way (with huge backpack) from taxi through the concourse and to the correct platform I set about waiting for my train. I was already dripping with sweat from the Delhi heat and looking forward to my air conditioned executive seat and sitting down with my book. 7:10am, I casually glance to the departures board and my heart sinks….CANCELLED. With no explanation my train is cancelled and then slowly the announcements begin of train after train being cancelled out of Delhi. Small pep talk to myself that it’s all ok and I head over to the international booking lounge which is blissfully air conned and await my turn to find out what my best plan of action is. Raj, who sold me my ticket and is amazing (if you’re going to India let me know and I’ll pass on his details) also called me and repeated the same information that I had just got from enquiries, the next train available was the night train leaving at 10pm or you can get the bus. So, conundrum, spend an entire day in Delhi train station and get a night train by myself or brave the Delhi metro and get on a seven hour bus… The seven hour bus trip and at least arriving at the ashram on the same day won out and it was off to the metro, having purchased myself a platform ticket to walk through the station to the metro! India is either disorganised or super organised, never in between. The metro ticket hall definitely fitted into the disorganised category, I’ve never seen lines so long to buy a ticket and I was suddenly very conscious of not only being one of the few women but of not seeing any other western heads around me, slightly disconcerting! Everything was fine though and I joined the shortest queue for the one self service machine and got my token. The metro either works on cards like an oyster or you get a little coin a bit like at the fairground!
Metro negotiated I found myself at Kashmiri Gate for the bus depot. This was a bit more rough around the edges than the metro trains which were spotless and cool and luckily I buddied up with some others heading to Rishikesh to try and work out which bus was which. I was booked on the 12:30 bus but considering people where still waiting for the 10am bus you can consider the time table fluid! Once the bus arrived though it was all fine, quite a lot of leg room, not bad air con and relatively comfy reclining seats. I settled in for my 7 hours! I’m not going to say it was the most interesting ride to look out of the window at but the journey went surprisingly quickly and as the day got dark we pulled into Rishikesh. Tuk tuk sourced by one of the ladies I’d buddied up with and I was on the final leg of my journey, up the steep bumpy hill with the Ganges at the bottom of the valley. Thirteen hours after leaving my hotel in Delhi I’d made it to Anand Prakash, I’d missed dinner and I was knackered but I was there!

The view from the roof terrace!

The next week in the ashram was exactly what I needed after a manic two weeks around Rajasthan. Waking at 5 am for mediation and a class on the roof terrace, warm Himalayan wind bringing fresh air and energy off of the hills, flowing through sun salutations as the birds wake up and the sun rises and slowly connecting myself back to my breath and my body. The food at the ashram was so good, three hearty meals a day always accompanied by delicious chapattis and rice. I definitely over did the carb consumption! But my excuse is I was doing three hours of yoga a day! The early morning class and then a 4pm class in the afternoon.
The rest of the day was ours to either wander around Rishikesh, read or self practice. I did a lot of writing and thinking on the roof terrace, curled up on a blanket in the shade as well as chai’s out with the rest of the ashram family at our favourite cafe Ira’s, named after the owners daughter, a three year old who is the life and soul of the party! Morning’s also included Fire Puja, a ceremony of prayers and offerings to the fire which was fascinating and really great thing to experience and Tuesday and Thursday evenings we had Kirtan. These evenings of chanting and singing, all with different instruments were great fun and a wonderful way to lose your inhibitions and make friends. Kind of like all sitting around a campfire on a camping trip but it didn’t matter if you didn’t know the words or were out of tune, all that mattered was joining in.
Rishikesh seemed a very quiet place compared to the other places I’d visited in India but I like this quieter pace of life. There are cafes to sit in and watch the world go by, the prerequisite cows and monkeys to dodge around, little shops for the odd bit of souvenir shopping, amazing book shops (if only I had space in my luggage!) and of course place after place offering yoga. As the birthplace of yoga is does now feel like yoga has definitely become the business of the town which is a shame but in amongst the myriad of yoga choices I found some lovely classes during my second week.
While in Delhi I had decided to stay on in Rishikesh for my last week in India in order to really connect to my practice and over the past week I’ve been staying in a hotel but doing drop in classes at different ashrams and studios. This was a great change from the ashram schedule and it was a great way of me really crystallising how I want to teach when I return to the UK, picking up tips and hints from every class I went to. I found an amazing hatha studio on the other side of the river where I went to four classes and the classical hatha teaching was great. Exactly how I like to practice, with care to the pose, pushing your body but knowing when to back out and having fun trying things you’ve not tried before. In contrast I also went to an ashtanga class which was so not up my street, too rigid, too fast paced and not caring about the body. I’m definitely going to try and teach in a more slow paced, caring, empowering way! I want my students to leave the class feeling worked but amazing!
I could continue to wax lyrical about yoga experience after yoga experience but instead I thought I’d give a list of my recommendations for Rishikesh and yoga there in case you ever get the urge to visit!
– Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram – Great ashram to base yourself, in Tapovan which is the slightly quieter part of upper Rishikesh but still within 10-15 minutes walking distance of Laxman Jhula to get yourself to the other side where more of the hostels and cafes are. Not the strictest ashram in the world but I liked that. For 1000 rupees a day you get two yoga classes, three meals and a bed as well as fire puja and kirtan. You can also do the same for 700 rupees if you want to live out. Well worth having the full ashram experience though.
– Yoganandham – Another ashram in Tapovan where I did two drop in classes for 300 rupees each. I went to the morning asana, pranayama and mediation class which was really good. A nice mix of hatha still asana work along with some pranayama breathing techniques as well. I also went to the most amazing afternoon class here which basically ended up being a one on one hatha class and it was hard! But hard in that way that you hate it while you’re doing it but feel amazing after. It felt like I’d been slaughtered in the gym and I was so sweaty but it was really nice to practice with someone so focused on alignment and who wanted to push my practice forward.
– Swami Vivekananda Yoga and Meditation School – On the other side of the Ganges from where I was staying and the other ashram but I came across this school by accident while looking for another one and I’m so glad I did. I took four classical hatha classes here, two in the morning and two in the afternoon and they were just fantastic. I loved the structure, the alignment cues and the pushing on each repetition to take the pose up one more level. I learnt a lot and began to achieve things I didn’t think where possible. I only wish I could have taken more classes there.

Creating muscle memory in boat pose…look at that sweat!

– Ira’s cafe and tea room – my favourite place to go and eat in Rishikesh. In Tapovan not far from the ashram and tucked up a little street it doesn’t have the views of the Ganges that a lot of the others have but it makes up for that in the family feel and gorgeous food. Great for a chai and the amazing almond and date ball while having a chat with friends or being entertained by Ira or as a place to get one of the best vegetable curries I’ve had in India
– Cafe Shambala – in the little winding hill street of Tapovan market is this cafe built on a platform overlooking the Ganges. Food and wifi are good, great place to while away a couple of hours with a book. Just beware of the ants!

View from the Shambala cafe

– Little Buddha Cafe – on the other side of the river from my main base but great as a pit stop from wandering or before heading to a class at the  Swami Vivekananda Yoga and Meditation School opposite. Food again is good as is the WiFi and it’s always busy so has got as much off a buzz as you’re going to get in Rishikesh!
Things to do (apart from yoga) 
– Neer Garh Waterfall – go for a hike up the hills outside Rishikesh to the Neer Garh waterfall. Start early before it gets too warm and climb up the steps through the jungle to the pool at the top that you can swim in. Beware of monkeys and take plenty of water as it’s a steep climb but the jungle views and swim are worth it. You may even gain a dog for your whole walk like we did! 
– Ganga Aarti ceremony – head down to the Parmath Niketan ashram down past Ram Jhula bridge to arrive at 6pm. Buy a little offering of flowers and incense and immerse yourself in the chanting and fire of the Ganga Aarti before lighting (or struggling to in my case) your incense and setting your little fiery offering off on its journey down the Ganges
– The Beatles Ashram – the site of the former Transcendental meditation ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made famous by the Beatles. Now being reclaimed by the jungle and filled with paintings on the crumbling walls. An amazing space to wander around, the energy is amazing and the setting high above the Ganges is beautifully quiet. Not only interesting because of the Beatles connection the meditation pods and artworks are fascinating in themselves
And that is the end of my trip to India! I’m sat here in Delhi airport, into my third hour of twelve between flights and I’d love to know what everyone has made of my updates! I’ve enjoyed writing them so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them? 
If there’s anything more you want to know or any questions please comment below 
Excitingly the next update will be Malaysia, country two of four already! 

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