Yoga brought me to India. I returned a new person—or rather the one I always wanted to be.
A loud bell was clanging. I looked at the clock: 5:00 am. I took in my surroundings: concrete walls, single-sized wooden bed frame, orange curtains and the faint outline of my roommate.
I was about to face my first day: Sitting in mandatory silence until breakfast, eating off a metal plate and sharing my feelings with people I’d just met. No, I wasn’t at some strange camp or correctional facility. I was in an ashram in Rishikesh, India. It had taken me 36 hours of travel time to arrive and I was to spend the next seven weeks at this beautiful place studying, living and breathing one thing – yoga.
I first discovered yoga in 2005. Some take up yoga for physical fitness or stress relief, but I simply wanted to try something new and figured my hopelessly tight muscles could probably benefit. I can’t really say it was love at first downward dog, as I felt awkward and stiff for most of the class. But something kept inspiring me to go to more classes. I don’t know if it was the greater range of motion I was already enjoying or that I was simply relieved I had found an activity that didn’t require a) rhythm or b) hand-eye coordination.
During my third or fourth yoga class, the teacher said something that changed me forever: “Yoga is about letting go of the past as well as the expectations of the future – and in doing so, inner peace is possible.” This logic blew my twenty-something-year-old mind. I constantly lamented mistakes I’d made in my not-so-distant past, and I always fretted about my future. Resting peacefully in the present moment was a foreign concept to me, but little by little I began to enjoy worry-free moments off my yoga mat. It was then that I knew I would never stop doing yoga.
A few years later, it occurred to me that if yoga so profoundly helped me find the steady path in the midst of life’s storms, perhaps I could give back by teaching the practice to others. I enrolled in a yoga teacher training course in 2009 and one year later I was teaching.
As a teacher I learned so much more about yoga and became fascinated with the idea of traveling to India, birthplace of yoga. But part of me always hesitated. Although I was an avid traveler, India still seemed like a scary place to visit. But like anything in life, the more we question and doubt things, the less likely we are to do them. Sometimes it’s best just to go for it and celebrate the fact that we have fresh water and orderly traffic back home.
In November 2012, I found myself at the ashram surrounded by a group of more than 30 other yogis from around the world. We became family over the next seven weeks; like any family, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. As one of our teachers put it, “Just because we do yoga doesn’t mean we float around on clouds of patchouli all day.”
We got antsy with the rigid schedule, pushed back when it came to homework and shed a homesick tear or two. But we got through it. We learned to be less attached to our need to “do” and resolved to just “be.” And sure, we practiced the physical postures of yoga. But my goal to do an unsupported handstand didn’t seem that important anymore when we were constantly reminded that yoga’s purpose is to calm the mind. If we can calm the mind while we stand on our hands, then sure, a handstand is a great posture. But if the mind is all over the place, handstand is just a fun party trick.
I came back to Canada feeling lighter, happier, more grateful and more aware of my habitual attachment to my to-dos and tendency to fret. In the months after I returned home, I would find myself agonizing over to-do lists and getting frustrated at the dog’s muddy paws and my partner’s need to keep all the clothes he wore in high school. But it became much easier to notice when I was returning to bad habits and gently bring myself back to a state of equanimity.
On the way home from India, I flipped through my journal. Arriving at the last page I took in the final words with a smile. I had written something my teacher said during my last class, “Celebrate every moment of your life.” As I sat back in my plane seat, I made a personal promise to do just that.
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About the author Julia Marshall
Fun: Julia Marshall is a Calgary-based yoga teacher and freelance writer. She has a weakness for chickpeas, Guinness, and espresso, but wasn’t allowed to have any of the latter two while studying yoga in India, which she did for nearly two months in 2012. Her BFFs are her three dogs, who combined, outweigh Julia by nearly 100 pounds.
Serious: Julia Marshall is a registered yoga teacher with more than 500 hours of training completed in Canada and abroad in India. She currently works as a freelance writer and offers hatha, vinyasa flow, prenatal, and restorative yoga classes in Calgary. Julia’s focus is to help students find their inner peace through yoga, to live blissful, more stress-free lives off the mat. Learn more at www.jewelyoga.ca.