Yoga Journal Senior Editor Tasha Eichenseher finds that surrendering control in Rishikesh, India, left her with a liberating after-glow.
My trip to India started with a two-hour delay on the Newark, New Jersey, tarmac, making the flight to Delhi 17 hours instead of 15. When you’re trapped in a Boeing 777 with 300 people, there’s not much to do but give in to movies, magazines, and sleep. And as it turns out, the holdup and long flight were perfect training for my 10-day trip to a country where control over anything is an illusion and surrender is the key to a glimpse of the sacred.
From Delhi, I puddle-jumped 119 miles northeast to reach Rishikesh, known as the birthplace of yoga, near Tibet and the foothills of the Himalayas. I spent my first night there at an ashram called Parmarth Niketan, on the banks of the Ganges River, and treaded cautiously that evening to a devotional fire ceremony, called Ganga Aarti, that Parmarth hosts daily on big marble steps that descend into the Ganges. I cringed when I was asked to take off my shoes—the smell of chemical disinfectant mixed with cow dung and the swarms of attendant flies gnawed at my mild germophobia. But I sucked it up and found a seat sandwiched between two Indians armed with iPhones, snapping selfies. I watched with wonder as one person after the next approached the river—a swirling mess of milk-chocolate-colored water—to perform unique rituals and make offerings. A middle-aged man scooped up water in a copper pot and poured some over his head; a young girl lit a candle among flowers in a banana leaf and set it sailing; others drank from the Ganges. Witnessing their faith helped me embrace the chaos, eventually getting lost in collective chanting and serious self-reflection. The next day, I found myself in a different world. A 45-minute cab drive uphill brought me to the nearly 20-foot-high gates of an impressive 19th-century palace with a carefully manicured rose garden and lush lawns. The region’s maharaja, or prince, lives in a section of this palace; in 2001, another part of it was converted into the reception area for Ananda Spa, an Ayurveda and yoga refuge. Now Indians and international wellness travelers alike come to de-stress and reset at Ananda.
Upon check-in, I was greeted with a mala and handed an aggressive spa schedule that included private yoga and meditation classes, Ayurvedic massage, yogic and Ayurvedic cleansings, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, and a facial. I changed into a white kurta—the deliciously soft, pajamalike “uniform” that Ananda guests live in—and proceeded to a meeting with one of the private yoga instructors. She promptly asked about my yoga experience and what I hoped to achieve at Ananda. Then it was off to one of 24 spa rooms for a detoxifying salt scrub. Feeling fresh, I stopped in to see the Ayurvedic doctor, who checked my pulse and asked questions about my appetite, digestion, and moods, among other things. He determined that I was experiencing an excess of kapha—the constitutional element in Ayurveda that is responsible for feelings of heaviness, slowness, and sleepiness. I carried this new diagnosis to the chef, who put me on a customized, kapha detox diet. My first meal: green pea and mint gazpacho and sweet-and-sour tomato curry with spinach-braised yellow lentils. This was easy to surrender to.
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The next few days delivered an intense detox experience, with 60-minute hatha yoga sessions; 30-minute pranayama sessions that called on several techniques, including Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath); a 55-minute Choornaswedana massage, which started with a blessing, as all Ananda massages do, and involved sesame-based oil and Ayurvedic herbs; an Ayurvedic enema; and a 30-minute meditation technique called Trataka, which is the practice of staring at something in an effort to calm and focus the mind and withdraw your senses. At first it was hard to relax, but I slowly started to welcome all the pampering, made easier by the incredibly kind and attentive staff, and was able to ease into downtime, curling up with a book on the pristine lawn, without feeling guilty or wanting to check my phone.
A couple more days of treatments and I was glowing. Tension in my shoulders had melted away, and my head was clear. As I waited for my flight back to Delhi, I noticed a lightness that I had never experienced. My time at Ananda and in Rishikesh had lifted not only the burden of stress, but also the weight of trying to control all aspects of my life. The Ganges and a concentrated dose of asana, pranayama, meditation, and self-care had taught me how to go with the flow. (For more info, visit ananda spa)
Round out your spa experience with time in this iconic yoga town:
Attend a Classic Festival
Held March 1–7, the International Yoga Festival is hosted by Parmarth Niketan ashram. Join hundreds of yogis from around the world for kirtan, dharma talks, asana, and more (internationalyogafestival.com).
Gain Lessons from the Stars
Visit internationally recognized yoga teacher Anand Mehrotra at his Sattva Centre in the jungle just outside Rishikesh. Mehrotra specializes in yoga, wisdom talks, and Vedic astrology readings, and he can help you take a celestial look at your past, present, and future (mysattva.com).
Tour the Beatles' Practice Space
The Beatles visited and worked from Rishikesh in 1968, when they came to study Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The ashram they stayed at is no longer open, but you can still wander the graffitied grounds and get a sense of what it might have been like in its heyday.