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This blog kicks off a series of posts in which YJ contributors will share their experiences of yoga in its birthplace. If you’ve considered traveling to India to practice, to find your teacher, or to find yourself, learn more here weekly about what you can—and can’t—expect.
Greetings from Rishikesh. The International Yoga Festival (IYF) is going off. Really words cannot express what is going on here. This is a gathering of 1,000 people from over 50 countries to practice yoga in its birthplace along the banks of “Maa Ganga,” the River Ganges. Indian political figures have come to explore this amazing affirmation of their country’s cultural and spiritual heritage alongside the living saints and Indian spiritual leaders, whose faces can be seen on enormous IYF billboards, stretching for literally hundreds of miles in every direction from here.
To understand how much they revere yoga teachers, you should know what the title “yogacharya” (as teachers are called) means to them. That description indicates a person has truly risen above their own Karmas to the point where they can be of service to another in a deep, powerful way. Being here among these saints, sages, and yogacharyas is at once empowering and humbling. It is an affirmation of the work we have all done and a realization that we are students still, seekers in the purest sense of that word.
The Scene at the International Yoga Festival
The physical environment here is simply weird and different. Cows wander the narrow, shop-lined street. Gods and temples to Gods appear around every corner. The food is plain, nourishing, simple. There are Chai stands where we buy our small glasses of sweetened, spicy chai for 10 Indian Rupees (about 15 cents). And everyone, everywhere greets you with hands in prayer and “Namaste,” “Jai Shree Krishna,” or “Hari Om” depending on their lineage.
The fact that all of this is taking place in an ashram environment seriously ups the ante on the whole experience. We eat together and live together in very basic conditions. Some of us have hot water for showers. Others of us, not so much. Sometimes the internet works and there is electricity. At other times, we sit face to face with our own sense of entitlement and insistence that things should be somehow different than they are. India, it seems, is a laboratory for self-inquiry and reflection. It forces us to do this work that we’re here to do.
Also seeA Yogi’s Travel Guide to India
The IYF Experience
There are Satsang events daily and nightly whereby the hundreds Indians along with foreign seekers come together to ask the questions we all want the answers to—and we get them. In last night’s Satsang with Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the director and spiritual lead of Parmath Niketan and IYF, we covered a lot of ground from free will vs. determinism to understanding the role of faith in our practice and our lives. I have never been to a yoga festival where the holistic system of yoga was so well represented. There are, of course, eight limbs of yoga described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, and aside from samadhi, which cannot be taught, the other seven limbs are stressed in a variety of different approaches here in classes throughout each day.
As we all know, consciousness is contagious and this rings particularly true at this festival. We all have the feeling of being buoyed by the collective consciousness of the leaders and all participants. We are all inspired to take our game to the highest level possible, lest when we leave here, we return to something that is less than this.
ABOUT TOMMY ROSEN
Tommy Rosen is a yoga teacher and addiction recovery expert. He holds certifications in both Hatha and Kundalini Yoga and has been in 23 years of continuous recovery from drug addiction. His new book, Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life, was released last October.