When I awoke on Wednesday morning I felt much better having slept about 12 hours. I wasn’t quite at 100%, but I was better and that’s what I focused on. I got up and did some yoga and freshened up for our first class that morning at 6AM. The class went well and though I still needed to make frequent trips to the bathroom, the urgency was less and their was a longer period between trips. After the morning class we were given our seva assignments (karma yoga, or selfless service). I was assigned to behet (though I’m not completely sure of the spelling), which I had no clue was, but later discovered meant prasad, or sacred gifts. This assignment involved a variety of tasks, from stuffing blankets, shirts, buckets, and rice into bags, or carefully folding commemorative scarves that would eventually be handed out to all yajna participants, including thousands of villagers from surrounding areas. As it turned out, I got the best seva assignment there is. On the way back to Patanjali I walked with a woman named River from Austin, TX, the only other American in our class. She was so interesting and fun to talk to, yet another example of the really great people I met at the ashram. Plus, since we were the only Americans in the class, it was nice to have that in common with someone.
As the day progressed and we attended another class, we began to learn some actual kriyas. As I discovered, they are a combination of various sitting or inverted postures, pranayama (breath control) and movement of awareness though the nadis, or chakra pathways. Our first kriya was in a half shoulder-stand position which is an inverted posture which was not too kind on my stomach.
After class we were given the option to move our accommodations to a quieter area, as once the yajna began the kitchen would be running 24-hours and the number of people would increase exponentially. I chose to move my accommodations to the Paramahamsa Campus which is between the other two campuses. Luckily, I ended up with a private room since the person they assigned as my roomate decided to stay in his original room. The new room was nicer than the previous room being in a newer building, and also had a private attached bathroom. I must have built up some good karma to get that lucky.
Our last class for the day occurred after the move back at the Akhara campus. We added a new kriya to our repertoire and I was beginning to get the hang of what we were learning, though not entirely convinced of it’s efficacy.
The next day I woke up at 5AM and had to do some yoga. My body was still adjusting to the beds which were quite hard, as well as the cold mornings and all of my muscles felt sore. I took a little too long getting ready and had to rush out in order to get to class on time, of course I wasn’t the only one. We were fortunate to have a shuttle pull up at the very moment we headed outside. We made it to class on time, fortunately, and learned two new kriyas in the first class of the day.
After class we were served breakfast up in Akhara to try to save us some time walking back and forth between campuses. But we had to walk down to Patanjali after breakfast anyway because they were doing a service to prepare the yajna space before it would begin the next day. There was singing and tabla-playing which was a lot of fun to watch, and provided a nice break. But soon we were back at Akhara for our second class. We had our first experience of Tattwa Shuddhi. Each chakra is associated with a certain element, or tattwa, such as earth, water, fire, air or space. Tattwa Shuddhi involves meditating on these elements through guided visualization. But since this was our first exposure to the practice, it was a very simple introduction using large cards with different colored shapes on them, each one representing a different tattwa. Following the Tattwa Shuddhi we did another Yoga Nidra session, but this time I fell asleep during the practice, which apparently is quite common. Even so, it was some of the most relaxing sleep I’ve ever had.
After class we went back to Patanjali for lunch, followed by more seva. This time I was asked to help mop the Samadhi area where the two Havan Pujas had taken place. Mopping at the ashram means using a towel and a bucket of slightly soapy water on your hands and knees on a marble surface. I managed to break the skin on both of my knees, but I worked hard and got a lot done while being able to soak in some hot afternoon sun, though fortunately not enough to burn.
Later that afternoon, after our third class, we were ushered back to Patanjali for more drums and chants. A band came on playing guitar and an old Casio keyboard and sang The Beatles Let it Be and Ben E King’s Stand by Me, but they changed some of the lyrics to venerate Swamiji in reference to the heads of the Rikhiapeeth and Munger ashrams, Swami Satsangi and Swami Niranjan, respectively. I had fun, though I wish they had just sung the original lyrics to the song.
Valerio, Iris, and Madhukar
Dinner followed the service, and you could tell that things were busier than they had been because now there were runners laid out with plates and bowls made from hardened leaves laid out for all of the guests. Rather than self-service, everyone was served food by several volunteers who just went from plate to plate doling out the food. I was tapped to serve and ended up with a heavy pot full of vegetable curry. After about 30 minutes of bending, lifting, and spooning, my back was in pain, but I could now sit down and eat, only to be made to do more seva after dinner. We spent the rest of the evening folding scarves very precisely so the sanskrit on the scarves could be read while unfolding it.
The next day started off very similar to the previous few days, except that I decided to do something I hadn’t done in 3 1/2 years, shave off my beard. Looking in the mirror was pretty surreal since I hadn’t seen that face looking back in quite some time, though I think I looked quite a bit younger.
In class we practiced the kriyas that we had learned previously and added two new ones to our repertoire. It seemed that each subsequent kriya was only a minor variation of the previous one. While this certainly makes learning them fairly easy, it was difficult to feel the difference between them. A small and rather bland breakfast followed this class. I was having a great time laughing at our meager breakfast with two of my classmates, Deepak and Anand. In fact, at one point we were laughing so hard that we got a few looks and had to dial it back. After, we headed down to Patanjali for the opening of the yajna, which was also known as Yoga Purnima, a celebration of the full moon.
At the yajna we were treated to some more chanting with tabla drums, as well as an adorable group of young girls doing a traditional Indian dance. Many of us had to stand up and dance during the performances, all of us having a wonderful time. The program continued after a break for lunch with the recitation of the 1000 names of Shiva, another Hindu god. During this recitation, our group was ushered over to the area where the two swamis sat. We all got to sit around them and they spoke directly to us, which is an honor. An audience with the swamis generally requires a level of devotion higher than could be expected from our group.
Our visit with the swamis was followed by a kriya meditation led by Swami Yogakanti with all of the participants of the yajna. I found the practice much more powerful surrounded by so many people and the smell of the burning incense all around me. It was so strong that I was able to actually see light around two of my chakras. There was more kirtan after, but I left early to retrieve my camera and iPad from the safe deposit box.
Following our final class of the night, I was walking back to Patanjali with Sumit. He was going to be leaving the next day, having been recalled to work. He said that he would be in class the next morning, though he didn’t show up as he was ill. I was sad to see him go, and even sadder that we didn’t have an opportunity to trade contact information. The night ended in a fairly mundane way, with more of the yajna, dinner, seva and sleep.