It was here in Rishikesh that The Beatles joined Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968 and wrote 48 songs, most of which would become popularly known as The White Album. Today the Maharishi’s ashram is closed, but many more have sprung to take it’s place.
Rishikesh Panorama, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Ashrams (from Sanskrit for toil or penance) are perhaps the main attraction for visitors to this rather sleepy city set in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya. An ashram is a center headed by some mystic or spiritual teacher dispenses teachings for the spiritual upliftment of it members. This is achieved through yoga, meditation, strict dietary regiments, and even long periods of silence vows.
Rishikesh is also my first taste of the mighty and mythological Ganga River, better known in the West as the Ganges. This is Lord Shiva’s river and it attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists who come for a wash in the river, meditation, white-water rafting, and of course yoga.
I figured if I am staying in the self-proclaimed “world-capital of Yoga” I better give it a go. In fact, it’s something I’ve always wanted to practice since the stretching and flexibility involved would be a great addition to my martial arts training.
My idea was to participate in a more physical yoga with less attention to the spiritual teachings and readings of the Yoga Sutras, though this interests me greatly as well. But in my short stay I wanted to feel the burn.
I found a great teacher by the name of Rajesh running Chakra Yoga. He lived in Japan as well as Korea teaching yoga so we found many things in common. Twice a day for a total of 3 hours a day I learned many of the basic asanas (yoga poses) and routines.
His style was exactly what I was looking for. Some ashrams (I attended other free classes at another nearby ashram) are quite slow and focus on breathing and meditation more than sweating. Rajesh is more inclined to demonstrate a pose and in a loud voice say, “Get up there and do it!” He utilized belts, wood blocks, and cushions with a fast paced and demanding yoga that left me feeling increasing better as the lessons commenced.
In addition I walked out to some small waterfalls in the hills, enjoyed the sites offered from Rishi’s two famous bridges, and enjoyed the company of some great people at my hotel. I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to yoga than in Rishikesh. It ranks high on my list of travels and perhaps one day I can return again for further studies.