Living in India for a month was a life-changing experience. The act of living in another place, immersed in another culture for more than a few days cannot fail to change a person. It would have changed me equally to live in Ethiopia, China, Russia, Chile or even England.
The most profound of changes occurred because I am a yogi, and I had many preconceived notions of India, the birthplace of yoga. I had my own ideas of what India might be like, how the people might act and live, what it must be like to spend time there. Of course, I was wrong about all of it.
I thought that India would be a sacred, holy place, full of humble, spiritual people so much closer to God than me or any of us materialistic westerners. What I found was a place similar to my home for the simple reason that it is populated with humans. We are linked by our humanity: our need to survive, care for our family, and find purpose in this life. These human needs link the richest king and the poorest beggar, the sublime holy man and the criminal.
I thought that everyone in India would practice yoga or at least know what yoga is. This also turned out to be false. Their lack of physical health rivals that of the US. Poor posture, poor breathing, poor nutrition, poor hygiene. I thought they would all be spiritual and holy, unburdened by earthly want. Instead I saw eyes riveted to television 24 hours a day, and daily religious offerings punctuated by the smashing of a chair over another man's head.
Three times I felt afraid for my own safety and that of my loved ones; I was a foreigner whose white skin was offensive and provoking, whose wife's bare shoulders were an outrage.
I thought that poverty was the worst of all fates. How can one live without work and money? How can one be proud without possessions? But I met a man - he served our meals for the entire month we were there - who slept outdoors on a concrete slab, legs draped over his childhood friend who slept close by. This man had the widest, brightest and most transcendent smile I have ever seen. To see him smile and hear him chuckle is to understand the simplicity of joy.
After all, I see the humanity in all of us more clearly. We are so closely related. And I see that the divinity I seek is within myself. I thought it might be in a temple, on a mountain, in a teacher, or in a distant holy land. But it is not in any of those places. It is within.
I am humbled. I am empowered. I am connected.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga