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Date Published: March 24, 2013

Waking up at 3am to start the day… Can that be a conscious choice? Or the curse of a tourist with jet lag in India? My body was moaning and willing to go back to sleep; it was my mind which took over. I wanted to experience the 4am Kundalini class at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram and this was my last opportunity. I had come on this trip to India (with twenty two people from Miami) trusting that it was going to be a powerful experience. Now it was a matter of being open to life.

The hallway began to flow with sounds, doors creaked and voices started to warm up the crisp darkness. Heavy knock on my door. “Are you awake Mena?”, a friend’s voice poured into my room. Instead of resisting, it encouraged me to slither out of my sleeping bag, shiver out of my thick patagonia clothes and melt into several layers of clothes. Not! I was still cold.

We gathered in the corridor, ignoring the fact that we were disturbing the neighbors. The excitement from my new friends was pulsating on their skins and I allowed them to carry me in their flow. The huge tent flapped in the wind as we approached it. We were received by a cluster of shoes at the entrance and ours mixed into the jumble. A large empty space in the front lured us until we were reminded of our guest status in this class. As we tiptoed with respect towards the back, I was surprised to see everyone dressed mostly in white clothes with a white cover over their heads. My army green leggings and black jacket did not fit in. Good. I strive to break free from social norms and be true to my Self; I wouldn’t have altered my predawn outfit.

The next 2.5 hours OM’ed by in a flash of divine stretching and posture holding (active and passive asanas), specific breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditations which I was mostly unfamiliar with. There were about one hundred students in there trying their best to merge their energy into one consciousness. My muscles twitched and burned as we held our body in postures I was not trained for. Giving up did not come to my mind. A friend flopped on her belly right behind me, oblivious to the group’s movements, happily singing along. How necessary is it to follow structure in life? I realized that to break free from unhealthy habits, formal guidance is crucial. Once the body is disciplined, clinging to practices is limiting because it keeps us away from living in the unknown where trust and surrender take us to the next level of consciousness.

By then it was 6:30am and it felt like midday… Breakfast wasn’t ready for another two hours; a bit harsh for a growling belly. I was invited to leave the ashram and experience a morning at the Divine Hotel: the promise was a buffet breakfast, a warm shower followed by a hair dryer and the wonderful company of the two friends who encouraged me to make this trip to India. The good life can be good and I indulged in the luxuries I hadn’t had the last few days.

The morning pampering was quickly shattered with the mad rush back to the ashram. Running under the rain we bought green plastic covers, avoided mad motorcyclists as we flew over the Ganges river on a narrow bridge snapping silly pictures, and skidded over cow dung, around merchants and curious eyes. Wet boots, crazy hair and panting. “Ok! The bus is still here.” We had lost our cool, and we were wilder and happier than ever.

Next we were off with the whole group to the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Our guide’s deep rich voice honored indian classical songs as he played along with his traveling harmonium. Hari Bahkti managed to distract some of us from the precipice as we swerved up the mountain on bumpy terrain. The clouds hung low, the wind found it’s way through my neck and the air bit me. We had arrived at one of the most revered holy shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and yet our bellies directed us towards the tavern with the freshly oven baked bread, melting butter and extra-hot chai tea. We would have done the trip just for that jolly feast of street food.

Shoes off!? The cold and muddied tile floor was all but inviting. I spiked my courage and slipped out of the comfort of my warm furry boots onto the floor where many bare feet were slushing on. Once the shock was over I went back to singing and embracing the moment as we waited in line to revere the shrine. Upstairs we found a small room with a Shiva devotee watching over a fire that had been burning for a very very long time. A donation dish sat beside him and I pulled out several hundred rupees. His eyes twinkled when his eyes connected with mine; once he blessed me with the ashes on my third eye, he surprised me with a firm tap on my head. The whole group crowded in and we watched people hesitate licking the ashes placed on their hand. Trained by games with my children, I skillfully avoided tasting the questionable substance while energetically engaging in it. As we were ready to leave, I asked a friend to take a picture for me and I approached the devotee. He gave me some prasaad (blessed fruit), ashes to take with me wrapped in newspaper and an unexpected tougher tap on my head. I was simply blissed out.

We made it back to the Ashram just in time for my Ayurvedic treatments. I was lured to it by friends who had booked a session for twenty dollars…. With hindsight, it was too expensive. I walked into the massage room and as I took my clothes off the Indian woman stood there watching me. Laying down on the bed she placed a round container on my belly to hold the hot oil she dripped onto my navel. Ah ha ha. Ufff. Deep breath. That’s HOT. She sponged out the used oil and continued to pour from the bowl. I relaxed trusting she knew what she was doing. Did she?! As she finished with her process, I found the skin around my belly button red and burning. I’ve never seen a therapist so tense and in a rush, oil flew all around me as she started to massage my body. Exposed: oil trickling slowly between my legs into my private parts and dripping down my neck way too close to my clean hair… I’ve never been so happy for a session to be over. So was she! She told me massaging was really hard work and the sweat on her forehead proved it. I never imagined I would be standing naked in front of an indian woman physically showing her how a massage should be done… And I was paying for it!!!

Walking to my room down the dark corridor full of puddles I realized I was tremendously uncomfortable from putting my clothes on after only towel drying the oil. For a moment, I felt a surge of disbelief and frustration that my morning trip to wash my hair had been in vain. I would now have to shower again and let my hair dry in the cold and damp Rishikesh evening. Struggling to find the right temperature for the shower, the lights went off in the building. The water was scalding hot and as I stepped away to accommodate it, the night air was stinging cold… Rinsed off and then covered in a rough towel, I tiptoed into the shadowy bedroom. Against my window, two monkeys were huddled together trying to find shelter from the storm. I realized I was faring better than them so I began to laugh in the darkness, vibrant and happy to be alive in this experience.

It was still too early for bed and I decided to go to the small italian restaurant just off the Ashram. Yes, I was lured by their wifi. Internet can instantly cure any feeling of isolation. As synchronicity would have it, my divine hotel friends walked by and we had fresh fruit shakes in an unexpectedly cute stall full of colorful lights.

The day had been like a roller-coaster ride with blissful highs and unregistered lows, a few unexpected twists and turns. Actually, it had felt like several days. When it was finally over I was not alone. I was grateful and warm in my sleeping bag with two monkeys keeping me company close by.

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