By Djahariah Mitra
Several years ago, Integral Yoga teacher Djahariah Mitra traveled to India. Her book, Dancing in the Bamboo Forest: A Travel Memoir emerged from deep within her as one fruit of her travels and she shares an excerpt here.
I braved the thought of attending my first Hatha Yoga class at the Integral Yoga Institute of Coimbatore the evening of my arrival. I dragged my stiff joints and tingly calves down the hallway, through the dining room and through the back door that led to a little patio outside. I clambered up the tight, winding spiral fire escape stairs to the roof, arriving a little befuddled with my black foam mat, ready for Yoga class.
There were only two other women; classes tended to be primarily male attended and taught. The Indian women wore full salwar kamise (a long tunic over pants) with the ends of their dupatas (shawls) either tied around their waists or left draped over their shoulders and constantly adjusted throughout class. The men wore western style sweat pants or slacks, and t-shirts. I was the only westerner. The other teacher trainees would arrive in a few days. Half the class would be foreign, half Indian. This Yoga class followed the same routine I had known for years in the US. It was a bit of familiar amidst the unfamiliar. It was comforting.
The warm air and crisp view of the surrounding mountains relaxed my joints and muscles, abused from days of travel. Breathing in the sunset enlivened my heart. Watching the moon watching me in savasana (corpse pose) balanced my energy, my sense of being, my place on this little planet.
Lying on my back on the roof at dusk, looking up at the moon and just awakening stars, I felt my body rotating with the Earth, glued to its surface as it hurtled through space–a tiny living being staring into space on the opposite side of the planet than usual.
In the dining room the next day, I met two foreign women who had already been staying at the ashram for a while. Jan and Madalena were returning from their mountain travels and partying in Ooty. Jan was tall and blonde, a centered Swiss woman full of adventure, traveling by herself through India. Madalena was a small, 17-year-old Mexican girl, with almond colored skin and big green eyes.
“Hey did you just arrive?” Madalena bounced up to me.
“Yeah. Did I miss lunch? Can we use the kitchen? I’m still figuring things out.” I slowly drawled.
“Sure. I don’t know. We ate out. I’ll show you where the tea is.”
She was moving too fast for me, a vibrating orb of energy.
… “You just have to get out there and not be afraid. I’ll take you out later. Just come find me.”
I smiled at this young girl telling me to not be afraid. At 30, I had traveled extensively, lived in many countries, and lived adventurously. Sometimes teachers arrive in our lives in unexpected packages.
Madalena became, not exactly my guide, but a trajectory for me. She was taking a year break to travel and explore her passion for Yoga before going to college. She chose India for her year off while her friends went to Europe to travel in luxury and party before university. Her priority was to continue her Yoga studies and spiritual journey. She had recently dyed her hair. Its coarse nature and golden hue transformed her into a lion with a wild mane.
Madalena felt a profound connection to Swami Satchidananda during her time at Yogaville, his ashram in Virginia. She felt his presence and received his teachings on a deep inner level. She knew she was on the right path, her path. She knew he was her Guru. I wondered how that felt.
How do we know who our Guru is? Guru simply means teacher, but in a profound sense on a spiritual level. A Guru is someone who has experienced higher levels of consciousness and spends his or her time guiding others along their own path.
I felt Swami Satchidananda’s presence for the first time in Mexico at a Teacher Training program the previous year. His shining eyes smiled out at me from the altar and warmed me. I began to read more of his teachings and I heard his voice through Swami Ramananda, his disciple and our teacher during the program.
I felt Swami Satchidananda in India. His presence would appear within me here and there, a wordless voice offering guidance. I felt him laughing–guiding us all to laugh. Life isn’t so serious, so heavy, so dire, so permanent. That was his guidance for me. We are beings of energy, not stone. Life is movement and change. Let go and be moved. Let go.
Laughing is love. Life isn’t so serious.
Djahariah Mitra began traveling at the age of three, lucky to have parents with a connection to the world and the desire to satisfy the need to experience that connection. She chose the degree of World, Arts and Cultures at UCLA as a continuation of that interest and as a catalyst to travel extensively and live in different countries. She continued her study of culture and movement by delving deeper into her Yoga practice. Inspired by the peace she felt at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City, she trained to become a Yoga teacher. She spent a year living in India studying Yoga from asana classes to meditation and Sanskrit chanting workshops. She is the author of Dancing in the Bamboo Forest: A Travel Memoir. She blogs about yogic philosophy at djahariahmitra.com.