Who did you go with?
I went over to India with my good friend and fellow Yogini Premajyoti. She provided the impetus for the trip and did an amazing job organizing our stay at the Bihar School of Yoga. This was part of the journey; the rest was spent exploring the country, adventuring and having a holiday!
What were you hoping to find?
We weren’t hoping to ‘find’ or seeking anything. It wasn’t a search, more an opportunity to have an experience. We went to Bihar to attend a one week series of satsang (spiritual talks) delivered by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati.
We didn’t know what the topic of the week’s talks would be until we got there. The topic turned out to be “Tantra”, so we were thrilled! Tantra being the thread of Yoga that we have studied and experienced through Ashram Yoga (not discussions on sexuality, which are one area of Tantric philosophy).
What was Swami Niranjananda like? Did you talk to him? What did he talk about?
This is a challenging question to answer as I don’t want to paint my impressions. Swami Niranjanananda is a beautiful energy to behold and be around. Everything he says and does he attributes to the grace of his Guru Swami Satyananda Saraswati. It was amazing to behold and be around such devotion. He has the warmest eyes I believe I have ever encountered.
He spoke to us daily, during satsang. However we did also have the privilege of a private Darshan with him as part of an intimate antipodean group. He didn’t say much actually! It wasn’t like some big profound enlightening speech; he just asked us how we were and what we thought of the place.
We did however, get the very distinct feeling that it was more so an opportunity for him to attune with the people there from various parts of the world (Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Greece, India) who were involved in and effected by the Satyananda lineage. Swami Ji then blessed our mala’s. Afterwards it was like wearing an electric coil around my neck and it still zings when I use it!
Did you like the Satyananda Ashram?
Again, I don’t want to paint my impressions about the place. Bihar School of Yoga is situated in India’s poorest state and this in itself creates a bit of conflict. The Ashram is beautiful and pristine, whilst outside it’s gate is utmost poverty. This is quite a dichotomy energetically.
The Ashram is very well run and organized. The food is amazing, especially considering that they are feeding hundreds of people at any one time. Things are basic. You eat on the floor, with your hands and accommodation is minimal with bucket showers. To some, this may be affronting as there are no ‘comforts of home’ however from a yogic perspective it certainly helps to pull you away from your likes/dislikes and be present with your practices and energy.
My biggest challenge was that it was exceptionally cold. Much more so than is usual at that time of year, and I wasn’t prepared. Luckily the sessions were filled with hundreds of people so there was lots of body heat. And the kirtans were amazing! So it was easy to get warm and uplifted!
Did you meet any cool Yogi’s?
I met a few very profound people on this journey. Not all Yogi’s and most were outside the Ashram environment actually. After Bihar we went to Varanasi, which is considered to be the holiest city in India and one of my favorite places. There are several swamis and sadhus who hang out in Varanasi.
We didn’t connect with anyone in particular however on New Year’s Eve I was invited into an intimate group singing bhajan as we were walking past. I was the only foreigner and woman so considered myself very privileged for the experience.
One of the things I love most to do in India is really get amongst the people and life as it is lived. I’m not interested in being a tourist and temple seeing so much. We spent many hours strolling and talking to locals, hanging out and having chai and just generally absorbing as much culturally as we could.
Is Varanasi your spiritual home?
Home is where the heart is, and I tend to carry mine with me Varanasi is however, a very special place for me and somewhere that I feel deeply and spiritually connected to.
Would you go again?
Of course! This wasn’t my first time in India and it certainly will not be my last. After Varanasi I headed to Southern India. This was a completely new and unique experience. India is so vast and diverse, there is always more to see.
What are your thoughts in regards to Ashram Yoga after your journey?
You know, my time in Bihar and throughout India just completely consolidated my absolute gratitude and appreciation for the teachings and offerings that we get/give through the Ashram Yoga community.
I gained even more respect for Swami Shantimurti and the profound amount of time that he has spent living in and running Ashrams. I am also deeply thankful that he has chosen to share those experiences and teachings with us, as well as train us how to pass them onto others.
Ashram Yoga is unique in the way that they present ancient and scientific Yoga practices in such a modern and relatable way. It allows Yoga to be a presence in our lives, and us to be present through Yoga!