One Sunday morning in January 2020, as we were singing kirtan and seeing the Yogic Studies students receive their certificates, the picture of exactly ten years ago, when my fellow batch mates and I received our certificates for the completion of our four-month Yogic Studies 2009–2010 flashed in my mind.
Walking through the main gate of Ganga Darshan for the first time in 2009, with a heart full of excitement about learning yoga, being in the presence of Guru and living in the ashram, little did I know that the subsequent four months would change my life forever.
For the first one and a half months of our Yogic Studies, I was astonished by the scope and profundity of the tradition, even though what we were exposed to, from the hatha yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga classes, to karma yoga sessions and evening sadhana, was just a small glimpse of the yogavidya. I thought I knew a bit about yoga before the start of the course, but as the course progressed, the more I learnt, the more I realized that there was much more that I did not know, and it was a really humbling experience.
One of the biggest realizations that I gained early on was that we don’t necessarily get what we want in the ashram, but what we really need. Being an academic and a researcher, I thought I would be able to contribute most to the ashram by giving karma yoga in more intellectual work. Therefore, when I was assigned to do karma yoga at the GDO, even though I enjoyed the seva, I had a feeling that I was not really using my skills. However, as time progressed, I realized that it was an opportunity for me to develop the skills that I lacked: to communicate with people instead of just with paper or data, to solve problems instead of just giving critical comments. It was a valuable learning experience, to learn to be a better person than I was before.
As we were living in a gurukul, it was important that we live the yogic lifestyle and follow the ashram discipline, so that we could live in harmony. However, it was at times challenging to maintain that harmony as our class comprised of 70 plus students from all over the globe and various parts of India, each one of us had different cultural backgrounds and different ways of expressing ourselves. Yet, it was the real learning and experience of the spirit of yoga – to live with understanding and acceptance of one another. Our different habits and different ways of expressing our views or needs sometimes inadvertently press the buttons of each other; yet at the same time, that gave us the opportunities to learn to understand each other and cultivate pratipaksha bhavana, instead of letting our frustrations, anger or other negative emotions run amok and fight all the time. We succeeded sometimes and failed sometimes, but at the end, we all appreciated this beautiful time that we got to spend together and grow together.
The most special experience that we had in our course was undoubtedly the Mahasamadhi of Sri Swamiji. It was a time when we could see the bhava and devotion for the Guru, the binding force of the tradition, and individuals’ karma yoga at their best. Having overcome the initial shock of the news, all the students plunged into the seva that was required at the time: to prepare for the programs, to assist with the departures of the ashram guests. Without asking what would happen with our classes and other routines, we participated fully in the Shraaddhanjali for Sri Swamiji.
As the Yogic Studies came to a close, our hearts were filled with gratitude, for the learning and inspirations, for the care and support that we received in the four very special months. For myself, this special experience had given me a glimpse of the parampara and a new direction in life, for I have decided to stay on – to continue to learn and grow in the ashram, and contribute what I can to the mission of the Gurus.
This year, I am especially grateful for being given the trust and opportunity to lead the hatha yoga class of the Yogic Studies course. As I was watching the Yogic Studies students receive their certificates on one Sunday morning in January 2020 as one of their teachers, my heart swelled with gratitude and inspiration – to continue to tread the path that I have started 10 years ago.