adventure, india, Lifestyle, Personal, spirituality, Stories, travel

Returning to India

Truth is as straight as an arrow, while a lie swivels like a snake.

~Suzy Kassem~

Just when I thought I was finally going to settle down, the universe had other plans for me.

I had been in Whangarei for only a couple of months and I had managed to set up my own yoga classes in a gorgeous space, which cost me nothing to hire. I had a few students coming along each week, and my classes were slowly growing.

Then I receive a message from one of my yoga teachers in India, asking me what my plans were and if I wanted to return to work on the karma yoga program. I immediately brushed off the idea as I was beginning to put down roots, I was just starting to establish my yoga classes, and I really wanted to spend Christmas and summer in NZ, however once the word scholarship was mentioned, I was tempted to go.

I was planning on going back to India last year, but I ended up moving to Nepal so I cancelled going. At that time I was going to work on the karma yoga program, but this year it had changed. Apparently now, previous students needed to have completed at least two courses at Kranti Yoga in order to qualify for the karma yoga program, but I had only done one, so my teacher offered me a scholarship worth $1700 NZD to do an extra 100 hours of training on top of my 200 hours in order to get a placement on the karma yoga program.

The only catch was, I had to commit to staying for six months and I had to arrive by the first course of the season, which was only four weeks away.

After a few days of sleepless nights, I decided to accept the offer and I booked my flights to India!

I arrived at the end of September and the yoga village was in a complete shambles! In Goa, all of the beach huts get taken down before monsoon season, so being the end of monsoon, the yoga village was still being rebuilt and it looked and sounded like a construction site!

After three flights and many hours of travel, I felt exhausted so with nowhere to put myself or my luggage, I found a bed base to sit down on and I tried to elevate my badly swollen ankles amongst the sound of drills and muggy humid air.

Kranti, the director of the school, seemed happy to see me, he gave me a big hug and said how happy he was to have me there, then after an hour or so he showed me to a hut in the garden, where I would stay until I found a place to rent.

I was so relieved to have a bed to lay down on and I rested a bit before meeting my room mate, who seemed really nice. I spent the next few days trying to settle into what would be my life for the next half a year, however it took me longer than I thought to settle. I was stressed about having to find a place to live and I received less support from the staff than what I had expected.

I felt really alone and I was already missing my family and friends.

I eventually found a nice room in an Indian family’s home, only a few minutes walk from the yoga shala. It was separate to the main house and it was on the top floor. It had an ensuite bathroom, an open plan kitchen, a balcony and it overlooked a hindu temple, which had a path that led through a small village towards the beach.

So I packed up my things, said goodbye to my roommate, loaded my bags into a rickshaw and made myself at home in my new studio apartment.

The following weeks I tried hard to fit into the culture at the yoga village, however for some reason I wasn’t gelling with the staff, who seemed clicky, so I immersed myself into living, learning and breathing yoga, and I was busy most days with what felt more like work than training.

I woke at 6.30 am, six days a week to adjust the 200 hr teacher trainees in their Mysore practice, then I would assist the main teacher on the anatomy and alignment class, which involved demonstrating all the postures in the primary series and helping students with the anatomy and alignment of yoga postures. Then I would teach a vinyasa class to the people staying on yoga retreats or doing holiday intensives and drop ins. My day would finish at 6 pm and in my spare time I would create new flows to teach, because sometimes I taught two classes a day.

I was enjoying the experience but I barely had time for my own practice and I still wasn’t connecting with any of the staff, who were mostly a lot younger than me, so I mainly hung out with the students.

I decided to go to Palolem, a beach nearby, on my day off and a couple of the students invited themselves to come along. Being a teacher in a large yoga school meant I would often get asked yoga questions, so even in my time off, I found it hard to switch off from being in the teacher role. However, I didn’t want to come across anti social so I agreed that they could come with me as they seemed like nice girls!

I ended up forming a strong connection with them over lunch, it was like we were all on the same page in life! Then we decided to go for a walk around the shops.

As we were walking, a yoga poster with a picture of an old man caught my eye and I turned back to read it. It was an advertisement for yoga classes and for some reason I felt drawn to the old man’s face in the photo, so I took a photo of the poster and I walked into a nearby shop to ask if the man in the picture was the yoga teacher. The lady in the shop replied “yes”, so I decided to walk to the address that was written on the poster to meet the yoga teacher.

I had been wanting to learn yoga from an authentic yogi and even though I was undertaking training at Kranti Yoga, I felt like something was missing, like I wasn’t really getting what I wanted from the course, other than work experience.

So the girls came with me and we ended up at a hotel only a few meters down from where I had first seen the poster. Looking lost, a random man in the hotel guided me to the mysterious yogi in the poster’s room and I knocked on the door.

Suddenly a tall Indian man with long grey hair and a long beard opened the door wearing nothing but a white loin cloth. It seemed that I had interrupted him from sleeping but he welcomed me and the girls into his room.

I introduced myself and asked him about his classes and the conversation somehow led in a different direction. He spoke to me as if he knew me and he asked me what I was doing wasting my time working at a yoga school, that he thought was inauthentic. He told me I was a free bird and that I shouldn’t feel trapped there if I wasn’t learning anything.

How did he know these things about me?

Baba Ji, was someone who had renounced his home, family, identity and belongings to wander around in search of enlightenment through a non materialistic lifestyle. He was someone who lived and practiced yoga every day.

He told me that he had met a young kiwi backpacker who became enchanted by him after he read his astrology so the boy, who was now in NZ, was arranging his visa and yoga workshops for him to teach in NZ and he asked me if I wanted to return to NZ with him to help and teach alongside him.

Like the boy in NZ, I found myself intrigued by this old man so I organized a time to go back for a yoga class so I could see how he taught.

Meanwhile, my dissatisfaction within the yoga village was growing and I was increasingly becoming distant from the staff, who already knew each other from working together during previous seasons.

I was excited to attend Baba Ji’s class and soon after I arrived a young kiwi couple turned up, as if the universe was trying to tell me something!

Baba Ji welcomed them in to the class and they lay their mats out beside mine inside his small, light filled hotel room. We started off with relaxation and breath work then he led us through some simple asanas before finishing with a shortened version of yoga nidra.

During the class I noticed how flexible he was and I thought for a 60 something year old, he had the flexibility of a young man!

I felt really good after his class, but I realized that he taught how yoga was probably taught back in the old days. There was no anatomical or alignment cues, no lengthy explanations of asanas or ramblings of yoga stories during the class. He simply demonstrated the postures and told us “to do this,” while either inhaling or exhaling.

He also instructed me on the energetic meaning behind holding different hand mudras and he told me that I should avoid doing headstands as they could eventually cause me to go blind. He picked up on certain health conditions that I had, he told me what my Ayurvedic constitution was and he advised me to avoid eating certain foods.

He pointed out that yoga nowadays is not the real yoga and most of what is being taught is simply physical exercise.

I asked him, what is the real yoga?

He explained to me that in the old days, a yogi would sit in lotus pose and meditate in a secluded cave for days, months, sometimes years at a time. During this intense period of introspection, the yogi would come to realize the essential truth of himself and the universe, then he would return to the physical world, where he would share his knowledge with disciples, thus, this is how the guru disciple relationship began.

But, like chinese whispers, yoga has become lost in translation and much of what we see now is deemed modern yoga. Yoga postures are predominantly taught in a one size fits all class, by teachers who have had no direct experience of yoga other than completing 200 hours of training through a registered teacher training school.

But herein lies the problem. As our society has become more commercialized and material driven, so has yoga. Much of what is being taught to yoga teachers in teacher training schools is a watered down version of what yoga really is because these teacher training schools are running as businesses and their main objective is making a profit, not delivering quality or authentic course content.

Furthermore, Yoga Alliance, the governing body of yoga, seems to be more like a money funnel rather than an organization that ensures accountability, quality and authentic course content within yoga teacher training schools. The senior teacher at Kranti’s told me that Yoga Alliance has never once checked Kranti Yoga in all of the years she has worked there so it appears that anybody with enough money could technically open up a Yoga Alliance registered teacher training school, after all, the yoga industry is now a multi billion dollar industry, which churns out thousands of new yoga teachers every year.

His words made so much sense to me. It was like he explained everything that I had been feeling but unable to put into words around what I was experiencing at Kranti Yoga.

After talking for a couple of hours at the end of the class, I offered him some money but he refused to take it and instead said to me that he would prefer to develop a guru/disciple type relationship with me because he saw that I had a good heart.

I felt it was a sweet gesture that showed his heart was also in the right place, however I told him that I wasn’t looking for a guru but I wanted to continue to meet with him and learn more.

Over the following weeks, I met with him regularly and I formed a really sweet friendship with him. I asked him many questions and he always answered in such an honest, open and direct way. It was like we spoke the same language.

However, he seemed hesitant to teach me asanas as he had watched some of my yoga videos and felt I was already advanced in my asana practice and there was nothing more he could really teach me, but he told me that he wanted to develop my spiritual practice and teach me the higher aspects of yoga and for that to happen I needed to do some kriyas to cleanse my body.

I have always had a fear of vomiting so the thought of making myself vomit sent chills up my spine. I told him there was no way I was prepared to make myself vomit but I was willing to try anything else and like a loving father, he told me to trust him, he also didn’t enjoy vomiting but the feeling that comes afterwards was worth it!

So I left thinking I’d put the idea of vomiting out of my mind for now and tackle that hurdle when I came to it!

I met with Baba Ji a few more times while I was in Patnem and each time I learnt something new. On one particular occasion we were having a talk about what was becoming of traditional yoga and he told me that real yogis don’t want to teach because they are dedicated to their own practice and they have no desire for material success and  are not driven to make money out of it. They simply live in a continual state of yoga. He said there aren’t many true yogis left and what has become of yoga isn’t real yoga, even Iyengar and Patthabi Jois have played a role in modernizing yoga for better or worse.

I was now beginning to understand that an asana class was traditionally developed for householders, not cave dwelling yogis who appeared to hold the knowledge of real yoga. A one hour asana practice was designed to easily fit into day to day life, amongst family commitments and jobs, however the higher aspects of yoga were left out.

It was all starting to become clear to me and my discontentment at Kranti Yoga Village was growing by the day.

I started doing my own research and I suddenly became disillusioned by yoga in general when I found out that a few high profile yoga gurus had had a string of sexual abuse complaints and convictions against them including: Bikram Choudhury, K. Pattabhi Jois, John Friend, Swami Maheshwarananda (Yoga in Daily Life NZ), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, T. K. V. Desikachar (grandson of Krishnamacharya), Amrit Desai (Kripalu Centre Founder), Swami Muktananda (Siddha Yoga), Swami Rama (Himalayan Institute of Yoga), Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga), Paramahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi), Swami Akhandanand and Swami Satyananda.

I began to question the very foundation of my training as I had originally trained at Kranti Yoga and beneath the styles of two alleged sex offenders.

I messaged Baba Ji with my findings and a link to a reputable article that I found. I thought he might be able to give me some answers considering he had trained directly beneath Swami Satyananda at the Bihar School of Yoga in the 1980’s.

He said that the allegations could either be true or false and that nothing was proven against Swami Satyananda, however if the allegations were true then the surviving gurus in question needed to be punished, however he warned me against spoiling my mind over those things and I should only believe in things that I can see with my own eyes.

He pointed out to me that he chooses not to look at the darker things that he hears, instead he honors the good things that he has learnt.

“In yoga we say don’t intellectualize, be away from past and future and only in the present moment of yoga nothing else, if you don’t, yoga will never come to you. Look only to the self and your practice if you want to achieve yoga.”

Taking Baba Ji’s advice, I decided to release the findings from my mind and instead try to remain in the present moment while his final words echoed “the chatting you are doing with me is also yoga, now you understand every moment can be dedicated to yoga.”

I had always had a deep yearning to learn yoga beyond the physical and Baba Ji told me that he held higher powers. I didn’t quite believe him when he first told me and my face must have expressed my disbelief, as he let off a big smile and said “it’s true!” I asked him what type of powers he held and he said he can leave his body and go to other places.

The more time I spent with him, the more my eyes opened up to what yoga really is. I would spend hours talking with him and then I would return to work in the yoga shala, which was fast appearing to be just another watered down commercialized yoga business.

I then started questioning what I was doing there.

Baba Ji was not only my teacher, he had become my friend and I enjoyed every minute that I spent with him, however I was also becoming uneasy working in such an inauthentic environment at the yoga village.

A few days later I decided to sit and meditate on the rocks at the end of the beach, and just as I began to relax I was interrupted by a jewelry seller. Then from out of nowhere, Kranti appeared and invited me up to his cave on the rocks! I guess he was trying to save me from the jewelry seller so I thanked him for rescuing me as I scrambled up the rocks behind him, all the while thinking that this would be the perfect time to have a real and honest conversation with him.

We finally reached the top and the views out across the Arabian Sea was spectacular. As usual, it was a stifling hot day so we sat down in a small corner of shade and we both looked out towards the ocean in silence.

I finally decided to break the silence and I asked him a few personal questions in an attempt to get to know him more. I was so used to having open conversations with Baba Ji, and I wanted to know more of his background and what had inspired him to open up what was now a successful yoga school.

He didn’t seem very open to talk about his personal life, instead he laughed off my questions in his usual jovial manner in an attempt to avoid answering them so I decided to change the direction of the conversation in order to address a few of my concerns.

I mentioned that a few of the students had approached me saying they were unhappy with some of the aspects of the course, that it seemed to be missing spiritual content, which they had come to India to learn about and that I thought I should mention it to him so that he could address these issues.

He immediately seemed uncomfortable but I felt it was important to get everything out in the open and I saw it the perfect time to do so as we were alone.

He didn’t really respond directly and the air became thick with tension. I then decided to say that I thought it was a yoga teachers responsibility to teach yoga in it’s entirety and I asked him if he cared about offering quality training and sending well-rounded yoga teachers out into the world or was this purely just a business and he replied “it is a business.”

I decided to ask him where he had done his yoga training and who created his course content and he didn’t give me a straight answer.

I couldn’t quite believe that I was even having this conversation with a man who I had previously called my yoga teacher.

I mentioned that I would be happy to support him in developing the yoga course, after all I was there as a member of his staff, and I told him he had my full support in improving his training after he said he was updating his curriculum, however he didn’t seem to hear anything I said, and instead took it all personally and reacted defensively.

The more questions I asked him, the more he unravelled from his mask to the point where he shoved his finger in my face and told me I was out of line for questioning him and that if I wanted to talk with him again, I had to book an appointment.

I was shocked at his reaction

At that moment I knew that I couldn’t support or continue working for such an enterprise, which was void of any values or ethics.

We walked uncomfortably back to the yoga village together, where I was due to teach a class and after I had finished, I was pulled into a staff meeting with two of his staff, Anna and Morwenna. They told me the same thing, that I wasn’t allowed to talk to Kranti unless I arranged an appointment with him, which I thought was rather funny as he was always talking with everyone on the shala!

They also said that in order to cater to what some of the students were wanting, I was welcome to contribute to the course and if it was well received they might incorporate it into the course curriculum so I said I would hold a talk on yoga lifestyle and spirituality and include an introduction to the Pawanmuktasana series and I would finish with a healing white light, chakra savasana.

A week later I held the class, which was well received by the yoga students, considering it was held as an optional class outside of normal class time. Half of the 200 hour trainees came and none of the staff attended, which I thought was odd because when a teacher held something outside of normal course hours it was usual that us teaches would attend to support them.

I was also garnering good feedback from students who were attending my vinyasa classes. It was the type of feedback which really confirmed to me that what I was trying to teach, was translating in my classes.

As a teacher my ultimate goal is to guide my students inwards and reconnect them to their true self through asana’s and breath. So despite them doing other yoga classes, they would arrive at my class straight afterwards craving for that connection they said they only get in my classes.

But just as I was gaining momentum as a teacher within the yoga village and forming close relationships with the students, I was slowly excluded from the school as a result of my talk with Kranti.

I was removed from adjusting the students in their morning Ashtanga practice, which was supposed to be a part of my 100-hour training and replaced with another teacher. I was then removed from being the assistant teacher in the anatomy class, which was also supposed to be a part of my 100-hour training and replaced by the same teacher, then my name was removed from the students feedback forms, all without any real explanation.

I was then suddenly down to only teaching a few drop in classes.

Another meeting took place with Anna, who appeared to have a chip on her shoulder.

I’m guessing Anna didn’t like that I was there on a scholarship and Kranti must have spoken to her about our conversation as it now seemed she didn’t like me in general.

She asked me if I wanted to stay on there and I told her I didn’t see myself staying there six months because being there wasn’t offering me the type of growth I was seeking, however deep down I couldn’t align myself to a course that was void of teaching yoga in its entirety, it was nothing more than an exercise school, but of course I didn’t say that because I didn’t want to offend her!

I had already given up a lot to be there. I had walked away from my yoga classes that I was developing and my family. I had spent a lot of money on flights, gosh, I was in India and I wanted to make the most of my time there so rather than going home within only weeks of arriving, I offered to stay another month so that I could keep teaching drop ins in good faith.

After all, I could continue to teach the way I wanted to without having to be aligned to the course curriculum and I also felt it was a fair thing to do, in exchange for the 100-hour scholarship I had been given, which actually turned out to be just a money making scheme, where you pay to work for them under the guise of training!

So the agreement was made and I went home and paid $300 NZD to change my flights so that I could leave in a month’s time, near the end of the next batch of trainees.

I messaged Baba Ji to tell him the mess I had found myself in at the yoga village and that I was returning to NZ and he replied “Be as your name is, Shanti. You need Shanti more and more for you are very sensitive, everyone in this world learns his own lesson even if you don’t teach them, nature rewards everyone, you deserve to have proper knowledge and I will guide you as much as I can but you need to go home.”

I asked him if the boy in NZ had arranged his visa and he replied “the boy has some problems and he has a shaky heart, lets see what happens.”

Sometimes it was like he spoke in riddles and I suddenly found myself bursting into tears when I realized that the story of him going to NZ may not of even been true, but a tool to use to help guide me home.

I suddenly felt an enormous wave of gratitude towards him, if I hadn’t of met him, I probably would still be feeling trapped and working in that inauthentic yoga school.

I sent a message to Anna immediately after changing my flights, however she ignored me, which I thought was odd and I went to sleep feeling uneasy about the situation.

The following morning I arrived at the yoga village and Anna casually asked me in passing how much it had cost me to change my flights and I told her, assuming that it was because they were considering refunding me!

I was due to take two days holiday in Hampi with a few of the students, and I had scheduled to return alone so that I’d be back to work before the next intake of trainees arrived, I was also meant to graduate from my 100-hour course that day when I was suddenly called in to another meeting.

Anna abruptly told me that I had to leave the yoga village immediately because they no longer needed me.

I was shocked and had to hold back the tears because I didn’t want to give her the pleasure of seeing me upset.

How could they do this?!

I didn’t know what to say, considering we had just agreed a few days earlier that I’d stay on for another month and I had already spent $300 NZD to change my flights!

Now I knew why she had asked me earlier about my flight change fees. It wasn’t because they were considering refunding me, it was because Kranti was trying to ascertain whether it was a financially viable option for him to tell me to leave immediately because he saw me as a threat and he was using Anna as a pawn to do his dirty work!

She then offered to pay my flight change fee so that I could return home, or if I decided to stay on another month, they would pay my living expenses, however I was not welcome back in the shala!

I was literally in shock but thought at least I was free from that school and I would have enough money to live off until I returned home if I decided to stay another month.

I did not attend the graduation fire ceremony with all of the students whom I had become so close to that day, nor did I get the chance to say goodbye to anyone. I picked up my certificate from the desk and I left.

I was due to catch an overnight bus to Hampi with three of the newly graduated students so instead of cancelling, I went and tried to put it all behind me.

I would decide later what I was going to do. For now I was going to enjoy Hampi.

However, the universe once again had other plans….

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My going away brunch with my NZ yoga crew and family
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My surprise leaving party!
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My daughter cooked me a delicious going away dinner the night before I left!
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Goodbye New Zealand

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Mumbai City meets the slum
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Arriving to the familiar looking road lined with rickshaws outside of Kranti Yoga Village
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My severely swollen ankles after 3 long flights!
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Shanti the dog 🙂
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My students taking savasana
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Patnem Beach at sunset

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Another of my classes during savasana

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Patnem Beach before the busy season
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The two girls who I had that fateful lunch with, and who I absolutely adore!

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Shala life

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One of the jewelry sellers!
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My girls Reem and Safa
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Riding front seat in a rickshaw!
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Handstands in the Indian jungle
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My studio apartment
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That all important western toilet!

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The view from my balcony

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Saying goodbye to my girls on their graduation day, before I left to Hampi

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Home 🙂

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The path from my house through the village, which led to the beach
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Looking back towards my place from the path
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The hindu temple adjacent to my place
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With Kranti at the opening fire ceremony during friendlier days!
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Hanging out with the students!
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Baba Ji

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The poster with Baba Ji’s photo, which caught my eye!

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