It’s not about mastering the Ashtanga intermediate series, or holding pincha mayurasana. While not simple, true transformation may be even harder to grasp. If you’re in limbo, you may need to follow the footsteps of rishis, in India, to seed your metamorphosis.
I’ve been practicing yoga for 40 years, but I didn’t get my kick in the pants until I retreated to an ashram. Each visit, my transformation intensifies. The first stay cured me of a coffee habit. While that may seem minor, the mindset behind giving up the caffeine was major. It manifested in many different ways, and continued to unfold as my back bends and breathing deepened.
When I set out for my maiden Indian voyage, I knew I would return a more liberated soul. I quit my corporate job of 14 years, and stood firm in my commitment to do good in the world, rather than bust my *%#$ for a paycheck.
From the time I was an adolescent, my eyes absorbed the colors, dress, sounds, and culture from India. When I finally headed to the land of Krishna and Buddha, I did it solo. I trekked from Chennai, through Kerala, up to Goa and Mumbai, eating 50-cent meals from diners where no one spoke English. I tried to blend in despite my bright red backpack and blue eyes.
A month in the South left me longing for more. Last year, I wrote about people I know that shepherd life-changing journeys to India. Among the leaders was a fellow yoga therapist who lives in Austin, Texas, named Jogi Bhagat.
Bhagat began coordinating affordable trips to India when people asked if they could join him during his visits to his homeland. He’s leading his ninth group this holiday season.
Highlights include breakfast at the home of his brother on the way to Agra, lunch with his sister’s family in Delhi, arati (morning prayer) on the banks of the Ganges where his son’s first hair cutting ritual took place, a visit with his family priest and the temple where his family tree is preserved, turban-wrapping, henna hand painting, and folk dancing.
While his trips are cultural immersions, they are also chances to deepen one’s knowledge in yoga and spirituality. “India is a mystical land that has a living ancient culture in its many holy places and ashrams. At one of these ashrams, we will attend a spiritual retreat under the guidance of famous Yoga Masters,” Bhagat says.
Bhagat’s coming of age as a Spiritual India tour guide is similar to Indu Arora’s story. She’s also Indian born and raised yoga therapist.
“India is a discovery,” says Arora. “You have to really peel it layer by layer. The senses are bombarded, whether in the form of taste, colors, sounds, beautiful places, different fragrances—people get drawn in.”
Before she moved stateside in 2005, she had never ventured outside the Indian sub-continent. Her guided tours are windows to her life and trainings.
“I never planned on taking a group to India,” Arora explains. “I started getting people asking [to go with me]. People wanted to see India through my eyes...how I have experienced India. What masters have influenced my life.”
At 16, Arora was initiated in mudras and started studying kriya yoga. She moved to Pune to study with her master, who taught yoga as a therapeutic modality. She soaked up the teachings, from 6:30 in the morning until after midnight. By the time she was 19, her guru said, “You need to start teaching. Go.”
Arora has two spiritual tours in 2017, one of which includes 15 days with her own guru in Southern India. The November tour includes Rameshwaram, an Ayurvedic healing village, Thiruvanaikaval, Madurai, and Kanyakumari.
In the spring, Arora is leading a group to centers of enlightenment in Northern India. A full week will focus on Hindu and Jain temples at Khajuraho. Guests will stay at the Himalayan Institute’s Shri Vidya Shrine, and Indu will lead intensive study on Sacred Indian Philosophy. The second half will be dedicated to Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram, the Taj Mahal, and Rishikesh.
“This will be a rich tour with many other spiritual seekers and world travelers who are hungry for the past and present experience that India has to offer.”
Both Arora’s and Bhagat’s tours are transparent windows to their culture, and to help people find their own identity and spirituality.