The Hatha Yogi Journals, Week 4: Of Food and Friendship
In this journal entry, the Hatha Yoga Teacher trainees discuss how people from around the world can come together for a higher possibility, and how the food we consume is important for our sadhana and our wellbeing.
Sai – Family Matters
“Most people think family is something you are born into, but what about a family that you find? I came to Isha looking for myself, but instead I found a hundred people who already knew me. They know that I am, at my core, essentially the same as them. They know that I am made up of five elements, the same as the rest of creation. They know that I am a vibrant piece of life, sometimes when I don't feel like it myself. Our program is such that it challenges all our limitations and old beliefs about who we are and what we can do. After a day full of yoga and meditation, what's left is neither our body nor our mind; it's the essence of who we are. It's the divine. And it's reflected in each other.
The Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program family is different than any other I have known because we are embarking on a spiritual path together. Not just any path, but the fast track. We are united by our devotion to Sadhguru, to our classes that require intense study and sadhana, to making sure nobody falls behind as we push toward our ultimate possibility. There are times when I felt misguided by my closest relatives, even those who have nothing but good intentions for my future. But how can anyone give you advice about the value in an experience they have not had? Everyone who has dedicated five months to exploring this dimension of yoga and learning how to impart aspects of it to others sees the immense worth in our choice to traverse this path. Some of us feel it was a calling that caused us to come here; for some it's a necessity. So this passion has built a support system that has made us a family.
Here we see firsthand the remarkable commitment and effort of our teachers, the volunteers who facilitate all our programs, the brahmacharis who take time out of their day to teach us and impart more practical knowledge than what we've studied in university, to the workers around the ashram who devoutly bow in “Namaskaram” to every passerby. This gesture that we are greeted with by all these people is a genuine acknowledgement that they recognize the divinity within us, thereby opening our eyes to seeing and honoring it within each other.
It's hard to describe exactly how we do that, as we were mere strangers just weeks ago. But I can share some experiences I've had that affirmed for me that I'm in the right place at the right time, with this new expanded family. I can tell you that a hug from Niqita has the ability to melt away any aches and stress from the day. I can tell you that the candid emotions she and Cristian capture on camera so skillfully are those of ecstasy as we dance on Janmashtami to bliss after beautiful special dinners. I can tell you that getting served kanji by Siddant for brunch and dinner can put a smile on anyone's face. I can tell you that a stairwell conversation with Naraayaana can make you realize some ideas you've held your whole life could be changed. I can tell you that advice from Divya transcends ages and backgrounds and has helped reshape my boundaries to be more inclusive. I can tell you that a sip of sharbath and smile from Anandhie can quench thirst in more ways than one. I can tell you that doting, darling Yojana saves laddoos from the Devi temple to make sure anyone who missed a meal doesn't have to be on an empty stomach for too long. I can tell you that just before my head hits the pillow, I get to unwind about everything to my roommate Sheila, from the minute details to the big moments. I can tell you it leaves me feeling safe, going to sleep knowing that there is a listening ear just a few feet away from mine every night. I can tell you it makes me grateful beyond words to wake up to it still there every morning. I can tell you that I am filled with awe when I walk into the Adiyogi Alayam and am greeted with sisterhood sitting on straightly aligned mats from my bay members and beyond.
These are a few of the innumerable examples of the pure, unconditional love I've received here. It is a mother's love, undying and effervescent. It crackles in the air when we walk with each other. It is in our concern for whether we all checked in or not. It wafts through the balconies in the form of sing-songy bids goodnight, as fragrant with the scent of the divine as the jasmine flowers that line our cottage walls.”
Niqita – The Science of What We Consume
“Long rows of jute mats run parallel to neatly arranged plates down the aisles inside Biksha Hall. Biksha is the food given to sadhus (monks) who are on the spiritual path. The dining room is called ‘Biksha Hall’ to remind us of the traditional act of begging for alms as a way to conquer the ego.
While it has become the basis for celebration, escape from depression, getaway from routine, and a compulsive habit, food is essentially consumed to energize and fuel the body. Keeping this as the central focus, food at the ashram is designed to provide maximum energy that would act as a catalyst to our practices, because we are what we eat.
Meals at the ashram begin with an invocation, an offering of gratitude for the food on our plate. We take this moment to humbly bow down to the fruit of earth that has travelled a long distance to become a part of our body, which too is a loan from mother earth. Fresh salads and fruits have the highest energy and are the first things to be served. A heap of protein-filled groundnuts bounce over to the corner as a hot paste of grey millet or ragi arrives with cooked vegetables. Sambar and brown rice are the last to be served along with rasam and kanji. Often this meal is served with chutney or sesame paste that adds texture and flavour to the varied tasting food palette. The food is served in order of its pranic (energy) value and consumed within 1.5 hours from its preparation.
In South India, we eat with our hands dipped deep into our food, seated cross legged on the floor. The temperature of the food, its texture, its flavour is experienced first with the fingers before it reaches the mouth. The way you mash the rice into a ball with your fingers defines the very way in which it would taste. The constant bending back and forth while eating on the floor ensures the muscles in your abdomen are constantly in use so you are never overfed. According to Siddha medicine, the ideal amount of food to be consumed is 2 anjalis (both hands cupped into a bowl), leaving a quarter empty for easy digestion. The experience of eating becomes both humbling and profound when it is conducted with awareness in silence.
When I had just arrived, I was convinced I would never survive on just two meals with an eight hour long gap. Over a month later, I have far more energy and agility in my body, lesser lethargy and laziness than I have ever had. I understand now that my body is nourished only partially by food; sunlight, water, air and earth are the other elements that keep me alive. Snickers and slurpees have been substituted with wind and sun baths for nourishment. Aligning my body with earth has brought a heightened sense of awareness of its requirements and functioning. I treat it with a lot more respect and love, without abusing it with impulsive decisions.”