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My Vacation in this Body: Reflections on 30 days of yoga in rural India

I didn’t think I would cry at the graduation ceremony, but alas. One of my classmates stood up, got sentimental, and the tears bubbled right on up.

I am containing more than I know, I know this, all held in a body that Swamiji reminds me is nothing but a rental in this life. (“Relax!” he said often. “You’re on vacation in this body!”) More than a conclusion, finishing this program feels like a big new beginning, a big new window looking out to a view I haven’t seen before.

This was the first night at the ashram--we took a group walk to the bridge I'd come to know well on my almost-daily walks down the same path.

On the last night we join forces with the kitchen staff for a volleyball game on the dirt court they rigged up some time last week. The Finnish athlete, a tender soul of fierce muscle who used to powerlift and now trains other people to do it, is MVP by a long shot. My rib is healing, but I’ve learned in cycles of slight reinjury over these weeks how to truly take it easy, so I enjoy spectator status. I try not to be bummed that I cannot get in there and pass set spike smash.

Here, now, complete. Here now complete. Nowhere to get to, already enough, body okay, just renting, no mine. Are the mantras of the week.

The sunset was best witnessed from the roof of the building next to my room. This sweeping view made any sense of disconnect from the world outside a little less pressing.

A friend came to my room in tears a couple nights back. I was in the shower but hollered from the other side of the cracked bathroom door to come in, to hang out while I soaped up. She leaned against the tile wall of the shower-toilet-sink combo while I rinsed, explained her feelings, they echoed. I wrapped myself in a towel and sat on the closed-lid toilet while we did friendship right.

On the last full day of meditation and classes I wake up at 3:12 a.m. mind racing, ready to reach for my phone and plan my life. I look through old notes and photos to reorient myself.

There are a lot of things I realize it was important not to realize when I got myself into this. Like how thoroughly and for what duration I was about to almost completely cut myself off from what amounted to my life.

A woman sorting crops in the field--she loads her harvest in a basket and carries it up to the road on her head.

In morning meditation I get distracted by the sounds outside. Peacocks sound like kittens. Even though now I know they are peacocks, I can’t not think of a wild herd of kittens out there in the morning mist somewhere as we sit in silence.

Here with these sprinklers, these morning birds, this warm ginger tea. I had some morning meditation epiphanies but sometimes magic evades words, must be talked around.

Future version of self: remember these mornings? The mist, the promise of cool calm, a promise broken by the break of the 8 a.m. sun? Then morning yoga, then a breakfast I still haven’t figured out how to eat without bloat and belly ache. To rice or not to rice? To curry or not to curry? (Verdict, usually: not to.)

Then I walk, out of the gate and down the dirt road, as this sliver of world heats up. Passing fields, cows, people sorting ginger in plastic baskets. Is it inevitable that a people export their finest crops, the fruits of their most loving labor, to richer communities not theirs?

Swamiji and me on graduation day

There were one hundred and eight beautiful things about this place, this experience, and one hundred and eight bitter tastes for balance, too. Maybe I’m older now, less eager to favor the light over the shadows, or maybe there really is something not quite feel-right here. Maybe it is me, maybe it is you, maybe we can’t ever really locate the boundary between us.

Depends on who you ask, I guess. The swami or the crocodile in the river. The teenager who cleans my room once a week or the kid down the street who wants chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I trust it will take a while for reflection to shift from blur to focus, and to make sense of what this month has been, how it has moved me.

In any case, I’m leaving in the morning. Not for home yet, but moving on. What will I bring back? I am already rolling in the future. Ease? Will I soon sleep soundly through the night?

The centerpiece of our ceremony was a giant om symbol made of puja flowers. Here I am with my hard-earned certificate, post tears.

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