Rishikesh is known as “the yoga capital of the world”, and for good reason: there are yoga schools lining every street, lane and alley, extending up the mountainsides.
A mecca of yoga teacher training courses (I am reminded of Babylon’s scale), the lifelong-resident Indians I speak with describe how much it has changed in just the last 15 years – let alone since 1928, when the small Himalayan village began to become “built up” and had only ten or so families. Now there are literally hundreds of yoga schools, with more to come.
The industriously hard-working local boys and men work from dawn until late in the evening constructing more concrete structures, their pack horses carrying stone up from the Holy Ganga River. One can hear the team clip-clopping down the rough stone and concrete roads before dawn at a good pace, their shoes making a smart sound. They must have the stone at the ready before work begins after sunup.
The way I see it, two factors predicate the dominating presence of yoga in Rishikesh, the first being that it is inseparable from the spiritual beingness, and the second because it was introduced to consumer-driven popular culture in an age which questioned the status quo. The growing era of the Hippie movement of “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out” was the rage in San Francisco and New York over fifty years ago in February 1968 when the Beatles came to Rishikesh to take part in a Transcendental Meditation training course at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, drawn by the Maharishi’s open counter-culture ideologies of liberation. (A much, much deeper dive exploring the factors behind this is more appropriate on my other blog serving ‘controversial’ topics.) Donovan was there too, and Mike Love from the Beach Boys, and actress Mia Farrow who had just finished filming director Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and who for many years Woody Allen’s life partner. The WHITE ALBUM was written here.
With the proliferation of the many training programs comes a dilution of the actual purpose of yoga, which is a way of being, not merely a system of health methods and detox practices. More than a lifestyle, it is living in accordance with the harmony of nature, as nature is GOD, and the body is the temple in which the consciousness of the One Infinite resides. According to those who walk the path of the devotee to Truth, the driving principles are second in priority to profit now, as the reality of the matter is that 200, 300 and 500 hour courses do not a soul make. The question which begs to be asked is all about spiritual accountability. This may come as a shock to some, but all over America, yoga is offered in churches as an exercise class on the condition that the spiritual aspect is not taught. In actuality, yoga enables the human to free their consciousness from the prison of the body and reach their innate oneness with The Creator, the GOD consciousness within.
Recently I had the honor of being introduced to the yoga master of MrityunJaya Yogpeeth, Guru Ji Vaibhav Joshi, a master providing instruction and integrative healing for guests at the INDIRA NIKUNJ Hotel in Sheesham Jhari, Muni Ki Reti, Rishikesh. A few minutes walk from the Swami Swatantranand Ashram where Sri Mooji holds satsang each year, it offers an intentionally grounded, serene and balanced atmosphere: a calm counterpart to the bustling fullness that is India’s rich tapestry of teeming life. Only thirty years old, Guru Ji has the limitless perceptiveness of compassionate observation only found in fully self-realized enlightened individuals.
Guru Ji Vaibhav explains that yoga is more than a popular exercise trend to improve flexibility, but has a much greater reason behind it, which is to free the soul from the bondage of life and death. Yoga asanas (postures) were performed by yogis to remove or reduce the ailments of their body, as well as condition it so that they could maintain a particular asana for longer periods to make their body strong enough to bear the duration of meditation by tension, pain and accompanying to adjust position. The practice of yoga as a way of life enhances the ability to connect the human microcosm with the macrocosm of universal consciousness. And from a state of consciousness to the state of super consciousness, to become one with the divine.
There are different levels of practice and understanding of yoga philosophy, physiology and anatomy. The basic understanding is instilled and nurtured both theoretically and practically through meditation, yogic lore, cleansing techniques, the breathing of pranayama, and different yoga postures called asanas are the foundation of the program at Mrityunjaya Yogpeeth. It is up to the soul of the seeker of truth to embrace.
Softspoken and with an empathic warmth, it was immediately apparent the innately boundless love emanating from his soul to all around him. One doesn’t meet a being such as this often in life, and as we talked, his dark brown eyes met mine with a clear and unblinking, engaged focus, with a clarity of gaze reminding me of Bhagwan Ramana Marharshi. The Joshi family is a well-known line of pundits here in Rishikesh. For westerners reading this, the meaning of the word ‘pundit’ is used completely differently: in the West, a pundit is a person known for sarcastic, ascerbic, dry-humored criticism, while in the East a pundit is a person of great spiritual understanding. This is yet another example of how the truth has been hidden, and why one owes it to oneself to embrace yoga, and discover their true nature free of previous indoctrination, misinformation and damage to the self and body.
Guru Ji Vaibhav’s body language and attitude exude the soft confidence only the knowing of the self allows. Describing to me three previous clients who each stayed on to heal from previous injuries and the subsequent lifestyle limitations caused, his face reflecting the depth of his spirit’s compassion for the trauma they suffered, and under his daily guidance, were released from. “I just want to help people”, he told me with a sentence that did not have to be made words, as by his very being present, he is doing just that.
“To understand yoga we must be ready to accept it and surrender ourselves to the lore of yoga which is given to us by Lord Shiva, the adi yogi, for he is the father of yoga: the one who told the lore of yoga to the world.”
Yoga is said to be a healing force that works throughout the world. “Mrityun” means Death and “Jaya” means Victory: victory over death.
To commodify humanity as a dependent and harvested resource, the western world has been intentionally cut off from awareness of the needs of the body and soul. The yogic and ayurvedic path has restorative powers which are intentionally dismissed by allopathic (conventional western) medicine. No matter the age, station in life or distance from wellness and wholeness, one can begin to learn to nurture their body and their soul and heal. The three individuals mentioned above, in one to two months’ time respectively and the third improving steadily, returned to productive and satisfying lives after working with Guru Ji Joshi. One was an athlete from the U.S.A., a runner attacked and severely beaten and sustaining multiple fractures affecting his entire left side, who now runs again. Another is a woman in her early 60’s who had a slipped disk and the associated chronic pain which erodes the quality of life and saps vibrance from the spirit. The ayurvedic massage enabled the build-up of synovial fluid around her bulging disk to be released as the terrain of her spine was slowly restored. The third is a man who struggled with diabetes and obesity experienced normalized blood sugar levels and is achieving healthy weight and fitness. If the body is food re-arranged post-consumption, this is more than simply physical re-arranging, as the totality of all flows from the healer, the yogi master. All of these individuals stay in touch and their lives have been transformed with the return to the quality of life all beings deserve.
Currently offered are 2, 4, 7 and 15 day retreats, early morning drop-in yoga classes, ayurvedic care and shatkarma cleanses, yogic food, post-injury conditioning and recovery, and yogic study either one-on-one or in groups. For more information about studying with Guru Ji Master Vaibhav Joshi and the Mrityunjaya Yogpeeth yoga program, services and retreats, email firstname.lastname@example.org.