Since in Rishikesh, India has felt like a new gust of wind propelling the sails on my ship of life. I came to India to complete my yoga teacher training, but it’s already become a much grander journey.
Coming from South Korea’s meat and alcohol laden, smartphone wielding uniform-clad empire, it seems I’ve arrived somewhere that is exactly the opposite. Both alcohol and non-vegetarianism are illegal in this area, and the clothes are some of the most unique and beautiful textiles I’ve ever seen. Friends who’d visited India before me joked that I’d be able to smell India before my plane hit the ground. I couldn’t quite smell it, but I felt it. India oozes with the warmth and vitality of a good curry. It’s fiery, intense, colourful and a little disconcerting if you aren’t accustomed to that much “spice” in your life.
My personal impression: I love it.
Coming to that conclusion is surprising for me. My heritage is Indian. The last generation of my family that actually lived in India, goes back to my great grandparents. My mother has visited India once. My father, twice. I recognize my background does come back to India, but the strength of that connection has always been weak for me. That being said, as many and most of the people here in Rishikesh love to point out – I look Indian. This is my first experience in India. Before now it was a country I’d only read, heard and dreamed about. And yet- my face clearly sends the message that I belong here. It feels strangely comforting to be in a place where I can see so much of myself in those around me, yet have so little in common past our physical similarities.
While it’s true my ancestors generations ago once had a life in this mesmerizing country, I’ve always struggled to understand how India fit into my life, now. In an odd way, and much to my surprise, I do feel at home. Perhaps ancestry runs deep enough within ourselves that if we allow it, we can connect to the places those before us built their lives, and in way, built a life for us. My ancestors’ path brought my family from India to East Africa, and then to Canada, the country I now so proudly call home.
But presently, India is carving its own home in my heart. I came to study yoga. Learning about this ancient practice links me to India in a very real and current way. Yoga has been a part of my life for more than 10 years. I’ve come to Rishikesh, speculated by some to be the birthplace of yoga, and that feels huge. I am infinitely impressed each day, as this historical practice proves to be both relevant and necessary to my modern life.
Today, India is helping bring me closer to my history in a way I never expected. Being here makes me understand some of the quirks of my family and insight into where so many of our values, practices, attitudes and traditions were born. I came to India to deepen my knowledge of the physical and spiritual practice I called yoga. But Rishikesh has already offered me so much more than that.
My teacher here described the process of yoga as “cleaning the dust off the mirror of the heart- to see oneself more clearly”. Gazing at the the sacred Ganges river, surrounded by the majestic Himalyas, I can’t help but feel those words ring true for me. And so I continue this journey, already gaining so much more than I expected to, ever so sure that I am exactly where I need to be. Namaste.
You can read more from Sashah Rahemtulla on her blog.