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Phool Chatti Yoga Ashram

INDIA | Thursday, 3 October 2013 | Views [1408]

Five kilometres up the road from Laxman Jhula, where the mountains start to expand, become more jungle-ified, and where there are fewer houses and less people we found Phool Chatti Ashram, neatly positioned right on the banks of the Ganga.

We'd signed up to spend 9 nights here to take part in the annual Yoga & Meditation Programme.

First impressions were great, a beautiful peaceful retreat away from the honking horns and hustle and bustle of Indian life for a while. We were greeted by lovely people who took care of us and showed us around. Smiley Munna became a big favourite. We explored the area around the Ashram and were accompanied down to the river by the big german shepherd who's job it was was to scare away the monkeys!

We met some lovely folk on our first evening who were also going to be Yoga-ing, Daisy and Melissa from London and Stacy from San Fran. Our first evening meal together was an eye-opener. We sat crossed legged on a tiled-floor with a thin slither of reed matting. Each of us were provided with a steel platter and steel cup which we would keep for the duration of our stay and wash ourselves after meal times. We laid our tray on the floor in front of where we were sat and then Munna and Mitu came around with buckets and scooped big dollops of curry/veg/yoghurt/rice into our trays. Meal times were conducted in silence. It felt incredibly primitive and I was wary at first. Once we'd tasted how scrumpious the food was though there was no stopping us and Munna and Mitu continuously piled our trays with more dhal and chapatti's. Klas was on a roll after his recent escapades, food had never tasted so good and he was often the last to leave the dining hall, despite the pain in his ankles from sitting cross-legged!

The yoga course was led by Lalita Ji, a lovely Indian woman who has lived at the Ashram for 23 years and is the most flexible person I've ever met, and Maria, a German Yoga Teacher who'd come over to help Lalita Ji for 3 months. The programme started the following day at 5.30am with wake-up bell followed by meditation, chanting, neti-pot cleasning (nasal and sinus cleansing - slightly scary!), pranayama breathing, yoga, b/fast, karma yoga, meditation walk, lunch, 2 hours free time (phew!), lecture and discussion, more yoga, temple worship, chanting, dinner, tea and guided meditation... and continued like this for 7 days! An intense programme but surprisingly calming and provided lots of opportunity to reflect and enjoy just being (in whichever form of practice that took)... for a change. Opportunties to talk to the rest of the group were scarce as we were asked to observe silence from 5.30am until after lunch, bit of a killer, but there were people there from all over the world and it was really fun to meet many of them.

I struggled with the silence a bit and on the 2nd day there was a complaint that a couple had been chatting until 10.30pm (!!) and had disturbed Swarmi Ji (the holy director of the Ashram). I remembered Klas and I having 'a debate' the night before about the legitimacy of Yogic Flying, I was trying to convince him in other words! I think it may have been us who disturbed Swarmi Ji - whoops :) how un-holy of us!

We both really enjoyed the yoga and meditation, and felt incredibly healthy after a full week of exercise. The 2 hours we had off in the afternoon were often spent pouring out words we'd held in all morning, washing clothes or taking a dip in the Ganga (probably the one and only time it's clean enough to do so). We washed with a bucket of cold water every day so bathing in the river was actually a bit of a treat. The bucket of cold water thing sounds worse than it was though, it was really warm and humid most days, plus we were exercising a lot so cold water was quite refreshing. 

On the final day/evening we all collected fire wood and built a huge bonfire on the beach. Everyone was asked to sing a song from their own country, it was like a bad eurovision song contest. The 4 of us from the UK decided on 'Auld Lang Syne' but hilariously realised none of us knew the actual words (I was very ashamed having lived in Edinburgh for 8 years!). We made it up as we went along and everyone got the idea. Klas and the other Swede - Marie, performed the frog dance!

Considering that there were about 30 of us completing the course it was incredible that everyone was able to experience the programme individually and in the way each of us needed to. Our final ceremony together involved chanting a sacred mantra 108 times and burning special wood & spices combined with clarified butter 'ghee', this was a powerful experience and a memorable ending to the week. I think everyone took something pretty unique away with them.

We stayed on at the Ashram for an extra day to unwind before our next big journey and together with Daisy, Mel and Stacy we headed into Laxman Jhula to shop and check emails. It felt like we'd been released from a convent! We all felt very silly and naughty!

The next night we got an amazing send off from the girls before we caught our night train to Lucknow, en route to Nepal and feeling zen-ified ready for dazzling India one again!




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