Sunday, January 6, 2013

The rice, the rice, the rice is on fire....

Let me tell you about my first ever "yoga" weekend.

It was a few years ago - the yoga magazine I always bought displayed these mouth watering yoga retreats - one week, warm climate, wonderful scenery, yoga classes.....yep, my wife and I defenitely wanted to try that.
As yoga rookies, we wanted to be sure it would be our cup of tea, so we decided to look for a yoga weekend closer to home (risk reduction, just in case - I'm still a rational person).

One day, my wife found something on the internet - a "yoga and mindfulness" weekend in the north of Holland. Not exactly the warm climate we had hoped for, but driving distance and at a local ashram in a wooded area. The program was not 100% clear to us - welcome and introduction on Friday,  on Saturday it said something about offering in the morning followed by 'aarti babaji' (thanks Google for not clarifying), ayurvedic breakfast, karma yoga (which was described as helping in the kitchen - so maybe we could learn how to cook ayurvedic food),  ayurvedic lunch, relax time, yoga followed again by 'aarti babaji' and ayurvedic dinner......and the same thing on Sunday (except for the dinner). With an open mind, it sounded OK and since we had no other programs to compare to, we decided to give it a try.

We arrived on Friday evening, just to get to know the group of people we would spend the weekend with. I was one of 2 men in a group of 12. No worries. The group was diverse but everybody seemed to be looking for something..... I introduced myself as a rational person, looking for a yoga experience and starting the weekend with an open mind to see where it would bring me.

Saturday had an early start - 5.30 AM wake up to take a shower - you needed to enter the little temple for the offering ceremony clean - no shower, no ceremony. At 6.00 AM we were on our yoga mats doing breathing exercises - it was the first time I did breathing exercises ; alternating nostril breathing, ujjayi breathing ... it made me feel good and made up for the early wake up call.

With clean lungs we had to put on a wrap and head for the temple. The door opened and there was a open fire in the middle of the room - the upper half of the room was filled with smoke - goodbye clean lungs, why did I do those breathing exercises? Why did we need to shower to come here when we were going to leave smoked anyway? I started repeating to myself - keep an open mind, keep an open mind.... it is all about the experience.....

We had to sit one after the other (like children pretend to be on a train) - the smoke was now above our heads like grey clouds packed with snow. We all got a bowl with approx. 1 kg of rice brokens and then we were ready to go.

Three 'monks' would lead the ceremony - we just had to sit and listen to mantras in Sanskrit and when we heard 'svaha', we had to repeat 'svaha' and throw some of the rice out of our bowl into the fire, always with our right hand and little bits each time. 'Svaha' is similar to 'Hail', in case you were wondering. This lasted for almost an hour, and while we were all throwing our rice, the monks themselves threw in flowers, apples, bananas, a coconut.....

As a food engineer I couldn't stop thinking - what a waste of food.....  1 kg of rice equals 16 portions - times 12 people equals 192 portions and then all the seemed to me that this rice could have been used better at a local shelter.

One thing was clear - this whole offering was not my cup of tea..... so after an hour, it was on to the next chapter of the weekend, on with an open mind to 'aarti babaji'.....

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