It was 5:30 am and i was bombarded by the customary whats app messages first thing in the morning.
A dozen at least, wishing me “good morning”, the words imprinted on pictures of pretty birds or cups of tea.
And one message wishing me a Happy yoga day.The message took me back, to the time when I was first introduced to yoga.
I still remember begging my parents to let me go to yoga camp for the summer, with some other kids from school.
My parents hesitated, I was after all just a child how would I manage away from home for an entire month.
After a lot of cajoling they finally agreed ,and I set out to spend an entire month in yoga camp at Kerala, when i was all of 9 years.
We took a train from Chennai to Trivandrum and a car to Neyyar dam where the yoga ashram was situated.
Located on top of a small hill the sprawling premises were filled with tall trees and long halls with high roofs. Since it was the first day ,parents were allowed to have dinner with their kids before they headed home.
Dinner was served in a traditional style on plantain leaves and the parents,teachers and students dined together in the dining hall.
Our parents soon bade us farewell and we were left to our own designs. We were assigned cottages and 4 students had to stay together. The cottages were neat and simple with 4 wooden cots and chairs.
Every morning we were woken up at 5 am with half an hour of meditation on the banks of the Neyyar river, followed by an invigorating session of yoga asanas. It was soon time for breakfast,i was assigned to the morning batch of student volunteers who had to serve food to the other students, teachers and ashram residents.
The students at the ashram were taught the essence of karma yoga, whereby each student was assigned a duty such as serving food at different meals or helping out in some simple chores around the ashram . This was new to most of us kids there,since we were so used to being taken care of; funnily it instilled a sense of responsibility in us and we strived to do whatever task we were assigned, to near perfection.
Post breakfast,we were taught Sanskrit by an endearing man who could only communicate in Sanskrit and a bit of Malayalam. Since most of the students weren’t from Kerala a major portion of the class would be spent trying to decipher what he was saying. In the end he did manage to teach us a small song in Sanskrit,that all of us religiously sang together at the beginning of every class.
Lunch was also a simple, very healthy vegetarian affair. The hardest part of the entire stay for me was that we weren’t allowed to drink plain water! The only water available was a kashayam (infusion of spices in water) which was very bitter and always hot, courtesy to the boiler in which it was stored. Luckily my 9 year old self refused to dwell on things that I din’t like and always seemed to focus only the simple pleasures life had to offer.
In the evening we were usually taken outdoors for a trek around the area or to nearby places to explore the region. We had swimming classes on alternate days, but sadly I never really put any effort into it and could just float for a few seconds in the water.
We would return to camp a little tired from all the activity of the entire day and till dinner time they gave us comic books to read, or we could write letters back home followed by satsang or prayers.
We also had a lot of talent shows,excursions to places around Kerala, competitions and other fun filled activities.
I still have vague memories of the experiences at the camp such as how we nursed back a baby squirrel which had fallen out of its nest, hearing the roars of the tigers across the lake from the Neyyar wildlife sanctuary, visit to Kanyakumari, the treks through the Western Ghats, the letters from home and the people we met from different parts of the world(adults and children). The one month long stay away from my parents,taught me a lot of bitter sweet lessons,that continue to stay with me till date.
Sivananda dhanwantari ashram also offers teacher’s training course as well as yoga retreats that span a period of two weeks for adults. I sometimes reminisce with K and my parents about my stay there and wonder how it would be to go back as an adult to their two week retreats.