With Shivani, my new friend who recently moved to Rishikesh
With Shivani, my new friend who recently moved to Rishikesh

Today was an exciting day I had been waiting for.  And another main reason I’d decided to stay in loud and busy Rishikesh.  There was an orientation that afternoon for a Bhakti retreat I was excited to attend coming up throughout the weekend.  The retreat was definitely serendipitous timing and very meant to be.  One of my main focus areas in this 6-month journey was music and dance as much if not more than just yoga and meditation.  But I hadn’t the time before I left to begin figuring out where I would go or whom my teachers would be.  I trusted the right experiences would surface with the few leads I did have and some more earnest digging and surrendering to the divine flow.  Sure enough, my first teacher presented herself exactly where I was already staying!

I had already heard the teacher’s name, Anandra George, when I’d told my Trinidad musician friend that I wanted to continue studying mantras and ragas, sacred chants/scales in India I had already been practicing for years with my Bay-area based ragas teacher Silvia Nakkach.  He told me about Anandra and suggested I’d get in touch.  He even gave me her room number and phone.  I was planning to send her an email earlier in the week which happened to be while the 1st Annual Indo China Yoga Festival was taking pace at the ashram.  Ashram guests were invited to attend an afternoon meditation/practice on the lawn so of course I showed up.  After it ended, I met Pujya Swamiji’s assistant who offered to give me Anandra’s email information.  I knew I really wanted to attend the retreat but I was also hoping for a discount, scholarship or trade if possible as my funds were already too low to last through my entire travels.  I didn’t even need to email!  Another gentleman I had met though my travel buddies was nearby and heard I wanted to meet Anandra.  He asked if I wanted him to introduce me because he noticed her standing nearby!  Yes, yes, yes of course — all meant to be.  In the end, she did graciously allow me to make a donation of my choice for the retreat as all of the proceeds were going to the ashram’s non-profit organizations.  She was offering the retreat in service!  Such a beautiful gift and something I plan to do in my future teaching as well.  A huge inspiration Anandra ending up being in so many ways!

Although there were yoga and meditation classes all over, it became pretty clear that many them were merely catering to the tourism that Rishikesh had clearly become able to capitalize on with teacher trainings and Ayurveda massage being advertised virtually everywhere.  Finding a quality teacher could definitely be a challenge.  I hadn’t loved the few classes I had taken and was more excited to delve more deeply into the Shadow yoga-influenced practice I had been doing myself on the roof.  But this retreat was Bhakti Yoga!  Connection to the divine and mind/body/spirit through voice and sound!  EXACTLY what I was looking for!

Not only was my meeting Anandra divine timing as well as her retreat happening in the  the ideal schedule for me, one of my dearest sisters also reached out to me that week on FB to connect us.  They had once been neighbors on Kauai!  And… two other sweet sisters of mine (both who happened to be named Kelley) sent me FB messages on the same day suggesting I connect with a mutual friend of theirs who had recently moved to Rishikesh.  When I reached out and told my soon-to-be new friend that I’d love to connect and was staying at the ashram to attend the Bhakti Retreat, guess who was also going to attend?  Thank you divine Universe for the appreciated “winks” you constantly give me by continuing to place all of these synchronicities in my path.

A small group of us gathered at the afternoon orientation representing Switzerland, Germany, Australia, the U.S. (myself and another woman) and my new friend from Rishikesh, Shivani.  There would have been many more people but unfortunately, there was a mix-up at the ashram and they accidentally turned a bunch of people away who had all tried to register in advance, incorrectly thinking the retreat had already happened.  As it was, we were a sweet group that sounded lovely and all throughly appreciated the time we got to spend together.

I went to bed that night super excited to wake up for our morning meditation on the banks of the Ganga at 5:45am, prior to dawn.  We were instructed to make it a listening meditation, allowing the sound of the water to be our point of focus.   If our mind wandered, we were guided to internally chant the mantra, Om Namah Shivayah, we had sang together that afternoon.  After the mediation would be an asana practice at 6:30am before we’d meet again at 10am to move into morning mantra practice.  I couldn’t have been happier going to bed officially a student again!

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