What a fabulous weekend of sacred sound filled with music, mantra, meditation and more. Sure is a lot of m’s… mmmm mmmm good! We began both Sat and Sun mornings with our 5:45am meditation by the Ganga. It was super chilly with the cool wind blowing by the water, but I wore a hat, coat and a new beautiful wool shawl and felt quite content. On Saturday, we had a yoga asana practice afterwards but there is no class at the ashram on Sundays so another new friend, Amber and I practiced on our own in the unlocked yoga studio room. Our only excitement there was getting visited by a monkey (something you always need to beware of with open doors) but luckily he wasn’t a trouble maker, took our hint and left.
Our morning practice consisted of learning and singing mantras first with the accompaniment of Anandra’s harmonium and tanpura, a typical Indian stringed-instrument. Then, the 16-year old tabla player who drums during the Aarti would join us for the last hour. As always, I loved singing my heart out! And am grateful to have been able to record all of our singing.
Sunday was really powerful for me. During our pretty lengthy warm-up where we’d begin humming, them OM’ing, then move into free sound… I ended up in tears. Not tears of sadness. Simply truly feeling the Bhakti, the devotion, as my singing turned into an offering to God. I’ve only felt this experience before in plant medicine ceremonies, where my voice takes on a whole other power and feel as the sound truly becomes an offering of the heart. It was really beautiful to be moved to silent tears that actually prevented me from singing for a few minutes. It is such an incredible feeling to surrender and connect to music and and one’s inner soul so deeply that way.
After a lengthy relaxing break for lunch (which the retreat included with breakfast and dinner in a private area of the ashram), we returned each afternoon to focus on learning Sanskrit and discussing theory with a Q&A. Although I’ve delved a bit into Sanskrit during my yoga trainings, Anandra’s instructions were much more specific and super helpful to really begin to understand the depth of meaning and accurate yet somewhat challenging way to create the correct sounds. It would take years to really dive in deep but I felt she did an incredible job at opening the door to Nada Yoga, the accurate term for yoga or “union through sound”. More elaborately, it is the ancient spiritual art and science of inner transformation through sound and tone. Meditation on sound is one of many universal paths to Self Realization, accessible to anyone and appropriate for people of all religions. In fact, Anandra’s just about to begin the first ever official Yoga Alliance certified 200-hour Bhakti Yoga training in Rishikesh.
I find that thrilling! So many people associate yoga only with asana, the physical practice when in fact, asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga with meditation, pranayama (breathwork) and samadhi (bliss) being only three of the others. We also neglect that there are various forms of yoga like Karma Yoga (service) and Bhakti Yoga since they get little attention and yet singing kirtan (usually call and response) or bhajan (sometimes with longer Hindi lyrics), doing japa (repetition of mantra often using malas) amongst other practices using nada (attuning to the primal sound itself through vocalization or instrumental music practice) are tried and true ways to find that infinite love from which we came and from where we’ll return.
If you’re at all interested in learning more about the Bhakti Yoga teacher training or any other of Anandra’s upcoming trainings, check out her website: www.truefreedomcoaching.com
She is a very sweet down-to-earth soul, dedicated practitioner, beautiful singer/musician and master teacher. I am so very grateful to have started my journey studying with her!
The evening ended super sweetly as I was invited to take part in the actual fire puja in the center of the Aarti ceremony this time. Until now, I had only watched others making offerings into the fire. Anandra suggested that instead of praying for something specific, we simply ask for anything to be removed keeping us from connecting to the inner light of the divine within and in all beings. It felt like a super lovely culmination of my time at Parmarth Niketan which was drawing near a close, as well as the retreat that had also officially just ended. I enjoyed the gift of being close to the flames and sitting next to Amber, the other woman in our group from the U.S. spending 5 months in Rishikesh. Her ashram was away from the hustle and bustle, as my next one would also soon be.