By TLou Connery Ash
My lips quiver and my gaze drops as a woman in a vibrant saree passes by. “What would she think? I didn’t want to be rude. I wish I could just let her know.” I scurry down the moonlit dirt road to the yoga shala (studio).
Normally, I look forward to the happy nods and smiles of the Indian locals as they head off to work, but not today. I’d left extra early in hopes of not seeing anyone. The morning vow of silence has begun and I am not permitted to return these friendly gestures on my early commute.
I arrived at Mandrem Beach a week ago. This secluded one-street village, described by Lonely Planet as “the best-kept secret on the north Goan coast,” inspires a sense of tranquility. With just three options for accommodation and a main road that fizzles into a sandy dead end, I couldn’t have picked a more peaceful environment to do a one-month Tribe yoga teacher’s training program.
From Canada to India—it all happened so fast. As I approach the shala, I reflect on the course of self-discovery I had just finished back home. Someone defining my character in one word didn’t sit well. “Defiant? You think I am defiant?” When inner honesty crept in, I had to admit I did question everything and resisted all forms of authority. So I did what every defiant person examining her life would do: I set a 30-day persistency to say “yes” and fully engage in every task.
And so I step into the candle-lit shala, place my mat on the cool wooden floor, and settle in for the seemingly endless morning meditation. Fidgety sounds fill the space as fellow yogis do the same. The salty ocean breeze sneaks in through the cloth walls of the palm-tree-thatched hut. As I close my eyes to attempt the list of pranayamas—breathing exercise—a soft furry critter rubs against my thigh.
Don’t look! Focus! Focus! One eye can’t help but peek to see a stray dog has cozied up beside me. It would hardly be yoga-like to shoo it away. I can’t help smiling as my lashes reunite. With all the sacred cows meandering down the beach, I wonder how long it’ll be before one of them joins Tribe’s practice, too?
Focus! This word becomes my mantra. I repeat it many times, hoping eventually it will stick. Back to breathing. My mind has mastered the art of distraction. “Oh, I have an itch. Is there a bug crawling up my arm? This floor needs a cleaning.” Focus! One magic word snaps me back to here and now.
The sun peeking in through the shala marks the transition from breathing exercises to the physical asanas or postures. Sweat drips from my forehead as I learn ujjayi-breathing helps calm and regulate the body. “Oops! My technique is off.” I fumble with my ego while my legs quiver in warrior pose.
Mid-morning arrives and breakfast awaits. We end in savasana—stretched on our backs, serene—then haul our growling tummies down the sandy pathway. First words seem strange now that the vow of silence has ended for the day.
All 20 of us march to the beach-side restaurant, illuminated by the staff’s genuine smiles. I love how good-natured the locals seem. I wonder if everyone in India has such a friendly disposition or is it unique to Goa being a former Portuguese colony.
Back to the shala. Scarlett, our teacher, tasks us with a motion meditation. Sufi whirling? “Seriously? Spinning around in circles makes me sick. Literally! I am not doing this. This is ridiculous!” Conflicted, I remind myself of my challenge and still it takes everything in me to avoid blurting out “no.”
With considerable trepidation I slowly stand. “Well, if I’m going to throw up, I’d better make it worth it!” I begin to cautiously twirl as my body fills with nausea. I start slowly, then quickly, and at last, playfully as an inner dancer ignites. Now fully engaged, my focus shifts from dizziness to euphoria. This child-like joyfulness consumes me. Some twenty minutes fly by and I have no idea how to stop. Attempting to slow down, I lose my balance and crash to the wooden floor. Dizziness crushes any hope of getting up, so I lie back and wait until my mind catches up with my body.
After yesterday’s unexpected awareness, I have a little more enthusiasm for the Sunday morning’s calm, still, Buddhist meditation. I get as comfortable as I can in a cross-legged lotus pose. We sit completely still for what seems like an eternity—but winds up being more like 20-minute intervals. I’m so wrapped up in trying to follow the rules; telling my neighbor she has a strange creepy-crawly on her back seems inappropriate. “Do I let her know? It will disrupt everyone.” Focus. And suddenly my tormented mind lets go, enabling me to return to my practice.
Three weeks have passed and we begin our pre-dawn pranayamas beach-side to the sound of the waves. The breeze serenades my morning breath. In the distance, I briefly hear barking, then yelps and whimpers as I pull the blanket up over my head and turn inward. I open my eyes at the meditation’s end to discover a pack of dogs has killed and eaten a baby pig 100 meters away. After a wave of sadness leaves my body, I can’t help but smile—my focus has improved.
And just in time—my month has ended. I stare out the window at the chaos as the taxi winds its way through traffic heading to the Mumbai airport.
This challenge here in Goa — away from friends, family and the daily routines back home—allowed me to have a glimpse at the true origin of my defiance. I began this journey squirming and wanting to run from uncomfortable feelings. I tried to escape by finding distractions—or excuses.
Saying “yes” forced me to stay present in this unbearable state and not emotionally disengage. Up until now my life has been full of resistance. I knew what I didn’t like, but had I ever really known what I wanted? I look forward to saying “yes” more often to see where it leads me.
Tlou Connery Ash is a non-fiction writer. She was a former editor of a Spanish-language events magazine and presently contributes to a blog called “The Muddy Boot.” When she is not guiding people through bendy poses or writing on one of her adventures, she is chasing her defiant red-headed toddler. You can visit her at www.tlouconneryash.wordpress.com
Photo credits: All images property of Tlou Connery Ash.