There now follows an intensive month long period of 150 hours of yoga! Everyone has forewarned me about how intense it will be, hell the course is even called the First Level Intensive. You'd think that would be a clue! I get up at 7 to 7.30am most days, if I don't i'm awoken by the “sneezing woman.” I run to Agama (this had always been the plan when I booked in September) It only takes 20 mins but seeing all the yoga bunnies arriving cool and showered in their floaty white trousers with me all red and hot and sweaty in my adidas is not the most positive start to every day. Then the schedule is 830 – 1030 yoga. I then walk back or buy brekkie on the way which normally gets me back by 11.30 then I leave again at 3.30 for more yoga from 4pm - 6pm followed by a lecture from from 6pm to 8pm which focuses on a yogic related topic then home (another half an hour walk or if i'm lucky and wearing my very short shorts – someone offers me a lift.) Then it starts all again the next day. Its exhausting!
Agama yoga is certainly the most comprehensive course i've come across. Many classes taught in the West that I've attended have foresaken the spirituality in favour of a good workout. My aim – coming here – was to get into a regular yoga practice and I think if this doesn't do it nothing will!
The course covers every aspect of yoga – not just the physical postures (Asanas) but purification techniques, meditation and ayurveda – the Indian diet/ nutrition for health that the yogis devised some 2000 years ago. The postures that are taught here are Hatha yoga, but whereas other schools and teach that the postures are simply to improve flexibilty so that meditation can be held for long periods of time, at this school they believe that the postures are meant to be the meditation themselves. Each asana works on a physical level but also at an emotional and mental level by clearing/cleansing one of the seven chakras (energy centres) and bringing telluric (from the ground) or cosmic (from the sky) energy into the body. In order for this process to happen the posture must be held to get the benefit – upwards of 4 minutes but gradually 7 minutes and longer; and ones attention to focus and eventually meditate on the relevant chakras.
I've been taught meditation, done energy work through being attuned to Reiki levels 1 and 11 and also found myself diagnosing my dosha and trying to eat an ayurvedic diet after a particularly stressful time at work but I've never done a course where its all introduced holistically and tied together at the same time. Its great for me although I can imagine it would be a bit of a headfuck for a complete beginner who had never encountered any of these topics before.
They do push the boundaries of good taste and plausability even with me though, hippy that I am. When I ask one of the teachers what I could do to cure my sensitive stomach that is prone to getting upset without resorting to harsh antibiotics, she fixes me with a steely eye and exclaims zealously:
“Urine Therapy! Drink your own pee!”
Er no thanks love, I think i'll carry on looking.
After the lecture on “Vamata Dhauti” or should that be "vomitty dhauti" an ancient purification technique endorsed by the yogis that basically consists of making yourself throw up a litre of water every morning; I am awoken not just by “sneezing woman” but a full symphony of regurgitation noises coming from all directions, and rather bizarrely accompanied by the sound of Jean Michel Jarre. I discover later that this is my neighbour Nick's attempt to disguise the sounds. It doesn't work... however as a conversation on the subject reveals that he also heard me making noises of a different kind (whilst with Talon) I sheepishly bow my head and decide not to give him too much stick. It might also explain why the little italian “sneezing woman” has refused to look me in the eye all month. *cringe*
The first of the evening lectures is given by Swami himself. He's a large, white , middle aged (to nearing sixties) man with twinkling grey eyes and a beard streaked with white and an enormous stomach that pushes at his bright orange robes. He's actually Romanian so every word has a slight vamipiric edge to it. He doesn't look like the picture of health for a yogi but maybe he's transcended all that.
Yoga is all about a path of spiritual development to question “why we are here” and then follow our true path in life.
Outside reception there is a sign: You are not here to change Agama, Agama is here to change you.
And then their strapline – Choose Evolution.
And in the toilet a sign that asks the reader to question: “Who am I?” Its a better place than some to question the important issues of the day I guess!
I've cut out red meat, coffee and alcohol while I do the yoga so that it provides a bit of a full body detox at the same time and i'm eating loads of fresh fruit and vegetables so for a while at least i'm a picture of health.
On friday night there is a heart chakra meditation led by one of the teachers – Andrea, a very nice Italian man who all of the girl students seem to be in love with for some reason.
In the soft darkness of the hall candles have been lit and shaped in a spiral leading to a velvet cushion surrounded by green fairy lights in its centre. We all sit in a circle around the throne and for the next half an hour will meditate on our heart chakra. Each person takes it in turns to sit in the centre, while sitting on the outside we focus on giving love to the person in the centre, when it is our turn to sit in the centre we focus on receiving love from everyone else. Music meditation is a big part of the teachings at Agama, vibrationally different music (i'm sensing not Marilyn Manson) can heal and vibrate /cleanse with a certain chakra. Heart chakra music seems to be piano music and soft choral music such as Ave Maria. I find myself crying but Ave Maria always makes me well up.
On the final day we have a ceremony where we get a certificate from Swami saying that we've completed our first level along with a piece of magic string (white and wrapped around the left wrist to protect us) and some magic cake as well as a flower garland around the neck. The cake is my favourite bit! Afterwards I head for a celebration meal with Nick -a forty something ex army lieutenant turned actor from Britain and Mark – an ex army Californian.
Nick has decided to start “Bad Yogi” . Com. He's gone cold turkey as well, starting the yoga course with a 7 day detox at ananada (Which involves vomiting, colonics and starvation for a week) followed by no meat, coffee or alcohol and fags. As a result I think we've all gone off the rails a bit.
I had thought after a month of clean living it would be difficult to get back into bad habits. How wrong I am. We eat pizza and drink red wine (this is my health concession instead of white!) Nick gets back on the fags and beer.
Mark is a softly spoken Californina with wild corkscrew curls, goatee and tats. He doesn't smile much, I wonder if he has a severe attitude or its just shyness. He spent a long time in the U.S Military – and starts to say:
“you know the first time you do it....they try and prepare you...but after. Nothing is the same again.” He won't say what “it” is but we know it means he's killed a man.
Tomorrow Nick, myself and Fleur, a maypole thin, supermodel tall blonde girl from Holland with shiny blue eyes and gentle smile who i've become friendly with, are all starting Level 2.
As Swami says cheerfully to us with a twinkle in his eye:
“Well! You must have got something out of it then!”