Coming Home to the Banks of Ma Ganga

Coming Home to the Banks of Ma Ganga

One week at the 29th International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh

Photo Courtesy of International Yoga Festival

“Welcome home,” he said.

With delicate hands touching in “namaste,” HH Pujya Swamiji dipped his head gently forward in an acknowledging nod and his deep brown eyes, swelling with kindness and attention, looked into my own—I gasped. I wasn’t expecting this chance meeting with him, or these words, or the hours that would come later in the evening when I sat next to him and his female counterpart, an equally divine Sadhvi Bhagawatiji. I watched life unfold literally as dance before my eyes in a celebration from the Parmarth Niketan ashram’s gurukul boys.

This moment was only one of many magical happenings I was blessed to have during Rishikesh’s International Yoga Festival in India this March. Tommy Rosen, the renowned yoga teacher and addiction-recovery expert, said in the opening ceremony, “Opportunity exists here that doesn’t exist anywhere else.” Still pinching myself two weeks later about the dreamy meetings and self-revelatory knowings that came during those seven short days, I’d say Tommy was right.

I watched participants come together from 101 countries searching for freedom and connection. These seekers in all stages of life, with backgrounds as diverse as the types of practices offered at the ashram, would awaken each morning, some as early as 3am, to unroll mats or drop meditation cushions on sandy marble or turfgrass floors inside echoing yoga halls or alongside the river Ganga.

Hundreds filed into practice with Kundalini legends Gurmukh and Kia Miller, or take Vinyasa classes by Ganga goddess incarnate Laura Plumb or Jivamukti’s Jules Febres, or explore an experimental style from Rishikesh-native and Sattva yoga creator Anand Mehrotra—and even so, there was always a sense of independence and self-discovery within the expansive community.

Some offerings were small and intimate, but powerful nonetheless. For those of us wanting to explore the healing powers of our voices, or our hands, there were kirtan and sound workshops from Adam Bauer and Anandra George, and reiki sharing nearly daily.

One of the most enlightening aspects of the festival were the satsangs of awakened beings Mooji and Prem Baba, and lectures by best-selling author Dr. Bruce Lipton. These powerhouses of energy and wisdom were there to impart their truths upon us so that we could have intellectual understanding of the spiritual tools available to us, and felt experiences of the still spirit.

But no festival is complete without dancing—even if it’s a festival in an ashram. The seva crew at Parmarth Niketan didn’t disappoint — beloved Indian artists Sivamani and Kailash Kher with Kailasa played powerfully into the night so participants could celebrate existence with locals. We jumped, and spun, and released nearly as wildly as the Indian men and children.

Small families of newfound friends started popping up during the festival, through sharing moments laughing at morning monkeys or lunchtime meals on metal thali plates near massive banyan trees. These bonds helped to strengthen the experiences of the festival, through having souls to hug and hold and have a chai with, but also through the creation of a tribe who will undoubtedly offer support after the fest ends.

As I reflect back on these moments at the Ganga ghats and try to summarize this experience, what sits most powerfully within me is the undeniable feeling of home that I felt then (and still feel now as I continue to live my days within the ashram walls). When Swamiji acknowledged my “return” through his welcome greeting, it really did land for me. I am home here.

We came to find freedom in yoga’s birthplace, and explored our edges countless times, and opened and softened, and sometimes broke, but through it all we found that sense of freedom that comes through embodied spirituality and living our practice. And in freedom, we found peace; within peace, we found our home.

Eager to know more about what we discovered at the International Yoga Festival? Check out these stories:

Bonus podcast with Sadhvi Bhagawatiji here:

Want to experience yoga in India? Start planning your pilgrimage to the International Yoga Festival next spring in Rishikesh, India.

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