Yoga Capital of the World

Rishikesh – India

In 2003 I went to Rishikesh because it is called: “The World Capital of Yoga”. Rishikesh is a holy town for Hindus and located in the foothills of the Himalaya in northern India.

The Beatles stayed at the now closed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in 1968, and composed songs there, which many of appear on the White Album. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1917 – 2008), introduced the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Ananda – In The Himalayas, where I stayed, provided me with an excellent guide, Mr. Mandeep. Besides showing me around, he introduced me to some of the locals in Rishikesh. One of them, who I had a chat with, was His Holiness Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji (Pujya Swami) president of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, which is the largest ashram in Rishikesh. The ashram organizes the annual International Yoga Festival with the Uttarakhand Tourism. It is one of the largest Yoga events in the world. He is also the founder and chairman of the India Heritage Research Foundation, which activities includes e.g. health care programs, schools, orphanages and publications.

At sunset, Pujya Swami led the Ganga Aarti on the bank of the river Ganga, which is the most sacred of India’s rivers. I found this a very impressive and beautiful ceremony, where deepas (oil lamps) are offered to God. The essence of the ceremony is that all day long God offers us the light of the sun, life and his blessings. Aarti is a time when we offer back the light of our thanks, the light of our love and devotion. We realize that the small deepa is nothing compared to the divine light which shines on us all day. So, Aarti is a ceremony of humility, a time in which we acknowledge that “God, you are everything. I am nothing. All day you shine upon the world. All I can offer you is this small deepa, a flame which will be blown out by the passing wind. But, I offer it with devotion and with love. Please accept my offering.”

Traditionally, ashrams were located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing natural surroundings conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation. The residents of an ashram regularly perform spiritual and physical exercises, such as the various forms of Yoga. Today an ashram can be from a simple place where the guru and his disciples reside to a highly complex one with schools for religious education, guest houses, medical care and a host of charitable enterprises.

The term “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit word which means “to join” or “unite”. Yoga aims at bringing the different bodily functions into perfect harmony so that they work for the good of the whole body. Disharmony in various body parts and systems can cause diseases. From the physical body, yoga moves on to mental and spiritual levels.

There are many different description of Yoga, but here I will describe Raja Yoga (Classical Yoga or simply Yoga), which has eight integral practices. The first two purify the heart and bring about ethical discipline. Yama means abstention from all types of evils and Niyama means observance of purity and practice of austerities. The next three are Asana, which steady the mind for concentration and discipline the body. Pranayama are breathing exercises which improves the condition of the lungs, the heart and the nervous system. Pratyahara is shutting out all outward impressions from the mind and look inward. The last three are Dharana, which means concentration on any one subject, which could be a light within one’s mind. Dhyana or meditation involves an unceasing flow of thoughts and ideas toward this object. Such meditation leads to the final state known as Samadhi, which has two steps. In the first, the conscious samadhi, the yogi attains supernatural powers by the strength of his yogic practices. The yogi, who ignores such powers and progresses further, attains the super conscious or nirvikalpa. The yogi in this stage is a liberated soul.

Besides my recording of the songs at the Ganga Aarti, as part of the video, the music is provided by my friend Chuck Jonkey in Los Angeles. He is musician/composer and known as the “Indiana Jones of the music world” because he has travelled around the world to collect sounds, instruments, environmental recordings and ethnic tribal music. He is the owner of the independent record label Sonic Safari Music, where e.g. ethnic tribal music and music by him can be bought. His collection of strange musical instruments is enormous, which he uses sometimes in his music. Chuck Jonkey’s music has been featured in many feature films e.g. Rambo IV (2008), J.F.K. (1991), The Doors (1991) and TV shows, e.g. Nip / Tuck (2003), Survivors and shows at Discovery Channel. He has also composed several hundred musical pieces for Microsoft’s software products.

To order CD´s with music in the video from Sonic Safari Music you can click on the covers:

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