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By Brittni Henderson
When I stepped out of the airport in Delhi, my senses were bombarded from every direction. As we gathered around different taxis to transport ourselves to the next location, the driver took my oversized blue suitcase and simply threw it on top of his small sedan. In that moment I had two choices: freak out or let it be. Since this was the only option I had for my luggage as the car was packed with my travel companions and other bags, I decided to do the latter.
This was the first moment of my Indian adventure that I felt truly free. I knew that my almost full day of travel 7,000 miles away from home would be overwhelming in every sense, but also felt the need to detach myself from any expectations. I was anticipating that I would be given the choice to push back against literally everything different that popped up or be one with the sensations I would feel, and just be.
I chose to just be.
The two-week journey began in Delhi, but we quickly moved on to our longest stay in the cherished and spiritual town of Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. We took a small propeller plane to get there. Once we landed, the trek to the town began. We hopped in two tourists vans and traveled through windy, cow-filled roads laced with markets, homes, and humanity. It was loud, smelly, and sometimes scary on those streets—but only because we were driving on the left side and there is pretty much no such thing as lane or blinker usage here. Again, the feeling of just being okay in these moments came over me. I put trust in our drivers because this is how they live and must do this every day. Monkeys pranced around what would be sidewalks in America, with babies in tow. We asked our driver to turn up the music as we weaved in and out of moped and bovine traffic, alike.
The Dewa Retreat Hotel was our home for about ten days. This boutique hotel is nestled at the bottom of the beautiful foothills, so each day we could watch the sunrise amongst the mountains outside our windows. We were also surrounded by the town of Rishikesh, which is a lively place visited by many tourists as it is deemed the Birthplace of Yoga.
Upon exploration, I discovered that there was something to learn around each corner. You will inevitably step in manure at least once a day, which can either ruin or brighten your day. If you’re with a local, he will tell you it’s good luck. It’s part of the experience. Shop keepers will greet you with a smile and invite you inside to try on beautiful clothes. The conversations go beyond the normal retail sales pitches we’re used to in America. As much as these people want you to buy something from their stores, they also want you to leave happy and feel at home. In one store, I spent time talking about love and relationships with one shop worker. He showed us pictures of his family and told us what brought him to Rishikesh.
Bartering is also very exhilarating! At first I felt timid because that is something that I am not used to doing in America, but by the end of the trip I had vendors working for me to get the best price. One man said it best. At the end of the day, if he leaves with some money and I leave with the item I want, he’s happy.
On this retreat, we had an organized schedule of yoga classes, tours, hikes, and other activities that we got to participate in. For the most part, my trip involved leaving the hotel to experience Rishikesh as authentically as I could. Sometimes I would skip a yoga class or discussion group to venture out with a friend, but it would be to go talk to locals or find a new yoga studio to experience. For me personally, the learning came from getting bombarded by traffic in the street, by talking to shopkeepers, or trekking up to the peak of a mountain.
There was one group event that I did not miss, though. We visited the Mother Miracle School in Rishikesh one afternoon, which is an institution for the children that come from the poorest families in town. There are approximately 60 seats for children from kindergarten to 12th grade, and everything is provided for them if they maintain their grades and discipline. We arrived at lunchtime and the group of children sang us a song before they ate. Every child in the room was well-behaved, but still had the same energy as any other school-age child I’ve ever met. For them, this experience is very important for not only themselves, but their families. They can get an education, even college if they successfully graduate, for free. The school is run solely on donations and sponsors. It was so touching to see the children in class, walking through the hallways, and interacting with all of us.
The visit to the Mother Miracle School, and many other moments on this trip, were eye-openers. Witnessing human beings coexisting kindly with cows, dogs, monkeys, and each other each day was heartwarming. Noticing the extremely poor conditions of some homes was sad, but for some reason the inhabitants were still smiling. We have so much, but for some reason feel like we need so much more. Sometimes the happiness we seek comes from material things, instead of from experiences, people, and life itself.
There was one day on the trip that I felt overwhelmed, tired, and annoyed. It may have been day 11 or 12. There were 23 of us, so there were plenty of personalities to go around. In that moment, I realized a lot of things. One was that I was sad to leave Rishikesh. The connection I have to that place is so strong, I think about it every day. Another is that I probably did more in that week or so that my body needed a break. The most important thing I realized, though, was that I was letting go. I left a huge chunk of my ego on the sidewalk in Delhi when I saw my suitcase on top of a car with nothing holding it down. I allowed myself to feel each and every emotion that came up, even though most of what I received felt really amazing.
When people ask me how my trip was, it’s almost too hard to explain. This article itself could be as long as a novel if I had the time and pages to spend on it. I’ll say, “it was great!” or “I’ll definitely be back!” which are both true, but there’s no way to put all of it into words. What I can recommend is this: if you think trash, manure, and power outages (they happen once or twice a day for about a minute!) are annoying or gross, go to India. The more scared you are, the more you need the trip. I witnessed women who swore against using public restrooms on the first day, proudly walking out of rest areas by the last few days. It’s a long trip, there is lots of noise, some pollution, and plenty of activity to keep your senses on high alert. People will be pushy to buy things, but you learn to say no. You will miss the comforts of home, but also realize how lucky you have it.
I am still the same Brittni, but I think with a more open view on life. There are still things that annoy, bother, and even infuriate me, but life is a constant practice of “why does this make me feel this way and how can I change it?” While there are plenty of lessons to be learned in life, even outside of a trip across the world, I highly recommend visiting India, even if you’ve never set foot in a yoga class. As a teacher, I feel an even deeper connection to my personal practice and try to sprinkle a bit of my experience into my teachings, too.
I’m hoping my return to Mother India will be sooner rather than later, but for the time being I am excited to see life through the new gaze that I arrived home with.
If you have any questions about the trip or yoga classes, you can visit my yoga Instagram account at @brittnihendersonyoga or email me at email@example.com.