The thing about chaos, is that while it disturbs us, it too forces our hearts to roar in a way we secretly find magnificent.—Christoper Poindexter
“How ya’ handling the chaos back there?” my new Australian friend turned around and asked.
At that moment, I was too preoccupied to respond: too busy swatting flies, dodging cows pacing the busy market roads, and tiptoeing around the trails of manure that followed. We were just leaving Parmarth Niketan, the largest ashram in Rishikesh. Once we made it back to the footbridge that crossed the Ganges River, our bus wouldn’t be too much further away: a respite from India’s hellish summer temperatures.
In my opinion, I wasn’t handling the chaos well at all. I was failing miserably, and the frustrated expression on my face revealed every bit of what I was feeling. It was my second day in India and I wasn’t confident in my ability to acclimatize in a place I’ve always dreamt of visiting. On top of the culture shock, I struggled with some new and pre-existing emotions that were brewing inside: emotions that decided to travel along with me, 8,000 miles away with the rest of my “baggage”. I was trying to pull myself together from some heartbreaking news I received shortly before boarding a fourteen-hour flight from Atlanta to New Delhi: working hard to prevent it all from spilling over and preventing myself, as best as I could, from falling apart in front of hundreds of strangers in a foreign land.
And now here I was in the yoga capital of the world, celebrating World Yoga Day: transplanted right in the middle of the most beautifully chaotic and spiritual place I’ve ever been. Here I was in the place that I could find some of my favorite things in abundance: masala chai, bright bold colors and yoga.
The irony in all of this is that I had just become a certified yoga teacher a few weeks prior. From the beginning of April to the end of May, I dedicated 200 hours of my life to exploring the depths of this ancient discipline: its origin and benefits, proper posture alignments, and the most important lesson of all, learning how to breath through life’s difficulties.
The Westernized yoga culture today seems heavily influenced by the “glamorous” parts of yoga: achieving difficult postures while looking amazing in the sexiest yoga pants and cropped tops. All it takes is scrolling through popular yogi Instagram accounts to discover this.
But during the time I traveled through India, I developed a deeper understanding about the importance of practicing the other steps that make up the eightfold path of yoga. However, this lesson didn’t involve my yoga mat, a studio or any sort of guru or teacher. This lesson showed up between my day-to-day experiences while in India, teaching me the importance of bringing those key disciplines I cultivate at the top of my yoga mat, into my daily life.
During this ten day journey from north to south, we explored the ancient architecture of Old and New Delhi, participated in Ganga Aarti (a Hindu religious ritual of worship), visited world renowned ashrams and stunning temples in Chennai and Trivandrum, practiced some much needed yoga outside, and experienced healing ayurvedic treatments in the lovely green state of Kerala: one of my favorite places in India so far. As usual, I found myself instantly drawn to the people of India more than anything: their subtle smiles and all the intricate facial details that left me clueless to what untold stories were hiding underneath. I admired their sense of calm and willingness to allow me to photograph them, authorizing me to use them as my muse. Although I didn’t know these people personally, I somehow felt very connected to them, a sense of oneness.
The long bus rides that weaved in and out of rural towns allowed me to witness everyday life in India right outside my window in between sleeping, chatting with other passengers, and sorting through my dismal thoughts. The driver maneuvered the bus in a dance that consisted of jolting forward, stopping abruptly and laying on the loud horn when someone got in the way of our path. Everyone drove like this in India: horns blaring everywhere, cars, buses and motorcycles clustered together all bumper-to-bumper, every driver forcing their vehicle in the smallest crevice despite how impossible it looked to the human eye. I imagine a drone image would look something like a moving plate of messy yet delicious spaghetti. And as we progressed along, I noticed alluring Hindu temples towering in the midst of some of the most poverty stricken areas: further proving that there’s always beauty to be found everywhere, even in the presence of disorder.
Witnessing all of this from inside a bus was the moment that everything I felt started to make sense. In this moment, I realized the more I looked for chaos, the bigger and unwieldy the chaos became. But when I started to focus on the beautiful things within the chaos, things appeared differently. And ultimately, accepting what was right in front of me exactly as it presented itself, was the key to getting along and being okay.
It’s no coincidence that I traveled to one of the most challenging countries I’ve ever gone before during a time when I was dealing heavily with my own inner chaos. And my ability to witness several instances of a seemingly “chaotic” lifestyle that was perfectly normal to a nation inhabited by millions of people wasn’t random. This is their way of life. This is India in its beautiful clamor. This is what makes this culture so special.
The greater lesson I learned while visiting India is that you don’t always have to “do something” about the chaos. You don’t always have to wish it weren’t there or wish it could be something different. You don’t even have to attach yourself to the chaos or self identify with it. You can simply observe its coming and going.
Similarly, when I step onto my yoga mat, I am instructed to honor my breath and let it carry me through the chaos: those difficult confrontational moments when my legs start to tremble in Warrior II or when my arms want to succumb to the external rotation in downward facing dog. I am encouraged to deepen my breath when my mind goes to war with my body, and invite the sensation to arrive and disappear on its very own. There is nothing to fight against if I continue breathing. There is nothing to change or wish away if I can learn to honor the chaotic experiences just as much as I honor the beautiful ones. And just because I’m feeling a certain way in a posture in the moment, doesn’t mean I’ll feel that way forever.
Many yoga teachers will say the moment you want to come out of a pose is the very moment when the pose begins. That is the moment when things get chaotic, confrontational and “messy”. These moments are also where we can learn the biggest lessons about ourselves. Floating between comfort and chaos invites us to see if we’re able to remain graceful in spite of discomfort, and trust that if we just breathe, everything will be okay and the lessons we’re supposed to learn will show up when it’s time. These are the moments that invite us to take a deeper look within ourselves while also finding beauty in the lesson that arises from the depths of disarray: one of the most important lessons being that there is purpose in all of our experiences, no matter if we classify them as good or bad.
India taught me the importance of discovering the beautiful threads that stand intertwined within all of the layers of chaos. Here is where I learned that whatever you fix your focus (or “drishti”) on is what will be magnified and felt the most. And here I discovered the truth behind the words of one of my favorite poets, Rumi, that “what you seek is also seeking you”: and whether that is beauty or chaos, well that is entirely up to me.
Many thanks to Incredible India for sponsoring my eye-opening journey through India and for the gracious hospitality during my stay. All opinions as always are my own.