"Today, I did a whole lot of meditation and yoga."
This is how I began my 23 July entry in my personal journal, but it could have begun most of my entries in McLeod. We--that is, Rachel, Megan, Elizabeth, and me--decided to take an intensive training course and become certified yoga instructors. It wasn't just yoga, though--no, we are also certified in pranayam, or breathing exercises, and several types of meditation.
At first, it was hard to keep a straight face. Om has a rather eccentric way of speaking English, and some of the postures are quite amusing.
As the class went on, though, it became more and more apparent to me that much of yoga and meditation is wrapped up in Hindu worship. We began and ended each class with a "silent prayer for God," which was just fine for my Christian beliefs, and then Om would sing a Sanskrit mantra. We did a bit of reiki, natural Indian healing, sometimes, which consisted of holding our hands over our eyes to self-heal. (Mahinder, our massage teacher, would also do a bit of reiki, believing that our bodies have natural energy to heal ourselves and others.)
Pranayam, the breathing exercises, had different purposes. One of them, in which you breathe in through one nostril and out the other, is supposed to cleanse the room you're in to allow good energy to prevail. Others, the ones my host family would do in the morning, were supposed to strengthen abdominal muscles. We'd usually just do one pranayam after our prayer and then get into the asanas.
The asanas, the postures, are what I used to think was all of yoga. They have different purposes--balance, strength, and flexibility are a few. One posture, the palm tree, is supposed to make you taller (and, incidentally, I am now 5'2.5", whereas the last time I measured I was 5'2". That means it works!). Two postures are considered the master postures: the lotus and the headstand. The lotus is the one where your feet are up on top of your thighs while you're sitting cross-legged. That one isn't so hard for me. The headstand is the master of all postures, and I cannot do it without a wall spot. (My strength is definitely in flexibility, thanks to gymnastics and dance, and not in strength or balance.)
We had meditation every evening. Meditation has a lot to do with the Hindu religious tradition. First we did silent meditation--just sitting there, cross-legged or in the lotus position, eyes closed, for an hour. We were supposed to focus on our ajna chakra, our third eye, right between the other two eyes, but I would sometimes get distracted by counting the number of times the hare krishna mantra was repeated in the music we were listening to (it was about 200 repetitions in 50 minutes).
Another meditation we did was cleansing mantras, in which we cleansed our muladhara, swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddha, and ajna chakras (when you cleanse all the other six, the seventh, sahasrara, is cleansed). Another meditation was om meditation, in which we said om over and over for an hour. Meditation was not my favorite, considering how much my back and legs hurt after sitting in the half-lotus position for so long.
When I taught yoga, I had students from Israel, Russia, the U.S., Germany, and elsewhere. Yoga is popular among the various hippie types of Europe and the U.S., and McLeod is a meeting place for yoga enthusiasts. On the whole, the experience was a manifestation of the diversity of McLeod, a diversity that depends on the many tourists who pass through.