In this episode of the Embolden Adventures podcast, Michelle shares how she experienced a gem of a travel adventure to a very remote area in India.
Come hear why she traveled from the concrete jungle of New York City to the jungle of central India…just to meditate.
In this episode, we learn about:
- Visiting the heart of rural India off the beaten path
- Meditation and Kriya Yoga
- Finding the courage to travel the world
If you told my friend Michelle a year ago that she would be venturing to one of the most remote and holiest of places in India this year, she probably would have not believed you.
While she always desired to go to India one day imagining that she would be visiting the Taj Mahal, never in her wildest dreams would she picture herself deep into the middle of the country where not much is even known about the area.
However, after making a trip to Thailand last year and reading the book Autobiography of a Yogi, Michelle found herself drawn to central India.
Discovering Kriya Yoga
Michelle had always a bit of a travel bug since she was quite young. Born in Jamaica and having immigrated to the United States as a child, Michelle found herself traveling back and forth frequently to visit family. Traveling was fun for her, and she was eager to go beyond the Western Hemisphere.
She had a love affair with the Far East, attributing that love to her Chinese heritage. Her great-grandfather came to Jamaica from Hong Kong during the British Empire reign, and her dad grew up with Chinese traditions.
Michelle always knew one day she would venture out to explore this part of the world. So she planned a trip to Thailand and made a stop through Hong Kong that felt so familiar. This trip moved her: Being in Thailand challenged the way she viewed her spirituality. Thailand spoke to her culturally and spirituality as “faith and every day life were so integrated” without the dogma typical to religion.
Soon after, she came across the book, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. The book is about Yogananda’s life and his spiritual journey from the time he was born in India in the late 1800s to his time traveling in America in the 1920s and 1930s. Yogananda was a yogi – not your yoga instructor, but one who is a Hindi practitioner of meditation. In his life, Yogananda finds his guru – or spiritual master, becomes a monk, and spreads his teachings of the practice of Kriya Yoga.
Yogananda was one of the first to introduce this ancient practice of meditation and the physical, mental, and spiritual practice of yoga to the United States and the west in general. His Autobiography of a Yogi book became quite popular and influential over the years and continues to be read years after his death in 1952. George Harrison, Elvis Presley, and even Steve Jobs were known to be fans of the book. Steve Jobs loved the book so much, he read it every year, and it was gifted to each person who paid their respects at his funeral in 2011.
Kriya Yoga is a spiritual meditation practice that involves breathing, mantra chants, and other techniques. It is an ancient practice that has been handed down from a lineage of yogis and gurus from as far back as 200AD to Mahavatar Babaji. Mahavatar Babaji, translates to “great avatar” and “revered father”. He is an “immortal yogi” or “deathless guru” who as been known to appear to meditating yogis. Fun fact for you Beatles fans: Babaji is featured on the album cover of St. Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“Kriya is about self-realization. It is a meditation on love. It is about connecting with the omnipresent god that is dwelling inside of you,” says Michelle.
So after returning from Thailand, Michelle made it a priority to learn more about Kriya. She found a Kriya meditation center in New York City, and in June 2015, she became initiated. Then she began attending weekend meditation sessions and meditation retreats. After spending a weekend retreat in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, Michelle, desired to explore a longer meditation retreat. Within weeks, a 2-week retreat to India was announced and soon thereafter she booked the trip
- Start by sitting in a comfortable chair in a quiet room or outside in nature
- Close your eyes
- Begin a short breathing exercise: Close the left nostril with your thumb, and take a slow, deep breath out of the right nostril. Hold the breath for a long pause. Release the left nostril, and close the right nostril with your index finger. Exhale out of the open nostril. Repeat this breathing technique for a few minutes until you feel more at ease
- Practice “Coming to Your Senses”: With your eyes closed, focus individually on each of your 5 senses (tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, feeling). For the first sense you choose, focus for a few moments on the most prominent thing you notice. Then focus on the most subtlest thing you notice. Repeat for the second sense and so on. Lastly, focus on all the senses all at once.
- Focus on your breath. Now you are ready to go into a deeper meditation by following your breath. Feel your lungs expand and contract. Imagine breathing air though your nose. Try to avoid wandering thoughts. Any time your mind wanders, come back to your breath and silently chant the mantra “one”
- In no time, you will be in a deep, relaxed state, and your third eye will begin to open. Be aware of it. Enjoy!
- Now slowly come back to your waking state. Take your time opening your eyes and moving around from your chair. Try repeating your meditation exercise daily.
Technique from Ziva Meditation
Going to India!
Michelle attended a 2-week retreat at a Kriya ashram located in a pilgrimage town called Amarkantak in India. Amarkantak is in the Madhya Pradesh region of the country that is centrally located between north and south India and where two mountain ranges and three rivers, including the holy Narmada River, intersect. The area is covered with a rich, dense, and protected forest full of tigers, leopards, wild boars, monkeys and more.
Amarkantak is a destination for many worshippers, although foreign tourists hardly make a journey to this area. Many travel to visit the Narmada Temple in honor of the divine mother and to the several other temples.
To get all the way to Amarkantak, Michelle traveled two days from where she lives in New York City. Travelers can fly into either Mumbai or New Delhi and take a transfer flight to Raipur to the Swami Vivekananda International Airport, named after an Indian saint from the region. Be sure to book the morning flight out to Raipur because you will need about 6 hours to travel to Amarkantak from the airport, usually by taxi. It is best to travel in the daylight since the area is so remote. The Kriya center helped arrange the travel.
When traveling to India though, do keep an open mind. India can be very different culturally compared to the west and could result in a culture shock at times. Be careful of what you eat and drink only bottled water with no tampered caps. In preparing for a trip to India, be current on travel vaccinations and have a malaria pill handy. Some foreigners may require a travel visa to enter the country so check the requirements before arriving.
The town is simple yet beautiful. According to Michelle, the local people rarely meet people from the west because of their location. She describes the people as hospitable, kind, and generous and “full of smiles.” They are “beautiful, authentic, and unassuming.”
One of Michelle’s favorite parts of the trip was interacting with the local people and doing volunteer work around the town. The purpose of the trip for her was to develop her spirituality through practicing meditation and service to the community. The trip helped her make the connection to nature, the connection to other human beings, and the connection to herself. “It’s about caring about the environment and helping other people, and you do feel really good.”
The ashram is surrounded by fragrant sal trees and is situated atop a hill that overlooks a vast valley of forests. Here is where you can really connect with nature in peace. For the two weeks she was there, Michelle had no access to cell phones, TV, radio, or newspaper. “It is a great way to unplug and do meditation. It is a way to really remain present.”
The ashram living is very simple. The layout is dormitory style and the meals are basic Indian vegetarian. The experience is so authentic, even the dishes are made out of leaves. “You realize how much you don’t need, how much is excessive in your life,” Michelle said. “India grounded me. When I came back to New York, I realized and appreciate what I have.”
On this retreat, 71 people from over 12 countries arrived including Colombia, Brazil, England, Italy, France, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. A typical day begins with a 4:45am yoga stretch followed by yoga mediation at 5:15am. The group sits for three 2-hour meditation sessions for a total of 6 or more hours of meditation a day.
At times, the group took a few local trips to meet and meditate with some highly realized monks or a spiritual person known as a sadu. The energy is palatable and Michelle recommends anyone to try interacting with them given the opportunity. The monks gave blessings and prasad, a blessed food made of puffed rice or rock candies, to the group. Receiving a blessing was an awesome moment for Michelle. It was as if she was getting “hit with a cosmic fireball.”
The group went to a temple where the monk who founded the Sikh religion became realized. Also, on a few occasions, they had the chance to meditate under the auspicious banyan tree, a tree where the Buddha reached enlightenment.
The Benefits of Meditation
Yoga means union of the body and the mind. Michelle says yoga is a union with the super-consciousness, providing the ability to tap into the divinity all around us. “To really go deep, you need to meditate.”
And mediation provides many benefits including stress reduction, improved concentration, a healthy lifestyle, greater self-awareness, better compassion and acceptance, increased happiness, reduced aging, and improved cardiovascular and immune systems.
Kriya Yoga is a non-denominational practice that complements well with other religions. It helps to make a spiritual connection to and to have faith in a higher power that is part of something greater.
Michelle describes the calming effects of Kriya using an analogy of an anchor for a boat on the “ocean of life.” Sometimes the waters are calm and sometimes they are choppy, but the meditation practice keeps you steady. Meditation isn’t meant to stop problems in life, says Michelle. The point of meditation is to hold you steady from all that is going around you, so that you don’t get lost.
“One of the biggest benefits of meditation is the ability for focus and concentration. It’s my foundation right now. It’s what I got to weather any storm. It’s my rock in my life,” Michelle says.
She continues by saying, “If I have a problem, I meditate on it. I may have realized that I am asking the wrong question. Then I will pose the question in a different way to get the answer I need. Meditation has never steered me wrong. I know to trust it.”
Michelle concludes by saying, “I learned how to really trust and surrender. They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. When you trust somebody completely, you surrender. It’s beyond feeling. It is a fundamental truth that’s opening up. I trust that there is a higher power out there that knows. You are tuning yourself to it and it knows exactly what you need.”
Trust in Traveling the World
And through trust, fear dissipates. Michelle has found that through her meditation, she is more encouraged to travel on new journeys around the world. She now has the foundation of having “a good head on her shoulders to make good decisions” wherever she goes.
Her travel now is morphing into more spiritual development along with experiencing new cultures. Many Kriya Yoga ashrams are located throughout the world including Brazil and Colombia, and are in the local areas where anyone can get a true vibe of a country.
“Completely try exposing yourself to different cultures. It’s so worth it. Travel enriches your life beyond anything you can buy,” Michelle assures.
I ordered the Autobiography of a Yogi before writing this post, and the book arrived today just after I posted this piece. Seems serendipitous and auspicious!