By Daisy Shepherd

Namaste!

To begin with a disclaimer: we spent much of this week at Phool Chatti Ashram in silence, so you’ll have to forgive the heavy use of the first person.

Let’s just get the most important fact of the week out of the way by noting that the food here is AMAZING. It’s thali plates for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with something new every day. If anyone came here thinking the hours of rigorous yoga would help them lose some weight, they’re laughing about that now as they go back for thirds at dinner. What food manages to not get eaten at mealtimes is fed to the ashram cows and dogs. Yes, we got to spend our week with two of the sweetest German shepherds, as well as a hilariously overweight pug named Roxie, who is always drowning in blankets.

Let’s walk through an average day!

The 5:30 am wake up bell lets everyone who isn’t already up snacking know that it’s time to get ready for the day. Following the morning nap—I mean meditation—we head to the garden for cleansing. I never thought before coming here that the thing that would be most comfortable and easy would be pouring salt water from a plastic pot through my nose—and yet! I certainly didn’t think I would be halfway to becoming a yoga teacher, like many of our fellow ashram attendees, just by having artificially lightened hair. However, I’m still missing the tote bag, Italian passport, and an actual talent for yoga, so there are still some differences.

Speaking of yoga, after the water cleansing and air cleansing, (you ever blow your nose for 20 minutes straight? That’s all you need to know) we have our first yoga class of the day. Lalita-ji, our fearless and occasionally fearsome leader, leads us through a number of asanas, from the familiar downward dog and child’s pose to an asana involving sticking your hands through the holes in your lotus pose and rolling around on your back and palms. None of us have broken anything yet, but we sure look like we’re trying.

After both regular and karma yoga, we have a nature walk. The destination changes each day, the first and third were different spots on the Ganga, and the day in between, we hiked up to a gorgeous waterfall where some took showers. For those of you playing along at home, yes, that is the only time except the trek that we’ve used our giant hiking boots have been taking up half of our packs. And for those of you playing along at my home, yes, you will be receiving those boots in a box very soon.

Following our afternoon discussion and yoga class, we witness the evening puja, or worship, which includes a lot of bells and dogs barking. Then, we file into the chanting room, where we’re given the opportunity to chant prayers to Hindu gods and goddesses, which caused some conflict for me between speaking only what I believe and participating fully in every cultural experience, as well as a chance to make some music. After that is dinner and then evening meditation, where we get to find out which of the ashram attendees snore.

Though we made a lot of jokes about our dedication and participation this week, I think many in the group enjoyed the introspection time, as well as the physical challenges. As we head to some rest days in Rishikesh and then onto the Golden Temple, I can wearily and warily claim that the brunt of the physical challenges of this trip is behind us, and we are, for the most part, only the better for it.