Mornings at Sampoorna Yoga School begin at 6:30am learning chants (mantras), followed by half an hour of Pranayama and Meditation. Our teacher, Kesheva, leads these sessions and our afternoon philosophy classes.
Initially, it is difficult to find the rhythm of the Mantras. We all shyly stutter after Kesheva, half-singing one beat behind his voice. Underneath each line of chants in the manual sits an English translation, some of which I recognise as popular phrases. ‘Shanti’, meaning ‘Peace’, is frequently thrown about in general traveller dialogue, usually when someone or something is not adequately chilled enough. So if you raise your voice there is a high chance that passing backpackers will hush you down “Shanti, shanti.” Other Mantras are completely bizarre.
“May there be welfare for cows and people of wisdom at all times.”
“May he [Shiva] liberate us from the bondage of death like the watermelon (which effortlessly separates from the vine.)”
Pranayama, a series of breath-controlling techniques, helps prepares the body and mind for meditation. This is a phrase none of us on the course will ever forget. If in doubt, the answer is always that ‘it prepares you for meditation’. As instructed, we put our thumbs to our ears, cradling our forehead with our fingers, and take a deep breath in. Exhaling loudly through the mouth with lips, eyes and ears tightly shut, long humming sounds out like a swarm of angry bees. “This is Bhramari Pranayama, or the humming bee, helping to relieve anxiety and stress” Kesheva tells us. “We do this ten times in total.” Only then can we begin to empty our minds.
Ultimately, the aim of meditation is to reach a state of universal consciousness; Samādhi. This is known as the eighth and final limb in Ashtanga Yoga according to Sage Patanjali Jois. For someone who has meditated very little and is incredibly Rajasic (action-orientated), sitting in the same crossed-legged position, with eyes shut and spine straight, is harder than most asanas (Yoga postures). My legs go numb. My nose begins to itch. I sneeze. Kesheva reminds us of the importance of where one meditates. “Not in the kitchen! In the kitchen you think of the doughnut.” He puts his hands to his mouth and giggles with child-like cheekiness.
It takes more than a few days for me to stay focused on my third-eye centre. I try to imagine the OM symbol below my forehead, in between my eyes. I try to picture looking at my physical self from the outside. I generically try to convince myself that I am floating along a stream, gliding over rocks and pebbles towards ‘the light’. Yet my mind keeps wondering to the breakfast menu and the ongoing debate over porridge or french toast. Clearly, I am a long way from Samādhi.