Pandit Raj Kumar Vajpayee Yogacharya shines with the joy and openness that yoga brings to life. A family man and householder himself, Rajuji is able to translate the deep teachings of yoga in a way that is both understandable and applicable for a range of students. His awesome intuition and in-depth knowledge of the human mind and body make Rajuji one of the most effective teachers out there.
Whether your goals are spiritual, psychological, or physiological, Rajuji is a trustworthy teacher to help you open those doors.
Rajuji’s yoga experience began as a young boy. He was ‘discovered’ in a Varanasi gym by a local yogi and trained for many years to became a gold medalist in Indian national yoga competitions. As a recipient of the cherished Yoga Bushan title from the All India Yoga Society, Rajuji is among some of the best yoga asana practitioners in the country.
When Rajuji made the transition to teaching, he studied yoga therapy, hoping his gifts in yoga could help cure ailments and give peace to people in pain. This capacity for giving and healing has drawn thousands of students from around the world to Rajuji’s doorstep in Varanasi.
One of his students, a 52 year-old American named Albert, had hurt his knee in a skiing accident some thirty years prior. Albert had been to every specialist available to him in the States, but nothing stopped the chronic pain. When he came to practice yoga with Rajuji, and his knee pain flared up, Rajuji told Albert, “Just give me ten minutes.”
Albert was given a ten minute program to follow and was shocked to be relieved so easily of his knee pain. Since then, he’s been practicing Rajuji’s prescription, and is now living without any of the knee pain he’d been experiencing for thirty years!
Although Rajuji admits, not all ailments can be cured so simply, many common pains and diseases can be alleviated, and sometimes cured, through yogic technologies. Asana, pranayama, proper diet, and meditation can make a world of difference in a practitioner’s life.
Om Shanti Yoga Niketan is where Rajuji instructs tourists from around the world, as well as provides yoga therapy for residents and visiting patients. He has also trained professional models, helping them achieve fitness goals for their careers, and is a teacher of young children as well, at private and public schools throughout the state.
Rajuji and his apprentice Alok welcome students of all ages, levels, sizes and frames of mind, to visit the studio and experience yoga for yourselves. Namaste, and may all beings be happy.
(Apologies for all these recent blogs being quite journal-y! I’ll get back to articles and creative thangs once I have more time for research/editing! For now, just the updates …)
One of India’s great lessons is how to be unattached – unattached to time-related goals, unattached to particulars in how you like your food or accommodation, unattached to order, the list goes on and on.
Originally, my “to-do list” in Varanasi looked a little something like this:
Find my way to full expression of asanas: purna nataraj, scorpion, hanumanasan variation (grabbing ankles), pranayam practice . . .
Guess how many I actually completed! One. Just the one. With the help of my teacher (Raj Kumar Vajpayee Yogacharya), Rachna at Gandiv and Mr. Madhok of Jago Banaras, we successfully offered seva to Varansi through a cleanup event that seems to have made quite a splash in the city. As a direct result of this “to-do,” five surprise experiences blossomed instead of what I’d originally planned:
1. Held an official press conference for the seva event and was later interviewed on a local TV show. If I’d known this would be such a media-heavy trip, I’d have brought nicer clothes.
2. Am being featured in a book called “Yoga Planet” by a Swedish journalist and yogini (like me!), Magdalena. She and her photographer Jonas took quite a few photos at the studio and hopefully my advice on where to practice asana, pranayam and meditation will be finding its way into the pages of this one!
3. Was honored by members of Varanasi’s community at Kashivishwanath Yog Peeth, where media and guests were scheduled to be treated to mantras by four young women at a local Sanskrit school.
4. Recorded a show for Sunbeam School’s East Meets West program, where I played the role of . . . Oprah! Ha! Actually, come to think of it, I was voted ‘Most Likely to Have a Talk Show’ in the second grade . . . so maybe this debut wasn’t such a surprise!
5. Wrote, narrarated and somewhat hosted a documentary about the seva project and where India stands in the global green movement. Whether or not the production company will actually make the documentary happen, only time will tell . . .
Dev Depawli and partner yoga were two other surprises I feel lucky to have experienced.
So, just a few asana photos, articles and websites to show for my hardwork in Kashi. But more importantly, Imade some very good friends who I know I’ll be seeing again in future. And, at least according to the people I’ve spoken to so far, helped ignite a fire in this city that will continue to burn – projects and programs are being planned for well into the future.
I love you, Varanasi!
Now, on to Madurai for 4 weeks of my teacher training re-do (a lot of this is review for me, but necessary for the advanced course in February – check out the Sivananda curriculum to see what it’s all about!)
The ashram doesn’t have an internet connection sadly, and I can’t make outgoing calls. But I am on my mobile!
Not that we have loads of time in the day …. I’ve been busy with this (rather ambitious) training schedule:
5:30 am: Wake up
6:00 am: Satsang (Meditation, chanting, lecture)
8:00 am: Asanas
9:00 am: Anatomy and physiology
10:00 am: Wake up
11:00 am: Karma Yoga (helping out with chores)
12:00 pm: Bhagavad Gita or Kirtan
2:00 pm: Main lecture in philosophy or anatomy
4:00 pm: Asanas and pranayama
6:00 pm: Dinner
7:30 pm: Satsang (Meditation, chanting, lecture)
10:00 pm: Lights out
But keep tuning in for updates, and drop me a hello if you have any suggestions for future blogs from India. Love!
My “to-do list” in Varanasi looked a little something like this:
1.Find my way to full expression of asanas: purna nataraj, vrshchkasana,
2.Complete a seva for Varanasi, clean Ma Ganga
3.Keep up with the bloggy blogs
4.Finish a chapter in my online philosophy course
5.Build website for yoga business in New York
6.Work on Rajuji’s website for OM SHANTI YOGA NIKETAN
Guess how many I actually completed! One. Just the one. With the help of my teacher, Rachna at Gandiv and Mr. Madhok of Jago Banaras, I successfully offered seva to Varansi through a cleanup event that seems to have made quite a splash in the city. As a direct result of this “to-do,” five surprise experiences blossomed instead of what I’d originally planned:
1.Wrote, narrarated and somewhat hosted a documentary about the seva project and where India stands in the global green movement. Whether or not the production company will actually make the documentary happen, only time will tell . . .
2.Held an official press conference for the seva event and was later interviewed on a local TV show. If I’d known this would be such a media-heavy trip, I’d have brought nicer clothes!
3.Am being featured in a book called “Yoga Planet” by a Swedish journalist and yogini (like me!), Magdalena —–. She and her photographer Jonas took quite a few photos at the studio and hopefully my advice on where to practice asana, pranayam and meditation will be finding its way into the pages of this one!
4.Was honored by members of Varanasi’s community at Kashivishwanath Yog Peeth, where media and guests were scheduled to be treated to mantras by four young women at a local Sanskrit school.
5.Recorded a show for Sunbeam School’s East Meets West program, where I played the role of . . . Oprah! Ha! Actually, come to think of it, I was voted ‘Most Likely to Have a Talk Show’ in the second grade . . . so maybe this debut wasn’t such a surprise!
Dev Depawli and partner yoga were two other surprises I feel lucky to have experienced.
So, just a few asana photos, articles and websites to show for my hardwork in Kashi. But more importantly, I’ve made some very good friends who I know I’ll be seeing again in future. And, at least according to the people I’ve spoken to so far, helped ignite a fire in this city that will continue to burn through projects and programs well into the future.
I love you, Varanasi!
Now, on to Madurai for 4 weeks of Sivananda teacher training. It’s actually where I’m writing this blog right now! No internet connection for me out here, sadly, and I’ll be incredibly busy with my schedule:
But keep tuning in for updates, and drop me a hello if you have any suggestions for future blogs from India. Love!
On November 20th, 2011, I’ll be joined by hundreds of community members, foreign and local, to clean the river Ganges as well as the surrounding alleyways and streets. The list of organizations supporting us is now very long, and includes other non-profits like Jago Banaras, religious groups of all faiths, schools like WH Smith and Sunbeam and media outlets like Gandiv, the Hindustan Times and the Sahara Network.
It’s going to be a great day for the city’s sense of unity and cooperation.
But the question we’ve all been asking for the last few weeks of planning: what happens after the big day? How could one day possibly make a difference in this mammoth task of cleaning one of the oldest living cities in India?
An Idealist’s Vision
Speaking to the citizens of this town, I’m starting to form a vision for what this project, Kashi Ganga Cleanup, could really mean in the longterm.
First and foremost, Jago Banaras is drafting a petition to stop the plastic bags from being important into Varanasi. We’re hoping this will serve as a wakeup call to the government. To encourage good habits, we’re looking for sponsors to place bins throughout town, and praying they won’t be stolen or destroyed. And as a call for social awareness, fliers in Hindi have now been drafted for city-wide promotion not only of the project, but to spread the word about the following facts:
Plastic bags are banned in Varanasi but are still being imported without regulation. These bags find their way into the rivers and breakdown in the waters.
1000 babies die in India everyday from diarrhea.
The Ganga in Varanasi has 3000 times the safe levels of sewage for bathing.
This is due to the 24 open sewage pipes flowing into the river.
People living along the Ganges have higher rates of cancer and enteric disease.
India is the world’s largest democracy.
It is a citizen’s democratic responsibility to
Protest when the government isn’t doing its job in providing basic needs
Take action through petitions
Organize town meetings
Support private groups sponsoring social service
8. Elected politicians are not royalty; they’re public officials and servants of their constituents.
The research and ideas on this flier were born of several meetings with active leaders in the community, as well as with citizens on the street.
I couldn’t believe Varanasi doesn’t have an equivalent to the American Town Hall Meeting. It’s where the action goes down!
I Believe the Children Are Our Future
Another way I’m hoping to make an impact is by reaching out to the children of Varanasi, to ensure they have the big-picture perspective on what it means not only to be a responsible member of your local community, but to be a responsible member of the global community. At the time of writing, I’m tentatively scheduled to speak at three schools in the area, and hope to initiate interdisciplinary projects based on the ideas of pollution, the environment, civic duty, and human rights.
What’s Freedom Got To Do With It?
India is now the biggest democracy in the world, and according to the IMF, the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. To prevent the economy from running away with basic human rights, it’s absolutely vital Indian citizens remain informed and take action against violations of their basic human rights. 70 years after the end of colonial rule, India is enjoying a kind of freedom that engenders mass development, and, unfortunately, deeply embedded corruption. The call to action is already out there – and here in Varanasi, it’s really amazing to see solid results.
But if it were all about freedom, we’d be facing a full-fledged Democrazy.
India has the opportunity to redefine what it means to live in a democracy today. With an internet user base of 100 million, the country now stands third in the world in terms of the number of people surfing the net. There’s no excuse for being in the dark on important issues.
The Right to Clean Water
According to Wikipedia, in November 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a non-binding comment affirming that access to water was a human right: The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.”
This principle was reaffirmed at the 3rd and 4th World Water Councils in 2003 and 2006. This marks a departure from the conclusions of the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague in 2000, which stated that water was a commodity to be bought and sold, not a right.
Recently the World Bank pledged over $1 billion to India to clean up the Ma Ganga. This project we’re working on is just a small part in the big picture, but I have to believe that every little bit counts. That to keep the momentum going, we need every act to step up and step in. Even if it means literally stepping into that nasty river and picking out the trash
Rollin’ on the River
Perspectives are inevitably distorted by cultural relativism. Afterall, I come from a place that was built on the pioneering mindset, “You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.” Whereas religious loyalty here often results in the mantra, “No point in trying, it’s all up to God anyway.” My irreverent wording is clear evidence of a biased undertone, I’m aware.
But with the insight and knowledge of the Kashi Ganga Cleanup committee, it feels like we’re getting through to the community. And this one day of seva may serve as another catalyst in the global green movement here in Varanasi. After November 20th, it’s in the hands of the citizens!
If you’ve been following my blog, you know how I feel about Varanasi.
This is my third visit to India’s jewel on the Ganga, specifically to learn yoga at Om Shanti Yoga Niketan. Before landing, I had it in my mind to offer a seva (service) to the community here. Seva is an important aspect in dharmic religions where service to another is an indirect service to the Divine. It’s a proven fact, giving feels good, not just to the recipient but to the giver as well! And sometimes, if you add all the right ingredients, it can provide a community with something they desperately needed, or with knowledge that will change their lives forever.
With the help of Rajuji, my teacher, I’ve had the honor of meeting some very special individuals around Varanasi.
Though my asana practice has taken a back burner to my karma yoga mission, and my nostrils are full of black soot from jetting about town on rickshaws all day, though my phone ear is ringing and my smile-muscles are kaputz, I can go to bed feeling like a million bucks today.
Samaj Seva: Kashi Ganga Cleanup
On November 20th, at 9am, tourists, citizens and local organization members will gather together at Dasaswamedh Ghat to clean Ma Ganga and the surrounding streets and alleyways. In addition to cleaning the city, our group will be passing around a petition for the government to better regulate the import of already-banned plastic bags in the city. By raising awareness about the littering problem here, and placing bins along the walkways and ghats, we hope to inspire long-term sustainable change in one of India’s most treasured cities.
I’m overwhelmed by the encouragement, media support, and cooperation by local luminaries. After several meetings, it was decided the best hook was to position the seva event around foreign concern – that’s why I feature so prominently in the press release. Whatever gets the right people’s attention!
So far, the International Shiv Shakti Yoga Association has agreed to teach a yoga class to our volunteers. The Gandiva Hindi Daily, Varanasi’s leading evening newspaper, is assisting us with flier printouts to promote the day amongst tourists. Jago Banaras & Sunbeam Schools Varanasi have generously offered 100 cadets, brooms and dustbins. The Sahara Network is already advertising the day on their television program, and an impromptu visit from The Lions Club in another meeting resulted in their support as well.
And as a sweet ‘lil cherry on top, Soul Creation Productions is planning a documentary on the effort, in the context of India’s role in the global green movement.
On top of all this, I’m now writing and narrating a script with the production company, teaching students at a Sunbeam school about the environmental and health concerns surrounding litter, as well as donating my time as a writing workshop leader. Creativity, service, passion and determination collide!
I was in good company all day, and finished the evening with a short but sweet asana class. Exactly what I needed after all the tea and chat!
Wish us luck at the press conference tomorrow . . . can’t say I’ve ever done one of those before (at least not on the other side of the camera)!
Chapatis (Indian flatbread) are the perfect accompaniment to most Indian dishes. Learn how to make them with this step-by-step photo tutorial on making Chapatis. Don’t be fooled by the number of steps there are in this tutorial because making a single Chapati from start to finish, takes 1 1/2 to 2 minutes at the most! Chapatis are not difficult to make but the old saying “Practice makes perfect” was probably written for them.
All you need is:
2 cups wholewheat flour
Water (Using yoghurt or milk will give you super soft Chapatis! See tip below)
Salt to taste
2 tbsps vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil
This recipe makes roughly 12 Chapatis.
And a video tutorial, in case you prefer the visual stylee:
. . . which took 47.5 hours to earn, Dublin door to Varanasi door!
Before I even get into details on the ground here (and it was a relatively smooth landing), I can’t resist the temptation to lay out this mega-journey in black and white, leg by leg, minute to minute:
1. Cab ride from Dad’s (a teary farewell!) to the swanky new Dublin Airport: 30 min
2. Wait at the airport whilst snacking on strawberries and granola: 2.5 hours
3. Flight to London: an easy skankin’ 1.5 hours
4. Wait at the enormous Heathrow Airport: 3 hours (the only leg I wish were longer, so I could squeeze in a few moments with the homies, but alas …)
5. Flight to Dubai (where I indulged in Baileys, Midnight in Paris & a few episodes of the American Office – goddamn is that ICE Entertainment on Emirates gooooooood): 6 hours
6. Wait at the Dubai airport, which was fully open for bidness, electronic stores, chocolate temptations (avoided!), souvenir shops and more! 3 hours
7. Flight to Trivandrum (at this point I was so out of it, I’m having a hard time finding an interesting memory to share): 4.5 hours
8. Adventure in Trivandrum (unbeknownst to me, the international and domestic airports in Trivandrum are NOT connected, not even by a shuttle, so I spent my time here getting my bags, finding a cab & traveling 20 minutes, until finally checking back in at the other end!): 2 hours
9. Flight to Chennai: 1 hour
10. Errands in Chennai where I located my bags at the claims area then rechecked in for the next flight (yes, again): 2 hours
11. Flight to Delhi from Chennai, on which they served a lovely little lunch of chapatti, chole and dhal: 2.5 hours
12. Adventure in Delhi (called the travel agent to ensure I was no longer on the waitlist for my train, got on a metro to the train station, located my platform – which is a lot harder than it sounds! Train stations in Delhi are HELLISHLY CHAOTIC – and of course, waiting a wee while on the pee-smelling track. Though I wish I had a photo of this, and did think of it at the time, I just couldn’t make the effort to take out a camera – or risk losing it in the surreality of my travel-haze.): 3.5 hours
13. Train ride to Varanasi (where I was the only woman in a six-person sleeper section): 12 hours (originally scheduled to be 8)
14. Met with the lovely Alok who took me to an auto-rickshaw and finally to the hotel: 1 hour
So. Not the easiest trip in the world! I would have flown directly to Delhi (bypassing the 2 flights via Chennai), but booked this flight to Trivandrum months ago and when plans changed, could not change my ticket. So, 7.5 hours could have been easily avoided – a small price to pay for the bargain ticket, in the end! I mean, really, what’s the difference between 40 and 47.5 hours of travel anyway, right??
To ensure my body didn’t completely fall apart, that first day of travel I chose not to practice any yoga. Instead, I visited with my teacher and a few other friends from the last few times I practiced in Varanasi. Dinner was a lovely made-to-order vegetable curry, stir-fried bitter melon, and chapatti. The perfect end to a long-ass day!
Yoga Studies: Chapter 1
The next day I dedicated myself to practice at Om Shanti Yoga Niketan. The studio space is humble, but the teaching comes from a lifetime of dedication to yoga. Rajuji teaches from the heart, his classes the sole reason I’m here in Varanasi for four weeks. And you can’t beat the price: $2/hour of mostly personalized yoga training!
We spend 4 hours a day on practice, and one hour on writing a few handbooks on yoga together. I’ll be writing most of the science-based subject matter, as well as editing and designing the books. A most exciting endeavour …
A Temporary Abode
The yoga studio is only two minutes from the Hotel Alka, my home for the next 4 weeks. This is an extremely well-known place to stay, right on the river Ganges, with loads of clean rooms in various styles to suit a traveler’s needs. There are singles with shared bathrooms for $6/night, and en-suite doubles from $11 and up. I got a great deal because a friend who is also staying here has been a loyal customer for years and he booked our rooms. Sweetness!
Although internet cafes are easy to come by here, the facilities are sometimes less comfy than you might prefer, and the keyboards probably haven’t been replaced for a decade or so. It’s really not so bad, at 20 rupees (less than 50 cents) an hour . . . but I’m lucky enough to have 24/7 internet access using a Reliance Netconnect device. You pay 2000 rupees for the device and another 800 rupees or so per month, and you have access to the intrawebs at a decent speed whenever you like (with 18 GB for up/downloading), from the comfort of your room. If you’re going to be in India for an extended period of time (and you use the web regularly), I highly recommend it!
View From Here
I’m writing this blog, sitting at the edge of my bed, my laptop balancing precariously on the tiny ledge in front of my wall-mirror. I can hear the hotel workers cleaning the floor outside, my ceiling fan whizzing away the heat.
Three days into my trip (and full day of bed-ridden respiratory hell I’d rather not get into!), I’m starting to feel alive again. After a solid pranayama practice and short massage this morning, I may actually be starting to feel like me again!
This trip, I’ve had the great fortune of accidentally being in the holiest city in India for one of their biggest festivals – DIWALI! Watch this space for more on the festivities …
A week with Rajuji is like dipping your toes in the Ganges on a hot summer day – shocking to the body, and just enough “aaahhh” to make you wanna jump right in!
We spent two hours in the mornings practicing pranayam, much to the delight of my respiratory system, and another two hours later in the evenings on asana and meditation. Sweet, sweet practice holiday – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . .
1. Despite the change in weather (from beachy warmth to jacket weather cold) and the somewhat manky conditions of my living quarters in Varanasi, I managed to avoid getting sick. In fact, I cured myself of the nasty throat bug I imported from our charming desert abode! Go, go gadget yoga!
2. I was able to bust into some pretty advanced arm balances, albeit with the help and careful observation of my teacher. Something to work toward doing independently . . .
3. Good friendships were solidified, and new seeds planted as well. Raju Baba and his lovely wife Bridgitte introduced me to their new kitties and we bonded over many a chai. Alok, Rajuji’s apprentice, is now my penpal and friend. Good times!
4. In the light of seva (service), I thought of an idea to implement over my next visit: Seva for Mama Ganga! It’ll be the first community outreach program through Project Surya (my seva brain child) where we’ll clean up the litter in and around the river. As a thanks to participants, I’ll be teaching a free yoga class.
5. I learned a sweet pranayam sequence from Rajuji that correlates with the chakras – stoked to share this with my students!
6. Though being on “Planet Yoga” makes coming back to the “Real World” that much more difficult, I deepened my appreciation for life in India, and am now certain of my commitment to spending six months there to learn, teach, write (articles, blogs, start of the novels) and develop yoga programs with my teachers.
7. New opportunities for the future have made their potential known! Rajuji asked me to be a part of his yoga school and perhaps do a tour of northern India, teaching side by side. Rock.
A week of yoga in Varanasi left me with a light heart, a focused mind, and a renewed appreciation for my personal practice – which, frankly, had begun to sometimes feel tedious and stuck in a rut.
Below are some yoga-centric photos from my week at Om Shanti Yoga Niketan in Banares (Varanasi). More on the overall trip to come!