Greeting the Sun

February 01, 2013

India and the Infinite
Students participate in a sunset Aarti ceremony along the Ganges in front of Niketan Parmath Ashram, in Rishikesh, India. (Photo by Carolina Castenada)

I woke up before the sun rose for a morning practice of yoga. It was winter in India, and I was staying in Rishikesh—sometimes known as the Yoga capital of the world—which lies at the foothills of the Himalayas. I was dressed in my full winter attire—at least at first. With no central heating or even a space heater, I needed to warm up. There is no better way to build internal heat while the sun is rising than the yoga asanas, or poses of sun salutation.

There’s a certain satisfaction in doing sun-salutation when the sun is actually rising outside the windows with the promise of warmth in the near future, rather than under fluorescent lighting and looking into a mirror or at the special yoga outfits of the people around you.

Back in America, yoga is more of an aerobic exercise, often taught in the same studio as Zumba or bootcamp in the evening after people have finished school or work. The rooms have overhead lighting and controlled temperatures, so if the room is too cold, the temperature can easily be adjusted.

Michael and Leni Barrett
Michael Barrett ’13 and Lenny Barrett ’13HH, his mother and a yoga teacher, pose while crossing a bridge on the Ganges river.

Not so in Rishikesh. There is not much to be done about the cold and dark besides learn to live with it. Rather than an after-school activity, yoga in the morning was a practical way to start the day. We did not do anything too complicated. I have actually done more intense yoga in America, but when the session was over, I was wide-awake and no longer shivering. The rest of the city was also waking up, creating a whole community that was in synch with the cycle of the day.

At Rollins, I am used to staying up until three in the morning with a combination of doing homework and surfing the Internet. Rising and setting with the sun, however, I felt much more wholesome. There was also no Internet connection, so after a while the little part of my brain that every few minutes says, “Check your email, there might be something important,” turned off for perhaps the longest period of time in years.

In this sense my trip to India was a chance to reset and live for a while in the way that our brains were originally adapted: living in the here and now.

By Michael Barrett ’13

This past winter break, Michael—along with nine other students—traveled to India as part of a field study course titled India and the Infinite. Led by Professor of Religion Yudit Greenberg, students traveled to Delhi, Rishikesh, Agra, and Varanasi to learn about the spiritual traditions of India—from its Hindu and Buddhist temples and ashrams, to its diverse groups, including the Jains, Sikhs, Muslims, and, of course, yogis and gurus.

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