The International Yoga Festival: Come To A Place To Find Deep Connection.
By Brooke Nally
A truly picturesque setting, lying on the banks of Mother Ganga in the lap of the Himalayan mountains, Parmarth Niketan embodies the sacred fragrance of India. Vibrant colors of orange, red, and pink are seen everywhere, from the scarves on people’s bodies to the flowers in the trees. The sounds of cow bells, chanting, and celebration become ambient noise, consistently pulsing in the background. The energy of India, specifically Rishikesh, is indescribable and something that can only be experienced.
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Spiritual Speaker and the Director of the International Yoga Festival. We sat in her office at Parmarth Niketan, drinking masala chai tea and eating sweet Indian cookies. The sounds of chanting echoed through the background, and the aroma of incense was rich in the air.
What is the purpose of the festival, and why should people attend?
Our goal is to bring people from all over the world to the birthplace of Yoga. To find a connection. Connection with the Divine. Connection with the Self. To have an experience of Yoga. During this festival you’ll have the opportunity to practice over 70 hours of Yoga from masters from all over the world. Patanjali gave 8 limbs of Yoga, and our goal is to give courses and classes for the first 7 of them.
“You can’t give a class on Samadhi, unfortunately,” joked Sadhviji. “The 8th limb of Samadhi happens by Gods grace.”
People move through the world thinking Yoga is just the third limb, which is Asana. And this is a disservice to themselves and a disservice to the world. Because if you don’t begin with the Yama’s and Niyama’s, you don’t know how to live in the world. You don’t know how to BE in the world. And if Yoga ends at the third limb, you won’t know how to sustain the teachings -- how to sustain the practice to eventually reach Samadhi.
So, with the International Yoga Festival we pose the question – “How can we give people a 7 limb exposure?” We try to allow there to be a flow and a freedom to what the teachers teach. Some people might not get exposed to all 7 limbs if they choose not to. It depends on the course that the students choose. But chances are, you are going to have a full 7 limb experience.
We also offer a spiritual exercise series and it’s the only time of day in which there’s only one thing offered. Normally there are 5 of 6 classes going on so you have options between different Yoga styles, but the spiritual lecture series is where we get revered spiritual leaders to teach and speak. There are no other classes offered simultaneously, so this is a time for the entire community to come and learn from these spiritual leaders.
What teachers/spiritual leaders will be attending this year?
There is an amazing line up this year, including Sharon Gannon, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Tommy Rosen, Kia Miller, Saul David Raye, Laura Plumb, Seane Corn, Bruce Lipton, Anand Mehrotra, H.H. Radhanath Swamiji and many more.
We heard people attend from all over the world. How many countries do people come from?
This year we are aiming to have people from 108 different countries. Last year we had 100. And we have a special ambassador program where if you become the first person from your country to register, then you get a bunch of ambassador perks.
Is there anything you want our readers to know about Parmarth Niketan, the festival or anything else?
I think first of all what’s important, is that if you can’t make it to the festival, we are here 51 other weeks of the year as well. We have two free Yoga classes open every day, in the morning and afternoon. We also have many, many other Yoga courses and programs throughout the year. Everything from beginner’s foundation, to kriya Yoga, to teacher trainings, to spiritual retreats, and much more.
The most important thing I’d want to share with people on a deeper level, is: "If you’re into Yoga, consider yourself very blessed to have walked through that door.”
But they should not mistake the doorframe for the path. The doorframe may be wonderful, and beautiful, and I’m not saying to ignore your door frame, but don’t mistake it for the path that the doorframe is leading you onto.
The path of Yoga is really a path that I think has the potential to heal so much of what is ailing in our world. On individual levels, the disconnection we feel deeply in ourselves is what leads us to drink, or smoke, or take drugs, or eat, or Facebook, or shop -- in order to distract ourselves from the internal ache… all the way up to climate change.-- Which all of this is really traceable back to visions and systems that are rooted in separation. And since the word Yoga literally means union, if we really took what Yoga has to offer, and we took just the 10 Yamas and Niyamas – then there wouldn’t be global warming.
If everyone who had the luxury to choose, chose for ‘us’ instead of for ‘me’. Chose in the spirit of union instead of separation, we wouldn’t be where we are. The problem is, that those of us with the luxury to choose are making choices for me instead of for us.
‘I want leather car seats. I want a leather handbag. I want leather shoes. Okay, well the tanneries are the single greatest polluter of the Ganga River.
Every single time we choose to consume like this – (and forget the fact that cows die in the process!– besides the obvious violence involved) – we contribute to the single greatest contributor to waste in the Ganga.
So if I’m someone who has the luxury to choose, and I paused for a moment to ask – ‘Am I making a choice rooted out of Yoga? Am I making a choice rooted in Ahimsa?’ – then our world would be in a much better place.
And I’m not saying don’t buy anything. But, if everyone were able to learn how to self soothe in a way that didn’t require items produced in a factory to make me feel okay about myself – if I could self soothe, if I could meditate, if I could connect instead – we would be saving our world.
There is nothing in any of the teachings that says ‘thou shalt not enjoy your life’, ‘thou shalt not have luxuries’, ‘thou shalt not be rich’. What we are saying, is let’s do these things with some awareness, and union. Thinking more about the ‘we’, versus the ‘me’.
“Yoga is not merely for our bodies, but rather Yoga is for our bodies, minds, hearts and souls. Yoga literally means “Union” – union of breath with the body, union of the mind with the muscles, and most importantly union of the self with the divine. Yoga is not a religon. It does not require you to believe in a certain God or chant certain mantras.Yoga is an ancient science which leads to health in the body, peace in the mind, joy in the heart, and liberation of the soul.”
International Yoga Festival is truly an opportunity to connect with individuals from all over the world, to connect with the Self, and to deepen your Yoga practice. For those of you interested in attending, please find more information here.