Practicing yoga strengthens the body and mind and has gained popularity worldwide. But yoga is not a recent practice or fad. The philosophy originated 5,000 to 10,000 years ago in Rishikesh, India. Ed Fink, administrator for anesthesiology at Baylor, dwells on his ashram experience and the importance of yoga to maintain a positive mentality.
Fink discovered his love for the ashram in 2013, when he first visited the Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh and started dipping his toes in the yoga pool. He was living in Southern California at the time, and stayed at the ashram for a few weeks for the annual International Yoga Festival. After his first experience, he visited again in 2014 and 2015, and for an extended period in 2018 and 2019.
“I wasn’t happy with my job. I came to a place where I was at a transition point in my life, so I went to live at the ashram for 11 months,” Fink said.
Ashrams are spiritual communities, and many of these monasteries are scattered around India. According to Fink, people spend time at ashrams to seek something, and the community provides a space for people on that journey. The ashram experience consists of a yoga and meditation center, philosophy-based classes, service and communal celebrations.
People running the ashram have a strong sense of service and involvement in social justice missions – including earth causes, water sewage and sanitation in India. Hundreds of boys study at the Gurukul at the ashram – a school for orphaned or disadvantaged boys. The ashram also focuses on menstrual hygiene. Girls lack appropriate materials for their menstrual cycles, leading them to drop out of school once puberty hits. The ashram is determined to ensure there are safe, accessible means for women to manage their menstruation.
“Social justice and the spiritual-seeking side of it draws people there. They complement each other well,” Fink said.
Fink began each day leading a yoga class to start the day with breathing practices, physical movement and meditation. The physical aspect of yoga teaches you how to move the body into deeper states of meditation. From these deeper states, we find our way to serve and to be of service in our own circle or community, he explained.
“It’s interesting coming from the U.S. where we’re all about our personal space and personal boundaries, because this doesn’t exist at the ashram. When I opened up to it and let myself be there, it began a process for me of diving deeper into my heart,” Fink said. “Everything is one. There is no separation between anything, so that drew me back.” Vedanta, the philosophical system from which yoga comes, has a Sanskrit phrase “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” – “the world is one family.”
The concept of zero separation or boundaries makes social distancing difficult in a times of crisis, but a major lesson Fink took away from the ashram helps him cope: life can be light if you want it to be. With this mindset, he refuses to allow something as drastic as COVID-19 to overwhelm his life.
“When I learned that lesson, I learned to let go of the story. When things happen, we automatically attach a story to it. I would always hold onto the story, but I was given the opportunity to let go of that, so I’m very mindful of the story I’m telling when I go through things,” Fink said.
Meditation practices have taught him to be mindful of how to approach hardships. Although part of him is scared of the virus, he remains focused on taking the right steps to prevent the spread and feels at peace knowing this.
As people endure this chaotic, bizarre experience with COVID-19, Fink urges people to find moments to connect with the Divine, however you may know that to be or not to be. Divinity can offer a great sense of courage and purpose.
“I encourage people to find ways of connecting and allow that to be the energy, spark and foundation within. Then, go out and do what you need to do during this time, whether that’s responsibly connecting with family, caring for loved ones or working,” Fink said.
-By Homa Shalchi