The significance of a yatra
Let us first understand the meaning of the word “yatra”. We all have heard of the word “mantra”. Mantra* – “man” + “tra” – to liberate the manas (mind) through sounds. The sound itself has certain qualities which benefit us. Similarly, yatra is a Sanskrit word derived from the roots “ya” and “tra”. The word “ya” means movement and “tra” means “to liberate”. Yatra is a journey that helps us overcome physical and mental conditioning that we have created for ourselves unconsciously and which limit us.
When we live in the same place for a long time, the people and the environment reinforce a certain kind of mental conditioning onto us – conditioning that is required for action in that particular environment, but which we need not hold on to all the time and feel stuck. But what happens is, when we stay in the same environment, we might be so identified with the conditioning the environment has reinforced that a change of context becomes necessary in order to gain clarity of consciousness.
Liberating our mental conditioning
So, a yatra is essentially a journey of re-discovering oneself to gain the distance and objectivity to disidentify oneself from the conditioning and know oneself as one really is – a constant and dynamic flow. We, nor the beings around us, are static. It is only the mental conditioning that makes us feel that way. We are all dynamic beings who are on a constant flow, just like Ma Ganga and Ma Yamuna. The whole idea of a yatra is to liberate us from this conditioning which makes us feel limited and static.
Breaking free of our physical limitations
What is immediately obvious in our awareness is that a yatra is physically challenging; one would have to walk a distance of about 20 km in one day. One would have to spend the whole day with oneself, and cover the long stretch walking for many hours. One might wonder, what is the point of undertaking such a tough journey on foot? Can’t we just enjoy the beauty of the landscape travelling in a vehicle and return? No, it is in fact the very toughness of the journey that we consciously choose to undertake that transforms and liberates us.
Smrithi ji shares her experience and insight into this transformational sojourn –
The first time I walked up the Himalayas to Kedar (14 kms – about 7 hrs), I understood a lot about the mountains and about myself. Most people do not take up “climbing” activities because they are not comfortable with the pain they feel in the body during and after the trek. What I learnt from my experience is that, if your leg aches, it is just a leg ache! If your head aches, it is just a head ache!! Nothing big really happens. Your body takes sometime to adapt to the new setting. Things are defintely not going to be the same on the plains and the mountains. There’s a world of difference. Do not panic if you feel different. Just enjoy the trek.
In most treks, the last few kilometers are the toughest. Firstly because you are tired, secondly because you may be getting closer to the peak. That’s when most people give up. But believe me, its going to be awesome once you reach there. So challenge your body a little bit. That’s the only way to break the limitations that you have set for yourself and that’s the only way to understand your true capabilities.
That was the main aim of a pilgrimage those days in India. You learn more about your body and mind when you are put through the ruggedness of the mountain. And for support, you always had the deity. Unfortunately, such pilgrimages are being made into tours with helicopters dropping you in the shrine for a premium price!
Another thing I realized is that the famous ad line “Walk while you talk” never works in a trek. You either walk or talk. Conserving energy by every means is very important. That’s why my husband finds it more convenient to take me on a trek, mainly because that’s the only time I don’t talk. A good way to handle fatigue and the “this-is-not-for-me” feeling is to have a small mantra for yourself. Chant it silently as you walk.
Before undertaking such a yatra and accepting the challenges that are part of it, many of us would not have imagined that we can actually do it. When we successfully complete the yatra, there is certainly a sense of achievement and we feel empowered to go back to our regular lives with a spirit of readiness to take on challenges in life. After facing the challenges offered by the yatra, we feel as though our old challenges are no big deal and very much manageable!
In order to succeed in this physical challenge, preparation is very important. One needs to have the physical capability and stamina to endure the yatra. This is where the yogic practices are very relevant. Yogic practices not only help us develop excellent physical stamina but also make us flexible. A pencil has strength but it is rigid – it breaks when stress beyond a certain magnitude is applied. A rubber band, on the other hand, does not break but stretches. This flexibility of body and mind is an indispensable quality for a yatri. He or she must be able to bend the body and mind as required by the circumstances and adapt quickly.
A perfect outer environment for rapid learning
One would discover for oneself that one cannot follow the same dietary patterns as one did living in the plains. In the plains, one can eat whatever type of food one wants and nothing happens (at least the effect is not observable immediately). But while in the Himalayas on yatra, one would have to be very conscious of what one eats. One would certainly have to eat the right kind of food because the low temperature at such heights can make the body behave differently from the way it does in the plains. The body is much more sensitive and one can observe the effect of the food immediately. One may fall sick if one does not eat the right kind of food.
Adi ji explains how the relationship between our actions and their consequences, which is not visible to such an obvious degree in the plains, becomes suddenly visible in one’s plain sight in the Himalayas –
“We, a group of about 50 people, have been on a trek; about 60 kms trek in 4-5 days time at altitudes of more than 12,000 ft above sea level.
….So there we had been from Gangotri to Gomukh and then beyond that to Tapovan, that is about 4500 m above sea level, about 30 % less Oxygen than the plains, so your lungs, everything needs to really work, pretty good. In the plains you eat whatever you want, you eat however you want, you have any which lifestyle, still, the consequences are not immediate, it is like projected into the future. For many of us that become a problem. Suddenly you are jolted – diabetes, hypertension, B.P, you are jolted awake. So there the jolt is not so long drawn, it is like immediate. You don’t have the right food, gone! So that way, the right outer environment is there for one to learn quickly, adapt quickly.” (From a talk at Vision India Foundation “The India, my India”)
The stillness of thought processes
Since oxygen levels are low relative to the plains, one can observe the effect of pranayama practises instantly at such heights. Also, low oxygen levels means that one will have to change and regulate the rhythm of breathing (to make it slow and deep). One cannot afford to hold on to unnecessary thoughts and past memories and awareness naturally become centred in the present moment.
An important reason the yatra is designed to be physically exhausting is that at the end of it, when one sits down in front of the deity after exerting oneself, the mind becomes still and receptive to Divine energies.
Understanding a primary component of our personal success
We all wish to succeed in what we take up. But most of us fail to see that our success requires not just our personal effort but the harmonious cooperation of two other forces: the natural forces and the social forces. The three forces (the natural, social and personal) are called the tapatreya in Indic terms. Natural forces are called Adi daivika, social forces are called Adi bhautika and forces within oneself are called Adhyatmika. These three forces need to be harmonious if we desire success in our endeavours. Generally in the plains, the natural forces are relatively stable and hence it is taken for granted that these forces will not pose an obstacle to our actions. We don’t even care about it. But in the Himalayas, at an altitude of 12,000 ft above sea level, it is not so! It is challenging in many ways because there could be landslides, rainfall or snow at any time and our plan cannot be put into action until things clear away. A yatra would open our eyes to seeing this fact – that the support of natural forces is very important for even a single step of ours to be successful.
Becoming ecologically sensitive and minimalistic
Climbing up a mountain is a tough journey, and naturally, we do not wish to carry excess baggage (Carrying ourselves itself is a big baggage!) . We do not want to carry everything in our journey. We start cutting down on all the things that are unnecessary for us, so that we feel light. If we learn this life lesson well during the trek and continue practising it in our daily lives, we would be contributing a great deal to the sustenance of the planetary resources and balancing the ecological issues that we face today. We are happy in keeping only what we and those around us need and we never hoard. This is the most fundamental aspect of ecology.
The spiritual significance
In fact the core aspect of the yatra, and what distinguishes it from a trek which may be equally physically challenging, or an adventure trip, is that it is a journey with and guided by enlightened Masters. The yatra is not merely about undertaking and overcoming a tough physical challenge; at its heart, it is about the yatri exploring the spiritual dimension of life with the Masters. Satsangha, yogic practices and powerful meditation sessions are woven into the yatra and offer us the opportunity to experience deeper states of consciousness that have a profound transformative impact on our being.
A yatra includes visiting places of spiritual significance. Visiting such sacred places rejuvenates and rebuilds shraddha in the parampara of our rishis. There is clearly a disconnect with the spiritual tradition of India among many Indians. Going on yatras and visiting places of historical and spiritual significance helps us connect to our land and to our rishis.
While on yatra, especially to the Himalayas, we get the opportunity to interact with beings who are very different from those we are familiar with in regular society. The sadhus, as they are called, live in caves for years together on a particular sadhana. They are on tapasya, nothing else. Some of them allow us to offer food and grain. Some serve food to the yatris as part of their sadhana. We understand their way of life, the austerity and freedom with which they live their lives and that becomes a source of inspiration for our own effort towards freedom.
Adi ji describes his interaction with sadhus –
“And I have interacted with sadhus, who will be like dressed in dhoti, there will be nothing here, carrying one or two blankets, that is all. And then wrapped up. And they will just be walking up the Himalayas. Just going wherever, most of the places, you know, it is sparsely populated and hence you might not even get food. You might not get anything. And it does not matter to them. See that is something significant you know. That you can see in the Indian land. And you interact with them, they will be like wonderful people, really wonderful people. They will share what they have with the dog, and they hardly get anything. They might get one roti in a day or sometimes a roti in four days. They will still be robust, able to withstand all kinds of circumstances, and very humble, very polite, very very good-natured, very humorous. In spite of all that, thet would have given them a sense of humour. (Laughs) They will laugh at everything. I find it the greatest intelligence, you know. They would just be simple, humble folks, very very approachable, but not everyone will appreciate incursions of privacy, so you need to respect that as well. And they might not open up because they are on their own sadhana. And they would just be there. And if you get to interact closely with them, they would have left everything just for this experience of self-realization or God-realization. They would have dedicated themselves for that and what that is, no idea. Still that does not matter. Because something urges them on. This, there is scope in India, to do. You cannot do it elsewhere. Because the systems are so well-regulated that you cannot afford to do this. You will be thrown in jail.” (From Vikasa 2016 at Rishikesh)
Anaadi’s Himalayan yatra – A multidimensional experience for all kinds of seekers
Anaadi’s Himalayan yatra is a learning-exploring-experiencing journey in which participants learn various principles of yoga, meditation, philosophy, psychology, ancient history and its connection with modern society, continuity of traditions, diversity, food, art, architecture, science and basically whatever they feel is relevant in their lives in a multidimensionally rich setting of the Himalayas. Many students have expressed how deep the impact of the yatra has been and how transformed and energised they have felt. This gives participants, especially students, a Grand Narrative in their lives to live by.