After attending a yoga teacher training course in South India, Djahariah Mitra found herself unable to return to her ordinary life that had left her empty and still. She ignored her return ticket and took a leap of faith. She embarked upon a journey through ancient temples, lush mountain retreats, ashrams, and nightclubs, finding freedom while feeling lost, encountering joy within chaos, learning patience amidst paradox, and revealing the deep inner turmoil of someone seeking balance, all through the lens of yogic philosophy.
This intimate memoir gives readers a remarkable perspective of a woman traveling alone, striving through challenges, embracing a vastly different culture, and ultimately finding a profound connection with her own family history, a courage to see her true self, and a passionate sweet love that rocks her heart.
My favorite place as a child was the library. I consumed books like candy. My father installed a large bookshelf and mounted wall light next to my bed when I was 8 so I could spend hours every night reading. As I got older I decided to spend more time out in the world living rather than inside a book. I wanted to write but felt I didn't have enough experience to share. I started traveling. If I could get paid to travel that's what I would be doing. I have lived in several countries and visited many more. I live in NYC because it's the place I feel the most like I could be anywhere in the world depending what part of the city I decide to walk into. Along my path of outer experience I came upon yoga and found my inner experience. I became a teacher and in my new book incorporate my love of travel and how I try to see the world through a yogic lens.
Dancing in the Bamboo Forest ~ a travel memoir by Djahariah Mitra
I was excited to receive this book with a request to review it. I seek out memoirs and especially memoirs written by women about their travels and personal journeys. And certainly this book falls into exactly these categories, with the added bonus that the travel and journey are yoga specific.
We start out with the author in an emotionally dark place in her life. She decides to go to India to study, travel and find herself. I think many of us who study yoga have that same urge; the urge to go to the birthplace of yoga, to immerse ourselves in the culture and philosophy. Mitra does this with a teacher training followed by travel, yoga teaching, dance training, and building relationships with fellow travelers and native Indians alike.
She shares her inner thoughts, her attempts to find happiness, her everyday ups and downs with living in uncertainty. She doesn't know how long she will stay in India, she doesn't know if she will be able to get a job that will support her to stay in India, she doesn't know if her health will hold out.
She struggles with finding contentment in the uncertainty. This is what I recognized the most in my own life journey: the practice of finding contentment in my discontentment. Quite the kōan. I learned more about this in my teacher training too. There it was defined as “limbic space” by one of my professors. It's the idea that we need to become comfortable in our discomfort, comfortable with not knowing, comfortable in the waiting. In the book, Mitra has a very hard time with this and I think, so do we all. It was hard for me to read, hard to stick with her discomfort, but I thank her for being so candid and for sharing her struggle.
Interspersed with her personal journey, she shared some of her yoga understanding. I enjoyed her discussion of yoga philosophy, especially the part about being called to a spiritual life while still being a “regular” person, or as I've sometimes heard it called, a householder. Again, this is a struggle I understand. The essential question is, how do we give up everything and remain in this life? There's no right answer but I wonder if part of the struggle is in the phrasing “give up everything”? Perhaps if we thought we were gaining, not giving up, there wouldn't be a question.
And finally, as in other books I've read where an American woman goes to India, there is the culture shock to contend with. Women are 2nd class citizens, do not have rights the way men do, are not allowed to go out by themselves, travel by themselves, or wear less than 3 layers of clothing on all parts of their body. The author did find places where India is more modern, places where she could go out to coffee and even meet with male friends but it was not encouraged by society. She got questioned and shamed by her landlords for doing things like having male guests for dinner. It just seems so archaic and unfair to me. It's so hard to reconcile this part of Indian culture with the mindful practices of yoga that also came out of this culture.
The dichotomy of Indian culture, the blow-by-blow account of daily ups and downs, and the topic driven writing style (vs. linear) sometimes made this book difficult for me to read. When I could let go of my desire to know exactly where and when the author was, and when I could let go of wanting India to be as holy as I imagine it, the book was much more enjoyable to me. This book is worth reading if you want to know more about yoga, Indian culture, and if you want your own beliefs challenged as you read about someone else's personal growth.
"We want to be infected by spirituality, not have to work at it. To be given a recipe to follow for instant God:
1 part India 1 part purifying illness 1 part delusion Mix with 1 monsoon. Let simmer"
The author asks all the right questions, and wryly offers some answers via personal engagement with cultures and climates that are hostile to her sense of self. Impressive in this memoir is the combination of intellectual inquiry into how to apply yoga to life lived off the mat, and how to tangle with the cultural cradle of its wisdom in all of its contradictions. Djahariah Mitra's approach is to let us peer into her journals, into her heart, revealing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sweet. By going on this journey with a young woman willing to put in the time to engage with, and then to write about, the impact of the infuriatingly exotic on one's soul, the reader will ask him/her-self some important questions.