In Varanasi, a center of learning for more than two thousand years, one can study music, language, yoga, history, and a host of other subjects.  I've chosen to study yoga with R.C. Yogacharya Seth at the Benares School of Yoga (Benares is an older name for Varanasi).

 

Up out of bed, shake off the sleepies.
Walk out of the hotel,

up stairs past kids playing and cows ruminating or just staring,
on to a T-intersection of narrow streets in the old city.

There's often a policeman sleeping at that corner, leaning casually on his rifle.  Right turn, then left at a tea and curd shop. On down the alley to the Benares School of Yoga.

Upstairs,
lie down with eyes closed,
relax.

 

9a.m.  Isha, another student, seems unfocused from a sleepless night.  I slept well, but also feel unfocused.  Isha leaves at 10, and R.C. Yogacharya Seth and I continue until 11:45.

R.C. Yogacharya Seth, with the Ganges River in the background.

 

After two weeks of daily classes, I feel I'm ready for neti, one of six internal cleansings in yoga.  As the water is being boiled for neti, I decide to learn the stomach acid cleansing as well.  This surprises me, as I've always had a fear of vomiting.

 

I walk into town in search of mineral water and come back with two bottles.

 

For Neti, Seth brings out a metal pot of boiled tap water with less than a teaspoon of salt in it.  He fills the neti pot, a small copper pot with a spout, with this mixture.  I bend at the waist, facing right with my left ear pointing to the ground.  Seth inserts the spout in my right nostril, and with a few subtle adjustments of the tilt of my head, water begins to dribble out my left nostril.

 

What a feeling -- concentrate on the mouth.  Breathe only through the mouth.  It feels like my sinuses will explode if I tilt my head the wrong way.  After some water has made it in one nostril and begins to flow out the other, the pot is removed and I blow out forcefully through my nose.  My insides push outwards, struggling to escape through my eyes and ears.  Neti is supposed to improve your sense of smell, sight, hearing, and possibly taste.  The process continues head turned left now, water entering the left nostril and dribbling out the right.  I blow out vigorously through my nose onto the floor and feel clear-headed, tingling and awake.

 

Now it's time to learn an internal cleansing of a digestive nature.  Seth burns his finger when he touches the pot in which my two bottles of mineral water have been boiled.  The woman who boiled the water thinks I'm wasting my money buying mineral water to boil.

 

I drink deeply of the warm, salty water from the pot.  I feel full ... drink more ... very full ... even more ... then slightly nauseated.  I burp.  Seth says this is my stomach acid beginning to rise.

 

I pause.
Must drink more.
I feel I may burst.

 

Stand, bend 90 degrees at the hips, grab the wall for support, head over a small hole in the corner of the cement floor.  Now it's time to fight instinct, conquer my fears and gag myself.  Delicately - three fingers rubbed on the tongue ...

 

... Faster ...

 

I choke and stop.  Seth says I shouldn't stop!  I rub my tongue again, cough, spit out a bit of bilious substance.  More rubbing.  A little warm water trickles out, then a cascade of salty water.  I pause.  Seth says that when he does this, he rubs his tongue without stopping and the water comes out all at once.  He does it every Sunday with SIX liters of water -- drink two liters, vomit, drink two more, vomit, drink the last two, vomit.

 

"Vomit" is laden with semantics.  The way Seth describes it, it's a smooth, fluid release.

 

My progress is slow because I always stop rubbing my tongue when I really start to gag, partly because I feel as though I can't breathe.

 

Another gush of water.
HACK!
... gargle ... 

 

The hard splash of water on cement.  My hacking reminds me of the old man who sounded like he was coughing up a lung every morning in that hotel in Delhi.

 

Seth has me drink more water, saying I need not be afraid, as a Master (himself) is here.  I finish off nearly all the water.  Warm heavy salty sickly feeling in my stomach.  He pokes and prods my bulging gut.

 

I gag myself again.  More water comes up.  I no longer fear the process as much as I did, although it's far from pleasant.  Finally, when my eruptions of salty water have become dry heaves, Seth feels I am finished.

 

I wash up.  Seth rinses down the floor.  I walk downstairs.  My thin blue long-sleeved cotton shirt I bought for 60 rupees back in Jaisalmer, thinking it wouldn't last past Holi, is still lasting and now soaked.  I sheepishly smile at a woman and a girl downstairs -- they stare at me with an expression of having heard everything.

 

After paying 400 rupees for the cleansings, I retreat to my hotel room.  I feel empty, and interpret this emptiness as depressed.  On the surface, internal cleansings appear purely physical, but they affect one's emotional state as well, for mind and body are deeply connected.  They have begun to draw some physical toxins out of my system, along with some emotional toxins.  I reflect that neti is a process I could see myself repeating one day, but that this business of guzzling warm salty water and self-induced vomiting is best left to experienced yogis.

 

Hunger drives me out an hour later ... curd, plain rice, two chapatis and an orange.  A mild re-introduction to food.  After a nap, I still feel a bit depressed -- after all that exertion, what now?