Thursday, December 31, 2009

Birthday Blog - I am Grateful

I am writing as sit in an outdoor restaurant overlooking the Arabian Sea, surrounded mostly by foreigners and listening to a wide range of languages chattering all around me. I’m in Varkala, which is on the south/west coast of India and is a widely known tourist area full of hotels and massage places and street vendors. It feels a lot like Mexico at the moment, there is even Latin music playing. It is a rather confusing type of experience. Suddenly, after two months of needing to keep my shoulders covered, to keep my cleavage camouflaged and the need to “act less Western” I am suddenly surrounded by bikinis, shirtless men, and women in all sorts of skimpy beach wear with the scent of coconut suntan lotion, big floppy hats, and western looking sunglasses. It is rather confusing to my senses.

A lot has happened since last I wrote (and I skipped posting last weekend because of the complications of travel). I’m actually not sure I can begin to capture it all without this becoming a novel but here are a few bullet points:

*When I left the yoga retreat center I went into a private “homestay” with relatives of the retreat owners. My time with them will remain one of the top highlights of the trip. This family was not a usual host home, and they loved the novelty of having a foreign guest in their home. They even wanted me to sleep in the same room with them (they all sleep in one room on the floor, but I would have the bed). We spent the bulk of the weekend comparing our cultures, cooking, eating, watching Indian TV (“Indias Got Talent” and “Deal or No Deal”, very surreal), and wandering around the neighborhood a bit. Deena, the daughter, spent one evening painting my hands with henna (see pics) – they are just beginning to fade. It was glorious.

*I found a friend at the retreat center to travel south with me (Izzy from the UK), and it was great to have her with me for awhile. We took a “backwater” boat trip to the Ashram that was stunning. (Total 24 hour trip). However, once we reached Amma’s Ashram it quickly became clear that Izzy was not “feeling India”, and an invite to Cologne, Germany for New Years eve with a good friend lured her away from our dirty, rat infested, hot ashram lodgings and I soon found myself on my own in the Ashram.

The “space” of being alone provided me the opportunity to sink into ashram life a bit. I quickly signed up for Seva (selfless service) and started spending my mornings meditating on the beach and chopping vegetables. The Ashram has over 3000 people at any one time, and about 50% are foreigners. I loved getting to meet people from around the globe, and if I haven’t already mentioned this I continue to marvel at the numerous conversations about President Obama and the level of optimism he seems to be instilling on a global level. Even as an avid Obama supporter myself I was surprised. I marvel at how much the world listens to American Politics, and how little I experience Americans as listening to world politics. Without using google (or any other form of “cheating), I wonder how many of you could tell me the name of the Prime Minister of England, or the president of Brazil, much less what their current political issues are? I don’t know why I forget the level of world influence we, as Americans, wield. It is staggering.

My first few days at the ashram were also spent feeling like crap. I got a terrible head cold and bladder infection and ended up utilizing the free medical care that Amma provides to anyone who comes to her hospital. The Doctors were great and they immediately handed me medication and charged me approximately .75 cents. It took a couple days but I slowly started to feel better. I eventually started spending time in the pool at the ashram and soon met Katheryn and her 11 year old son, Orion. We’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since.

*Orion got to hand feed the elephants in the ashram that walk through 2 or 3 times a day

*Christmas eve included a full musical play telling the story of the life of Jesus – fascinating to watch and appreciate while in a Hindu temple.

*There is an eagle who lives in the ashram. After the tsunami he was hand raised by humans and so has little/no fear of people. He is, in the words of Amma, “a naughty eagle”, and we must protect our meals from him. Numerous times he swooped down onto our table and stole an entire breakfast (eggs seem to be his favorite) lunch or dinner, brushed his wings against our heads, and basically terrorized the diners. Amma says he has bad karma and needs to redeem himself. He is, however, gorgeous and looks like a smaller version of the Bald Eagle back home – he is quite remarkable.

*The rats continued to visit our room nightly without much drama, except the night we accidentally closed them INTO our room, instead of out. The screaming is actually quite funny, and it seemed that once we got them out our window we would soon hear screaming down the hall.

*Amma is a powerfully “magic” being and difficult to describe in a bullet point. However, I will try a bit. She is said to be the incarnation and transmission of Divine Love/God/Goddess/Universal Power. She loves all people, all religions, all living beings and all the world. She is not “a religion” in the Western sense (although she is, personally, Hindu), she instead “transmits” Divine Love to each of us who come to her by giving us a hug regardless of our beliefs. This is not just a normal hug, but a “let me pull you deeply into the bossom of the Mother” type of hug. On Christmas morning I was wandering the ashram alone when a Nun dressed in orange (high ranking) grabbed me and ushered me into the temple. I didn't know what for, but thought I’d just trust the moment. A bit later I was again moved to the front of the crowd, and again I just followed the lead, not know what was going on. Suddenly, the crowd gets all wiggly and you can feel the excitement and in walked Amma. We were in the small temple and there were only a very few selected people in the room. Someone whispered “shes going to give a meditation”. I was thrilled, it would be a great honor to be at her feet for meditation. Then another flurry of excitement runs through the room and we are juggled into a straight line and someone whispers, “shes giving unexpected Darshan” (which are the individual hugs, and were NOT scheduled for Christmas day, and usually require waiting in a line of thousands of people). Suddenly I am being asked what language I speak, to wipe my face, and to get on my knees to approach Amma. Within just a few minutes I find myself in her arms, deeply inhaling the scent of roses and hearing her whisper into my ear “my daughter, my daughter, my daughter”. By the time I am ushered away from Amma I am shaking and crying and I have no idea why. I find a seat on the floor as near to her as possible and sit and watch for the next two hours while she hugs hundreds of people who are “day visitors” to the ashram and will not be there for Darshan the following day. She did not want anyone to go without the touch of Divine Love, especially since it was, afterall, Christmas.

I had been considering leaving the ashram the following day, but this event told me to stop being in such a hurry to go nowhere, and to stay at the ashram a bit longer to see what I would find here. The next day I found Katheryn and Orion from the UK.

I watched Amma do the same for the next two days for 16 hours at a time in a MUCH larger auditorium where observers do not get anywhere near her, but instead watch her on stage and on big monitor screens. While she is giving Darshan she does not eat, does not take a break, does not stretch, drink water or move from her seat as long as there are people wanting to “be with Mother”.

Because Amma has an ashram in San Ramon there were many people from the Bay Area, and it was fun/surprising to meet a girl who was born in Ashland. I even met a woman named Tara from Texas, and we have multiple Ashland friends in common. Sometimes I don’t feel so far away.

*Orion turned 12 this week and we stayed at the Ashram so that he could celebrate with Amma. We had a small party in the Western Canteen in the Ashram. Wednesday morning we hit the road for Varkala, deciding we needed a little tourist pampering.

*And now, today is my birthday. We started the day with tea on the cliffs, a two hour yoga class, and now I’ve been sitting in an outdoor internet restaurant all day. I’ve no desire to go anywhere, do anything or make anything happen (with the exception of getting this blog posted). Katheryn and Orion are in the ocean and I’m drinking fresh juice and thinking of home. I woke this morning inexplicably crabby and a bit out of sorts, and am now feeing a bit reminiscent and acknowledging that the trip has been fraught with all sorts of emotions, experiences, learning, doubts, fears, adventures, feelings of both weakness and strength, longings and letting go’s, heat and cold, rain and humidity. I’m both anxious to return home and hug those grandbabies, and to remain present by fully experiencing everything I can (including being crabby). This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m torn about it coming to completion.

I’ve yet to know how the day will end, and the trip isn’t over yet. I’ve almost a week to go and I’ve still got a few plans up my sleeve.

Till next year…….

Friday, December 18, 2009

A week unlike the others

I have spent the bulk of my time here sort of on my own. I come to meals late and leave early, go into Conoor without telling anyone, hike the hills on my own, and work on the Peace Project by myself. It hasn’t been very “typical” of me, but it was exactly right for my heart, soul and spirit.

This week has been a bit different. A group of women (3), all originally from the UK (and who did NOT know each other before arriving at the retreat), and a gentleman from Belgium, became my support group, play group, shop group, yoga group and stay-up-late-and-chat group. We have had a lovely time (in the words of the Brits) and its been a blessing to have had them all show up in my week of final exams, classes and a bits-o-pressure. On Thursday, once our exams were complete, we all dressed up and made dinner a bit of an event. The girls bought party poppers and bindis for us all, and created a regular air of celebration for me. (see pics)

I’ve had a fabulous (albeit uniquely stressful) week. I didn’t receive my final grade until the next day, but I'm excited to say I received “distinction” (the highest grade possible). I was pleased, but I must say not as pleased as everyone else. I just wanted to pass the class!

Their presence here has also helped my yoga immensely. They were having a hard time with the classes (there is actually very little instruction in the “open classes”) and so they have provided me the opportunity to teach more, work with them individually, give a workshop or two, and really get detailed about the poses. I’m definitely leaving here able to do and teach things I never thought I could! (see pics)

In my own sort of individual celebration, after the final written exam, I took myself into Conoor and returned to the neighborhood of children who had asked me to come play with them the first day I visited the city. I promised them I would return , but hadn’t had the opportunity. As I wandered into their neighborhood they were thrilled to see me. The moment I rounded the corner toward their house the “leader of the pack” came running up to me and said, “lady, we thought you would never come back!”

I stayed and played with them for a couple hours. They taught me how to play cricket, they helped me find a temple to visit, I met their mothers, they chatted on about school, family and the new baby on the block. Our favorite entertainment was the “kids camera” I brought with me. I showed them how to use it and then sent them off in all directions to take pictures. They got some really fun shots that I will have turned into printed photographs and deliver to them sometime tomorrow. (See the pic of me with the cute little girl and boy-another little boy took it.) It was great fun.

Among the UK women is a gal named Izzy (see pic, second blonde from the left around the dinner table). Izzy didn’t really know what she was getting herself into when she signed on for three weeks, in the middle of winter, at an Ayurvedic Hospital for a detoxification program. Although she loves the yoga, she has been cold and uncomfortable since she got here. (We had a lady here who kept reminding us all, “this isn’t a spa, it’s a hospital”.) This isn’t exactly Izzy’s idea of vacation (and she’s right, it isn’t vacation). And so, my wish for a travel companion has come true! She has decided to escape and will leave with me on Monday to go to Amma’s Ashram! ( I left the actual retreat center today (Saturday), but don’t leave Connor until Monday. I am working with the girls at the school on Sunday and staying with a family who will feed and take care of me for the last couple days. I thought it was a nice way to wrap up my time in Tamil Nadu.

On Monday Izzy and I will be driving to a nearby (4 hours) town where we will get on a houseboat and travel down the backwaters of Kerela. It is said to be the most beautiful trip in all of India, and to be substantially warmer than it is here on the edge of the Western Gatz (elevation 5000 feet). We plan to spend Christmas at the Ashram, and then Izzy will fly home to England. At that point I’ll still have a bit of time left in India on my own, and I’ll decide what to do next once the time gets here. We’ll see….

Saturday, December 12, 2009


“Back in the day” I would select a word each year to contemplate, study and ponder in an attempt find the deeper understanding and integrate that word into my life. Somewhere around 2000 I chose the word “balance”. After a year of contemplation I found balance to be invaluable, but I also found that if I wasn’t careful balance could also cause me to become stagnate. Nothing big comes in, nothing big goes out, nothing big upsets and nothing brought big joy. “Balance” had the potential to make my life taste like vanilla ice cream. Then I met my friend Thunder who likes to say “can’t be too big!” (which I have translated to “forget balance”).

As part of our Astanga Yoga practice, we are being taught the concept of Pratyahara. This is the practice of controlling our senses in a way that things outside our selves do not disturb us. When we walk out to see that the cold, fog, wind and rain have rolled in we do not recoil or complain, we simply notice. When we walk out and see the bright full moon, stars and dark black night we do not sing praises of joy, we simply notice. A smelly pile of cow dung is to have no more effect on us that the scent of the jasmine strands in the market place (see pic). Pratyahara sorta feels like always staying in balance.

I am not always so good at Pratyahara, and I’m not sure I want to be. While I would love to not be offended by the scent of that pile of dung, I do not wish to loose the breathtaking response I felt on my walk to yoga this morning with the sunrise on the horizon, fog hanging on the distant hills, glowing early morning blue sky and the beautiful sliver of a smiling Cheshire cat type moon. Why would I not allow myself to be captivated by this external happening? Why would I not stop, marvel and admire such a beautiful site?

Because, they say, I will then be more disturbed the next time it is rainy, windy, cold and miserable, or I step in that pile of dung.

And, there are things here that are disturbing me; personalities, the lack of toast, eggs and orange juice, showering in the cold, cold mornings, personalities, missing my family and friends, my feet being so consistently cold, skipping a trip out to dinner because I needed to study, the horrid taste of the medicines, and a few of the personalities (did I already mention that one?).

But in the reverse I am aglow with the beautiful terrain, the varied weather, my bodies reaction to all this yoga, the new food experiments, the people, the way the gardener takes care of the luscious gardens, the way the owners care for me, the girls at the school and the beauty of their ideas of peace, the conversations with the “young bloak from England”, my wildly vivid dreams, Mohan calling me Kimmie Kimmie and Chiggon singing in my ear “I love you Kim, I love you true”, teaching yoga, my grades (so far), my hot water bottled filled with hot mint tea, the gifts I found for Kayla and her family for Christmas, and the rare but spontaneous chats I have with people back home on facebook.

I spoke with Matt this morning and I was venting a bit. He asked “so is the experience good or is it bad?”. I said it has both, and its really hard work and he said, “isn’t anything worth having hard work?”.

Perhaps if I were better at Pratyahara, I wouldn’t respond when it is sometimes difficult, sometimes fabulous and sometimes profound. I would just simply notice (naaa, that doesn’t sound like me).

And besides, I’m too busy being excited and anticipatory and in awe. I am on the daily count down to being done with the yoga course. Another week and, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, “we’re outtttaaaaaa here!”. I’ve talked with lots of people about what I might want to do next, where I might want to go, and where I might find more people interested in the Peace Project. Everyone is pointing me to Kerela. So, I’m creating a bit of an itinerary (not too much, I’m gonna go with the flow), but we’ll see what’s next.

The work with the girls and the school went extremely well. The girls surprisingly understood the concept and what I was asking. (I say surprisingly because I had relatively little time to explain and had anticipated needing to give them more direction). I’m working to put together a little slide show to give you a sampling, but currently I am attaching a spontaneous video that we made (I have a bunch like this one, but this is one of my favorites). I will be spending more time with them next weekend before I leave. Of course the school is hopeful that the ultimate end project will help produce some funds (that is the children’s book I plan to write utilizing the photos that students take). One of the buildings that housed classrooms and more importantly the kitchen has been condemned and they are in serious need of a new building (see pic). We’ll see what we can raise!

It’s been fun too seeing the enthusiasm that the project has created here at the retreat center. The owners got captivated by the project, people gave gifts for me to give to the girls, loaned me their cameras, and nightly dinner conversation was often times about the project. I now have friends in both Egypt and South Africa who would like me to come do the same project in their areas. Now THAT is something to get excited about (forget pratyahara!).

Today’s yoga test is over and done. It was all about anatomy and we had a ridiculous amount to learn in one week. I’m really not too concerned, it will be what it will be (oo, that sounds Pratyaharaish!). The good news is I’m excited to have the next day and a half with no classwork, just a couple yoga classesJ (oops, no pratyahara after all). Instead I think I’ll go to town and see just how Big I can be (thanks Thunder).

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

The more you "see" the more you "love"

This weeks blog title was plagiarized from the back of a bus in a typically average Indian traffic jam. It struck me as the perfect opening to my week.

When last I wrote it was at the end of a long, dark week (Saturday evening). When I woke Sunday morning somehow the world looked very different. I kept thinking of the word “shiny”. Everything looked shiny; the sun, the faces of my retreat compatriots, breakfast, and my reflection in the mirror. I had the image of my girlfriend and her son who recently decided to “polish rocks”. What they didn’t know is that the tiny little rock polisher they got would take weeks and weeks of tumbling with different grades of sand to get the rocks smooth and “shiny”. Every time I visited them over the course of well over a month I could hear the distant rumble of that little rock tumbler working away to create gems. I think I’ve been in a rock polisher. I got all tumbled and rubbed up against tough sandy painful stuff and eventually I smoothed out. This week has been a “gem”!

Sunday a group of us went to the Wild Animal Reserve that was about a 3 hour drive. And while the elephant ride was fabulous (see pics), the road trip there was the real adventure! It turns out that you drop approximately 4000 feet in elevation by going down a road with 36 hairpin turns (the Brits in the car were very proud that the road had been engineered by a British man), with count-down signs on each turn and multiple signs warning of the dangers of the road (see more pics!) We sang the whole way (mostly Abba songs-I hadn’t realized how international they are!) and didn't once scream out in fear (of this I am proud).

While waiting for the elephant we were entertained by the monkeys that were casually hanging out among the humans. They were quite the charming little crew. (more pics) We were especially entertained by the “couple” who sat at our feet and preened each other in the mostly gentle, loving and detailed sort of way. It appeared that to signify when the cleaner was done with the cleaning, he/she would stand up and stick their butt in the face of the newly flea free partner. They were quite the kick.

It was a great start to my shiny week.

And then the week got shinier.

I have been talking with the owners, Contelal and Rekha, (pic) about the Six Billion Paths to Peace project I want to do with children when I am done with my yoga training (and lots of other things like the benefits of arranged marriage and their 42 year long marriage, the fact that this property has been in their family for 6 generations, and why Tamil Nadu is the best state in the entire country). Contelal is a member of the Education Committee for a group of schools in the area and he got so excited about the project that he took me himself to a school he thought would be interested. They were. However, when we looked at dates and such complications arose. The students start their “exams” on the 11th, and then start Winter Break on the 23, giving me little or no time during my break to work with them! However, not to be discouraged, we hatched a plan that I start with the students immediately and complete the project before their exams, which means I get to start working with them while I'm still in yoga school myself! Woooo Weeeeeeee!!! And so, yesterday I skipped a class and spent the afternoon at the school. Unknown to Contelal this is an all girls school (I can’t quite figure out how he didn’t know that, but he swears he didn’t), ages 13/14, and while I had hoped for both boys and girls I could not look into the faces of those (15) young girls and say “no”, so I said “yes” and I’m hatching another plan to get some male involvement (more on that later). (I also trust the perfection of it all, and won’t even try to guess why it’s working out this way).

Yesterday, the girls and I discussed what we think peace is, where we would find it if we went to look for it, and why it is important. Then I gave them each a camera. (pic) They were thrilled. However, school here is very different than at home. Students sit in rows, they walk in line, they wear uniforms, their hair is all braided exactly the same way, they stand when they speak, they never speak out of turn, and even asking them to give me answers took awhile. With the other adults and teachers in the room they were very shy and quiet.

The next step is tomorrow (Sunday). The girls are meeting me at the park with their cameras. We are going out for ice cream and to take photos together. They were extra excited about this part of the week. I made them promise that if they came to the park the requirement is that they must talk, talk, and talk to me about everything. They eagerly agreed, and, of course, I don’t think the offer of ice cream hurt. I’ll be back in class with them next week and will let you know how it goes.

In the meanwhile, I’ve just finished my 4th written test. This one was LONG and I took the entire 2 hours allotted time to complete it. Next week we start anatomy AND teaching our own classes on certain days-I teach multiple classes on Wednesday. I am happily exhausted, a little homesick, and “very much captivated by India” (said with head bobble).

PS all sorts of technical difficulties made it impossible to include photos in this post, so they are in a slide slow one post below - check em out

Slide show for blog above

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Peaks and Valleys of Week Three

When the kids were little we had a family tradition of sharing at dinner time the highs and lows from our day (on occasion we still enact this tradition). Regardless of what sort of day we had (boring, great or horrific) there are always standout moments that could be found that are “higher” or “lower” that the rest. This week my highs and lows feel a bit like the Himalayas (as in drastic) only I’m a “bit” south.

My top highlight was getting myself in to my first ever full backbend/camel, hands and feet on the ground. I’ve been trying to do that for years. The class cheered. (see pic of inside of yoga hall – its quite beautiful with the morning sunrise while we do sun salutations) Outside of that……

I find myself both skipping happily to class, and then dragging myself in such a way that I don’t think I can make the stairs. I whistle one morning, and hang my head under the faucet and hope the day goes away on another. I cried when I finished the novel I brought along and realized I now have no mode of escape, so I have turned to the Beatles and they have pulled me through some of the tougher moments!

I’m sick to DEATH of the ayurvedic medicines I take multiple times throughout the day (see pic – YUCK) and am seriously considering quitting them. One of them is for weight loss and I weigh EXACTLY what I weighed when I arrived! I don’t understand how that is possible when there is no bread, pasta, cheese, ice cream, latte or butter to be found (my primary weaknesses/diet back at home). All we eat is fruit, soups, veggies and a limited amount of rice-made things, and I’ve never physically worked so hard at anything in my life. Seriously! WTF!!!!

Another highlight is the men who serve us our meals and generally take care of us (see pic), Mohan and Chiggon. They do make me smile, and Mohan has taken to calling me Kim Baby. It feels like such a sweet term of endearment and reminds me how we could never use a term like that in the States without feeling “hit on” or somehow offended at a lack of respect-here it just feels loving. They keep me laughing and keep it undercover when I’m feeling my lowest.

Our classes continue to be the source of occasional inspiration and interesting conversation. Suntil, our theory teacher, told us about a 24 hour "peace radio" that is produced by Indian Muslims. This week there was a program specifically on peace within differing cultures and religions, with the Hindu/Muslim relationship being the primary focus. It was said that "religious tolerance" is no longer good enough, it is now time to move into "love and acceptance" instead. The word "tolerance" implies that I will "tolerate" or "put up" with our differences, but that the only real way to have peace is to not "tolerate" one another, but to embrace, love and accept one another. Love that!

One thing I miss here is physical touch. There are no all-night snuggles with Rowan, Sunday dance or friends to snuggle with to fulfill that life-giving requirement. Born out of my desperation for a little physical contact I went to a beauty parlor and asked to have my hair cut just to have someone touch my head and hair. I’m not so sure it was a good choice (no picture included), but it was a fun experience. It was immediately evident that the only thing that made the lady in the shop a hairstylist was the fact that she had scissors. Her name was Privi (?) and insisted on parting my hair down the middle and flattening it to my head as is the popular look for India woman, but I looked ridiculous! When I, instead, wet my hair, turned my head upside down, moved the part to the side and fluffed it as big and curly as it would get all the women in the parlor laughed hysterically. There was little/no English in the room, but there was a definite understanding of woman-speak. They invited me back (I think) for a facial next week, I think I’ll take them up on that.

On another down note, yesterday (Friday) was my hardest day yet. I began the day not feeling my best with overwhelming emotions seeming to come out of nowhere (not to mention feeling pre-menstrual). Ganesh, our yoga teacher, says tears are toxins leaving our body and that I should go cry more.

Our yogic assignment for the morning was a purification kriya called Dhouti or Vamana, which is purification through vomiting! I was near tears and shaking when I arrived at the class, towel in hand as instructed (I really hate vomiting!). Our teacher began by demonstrating for us. It was when he looked up at us, mid-vomit, with eyes red and tearing, mucous and water running from his nose and mouth, and in a strained mid-vomit Indian accent said, “this is very good, it clears mucous from nose and chest, empties body of impurities” that my real panic began. We were then given our own chairs, buckets and pots of warm salt water (for chugging) and required to do the same, all together. Somewhere mid-vomit, while trembling from head to toe and trying not to cry for fear I might hit hysteria, one of my more verbose class mates began to chatter to no one in particular about “feeling complete” with his vomit which inspired me to yell, “SHUT UP!”. (I was proud of myself for leaving out my favorite expletive) I didn't think much about it in the moment, I only realized later it would require an apology. What I didn’t expect was the drama/trauma it would cause. He was, later, quite angry, but that's an entirely different story.

As we exited the class our instructor said, “dhouti also known to cause emotion to leave body, there may be much crying.” This, of course, caused me to burst into tears, I didn’t stop till this morning. After a full day of sobbing, a magical God-filled solo teary-eyed hike to the top of a mountain, an adrenaline rush when cornered, alone, by a pack of dogs and rescued by children and a school bus, a rather uncomfortable “clearing” between my classmate and I, and a good nights sleep (where I dreamed all night of Lisa, Lauren and our menstrual cycles!) things seems to be smoothed out between us, and my tears aren’t quite on the surface like they were. Hopefully no one will try and console me too soon or I’m sure to be in tears again. Is it possible there could be more toxins trying to escape? (Joy, don’t answer that).

PS I don't know why, but today the internet wont let me post photos - I'll try and add them later.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week Two Yoga Boot Camp

The routine of it all seems to be settling in. The schedule is quite full with my morning medicine delivered to my room at 6:00 a.m. yoga at 6:30, theory class at 7:30, breakfast at 8:30, more theory class at 10:00, more yoga at 12:30, lunch at 1:00, more yoga at 3:00, theory class at 4:30, meditation at 5:30 and dinner at 7:00. By the time dinner is over I collapse into bed to do it again tomorrow. (yoga hall is picture to the left) Our two hour written tests are on Saturdays. I’m becoming a bit more comfortable with the constant dull ache we yoga students seem to be experiencing.

Our “day off” is Sunday, with only one yoga/meditation class at 7:00 a.m. which is usually taught by the students. I taught my first class yesterday!! I loved it. It was a combination yoga/meditation class, and because it was Sunday we meditated on our 3rd Charkra (power), located directly above your navel. I thought to myself, "oh my god, I'm sitting on a mountain top in India facilitating navel contemplation". Sounded a bit like a sit com:) I can think of a few punch lines to THAT one!

The clients here at the retreat center with me come from all over the globe, and we have new people coming and going daily. Some people come here for courses (like me) and others are here as patients for detoxification or rejuvenation programs with the Ayurvedic Doctors. Patients usually attend the yoga and meditation classes with the students, and we all have our meals together, so it's a nice blend. Currently the countries represented here are Russia, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Ireland, UK, Thailand, Pakistan, Greece, Egypt, Italy, two others from the US (Phoenix, Arizona and Monterey, California), and of course India. Ages range from 20 to late 60’s. (We had a mother and her 1 year old baby boy here for 2 days, but they decided not to stay).

While the yoga course is basically what I expected, I am surprised at the amount of Sanskrit we are required to learn. It is the study of this very strange language that leaves me feeling constantly under prepared and nervous about the Saturday tests. The good news is that I seem to have a pretty good understanding of the physical part of our training.

As for the climate, now that the cyclone has passed we seem to be moving into a bit of a pattern that includes warm sunshine in the mornings and afternoon fog and occasional rain. The outcome is beautiful green surroundings, lots and lots of noisy birds and squirrels, and the wonderful smell of earth and warmth. The locals insist this is not normal as the rainy season is over and it should now just be cool.

There is a large house next to our yoga classroom that is having a retaining wall built by hand. There are about 10 men and women (two of which appear to be about 8 months pregnant) digging out the wall and carrying the dirt away in bowls on their heads. They chatter and clank and laugh all day long. It is a most wonderful backdrop of sound as we practice, meditate and attempt to “join with supreme” through the poses, breath and focused concentration. I have never experienced anything quite like this; the peacefulness is profound.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I think I may finally be arriving here in India. While my body touched down on Indian soil last Saturday, this last week has been rather hazy. I landed in Coimbatore at the very beginning of a violent storm caused by a cyclone off the Bay of Bengal (or so I have been unofficially told). The drive from the airport was typically Indian (which is already a lot like “Toads Wild Ride” at Disneyland without the safety requirements) and with the addition of downed trees and mud slides along the way. However, the “real” storm didn’t start until later that night with howling winds and torrential rains that lasted for 4 days. We had had no electricity, sporadic water (cold only) and a deep, penetrating wet that made me feel as though I’d never be dry again. The sun finally peeked out on Thursday and we ventured out of the retreat center toward the town of Conoor, which is about a 15 minute tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) ride from the retreat center. We were astonished at the damage that the surrounding villages experienced and realized that our retreat center is in a miraculously sheltered little piece of the mountain that kept us from any damage, but the villagers lost homes, and it is said there were between 300-400 deaths. We suddenly stopped complaining about the lack of electricity or internet!

The yoga course is incredible, complex and very detailed. We had our first of 6 written exams today. Each exam is 2 hours long, and while yoga is intended to not be competitive, our grades are basically shared with the whole retreat center and so the silent competition is alive and well!

I am also participating in a six week Ayurvedic detox designed specifically for me. Between the extreme amount of yoga, meditation and spiritual exploration classes and the effects of the detox, I’m a bit wobbly, but glad to be here.

Today started out warm and sunny, so we again ventured into Conoor. This time we wandered into the back alleys of town, and, as is usual in India, attracted groups of children (it sometimes feel a bit like “monkeys on parade” and I’m the lead monkey – I think it's the blonde hair). I love visiting with them, asking their names, answering their questions and taking their pictures and then showing them. One little group of children followed me for awhile visiting, chatting, giggling, and tentatively trying to hold my hand. When I asked where they lived they pointed to a large compound like yard area that had some sort of government signage. They explained that their homes had collapsed in the rain, and they were staying in the yard, they then asked if I would take their picture again. Their interminable joy is contagious।

It started to slightly rain on our way back, and now the rain, cold, winds, lack of electricity and no hot water is back, and I am sitting in my dimly lit room watching the clouds in the trees and listening to the rain on the roof and wearing layers of clothing trying to keep warm. And, although it is officially the beginning of winter here, the locals are saying this is unlike anything they have ever seen, and the measurements of the last storm break all records. I don’t know whats “normal”, but it certainly is nothing like my last visit to India.