I returned from India last week dazed and depressed and feeling like I had been deposited onto a different planet. The fact that the temperature in Chicago was literally 60 degrees colder than what I had experienced for almost three months in South India did not help either. But here I am for better or for worse.
My trip was a mixed bag of love and hate, positive and negative, joy and sadness, and bittersweetness. Like life. The group trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and yoga retreat in Varkala was a life training, that’s for sure. Let’s just say: I learned a lot about egos with a capital E and how to deal with them.
The majority of the time it was wonderful (how could it not be when I am in my soul’s home?) and most of the first timers to India were very happy, falling in love with Ma India as I did 8 years ago. However, for my next retreat — YES, I AM CRAZY ENOUGH TO PLAN TWO YOGA RETREATS FOR 2014! — there will be ground rules in place like, “accept what is offered to you” and “this isn’t about you, it’s about the GROUP.” Behavior that I deem inappropriate and not conducive to harmonious group dynamics will not be tolerated and people will be asked to leave, no refunds. Just sayin’.
Amanda the Yogachicky has been writing fabulous posts about the group trip and her first time in India. We’ve been online friends for a long time and we finally met in Chennai which she chronicled here. You can read about our week at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram here.
Leaving India gets harder and harder for me each time. My friends there don’t want me to leave and tell me they love me. One friend hooked me up with a lawyer whom I spoke to about starting a business in India. No matter where I am whether it’s a big city like Chennai or a bigger city like Mumbai (that I experienced for the first time and had a wonderful time thanks to another online friend — read Sharell’s story on the amazing slum tour we took) or walking the beach in Varkala, a feeling that suddenly makes me weep passes through me like an electric wave. It is tangible and visceral, that feeling of being totally in the flow, how what I am doing in that moment feels so natural and perfect and right, much more so than when I am back living where I live. The feeling of being dropped onto a different planet never hits me when I land in India only upon my return.
One of the participants sent me this quote from Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (you can change the pronoun and gender):
” I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have know from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known.
Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.”
I started teaching in Varkala. My style of yoga is eclectic and I taught so that people gradually got into Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Style yoga as I interpret it. I know I took two people out of their comfort zone with it and with yin yoga. The bottom line: I don’t know what the hell type of yoga I teach. I put no name to it other than “mindful.” I don’t know how to market my style to draw people and we all know that yoga nowadays is all about the marketing. I guess my students here who’ve been with me since almost Day 1 of my teaching can answer my question because I sure as hell can’t. I don’t want to be put inside a yoga box because as a friend told me this morning, I was put on earth to shake things up. So if you dig what I teach, cool; if not, oh well.
In spite of having some less than stellar moments during the group trip, I love showing people my India (not your India, not his India, not her India, but my India.) A friend tells me that he thinks I am meant to be a Westerner’s guide to India (this friend has agreed to co-teach the next two week retreat in Varkala so stay tuned for those details!) The prospect of starting a business in India makes ideas swirl in my brain, one of which is running a guesthouse where I can offer yoga classes and energy healing. We shall see. Goddess willing.
This is what one person in the group had to say:
“If Lady Luck or good fortune or the grace of god showers you with her serene and beguiling smile a time or two, you may pause in appreciation and recognition that being alive can be, well, pretty darn good. And when that invisible hand so softly and gently guides you to a place beyond which you have only allowed yourself to imagine, you may pinch yourself again and again to be sure you’re not dreaming.
It wasn’t a dream. It was, in fact, two plus weeks of the most in-your-face, raw, sensual, noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, life affirming, life changing, drama-producing, tranquility-inducing living that you might ever ask for. Oh, and loving and lovely, too. It was my first visit to India. All put together by Linda Karl, our guide, interpreter, arranger, teacher and very passionate Indiaphile.
What started with very pedestrian concerns about jet lag and more heartfelt concerns about being half a world away from my family, was immediately seized by Mother India and transformed into an experience that was so far beyond my expectations that I’ll spend the rest of my life sorting it out.
Yes, this was a yoga study trip that included a week with some of the most accomplished teachers you could hope for at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandarim in Chennai. We practiced asana and pranayama, learned about Patanjali’s Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, meditated and, for some of us, used our pitch-challenged voices to bring sound to Vedic chanting. Every day was full and complete and that doesn’t include the walk to KYM on streets filled with noises, smells, sights and sounds that invaded every sensory pore, every moment, unfiltered. It was double Red Bull India.
The second week at Varkala Beach was India light – every bit as real but allowing you to catch your breath. A tropical forest of coconut palms, banana and jack fruit trees and other forms of greenery not found in more familiar climes were set high on a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea with small shops selling everything Indian and restaurants with the freshest catches of the day and cold Kingfishers to wash it all down. Here each day started with two hours of Linda’s interpretation of Freedom style yoga. The remainder of most days was unplanned and thus afforded time to ease into conversations with the other seven members of our group. For me, this is when the rose came into full bloom. The combination of intense yoga study and practice in a country that gave no quarter to a first time Westerner left me exposed. And into this opening walked seven people who shared some of their most intimate joys and hurts. That’s when I knew this was and will forever be an experience of a lifetime.
Since returning home I have savored innumerable moments and tossed and turned many thoughts. For anyone so inclined, ever how slightly, to consider making his or her own visit to India, allow Linda be your guide. Timshel.”
It’s the most beautiful thing a student can say about the experience a teacher offers them.