Donna Farhi on yoga

My blogging time here is growing shorter. Thirty-three more days and I step on the plane for a yoga adventure of a lifetime (and yes, this woman of a certain age still feels blessed to be able to do this.)

I’m starting out in Chennai, my second home, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Taught by Desikachar’s senior teachers, I will have four private classes a day in meditation, pranayama, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and vedic chanting (which will be my favorite class to attend.) I will also have a yoga therapy consultation and a yoga therapy program designed for me — I will then do two asana classes with a KYM therapist. For me this is yoga heaven, and of course, I will spend time with the friends I made on my first trip to Chennai.

I am spending the least amount of time in Chennai this trip. I usually stay a month, but this time I will only be there for two weeks when my friend meets me and we fly to Kolkata….my first time outside of South India.

However, before she arrives I am spending a weekend at the holy city of Thiruvannaamalai to climb the holy hill Arunachala and visit once again (I was there in 2006) the ashram of the great Advaita Vedanta sage Ramana Maharshi. He said, “enquiry in the form ‘Who am I’ alone is the principal means. To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than self-enquiry. If controlled by other means, mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again.” He considered his own guru to be the Self, in the form of the sacred mountain Arunachala.

I am blessed to be able to climb the holy hill.

I am beginning to turn inward more and more the closer I get to leaving, a deep knowing is coming to fruition. After Arunachala, I will be blessed with Kali shakti in Kolkata at her temples and visit the Temple of the 64 Yoginis in Bhubaneswar.

Finally at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar I will dip my toes in the Ganges on MahaShivaratri and witness the tantric yoga rituals of the ultimate yogis. Me and 50 million of my closest friends.

After India, even more amazing to me is that I WILL TEACH YOGA IN AFRICA. I am bringing a style of yoga (yin) to yogis who have never experienced it before. It amazes and overwhelms me. My weekend is sold out, the spaces bought by the small yoga community of Tanzania, and I am blessed to do this. Paul Grilley told me “YOU GO, GIRL!” YES!

Sounds like a good idea for a movie…another Enlighten Up!, only better.

So with my death and rebirth looming before me in India (as has been told to me for more than a few years by various spiritual adepts), I will be blogging less and less. There will be another guest blogger in the near future, one of my college yogis who, I am happy to say, has totally drunk the yoga kool-aid. She will be writing about the true purpose of yoga: healing and transformation — how yoga has helped with her ulcerative colitis.

In my blogging laziness I give you a conversation with Donna Farhi, Svasti’s guest posts being good segues into her conversation about yoga. Years ago I did a workshop with Farhi and she was another teacher that made a lightbulb go off over my head when I was a newbie teacher. Everything she said made sense to me. Here is an excerpt:


Q: How do you differentiate between “good” and “bad” yoga?

Donna Farhi: Good yoga cultivates a deep sense of self-acceptance and tolerance for others. When I witness someone practicing and living yoga well, they have developed clear perception, concentration, and the skill to respond to any situation with a presence of mind. In my yoga classes that means that the form of the postures is not the goal – you can be as stiff as an ironing board and much less flexible than your compadres in a yoga class and still be practicing beautiful yoga if your practice is fostering that respect and care for yourself.

In this sense the greater and greater emphasis on the form of postures in the West has been a two edged sword. The refinement has allowed us to make the postures much more beneficial, but Westerners are so caught up in external image and the meaning they attribute to those images, that for many Westerners good yoga means touching their toes. The trend in the U.S. in the last ten years has been to judge people’s yoga almost purely from their physical adeptness. We attribute some kind of spiritually advanced state to someone who can put their feet on the back of their head. That is we’ve started to mistake the map for the territory. Quite often this supposedly good yoga is fostering a sense of superiority and judgment towards others who practice any other form of yoga. To me, any yoga that fosters those qualities is bad yoga.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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Ma India, take me home

As I’ve mentioned time and again on this blog, ever since I returned from my first trip to India in 2005 there has never been a day that I do not think of India. it can be a child’s face that flashes through my mind, or something I learned in my yoga classes there, or a smell that makes me remember where I was when I first smelled that smell. a soap or a spice will bring me back. even the clothes that I bought in India still smell “like India.” I brought back a supply of my favorite shampoo and sometimes I sit on my bathroom floor, open up a bottle and sniff…sometimes I cry on my bathroom floor.

I came across the blog of a professional photographer — the photographs of India and Indians are beautiful, so I’ve posted this video he took in Chennai in 2006. I’ve been to Chennai three times and I’ve never visited Marina Beach. I’ve been on the beach in Pondicherry and Rameswaram but never Chennai….next time.

I want to, need to, return to India so badly. now that I am going through some rough emotional times I think even more about being in India, maybe for 6 months out of the year. India is the only place that heals my soul. an Indian friend told me that my heart is calling me to India because I am missing something here that I need very badly.

a regular reader of this blog and his wife will study yoga at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram for one month later this year and then travel to my favorite temple towns. email discussions of their itinerary make my heart ache — I was in Tamil Nadu in January and I can still feel the temple ground beneath my bare feet, the sun on my bare arms, the smell of jasmine in my hair, and the touch of shakti all around me as I sat in temples. even though I returned from India this year sicker than a mangy Indian street dog, I was home less than a week when I started dreaming those Tamil Nadu dreams.

I want to go home. jai Kali ma, take me home.



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on the road again

adios, y’all.

this is my last post for 2007. no blogging for almost a month. the new year will dawn for me in chennai, india.

I started this blog in 2005 before my first trip to India. I had been around the sun over 50 times and had never been overseas in my life. I went to India alone, not knowing what to expect but having an open mind to everything. I wanted to chronicle my yoga studies and my travels but as it turned out, it took a long time for my india experiences to marinate me. I returned to india only 6 months later for another training and more travels.

so now this is my third trip for more yoga and more travels to different cities, even to another sea. now people think I’m the well-seasoned india traveler and they tell me they want to go to india with me. a former yoga student of mine and his girlfriend are meeting me there and neither one have ever been to india. frankly, I’m not so sure how the girlfriend is going to handle india, but they both know that I won’t hold anyone’s hand and baby them. I told them that they needed to be independent travelers and go with the flow.

no one babied me in 2005, but that’s the way it’s been most of my life anyway. So far I’ve stood up to what life has thrown at me on my own strengths, so a 17 hour train ride through the Indian countryside doesn’t phase me too much. I like the people I will be with, but I can’t wait to be alone and traveling. as jerry jeff walker sings, fast freights make me wonder and that full moon still drives me wild.

they say that once you’ve been to india you are never the same. india either hardens your heart or opens you up completely. either way, you never look at life, especially your own life, the same way again once you get back. people always ask me about the culture shock of india…my culture shock is when I come back to the US of A.

I know I will have the same experience as I did last year – as I laid in bed tossing and turning in the very early morning when I arrived, I realized what india means to me. it is yin and yang, the Tao, and as I thought about Ma India, I literally felt both halves melting into One, the One that makes me whole.

jai bhagwan

soon

Crows
cows
painted elephants
starving pups that won’t live the week

begging children
laughing children
in just pressed clothes
run to touch you
giggling girls and
one pen boys

mango eaters
stone cutters
coconut choppers
bucket sellers
tout screamers

traffic
chaos
walk
run
jump out of the way
of the family on the scooter
baby on the gas tank

beggars with one eye
beggars with no legs
women dressed in gold
and rainbow saris
gliding in the streets
unbroken
straight
cool

dust
dirt
sweat
mixed with jasmine flowers
scenting my hair

music of the people
for the people
cars honk all day
every day
every night
laughing
crying
spitting
fighting
chanting
om kali ma
om muruga
temple music wakes me
temple music to sleep by

healing
yoga
ayurveda
pure yoga
from the heart
this is the heart
of yoga

birth
life
death
on the streets
go with the flow
or you go crazy
I’ve seen the
dead men walking

my india
ma india
home

the official transportation of this blog

I always give credit where credit is due so I will admit that I stole this post from Fran.

She’s right when she says that in the talk shows’ credits they always have “transportation for guests provided by Fast Eddie’s Limo Service…” or someone like that.

So I decided the official transportation of Linda’s Yoga Journey is the always lovely AUTORICKSHAW!

Exactly two months from today I will be back home in Ma India in Chennai which is in Tamil Nadu in South India. One of the things I love about Chennai is the traffic — yes, really! — because I’ve realized that it operates on Chaos Theory. It took me about two days during my first trip to figure out how the chicken crosses an Indian road — basically you walk into it, because if you hesitate, you’ll really screw things up. Or you sneak into a crowd of people on a street corner and walk with them in relative safety in one fast moving glob of humanity, the idea being that if you’re surrounded by people, chances are someone else will get hit by a bus. And if you are a really lucky, the bus will stop. Hopefully not on top of you.

The video below was shot in Hyderabad, but it’s close enough to show you what Chennai’s traffic is like. Actually it has less traffic than on a typical Chennai street. Watch it and you’ll see lots of ‘ricks…THE OFFICIAL TRANSPORT OF LINDA’S YOGA JOURNEY!

I’ve only been in one minor accident while riding in a ‘rick, have run out of petrol once, and have only seen a few roll over, so don’t worry — we’ll get you where you want to go…eventually. Just sit back and relax!


view from an autorickshaw, Chennai, 2005

100 days

One hundred more days and I lose myself in Ma India for the third time. These pictures are only three out of the 500+ pictures I took during my first two trips…

the vibrant colors of flowers from a flower seller’s cart in Pondicherry…

the joy of a man dropping flowers onto another man in a flower warehouse in Chennai…

and finally the children…children that have nothing compared to many American children, yet they have everything that is important…

These are some of the images that are burned into my mind ever since I returned from my first trip in 2005. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about Ma India, the good and the bad and the ugly. Some days I wake up thinking about her, and some nights I go to sleep thinking about her. I can’t explain it, it’s just the way it is. For those of you who have been to India, and love it as I do, you know exactly what I’m talking about, there is no need for explanation. As Louis Armstrong said about jazz, “if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.”

I long for that very early morning in Chennai at the end of December when I take my first step outside the airport, and hesitate, stopping to drink everything in with all my senses, the sights, the sounds, and yes, even the smell of South India — a damp, cloying smell mixed with a bit of green and smoke and diesel fuel that attaches to my skin like wet cloth — and then step into my freedom.

Yes, freedom, because I feel free and light in India. I’ve just read the book Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney and she describes for me how I feel when I go to India, a solo woman traveler of a certain age…

I was alone, finally, with no one to protect me. I wanted to sing for happiness — a rare, raw, immediate sort of happiness that was directly related to my physical situation, to my surroundings, to independence, and to solitude. The happiness I felt that morning had nothing to do with the future or the past, with abstractions or with my relationships to other people. It was the happiness of entering into something new, of taking the moments simply for what they were, of motion, of freedom, and of free will. I loved not knowing what would happen next, loved that no one here knew me. I felt coordinated and strong, and the world seemed huge and vibrant. It was a relief to be alone…

My happiness was a feeling of physical lightness, of weightlessness, like drifting on air…

To prepare for her trip up the Nile, Mahoney read the Egypt travel journals of Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale. She writes that she recognized in Flaubert’s notes (written about 1850) the same kind of happiness she felt. She quotes Flaubert as he witnesses the Nile:

I felt a surge of solemn happiness that reached out towards what I was seeing and I thanked God in my heart for having made me capable of such joy; I felt fortunate at the thought, and yet it seemed to me that I was thinking about nothing: it was a sensuous pleasure that pervaded my entire being.

Mahoney quotes Florence Nightingale’s reaction to a Nile sunrise:

It looks. . .so transparent and pure, that one really believes one’s self looking into a heaven beyond, and feels a little shy of penetrating into the mysteries of God’s throne…

This is the sunset taken from the top of a temple in Rameswaram and just beyond the horizon is Sri Lanka. That night, as I stood at the top of that temple and stared into the limitless expanse of ocean, I began to cry as I imagined the monkey god Hanuman leaping from rock to rock to rescue Sita. Like Flaubert, I also thanked God. . .and Buddha and Shiva and Kali and Tara that I was “capable of such joy.” Such profound joy and pleasure that it indeed pervaded my entire being.

Finally Mahoney describes Flaubert and Nightingale as neither having “any desire to fit the tediously cliched expectations that society had slated for them”; that they both “prized solitude”; and both traveled Egypt during periods of “considerable personal uncertainty and self-doubt”, agonizing “over how they would use their talents and answer their natural impulses.”

I am a woman of a certain age who travels alone, relishing my aloneness. After traveling around the sun over 50 times, India was the first country overseas that I visited and it will be my last. I also do not suffer tediously cliched expectations gladly.

Ma India, I’m coming home.

good blogs and good laughs

Taking a break from writing about serious things, I want to highlight some good stuff I’ve read lately:

Flower Girl’s Rural India
Flower Girl’s blog is “all about Indian culture and customs, religion and rituals”. Her latest post is about the boat races in Kerala. Kerala is a state in India that’s on the Arabian Sea completely on the opposite side of south India from where I always go, and where I will spend 5 days in January doing yoga, getting ayurvedic massages, and hopefully ride an elephant!

Flower Girl also has her other blogs linked to this one, one of which is a blog with all types of Indian food recipes, some of which are to die for!

India Outside My Window is all about “the colors, sights, and sounds of South India.” What is nice about this blog is that there are sound clips where you can listen to the sounds of India. The one clip I listened to was the train — I closed my eyes and listened and it took me back to my train ride from Rameswaram to Chennai, when we stopped in the stations and I heard the chai and food vendors calling out what they had for sale.

Shirley Two Feathers’ blog Mandala Madness is “an eclectic mixture of mandala art, poetry, and inspirational quotes to expand, enrich, and enliven your experience in the now moment.”

Images like this one can be downloaded to use as your computer’s wallpaper and you can also buy mandala prints.

I’ve written before about Scott Carney’s blog “Trailing Technology” (see blog links in the sidebar) and his latest post is about singing. In that post you’ll find this link to his story on NPR radio: A culture of song in India’s Tamil Nadu.

Scott says, “I love the radio in Chennai. When I’m driving around the city I always tune into FM rainbow and listen to a daily game show called Aantakshri. The game is really simple. One caller starts singing a few bars of a song. They stop and then repeat the last sound from the last line of the song. The second caller starts singing some other song that starts with that last sound. It’s sort of like musical chairs, but with singing.”

It’s very true that if you stop and listen hard enough, you’ll hear someone’s voice singing somewhere amongst the cacophony of the dogs barking, the car horns blaring, and the temple music on the Chennai streets.

Home is where the heart is and my heart is in India.

If you like MadTV watch this episode . Michael McDonald’s character, the rotund and always hilarious, Marvin Tikva, takes a yoga class. I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair.

For those of you who know The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, this video needs no explanation. Jamie plays a substitute yoga teacher and most of the students in the class get “X-ed” — watch the expressions on the students’ faces!

Finally, scroll all the way to the bottom of this blog and you’ll see my Meez 3D ID. It’s not animated here, but if you want your own little animated version of you — and who wouldn’t? — click on the link and get your own. It’s free and enter my code “lindias” so we both can get some “coinz”.

Enjoy!

leaving rameswaram




March 2006

I returned to my hotel after the bucket ceremony and lounged around for a few hours thinking about my past three days in Rameswaram. I sat on my little balcony staring out into the ocean wishing that I did not have to leave this place. Of course I was not under any delusion that if Fate decreed that I stay here that Rameswaram would be peaches and cream. I’m sure it would be just like when you meet a man and have a wild weekend love affair only to discover when you do try to make it work that he really hates your cats and he farts all night. I packed my bag.

Kannen returned in plenty of time to take me to the train station. I had to pay him for his three days of being my guide. When we met he told me that I should pay him what I think he’s worth, that it was totally up to me, he never asked for any money during our time together.

When he arrived he said, “Kannen wants to talk to you,” referring to himself in the third person, which I thought was quaint. He came into my room without asking. I thought that was rather bold and I left the door open as I stood close to it. He sat down on my bed. I thought that was even bolder remembering again what I had been told about South Indian culture and men. “What do you think of Kannen?,” he asked. I thought I should be careful in what I say, my guard was up. I told him that I thought he was a good and kind man, and also a quietly spiritual one. He began to tell me how he felt a connection to me these past few days, that he knows I am a spiritual woman. But then he told me that his wife did not understand him and that they always fight, that he has his life and she has hers. I groaned inwardly and I bit my lips to keep from smiling. Are men truly the same all over the world?!? Is there a Universal Male Playbook that contains these lines?

I looked at him and slowly shook my head. “You are married, and so am I,” I said very seriously. Then I said something I thought he would understand even more…”and I have a dear friend. Understand? ‘dear friend?’,” and I pointed to my heart. “He is always in here.” Kannen nodded that he understood.

We walked out and he asked me for $40. This was over and above the rupees I had given him for his guide services. I raised an eyebrow, squinted, and looked sideways at him. Then he asked me if I would buy him a cellphone when I got back home and send it to him. One would think that this conversation immediately after telling me that I’m a spiritual woman would infuriate me, but it didn’t. I actually thought it was hilarious and tried very hard to keep from laughing. For some reason it did not phase me at all.

I explained to him that there was no way I was going to buy him a cellphone and send it to him when he lives in a country where even the Shiva babas own cellphones. I told him that Indian cellphones are much cheaper than American ones. However, I did break down and give him an extra $20 in American money. His guide services were definitely worth it, and besides….his wife didn’t understand him, how could I refuse?

I gave him a bandana covered with OM symbols that was still wet from the temple water. I told him he could remember me by it. He put it in his shirt pocket telling me it would keep me close to his heart. Quaint. A smooth operator.

We said goodbye at the train station and he told me that when (not if) I return to Rameswaram, he will always be there to help me, to “please call Kannen.” Of course I will. How can I not?

I sat in non-air-conditioned First Class for my 17 hour train ride back to Chennai. My compartment mate was a businessman going home to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Compared to my first compartment mates on the train to Madurai which was a long two weeks ago, this man was very polite and talkative, and spoke perfect English. We talked about yoga and meditation, about Gandhi, and the politics in India. He told me that there are many Indians who hate Gandhi and this surprised me very much.

I loved the train ride because since it was not air-conditioned, there was no window glass, the windows had bars across them. In every station we came to along the way I heard the cries of the chai merchants or food sellers and they would hand me my purchases through the window. A magazine seller walked by and seeing the feringhee woman, he pushed English magazines through the window at me, telling me to “buy, madam, buy! Look! English!” I kept telling him “no” in Tamil as the train pulled away.

We pulled into Chennai at about 8 am and my compartment mate made sure that I knew where I was going. I did, and Suresh picked me up in his rickshaw to drive me back to my hotel. Although I loved my travels, I had missed the cacophony that was Chennai. I spent the next two days chillin’ in Chennai, and did a day trip to Tiruvannamalai, another famous temple town.

My month in India was finally over and I cried the night I had to leave. But I knew I would be back. I can not stay away from My India.

The Banyan

The Banyan

my visit to The Banyan

Ideas are percolating to start my own line of yoga clothes…renewable resources regarding the cloth, fair trade, empowering women, giving back…one day I know this will happen…just as The Banyan started as a seed and grew into a beautiful tree….

I vow that a percentage of my sales will go to The Banyan…please watch this video and listen with your heart…these are the faces of your sisters and mothers and daughters and grandmothers…they are us.

People ask me why I would want to help people outside the United States when there are so many needy people here. That is very true, there are thousands (probably millions) of people who need help in the United States. Many Native Americans live in what are considered third-world conditions which is why I donate to Native American causes. But the difference is that there are hundreds if not thousands of social service agencies in the United States, many of which receive federal funds. That concept is unheard of in places like India or Africa or any other place in the world where people literally earn $1 a day or who are still sold into a type of slavery — please visit the website Global March Against Child Labor. You can also check out 50 Million Missing: An International Campaign or my post about the campaign.

Poor Americans have opportunities that many people in the rest of the world do not have — scholarships or grants to go to college, small business loans to start their own businesses, among other things. It may be paltry but there is also public aid and food stamps, two things that I did not hesitate to take. I ate plenty of government cheese back in the day.

Despite the fact that the United States does not have any form of national health care, I would rather live in poverty in America than anywhere else in the world.

That’s why.

cool countdown to India

As you can see over at the sidebar, I’ve installed a countdown clock — my countdown for my third trip to India in days, hours, minutes, and seconds! But who’s counting?…:)

I booked my flight today — leave for Chennai in December and will spend most of January in 2008 in Tamil Nadu. First week, yoga school in Chennai for private lessons, then travel by train to Thanjavur area and Kerala. This time definitely one and maybe two of my yoga students will come with me, taking the classes with me. I’ve also been invited to a wedding in Chennai where I will wear a sari! I’ve always wanted to see how I would look in a beautiful sari…

AAARGH! I haven’t even finished blogging about my SECOND trip!

The wave of feeling that I felt when I clicked “book flight” on the Lufthansa website could only be described as “I’m going home…”

Also in the sidebar is a little award graphic announcing that this blog has been selected as Coolpick.com’s Cool Site of the Day! Coolpick says that every day they pick “one extremely high cool factor web site worthy of your esteemed clickage” so that’s me!

Woo-hoo! I’m cool in cyberspace! And at my age!

shanti!