the B.I.T.C.H. is back

B = Brave
I = Intelligent
T = Tenacious
C = Creative
H = Honest

“Embracing your inner bitch…means that you’re being strong and honest with yourself and those around you, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Thanks to Tabatha for that!

Yeah, you heard me. I’m back. But on a very limited basis.

Since I stopped writing in February I can’t tell you how many readers left comments on Facebook or wrote to me asking me to start writing again — or to write for their online yoga mags. It seriously overwhelmed me. Goddess bless you all!

I’ve decided to reopen this blog to post about SPECIAL TOPICS such as my upcoming trainings in teaching yoga to trauma survivors, a weekend with Gary Kraftsow, a week with Mark Whitwell, and a weekend with Erich Schiffman.

We’ll see how it goes, but I’m no longer into the blah blah blah of the modern yoga scene. It bores me.

The ayurveda teacher in my last training at the Mandiram said that a yogi is one whose prana is contained and doesn’t let it leak out with unnecessary blah blah blah (among other things.) Hence, “shut up and do your practice.” So no more snaps of my tats. Hey, I SAID TATS!

Others can write about the usual yoga suspects. Like Lululemon pants, how yoga makes you sexy, or a celebrity doing yoga on the beach. Whatever.

I remember what Kausthub Desikachar told us: if we do not teach others what we have learned we are nothing more than thieves.

I’m no thief. I’m a B.I.T.C.H.

Stay tuned.

 

top 50 yoga blogs

The Physical Therapy Assistant Schools have named their Top 50 Yoga Blogs for a Healthy Mind and Body. They divide the list into categories such as “Yoga Wisdom: Live the Life, Not Just the Lifestyle”; “Yoga Practice Blogs: Learn the Moves That Will Give You A Healthier Body and Mind”; “Understanding Yoga: Wondering What the Hype is All About?”; and “Yoga Stories and News.” This blog was named to the first category about living the life and not just the lifestyle: “Go with Linda on her journeys to India to study yoga and maintain mindfulness. Don’t expect any fluffy mumbo-jumbo – Linda is insightful, but frank.”

Tee-hee. “Insightful, but frank.” I like that because I’ve been called worse.

“Don’t expect any fluffy mumbo-jumbo.” Yeah, the physical therapists nailed it — if you’re looking for some peace-love-dove-connect-to-your-inner-butterfly yogaspeak, fahgeddaboutit. I’m an acquired yoga taste just like masala spice and South Indian sambar.

Other yoga blogs mentioned were Roseanne’s, Grace’s, and Brenda’s, to name a few, but no mention of Dork, who was named to this list, and no Dawg, who I am sure subscribes to Groucho Marx’s belief that he would not want to be a member of any club who would have him as member.

I was also named to the Top 100 Yoga and Meditation Blogs according to the X-Ray Technician Schools a while back, so I am curious: who are the people who determine these “best” lists and why are these schools doing it? Inquiring minds want to know.

OK, I guess I can drop the Rodney-Dangerfield-I-don’t-get-no-respect act. If me and Yoga Journal’s Yoga Buzz Blog are on the same top 50 list, I guess I’ve made it. Kinda.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. Now if only I could make a little dough from writing!


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my brother from a different mother

While I was at my final retreat for the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock in California, YogaDawg sent me this video saying “this one’s for you, couldn’t help but think about ya….”

Thanks, Y Dawg, I LOVED IT!

I also received another blog award from Grace over at Graceful Yoga, a lovely and gentle yoga blog — she lists her favorite yoga blogs so check them out. Thanks for the blog love, Grace!

As for my final retreat, I will write about it soon. I will say that the retreat and the entire training was amazing. It truly was a groundbreaking training in the western yoga world. It was a never before offered training that combined Buddhism and yoga, the twins separated at birth, so to speak. If you think Buddhism can be separated from hatha yoga, think again.

There were 88 retreatants from around the world, but my “dharma buddy” and I were the only two yoga teachers from Illinois (there were only four teachers from Midwest America.) Out of all the yoga studios in Chicagoland, both of us came from the same studio in Chicago. We think that says a lot.

Enjoy the video and dance to the music — I will give you a little preview about my Spirit Rock retreat post….we ended the retreat (after a solemn graduation ceremony) with a yoga rave dance….Shiva Rea doesn’t have anything on the Spirit Rockers, believe me.

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India stories: It’s a mad mad mad mad Madurai


The day I left for Madurai I went to a beauty salon to get mehndi on my feet. The salon ladies were fascinated by my tattoos and they were admiring them when the owner walked in. She was a big woman wearing a beautiful hot pink sari and heavy with gold jewelry — her personality matched her appearance. She shoved her way through the crowd saying, “I want to see everything!” She stuck her finger in the air and announced, “I want to learn this!”, as if learning the art of tattooing is the easiest thing in the world.

They caught a glimpse of my shoulder tattoo. I did not plan to take off my clothes but the owner commanded, “Take off top, BE FREE, BE FREE!” I wore a camisole underneath so I removed the top of my salwar kameez. Everyone gushed over the intricate flower vines surrounding a colorful butterfly.

Then they saw the large sun/moon tattoo peeking above the waistband of my salwar and two women began to pull it down. The moon has eyes and a Nepali woman loved it so much that she kissed her fingers and touched my tattoo. “The eyes is talking to me, the eyes is talking to me,” she said as she repeatedly kissed her fingers and touched the eyes of the moon.

Women took pictures of my tattoos, the mehndi was started, and the Nepali woman drew my tattoos in a sketchbook. She told me that she loves tattoos and wants to become a tattoo artist, but there is no place in Chennai to learn. The women asked if I wanted to get my nose pierced and the Nepali woman confided that some Indian women get their nipples pierced. “But only married ladies after one baby,” she said very seriously. I loved that she was so open with me, a westerner whom she would never see again. I was just one of the girls that afternoon.

That night I left on the 9:30 train to Madurai and as I sat alone in my berth two young men in their 20s came in. When they saw me they looked as if I had lifted up my kurta to flash them. Their mouths dropped open in unison and they did not say a word. I thought their reaction strange and I felt like saying, “Hello, boys, you’ve never seen a woman before?” I said hello in Tamil and smiled. They sat across from me and as I sat across from them with a half smile on my face they tried to look anywhere but at me.

I’ve been told that sometimes this is typical male behavior when so close to a woman, especially one as strange as me — western, a tattooed ageless hippie chick, dressed in Indian clothes, and bold enough to look them in the eye. I’ve also been told that some young Indian males are starved for any kind of interaction with the opposite sex — usually there is no premarital sex and there is hardly any communication between boys and girls at school. Growing up like this leaves men clueless as to how to behave and some also believe the misconceptions about western women.

At the last minute an older man sat next to me and I said, “We’re all going to be just cozy now, aren’t we?” The young men again looked like I had not only flashed them but also blew them a kiss. At least the older man had the manners to say hello to me. These boys looked so nervous I felt sorry for them. They finally got their act together, i.e., making sure they never looked at me, and we all settled into our berths for the overnight train ride.

As the train pulled into Madurai in the morning, the older man wished me a nice day and the boys tripped all over themselves in a rush to get out. I was sure that this was the first time they had slept so close to a woman.

After a nine hour train ride I was in no mood for nonsense, but I was instantly accosted by a dozen auto rickshaw drivers, so much so that a station security guard told them to leave me alone. I chose one driver and as we walked through the phalanx of drivers they started to laugh and yell, “here madam, here madam, you want ride, madam?” “That’s it,” I said as I threw down my bag. I spun around and yelled loud enough to make the street dogs run: “ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT!” That got everyone’s attention and I never saw a gaggle of drivers shut up so quickly. “No tension, madam, no tension, come with me,” my driver said. That was more like it and when we got to the hotel I paid him more than what we agreed to.

I stayed exactly 90 minutes at the guesthouse that was closest to the great temple. I took the recommendation of a well-known guide book and I decided that the writer must have been hallucinating from too many bhang lassis when he wrote the review.

I don’t mind cheap hotels in India but I draw the line at towels that looked like they were used to wash a car and greasy hair stains on the pillows. The place was disgusting. It looked like a room for serial killers to hold up during their rampage. The guts hung out of the air conditioner in the “deluxe AC room.”

The room was considered “deluxe” because you could walk out onto the roof of the floor below for a fabulous view of the temple. However, the window did not lock so anyone on that roof could crawl into your bed. The room also had a frosted glass door so it was not safe for a solo female traveler. When a man tried to get into my room about a hour after I checked in, I asked for another room but it had the same greasy towels and pillow cases. I got out, losing 500 rupees, and moved to a better hotel. I learned a valuable lesson for future trips to India: always look at the room before you hand over the rupees.

My first day in Madurai and now I knew why some westerners had that glazed “dead man walking” look in their eyes. It’s a defense mechanism – act deaf, dumb, and blind and maybe you’ll be spared from the incessant touts. I met nice old men who told me their life stories, and how America is a great country, and how their brother/uncle/son/cousin/sister’s husband has a clothes/jewelry/art/silver shop with a great roof top view of the temple, “just look, madam, no buy.”

The market across from the temple was filled with stalls of all types of merchandise and a great place to see those dead men walking. I ended up telling shop keepers and touts, “I’m a poor yoga teacher, no money” or “YOU buy ME something?” or “It’s against my religion.” The last story always worked. I also ended up with a screaming migraine headache from the constant harangue of “just look, no buy” and the heat and the closeness. I went back to my room, turned up the AC, put a cold cloth on my head, and didn’t wake up until the evening.

My second day was spent at the Gandhi museum, an inspiring and peaceful place where about 100 schoolgirls were more interested in me than in learning about their own history. The girls were sitting on the floor listening to the curator as I walked in. He immediately stopped talking and all heads turned around at the same time to look at me. I smiled and brought my hands to my chest and bowed. Everyone said hello to me in English, and I responded with a loud vanakkam. They exploded in laughter and with a big smile the curator asked, “What country, madam? America or UK?” “America.” “Ah, America!” Bigger smiles all around. Their teachers had their hands full trying to keep order all because of me.

As I walked around the exhibits I felt the schoolgirls’ eyes on me. I turned around and the girls would giggle. “Shhhh,” I said, putting my finger to my lips. “Read your history, don’t look at me.”, I told them with a wink. Occasionally I would feel a light touch on my back and I would turn around and a hand would cover a mouth, a giggle unsuccessfully suppressed.

My last day in Madurai was spent on a tour bus. An Indian tour bus is usually not decked out with plushy seats, air-conditioning, and a restroom – most of our seats were ripped and frayed but adequately comfortable. Sometimes you have the pleasure of listening to music played full blast through a shabby speaker, driver’s choice of music of course. I settled in and waited for the day’s adventures.

Once again I was the only westerner and I noticed that everyone had the same reaction to the condition of the bus. They walked up the stairs, stopped, looked around at the frayed seats, and either gulped or sneered. Off we went, all windows open to the Madurai heat and dust.

I don’t remember exactly what was on the tour, I just enjoyed riding around with a bus load of Indian tourists. Every time we stopped the driver would announce in Tamil where we were and how long we would be there. At the first stop I asked him how long and he sneered at me and grunted. I was on my own. I knew that if I did not get back in time, I would be left in the street. Finally a man told me in English “20 minutes” and at every stop I would look at him and he would smile and tell me how long we would be.

I loved the vignettes framed by the bus window. I saw a huge ram with massive horns sleeping peacefully in the gutter while a woman carefully swept the street around him; two flower sellers with their carts, talking quietly, engrossed in conversation as only women can be, as a street goat happily munched the flowers from one cart.

It was a lazy day and the only excitement we had was when the driver took a curve too fast and I felt the tires on my side of the bus lift up for about three seconds. People started to scream and the woman next to me flew out of her seat. She would have landed in the aisle had I not caught her sari and pulled her back down. I practiced equanimity — if I die in India so be it. I started to doze as the passengers yelled at the driver.

At one stop we were besieged by begging children, girls and boys. I saw that Indians rarely gave to beggars, so when a beggar sees a feringhi it’s an onslaught of constant cries for money. Trapped on a bus, I was ripe for the picking. I sat next to the rear door and it was the perfect place for a little girl to plant herself on the steps in front of me with her hand out with a constant cry that sounded like “ma” over and over and over again.

You need a thick skin to handle the beggars in India, even if they are children. I was not in the giving mood so I ignored her and stared out the window. Occasionally I would look at her and shake my head and tell her no in Tamil, but she never stopped. Every Indian also ignored her, but I had an idea. I pointed to each person on the bus and told her “ask him” or “ask her” and rubbed my fingers together, the universal sign for money. I said, “They give rupees, I give rupees”. She left me and went over the Indians. That finally got everyone’s attention, and when she started harassing the Indians, a woman said something and she left. The bus finally started and as we left I looked back to see the begging children swarm the next group of tourists, like yellow jackets to fresh meat.

Late at night when everyone was tired, hungry, and complaining we stopped at a Murugan temple, our last stop, and most of the passengers did not get off the bus. The temple would have been the highlight of my day because it is a very important temple, one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga, an important Hindu god worshiped in south India. It is huge temple carved into rock, but it was impossible to explore in the time we had, so I had to be satisfied with a quick walk-through. I should have planned my last day more carefully, but I wanted to leave the planning to someone else, even if it was a bus driver who spoke no English. Go with the flow, there will be a next time, and I remembered the words of the Chennai beauty shop owner, “be free, be free.”

We headed back to Madurai, everyone quiet now for the ride home. Despite the heat, the dust, a migraine headache, and the incessant touts that I experienced over the last few days, I again felt at peace here on a bus with strangers in a strange city in a strange land and I almost fell completely asleep.

We were in Madurai and I woke up to people screaming at the driver again. Apparently he wasn’t dropping people at their hotels, he was dropping people off wherever he felt like it. It was late, and the streets were crowded with people walking to the temple so the bus driver had trouble getting through the streets. I watched everything with detachment, watching group dynamics and mentally placing bets on who would win.

Every few blocks he would kick people off the bus, and the people would complain as they flagged down autorickshaws. Finally it was me and an older couple. I got off the bus and the husband started to argue with the driver. There was much hand waving and head wobbling, but the driver won and the husband finally got off. The bus left and the three of us stood in the middle of the street. Suddenly they spoke to me in perfect English, complaining about the bus and the driver. How funny that they never said a word to me all day yet we had sat across the aisle from each other.

I returned to my hotel and spent the rest of the evening in the roof-top restaurant, looking out over the temple complex and thinking about what India had taught me so far – more patience, how to be in the present moment, and detaching from the outcome. Anyone on the yoga path knows that these qualities sink a bit deeper into the consciousness the longer one does the work. But somehow, being in Ma India, my heart could open more fully, just as the lotus opens its petals as it rises out of the mud to reach for the glorious sun.

Goodbye Madurai. OM MURUGA, lead me from the darkness and into the light.

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India stories: I Heart Rameswaram

Writing the last post made me think of my own India stories. I leave for Spirit Rock this weekend and will be gone for 15 days so I decided to re-post one India story a day for your reading pleasure.

I entered these stories in a travel writing contest sponsored by a travel website (I didn’t win so I’m not mentioning the name!) The grand prize was a trip to Machu Picchu and the other prizes were bags — I would have been happy with a bag! I wasn’t bummed out when none of my stories were selected because I know they kick ass anyway.

India is definitely not for everyone, but it must be in my DNA because as soon as my foot hit Indian soil (my first overseas trip, alone, at the delicious age of 51), I felt like I had come home. There has not been one single day since 2005 that I have not thought about Ma India. Not one. Not even when I returned from my third trip in January 2008 with virulent salmonella food poisoning. I flew 18 hours from India sicker than a mangy Indian street dog — I almost passed out in the Chennai airport before I even got on the plane.

I used to be a moderator of the best India travel website in the world , a site with over 30,000 members, each one with their own story about India, and most, I’m sure, with a love/hate relationship with India. Last year one of my teachers told me that I’m a native now — that the first time you go to India you’re a little scared and apprehensive; the second time you love it and you want to stay forever because nothing is ever wrong; the third time you begin to see things as a native does — the good, the bad, the horrible, the indifference, the enthralling, and the enchanting. India in all its glory. Last year instead of people asking me “what country, madam?”, people asked me, “do you live here, madam?” Ahhhhh….I had finally arrived.

In an old post I wrote: “India has her hooks in me like an old lover — an old lover who you’ve told yourself that you never want to be with again but who keeps re-appearing like a hungry ghost tapping on your shoulder, and no matter how fast you run you can never escape him because he is a part of you forever. You know this and you hate it but you love it all at the same time.”

India nourishes me and I need to visit Ma India as much as I need the air to live. One of my favorite bloggers once wrote: “…if I don’t follow my Heart, I will lose a piece of my aliveness. It doesn’t take too many compromises to become a walking dead person…”

So these stories are not about your India or her India or his India. This is MY INDIA and I count the days until I am in her arms again.

Shanti.

_________________________________________________________


I arrived in Rameswaram about 3 pm on a Saturday after a 7 hour car ride from Kodaikanal. The ride was interesting as I watched India flash by. . .caught in a cattle crossing, eating lunch for 10 rupees at a tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere where the proprietor took me in his kitchen to show me what he was cooking since he did not speak English. I can’t remember what it was called, all I remember is that it was delicious. I was starving and inhaled the meal as all four people in the restaurant stood around my table with big smiles watching me eat.

I arrived at the Hotel Tamil Nadu, showered, and took a nap. I woke up about 5 pm and planned to walk to the temple and find dinner. The phone rang and being alone in India, getting a call was shocking. A man told me “if you want to see the temple, I can take you.” Still groggy from my nap, I thought how did he know that’s what I’m going to do? I babbled something like who are you, who’s calling, where are you, whaaaat….? The man said he was downstairs at the desk, and I said, yeah, whatever, and hung up.

I got downstairs, still trying to wake up, and the clerk was behind the desk with another man. I had my torn out page from the Rough Guide that said “R. Kannan, who can also be contacted through the Hotel Tamil Nadu, happily gives foreigners advice, even if they do not use his services.” I asked the clerk if he knew R. Kannan, and he pointed to the man who appeared to be waiting for me and said, “this is Kannan”. Wow. He materialized out of nowhere. But how did he know exactly what time I was going to leave? Ah…delicious serendipity. No….most likely he got the call, “feringhee in da house, come on over!” I stood there, thinking go with the flow, whatever happens tonight, happens.

As it turned out, I spent four hours with Kannan that night. We went to the Gandhamadana Parvatam, where I took pictures of a beautiful sunset, and to the Nambunayagi Amman Kali Temple, where I saw a man with a pet egret, and sat with him as he fed it worms he dug out of the sand. Kannan and I planned my weekend all within one hour — I was to spend it with him.

As we were driving back, Kannan asked me if I wanted to see the children dance — of course I did! We stopped at what looked like a school, the yard filled to the brim with people — local business people, politicians, parents, and children. The little girls were dressed in their beautiful South Indian dance attire, their hair and makeup perfect. One little girl was so beautiful I wanted to take her picture, but there were so many people, I got pushed along with the crowd. We ended up at the back of a long, narrow lot.

So many people, and me, the only westerner, once again. But the difference between where I was now and Kodaikanal in the morning was amazing. The energy, the attitude, the graciousness, was totally different from Kodaikanal. I did not feel claustrophobic here, even in this crowd of people.

We sat down and after a number of speeches, the show began. Little girls and boys dancing beautifully, carefully, with a few missteps that added to the charm, music that blasted my ears. Unfortunately I was sitting too far back to take any decent pictures. Then one group of kids dressed in street clothes started dancing to music I recognized from a Vijay movie. The only Vijay movies I had seen were on the Lufthansa flights from Germany to Chennai, but I know who Vijay is — a very popular Tamil actor. You’ve heard of Bollywood? Tamil movies are Kollywood with their own set of popular stars.

There was a group of boys sitting behind me and as soon as the Vijay music started, they got up on their chairs, and started clapping and dancing, hooting and hollering. I got up and started to take pictures and of course that started a riot. “Madam, Madam, take me, take me!” I yelled “dance like Vijay!”, and put my hand to my forehead in the gesture Vijay uses in his movies. All their eyes got wide and suddenly I was in the midst of hip shaking, pelvic thrusting Vijays. It could not have been choreographed any better. As soon as I took a picture, they ran over wanting to see it, then ran back to dance again. I loved it. Kodaikanal was already a distant memory. The people in the immediate area weren’t watching the stage anymore, they were watching all this commotion and laughing.

We all sat down again to watch the show, and by this time of night, I was exhausted. Kannan asked me if I was OK, and I said we should go back, since I was dead on my feet, and we had an early morning walk to Danushkodi the next day. We started walking toward the front, but people were sitting on the ground, shoulder to shoulder. It was packed and not an inch of space between them. There was no way we could walk out through the front without doing major damage to someone’s hand or foot on the ground. It was also hard to see because it was pitch black with only the lights on the stage.

We turned around and Kannan asked, “can you jump?” “Jump?” “Yes, climb and jump,” and he pointed to the brick wall topped with three strands of barbed wire that was our enclosure. “Sure, why not, what choice do we have?”

Kannan jumped over the wall and I threw him my camera. The wall was about four feet high with barbed wire on top. This woman of a certain age is very flexible so I put one foot on top of the wall. Suddenly I heard a low “ooooohhhhh” coming from all the young Vijays. I grabbed a corner pole as I pulled myself up and put the other foot on top of the wall, straddling the barbed wire. A louder “ooooooohhhhh” now, mass rumbling coming from the Vijays. Louder and louder whispers in Tamil. How often did these boys see an American woman straddling barbed wire on top of a brick wall? Making sure my salwar kameez would not catch on the barbed wire, remembering that I had my tetanus shot, and hoping that I would not land in a big pile of whatever, I lept over and landed on my feet in a beautiful squat on the other side.

The young Vijays exploded. Laughing, clapping, cheering me on, fists pumping in the air yelling “Yes, madam!”, as the music blared and the little girls danced on stage, swirling around in a rainbow of colors.

I turned around, curtsied, and ran into the Rameswaram night.

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I am blessed….

….to have such readers.

Kevin is a long-time reader and has always been very supportive of my cathartic rants and musings about yoga. As what sometimes happens in the online world, we struck up an email correspondence about all things yoga. In fact, Kevin and his wife Erin had also planned to visit the ashram in South India where I was originally scheduled to spend two months but life gets in the way and they had to change their plans — so Kevin generously donated their deposit for my stay. I was overwhelmed by his gesture considering that we have never met. I will say again that I am always amazed at the support I’ve received in the global yoga community through this blog compared to my local “yoga community.” And those of you who have read about my misadventures with local studio owners know what I’m talking about.

Kevin and Erin have relocated to Mexico and have started blogging — Kevin and Erin in Mexico. So I was again overwhelmed to read Kevin’s latest post:

“How could I mention India without mentioning…..?

That “yoga and meditation” (if one has the hard-to-come-by understanding of what yoga actually is, pre-spandex and pre-group class zombie world) is a redundant phrase – and that if you want to learn why that is so, and so much else about yoga, meditation, life, music, great writing, wicked humor and what it means to really love India you must check out this blog:

Linda’s Yoga Journey

I find Linda’s depth and breadth of experience, writing chops and fearlessness very inspiring, and have learned (and continue to learn) so much about all of the above topics from her. Her blog is beautiful in so many ways, and a portal to a vast array of positive things going on in the world. Check it out.”

Wow, wow, wow. I am not only blessed but also humbled. Out of everything that he said, I am most touched that Kevin thinks I’m fearless, more so than being considered a good writer.

I want to take this time to thank Kevin and Erin and ALL my long-time readers — and I know who my regular readers are even if you never comment — for putting up with these “cathartic musings and occasional rants about my trips to India to study my heart’s passion, and my sweet adventures along the yoga path.”

I also want to thank all of the yoga bloggers who have put this blog on your blogrolls. I can tell from my site meter how people find me and I am amazed at how many blogs I’m linked to so mucho thanks for the link love!

May you all know happiness and the causes of happiness.
May you all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May you all never be parted from freedom’s true joy.
May you all dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

peace
shanti
a-salaam aleikum
so shall it be.

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