the bottom line

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.

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Mumbai sunset

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a car like me: outside the box

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the money shot: in Mumbai market

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in the Freedom Style flow with Alicia Keys music

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where my heart is: Varkala

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Mumbai plate seller

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up close and personal with Ganesha

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in the ladies’ car, Mumbai

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Ganesh Mohan with his father, A.G. Mohan: yoga therapy training, Chennai

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rockin’ out to Freedom Style

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there’s something happening here

Getting ready for a trip to India always gets my energetic body all jacked up.   I’m buzzing and it feels like when I used to take speed back in the day (hey, I was a hippie, OK?)  Now it’s a natural high.

I leave on Sunday for my 7th trip, beginning with continuing my yoga therapy training with Ganesh Mohan, traveling for the first time to Varanasi and Sarnath, then leading my group of 7 intrepid first-time India travelers and global yogis for private classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, then my yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala.  When they go home I’m off to Goa and Mumbai, each for the first time.

To say that this trip is different is an understatement.  I was more involved with learning different energy healing modalities last year (which by their very nature cranks up your energy body) and this week I received some energy work, so to say that I’ve shifted is also an understatement.  My gut is screaming at me that something is happening.  Can’t put my finger on it but in the words of Sly Stone, there’s a riot goin’ on.

The latest is that Kausthub Desikachar has broken his silence.  Coincidentally I received an email today from “Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga.”  It came to my old email address that KYM has.  The website is sky-yoga.net but when I searched for that site, nothing came up.  There is no name attached to the email, it came from “courses@sky-yoga.net.”

After explaining the Krishnamacharya tradition, it goes on:

The Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga (SKY) is founded by TKV Desikachar and Menaka Desikachar.  It will be the medium through which the whole range of the teachings of T Krishnamacharya will be extended into the current century in a traditional manner, yet relevant to the modern era.

The objectives of Sannidhi of Krishnamcharya Yoga (SKY) include

  • Increasing awareness of Yoga and its many applications especially in the domains of Health, Healing and Spiritual Transformation.
  • Promoting and sharing Yoga as a complimentary therapeutic approach both in one to one settings, as well as in specialized focused groups.
  • Offering Training programs of the highest standards in Yoga and Yoga therapy.
  • Collaborating with other modalities of healing to facilitate integrative paradigms in healing.
  • Creating and sharing educational resources that support the understanding and study of Yoga.
  • Supporting the network of Yoga teachers and therapist through continuing education. Initiating Research studies to evaluate the role of Yoga in contemporary health care.

…A choice of exciting programs are being conceptualised SKY for the year 2013. These will be conducted by experienced and senior faculty trained in the tradition of Krishnamacharya. Details of these will be made available soon.

Interesting.  Someone subscribed me to this E newsletter since they have my old email address.  The email listed their courses for 2013.   Their address is 6 (Old# 5) Stone Link Avenue in R A Puram, near the neighborhood that KYM is in.   The Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation (KHYF) that Kausthub headed and was subsequently dismissed from (rumors are that he still pulls the strings behind the scenes) is in the near area.

Call me suspicious but I doubt very much that Sri Desikachar and his wife would start a new yoga school, not given their ages and Sri Desikachar’s condition.   But did Kausthub start a new school a la John Friend?  Did he name his parents as founders of this new school as they were named the heads of KHYF when Kausthub was forced to step down?

My intuition says yes.

Curiouser and curiouser.

As is my local yoga scene.  In the last few weeks I’ve heard stories that make me shake my head and put my hands to my ears saying “lalalalalalala……”  Then I was handed some foolish online nonsense by a local teacher that it all makes me wonder what the frack is in the air.  The energy workers I know all speak about a shift that is accelerating and you’d better lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

I’m out of here.

Enjoy my silence.

Enjoy_the_Silence_by_WickedNox

ch…ch…ch…changes

lotus feet

“Lotus Feet of the Lord” and a rose given to me by Swami Avdheshanand Giri, head of the Juna Akhara naga babas, at 2010 Kumbh Mela, Haridwar

Happy belated New Year!  May you all be well and happy and peaceful in 2013!

This is my first post of 2013 which is amazing to me since I started writing this blog in 2005 before my first trip to India.  But it is also my last post for a while because I will step onto Indian soil for the 7th time on January 29.  I’m blessed and oh so grateful to be able to have traveled to Ma India all these years.  That realization is never lost on me because India is truly my soul’s home.  As someone told me, my trips are not just to study yoga, they are pilgrimages.  Jai Ma.

This trip will be very different as a group of 7 intrepid travelers and yoga practitioners will be meeting me in Chennai for my first attempt at a group trip.  Kali help me.  I could never be a full-time travel agent because the details of organizing this trip have given me more than a few migraines.  And I am quite accustomed to being alone in India which is how I like to be.  Now I will be with 7 other people for a full 16 days.   It surely will be a test but I expect nothing less from Ma.

I start the trip with taking Module 4 of Ganesh Mohan’s yoga therapy training and then I am off to Calcutta and Varanasi and Sarnath, where Buddha did his first dharma teaching after his Enlightenment.   In Sarnath I will attend a dharma gathering led by Christopher Titmuss. After that, off to Varkala, Kerala for a week to see the preparations for my first ever retreat then back to Chennai to wait for the arrivals of 7 first-time travelers to India.

One thing that is VERY COOL is that I finally get to meet my long-time blog reader and cyber-friend Svasti!  How exciting is that?  Since we are both sisters of Kali we thought meeting up in Kali’s city of Calcutta would be auspicious.

Back to Chennai for a few days after the retreat then off to Goa and Mumbai, both for the first time.  I was invited to Mumbai by Sharell who writes Diary of a White Indian Housewife and I said “why not?” because life is too short and I have a lot more years behind me than I have ahead of me.  I found out about this yoga place  in Mumbai and contacted them about whether they would be interested in hosting me for a workshop before I leave India.  They said yes, so maybe I will bring Yin Yoga to Mumbai….we shall see!

After all that, I will start plans to an October 2014 yoga retreat to this place in the Himalayas….interested?  Two of my students already are thinking about going.

As for me and my yoga, 2012 was a year of santosha once I returned home from India.  It’s hard to explain but I’ll try.

Although I cut two weeks off my trip last year, I surely did not want to come home because I was content where I was and how I was.  I realized in India what a freak I am in my local yoga scene of hot yoga and acro-yoga and yoga with weights and yoga with such names that I can’t even figure out what it is.  People feel bad when I call myself a yoga freak but I don’t hold any bad connotations on that word just like my hippie friends and I were proud to call ourselves freaks back in the day.  So yeah, I consider myself a yoga freak and I let my freak flag fly.  You either dig it or not.

My yoga practice is more meditation than asana now and an epiphany came up and bit me in the ass as it usually does: santosha.   I used to get bent out of shape about not having a load of students.  Frantic as a matter of fact and I almost quit teaching.  Since I no longer teach in studios (other than workshops), the only regular students  I have come to my house.  A friend told me that we are true sangha because it is yoga the old school way.   My students are 150% supportive of me even though I will be gone 10 weeks — they know I need to get back to India to re-nourish myself and they know I bring back more yoga for them.  My students are empowered enough to do their own practice at home when I’m gone.

I almost canceled my group trip because of the Kausthub mess, but only one person backed out; the rest trusted my judgment about continuing the trip and studying at KYM and the majority of those coming have never met me.   That speaks volumes.

I get a ton of hits on my website but my phone does not ring off the hook — in fact,  it does not ring at all — for yoga inquiries.  I get no calls for private yoga, trauma sensitive or otherwise.  I’ve been told that with my training and experience I could make $100,000 a year in New York City teaching private classes.  I worked with one woman all last summer who was a survivor of sexual assault and she got to the point where she reunited with her husband and was able to move out of town, a story of transformation.  But other than that, nada.

Do I care?  I can honestly say no.  I’m detached from the fruit of my actions.  Sometimes it’s scary how detached I am.   My gut is telling me that the detachment will open me up for something much greater than I can imagine.  Those who want my style of yoga will find me, those that don’t, won’t.  And I am finally content with that.  And that’s liberating.  My own practice has gone so inward that I’ve turned myself inside out.  Last year I had planned to go to Varanasi but while meditating I heard a voice tell me “everything you are seeking you already are.”  That’s why it’s called insight meditation.

Yes, I still do workshops and I’m creating a Yoga for Inner Healing training that will utilize yin yoga and trauma sensitive yoga.  I’ve been asked to teach twice monthly next year and a place where I taught once a month.  I will work on “Freedom Style” Yoga workshops in the style of Erich Schiffmann.  I should say, in MY Freedom Style as Erich suggested.   Because that’s what yoga is to me:  freedom.  Once you silent mind, once you shut up, that’s when the knowledge flows in.  That’s freedom.

I realized not too long ago that I’ve developed siddhis.   Of course I am not talking about levitating or turning water into wine or developing the ability to drink poison unscathed.  I am talking about the ability to watch a negativity come up and then burst like a balloon or disappear like a rising bubble in champagne.  POP.  GONE.  Over and over again.  That’s real magic.  My reactions to things in the not too distant past that would have been loud and immediate just aren’t there anymore.  POP.  GONE.   Those are the siddhis of transformation and I don’t quite have the words for it.  But that’s OK because I don’t think about it, it just is.  It’s this low-grade almost imperceptible constant buzz of santosha.  Silent mind it and shut up and do your practice.  Thinking less, feeling more.

I’ve done few yoga trainings this year but felt called to learn more energy work which I did in the form of Emotional Freedom Technique and Quantum Touch Healing. This is work I rarely talk about because when I talk about it someone invariably wants to label it and put it in a box, and that’s not what my energy work is about.  People here are dazzled by “master” this or that and how many letters you have after your name on your business card.  My friend in India just tells me “bring your healing.”  No one asks me what it is, what it does, etc. etc. etc. because it’s understood as being a part of life.  Something tells me to combine it with yoga but not here, there.  I just can’t bring myself to name it Blah Blah Blah Quantum Reconnective Reiki Blah Blah Blah Yoga Blah Blah — as I saw a class similarily named today.  It’s just yoga.  It’s just healing.  Life is yoga and life is transformation.  That’s it.

There is always a morphing, a changing, a moving on inside me.   I’ve always known my real home is the world and not where I live.  I knew that when I was living by myself eating government cheese and using food stamps when I was in college.   Maybe my niche is yoga travel to India and beyond.  Maybe my teaching niche is to small, select groups who can see beyond mainstream.

Adios, kids.

UPDATE: who wants to go to India?

looking toward south cliff, Varkala, Kerala

the Heart of Yoga, Chennai

That’s a serious question.

Long time readers know that I started studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in 2005.  I thought back then that I would never return to KYM or to India, I thought it was a one-time thing.  Little did I know that I would return to KYM only 6 months later in 2006 and that I would be blessed enough to return there yearly.   Who knew what a grip India would have on my heart?  Who knew that the longer I study in this lineage the more I know that I can study here the rest of my life?  It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage.

The senior teachers know me by name now.  When I walked into the building on the first day of training this year I was greeted like an old friend and it did my heart good.   The intensive, “Discover Yoga Anatomy”, was amazing.  It truly was an advanced training, beyond asana, on a deeper level.  Although the teachers have studied with Desikachar for years and years, they are still students of yoga.  One of my favorite teachers said she is still learning, that they learn from us and from each other.  They are humble.  One touches the feet of Krishnamacharya in his photo portrait that is the classroom.  They are not afraid to use the word “guru.”

I have scheduled the week of March 11-15, 2013 for taking a group for private classes.  I have scheduled an asana class; theory and practice of pranayama; chanting; meditation; class on the Sutras; and an introductory class on the Bhagavad Gita, 6 classes daily for five days.   The classes will be geared toward the students’  yoga experience.  When I was there an American yoga teacher had brought 18 people with her.  My group will be limited to 12, and I need a minimum of 6 people for the trip to happen.

After that week, I will lead a yin-yang yoga retreat March 16-24 in Varkala, Kerala.  In between my trainings, before I went to KYM, I spent 15 days in Varkala, a place where I had never been.   In fact, I spent 10 days, returned to Chennai, and then flew back to Varkala because I missed the vibe and the friends I had made so much.  They did not want me to leave.

Varkala has a chill vibe, as people there say, and I thought I would be put off by all the westerners.  I must say I had some culture shock when I arrived because I had never been with so many westerners before in my travels (apart from KYM.)  But I grew to love it.  The place is a mix of backpackers, package tourist groups, retirees, old hippies, young hippies, and families with children.  It’s easy.  Real easy.  And it would be a great place to chill after the cacophony of Chennai.  Besides which, ladies, you can get some great yoga pants made for about $10 by the tailors on the clifftop, pants that sell in the US for 7 times the price — I had 4 made.

The retreat — where I will teach one class in the morning — will be here.  I have already booked all the cottages facing the pool.  Double occupancy only so bring a friend!

I had energy work done by an amazing energy worker so a session with her and a dinner party in her garden on our last night are included in the price.  Ayurvedic consulations are available as well.  I had a back issue for five years (thanks to being Miss Gumby all my life) and after doing the yoga therapy practice every day that I learned in my first training and having medical ayurvedic treatments for 7 days at this place, I now wake up pain free — and I still do my yoga therapy practice.  The Varkala resort has its own ayurvedic doctor or there are many choices in Varkala.

Other activities are available if you want to run around, but I guarantee that chilling on the beach, eating fresh food every day, and meeting great people will be enough for some.

You will arrange the domestic RT flight from Chennai-Trivandrum and the 5 star hotel in Chennai before flying home on March 25 (very early morning) with my travel agent.  Those prices are NOT included in my package price.

PACKAGE PRICE IS $1,950.00 (OR $1,925.00 for one garden view cottage at Varkala resort) WITH A PORTION OF YOUR PAYMENT GOING TO THE BANYAN, A WOMEN’S SHELTER IN CHENNAI.

THE BEST PART IS THAT I AM GIVING A $100 DISCOUNT IF YOU MAKE ONE PAYMENT IN FULL BY JANUARY 1, 2013!

YOU CAN REGISTER AND PAY NOW ON MY WEBSITE PAGE.

ASK ME ABOUT THE “NO YOGA” RATE IF YOUR FRIEND/PARTNER WANTS TO ACCOMPANY YOU BUT DOESN’T WANT TO PARTAKE IN YOGA.

You are responsible for your international and domestic flights, one day/night stay your last 24 hours in Chennai, your Indian visa, food other than breakfast, sight-seeing, ayurvedic treatments in Kerala (if so desired), tips, and ground transportation in Chennai and Varkala.  Please be aware that your India visa starts on the day it is issued, NOT when you land in India.

This trip will be geared toward yoga teachers, serious practitioners, and those who are independent travelers and who can go with the flow.  I won’t sugar-coat it:  Ma India can kick your ass but good.  It did mine the beginning of this trip, my 6th, and then I surrendered and let go.  Once I did that, all was good.

The entire trip will be from March 10-March 24 (arrange  your flight to leave Monday, March 25 or thereafter.)  You must spend a day decompressing from your flight to India and acclimating a bit before KYM classes start on Monday, March 11.  However, I can tell you that after 6 trips with 16+ hour flights to India, I do not have jet lag when I arrive — I hit the ground running.

I’m throwing this out to the Universe.  Doing the best I can and letting the rest go.

Let me know your interest.

not where I had my treatment — I liked the sign!

looking healthy and happy in Varkala