Tag Archives: India

stop with the faux outrage, people!

pondicherry sign

DISCLAIMER #1:  I have never heard of this teacher and have no reason to defend him. 
DISCLAIMER #2:  I think Yoga Journal sucks.

That being said, apparently a lot of Western yoga people have lost their shit over the Yoga Journal article I Took My Baby to Mysore, India, for a Month: Here’s What It Was Really Like  that was posted on Matthew Remski’s Facebook page.  He says it is “layers of BS.”  I’m very amused at the outrage — they are yelling that this guy has a neo-colonialist attitude.

As a woman of color I will be the first one to call out colonizers, neo or otherwise — such as white yoga people with dreads who call themselves shamans.

But this article?  Nah, not so much.

While this teacher’s writing is not my cup of chai and smells like New Agey smarminess, he’s naming things in India as he sees them.  Some things he wrote made me say hmmmmmm, but overall I thought his piece was fair.  A month in India is nothing and in this nomad yogini’s opinion he should have left the wife and kid at home — he freaked out about how dirty India is and went a bit overboard.  I’ve walked in Indian streets in my bare feet, boo.  

Yeah, I said it — India is dirty (in fact, filthy in some places) and Indians in India will say the same thing.  See my photo above, the words are painted on a wall for a reason: men piss in the streets.  But India is also beautiful and wondrous.  A terrible thing can happen to you (e.g., theft) and within 5 minutes you might experience such beauty and grace it will make you weep.  The dichotomy of India. 

Landrum writes:  “To survive in India, you have to drop your agenda. You have to relinquish your ideas about reason, order, and even basic sanity. They have no place here. Unless you surrender them, you risk melting down completely. So, you throw off your ideas and you step you into the abyss, allowing yourself to fall.”

Guess what?  When I take people to India I tell them the same thing, more or less.  Because the people who get into trouble in India (I’ve seen Westerners’ melt downs) are those who hold tight to their Western mindsets.  Ain’t gonna work in India.  You MUST go with the Indian flow.  Had my students not known that in 2016 when Modi declared the certain rupee denominations worthless the day after they got to India, there is no way they could have handled things as well as they did.

But no matter how many times you go Ma India will still kick your ass.  I got stories.

No one has the same experience with India.  His experience is his experience, mine is mine.  I have not updated my India blog since 2015 but an Indian reader told me: “You are one of the few who doesn’t bring up the heat and cows when writing about India. You somehow balance your respect and love for Indian traditions with the necessary irreverence making it honest and touching.”  

Becoming outraged about someone naming the negative is just as bad as someone wearing rose-colored glasses about India.   My rose-colored glasses fell off around trip three.  I don’t sugarcoat a damn thing about India.  It’s not all peace love dove and Eat Pray Namaste.  Any Western ex-pat living in India for a while will tell you that it’s not “all good.”  Frankly, most of the people I’ve met who are incredulous at the number of trips I’ve taken to India are Indians who have moved to the USA.  “Why do you go there so many times?,” they ask.  “I’d never move back!,” they tell me.  

I have never been to Mysore but I have done 13 trips to India, staying for months at a time.  I’ve stayed in Rs 300 a night guesthouses and 5 star hotels.  I’ve taken buses with only a backpack with me, done 17 hour train rides, and have hired drivers.  I’ve sat on the floor eating dinner with my rickshaw driver’s family in his two room flat in Chennai and have been waited on by the servants of rich friends in Kolkata.  I’ve gone everywhere from big cities to rural areas, north, south, and in between.  Needless to say my India travel experience is varied and it hasn’t all been fun and games.

What this teacher wrote about and more exists — mangy street dogs, shit (both animal and human) on the streets, piles of garbage, legless beggars, scam artists, red paan spit stains on your hotel room’s walls, a rat the size of a cat falling out of a restaurant ceiling (happened to me.)  Naming it is not being a “neo-colonialist,” it’s reality.  All those things can be seen on the same block with a fancy 5 star hotel, it’s all India.  While polio has been eradicated in India, I did get re-vaccinated for it in 2005 for my first trip.  My doctor told me that after so many trips it might be a good idea to get tested for TB.  I never have.

Despite the outrage on Remski’s page, going to India the first time DOES make you realize how privileged we are in the West.  If not, you’re fucking blind and clueless.  When I returned from my first trip in 2005 I had reverse culture shock for 6 months.  Fortunately I returned to India at the end of those 6 months.  I could not wait to return.

Apparently Remski thinks the mention of India and diarrhea in the same sentence is “not funny” as it reinforces a stereotype about India.  Newsflash: Delhi Belly is REAL AF.  I was beyond Delhi Belly — I almost died from salmonella food poisoning in India.  For three days I shit my brains out and puked in a bucket at the same time.  Did I tell you I travel SOLO?  There was nothing left to come out. I was almost delirious from dehydration.  I was a whole state away from my home base and when I got back a friend took me to a hospital for IVs (the nurse had a hard time finding a vein because mine were flat) and meds (I had to fly home that night.)  When I got home I was 12 pounds lighter.

Here’s some advice from outside the white liberal outrage bubble:  Indians also get diarrhea, in fact, children in poverty die from it.  So it’s not an insult to Mother India to talk about it.  SMFH.

So can the faux outrage, sit your asses down, and get over yourselves.  Because that outrage is nothing but snobbery, that you are so much better than the teacher who wrote his opinion about his experience in India.

Just a bunch of pukka sahibs, isn’t it?

where in the world (2010)

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After 5 trips to India I finally made it to the north, to the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar, a city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I was attending the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest spiritual gathering for Hindus that has gone on for milennia.  Me and about two million of my closest friends.  When I walked onto the terrace of my hotel the river took my breath away. I stood there amazed because I instantly knew I had been here before. I had known in my bones that I had to be at THIS Kumbh Mela at THIS time in my life.

I stood for a long time and it was such a deep, visceral knowing that I could only compare it to when my feet first hit the ground in south India five years before, the feeling that I had come home. It was the week of Maha Shivaratri, the Hindu festival to honor the god Shiva. The orange robes of the sadhus across the river looked familiar to me on a level that was very different from seeing them in photographs.

The week before I had been in Kolkata at Kalighat, the main temple in India for the devotees of the goddess Kali. When I walked into the temple I received such a blast of shakti that I had to sit down before I fell down. It felt like I had been punched in the chest. Inside the temple a Western woman told me that my eyes were so dilated that I looked like I had dropped some LSD. The cockroaches crawling over the metal grill that surrounded the statue of Kali sparkled so brightly that they looked like crawling jewels. I mentioned them to the woman but she could not see what I saw and turned away.

After I made my offering and the priest rubbed my forehead I came to the area where goats are sacrificed. The idea of an animal dying for the Divine is abhorrent to me but I take many things in stride in India.

I watched a woman butchering the meat as stray dogs gathered waiting for a morsel to drop. Goat heads with eyes that contained their last image of life lined the edge of the sacrificial platform and I looked at the dogs. In my shakti induced high their panting mouths seemed to be smiling. Kalighat is next to where Mother Theresa tended to the dying and instead of feeling sick at the sight of headless goats I took in the entire scene and all I felt was pure love. In the Bengali tradition, the goal of the Kali devotee is to become reconciled with death and to learn acceptance of the way things are. The love that I felt was raw and primal and my heart space filled with the fire of bhakti. I felt as if I were on fire. I felt extraordinarily alive.

All the people who had died next door, all the goats who had given their lives for the Mother, all those dogs who were going to eat. It was my own surrealistic version of Eat Pray Love. And I was filled with joy.

In Haridwar on Maha Shivaratri I watched the procession of the mostly naked naga babas as they marched to the Ganges and I knew that I had never been to such a joyful event in my life.

My hotel in Haridwar had its own ghat – steps into the Ganges – and after the yogis took their bath I walked back to my hotel and down the steps into the Ganges and dunked myself three times. I had been in Haridwar for five days but I wanted to wait until the day that Shiva married Parvati to really feel the river.

During my third dunk I stayed under a bit longer and I felt electric. I came out and sat on the steps with my feet in the water. The waters of the Ganges are called amrita, the “nectar of immortality.” Hindus believe that there is nothing as cleansing as the living waters of Ganga Ma. I wanted to sit with my feet in the water and never leave. Something was coursing through me and once again all I felt was joy.

That night I met a swami of the highest order, a man who is the spiritual head of the Juna Akhara, the naked yogis I watched that morning.

That morning the swami had thrown a rose to me — he stopped his chariot in front of me, looked into my eyes, threw the rose and smiled, and then moved on. I held the rose tight because people were already pushing me out of the way to pick up the holy rose petals from the street. I did not know that in the afternoon I would be invited to a special puja that night at his ashram, the oldest one in Haridwar. A mantra teacher friend found me to invite me to a special Maha Shivaratri puja. I had no idea that he was staying in the ashram of the rose throwing swami, I did not even know the swami’s name.

When the rickshaw arrived at the ashram I saw the swami’s picture outside and froze in my seat. Once again a shakti blast felt like a punch in the chest and all I could do was stare at the billboard with his picture.  I sat there for so long that some of his devotees asked me if I was well. I walked into the ashram and was taken into the swami’s compound before the start of the special puja. That night my friend chanted to Shiva as I sat on the floor gazing up at the swami. The gold in the mala around his neck looked like the crawling sparkling jewels I had seen in Kalighat a week before.

Everything just happened, merely the flow of experience, the essence of allowing things to unfold as if by Divine plan. I was told that night that it was my good karma to be there, that I was meant to be there from the moment I caught that rose in the morning.

I thanked the Goddess I was capable of such joy.

Anicca: Help the Fire Victims of Varkala

Life can change in seconds and everything you built can go up in flames in less than 30 minutes.  Fire is a hell of a lesson in aniccathe Buddhist concept of impermanence.  We control nothing.

It is rare that I ask people to donate money to any cause but I and a friend in Varkala, India want to raise $100,000 to help the victims of a massive fire.  Varkala is where I held my first yoga retreat in India, 2013 and where I plan to hold another one next year.  My friend is a guesthouse owner in Varkala and she will be the one to distribute the money equally among the victims.

As many readers know, India is my second home and Varkala, a small coastal town in Kerala, and its people have a very special place in my heart. It is where I will most likely conduct yoga teacher trainings in the future.  I hope to live there part-time.

On Friday morning, April 17th, a massive fire happened in Varkala in the area called Tibetan Market. Almost 15 shops were gutted, three restaurants destroyed, and other buildings were damaged. According to local newspapers the fire started due to sparks from overhead electric lines near the area.  The sparks fell on a roof made from combustible material and combined with exploding propane gas canisters in restaurants, the fire spread rapidly.  People barely escaped with their lives.  The Tibetan families are left with nothing – no shops, no money, and no homes.  They are living in a temporary housing with food being donated to them.  The youngest homeless child is barely 2 weeks old.

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Photo credit Time Out Varkala http://on.fb.me/1zM1bTk

Unlike in the West the victims do not have insurance and do not have any support except from private initiatives.  India does not have public service relief agencies as the West does.

The only consolation is that no lives were lost and it happened after tourist season, however, the victims absolutely need to start rebuilding homes, shops, and restaurants now before tourists start arriving later this year.

The official estimated loss is Rs.30 Lakhs — that is about US$50,000 or 45000 EUR, but that is only a very preliminary estimate, twice that amount is needed to rebuild.  To that end, I created a crowdfunding page on GoFundMe.  In the sidebar it says that this blog has over 800 followers.  If everyone donated a mere $25, that would raise about $20,000.  That is over a million rupees which is a huge amount of money in India and many could rebuild.  The gofundme page has already raised $1,000, however there are administrative fees that are deducted from that amount.

I hope Linda’s Yoga Journey readers can find it in their hearts and souls to donate something, even if it’s $10!  You can donate very easily on this link:  http://www.gofundme.com/sd8gcus

Know anyone with deep pockets?  Maybe some of you know know a person who can donate hundreds or even thousands of dollars so please share!

In metta, thank you!

Spiritual Tour of South India: Proposed Itinerary

It is never too early to start planning and saving for a trip to India, especially if it is your first time.

I am using the tour company I used for my trip to Rajasthan this year because I was so happy with their customer service and they have come up with an amazingly awesome itinerary.   It is so amazing that even I, an 8 time traveler to India, am impressed!

I am planning this trip for September 2015 when the hotels are less expensive and the timing gives prospective travelers one year to save.  A friend told me she saves every $5 bill she receives for her vacation fund.  It all adds up!

Also, as I did with my yoga retreat trip in 2013, a portion of what you pay will be donated to The Banyan women’s shelter in Chennai, India.  Go on this trip and you are helping women.  Compassion in action.

Where possible we will have time for Yoga and meditation as well as discussions regarding our experiences.  We will have one guide throughout the entire trip.  You will have ample time for the usual sightseeing and shopping.  Travel between towns will be via a comfortable bus.  The complete trip will be 15 days with the first and last days being for arrival and departure.  Final pricing yet to be determined however I estimate the final price to be under $3,000, excluding your airfare to Chennai.

You can Google all of these cities to learn where you will be going!

The bottom line:

1.  if you come on this trip it will be a trip of a lifetime;

2.  you will help women in a women’s shelter in Chennai, India;

3.  it will be the trip of lifetime

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

NOTE: O/N = OVERNIGHT IN A CITY

DAY 01 : Arrive Chennai. O/N stay at Chennai.

DAY 02 : Leave Chennai to Kancheepuram (75 kms / 02 hrs), visit Ekambaranathar Temple (element of Earth) & Kailasnatha Temple (shiva temple).  O/N stay Kancheepuram.

DAY 03 : Leave Kancheepuram to Tiruvannamalai (130 kms / 03 hrs).  Visit Arunachaleshwarar Temple (Element of Fire), circumbulate Arunachala Mountain
O/N stay at Tiruvannamalai.

DAY 04 : At Tiruvannamalai visit Sri Ramana Mahrishi Ashram.  O/N stay at Tiruvannamalai.

DAY 05 : Leave Tiruvannamalai to Pondicherry (100 kms / 0230hrs drive). O/N stay at Pondy.

DAY 06 : Visit French quarters (old part) of Pondicherry & Auroville International village.

DAY 07 : Leave Pondicherry to Kumbakonam (180 kms / 04 hrs drive),  enroute visit Chidambaram Sri Nataraja Temple (Element of Sky), and later continue to visit Gangai konda Cholapuram (Shiva temple). O/N stay at Kumabakonam.

DAY 08 : At Kumbakonam, visit Kumbeshwarar temple (Shiva), Swamimallai Temple (Murugan), Darasuram Iravateeshwarar Temple (Shiva).  O/N stay at Kumbakonam.

DAY 09 : leave Kumbakonam to Trichy (110 kms / 03 hrs drive), enroute visit Tanjore Sri Brahadeeshwarar temple (Shiva) and Tanjore Palace with Art Gallery. O/N stay at Trichy.

DAY 10 : At Trichy, visit Rock Fort Mountain temple (Ganesh), visit Srirangam Ranganathaswami Temple (Vishnu), Thiruvaanaikovil Sri Jambukeshwarar  Temple (Element of water). O/N stay at Trichy.

DAY 11 : Leave Trichy to Karaikudi (90 kms / 02 hrs), on arrival visit Chettinadu village well known for their architecture and Chettinadu food and where group can witness the Chettinad cooking demonstration at the hotel.

For more info of Chettinadu, please visit  http://www.srmuniv.ac.in/downloads/chetinad.pdf

O/N stay at Chettinadu.

DAY 12 : Leave Karaikudi to Rameshwaram (150 kms / 0330 hrs drive), O/N stay at Rameshwaram.

DAY 13 : At Rameshwaram for full day visit of Sri Ramanthaswami temple. O/N stay at Rameshwaram.

DAY 14 : Leave Rameshwaram to Madurai (175 kms / 04 hrs drive), visit of Tirumalai Nayak palace and Sri Meenakshi temple with rituals. O/N stay at Madurai.

DAY 15 : Full day free for independent activities and connect evening flight at Madurai airport to Chennai.

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Getting blessed by Lakshmi, the temple elephant, at Ganesh temple in Pondicherry, 2011

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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ch…ch…ch…changes

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“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.

the writing on the wall

Enjoy the silence.

A week from today I leave for my 6th trip to Ma India, my longest trip yet, 10 weeks.   My internal alarm clock goes off and my body and mind start buzzing a week before any India trip.  If you’ve been keeping up you already know with whom I’m studying and where I’m going.  I think what is making the buzz even louder is that my bones are screaming at me that this trip will not be like any other I’ve taken.  It is going to be very different.

2012-2013 will be transformative.  Maybe transitional is a better word because I feel like I am a turning point in my life.  For whatever reason a whole lot of stuff is ripening, maybe that’s the buzz I’ve been feeling for the last 6 months.  As a long-time gardener I am very in tune with a garden’s growth so a sense of fecundity is certainly not lost on me.   I recently had an amazing Tarot reading and one of the cards the reader pulled was that of a pregnant woman with a huge belly lying in a pumpkin patch entangled in thick vines…waiting to give birth but feeling like it will never happen.

For most of 2011 I felt stuck, trapped in the tired paradigm of what constitutes yoga in the modern scene, but also trapped in tired paradigms of relationships of all kinds.   How to digest traumatic experiences without having them fill our hearts with hate and despair?  I experienced despair last year that I have not experienced for a very long time.  Buddhi (intelligence) is the function of the mind that digests our experiences by wisdom so that they serve their purpose of growth and renewal.

Fecundity, growth, renewal…see a pattern?

Toward the end of 2011 I came to grips with my place in the Universe.   It’s about walking my path alone, shaking people up, turning things inside out and upside down.   You best believe I have plans for that when I return.  But that’s not an easy path and not always welcome, even in the yoga world.

The Tarot reader said that India mirrors back to me my true self, who I really am, and what I am capable of.  She said  there are many reasons I am drawn there but a major one is affirmation, people that bear witness to my work in this world.  I’ve always said that people “get” me more there than here.  Going back to India yearly re-charges, re-nourishes, and nurtures me in a way that nothing else does here.  This is the first time since 2008 that I will be traveling alone in India and I am going to relish it — no one’s agenda but my own.   Freya Stark said, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

In her book Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff Rosemary Mahoney describes 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 of 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.   During that evening in 2006 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 the Universe 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 solitude.  After traveling around the sun over 50 times, India was the first country overseas that I visited and if I can never return, I always carry India with me as a talisman.

I also do not suffer tediously cliched expectations gladly.

The wounds and arrows of my misfortunes sneak in sometimes when I’m not looking and I can only tend to them in the arms of the Mother.  One way of tending to them is by reading the writing on the wall and acting upon it.  The writing on the wall tells me “to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.   I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which comes to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which comes to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”   I will not die an unlived life.

The last card the Tarot reader pulled was called the Speaker of Trees and it contained a picture of a snake rising up through the center of the tree.  The reader said that the card means power, confidence, brilliance, communication of new ideas and plans, everything coming together.

I’m going home to shed my skin.

first uploaded at http://tudodeom.blogspot.com/