Monday, June 27, 2016

Pancha Karma - 21 day Ayurvedic Detox for my Soul

Live simply, live healthy, live well and live happy. These are the goals of Vaidyagrama, the ayurvedic healing village in southern India where I received my first pancha karma treatment this spring.

I have always wanted to experience pancha karma, the Indian system for health rejuvenation that is born of Ayurveda, the "science of life."  A system based on lifestyle, diet, deep tissue detoxification and herbs to counteract the detriment of poor choices over time that accumulate "ama" or toxins in the body. Toxic build-up can develop from all levels of unsupportive experiences in our lives, including diet, pollution, stress, and even negative thoughts and relationships.

I have always heard the gold standard for a PK treatment is 21 days. After studying ayurveda, I now understand that to restore all seven tissues of the body a minimum of 35 days is necessary but 21 days is considered to be a thorough and foundational cleanse.  The goal of this three week cleanse is to identify symptoms and personal health concerns and then to bring the system back into balance and through proper nourishment, support and cleansing of the processes of assimilation and elimination to encourage a clean, well tuned body of life. In ayurvedic language we would say that pancha karma "eliminates excess dosha and helps to kindle the dhatu agni."

The treatment is highly individualized according to the concerns of the patient. From the first day you are assigned a personal physician who assesses your constitution according to diagnostic questions, pulse and tongue readings.

The first thing I noticed about Vaidyagrama is the calm, stable, earthiness of the place. I was struck by the palpable spiritual essence- for me true spiritual essence is a quality of deep peace, balance and connection. The layout of this secluded healing village was designed according to Vastu principles which is the Indian feng shui. A system so intricate and thought out as to determine even the proper width of the pathways and the distance of the pathways from the ground. The tiles that covered the roofs were all crafted from the very soil the place was built on.

There is an absence of distraction here, there is little to no decor and the color palette is of the earth. It is truly the optimal environment for someone of my constitution, which is quite the opposite! The simplicity and naturalness exudes a stabilizing vibration, some might perceive it as oppressively boring but I was grateful for the opportunity to simplify. Chemicals and plastics are not used here at all and even with the sweltering heat there is no air conditioning. Electricity is all solar charged and the place is completely self-sustaining. Healing is the focus here.

Everyday became a punctual and  ritualized schedule for herbal medicines, meals, treatments and morning and evening prayers and puja. I was in bed by 9 and up by 5. Personal meditation for 40 minutes upon rising, a morning kashayam (a bitter herbal concoction), a little writing and then off to prayers for an hour or so. A delicious ayurvedic tea was served at 7:15am. Breakfast came at 8am and an herbal "wine" was to be taken 15 minutes after the meal. At first the "rishtam" tasted like cough syrup to me but eventually I heard it being referred to as wine and my whole paradigm shifted. I began to savor it like an after meal port and with the simplicity in my meals it became a favorite. There was always a thermos of warm drinking water as one never drinks cold water in ayurveda. This is because cold water dampens the agni or fire of the body so vitally important in all levels of digestion and assimilation. I was served a nice broth at 11am to sustain me until lunch. This light liquid snack does not diminish the power of agni and allows for the process of digestion between breakfast and lunch to be thorough. We would receive a glass of fresh coconut water and a fruit snack in it's peak of tastiness, really the best fruit ever at 4 pm to hold us over until dinner. This was never more than three pieces of papaya, half a cooked banana or a steamed amla fruit. Amla fruit, otherwise known as the gooseberry, is very bitter and is an important part of ayurvedic medicines. "This humble fruit is known to be a rich source of Vitamin C. So much so, that one small amla has as much Vitamin C as two medium oranges. Packed with compounds like polyphenols, minerals like iron and zinc and vitamins like carotenes and vitamin B complex, amla can definitely keep a number of diseases at bay."3  I didn't love the amla but when you realize it's values, you make amends.
Meals were served in a tiffin. This is a tall portable metal pot which is filled with 3-5 individual meal pots. All the meals were very simple but contained the six tastes which according to ayurveda certifies a complete meal nutritionally and wholly satisfies. These tastes are sweet, astringent, sour, salty, pungent and bitter. I loved the fresh herbs that were always included in the dishes. Tulasi leaves (holy basil), curry leaves and fenugreek leaves were  included in many of the dishes. Fresh leaves! I most definitely miss these ingredients now that I'm home. Most of the food was pleasing to my palette and I truly enjoyed the simplicity of the fare. There was  often a buttermilk soup included with the meal that was good for digestion, best saved for last. There were rotis and dosas (indian style breads), as well as 1-3 steamed vegetables with herbs and coconut shavings. Plenty of soft juicy cooked vegetables to make digestion easy.  There were a few bizarre vegetables that were unlike anything I have ever seen and honestly not particularly enjoyable. A gelatinous, sticky, gooey okra that prickled my mouth and another stalky vegetable that had to be sucked off of a rigid stalk which I discovered the hard way. The meals didn't come with instructions!  There was an extremely bitter and warty-skinned green vegetable that I could only enjoy when mixed with the boiled beets which were sweet. This vegetable required a softening and opening of the channels to receive it's medicine, otherwise you would probably opt out. The bitter taste itself is associated with detoxification. I discovered that I deplored the idli- a classic south indian cake made of fermented lentils and rice. Very sour and for some reason made me want to gag. Overall it was an adventure and the purity of the food magnified the taste experiences. The meals became the entertainment of the day.

Pancha Karma means "Five Actions". Five different approaches directed toward purifying the seven "dhatus" or tissues that build and support the body. The seven dhatus of the body begin with Rasa- the plasma which is "the juice of life"-proteins, glucose, hormones, electrolytes, clotting factor and CO2, and Rakta which is blood (RBC's and liquid tissue). These are the first two tissues to assimilate the nourishment from the process of digestion. Mamsa (muscle), Meda (fat), Ashti (bones and cartilege), Majja (bone marrow, nerve tissue and connective tissue) and Shukra/Artava (Male and Female Reproductive tissue) are the five tissues that build the body from there.

"The Five Actions of deep cleansing once the body has been properly prepared to receive the appropriate treatment are
Vamana– therapeutic vomiting to remove toxins and excessive Kapha from the stomach.
Vierechana– purgation or laxative therapy to remove ama and excessive Pitta from the small intestines, colon, kidney, stomach, liver, and spleen.
Basti medicated enema to remove excessive Vata from the colon.
Nasya– nasal administration of medication.
Rakta mokshana– purification of the blood is traditionally done in two ways: small amount of blood is withdrawn intravenously (leeches are used) or the blood is cleansed with herbal blood purifiers such as burdock, dandelion, yellow dock, red clover, aloe vera, and manjista."1

Dhanyamla dhara treatment
Diet, ritual, herbs and devotion are part of PK but the other very important component to the process lies in the daily ayurvedic treatment. The treatments are performed by two women at once on a large wooden treatment table with nothing but a loin cloth to cover. As you can imagine, it takes some getting used to. But as time goes on you develop a bond with your personal nurses. Mine were both Indian women, each named Lakshmi.

For the first five days I received a treatment called Dhanyamla Dhara, the pouring of warm herbalized water all over my body out of traditional silver pitchers for a sustained period of 45 minutes. A very soothing process that communicates a deep cellular release but also supplies the physiological effect of quelling inflammation in the body. I received this treatment for three days and then three more in combination with the classical warm oil massage called abhyanga. It was very soothing.

Eventually the treatment shifted to abhyanga in unison with elakizhi, "a massage done with boluses, herbs tied in a linen cloth and heated in sesame oil. The specific herbs have a vata pacifying property are collected freshly. They are chopped and mixed with grated coconut, lemon, turmeric rock salt etc. depending on the condition.The mixture is fried in plain sesame oil or other medicated oil as per the requirement. They are divided into four equal parts and tied in a linen cloth in the form of boluses. These are kept in a vessel containing the oil used to fry the ingredients and the vessel is then heated. An abhyangam (a gentle oil massage) is given for about 10 to 15 minutes.Then the massage is given with warm boluses. The boluses are applied over the body in seven different postures.
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Improves skin complexion
  • Increase  muscle strength
  • Relieves body pain and stiffness
  • It is anti aging and rejuvenating
 This treatment is highly effective in ailments affecting bones, joints and nervous system."2

After each treatment of abhyanga you were sent to the bath were your nurse insisted on bathing you. This was something else to get used to! You submit because the goal of Vaidyagrama is to turn all of your personal energy inward towards the process of healing. You are there to receive completely. Of course no soap was used, all things natural. I was scrubbed down with a natural exfoliant powder- just add water. This was used in the hair as well as all over the body. The hair was never really stripped of all the oil so for three weeks we all had oily hair that just hung down. I learned to love it! It was wonderful for me with long hair to smooth into braids.

It took me a week before I even thought to ask what the scrubbing powder was. It turns out it was green mung beans! In India they are called green gram. Since I have come home I have done some research on the green gram powder and realized it is full of revitalizing vitamins and minerals for the skin and a natural (and cheap) alternative to exfoliate. I now make my own and use it after my personal ritual of abhyanga.

My treatments were geared toward the imbalance of vata (air and space) and pitta (fire and water) dosha in my system. The symptons of the imbalances in my dosha appear as inflamed joints (pitta), early onset osteoarthritis, constipation and dryness of voice and throat (all vata). The preparatory treatments described above - dhanyamla dhara, elahizhi, abhyangam and dinacharya (daily ritual). This led to the peak of the treatment at 14 days. According the the "five actions" everyone's treatment is different. Many people receive the treatment called Vierechana. This is the purgation or cleansing of the GI tract through a process of drinking ghee (clarified butter). It is apparently pretty nauseating. I did not have to drink ghee! Lucky me! On the other hand, my treatment was to experience Basti (also called Vasthi). This is the medicated oil enema. I have never received an enema. I was definitely nervous.

I heard that the common basti treatment was a package of three over three days. The first day was not overly pleasant but relatively gentle. The second day though, was severe. The two treatments were different herbal blends of medicated oil. The first day was clearly prepatory and the real douzy came on the second day. The effect of the medicated oil threw me into a crazy sweat and my whole body flushed red. I was overwhelmed with an asthma attack and then a good 30-40 minutes flushing of the system including a sickening experience of nausea, cramps and purging. It was intense to say the least. I knew for sure that there was no way in hell I could repeat the experience the next day. Fortunately for me - it was deemed enough.

Talking to others that endured basti I believe I was the only one who had this type of experience. Others felt nourished and relieved by the experience. Who knows? I must have had some serious toxic "ama" (residue) to expel. It was an exhausting experience but I survived. There is no doubt something big happened here. The following week is spent in continuance of dinacharya (daily ritual) and abhyanga (oil massage) treatments to support and nourish the process of detoxification and re-building.

Vaidyagrama prides itself on the complete and authentic ayurvedic experience. Clearly the visit here is not directed at the spa seeking type of patient. There are many of these types of ayurvedic spas in southern India. Instead, Vaidyagrama is a true healing village where the physicians deliver their best care according to symptoms and concerns and they are not there just to fulfill the whims of the patient.

The village is self-contained and they request that you do not leave at all during your stay. Not even for a walk outside in the elements. The experience is really designed around pratyahara- one of the eight limbs of yoga that refers to a withdrawal of the senses. This means that there are no distractions, no technology. They ask that you refrain from physical activity. This includes yoga asana because the practices draws energy away from the healing process. They actually prefer that you do nothing at all! Meditation is of course encouraged. I would consider this the advanced practice of pancha karma because to do nothing is advanced. I broke down. I journaled, read three books and painted. I chose spiritually oriented books- the Ramayana and "A New Earth" by one of my favorites, Eckhart Tolle. Otherwise I chose not to engage with others that much. I was pretty unsocial. It took too much energy and I was truly focused on the inner process. It was a wonderful time for deep introspection. I will say this, at one point I wrote in my journal that PK was like being on your death bed re-living your life and choices. In a way my old self was dying. I was in a process of re-birth.

At the end of the 21 days you are sent home with a three months' supply of herbs and oils to continue the process of support. I didn't realize what that meant until I saw the huge box of items to return with! I ended up purchasing a cheap suitcase on the way to the airport and now had an extra bag to haul back to the states which was a little stressful but well worth it.

I was leaving Vaidyagrama to begin a four day process of traversing the world to get home. I felt very raw and sensitive. I would not recommend this type of exit plan to anyone. I would definitely do it differently next time. It was overwhelming to go from this type of seclusion straight into what feels like the madness of the modern world. I survived but it was disappointing to not have control over my food choices as you know how traveling can be.

Now that I'm home I treasure these sacred herbs from the motherland and adore lathering the oils thick with Indian herbs on my body.

People always ask if you feel the results of this treatment in some kind of revelatory way. I did not. I felt vulnerable, unsettled and even depressed for at least two months after my return home. It took a lot of personal processing. It has now been almost three months since I have returned from India and my pancha karma treatment. In the last month I have noticed some amazing shifts in consciousness. I have realized a profound transition in my relationship with myself and life. I am quite sure that I  released some old, self limiting ways of seeing. I am full of gratitude for this illumination, this clarity I have received. My time in India was the greatest gift I could give to myself. I feel blessed and fulfilled. I am discovering what it means to be whole. I feel fragmentation and doubt dissolving. I feel hopeful in all ways.
The final day at Vaidyagrama you get to plant a tree. A seedling to represent this new start. I got to plant a hibiscus bush! How lovely! I hope to return to Vaidyagrama and repeat the pancha karma treatment again. Honestly I would love to repeat it next year. I have heard that three consecutive years of this treatment and you are completely transformed. Of course, even once is a very real experience. I recommend pancha karma to all of you willing to take a deep look at yourself and discover what's really important. You will change. You will.

This last picture is me on my parting day with my physician Dr. HariKrishnan, his assistant, my beautiful neighbor in "the block" Sangeetha, and Rama my good friend.

Ayurveda is to be in tune with nature. To cultivate physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well being. As Dr. RamKumar says "Health is a state of bio-physical and physiological well being and is the contented state of consciousness, senses and mind."

Hari OM!

Please visit for more information on this very special place in southern India.


Monday, March 7, 2016

The Jewel is In the heart

The morning sun has just come up. I head out the door and through the metal gate into the small one lane street. The neighborhood I'm residing in is known as Lakshmipuram. Lakshmi is the goddes of abundance, prosperity, wealth and health and as far as I'm concerned she purrs. 

I like living here. The early light filters softly through the trees and lands on the backs of the painted cows who have been yellowed with turmeric, their horns rubbed with kumkum and some lovingly adorned with head ornaments showing evidence of the pujas or ritual offerings of worship to the sacred cow of India. In turn, the cows like to wade in the piled trash at the corner of our small street, sorting, sucking and licking the trash clean of anything organic.

Welcome to the Indian trash system.

I was stunned upon my arrival when I queried about trash disposal. I was literally told to drop the trash on the corner and if I felt magnanimous I was free to open the bag and spread it out for the cows. I just couldn't. For the first half of the month the trash was kind of piling up. I eventually acquiesced. 

Once the cows have their way with it, someone comes by and rakes it all together, adds some leaves and burns what's left. Air quality? You can imagine. Though, inhaling the scent of burning plastic every now and then flags India and toxic smog, as heartbreaking as it is, is a part of the experience. While some things are hard to swallow (or inhale) about the culture, other things are rich beyond compare. Like the cows. 
They are everywhere in the streets. They live on the streets, free to roam. They roam on the sidewalks, in the middle of traffic, I've even seen them wandering through the market. (See below, the rump of a cow cruising at its own pace through the market.)

They loll as they walk, in no apparent hurry. The cow is revered here as the mother is revered. The cow is earth embodied, nourishing all. The energy that this dear creature imparts in the middle of the busy day and traffic, mind you, is a steady calm. Unhurried and beautiful. Their dark chocolate eyes exude a patient endurance and they seem to hold down the fort. They keep it real. Imbuing the city with a sweet tolerance. They have stolen my heart. In the end it became my own ritual to separate the food stuff from the trash and leave it on the street as an offering, effortless and delicious to consume. The cows had become an absolute joy to encounter on my walk to the Shala.

A Shala is a yoga school. I am here to study for a month at a Shala called Stahlam 8 with an up and coming teacher named Ajay Kumar.
The city of Mysore is the birthplace of a style of yoga called Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is the classical vinyasa yoga.  A system that installs the breath as the basis of the practice. The breath takes on a deep sound that is often compared to that of Vader, Darth Vader. The Force is felt when a slight restriction of the throat voluminizes and steadies the inhale and exhale. The quality of the breath literally consumes errant thoughts and distractions of the mind. Internal chaos is swept into order by the inconquerable current of the breath and eventually entrainment ensues. This breath, synchronized with movements of the body links a continuous flow for a minimum of 90 minutes. A movement meditation unfolds as a kaleidoscope of aspects and form are explored. It is a demanding set sequence of postures designed to strengthen the body and mind for all the rigors of life; physical, mental and emotional. 

It is not for the faint of heart. 

Ashtanga requires a strong focus and will. A desire to know thyself and a desire to improve. Throw in a healthy dose of humility too because this practice will find some way to subdue the ego in the end. Which is kind of the point. If you don't know what I'm talking about read some of what Eckhart Tolle has to say about the ego in "A New Earth."

The Shala is a small room, holding about 16 people ranging in age from 21 to 50. People from all over the world, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Mexico, England, Venezuela, Italy, Kuwait, South Africa, and Russia to name a few. To be in Mysore is to be in the nexus of this style of yoga. People who come here to practice are, well, here to practice. It is immediately evident. The game face is on and drishti (the gazing point) is steady. "Begin to breathe" Ajay says with conviction, accentuating the word breathe. The breath begins, building in sound and vibration. The room immediately begins to steam up as the effect of the breath begins to create friction in the body and therefore an external as well as internal steam begins to form in a room that needs no heat. We are already at 35° C which is 95°.
Sometime into the practice the sweat literally rolls off of the tip of my nose. It feels like I'm dragging my mind and body through tar as I try to re-familiarize myself with a practice I have not maintained. Ashtanga is a daily commitment and my personal practice in the past two years had shifted away from Ashtanga. 

It took the entire month. 

I suffered and resisted. I resented and complained. I struggled and squirmed internally. Here I am in Mysore doing what I love and still, I suffered. Every lazy bone in my body and mind objected. Yogic philosophy describes energy in three forms: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic.  Tamas being inertia, heaviness and yes, resistance. Resisting with all its might change and transformation. I was up against some tamas and what a strong force it is. Many of us know what this feels like. It keeps us from growing, evolving and becoming the stellar version of ourselves. It is easy to become complacent.  Ashtanga yoga gives us a mirror to see. I am grateful for this mirror and grateful to Ajay and his assistant Prakesh for being there everyday. For being strong and clear. For holding space for so many souls to look within and evolve. To become stronger in mind, body and spirit and not subject to the forces of tamas. Through practice we become the best version of ourselves. We polish the jewel of the heart with the friction of the breath and the heat of transformation creates change within. 

After a month in Mysore I am grateful for the support of the Shala, the Guru, and my fellow practitioners. I beat the tamas for now. I feel stronger, lighter and more secure in my truth. I am becoming more aware. Ghandi's wise words of personal experience will never lose potency. "Be the change you want to see in the world." It's real. It happens within. It starts with you.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lawless and spiritual.

It stands alone. The simple chaos of India is striking. I have arrived in the small city of Mysore in Karnataka, Southern India where a dichotomy of lazy timelessness somehow runs alongside a relentless madness. It is immediately evident that India is strong in character with no lack of energy or life, no weakness of spirit. I am excited to have a month here in this Mecca for Ashtanga yoga, to study and immerse myself in the rigorous style of classical yoga which this place is famous for. I am excited to indulge in the vividly unique Indian culture.
I quickly discover I'm not crazy about rickshaws. They are quintessential to Asia and are no less than a partially enclosed three wheeled tuna can about as stable as an egg. The exhaust pipes purge dirty smoke. The drivers are generally obstinate opportunists, overcharging by two to even three times the real price and still treating you like you ruined their day. So, one week of this and I decided with all my previous training riding scooters in Bali and Thailand I surely could take on Indian traffic- a wild mix of buses, cows, cars, rickshaws, scooters and dogs all pressing through with their own plan of direction and timing. It turns out, it was all I needed, with the scooter came freedom!  Freedom to become one with the chaos. 
There is a language to be learned here. Hindi is one of them, yes. But there is another. The all pervasive horn. Forget traffic rules other than an occasional stop light. On the road it is more like a free for all with the horn as moderator. The horn says "hey there" or "I'm on your right," or my favorite, "NOT stopping!" Some of the endearing phonemes of this unspoken language include the short and quick beep, a lengthy succession of beeps, and the long hard blast of sound that will make the ears wince. Whatever the message, everyone has something to say. Don't be offended  and keep your cool. This is India and it's hot, loud and sometimes kind of stinky. And if you're walking, definitely don't forget that pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way.
My neighbor and yogini compatriot is Reina, a spicy little pistol of a personality from Venezuela who has become my inseparable back seat driver. We weave and speed all over the city making our own rules. In India as well as all of Asia you can see an amazing amount of passengers and baggage of all kinds being transported on these little bikes. We joke that back at home it would take a day off work, three friends and a car to move a piece of furniture whereas here they would just strap it on the back of the bike, load up the family including the dog and head off on the scooter. Job done. 
There is also a helmet "law" that seems to be the only reason a cop would ever pull you over to claim some rupees and write you a ticket. That is, if you stop. They stand in the street on foot and try to wave you down. We have found the best way is to feign a stop and then gun it (full throttle is a ridiculously slow build up to 40kph, which could almost be outrun on foot) then weave a bit as the cop scrambles to take a photo of your license plate with his 90's era cell phone. This irreverent act generally keeps us from shelling out an extra 100 rupees and having to stop. Reina for some reason doesn't want to buy a 300 rupee helmet which is more like a prop than a safety device anyway so we continue about like Thelma and Louise do India. Don't get the wrong idea, we stop every once in a while and pay up. It's usually pretty entertaining because immediately we are surrounded by ten Indian onlookers, generally men, all joining in and commenting on the bust. I have also heard that the law really only requires the driver to have a helmet but they like to pull us over any way. I haven't looked it up for myself. I prefer the lawless lifestyle. Lawless and spiritual.  
Now you know. 

Here we are, three blondes on a scooter in India- American, Venezuelan and French. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Week One: Mother India

India? Are you sure?! Yes. 
I am moved. I am moved by an awakening within my body and spirit to come alive, to leave no stone unturned, no question ignored. I have been inspired by the discovery of a beautiful light within, as though life itself has begun waking up in me, galvanized by a practice consisting of conscious breath and posture. Exploring the physical practice of yoga has been like unearthing a jewel. A jewel of infinite light revealing facets of brilliant colors and quiet, mysterious pathways. The enchantment of body and breath coming together in sweet unison evokes a remembrance, a recovery of an inner beauty of the soul, obscured by years of neglect, fear, disregard and even personal disdain. A surprisingly honest exposé maybe, but how easy it is to lose yourself in the day to day existence, getting caught up in societal pressures and ignorant of the sweet taste of the oasis within.
This practice has produced a pearl. A pearl of courage to finally and fearlessly explore who I am, re-discovering and redefining my relationship with Spirit. This has been an area of my life that I had buried, stuffed away. Resisted. An area I had not made peace with. A big part of my childhood that I had disowned. The strong spiritual influence of my family as a child had been rejected so that I could find acceptance in a world that rarely made space for God. I have found that the very nature of religion provokes a friction between people that I preferred to avoid. I had abandoned spirituality because I had not been able to find a path of resonance. I was disenchanted by any association to religion and turned off by the establishment. 
The discomfort had immobilized me for years and the time has come to stop pushing it aside. 
To be moved in the direction of the heart may be a broad definition of the spiritual, but I have found it is this feeling that is waking up my desire for connection. I believe heart consciousness is one of compassion, devotion, offering and unconditional love for all beings. It is all encompassing, all inclusive. To me, this is the essence of spiritual connection. 
My own glimpse of "atma hrydaya" or heart consciousness has drawn me to India. I must admit I was not excited to visit a country known for its masses, poverty, disease, corruption and lack of infrastructure. But, India offers the opportunity to disorganize and re-organize my whole world. After a fair number of years studying yoga asana (postural practice,) pranayama (breathing), mantra and Ayurveda (sister science of yoga in lifestyle and health) I felt called to overcome my resistance, acknowledge my path as a Bhakti yogini, and make the leap across the ocean to honor the roots of this ancient practice that has changed my life in every wonderful and positive way. 
It's been just over a week since I arrived in Mother India. India's religions are Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. I find it completely fascinating to see these religions in all their fullness here. I love seeing the devotion of the heart represented in all forms. I feel the tender nature of spirituality as humility, surrender and love for this gift of life. 
Yoga for me has become the bridge back  to relationship with the organizing intelligence that supports all life, to that which is greater than the individual. To God. 
I have come to India to explore how the physical path ultimately connects us to ourselves and each other. In this way I am finding my own way back to a sweet relationship with Spirit, myself and all aspects of this life. As Kahlil Gibran so delightfully and peacefully relates, “I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are of one religion, and it is the spirit.” 

(Thank you Maria Garré, my wonderful Ayurveda teacher, for sharing this quote.)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Day one: Waking up in India

It feels like a forgotten memory or dream coming back to me. Or one of those instances when the image moves from blurry and indistinguishableto clear. There is something surreal about being here in India. It's like landing in a picture and then everything coming to life around you. Each place I have visited has a distinct feeling all its own. An energy that cannot be emulated or copied outside of its origin. A facet of light that is only revealed at one time, one place and in one way. This is what tantra refers to as Shakti, the living vibration of energy, eternally and creatively expressing itself in all moments. Though it seems so much easier to see when traveling to foreign places. 
How can I describe the feeling that the giant palms give me as I listen to the cacophony of dogs barking and crows cawing– as though I have never heard a symphony such as this or seen palms like these here in Karnataka, southern India. 
I feel as though I have truly arrived at the pearl of my trip. This is what I have been waiting for so long! I have an apartment for the month and I look forward to the time to practice, process and write about my experiences. 
For now I can tell you that there is so much newness to relax into. To enjoy the smells, sights, sounds and tastes with a vibrant receptivity. Every sari, sacred cow, smiling Indian with kumkum smudge and head wag makes me tingle. I feel exhilarated and alive. Sending you blessings of bright light with every color from India!

Monday, December 28, 2015

When things don't look like you think they should

My week in Ungasan. . . Jockeying for sanity in Bali. My wish is to extol exotic delights and share the magic of discovery and experience to you. The reality has proven otherwise so I am forced to share my discomfort. I've been slow to acclimate to the new chaos. As my new friend Troy says everything here is "semwa balik." All is flipped. I'm south of the equator 8°. Sure, we drive on the other side of the road and toilets flush counterclockwise but it's more than that. The system of organization and law is that there is no system. At least the way we understand it in the west. Chaos is the ruling order and while we organize in linear fashion in the States, here it could be described as spherical. The deal is I got dropped into a really sweet and free place to stay but this really sweet place centered on the hill in the middle of the peninsula. Where all the roads come together... The traffic is mad. Like an angry nest of hornets and a razors edge. Not only that but it turns out the beautiful villa that I'm staying in is built under a lively tree that happens to host bad spirits. Jacob has been told by the local spiritual leader that the tree should be cut down. At the time I didn't think it was the tree but in reflecting back on my time there I do believe the influence is real.

After my first week of frontline training I decided I was finally at a place where I could take off on the motorbike by myself and head to the beach. I have a rack on the side of my bike and strapped on the board. Ready to ride. Easy enough head down to the beach and paddle out. No problem. 
Spun out and annoyed by my feeble sense of direction- I've resorted to google maps to get me places. Just pop the headphones in and I have a hands free homing device. It's amazing that every time I venture out its a completely different world that reveals itself.  If you can't see the forest for the trees there seems to be a thick variety of trees here! 
I made it to the beach- I've spent some time surfing in many different places and while the surf was blown out I thought I could at least paddle out and tune up my stroke, maybe catch a wave or two. Instead I got caught in between. Purgatory would be a euphemism. A current between two breaking wave areas that I was hoping could carry me outside where I could traverse over to catch my ride. I quickly became nothing more than a sliced carrot in a boiling stew. Paddling...Paddling...Paddling. Going nowhere. Was it my imagination or was the coast receding? I swear there were one or two other surfers out here? Where are they?  Paddling. Paddle. Paddle! The sun on the horizon. Hmmm. Nothing like the sunset surf in California that I always loved. This is feeling like a really bad idea.This tiny dancer is not happy to get swept out into the Indian Ocean at nightfall alone. Oh god. My desperation to surf is not working out so well. The panic starts to set in. Calling out for Ma, the divine mother, I quickly recognize my fear is draining my resources. Intuitively I direct my fear towards calming my mind and breath. Relaxing, I allow my view to expand. I began to harness my energy beyond the paddle stroke and actually will my energetic body towards the edge of this impasse. It felt like an absolute miracle of love when a wave gushed up and came towards me. Pointing my board and digging two deep strokes the wave rose up under me like a magic carpet. I hopped up and got a short ride before it dissolved back into the mystery from which it arose. A few more came with just enough force to begin pushing me back toward shore and away from the Bali demon jaws of which I was just held. The relief feels like waking up from a nightmare or finally cutting loose the bag of bowling balls anchored off my leash. Relief with a capital R. Clearly the surf in southern Bali during the rainy season is not for the light weight Colorado surfer that I've become. I kissed the ground when I made it back to the beach. Maybe it's time to see what else Bali has to offer. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Breaking the ice.

A week and a half. Seems like forever since I flung through time and space to the other side of the world. I have earned some saddle sores in foreign countries but always with some grasp of the language. Meaning most of my travel has been in Spanish, French or English speaking countries where I had mastered some key phrases. Now, I find myself in Indonesia years since my last adventure a bit unarmed and slightly askew. Pre-departure I was intent upon all the things it takes to make a winter away happen. Not much left in planning for the moment I stepped off the plane. This may be an idiosyncrasy of mine. I like to fly by the seat of my pants. It's my adventurous spirit. Daringly naive.
It took four days for me to feel like I had actually landed. Day five now. I can exhale. 
The last four days... Let's see. The beauty was not immediately evident. I was just trying to keep up with my local guides. Two classic surfer guys kind enough to take me under their wing. I'm fortunate to have a good friend with a house here who generously offered me a place to stay. Crazy small world that it is, the caretaker of my friend's house is Jacob Eanes, old time Ophir local that I grew up with. So lucky me with a place to stay and an old friend to pick me up and show me around.
Even then. 
It's really the motor bikes. I guess they are mopeds. Haha. You laugh. Now, intersperse hoardes of speeding bikes and full sized vehicles on two small lanes with endless rows of shops tightly hugging the highway. Helmet please. Body armour I wish. Angels and prayers, yes.
The best part is the round about and major intersection where four big roads converge just down the street. It's more like a triangle than a round about because there is only one lane for both right and left. This means that as you pull in to make a right turn coming from the left lane (let me mention that we are also driving on the left side of the street) you cross traffic and then turn right into the same lane as oncoming cars. Yep. And everyone kind of takes turns but no one really stops and the entire intersection is only as big as the center of the round about in Telluride. So that's been exciting. 
Of course the second day on the bike I started to lean and my hand got stuck on the throttle as I was trying to hold onto the bike. It spilled and wasn't stopping. My primitive skills led to a minor peeling back of some precious skin on my shin. Neosporin and tea tree oil. I'll be fine. Truly, I drive Iike a grandma on this thing and try to stick to the country roads. It's just taking a bit to find them. I thought too that I could get away without travel insurance. I've done it before. After four days in the Bukit Peninsula I got myself online last night and signed up with world nomads travel insurance. Smartest thing I did all day
Now the money. $100,000 rupiah is $7. So all the currency has a large number of zeros trailing behind it. And small change comes in bills. There has been no end to my confusion in the moment of payment interactions. Add the stickiness of the heat, humidity and dust and I've had moments of mental acuity comparable to wet concrete. Fortunately, the Balinese people are incredibly warm and beautiful. Smiles as radiant as the sun itself. Eyes like a warm bath. I figure as long as I can keep a healthy sense of humor I'm winning as they say.
As things smooth out, I have to say my favorite discovery thus yet has been the nasi campur. This is their classic mixed dish plate consisting of rice and/or noodles and your choice of a variety of amazing vegetables, tofu, tempeh, egg or meat options. Much of it is fried but can be avoided. Then a side of chili sauce or peanut sauce. A full plate costs all of a dollar. And it is good. Really good. Fresh and tasty. My kind of eating really. 
While the entry hasn't been the easiest I can already sense the magic and I am excited to be here in this mystical land. I hope to continue to share my experience of the un-jaded traveler with you! Enjoy the snow, I'll be thinking of you as I am surfing the turquoise wave. Love, Kristin