Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Coming Home

It's our last night in India. We haven't posted anything in a while, partially because there hasn't been much to talk about - that is, that we'd want to post on the blog anyway.

There have been massive highs and lows, and for Adam particularly, there has been a lot of very tough, emotional times. This trip has presented us both with many challenges, in our practice as well as personally. It has not always been easy. It has however presented us both with a chance to learn and grow like never before. I have gained a different perspective on life, and my understanding of what is possible has broadened incredibly.

When I left Canada, I felt as though I was in a rut; working at a job I hated, not pursuing the career path that I had set out for myself in college, and just generally not feeling very fulfilled. My view for so long has been that I'm going to do something I don't want to do - in order to get to a place that I could be happy - later. Never now. Happiness and fulfillment was always a series of undesirable tasks away. I've learned that it doesn't have to be that way. It is possible to make a living doing things that inspire you, give you energy rather than steal it from you. I won't allow myself to forget that lesson. When I get back home, rather than just start looking for a job and doing what I think I "should" do, I'm going to search for the life I want to live, and do everything in my power to make that happen. We're all going to die. Knowing that, the only thing worth doing is that which truly fills you with joy, and everything else is just an obstacle.

I'll be leaving India with mixed emotions. I am happy to be returning home; to see my family and all those I care about, to sleep in my incredibly comfortable bed (and in my nice, quiet neighbourhood!) and to move on with the next phase of my life. I am also sad to go; I have made so many good friends, met so many interesting people from all over the world; there is truly a great sense of community here. I will miss Saraswathi, my beloved teacher, and the beautiful, slow pace of life here; spending hours eating breakfast, just talking with friends, nowhere to be, no pressing issues to be taken care of. I will miss all the wonderful locals I've met, who have made us feel welcomed into their community. I'll miss the palm trees and the weather (even though it is oppressively hot these days) and days spent at the pool at Hotel Regalis. I'll miss the adorable stray dogs on my walk to the shala every morning. And the food! Ah, the food.

This trip has been everything I could have asked for - and a lot I didn't - and more. I can't wait to come back.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Today was a good day

Went to 6:30 led class this morning, which was great. I am finding that I enjoy Mysore style, self-practice actually more than the led classes, as they give you time to work on things, to stay in poses a little longer - specifically right now I am working hard on picking up from the floor and jumping back, which there simply isn't time to do in a led class, at least not at my present level of ability (finally making some real progress there though, which feels great). However led classes are great to remind you of the intended pacing, and are just generally a great workout. Saraswathi seems to delight in pushing us all in uttpluthii, taking her count of ten incredibly slowly, and always slowing down more towards the end. When she gets to 8, it's always "come on, only 8, pickup!". So when it's all over you feel just fantastic to have made it through.

After practice we head, as usual, to the coconut stand to rehydrate and chat with some friends. Then it's off to gather our Austrian friend Christoph, and head back to the coconut stand, where we jump in a rickshaw to head to "Yoga Stops Traffic" an event sponsored by a group called Odanadi, that works against human trafficking and sexual slavery/abuse of all kinds. We each made donations and participated with many of our fellow yoga students in doing 27 sun salutations (suryanamaskara a) in front of Mysore palace. Im told in other parts of the world they were doing 108, but... We're outdoors in Mysore, just as the sun would really be starting to get nasty. So we took it easy. Many children that had been rescued from human trafficking by the organization were there, and our practice was actually led by some of them - which turned out to be quite funny, as one of the girls wasn't quite aware of how much she was projecting her voice, and another seemed in a hurry to get her part over with (which meant we had to work quite hard to keep up with her, and led to many fits of laughter from the students). It was nice to actually be able to see some of the people directly affected by our donations, and they seemed genuinely happy and grateful to us all. Its hard to imagine what some of those children would have been forced to go through. Afterward, there were free coconuts for the participants, and the kids were given powdered paint to throw around, and put on the faces of everyone around - a common way to celebrate religious occasions in India.

From there, we headed back to Gokulam for breakfast at Anokhi, which was delicious as always, and met up with another friend. After an interesting conversation about the Yamas and Niyamas, spirituality/religion, moderation and zealotry, we all decided to spend the rest of the day at the pool. So we contacted Apu, a local rickshaw driver who has endeared himself to many of the yoga students, for his excellent driving, his punctuality in picking up/dropping off, and his all-around friendliness. So the four of us got in his rickshaw and headed off to Silent Shores hotel/resort, which is a good 20-30 minute drive... Only to find that the pool was under maintenance for the weekend. So we had to get Apu to come back (he had just left, thankfully) and take us to Hotel Regaalis, which is the more common pool for yoga students. The rest of the day was spent blissfully in the sun, with the occasional dip in the pool, a brief stop for food in the middle, and a trip to the chocolate man (a local legend amongst yogis who sells home-made, absolutely delicious chocoaltes. My favourite is his dark chocolate coconut bars, though I hear he makes truffles that are better than anything else, but they have to be ordered in somewhat large quantity) once we were back in Gokulam for Adam and I, to get some treats for our day of rest.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sinking Hearts

Sorry for the wait, Internet troubles have caused a back-up of posts.

Days continue to pass and our practice is getting better. Aaron is now completing the full primary series and has been given the first two poses of second series. I have finally bound in Marichyasana D (with serious, firm assistance from Saraswathi) and am being given the rest of the primary series day by day. Now I am hoping to be practicing the full primary before we leave.

We both battled a week or so of being sick following our elephant and temple adventure. On top of the sickness, we appear to have run out of things to keep us entertained. Our I-pad games have been far over-played, we've watched every movie and show we brought, more than once, and we've seen the local sites worth seeing.

The days pass much more slowly now. Until recently I had been chatting with my girlfriend back in Canada on Skype for an hour or two almost every day. She's left Canada for a week to vacation with a girlfriend in Mexico. For a week we exchange only small emails and details about our experiences.

Boredom is taking it's toll on us both. There is not much to keep you busy here, unless you opt to take courses in Sanskrit, meditation, Ayurveda, massage etc., or you aware willing/able to spend enough money daily to keep yourself entertained.

We've recently started heading to the pool more often, several times a week, to escape the empty, repetitive days.

With only an hour and a half - the morning practice, to keep us busy each day, the rest of the day drags and seems to take a lifetime. Encountering some troubles back home, boredom coupled with stress and worry - with nothing to take my mind off of it, have taken a serious toll. It has affected even my practice. My calm, meditative practice has been replaced by a practice dominated with thoughts of stress or worry and a desire to be home.

Our Internet situationt took a sudden down-turn, as men showed up to work on and adjust the location of the modem in the building, so residents on the top floor can still access it. After a short while with no internet, we are connected again. However, with the modem farther away, the signal has been weaker, cutting in and out, and with more people using it, the Internet has slowed to a crawl.

Our living situation has also been greatly affected by the arrival of a construction crew. They've set up tents directly next to our apartment, feet away from the window to our bedroom, to build a new building next to ours. At night they play their radios and laugh and joke loudly, until finally around 11:30 it goes silent.

Waking up at 4 after falling asleep at 12 every day for over 2 weeks now, has not been enjoyable.

After practice, when we arrive back at our apartment, the workers are up and shouting, hammering, clanking, and smashing away. Along with the loud traffic, roaring engines and constant honking, day-time naps are just as, if not more difficult than the night-time sleeps. Days of true rest only seem to come when the mind and body are so tired that there is not much to be done to prevent sleep.

My drive and resolve to be here have reached an all time low. I am happy to be making progress, however the thought alone of progressing in my practice is not enough to keep my spirits high.

Now just over 1/2 way finished our trip, I am looking at the coming 6 remaining weeks with distress. I look forward to making progress with my practice, yet all else seems to be disheartening. The reality of 3 months in India, as well as the trouble it can cause back home, have hit us harder than ever as we pass the half way point.

We are hopeful that something will happen, something will come up and lift our spirits once again... Bring back our motivation and allow these final weeks to pass with relative ease. For the moment, the future appears dismal.

Wild Elephants!... In chains?

The conservatory is about a 40 minute ride from the temple. When we arrive we jump out of the car and get ourselves organized before heading to find out how we go about finding the elephants. We're standing at the top of a small hill which leads down to a river, about 400 meters across.

None of us had been here before and our drivers didn't seem to offer much help. Nearby there's a building with a restaurant, convenience store and gift shop inside. We head over to speak with someone about what to do. Lorna gets there first and as Aaron and I walk up we hear Lorna saying "So the workers are all on strike?" as their conversation continues, we discover that the typical way to the elephants is to take a boat ride across the river, however, today the ferrymen are on strike. No boat rides.

"So where are the elephants? How do we get to the Elephants?" someone asks. The lady at the desk simply points to the other side of the river, saying "There." So, having a quick chat we decide to head down to the river and see what's up.

Locals are all over the river, splashing and playing, laughing and shouting. We talk with some of them about seeing the elephants and they show us a stone path which spans the entire river. Taking a look at the visible section of the path we see several areas where you are required to walk through knee deep water. The rocks we can walk on look slippery, and the current looks strong enough to make balancing while walking through it difficult.

As the group discusses whether or not to go, one of the girls with us, Michelle, without a word, hikes up her pants and begins to cross. The decision is made! The rest of us take a moment, putting cell phones and wallets where they won't get wet, and begin to cross. The path is largely easily walkable, with occasional slippery stones and a section or two requiring getting our feet wet. With some help and some tactics, we all make it across in one piece, no one having fallen in.

As we reach the other side, we begin walking around to search for the elephants. In the forest, about 1 km in the distance, we spot an elephant hanging out by a tree. Not sure exactly what to do, we start walking towards it. After a moment a man runs out of a nearby building and starts to yell at us, telling us we aren't allowed there. After a quick discussion we find out where we can stay and discover that the elephants can only be seen when they are brought in for food. The next meal-time is about 30 minutes away, so we kick back and wait.

After a while, someone spots an elephant walking up a hill nearby and calls out to rest of us. The guard lets us know where we can go to see it up close, and we head in to an area surrounded with low walls. As the elephant gets closer we see that it's front 2 legs are chained together, like handcuffs, allowing it to only take slow baby steps toward us. Eventually it reaches the wall and we are able to see it up close. It isn't as exciting as we'd hoped. Aaron and I had already rode the back of an elephant at the palace, and were hoping to see some elephants in the wild, rather than chained. We were also hoping to see a much larger group of elephants.

After the 30 minutes passes, we ask and they tell us it'll be about another 30 minutes before the elephants show up... Disappointed and a little restless, the group decides to head back across the river rather than wait and possibly be told to wait some more.

On the way back, just as we are reaching the other side, we look back and see a large group of elephants arriving for their meals at the compound we just left.

Oh well. Unfortunate, but crossing the river and wandering the area on the other side was a fun adventure.

As we reach the other side a bunch of local girls are chatting, pointing at me and giggling. I smile and wave and all of them make a big "Woooooo", acting shy and covering their faces. Neither of us are too sure why, but we keep walking, as they chat and giggle, watching us. We have a seat at the restaurant and drink some water. Eventually a few of the girls come over to get a picture with our group, and several of them huddle around Aaron and I. A photo or two is taken and one of the girls looks at me and says "Could you stand infront?" pointing at a spot infront of her. I step forward and notice that I'm completely blocking her from the picture, so I crouch down so we can all be seen. Again "Woooooo!" from the girls, followed by giggling. Then the group pictures are finished and the girls leave to join their friends.

After a minute or so, a few of the girls come back and ask me to take photos with them. One by one each girl comes and stands next to me while her friend snaps a picture. Each time a "Woooooo!" and giggle from the friends in the distance. After pictures with 4 different ladies and a few with a pair of ladies, they seem to be content and thank me, heading back to their group.

Aaron and I talk about what that was all about, eventually deciding it must have been my beard that was making me so famous. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I decided before coming that I would try to go the entire trip without shaving my head or face. At this point it's over a month in and I'm looking pretty grizzly. Anyway, just as we were leaving a few of the girls from our group headed of to the bathroom. While waiting, the group of locals wooo-ing and taking pictures with me come back to get on a bus. It appears to be some sort of school trip.

I decided I wanted a picture to go with the story, so I walked over to the group to ask. "WoooOOOO!" the loudest one yet from the ladies as they spot me approaching. I asked if it was ok to take a picture and they agreed, all of the girls and guys lining up on either side of me for the shot.

Before the first picture, one by one, 4 or 5 different guys come and stand next to me, measuring their shoulders up to mine until finally, a few guys turn and call for their friend at the back. As he Stands next to me his shoulder is just one inch below mine, and again "Woooooo!" from the ladies, this time I expect, for the other guy. It all made sense now. For some reason they were very excited about my height. I wasn't the tallest in our group, but the unkempt beard may have added to my 'foreign' look, making me the target.

As they finish lining up, the girl standing next to me begins putting her hand against my leg and trying to hold my hand. The next photo taken is of me looking down to see what's rubbing my leg and hand. The girl is maybe 14 or 15, and looks at me with a big smile. Laughing I tried to explain "I'm taken, sorry!" and put my hand in my pocket for the next picture. Still, the girl places her hand again against the side of my leg. One more photo and I move away, thanking them and saying good-bye.

As I leave they ask Aaron to come over, and one of the guys steps infront of the photo to take Aaron's glasses off of his shirt and put them on his face, then he puts on his own glasses and assumes an amazing 'cool guy' pose next to my brother. Another photo or two and we thank the group, heading back to our car.

The ride back is a long one. This time at night, playing chicken with the pair of headlights infront of us, which quickly grow larger. About 4 hours later we arrive back at the coconut stand and say our good-byes to each other. Ending a beautiful day, amazing temple experience and a fun adventure across a river.

The Golden Temple!

Breakfasts at Anokhi's Garden Cafe have become much more regular these days. That Masala Coffee just keeps pulling us back. The staff at Anokhi have come to know us both by name name and have been very friendly.

While having breakfast the other day, Lorna, another student of Saraswathi's came and joined us. We had previously had a conversation about going with her to see some elephants in the wild at the Elephant conservatory. At breakfast she let us know that the trip to the conservatory would also be to a Tibetan monastery and village, which is near the Elephants. So, she gave us the meeting place and time, told us the cost and a few days later we were on our way.

We all met at the coconut stand. There were 16 of us in total, 13 taking two SUV's and another three in a separate car. After everyone was together, we packed into our rides and started along our way. First stop is the temple, but first...

Haha, yup.

Another crazy ride - weaving in and out of traffic, playing chicken with oncoming traffic as we try to pass vehicle after vehicle along the way. This time it was a nice, sunny day, clear sky and, with the windows rolled down, lots of fresh air. A bit easier to stay comfortable and relaxed. Still, at one point while going about 90 km/h, our driver cranks the wheel to the right to avoid a speed mound he must not have noticed, and our vehicle flies around the mound barely missing a merchant stand and some people at the side of the road. Our driver, Manju, was also particularly enthusiastic with his horn, honking it non-stop for near the entire ride.

About an hour or two into the ride we pass through Manju's village, where, with a huge smile on his face, he slows down, begins to endlessly honk his horn while waving and shouting to friends and family watching him from the road. A short while later - after some of the ladies in the car with us have a talk with Manju about his horn-use, we reach the edge of the Tibetan village.

The first thing we all notice is how much cleaner it is here. There is still garbage on the street, but far less - and never a pile of it at the side of the road. We pass a sign indicating "Golden Temple - This way" and follow. Then, in the distance, we spot the top of the temple. It towers above the buildings in the village and even the treetops surrounding it. It has an Asian-style tiered roof, with golden shingles. At the top of it is a gigantic golden circle, with life-size statues of men in various poses at the center. All of it plated in gold and shining in the light of the sun. An impressive sight to behold.

Our ride ends as we reach the temple gates and our driver lets us out. We huddle into a group and begin discussing a plan on what to do, where to go and when to meet etc. With our large group splitting up into several small groups and wandering throughout a village and a temple, we choose the best method of organization.... no plan, just wing it.

So we split up into smaller groups, Aaron and I stick with Lorna and the other ladies from our vehicle and begin exploring. The temple grounds are bigger than we expected. Inside are 2 or 3 smaller temples, as well as the main, large temple. We take a slow walk through the grounds, taking time to appreciate the amazingly detailed architecture and paintings, as well as the beautiful clean air and clear sky.

Eventually we head inside the main temple and stand in awe of three 60ft tall golden statues. In the center is a statue of Buddha, sitting in lotus. On either side of him are statues of the guru Padmasambhava and Buddha Amitayus (which are 58ft rather than 60). The temple is huge, with a 90ft ceiling at its center. Every inch of the temple is intricate architecture, all of it meticulously painted and detailed. Tourists are allowed to walk along the outer walls, as the greater portion of the temple is taken up by cushions and tables for praying and mantras.

After taking our time exploring we head out to see the temple gardens. They are quite impressive. At one end are various palm trees and bushes. At the other a large stone arrangement with water flowing through it, surrounded by various exotic plants growing along the rocks. Just as we are about to leave, a gong begins to sound. At first, every minute or so, slowly getting faster and faster.

Leaving the garden we reach the front of the temple and find the source of the gong sound, a monk on the temple steps. With every sound of the gong, more and more monks appear, joining a large group seated at the steps of the temple. Eventually the gong is sounded non-stop for a minute or so, and then silenced. At once all of the monks, at least 100 of them, stand and enter the temple to commence "Puja" or prayers.

After they've all been seated, drumming and horns sound as the one man leads the group into prayer. Eventually all 100 or so monks are sitting in lotus, chanting a mantra in a wonderfully deep tone. For at least 30 minutes we sit and watch, amazed at the ceremony. The massive drums being sounded, softly at first, then slowly louder until they are sounded at full, along with symbols and horns in the background. The sound of it was incredible. After a while we notice one of the monks flipping through his prayer cards as each card is read. 30 minutes in and he is about 1/8 of the way through the stack. With that, we decide to head out and finish our visit to the village with some shopping and lunch.

Eventually the time comes to move on to the elephants. After a little over an hour finding everyone and getting back together, we get back in the cars and head out to the Elephant Conservatory.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


So our practice continues to go well, Aaron has moved on past Supta kurmasana and is now essentially completing the entire primary series. I am still stuck in Marichyasana D, and continue to get closer to binding in the pose. It'll be a while, but I'm hopeful I may bind at least before our time here is up.

After a led class at the end of our week, while drinking some coconuts with other students, we were invited to breakfast at a place called Anokhi Garden Cafe. We'd walked past this place almost every day, but never bothered to go in. Big mistake. This cafe is perfect. It has a French/European style breakfast menu, with amazing fruit salads, oatmeals, crepes, quiche etc. The dining area is in a small garden in the shade, with ground level tables and cushions to sit on.

They serve masala coffee, which I instantly became ridiculously addicted to. It's coffee flavored with cinnamon cardamom and ginger. I highly recommend trying it out. Here's the way it's made at the restaurant.

-Boil 50/50 water and milk in a pot, stirring, on medium - medium-high so the milk doesn't burn.
-Add ground coffee, crushed cardamom pods (about 1 per cup of fluid), a little fresh ginger and half of a cinnamon stick.
-Reduce the heat and stir.
-After about 3-4 minutes, strain and serve.

I've been told it can be made in a coffee machine by simply adding a little ground cinnamon and ground or crushed cardamom, but I'd recommend trying it the real way first.

As well as the coffee they have the best fruit salad I've ever had. Called Flora's fruit salad. It has watermelon, papaya, banana, pineapple, date pieces, raisins, pomegranate seeds, shredded coconut and your choice of mint or basil. Fresh papaya and pomegranate might be hard to find depending on your location, but I believe the papaya could be replaced by a nice mango or peach (maybe both!), and cherries could make due for the pomegranate. If you can find all the ingredients, you HAVE to try this fruit salad out!

So, needless to say we've been forgoing our hotel breakfasts for Anokhi garden on occasion since.

During our first breakfast at Anokhi, an American couple mentioned going to a pool later that day. Having heard about a pool in the area we asked them for details and found out there was a pool at Hotel Regalis, just a few minutes rickshaw ride away. Their description made it sound nice, so we made plans to head down later that day.

A few hours later we arrived at the hotel. This was the nicest area we'd been in India so far. As good if not better than some of the fancier hotels I've been to in Canada. Once inside we speak to a man at the desk, pay the entry fee to the pool (250 rupees each, $5) and make our way downstairs.

Walking into the pool area was one of the most beautiful sights we could have wished for; A nice big blue pool surrounded by reclining chairs in the sunlight, with rows of palm trees as the backdrop.... Heaven. You have to come early (which we weren't) to get one of the reclining chairs. The alternative, almost better yet, is for us to place our towels down on a nice flat grassy area in the sun. Laying out, we start by soaking in the sun before going for a swim. Here it takes only a few seconds before the sun's heat encompasses your body. When feeling too hot, the pool is nice and cool. The perfect temperature to jump in and feel refreshed.

Hours melt away while poolside. Before we know it, 4 hours have passed and we have to make our way back to Gokulam to grab food and get ready to sleep before practice the next day.