Monday, February 28, 2011

Beatles Ashram

Nancy- Rishikesh India

Saturday was the best day yet in India. Finally free from the tight schedule of yoga training a group of us set free in the town of Rishikesh to search out the infamous Beatles Ashram.  The long dirt road took us out of the chaos of the market and into a more peaceful Rishikesh I had not yet discovered.  We headed toward a forest and there it stood, an entrance of impressive archways with a green and red sign reading "NO ENTRY".  I was told if I offered the guard 50 rupees he would let us in.  Without a fight it worked.

A swami approached us and eagerly took on the role of tour guide. He lead us around the grounds explaining each dilapidated building the best he could with his limited English. We were aw-inspired.. Absolutely amazing! I hadn't realized before I'd come here that this once was an entire village complete with post office, chair maker, yoga halls and residence for living (which also includes several levels below ground).

More than five thousand people lived here but it was shut down when the land lease expired in 1988 and taken possession by the Indian government who has not done a thing to it since.  It's closed to the public and has become overgrown by the forest resembled the smaller ruins of Anchor Watt buried deep in the jungle. It's a peaceful and almost mythical place- hard to believe the Beatles were once here.

We toured the grounds wondering what was this like when it was in full swing? We wandered through the Beatles home, the underground meditation halls, yoga halls and levitation halls.  Graffiti spread all over the place, roofs caved in, windows smashed and stairwells scattered with broken glass. It was like a huge earthquake hit and destroyed the place yet made it feel like more of a secret discovery to see it this way.

Our swami guide lead us to the large egg shaped water towers perched up on the top of the hill. We climbed inside the hollow chambers. Apparently a great place for chanting and chakra toning excersizes.  We must have spent almost 2 hours in the grounds. After leaving the magical land we walked back to the market to eat my first 'real meal' out of the Ashram at a cafe called Little Buddha. We ordered a smorgasbord of food.. buttered nan, curries, mint jasmine rice, chai masalas, vegetables and banana nutella fritters for dessert.  Yum, my belly was happy :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mother Maya and 101

Nancy - Rishikesh India

The final week at Anand Prakash Ashram was a blast. We were blessed with visits from two amazingly inspiring people (who are in town for the International Yoga Conference). Tuesday morning our 6am class was taught by Swami Yogi Nand, a one hundred and one year old yogi and friend of Vishva's.  He was so hilarious and quite inspiring to see a man of this age with so much vitality, strength and humour.  I took some videos, remind me to show you.

Yesterday for graduation day we had a visit and talk with the amazingly empowering Mother Maya (Maya Tiwari) a spiritual leader, speaker and author. She is also a teacher of Ayurveda and founder of the Wise Earth School of Ayurveda in the US. Her story is unbelievable, she actually used to be a fashion designer in New York, and at the age of 23 she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer which caused her to dramatically change her life. She healed herself from this life threatening disease with holistic remedies and by returning to the roots of her ancestry. She then began helping others find ways of living that would help them heal.

We all piled into the courtyard to listen to her speak about Ahimsa (non-harming through thoughts, words and action) She's currently on a world tour giving this lecture "The Living Ahimsa World tour is a sacred intent to make a priority out of peace within animals, thought, words and action." Her words were powerful yet so simple. We completed the talk by taking a vow of ahimsa ourselves, "I take this vow of ahimsa and I start with myself." Basically saying in order to be kind to the world we first need to be kind to ourselves with our thoughts and actions. The Path of Practice is the story of her life, I encourage any of you who are interested to check it out.

My final practicum was on Thursday at 10:40am. It was the first of my classes that were observed and marked by Yogi Vishva which made me a bit nervous but thankful to hear is feedback. We (my partner Kate and I) held the class on the rooftop and had all the mats facing out to the mountains. Thankfully it was a beautiful sunny day and we rocked it!!  I was so relieved and happy when it was done it was like a huge weight that has been sitting on my shoulders all month causing all this frustration was lifted! AHHHHH we're done!! The theme was "Your inner guide/guru" the 'students' seemed to love it and one of the Japanese girls even said "I really enjoyed your class I think you are not students anymore, you are teachers." it was so sweet I almost cried.

Thursday was a great day to have our last practicum because right after lunch we went on a group trip down to a small beach on the banks of the Ganga. Here we had a meditation and ritual of offering flowers to the Ganga (something about offerings to our ancestors) I threw my handful of flowers into the Ganga with thoughts for my Granny, Nona and Grandfathers who have all had a great influence on my life.  I also sent a thought out to Raymond (my old coworker who was from India and I had several conversations with him about India) His death really was too soon so being here in India made me think of him and send some good thoughts out for him. After the offering ritual we had a mini yoga photo shoot where we all took picts of ourselves doing random poses on the beach and in the water.

Yesterday was our graduation ceremony and final group dinner.  It's been a crazy month of ups and downs and all arounds. Yogi Vishva said it well "we've laughed together, we've cried together we've grown together."  I've become quite comfortable with my life here in India and the daily routine. I love having 35 supportive girls around at all times and  I love being immersed in this yogic life but I knew it had to come to an end. Home will not be the home I left behind because everything has changed since then and everything changes from this point forward. It's an all new adventure from here.

I'm so excited to jump right into teaching when I get back. Free Karma Yoga in my condo, at the office, on the beach (once in Australia). I just want to start practicing and applying all this new information and skills that I've learned.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Brisbane And Air Travel

Dean - Kirribilli, Australia

I have moved again. I am now staying with a co-worker who just moved to Australia himself. He was nice enough to let me crash at his place while I try and finish my home hunting saga. So now I am a temporary resident of Kirribilli, which is on the north side of Sydney Harbour. The Prime Minister of Australia actually lives in a very large house about 10 doors down, kind of cool. Makes for a safe neighbourhood, there are Australian federal police all around. The view from this side of the harbour is spectacular.

This week I made it up to Brisbane. I was only there for a couple days so couldn't see much. However, the signs of all the flooding seem to been gone, the city looks like it's back to (almost) normal. My company's office was closed for a chunk of time there because of the flooding, they are in a tower right by the river. Talking to a co-workere from Brisbane, he had lost his car in the parking garage, it was completely under water.

The most memorable part of my trip to Brisbane was oddly the flight. Domestic air travel in Australia is very different from that in North America, especially on Qantas. First, airport check-in was quick and efficient, everything was completely automated including bag check in. Security is also very different. Water, liquids, gels, toiletries, are all ok, even if bigger than 100ml. I didn't have to take off my shoes, belt and didn't wait more than a minute or two. Then the best part, free food on the flight! Yes I was served a breakfast on my 1.5 hour flight. On the return flight, a small meal and free wine as well. This all may sound silly, but this is what air travel was supposed to be like.

I didn't realize how much I missed being mobile in a car until I rented one this weekend. My co-worker and I drove up the coast about an hour to see some different beaches. The eventual destination was Palm Beach where I tried surfing again. The beaches in the north are much different, more laid back and definately less people. It was a great experience to get out and moving around and just what I needed. The driving has become easier now, except that, every time I go to turn, I turn on the windshield wipers (they are on the left side of the steering column). So we definitely stood out as being new because they were almost always on whenever we were turning.

Some new translations/differences for this week:

Arvo = afternoon
Sunnies = sun glasses
Pokies = poker machines found in almost all pubs/bars
Qantas = Queensland And Northern Territories Aerial Services (always wondered what this meant!)

- Australian "bacon" is more like peameal bacon than strip bacon.
- Mixed greens or mesclun (spring) mix is called "rocket" here. Today I had a "BRT," bacon, rocket and tomato.
- If you ask for lemonade you get Sprite. You have to ask for "squash" to get real lemonade.
- "Rump" steak is common here which is what we would call a round steak in Canada.
- A left turn on a red would be like a North American right turn on a red, except that you can't - it's illegal.

Less than a month and Nancy is here!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spicey India

Nancy - Rishikesh India

There are only eight days remaining of this time here in India. My second practicum (teaching experience) was on Friday. I was a bit thrown off to have other people from the ashram (not in our teaching program) join my class, this made me a bit self conscious. Good experience I guess but definitely not my best performance. Our essays are due on Monday (that I have not yet written) and third practicum TBD for next week. Although, I am trying so hard not to wish this time away and soak in all that is here and all the great people that are here with me, I do find myself yearning for the comforts of home. I'm excited about the next step of this new journey.

I miss my little happy Railey. We learnt a spinal warm up the other day called happy puppy that reminded me of him. Standing on hands and knees swing hips side to side like a happy puppy.

For valentines day Dean had flowers arranged for me (which I found out later was a challenge in itself). It was such a nice surprise to come back from class and see a bunch of roses perched at my bedroom door with a card from Dean.  At first I thought, "oh my god is he here!" but no, he had Meera from the office arrange it. Sweet .. shmmoooo.  I put them in my Neti Pot cause I didn't have a vase. Purty.

This mono diet has made many of us here almost obsessive about foods from home. I had an in-depth conversation with some other students yesterday about guacamole and home-made pizza. We take daily runs to the General store to get chocolate, cookies, granola, nuts and sometimes fresh bread! But still there are cravings that chocolate and cookies can not satisfy.. fresh veggies and hummus would be so good right now! The Indian spices are starting to seep out our pores. It's quite alarming... is that me?

There is an Ayurvedic Conference on in Rishikesh this week so lots of internationally recognized speakers, doctors etc. are arriving. Next Tuesday we will have our morning class taught by a 101 year old Yogi. I'll let you know how that goes and try to get some picts.  Also we are lucky to have a guest speaker Mother Maya coming in to talk to us about Ahimsa (compassionate living).

Today is beautiful and sunny, after three days of rain it's so nice to see sun. Simple things make me happy now.. Morning class was amazing and invigorating then for breakfast they served the yummy breakfast samosas again!!! Finally something edible to be excited about.You can't even begin to imagine how happy we all were. Banana and apple baked in cinnamon and wrapped in pastry.. yum-mmy it's like little breakfast fruit pies!

It's going to be a good day in Rishikesh ! Just need to get this essay written first.

Monday, February 14, 2011

OZ - One Month In...

Dean - St Leonards, NSW

It is hard to believe that I have been here just over a month. It has been a month of highs and lows, but no more of either than I expected. Do I miss home? Yes of course I miss family and friends. Today being Valentine's was especially tough not seeing Nancy. Positively, I am starting to make friends here and build an environment that is starting to feel like home. The big challenge still, yes still, finding a place to live.

My accommodations finished at the Fraser Suites on Friday,  however I was actually a bit glad to get out of there. It was like living just off Yonge Street in Toronto. Too busy an area for me and just not homey enough. I found a funky little hotel not far from my work office, so now I have been calling St Leonards home. It's a quick 10 minute walk to work, so my days back and forth have been easier than ever.

Tomorrow I am off on my first business trip out of Sydney to Brisbane. Brisbane is about 900KM north of Sydney and was the area ravaged by the floods just a short time ago. I am excited to get out and see a bit more of Australia, even if it will only be a couple days. I will be homeless again on Wednesday night when I return, however I am lucky though that some co-workers are offering to put me up. I have applied for a really nice place, yet again. I hope this time is the last so that Nancy and I will finally have a place to call home. As well, our shipping container with all our stuff just arrived in Sydney port on the weekend, it will be ready for delivery in about a week or so.

I drove for the first time here this week. I went to the VW dealership to test drive a Golf, it's a car Nancy always liked and I do to. I was plenty nervous when I got into it. Driving on the right side of the car was a weird feeling, going around a very busy round about LEFT was even weirder. I managed to bring the car back undamaged, and really liked the drive. I would love to buy one, but I can't get insurance without a permanent address, sucks not having a home yet. Life without a car isn't so bad, the transit system is actually quite good despite what the locals say. I have successfully used trains, buses, trams, and ferries to navigate this city for the past 4 weeks. But I have to admit, I can't wait to have some wheels.

I did an awesome walk on Sunday, it was from Mosman Bay to Manly Beach. It's about a 10K or so walk all along the coast with stretches through Sydney Harbour National Park. Here are a few pictures of the coastline, it's hard to believe this is part of Sydney Harbour just where the city is.

Another notable experience this week; bring your own is very popular with restaurants here. At establishments marked "BYO," you can stop into the bottle shop on the way to dinner and bring your own wine (some places beer too). The difference between this and the few places in Canada that offer this, is that here, there is typically no corkage charge. And, if you don't finish your wine, cork it up and take it home. I love this country! 

Something else I have noticed - a lot of Aussies like to walk barefoot places. It is not uncommon to see people walking around town bare foot down the sidewalk. Now I don't mean people go to work this way, but I have seen plenty of people strolling around this way. I have to ask someone for an explanation.

Some differences/trivia for the week:

- There are no coolers here, they are either called "chilly bins" (New Zealand) or "Eskys"(Australia). Chilly bin is self explanatory, Esky is actually the name brand of an old Aussie company that made these, it came from the word Eskimo.

- I had referenced before that flip-flops are called thongs here, which is absolutely true. However, more of a Kiwi word, "Jandals" is another. A name brand, apparently they were invented after the second world war and were called that because servicemen returning were wearing Japanese zoris (thong like shoes). So the the name Jandals was formed after "Japanese sandals."

- Good onya = well done!

- Two very common toppings for Australian burgers: beet root and eggs. (Better ask or they might just put them on!)

- The term "shrimp on the barbie" is not really used here, from a previous post you should know Aussies use the word prawn. The phrase was made for a Paul Hogan tourism advertising campaign in the mid 80's and shrimp had to be used as to not confuse North Americans. Barbie is definitely widely used though.

That's all for now...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Quick Glance at Life in India

Nancy- Rishikesh India

Week two of Yoga Teacher training and life in India has been interesting, exhilarating and difficult all at the same time.

Interesting experiences of the week include:
We learnt a cleansing technique called Jal Neti where you pour warm salty water in one nostril and out the other. I know this sounds crazy but it was actually really cleansing! I have never breathed so clearly.  Dean get ready I'm going to make you do this when I get to Oz. Apparently it's good for preventing allergies and sinus infections. Below is a picture of Yogi Vishva doing it. Of course with a big happy smile on his face!!

Secondly, amongst many other things we learnt about the Chakras this week. Thursday evening Yogi Udea hosted a Chakra Alignment class in the upstairs yoga hall that was particularly moving for me.  After a difficult few days (which I don't care to explain here) I entered the class with no expectations.

We meditated and sang at different octaves for each chakra. Up and down the spine, I was amazed that I could actually feel the energies! We sang into the root chakra, the navel chakra.. but when we got to the heart chakra (love) I noticed I had so much voice, so much breath, so much love! Then the throat chakra (voice, communication) again I had so much voice, so much breath, so much to say possibly! It was a remarkably freeing feeling to just sing out loud at the top of my lungs. Almost freeing in a way.  Next at eye centre my breath felt restricted again or just not as free at the other two chakras. We sang up and down the spine balancing the chakras, I could feel the balance, I could feel the energy.  After the exercises I lay in Savasana longer than usual, I didn't want to leave the yoga room. In the still, dark yoga room with candles softly lighting the room, and quiet chanting playing on the stereo I finally had a moment to myself to reflect and absorb all the experiences of the week.

Finally I left the yoga room and went downstairs to the kitchen to get some tea. There was music emanating from the downstairs yoga hall. It sounded like an organ but was in fact the Harmonium used for Kirrtan and other ceremonies. Beautiful sounds filled the hall, soft and harmonious. I sat on the top step of the stairwell listening to the music and sipping my tea.  I noticed a statue of Krishna perched on the ledge above the stairs, I had never noticed before. Another lady staying at the Ashram must have been drawn to the music as well. She quietly sat next to me and in silence we sipped our tea, enjoyed the music and shared each other's company. There was warmth in her companionship. It was a pretty touching moment. My instructor Chetana was right when she said "It's in times of great distress or loss that signs appear to let us know everything is as it should be."  I'm not alone. Although I'm surrounded by strangers, I'm surrounded by love.

Finally, I taught my first class this morning!  It was just half a class (my partner did the first half) but it was a pretty cool experience. We did it in the front lawn so it was nice to be outdoors. It wasn't as hard as I thought, it acutally came naturally.. I had good feed back from the students, everyone said they liked my voice that I was clam and confident.  I also was thrilled to use my meditation bells in the end.  So much fun! I think I'm going to love teaching yoga!!

So, you may be wondering what some of my difficulties have been of this week. I want to keep this blog postive so I'll just share a few that might be interesting or funny to you.

I came all this way to Rishikesh India the Himalayan city where yoga originated to stay in an Ashram. I thought I came without expectations but I guess I had one. I expected to feel free of stress, noise and be surrounded by nature. However, I have found it quite the opposite. Construction next door makes it hard to study on "study break" dogs on the street bark ALL NIGHT long.. it's ridiculous. And now it's Wedding Season (apparently this happens during new moons) Let me just say Indian weddings are BIG and LOUD.  They go on for days (2 weddings - 6 sleepless nights to be exact) Blasting music in both Indian and English (if Tequilla counts) 'till late into the night. At first was pretty funny but by night three was just frustrating. Let's just say my 7:30 lights out is no more and 5:30 wake up call is feeling like torture now.

There have been a lot of emotions coming up amongst our entire group this week. I gues that's inevitable when you have a group of 35 girls. I'm not sure if it's feeling overwhelmed by the info or if the process is doing it's work to cleans out any negetive emotions that we have been surpressing. There have been a lot of tears this week, including me. However, I can't really pin point why I feel the way I do. Chetana told me, I don't have to pin point it. Just watch it, feel it, and eventually it will dispurse. So that's what I will do.

I am also sad to hear Dean is having so much difficulty finding us a place to live in Australia. All I can do is wish for the best and trust that things will work out. Please send good thoughts his way.

But, to bring this back to a positive note in only two weeks I can already see the lessons I have picked up from this expereince. Yoga is not just about stretching and breathing "jumping and pumping" as Yogi Vishva would say. It's about so much more, it's about physical, spiritual and mental balance. It's about understanding that we are all interconnected with eachother and the earth. It's about everything from what we put in our bodies to how we speak to our partner to how we speak to ourselves.

I bought myself a silver pendant with the OM symbol on it. When I came here I didn't even know what the symbol Om menat. I wear this pendant to remind myself when I get overwhelmed by the mass of info being crammed into my head that I am learning. I am absorbing the info and to have patience with the process. It's not going to happen overnight, Yoga takes a lifetime to study and master. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Surfin' NSW

Dean - Manly, Australia

An activity I had to do when I got here was surfing. So last week I headed out to Manly Beach and enrolled in a surfing course. It seems that luck was not on my side and just before I was getting ready to go in the water, the beach was closed due to strong currents. Maybe not such a bad thing?? So this past weekend I headed out again but this time on the windiest, rainiest day yet. Despite the difficult weather, it was a blast! Surfing is a difficult and unbelievably tiring sport, but worth every effort. This is a sport I'll definitely do again, and can't wait to with Nancy. And yes I did actually stand up on the board a few times, and no this is not me, but I felt like it was!

Living Upside Down

Living in the southern hemisphere has differences. The obvious like the reversed seasons, and the sun being in the northern sky. Weirdly, I have not noticed the water going the opposite way down the drain thing. But there other there are other "opposites" not really related to the hemisphere, for example light switches flip up for off, seems like every time I walk into a room, I flip the wrong switch. The whole right hand drive thing messes me up too, I constantly walk to the wrong side of the car.

Apartment hunting goes on - wish me luck...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Week One of YTT

Nancy - Rishikesh India

I have successfully completed week one of Yoga Teacher training, only three more to go! It is "intense" to say the least. I usually wake at 4 or 5am (which isn't hard since I'm in bed by 7:30 or 8pm every night) and head upstairs to the yoga studio for a 6am sunrise yoga practice which is a nice long 2 hour class. This practice is usually lead by Yogi V and involves a lot of breathing techniques, meditation and light stretching. It's actually a really enjoyable way to start the day. After morning class we have breakfast (in silence might I add) This was a hard concept to grasp at first but now I love it. It helps me to taste my food more thoroughly and experience the morning with more consciousness.

Classes start at 9am with Philosophy which I find overwhelming.  Not only is it information overload but all the Sanskrit terms are foriegn to me as well so it's hard to learn the concepts when you can't even remember or make sense of the words. This is beginning to frustrate me and making it hard to open up to the learning process. I'm struggling with being open to all that is uncomfortable about this. I find myself battling with negative thoughts then feeling guilty because the whole teaching of Yoga lifestyle is about being positive and supportive.  Maybe this is part of the process. It is only week one after all.

After Philosophy we have Techniques class where we discuss issues that arose in the morning practice and Yogi Vishva teaches us how to perform and assist certain postures. This is my favorite class because it's hands on and actual experience teaching and guiding with words.

Twelve o'clock is lunch then we have an hour break to shower, do laundry, read, email etc.
Then back to class for the afternoon which involves methodology, anatomy, lifestyle and then we have another session of Techniques with Yogi V. Directly after class is dinner at 6pm, then I'm in bed by by 7 or 8.  On Tuesday and Thursdays we have after dinner exercises as well, such as Kiirtan or Group sharing exercises.  INTENSE.. but I guess that's how you get 200 training hours into a month.

Although I understand and appreciate the process of completely immersing us in Yogic living and aspects of the teachings, I'm finding it hard to enjoy the experience and soak in all that Rishikesh has to offer. I find myself aggravated by the lack of personal time. So today I skipped the walk and picnic and decided to get a much needed Ayurvedic massage, blog, phone Dean and spend some time journaling and reflecting. 

Bathroom talk has become a common topic of conversation. Yogi Vishva has a funny way of approaching it, " Who is excited in the bathroom today? who is bored?" and then offers natural remedies for both. My personal favorite is the "pocket doctor" a liquid concoction of herbs that apparently cures anything from achy joints to headaches to diarrhea. It doesn't taste too bad either as it has a bit of a menthol taste.

There is a tonne of other thoughts I can write about but I need to get to my massage appointment. so I have to sign off now. I've managed to post some picts! So check out the blogs below for some visuals of India.