Sunday, March 8, 2020

Changing Society


I arrived in India with my preconceived ideas about gender inequality and arranged marriages and caste systems and, as always, cos I am a curious soul, I wondered how my beliefs and experience as a female born in the UK compared to the reality of females born in India.
On this International Women's day, I find myself with time and the motivation to write on my blog. 

I enjoyed conversations with Indian born friends in the ashram about their experiences, family lives, generational differences, love, marriage, caste, politics and progress. It was truly enlightening and absolutely fascinating.

When I arrived in Goa, I saw something very different to what I had heard and seen in the cities. Life for women and girls in rural areas is not easy and gender discrimination clearly exists everywhere. I witnessed women walking, carrying heavy baskets of vegetables on their heads. I witnessed mothers carrying babies begging from tourists on the beach. I witnessed disabled, blind and old women begging at bus stops and outside restaurants. I saw many poor people without shoes and torn clothes and it was obvious that government efforts to outlaw mistreatment of the lower castes was not working everywhere in India.


Meet my lovely friends, Nithya and Torbin. 

Nithya is a feisty, educated, independent and empowered 27 year old from Bangalore, Tamil Nadu.
Torbin is a 30+ married man from Kerala who now lives in Australia with his arranged marriage wife and 2 young children. Both are qualified yoga teachers as well; yippeeeeee!!

Nithya has a boyfriend from another State and damn I can't remember which. But I do know that she chose him herself and both her parents know about him and are OK with it. I also know that, his mother, on the other hand, is not OK with it. She wants an arranged marriage for her son with a woman of her choice. Although, these two have been together for over a year, Mother will not even tolerate talk of Nithya and even complains about the "darkness" of Nithya's skin. She cries, threatens, coerces and manipulates her son and will not accept that he should be free to make his own love choices. I was shocked when I learned this. 

Torbin and his wife accepted an arranged marriage and met on Skype calls on 2 occasions before their marriage. It works. They have 2 adorable and adored children, both work in the tech industry in Australia and enjoy their relationship. He said, it was much easier than he imagined, to grow to love his wife. He also said that it is probably because he is a KAPHA type in the Ayurvedic body tradition, meaning he is too slow and lazy to do anything about it. I think he was joking. I hope he was joking. 

I also read an article in a newspaper whilst in Bangalore, which explained that in only a few years almost 80% of the population of India will be paying income tax. For us this may seem odd as we are so used to paying income tax. it's a "so what" situation. 

BUT

with so many people doing poorly paid physical jobs for cash, there is a huge percentage of the population who are not in the income tax system. 

Things are moving there at a pace and India is in full development. I just hope that the beauty of a yogic lifestyle is not lost beneath the progress and development.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Mysore Palace


For my third "time off" day I took a guided tour of the beautiful Mysore Palace and learned of it's history and about Mysore as a city. 


It was a fascinating 2 hour tour and our guide was super knowledgeable. I think the experience of being asked for selfies with families was a tad confusing though. I mean, I'm not famous or anything right?
My guide explained the Selfie culture in India and how "interesting" my white skin and fair hair is. Put them together and selfie with a white skinned foreigner and hey presto; selfie magic!


 Anyway, back to Mysore Palace;

The current palace is the third palace on the site, the first 2 having both burned down in fires. They were mainly wood built so it is not surprising that the third palace, funded by the Queen after the death of the King, has rather a lot of iron its structure. The iron framework was built in Scotland.


Why is Mysore called Mysore?


Well, as a feminist I rather like the story about how Mysore got it's name...

Once upon a time Mysore was ruled by the demon-king Mahishasura, who was a buffalo-headed monster. he killed many kings of Mysore and thought he was invincible and could not be killed by man. However, what he did not take in to account is woman. The demon was killed by the Goddess Chamundeshwari, whose temple is situated atop the Chamundi Hills in a bloody 10 day long battle. 

Go woman power!


The anglicised form of the name is MysoreTa dahhhh



What I didn't like and deliberately did not take photos of are two enormous stuffed elephant heads; the heads of the King's favourite elephants. The thought of elephant riding upsets me and I am guilty of ignorantly riding an elephant 19 years ago when I first visited India. I now know the cruel way elephants are tamed and how many are injured by carrying tourists for pleasure.

Don't do it folks

There was a huge taxidermy industry in Mysore until pretty recently and many Europeans came to the area to hunt wild animals in the local royal parks. 


Another part of human history I'm not keen on.

 The palace itself is incredibly beautiful and the teak doors are carved. There are teak doors everywhere; corridors and corridors of them. I did wonder just how many reception rooms a royal family can possibly need.
In the grounds of the Palace are 15 temples and the Hindu influence is everywhere. I do believe that it is the most visited tourist attraction in India. Even more visitors than the Taj Mahal.

The day I went it was pretty quiet yet for me it felt busy. There were families and school parties and a very happy vibe.

On Sunday nights the palace is lit up with 98,000 LED light bulbs for one hour. In the past and before LED, the electric bulbs were all handmade and stamped with the palace name. Huge nets hang between certain areas of the building to catch any bulbs that fall and each day a team check and replace bulbs.


Check this short video to see the glowing golden palace at night;
Mysore Palace Illuminations

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Injuries and Exhaustion



As a 53 years young woman I have had plenty of time to collect a range of physical injuries including a left shoulder rotator cuff injury from my year as a teacher in a school for boys excluded from mainstream education due to their emotional and behavioural difficulties which was inflicted on me by 2 boys embroiled in an angry fight. As their carer I got between them to calm them and accidentally received a chair on my left shoulder thrown by one of the boys as the other grabbed my wrist, pulling my arm behind me dislocating it. 


Not a pretty sight and not a welcome experience.

Nerve damage became chronic and I lost the feeling in my fingers for some months. This was a disaster for a left hander and I tumbled headlong into depression. 3 operations, many cortisone injections and hospital appointments later, I was assigned a permanent industrial injury and resorted to anti-depressants.

I remember having to phone my mum every morning to enlist her support to summon up the courage to go to school. Finally deciding my mental health was far more important and accepting that I couldn't do anything positive for these angry, lost boys, I resigned, discovered spirituality and alternative health practices and put me first.

Although never fully recovered, I learned to live with my limited mobility in my left shoulder, the feelings in my fingers slowly returned over the years and as long as I never got over stressed, the fascia remained relaxed and my shoulder, with the help of hypnosis became part of my body again.

I tried really hard.


I tried to push my body to do everything my yoga teacher was teaching us during the 3 hour long morning yoga sessions.

Week One nearly destroyed me.

Trying to master Crow needed shoulder and bicep strength.

My left shoulder grumbled and moaned.

I kept going, wanting to do my best.

By week three, I could no longer lift my left arm or rotate my shoulder back.

I soon became adept at my own modified asanas.

But I never opted out.


Another of my injury collections is a right knee ski fall torn ligament injury. This is a relatively new injury being only 4 years old. At the time it was a biggie as it happened a few months before my planned relocation to Barcelona from Switzerland. With four torn ligaments, my packing and preparations were scuppered and I was a frustrated mess. In the long term, my knee remains swollen and weak. I can't rely on it if I step down or push up on it. 

Yoga requires balance and my right knee isn't too reliable.


I had a lot of pain during my classes.

Two more injuries made me aware of my limitations; my left ankle and my right neck.

My left ankle is incredibly weak and much thicker than my right after 4 sprains and torn ligaments over the years; most induced by falls from kerbs, steps or stairs.

I am a klutz when not fully mindful.


I think my right neck pain is the result of a whiplash injury when I crashed my mum's first ever brand new car up a tree aged 17 and a new driver.

I was not popular or forgiven for a very long time.

A week after completing my training and becoming a qualified restorative yoga teacher; whoop whoop!!, I can use my shoulder again well and this morning enjoyed flowing through Sun Salutations with ease.

What a blessing the vessel of our body is when she flows.

Exhaustion overcame me twice during my 32 days and I asked to miss Kirtan to gain one extra hour's sleep. No one else was in the dorm with me and I stuffed my earplugs in and covered my eyes with my tiger eye mask. I don't remember the ladies coming back to the dorm so I must have slept. I do know that I needed this extra rest and felt much better the following days.


I am grateful for my body and all she has done for me during my Journey of a Soul Seeker...


Mantra and Kirtan


My teacher says 2020 is the year of Kirtan but what is it?


In the Yoga Sutras, one of the ancient, foundational yogic texts, Patanjali says the eight-limbed path consists of hatha, karma, bhakti, tantra, jnana, guru, mantra, and raja yogas. Kirtan is a form of bhakti (BHAK-tee), the yoga of devotion; jnana (gyah-nah), the yoga of wisdom; and mantra, the yoga of sound. Mantras are words, phrases, and syllables that are repeated until they become integrated into the chanter’s consciousness. Today, many yoga students are discovering that this sacred, traditional practice allows them to access inner peace, calm, connection, and non-thinking.
This act of devotion originated some 2,500 years ago in India as a way for yogis to commune with God by chanting the names of the Divine, specifically Hindu gods and goddesses, such as Ram, Kali, Rama, Shiva, Durga, Krishna, and Lakshmi. https://kripalu.org/resources/power-kirtan


To begin with I found our Mantra and Kirtan strange. many of my fellow students were very comfortable with chanting and singing, closed their eyes and reminded me of my times as a born again Christian in their devotion. Many got up to dance. I felt shy. But I did enjoy the tunes and melody and soon found myself learning the words in Sanskrit off by heart and joining in and even looking forward to it. 
By week 3; I was eager to play the accompanying instruments too and became very attached to a pair of brass finger bells

Image result for finger bells

That I could use to add my own little touch to our chanting and singing.


Towards the end of our time, we became really "alive" and danced lots. On three wonderful occasions, we had Mantra and Kirtan outside around the fire pit and whilst, fire gazing is not encouraged in yogic practice, having the flames and fire in the dark sky, was delightful. 

Now I find myself often singing OM Namo Narayanaya; The Universal prayer, in my head and it definitely brings me to stillness and peace very quickly.



If 2020 is the year of humans coming together in prayer and celebration, I'm IN


Detoxing Bliss





In November I completed a 5 day water fast following my first ever colonic irrigation.

Why? I hear you cry shrugging your shoulders.


Well, I have a bit of a thing about challenging myself, leaning dangerously out of my comfort zone and exploring the strength of human potential. I also wanted to see how my body reacted to a good clear out in preparation for my ashram experience.

I have to confess the colonic irrigation bit felt very odd. Warm water is pumped into your large intestine through a rubber tube inserted in your anus and then just when you feel you may burst, it is all sucked out along with any fecal matter lurking in your tract. The process is repeated about 6 times as you lie on your back, discretely covered by a towel, knees up.

On getting up, it's a quick dash to the loo to allow the last remains to escape and celebrate your shiny, clean insides.

The next days, sticking to my research and plan, I drank water only; filtered in charcoal with lime, lemon or cinnamon for a bit of flavour.

I slept a lot
I walked the prom a lot
I watched a fair bit of Netflix and meditated loads

I felt very pleased with myself after 5 days but ohhhhh the detox headache was painful


So arriving in the ashram, after a fairly boozy birthday, Christmas and time in Bangalore, I expected to suffer badly with my new regime of clean; no alcohol, caffeine, sugar, spices, oils, very little protein and very bland meals of a rice or rice flour carb and a vegetable curry.


Perhaps I was distracted by the intensity of the 3 hour yoga classes and punishing daily routine but I suffered not.

The days began with wake up bell/drum at 5am and at 6:15am I had a herbal tea and banana.
At 7am yoga asana class started and went on until 10am.
Brunch was served by the karma yogis at 10:30am (by which time we were all ready for food)
11am to 12:30pm was karma yoga time, shower and rest time.
12:30pm to 3pm was lecture time with a 30 minute papaya snack time halfway through.
We had internal yoga; pranayama, breathing, meditation and yoga nidra from 4pm to 6pm.
6.30pm was supper time.
Mantra and Kirtan began at 7:30pm and went on for an hour.
9pm was "everyone in dorm" time.
Lights out and final bell/drum was 9:30pm.

We were kept busy, no?

I do wonder if I really lived this experience sometimes or if I imagined it



Sunday, February 2, 2020

TUK TUK Etiquette


Tuk Tuks are noisy and strange things and I first travelled in one in Bangalore when I arrived. It was both terrifying and exhilarating weaving in and out of the city traffic, going round roundabouts the wrong way and whizzing past cars, buses and dogs as if they didn't exist. 



I also took a tuk tuk to get from the ashram to Mysore on a couple of occasions and most recently, I took one, squashed in with a yogi friend and all our luggage from the ashram to Mysore airport for my flight to Goa.

TukTuks are overgrown scooters and endowed with a meter like a taxi.
I have never seen a driver use it though. All fares are bartered before the journey. It keeps the meters looking pristine in their absolute uselessness.


Once there were five of us squashed in to the back seat, all piled on each other and dust pouring in to choke us from the dusty country roads outside. I loved it. It brought out the joy and playfulness in me. My inner little girl was delighted with the experience. 

I often hung out the side, phone in hand, ready to snap any gems I came across. Monkeys, colourfully dressed ladies carrying baskets on their heads. School children in thweir very smart uniforms and tidy hair on their way to or from school, dogs, cows, goats, coconut bearing tuktuk minivans, temples, shops, whistle blowing policemen. Tuk tuk journeys are fun.

But is there any driving etiquette?


I really am not sure. I think anything goes for Tuk Tuk drivers. I think they really are overgrown boys or failed racing car drivers. They seem to think they own the roads and pavements and can do whatever they want as long as they blow their horn at the same time they do it. Part of me would love to adopt the recklessness and "fuck you" attitude of the tuk tuk drivers I have met. Part of me thinks they are "assholes".

What I do know is that I have had lots of fun travelling in tuk tuks and can highly recommend them as a way of getting about.


Dorm Life


Dorm Life in a yoga ashram


Have you ever shared a room with more than one person?
Ever shared a squashed dormitory with 29 others?



Well, if you haven't, let me tell you, it is NOT easy. Most days our dorm looked like a washing line of laundry decorated with green, white, blue or pink mosquito nets!

We kept our suitcases or backpacks under our beds and shared a shelf for essentials we wanted to grab easily in the dark. In my case, I kept my photos of Eliza and Louis, my mosi`spray, my soap and my water bottle here. 

With only a narrow walk way between the cots, running up the centre of the dorm from the doorway to the door leading to the 10 bathrooms and toilets we shared, manoeuvring around required negotiation and patience.  


Occasional spats broke out.


Often they were over filling the hot water heater or rather, it not being filled. Hot water was a luxury and for the first 3 days I didn't know we had a way of heating water. Showers were a bucket and jug standing on the concrete floor next to the raised plinth supporting the standing toilet. 

It was sheer bliss throwing warm water over my aching body every day usually around 11am after 3 hours of yoga and brunch. 

I needed little naps and my cot became my refuge. After showing and dressing, I would climb under my mosquito net, close my eyes and drift off for 30 minutes providing i had completed my Karma yoga tasks for the day. 

Karma yoga is one of the 5 arms of Hatha yoga-the practical practice of Raja yoga and everyone was given a week long role to play in the cleaning and orderly functioning of the ashram.

I cleaned the toilets and bathrooms for the first 8 days, watered the plants, washed the pots after supper and cleaned the kitchen area and sink area after both brunch and supper.  Not all at the same time or same week but during my time in the ashram. 
I



Lights out was at 930 pm every night and I was delighted to crawl back in to my cot. My routine of sleep preparation included changing into my thermals, brushing my teeth and hair and washing my face, emptying my bladder, inserting my earplugs and covering my eyes with an eye mask, putting the pillow between my knees so i could sleep on my side and pulling my travel pillow around my neck as my pillow. I found this all helped me sleep and sometimes covered my neck and shoulders in muscle rub and added lavender essential oil to my pillow and chest.


The mattress was the thinnest thing I have ever slept on and my back and hips groaned in protest for the first week. I really am not exaggerating! No springs, no latts. Just a wooden board and 2 inch thin mattress.

I sleep very lightly so every time someone went to the bathrooms in the night, I woke.

It was a combo of the noise and torch light that disturbed me and then returning to sleep was often impossible, especially if it was around 4am which it often seemed to be judging by the bird and lizard sounds.



It is funny how I got used to having room mates. It was like having many sisters. We shared fruit, nuts and laughs on days we could talk to each other. 

We looked out for each other and when someone was feeling emotional we were there for each other with a hug or a smile.

I'm definitely not saying I would like to permanently sleep in a dorm with 29 other women of all ages from around the world but we experienced more together studying yoga and a yogic lifestyle which was way more important than bed space and physical comfort.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sunrise and sunset JOY


Sunrises and sunsets begin and end our days at the Ashram

They soon became really important guides to me as I lost track of days, dates and times. It became a ritual to watch for the sun rising and compare it and it's colours, the sky and cloud formations, to the previous day. I did not see it every day as some mornings were misty and somehow the sun rose behind the mist and suddenly appeared at around 10am in the sky as we finished our 3 hour yoga class and looked forward to brunch. Sometimes I took a chair from one of the huts and sat along the path with my morning herbal tea and banana, often after performing a shatkarma (more in another blog post) or internal yoga. 

The wake up drum/bell was at 5am every morning and the sunrise was around 6:30am so my day began very much in the dark. Welcoming the sun to each day filled me with joy.




Sunsets

Watching the setting sun, often accompanied by Nico practicing flute, also became a ritual fave of mine and I am thrilled that I asked Sir for this treat in the suggestions book after missing the sunset every day for a week as we were in internal yoga calls in the shala from 4pm to 6pm as the sun set behind the banana trees.

I was sad.



The first sunset I watched brought immense joy to my soul and I began to truly appreciate the rhythms of nature, cycles of the sun and stars and living more aligned with time.


Every evening was different.
Each sky was unique.
What a blessing colour is and how wondrous nature is.



Pink has always been a favourite colour and I chose it for the Shine. Sparkle. Radiate branding. So when the sky performed pink shades, I was thrilled. It never lasted long and as I didn't have access to my phone as it was stored away in a green topped Tupperware marked F20, I simply stayed very present and watched with my eyes rather than through the lens of a phone. 
It was far more impressive that way. And infinitely more mindful.

Holy Cow


Holy Cows

During my time in Karnataka there were numerous festivals. In fact, every day seemed to be a festival with loud music and chanting from the local temple all night, which despite my earplugs (necessary in a dorm of 30 women), I could still hear.

One of them and I don't know it's name sadly, surprised me immensely as the cows were coloured with rice powder paint including their horns which often, it seemed to me, resembled the Spanish flag as yellow and red together were very popular. 

Whizzing around Mysore in one of my free time escapades, I managed to just about snap some of these coloured holy cows wandering amongst the horn beeping traffic and crossing highways without a care in the world, clearly oblivious to how jolly they looked in their colours.

Even calves were painted.




Every day the villagers brought small groups of cows to the ashram fields to find grass to eat. Some were almost tether free whilst others; perhaps the more unruly ones, were tied by ropes tethering one leg to their neck so that when they walked they are obliged to twist their necks towards the front leg that is tied.

I do not like this.



What I do like is holy cow attitude and that they go where they want, when they want and at the speed they want. I saw cows entering shops and shopkeepers shooing them out. I saw cows blocking roads and causing traffic jams amongst a cacophony of honking horns and shouts from tuk tuk drivers, bus drivers, lorry drivers and private car drivers. 


I think I will adopt me some "HOLY Cow" attitude


Friday, January 31, 2020

Ode to my yoga mat




I LOVE my yoga mat.


For Mother's Day this year I came up with the idea of owning a recycled and eco friendly yoga mat to do my bit for the Planet. I asked Eliza and Louis to buy me the said mat as my Mother's day gift and set about researching, locating, ordering and paying for my mat.

It took me a wee while and I found my favourite mat and chosen gift at Sundried

https://www.sundried.com/collections/accessories/products/sundried-jute-yoga-mat

It's made of jute and is thick, non slip and springy.

It has been my support and safe place for the last month. I have spent hours with it.

 Standing on it.

Sitting on it.

Kneeling on it.

Lying on it.

Breathing on it.

Crying on it.

Snoring on it.

Sleeping on it.

Ohhhh and practicing yoga on it.


I can highly recommend this brand and mat if you are looking for a non rubber option and think the price is worth it.

Eliza and Louis, if you ever remember you didn't pay me back for my Mother's day gift...My mat will probably outlast me so I gift it to you!

lizards, toads and squirrels




I confess I have a fear or rather, a repulsion of snakes. I think it is the way they slither around that I really don't like.

I do like lizards though...normally. Well, I like European lizards who are small and sneak around, minding their own business silently.

I like toads too. Wouldn't want one in my bed. Wouldn't want to lick one. But I do like their hoppy jumps and croaky voices and buggy eyes.

Squirrels are cute. The red ones are more cute or should it be cuter? than the common grey ones that are often thought of as pests in the UK. But all squirrels with their bushy tails and clever balancing tricks are cute to me.


In INDIA I discovered that girls often have a serious phobia of lizards. Toads hide in the toilet bowls and jump out when you are squatting over them (can't say I blame them mind. I would not want to be poo'd on) and squirrels scream whilst fighting in the rafters, waking you in shock from a relaxing Yoga Nidra after an intense class.

 All 3 of these "cute" critters are capable of making noises that give you the jitters, especially above you in the dark of night time or sleep. And lizards like to fling themselves out of rooves as if they are trying to paraglide and land with a thump in your dinner plate, on your  yoga mat or if you are really "blessed", on your face as you doze off to sleep.




SIR or MAMA












When I got an email from my hotel in Bangalore addressed to Sir I just assumed it was a mistake. My name is Nicola so when living in France I often received post addressed to Monsieur Moss as Nicolas...don't pronounce the "s", is a man's name.

During the first lecture at the Ashram I was surprised to hear "Sir" being used to address us all; male and female alike and eventually...yes it took me a while, I understood that "Sir" is used as a polite and respectful address regardless of gender in India. I couldn't get my head around it to begin with but now rather like being called "Sir".
I have been called "Ma'am" too and quite like that but call me "Sir" any time please!


Having now completed my course, left the Ashram and flown to Goa for some relaxation, I am getting used to being addressed as "lady";


"What would you like lady?"
"taxi lady?"
"No lady, they are fishing nets not turtles"


What endears me to India is this respectful way of addressing strangers and I wonder if it originated during the British occupation of India? (Don't want to get into the politics or human rights of that period of history but there is rather a lot of evidence of Britishness here)

Another address I have discovered a wee tenderness for is "Mama"

My yoga teacher's assistant, Ashish, 27 year's old and a fine specimen of yoga suppleness and strength, took to calling me Mama during our classes and soon lots of the younger students studying with me, adopted this too.




At first I felt a little pissed but soon realised it was meant with love and respect and softened in to being called "Mama.

Why not?


I am a Mama and very proud of it!



Sunday, December 29, 2019

Today I travel to Mysore


Yesterday was a relaxed day at my hotel which meant sleep and laptop charging. I achieved this by asking Reception to do it for me and they very kindly then gave me an adaptor which I can't get to work in my room.


FEAR NOT

I am sure I can find a solution once I get to the Ashram

Talking of which...
This is where I am going;

https://inteyoga.org/


In the evening I met up with Tony who had played cricket during the day and we went to a restaurant with a good reputation and had a great experience again!



 I was feeling rather amused with the protective plastic you can buy at Amazon, on the toilet seat. You press the button and it spins round.
We went to a bar afterwards called COMMMMMMUNITI and it was incredibly western with my kind of music, lots of cocktails and trendy young folks with a vibrant international look.

My Uber driver got me back to the hotel and despite the howling air con noise, I slept really well again.

I CONFESS to now being a tad nervous as I wait for a car to collect me to take me to Mysore. Will it arrive? Will we get to Mysore? 

What an experience!