Amazing Things About South India: Part 1

I went to South India with my teacher, Douglas Brooks, and an intrepid group of 22 other travelers.  We flew into Chennai and visited Thirupathi, Thirutani, Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thiruchendur, and Madurai.  It was a whirlwind trip both geographically and internally. There were so many amazing and incredible experiences that I would like to recount, so this five part series is my attempt to do just that.

Part 1: The South Indian People

These folks win the prize for resilience. It is their “winter” season and the temps were in the 80s and close to 90 everyday. A “three shower day” I call it. It is a harsh climate, especially without air conditioning. And if you have air conditioning, you are not always guaranteed that the electrical grid will hold up throughout the day. It is challenging, and yet, I saw so many smiles on people’s faces.

Their homes come in many shapes and styles, but we visited one village, where our tour guide Babu has a small farm. We first stopped at a traditional potter’s home. He was spinning pots on his porch, where the roof made of bamboo and thatch hung low. So low in fact that one of our travelers hit her head on the bamboo post sticking out. It was bloody. Everyday they have to duck to get into their home. It is low for a reason though — to keep the sun out.

At this same village we visited a small outdoor temple. Douglas advised that most of the goddess deities we saw here are related to the monsoon and even small pox, the things one has to deal with in this climate in order to survive. Even in this small village, it is clear the villagers take pride in their place, the artwork and attention to detail is amazing.

We visited Babu’s farm after that. He also allows his home to be used as a school for the village children. He told us that when the children first started meeting visitors like us they were so shy, if they said anything they might ask your name, but now they are friendly and open and asking how we are doing. We offered the girls bindis, nail polish, and hair ties. The boys were all about the pens.

In Babu’s home some villagers served us a traditional South Indian lunch. Thali meal. This consists of rice placed in the center of a large banana leaf (yes, literally a banana leaf) with a variety of curries spread around the rice. You mix the curry into the rice with your hands and eat with your fingers. There is no silverware anywhere. The tamarind curry is truly dee-lish.

Our group wanted to be respectful of the culture and so we would wear saris — it took the ladies hours to get ready in the morning. Guys get to wear dhotis, which is basically a big sheet wrapped around your private area. 15 minutes tops to get ready for them. It was so worth it to dress the part. When South Indians would see us in traditional dress, they would be so happy and want to talk and take our photographs. It was interesting to me how, seeing Westerners dressed in traditional South Indian fashion, they weren’t repulsed by cultural appropriation, on the contrary, they were so happy that we were trying to “fit in” as it were that they printed a photo in the newspaper. It was a Tamil language newspaper that Babu and Douglas translated to say basically, ‘look at these Westerners going to temple in traditional Indian clothing, doing their best to follow the tradition and temple rituals, they might help inspire our young people to do the same.’ I am paraphrasing, for sure.

One temple that I really loved was the Murugan Temple in Tiruchendur. This is right on the Bay of Bengal. I think perhaps the laid back beach vibe might be a universal experience. Many people would go to the temple, have darshan, which means to see the deity and be seen by the deity, and then walk outside and take a dip in the sea. The people we met here seemed especially joyful and happy to see us. There were Shakti pilgrims dressed in red saris, and Ayappa pilgrims in black dhotis. Once, after some of our group had darshan, a few of us were waiting in the hallway for the rest of our group. We were standing in front of other shrines where a continuous stream of people were rolling by. One of the Ayappa pilgrims spoke to one of our male travelers within my earshot. As I was listening, he was saying that they are so pleased to see us at the Murugan Temple. It was not just his words but the whole gestalt of smelling the incense burning, the heat of the day, the darkness inside the temple, the sacred air we were breathing… as this pilgrim was speaking, my heart was bursting. It felt as though some hard outer shell was crumbling and an even greater love was beginning to shine through my own chest. It felt like a deeper connection to my own soul. It felt like a merging of different layers of my awareness so that I became more complete as myself. I wanted to hug everyone, but in that moment I just kept breathing deeply and feeling even more deeply. It was enough to just be there.

Yoga in Provence May-June 2017

It has been a world traveling year. I’ve swum (swam?) in the Arabian Sea and dipped my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, all in the name of yoga. Thank all the various gods. This trip we stayed in a villa in Provence near Vernègues. It had a vineyard on the property and a salt water pool, but we did plenty of sightseeing in Gardes, Les Beaux, St. Remy, Avignon, Cassis, and Aix-En-Provence, not necessarily in that order. La société était merveilleuse et notre séjour était incroyable. Revenons l’année prochaine! Merci beaucoup.

A few photos from our travels:

Annette at Mas de Gancel
Vineyard at Mas de Gancel
Rita preparing some delicious concoction
Rita and Lisa
The group at Senanque Abbey
Nancy’s Inspiration
Gordes

St Cecily overlooking some Roman ruins and the city- countryside

That’s a lot of wine
Diana at peace with Buddha

Our host at Montirius vineyard, “We want two things: balance and harmony with nature.”

Callanques de Cassis

The gang in Cassis
Palais du Popes, Avignon

Yes, we did yoga too
Naked in Aix

Modern day Moby meets ancient sized parking space
Birthday Girls: Sharon, Carolyn, Liz, and Nancy
Annette and Rita at an Abbey

Pano in Arles

Yoga Center of Columbia India Trip 2017

It is our second trip to India. Rimmi Singh, Pammi Singh, and I led another group of intrepid travelers to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, and we finished our trip at an amazing resort in Goa. Along the way we experienced a long and rich culture of family, society, myth, and history right next to some modern-day amenities. As expected, the variety of sights, smells and tastes filled our senses in both incredible and challenging ways. Below are a few highlights.

Yoga class at the Taj Hotel in Delhi
At the Gandhi Memorial, Delhi

India Gate in Delhi, a war memorial
Shopping with the Gods
Flute Player at Taj Hotel

Girl at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Buddhist Temple next to Hindu Temple
Hindu Temple, Delhi

Yoga at City Palace, Jaipur

Transport

Red Fort, Agra

Hungry?

Monkeys!

Make way for buffalo
Puppy Savasana Expert
Yoga in Goa by the pool by the ocean
Cats like yoga too

Exhale
Lord Shiva
Nandi

Yoga Center of Columbia India Trip 2016

I have an obsession with India. I admit it. The colors, the sights, the smells, the people. So naturally I was thrilled to have this opportunity to assist in turning others on to my own addiction. From March 1-15, Rimmi Singh and I led a group of intrepid travelers half-way around the world to this timeless place that is the Indian subcontinent. We visited Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, these three known as the Golden Triangle, and then we went to Amritsar and Dharmsala. Each place had its own special personality, its own special offering for the world and us. And did I mention the food? Superb. Here are a few photos from Delhi.

sunrise in delhi

first morning yoga

helloooo

Agra Fort

Naked Monk Jain temple

Jammu Masjid gate

Jammu Masjid

Market outside Jammu Masjid, Delhi

Traffic Jam

two wheeled transport

Bamboo Flute in Taj Hotel

Bahai Temple Delhi

And a few photos at the Taj Mahal and Red Fort in Agra and at the Amber Fort and City Palace in Jaipur.

Selfie!

Tree Taj

Taj detail

Taj Pooch

Taj from Gate

Agra Fort

Ladies Quarters, Agra Fort

Cuspid Arch

Taj from Agra Fort with Awilda

Tajafar

Detail of Agra Fort

Detail of Agra Fort 2

Ladies

Three Ganeshas

Krishna Temple with Michael

Stained glass

Sweeper

Ride to Amber Fort

Elephant back

Inside the City Palace, Jaipur

The Peacock Gate, City Palace

Next up, Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, which we saw pre-dawn for a prakash ceremony and then returned midday. It was a new moon the day we visited, a holiday for the local villages, so the temple was packed.

Prakash Seva ceremony, predawn

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Group at Golden Temple

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Dharamsala, the exiled home of Dalai Lama. We arrived on March 10. Every March 10 there is a march for Tibetan freedom. So many monks, so many Tibet flags. And, the Netherlands cricket team staying in our hotel, Fortune Moksha.

View from Morning Yoga

Himalayan glacier

Our Sherpa

St. John Church

St. John Church inside

Dalai Lama Temple window

Dalai Lama's Temple monks studying

Gyoto Monk temple, yes, the throat singers

Monk boys, monkettes?

Seen on the wall

Norbulinkga Institute for Tibetan Culture

Monkeys 1

Monkeys 2 leaping

Monkeys 3

And our return to Delhi before the flight home. Ladies cricket team from New Zealand was at the Taj Hotel with us upon our return.

shopkeeper

madam

shopkeeper 2

shopkeeper 3

bellhop

Cindy, Carolyn, and Shiva

 

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Up next: Absorption.

Return to Costa Rica Good Times.

Costa Rica Good Times

The lovely weather this week marked my first morning practice outdoors for the year… except for when we were in Tamarindo, Costa Rica at Panacea de la Montaña in March when we meditated and did yoga outside everyday. Mary, Debbie, and Peter were excellent hosts and all of their furry friends, Gandhi, Daphne, Maya, Pepper, Kobi, Mama Kitty, Josie, & Harry are our friends now too. Here are some highlights from our retreat in no particular order:

Our kind hosts Debbie (l) and Mary (r).
Our kind hosts Debbie (l) and Mary (r).

Some of our group on an estuary tour.
Some of our group on an estuary tour.

On the estuary tour.  So many birds and monkeys too.
On the estuary tour. So many birds and monkeys too.

Tamagringo Beach
Tamagringo Beach

Beach yoga
Beach yoga
Tom in the kitchen
Tom in the kitchen

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Sunset Sail on the Antares
Sunset Sail on the Antares

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Return to Grace Happens.

Move ahead to Yoga Center of Columbia India Trip 2016.

Saundarya Days in Costa Rica

CR butterfly

“Days of Beauty” in Costa Rica

with Kelly Fisher, E-RYT 500

Panacea de la Montaña
March 11-15, 2015

Enjoy a five-day getaway to beautiful, natural, wild, scenic Costa Rica. Panacea de la Montaña is located on the northwest coast less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean and features breathtaking views of both the ocean and the spectacular mountains. It is the perfect spot to relax, rejuvenate, and go deeper into your yoga practice. Accommodations include your own cabina with large covered porch and hammock, three meals a day prepared from fresh and local ingredients, an infinity pool, and semi-private yoga classes. This retreat is limited to 10 participants, so each yoga class offers an intimate gathering with much more personal time with Kelly. It will be a great time to ask questions regarding your yoga practice and receive more personalized instruction. There is also plenty of free time for you to explore your surroundings. Nature walks, turtle-watching, paddle boarding, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and zip-lining the tree canopy are all within your grasp.

Need an excuse to take a yoga vacation? Read this NYT Op-Ed piece.

This retreat is FULL, but you may register to be on the Wait List.

Sample Daily Schedule:
6:30-7:00am: Meditation
7:00-8:30am: Yoga Class
8:30-9:30am: Breakfast
9:30-12:30pm: Free Time – spend the day participating in the things that you want to do on your vacation, whether enjoying local adventures like scuba, snorkeling, surfing, zip-lining or cultural activities, getting a massage, catching up on reading, or just hanging out.
12:30-1:30pm: Lunch
1:30-5:00pm: Free Time – anything you choose.
5:00-6:30: Yoga Class
6:30-7:30pm: Dinner
8:00: Evening Activity, may include yoga nidra, music, or bonfire
CR Poor Man's Umbrella

Your Stay Includes:
three meals per day (except Saturday night dinner)
daily meditation
twice daily yoga classes
one reflexology session (other services available at additional cost)
shuttle to local beaches
yoga nidra
Saturday evening sailboat outing on the Antares

Panacea offers:
Infinity swimming pool with waterfall
open air rancho for yoga and meditation classes
spa services like massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, facials, and mud treatments
labyrinth and nature walks
fresh, locally grown, organic meals

Other activities you may choose:
(some may have a separate fee)
zip line through the tree canopy
horseback ride on the beach
tour the estuaries, volcanoes, waterfalls
kayak, surf, snorkel, dive
turtle watch
golf
paddle board
white water raft

CR VolcanoAccommodations:
Panacea de la Montana offers bungalow-style cabinas in the simple and comfortable Costa Rican style. Your cabina is double occupancy and is tucked into the mountain, surrounded by native Guanacaste woods and tropical foliage. You will feel at home with nature. Each cabina is furnished with single and/or double beds plus a complete indoor bathroom and full shower.

Travel:
Panacea de la Montaña is located about five miles from Tamarindo, right off the Pacific coast on the Guanacaste Peninsula in northwest Costa Rica.

Please book your own flight. Tamarindo is a short 1 hour drive from the Liberia airport (LIR), or a 4-5 hour drive from SJO Airport. You may also take a domestic flight from SJO to Tamarindo. Check in is from 12 – 5 pm, so please plan your trip accordingly.

Please note that Costa Rica imposes an airport departure tax, currently $29USD. Please go to US government travel website for up-to-date fee.

Rate:
$995 per person, double occupancy, if registered by November 1. ($1195 after Nov 1.)
$500 deposit due upon registration; final payment of $495 (or $695 if registered after Nov 1) due by Jan 15, 2015.

This retreat is FULL, but you may register to be on the Wait List.

All-inclusive: comfortable and scenic accommodations; three fresh, healthy, organic meals per day; sunset sailboat cruise Saturday evening; all yoga, meditation, and yoga nidra classes; plus one reflexology treatment at Panacea’s spa.

What’s not included:
*Shuttle fee from Liberia Airport to Tamarindo, (approximately $65 for 1-2 people, $25 per person for three people, $20 per person for four or more people… I will be happy to help coordinate this with your flights.)
*Any gratuities for services rendered.
*Any special day-adventures you plan on your own. These can be coordinated through me or Panacea if you choose.
*Costa Rica departure tax, currently $29USD.

What to Bring:
passport
your own yoga mat (optional)
your own journal to integrate life’s lessons
one set of nicer clothing for dinner in town or other nightlife activities
sturdy shoes for hiking
sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, beach towel, sandals, umbrella or poncho, insect repellent, sweater, flashlight

Refunds:
I hope you will not have to cancel at all, but if something comes up, your deposit is fully refundable minus a $50 administrative fee until November 1, 2014. After that date, the deposit is fully refundable (minus $50 administrative fee) as long as your space is filled by someone else.

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Return to Mamacita Costa Rica.
Move ahead to Trust and the Holy Science.

Mamacita Costa Rica

Om Mata Kali, Kali Durge Ma

It’s been two weeks since we returned from Costa Rica, but I am still living in the afterglow. There were so many great things about our visit — 16 of us yogis both teachers and students, all with a connection to Yoga Center of Columbia — so I will try to hit on some of my highlights.

Poas PanoramaThe first day we had some free time, so we got to tour and hike around Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfalls. This was a great introduction to the country. Colder than I expected because we were up high in altitude. This volcano is active… in fact it was active just one week before we arrived! It was only gurgling on the day we were there, which was fascinating because the sound was such a low frequency that you felt the sound more in your body then you actually heard it.

When's yoga?
When’s yoga?
We spent the first half of the week in Grecia, a suburb of San Jose, at Villas Azaleas, and each day we visited a senior center nearby. We were there to plant a butterfly and hummingbird garden, do arts and crafts, and practice gentle yoga. I was in the yoga group. Kath had prepared a sequence and there were several of us assisting. These seniors were so open and joyous and wanting to practice, at the end of the first day they were asking when would we be back and for how long. It was really a rewarding treat to be so warmly received. After yoga was over, the seniors would usually break out their vinyl and start dancing. So elegant and dignified. Hener, who walked with a cane, came over to my wallflower seat, promptly hooked is cane over the back of my chair and asked me to dance. This man had a hip replacement (as near as we could tell with what pokito Espanol any of us spoke) and had the gumption to lay it out on the dance floor. Inspiring.

La Presidenta
La Presidenta
While in Grecia we also visited a women’s co-op that produces cosmetics, hair care and soaps, and coffee — a great combination. These women fought through many hardships to make there business survive. It seemed the government and everyone was against their success, and many people just did not think they could pull it off. But the women persisted and now it brings meaningful sustainable work to good people, they grow many herbs in their own greenhouses and gardens. Xavier was our host and interpreter that day as La Presidenta told us her story. And the coffee is delicious.

morning yogaOur group was both yoga teachers and students, so we took turns leading each other in yoga class in the mornings before we went off to the senior center. It was an opportunity to stretch and center before facing the day. On days that we did not return too late, Lucy offered excellent and relaxing yoga nidra sessions outdoors before sleep. For the two mornings that I taught, we chanted Om Mata Kali, Kali Durge Ma to the land and to nature and to our good fortune for being able to share in the bounty of our Earth Mother in such a verdant and beautiful place. The sheer variety of birds, even in the city of Grecia, was a sight to behold. The blue crowned motmot joined us for several mornings. Oh yes, and the fruits — lime, mango, banana, star fruit, and sour orange were in our secret garden behind the concrete wall. Just walk outside and pick one. The mangoes were not quite ripe yet, but green mango, sliced in long french fry shape, with a squeeze of lime and sprinkle of salt is a tasty Costa Rican dish. When it is fresh from the tree, you can taste the vitality. Costa Rica is home to nearly 4% of the worlds diversity in flora and fauna. Many of which are insects.

Look at this little guy.
Look at this little guy.

For the second portion of our trip we visited Hacienda Baru on the southern Pacific coast. This national wildlife refuge is the heart of a rainforest teeming with life. Our cabinas were less than half a mile from the ocean so you bet we did some yoga there. The water was warm, but had the potential for riptides so not many people swim. It was okay though because the abundant hermit crabs (in the wild!) were fascinating to watch as they lumbered about with their homes on their backs. There were so many opportunities to commune with nature. I chose hiking and kayaking. One hike took us up the side of a mountain with birds, frogs, monkeys, even a two-toed sloth. They call the capuchin monkeys “cappuchino monkeys” because they are dark brown with milky faces. One afternoon I went walking by myself. Of course that is when a snake chose to show up. There are two types of poisonous snakes in that area of the country. I found out later the one I came across was not poisonous, but a little “shoo… shoo” was enough to make him turn around back into his foliage so I could quickly pass. My favorites were the afternoon monkeys feeding up in the fruit tree. It was just me and the monkeys. There were about three cappuchinos that I could see at first,cappuchino monkeys so standing still, I just watched. They saw me, but they also saw the fruit. Soon others were joining them, including two mothers with babies on their backs. I counted at least 22, but they were moving around pretty quickly, it was hard to get a good count. At that point, I felt completely immersed in nature as I watched them have their afternoon meal.

There are challenges in traveling to another country when one does not have the conveniences of home, like a warm shower or an air conditioned room, or the proper shoes for the task, or dirt under your toenails due to a lack of the proper shoes. But the Earth is abundant and beautiful and wild. On this trip, whenever I would slow down and simply be, simply allow nature to flow around me and in me and through me, I was uplifted beyond words.

Om Mata Kali, Kali Durge Ma

Did I mention the humidity? It felt like a Washington DC summer. Our guide kept telling us that it was not humid. I think I believe him.

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Move ahead to Saundarya Days.
Return to: I Feel Good…But Not *That* Good

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