Thank you India … until next time x

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It is time to pack my bags and say goodbye to this beautiful country and all the wonderful people who I have been lucky enough to get to know over the last two months.  I feel huge  gratitude for having had the opportunity to experience this journey and I have learnt a lot, mostly things that I never expected … life always surprises us in that way.  The daily practice, which at first I have to admit did ‘push a few buttons’,  slowly began to work its subtle magic and the crazy, noisy, gently chaotic, colourful, beautiful country that is India worked its magic too, as it always does.

I had a very contemplative last day in Mysore , starting with my last early practice and  followed by an Indian breakfast at a cafe that a lot of the locals frequent .. that’s the last time I’ll be able to eat a meal for 60p in a while!  I then spent time saying my goodbyes , from the beautiful girls at Odanadi who have been such a big part of the garden project,  to Anu and Ganesh who are very much at the heart of the yoga community here in Mysore,  a respectful goodbye to Sharath and then supper with a few friends.  I also had to say goodbye to my lovely bicycle, which I have grown quite attached to over the last few weeks, despite it not having any gears.

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I’ve had a day in Bangalore on route home and got chance to investigate another stunning former Indian palace, now a hotel.  I absolutely love these places and this one has a gorgeous garden to wander around too. This evening I wanted to go to a local temple to say a little thank you for my trip and thought I was visiting an ancient stone building ….. but of course, in true surreal Indian style I found myself queueing patiently in what can only be described as a polystyrene and cardboard ‘cave’  with interesting coloured lighting and a constant chant to Shiva on a tannoy filling the space.  After what seemed like an age we emerged from the ‘cave’ into the open to be faced with the most enormous statue of Shiva I have ever seen (not that I’ve seem that many), also made out of what looks like polystyrene or plaster and all lit up !! I thought I was in Disneyland but this is serious stuff and the place was packed, so I respectively followed everyone and did my little ‘puja’ blessing in thanks for my wonderful trip and then watched what was described on the tannoy as an ‘extraordinary sound and light show’  … and it was extraordinary!  Only in India!                       … until next time xx

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‘Could it get any warmer? ….’

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I know we British are obsessed with talking about the weather but it is currently the main topic of conversation here as the mercury just keeps on rising.  Even the locals are saying that it is hotter than usual for this time of year and everything has slowed right down as a result.  The heat seems to have affected by ability to do anything and I need to lie down every couple of hours or so (which is quite nice really).  I have taken to getting money out of the local ATM machine in smaller amounts so that I can visit more regularly as it has the best air conditioning I’ve found so far!  The ceiling fan in my room seems to be just moving warm air around and the dogs don’t even seem to want to move around much in the evening anymore.  Everything has taken on a slower, laid back energy which is  actually really lovely.  Even the cows have slowed down more, not that they were exactly fast before.  One of them had her head inside a stall window opening the other day, obviously also trying to get a bit of shade!

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It is even swealtering already at the start of the 4.30 am led practices. I literally have sweath dripping down my nose and onto my mat within 5 minutes of starting to move and am contemplating wearing goggles for the inversions as it then runs into my eyes.  This heat is good though as the yoga and daily practice continues to work its subtle magic.  With each day it becomes so  much less about asana and about the ability to be completely in the moment. I find myself in a state of observation and enquiry more and more,  watching my thoughts and questions and doubts (sometimes) and sitting with these thoughts.  This is where the luxury of this practice and quiet time is so powerful.  In the conference last week, Sharath talked about doubt  and the the fact that that is completely part of our daily journey.  Life is a series of choices and decisions and we can often feel conflict or have doubts.  He said that if we continue with our daily practice and also to  practise awareness in each moment then doubts will eventually be resolved.  I think I still have a way to go with this one …

Outside of practice at the shala it was also fantastic to be invited along to a women’s group, or rather a little , group of gorgeous friends and acquaintances and local people, from all sorts of backgrounds who came together for a couple of hours to talk and share thoughts about  how we see ourselves.  Beautiful Anu kindly hosted us at her bamboo rooftop cafe space, and provided ginger tea and her delicious vegan fruit chocolate pie (which I love). Most of us were yogis here in Mysore to travel and practice but all of us, and we ranged from 20 something to 50 something in age, had interesting ideas and thoughts to share.  It was a very frank and honest insight into the lens through which most of us see ourselves and our world.  It was also wonderful that my friend Sandra and her daughter Emily were here too and came along to share their thoughts with the group.  Thank you to Sophie whose idea it was to get us together and whose blog I am really looking forward to reading.

I have also been having fun sourcing some gorgeous cotton mats for our new little yoga space and beautiful Indian door handles and fittings which I’m hoping to use on the new doors and cupboards.  As with anything here, even the smallest job takes half a day and usually involves several trips back to the shop because, despite all promises to the contrary,  nothing is ever ready or even in the shop when it supposed to be.  You really do have to be patient and let go of all time restraints.  On the plus side you are nearly always offered a seat and a cup of chai with a smile whilst you are waiting … and if you are really lucky there might even be air-conditioning (although mostly not).

The  Odanani garden is all planted now and we just need to make sure that it gets enough water to stay alive until the rains come in June.  The girls are doing a wonderful job so far of watering the whole thing (by hand using buckets and watering cans filled from their water tank outide) every evening after school.  The older girls have a team of younger ones to help them which is fantastic.  It seems very apt to be made aware of the scarcity of water and how precious it is when we acknowledged world water day last week across the globe. This is one thing that I will definitely take back with me from here … never to take water for granted again!

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Yoga Stops Traffick … from Bournemouth to Mysore

 

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This year’s ‘Yoga Stops Traffick’ event to raise money and awareness for the amazing work of Odanadi had a really personal meaning to me, having been lucky enough to have spent the last few weeks getting to know some of the residents of Odanadi’s girl’s home here in Mysore whilst working on their garden project. For the last four years I have been working with Natalie Cresswell and Scott Parsons in Bournemouth to organise the 108 (sponsored) sun salutions with our own amazing local yoga community and this year the guys had the most amazing support ever for the event on the 17th March at Murrells by the sea in Boscombe. I know that they are still collecting money but at the last count over £1,300 had been raised which is awesome. Well done Nat and Scott and everyone else who helped to organise the event, turned up on the day to take part, raised sponsorship and, last but not least, all those who baked cakes for the day too … I have to say that I did miss out on the cake … but we had fresh coconut water afterwards here inMysore.

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It felt very special to be at Mysore Palace for the main event here this year and quite moving as we turned up to help set up early in the morning and found all the people from Odanadi already there and organising things. Mats were laid down on the paved area outside the main palace gate, in front of a specially made podium for the event and the girls were handing out flowers to us all and putting them in front of each mat. My friend and roomie Sophie had a very special role representing the founders (her brother Sean and his wife Sarah) and got to sit on the podium with the other officials and we all rolled out our mats to do the 108. In reality, as it was so hot by the time speaches were made and we got started, we actually did 27 sun salutes (a quarter of the amount) and these were beautifully counted by some of the Odanadi girls, including two of my lovely helpers from the garden project. It was amazing to be there moving and breathing together with so many people from Odanadi of all ages, many friends from the Mysore yoga community and especially the two founders, Stanley and Parashu, whose incredible work for this organisation is truly an inspiration!

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Happy Holi !

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So last Sunday and Monday were spent mostly in a state of high alert on my part whenever venturing out as the locals were celebrating ‘Holi’. This annual festival is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which comes in February end or early March. Holi festival has an ancient origin and celebrates the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘bad’. Known as the ‘Festival of Colour’, on this day, people hug and wish each other ‘Happy Holi’.

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In the days before Holi, the markets and shops are flooded with packets and piles of coloured powders, setting the mood for the actual day. You can see huge piles of bright red, magenta, pink, green and blue every where on the streets and on the day itself people ‘play Holi’, which seems to entail covering each other with the aforementioned coloured powders, or sometimes eggs too! Fortunately most of the local children in our neighbourhood were very polite and actually asked us if we wanted to play Holi but one gentle stroll (in the heat) to go to a nearby cafe for lunch resulted in three of us being chased down the street and daubed in green and red powder by two very enthusiastic and giggling girls who can’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old! My green scarf now has an interesting pattern to it! We did, however, successfully avoid being drenched by a long range water pistol from a nearby roof top on the way to the rickshaw stand as another small child (being encouraged by his giggling mother and older sibling) took aim at us from across the street.
My lovely friend Sandra has been staying with me for a few days with her daughter Emily who is studying in Bangalore as part of an exchange programme during her degree course and Emily was quite keen to see a little bit more ‘Holi’ action. So we ventured into the city to show them the old market and she was duly rewarded at my favourite incense and oil stall where a group of young people were enthusiastically throwing coloured powder at each other. Sandra and I stayed relatively colour free but it was lovely to then walk around the market with a now multi-coloured Emily and hear the reaction of all the other stall holders who were really amused. We had nearly made it out of the market when Sandra and I took a smudge of yellow powder each on our faces from someone who came out of our left field, again with much giggling and laughter.
Indian people have the most amazing endless capacity for fun.

A spot of rain …

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There was the most unusual sound as I lay in bed a few nights ago contemplating my 5 am start in the morning and unable to fall asleep.  It is so hot now during the day that there is usually a bit of a lull in activity around midday / early afternoon, only for this to start to start up again with a vengeance at around 5pm. Consequently there is a random soundscape of building / roadworks / the vegetable seller calling out his wares, dogs, numerous rickshaws and motorbikes driving past and all manner of music (from drumming to Bollywood hits to Justin Bieber on a loop coming from the dance school in the basement below us.  This continues until well into the evening.  I have decided that the locals don’t actually sleep.  Anyway, the sound which I heard last night was none of the above it was the sound of rain, and heavy rain at that.  Now I know that that you’ve all had far more rain than you would have liked for the last couple of months, but it was actually so lovely to hear and the early morning cycle ride to the Shala for practice the next day was wonderful as the air smelt so fresh (for a change), with the faint scent of blossom from the trees that the rain had somehow emphasised.
My lovely sanskrit teacher Lakshmish had predicted that we might have some rain as he said we would have ‘ one, maybe two drops of rain … ‘ and I think we had rather more than two drops.

Anyway, this turned out to be not just an isolated shower as two days later, after I had spent a couple of hours late in the afternoon with the girls from Odanadi and the guys from my permiculture group planting out some more trees and bananas in their garden there, we had more rain.
This time it was a pretty heavy monsoon rain which lasted a few hours and resulted in a very wet rickshaw ride home and the inevitable power cuts that night. The whole thing was then repeated last night with the most fantastic tropical storm … thunder, lightning, monsoon rain and quite a few palm trees blown down … and of course, power cuts! I can’t say I love sleeping without a ceiling fan in this heat but I did feel very pleased with myself that I had packed torches and spare batteries for this trip! There was an even greater level of chaos the next day as people in my neighbourhood went about clearing up after the storm and I saw one tiny elderly lady dressed in her sari, barefoot, carrying the most enormous palm tree branch on her head, along with several large bags of rubbish. It must have been 15′ long and quite heavy and she was half my size … the women here are extraordinary!

The amazing thing was that the rain felt like quite a blessing as we had just planted the trees at Odanadi and water is such a scarcity there. The ground is uncultivated and so is like hard orange concrete. We have to use pick axes to break up the soil and it can take an hour to dig a hole big enough for each little tree so how brilliant to have everything watered like this each evening!

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My regular morning practice time is slowly getting earlier and I now start at 7.30 am shala time with Friday and Sunday led classes at 4.30 am. The shala is so hot now that I am in danger of melting one of these days but there has been a subtle change in my practice and it feels like such a deep meditation every day. I definitely think it takes most of the first month here to adjust not only to the place but also to the practice and it can feel really quite difficult at first. Then suddenly you notice that your body, breath, mind state, everything in fact has shifted. It is subtle but really powerful work. Practising at the earlier time in the week though is good and makes more sense of the day, giving me time to get out and about a bit before going to Odanadi to help with the gardening late afternoon (it is way too hot to dig before 4pm). Last week I ventured out to the outskirts of Mysore city to a beautiful old building, now a hotel, called the Lalitha Mahal. It was like stepping back in time again onto an old Bollywood movie film set, with sweeping marble staircases everywhere and long light filled corridors with gorgeous carved hard wooden doors and shutters and screens everywhere. I sat in the garden listening to the birds for a while and drinking my sweet lime soda (I am quite addicted to these now). Then I spent ages wandering around and taking lots of photographs. I feel really at home in these old buildings … I wonder if I was a Maharini in another life ?

On Friday evening I had the best time ever as I went (with Sophie, Jenny and Andy) to the famous ‘Rashinkas’ tailor shop and emporium in a very busy old part of central Mysore called Ghandi circus. This is three floors of fabric, gorgeous silk saris, scarves and, thanks to the popularity of yoga here, all manner of yoga mats and bags etc. I spent ages picking out some lovely woven cotton mats for the new space in Studland which I can bring home with me (must check how much luggage allowance I have) and then treated myself to a beautiful silk sari, something I’ve always wanted. We then all went for a drink on a rooftop restaurant before heading to the gorgeous Metropole hotel for dinner. Fridays have become ‘Metropole Fridays’ now because we have Saturdays off and after a week of early nights, early starts and not eating too much, it is such a treat to eat the delicious south Indian food there in the beautiful courtyard. I am really going to miss all the amazing food that there is on offer here when I leave, from little cafes and thali restaurants to the fruit and vegetable markets everywhere .. and it is so cheap. The average price for lunch or dinner is between £2 and £3 so I’m not sure how easy it will be to adapt back to the cost of a supermarket shop back in the UK. I will just have to make the most of it whilst I’m here.

Maha Sivaratri

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There was much excitement and a definite holiday atmosphere here in the air last Thursday night as people everywhere were celebrating the annual, all-night long, Hindu Maha Sivaratri Festival, the ‘Great Night of Siva’, in reverence of Lord Siva, who is the manifestation and emanation of transcendental, undifferentiated consciousness.

According to Hindu mythology, Mahashivratri is Lord Shiva’s favourite day. Devotees on this day remain on fast or perform hour long spiritual meditation by following rituals to commemorate Mahashivratri and be blessed with grace. In the early morning, they visit temples to offer cold water, milk and bael leaves.  During Sivaratri, people  go to one of the Siva temples and  stay up through the night ,  as they chant, meditate and pray in this night long Puja.  The idea is that during this process of  wakefulness and spiritual practice people can contemplate their true nature.

It is these elements of Indian (and in particular the Hindu) culture that I love. Just looking at all  the colours of the women’s saris and the flower garlands and listening to the music and drum beats coming from the street outside my window was wonderful.  There is nowhere quite like India :)