Taozi Tree Yoga

The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


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Ghee Magic.

Peace, peace, peace…

Waking up every morning at 5 am, in complete darkness, to the sounds of chanting and the soft glow of candle light, one can’t help but feeling magic. I stumble into the kitchen with my eyes half-open to make some tea (a.k.a ….breakfast) before heading down to the yoga shala. We all head out the door, one by one, and down the street we go, the energy of the morning beginning to stir. As we make our walk to class, it’s dark. There can however be seen the occasional person, bare foot and dis-shoveled, meandering around with a long stick, perhaps accompanied by one of the many stray dogs. Not a walk I’d like to make alone. We walk past a large temple on the right. Through the gate and the large temple door the altar can be seen, a giant statue of Ganesha lit up by the hundreds of ghee lit candles. Ghee, a variation of butter, is used for EVERYTHING. I’ll explain more later. We continue the walk down the now familiar street and after passing the dead bat hanging from the telephone wire and the random cowboy sign on the side of the road; we make a sharp right down an ally and toward the yoga shala. Once making it in the gate and up the stairs we enter the world of chanting, meditation and asana. After we chant and connect to our breath we are launched abruptly into an hour and 45 min long inhale-in exhale-out moving mediation. Loads of vinyasas, chaturangas, forward folds, back bends, standing postures, balancing postures, inversions and more… all before 8 AM.

After the series is finished with a well deserved shavasana (resting pose), I begin my prenatal course. I’m trying to learn as much as I can from this wonderful school as possible.  Our teachers are amazing. Mahesh, the Mysore born Ashtanga teacher is a total character. Amazing man. Ellie, the beautiful Colombian wife of Mahesh is the primary teacher for the pre-natal course and she is a walking yoga dictionary. We constantly bombard her with questions all day long and she always answers with attention and care, if she doesn’t know the answer she politely says she will get back to us, and she does. Once we finish our morning lessons we all head back to the house for a cold shower (MAYBE a hot shower out of a bucket if I boil a pot on the stove first) and to prepare lunch.

Our large lovely kitchen.

There are 7 of us living in the house and we have created a very cute family style cooking routine where every day a “team” will cook for every one. This way we aren’t all cooking everyday and we get to sample a number of different things. We have a big beautiful home, which no one was expecting, and a large black and white checkered kitchen.  There are plenty of little “friends” living in the kitchen which may take some getting used to for some. Keep in mind all the windows are open constantly (save for the protective bars) but there is plenty of space for the outside critters to join in the fun inside. A lovely girl, Ali, who is essentially my unknown sister from Beijing (same graduating class of 2004, same American princess background, and lived in Beijing for 5 years, just like me) she had an interesting experience in the kitchen when she woke up the morning after a rain storm, went into the kitchen to make some tea and felt burning on her feet, she looked down to find ants all over her lower limbs… yikes. They had probably come in to take care of all the fairy bugs who had come in to hide from the rain… Bugs, birds, bats, SPIDERS (We had a large one named BORUS, living in our bathroom for a few days) are simply to be expected. Not a big deal… just takes some getting used to. In a way our little friends add to our lovely household environment.  So far all of the food that all of us budding adults have managed to muster up has been amazing. When it was Ross and I’s turn to cook we attempted Mexican. It was YUMMY. Loaded with substitutions (yogurt for the sour cream, paneer for the cheese, and of course…no meat). We have also had pumpkin-lentil soup, palak paneer ( spinach and cheese), loads of marsalas, grated salads, fruit, and lassies (a yogurt drink).

Yummy Indian food…

Borus the spider…

In the afternoon we head back to the shala for more lectures, some pranayama and meditation. All of the classes have been wonderful and there has been enough information shared to write volumes. Perhaps I’ll attempt later. In this blog however I’d like to highlight the magical household ingredient that I have learned about since coming to India. Ghee.

Our yoga home…

What is Ghee? It is essentially the Indian version of butter, it is butter actually. They just make it more “aryuvedic” and healthy by boiling it and skimming off the top solid bits and then the remaining clear liquid is the purified butter or Ghee. Nearly 2 weeks have passed since arriving at the yoga school here in Varkala. I have heard, “just use ghee” at least two dozen times. Stiff joints? Put ghee on it. To much fire in the body? Use some ghee. Perfect yogi drink? Mix ghee together with milk and tadaa! Done. Skin problems? Rub ghee on it. Burning sensation in your hands? Rub them together with ghee. Food need to be a little more delicious? Add some ghee. On and on and on it goes. I love it. It floods every kitchen with the smell of butter. It lines the shop walls in plenty of different brands and jars. It seems to be the miracle worker here. It makes me happy because every one loves butter, at least I do 😉 The other day when we had a meandering drunk homeless man came around the house and was hanging on our shutters (a bit scary) part of me wondered if perhaps ghee could have helped us out of the jam? Instead Sonali, the beautiful  Indian women who is studying with us attempted to “shoo” him away with a broom while Ross encouraged us to pretend he wasn’t there. Imagining that if we pretended we couldn’t see him he would go away. This was incredibly awkward as we were all bustling around cleaning up after lunch and he was hanging onto the window bars right outside the dining room window looking in with curiosity. A very interesting India moment indeed.

To the train station…

Another unforgettable moment was when last week when we took a train to the Southern tip of the country to see where 3 bodies of water meet. the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Mannar and the Indian Ocean. We took a pretty sketchy ferry packed with people out to a beautiful temple on a small island. While visiting there we had a “dance off” Ali “dropped it like it was hot” and we truly (perhaps inappropriately 😉 ) entertained the locals with our laughter. We felt like little celebrities getting our photos taken with all the kids. It was a good reprieve from the days filled with yoga.

Beautiful little girl 😉

Liz, myself, and Ali my Beijing friend 😉

The temple.

Master Mahesh and his coconut.

There have been so many amazing things happening here. Yesterday we started even earlier and made it to the beach as the sun was coming up for some beach yoga. It was wonderful, a bit of a circus with the dogs and the fisherman hee-ing and haa-ing, but it was special to be out there enjoying daily life with the locals. Its Sunday now, exactly 2 weeks after we arrived in Varkala. I just found out last night that my Grandpa died. Crazy because he came to me in my dream last night. I woke up this morning knowing he was gone and he had passed quietly in his sleep. He was 95. Not a total shocker, but yet another excuse/opportunity to reflect on the deeper aspects of my yoga practice. Of course I’m sad, if any one asks whats wrong, I bet the recommendation will be to “just apply ghee” to my heart.

Ross showing off in Peacock…

Mahesh and his magic assists….

Beach yoga…

If you can focus here… you can focus anywhere…

My love.

Happy on the train… adventure to who knows where…

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India. A God Explosion in my brain!?

India.

Anyone who has ever been to India has something to say about it. While preparing for this trip, I’ve heard it all. “The most shocking place I’ve ever been, it will totally blow your mind.” “It’s so colorful. All the senses are overloaded.” “You will love it and hate it.” (I heard this repetitively) “Be Patient” (Also heard repetitively) “Eat probiotics before you go so you won’t get Delhi belly.” “I didn’t get sick at all.” “The infrastructure is terrible and it’s dirty.” “It’s our motherland.” And my favorite came from Sir Dallas. He said, “When you arrive, let God explode into your brain.” I had to let out a laugh. A God EXPLOSION IN MY BRAIN!? Really? Thanks for not setting my expectations too high.

Green trees. Blue sky. Twirly swirly writing.

As we landed in Kerala after a 30-hour, 4 flight journey, from out the window all that could be seen were palm trees. An ocean of them. Gorgeous. Blue skies and green palm trees. The car ride to the Ayurveda school of Kerala was amazing. It seems consistent that the initial drive from the airport to wherever it is we are staying is always my favorite part about visiting a new place. Driving through the streets during rush hour (or perhaps its always rush hour) people chatting by their local food cart or chai tea guy, students walking down the sidewalk in their uniforms. And all the colors! Holy wow the colors… The saris on all the women, the children, the bicycles, the “autos” (similar to Thai tuk tuks) the weaving in and out, and the SOUNDTRACK. It seems that here is the constant sound of India… the jumpy jolly music from out of Bollywood… I also instantly loved all the swirly twirly writing everywhere, like an artistic child doodled all over the place. Incredible India indeed. If my initial impression could be pinned down into a sentence? It’s a bold, vivid place… all of the senses simply pulsate with life.

Beautiful curious child and mom.

A man hard at work.

Now, it is 7 days into our 10-week adventure.  We just finished a weeklong course on Aryuvedic studies. A HUGE field of study encompassing the last 5000 years of Indian philosophies from out of the ancient Vedas. A topic ranging from the theory of creation to all things relating to the medical and spiritual… A lot to cover in 7 days. It was worth a shot and I think it offered us a nice backdrop for the yoga studies to come.

Indian man chopping open coconuts.

Amazing women.

Off to school with precious smiles.

From what I understand, studying at the Kerala School of Aryuvedic Health Care for our first week here provided a gentle entry point. Outside the gates of the school there came the constant sounds of music, traffic, and the varying smells of fresh coconuts and burning trash. The school itself was filled with incredibly friendly staff. As an unaccustomed westerner trying to remember their names proved pretty impossible. I had to write them down. The names are SO different from anything I’ve ever heard. It’s a familiar feeling to me, like when I first arrived in China and was being introduced to Wang Ming Zhou and Li Jie Ayi and Shu Shu Zhu Sheng Fang… Say what!? Here the names are Ambvigha, Sharhanjo, Bvasandhi… plus they are all wearing the same brightly colored smocks! They all “look the same!”. Shame on me. Welcome the western mind once again onto another planet.

All week we were in class studying the ancient wisdom of aryuvedic medicine. The science of life. We have discussed doshas, medicines, therapies, and the history of the sages… we have had hands on practical classes learning how to give back, head,  and full body oil massage using spiced oils. I love how Ross and I were able to partner up in the afternoon and practice what we learned on each other. An unexpected fantastic relationship building exercise. 😉

Oil on the head. Aryuvedic massage 😉

All of us students practicing making plant massage bulbs.

Some of the other highlights included  a trip to the beach where we saw a Bollywood type film being made, the best part of that was seeing all the people gathered to watch… just staring. It was also interesting to note that most of the beach goers were men. A giant beach filled with Indian men. As the women are pretty conservative, none were to be found enjoying the waves or sun. When a naïve foreign beauty was caught emerging from the water it caused quite a scene as well, dozens of interested onlookers just stop and stare to the point you’d think there was a flying saucer or super celebrity. Ross made a few friends while I tried to stay hidden beneath the sun hat and glasses. We stopped at a nice ocean front cafe and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal… a daily happening here. All vegetarian food and amazing.

People gathered to watch movie being made.

Men men men in the water…

Men men men on the beach.

We studied hard and spent lots of time discussing our doshas and diet habits with the other students. I love the discussions you end up having with like-minded people. One of the other students, a sweet British hippy girl named Kate (with the most amazing dreadlocks I’ve ever seen) and I really got along well… She even gave me my first lesson in Reiki, the art of using Qi through your hands to facilitate the universe in healing through balance. A bit much heeby jeeby for the first week or no?  We received our certificates from the wonderful doctor there and happily left the school on a high.

Graduating class of the month 😉

Ross getting his certificate from our beautiful doctor.

Ross’s certificate.

My certificate.

We took a car to Verkala beach where we will be attending a yoga teacher training for the next four weeks. I will be doing a pre/post natal course, (which I am sooooo excited about!) perhaps followed by some Ashtanga… while Ross takes his 200-yoga teacher training in Hatha yoga studies. We have seen the beach, the town, and met the gang (our teachers and fellow students) and believe we are in for a treat. What an amazing opportunity to learn and grow!

To conclude our first week here, I guess its simple to say that despite all of the pre-India talks a person could ask for before arriving, nothing can actually prepare a person for his or her own India experience. Maybe that’s one of the many things that makes this place is so magical?  All of the possible experiences to be had are so varied and so intense that everyone gets their very own India. I’ve loved the first week.

Is God exploding into our brains yet? Honestly… I don’t know… yet.