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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.