Inspirational, Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Meeting The Dalai Lama at 36,000 Feet

Dalai-Lama-yogaressa
His Holiness the Dalai Lama beckons me to come closer

Prepare yourself for every superlative and cliché in the book, as I try to describe the experience of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama this week; an extraordinary and outrageously special experience (you see? I’ve already started with the hyperbole).

My journal entry says, “I’m not sure if ‘holy crap!’ are appropriate words to use in the same sentence as the Dalai Lama … but holy moly (holy guacamole? Holy Gautama?), I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama on my flight to Delhi today”. Since the experience was much more profound than that, I will now try to give it due reverence.

During my advanced yoga teacher training in McLeod Ganj, India, I was optimistic that I would get a chance to see His Holiness, since his residence was on our doorstep. Over two months, like a DalaiGroupie. I checked his official itinerary online, applied through the web site for a “private audience” (although I would have been happy to be one in a cast of thousands), visited the security office in the town, asked local Buddhists, monks and nuns (who had now become my friends) if they knew of any unscheduled appearances, and when I had a chance to visit the Buddhist temple adjacent to his home, I’d stay alert, just in case he felt a spontaneous urge to venture out and have some time with his peeps.

It was not meant to be. The harder I searched, the more elusive he was.

Finally, it was the end of my stay and time for me to accept I was not going to see HHDL. There’s some irony in that acceptance, since the Buddhist and Yoga philosophy of non-attachment suggests that to avoid suffering, we should detach from our desires to the point that if they remain unfulfilled, we can still be content. Best we accept, with grace, the things we can’t change – no Dalai Lama as part of my yoga teacher training? Okay, then, I could live with that … it had still been an unforgettable seven weeks at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga.

Dalai-Lama-yogaressa
Taking it all in.

And so, on the Dharamsala to Delhi flight, I was staring out the window, saying goodbye and thank you for my special Himalayan yoga experience, when I noticed the American couple sitting behind me were now taking selfies with two Tibetan monks in the front row. I thought, “Oh, isn’t that sweet; they’ve obviously not seen many monks yet and this is still a novelty for them”.

Half an hour later, without really knowing where the question came from, I found myself casually asking them if there was any specific reason they were taking photos of “the two monks”, and they stared at me and said, “Uh, YES. That’s the Dalai Lama”. My jaw dropped. I hadn’t even noticed them boarding the aircraft, I’d been so lost in my Goodbye-McLeod-Ganj thoughts. To Art and Amy from DC … THANK YOU!

Dalai-Lama-yogaressa
Note how strongly I was gripping his hands 🙂

All these weeks of wishing and hoping to see him, and now here he was, two rows in front of me, within an easy yoga stretch. The next slice of time (2 minutes? 2 years? 2 seconds?) passed in a daze (cliché, but true). I found myself crouching down in the aisle, waiting shyly and not wanting to disturb him, while simultaneously also wanting to sit in his lap and ask him for All The Answers to All The Questions.

He looked up and reached out towards me, beckoning me to come forward. I knelt down, simply holding his hands and staring at him. His grip was firm and strong and when I looked at the photos afterwards, I realized I was crushing his hands in my white-knuckled grasp, not wanting to let go.

Dalai-Lama-yogaressa
Smiles

Friends have asked me what I said to him and he to me, but there was no need for words. There was nothing I wanted to say. I simply held his hands and gazed at him; his deep, brown eyes alert and filled with light and wisdom, and a mischievous smile on his face.

I drank it all in. I felt his presence as pure; his spirit kind, humble and compassionate. It felt like I was bathing in his energy, on the receiving end of unconditional love and I wanted nothing more than to return this love to him, from my heart. (Yes, I warned you about the superlatives).

At some point, I placed my palms together in “Namaste”, and stumbled back to my seat. I sat for a while, not even looking at the photos my fellow American passenger had taken of me. I sat and absorbed what had just happened, and my eyes filled with tears as I realized how blessed I was to have experienced this. As many people pointed out, it was the perfect end to an already-perfect yoga adventure in India.

Once we had landed in Delhi, I looked down to notice I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt after I had floated back to my seat. But somehow, I think our flight was in safe hands.

Om_Mani_Padme_Hum_mantra


My Favorite Music and Books

Some of my favorite recommendations for good meditation music and yoga reads. Click to explore

Bliss Om Namah Shivaya Robert Gass

Yoga-Music-Blissfull-Mantras-Jane-Winther

Sa-Ta-Na-Ma-Richard-Brookens

 

 

 

Dalai-Lama-Archbishop-Tutu-Book-of-Joy Bhagavad-Gita-Stephen-Mitchell  Bhava-Ram-Warrior-Pose-Book

Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Goodbye, McLeod Ganj

Mcleod-Ganj-clouds
Morning light hits the clouds of Mcleod Ganj

It’s our last day in McLeod Ganj and my sunrise walk took me through the peaceful woods on the way to the Buddhist temple – a kaleidoscope of Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze, prayer wheels spinning to the hum of Om Mani Padme Hum, stray dogs lazing in the early sunlight. I realize how little quiet time we’ve had during our stay and how this has not been a yoga retreat, but a dedicated commitment to yoga studies. Although I would have loved more time for reflection, ironically it’s good how the discipline of keeping to a schedule meant we haven’t been living in a complete yoga bubble of seclusion and tranquility, totally removed from “the real world” and finding it hard to adjust back to it.

Eagle-McLeod-Ganj
Typical view while upside down in Sirsasana

We’ve had to prioritize our time and juggle multiple demands during a physically and mentally demanding, busy day. Sounds like “normal life”, doesn’t it? Our full schedule was good training for how to find balance, how to be an essentialist – only spending precious time on what was truly necessary – and how to make it a priority to carve out slivers of time for contemplation. Staying calm and peaceful within the often frantic flow of life. There’ll be another time when I can indulge in a yoga retreat.

Simba-Tibetan-Dog
The irresistible Simba, resident dog at Lhamo’s Croissant

Ten Things I’ll Miss:

    • Sunrise unfolding over the Himalayas
    • Sharing the road with the goats and dogs as they take their morning stroll
    • Greeting the street vendors and restaurant owners I’ve come to know as familiar faces
    • Paneer with peas. Paneer in curry. Paneer with scorched green peppers. Did I mention paneer?
    • The view of eagles soaring in the sky, sunlight catching their wings, while I’m in Sirsasana (Headstand)
    • Cows mooing OM during Savasana
    • Sammi’s magical massages for aching muscles
    • Sivadas’ snippets of wisdom, which appear spontaneously, unscripted and perfectly timed in our discussions … “If you want to achieve Samadhi, you have to drop your desire for Samadhi.”
Re-use, recycle, repurpose. Cat food bag becomes packing for Tibetan bowl.
Re-use, recycle, repurpose. Cat food bag becomes packing for Tibetan bowl.
    • Invitations to drink sweet chai – yes, sometimes this is a technique used to encourage you to buy yet another irresistible shawl, but often it’s nothing more than a genuine desire to socialize with you, and share a few perspectives on life.
    • How nothing is wasted…they re-use and re-purpose things here, in simple and practical ways. The wrapping for my Tibetan singing bowl is an empty bag of kibbles cat food, the veggie guys use packets made of newspaper for your groceries, and takeaway food is often poured into coffee bean foil bags.
Lhamo and her delicious pastries and cakes
Lhamo and her delicious pastries and cakes
  • Lhamo’s delectable and delicious freshly-baked carrot cake OMG OMG OMG – a constant temptation in my otherwise almost sugar-free diet.

Things I’m looking forward to as I head home:

  • Happy reunion with my husband, without a fuzzy Skype screen
  • Beach walks with friends and warm ocean swims
  • Seeing my old life with new eyes – thank you, Yogi Sivadas, and Namaste.
Travel, Yoga in India, Yoga Nidra / Meditation, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Tushita and the Hairy Bearded Dude Meditation

I finally made it to Tushita today, a Buddhist meditation center between McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot, where you can drop in for daily morning meditation. It was our day off, so the walk through the forest with its silent, tall trees was a welcome shift from the tuk tuk, taxi and car fumes we try to avoid by breathing through a scarf as they pass.

Tushita

Silence through the forest and continued silence when I arrived at Tushita; a few people here and there, plus prerequisite monkeys and ever-present dogs. I walked into the beautiful meditation room, and had it all to myself for a little while before people arrived. Light reflected off the gold on the many peaceful Buddhas, view from the windows of the 100-feet tall pine tree sentinels, the morning noises of the birds, muted activity of the people in the kitchen below.

Tushita Meditation Room
Tushita Meditation Room

A fat, round meditation cushion with an orange centre beckoned to me as the place I needed to sit this morning, and so I did. Perfect. People started to come into the room, quietly taking their places. All ages, nationalities and types. So, out of a room full of fifty or so people, how did I manage to get the hairy, bearded dude in his dark purple dhoti as my meditation neighbour? From the moment he sat down, he was restless and agitated, fidgeting and noisily rummaging in his backpack and taking long, loud, snorts through his nose to clear his throat. Great, this is what I had to look forward to for the next 60 minutes.

Shhhh...
Shhhh…

I was furious. In ten seconds, Hairy Bearded Dude had wrecked my peace and my expectations of my long-awaited Tushita meditation morning experience. By the tenth coughing snort, I had to restrain myself from giving him a hard slap on his burgundy leg. Should I get up and move places? Oh, good, here’s the meditation lady, maybe he’ll settle down. Um, nope, not at all. Just inches away from me, every breath and movement and cough and sigh was an assault to my senses. With my eyes closed, the entire room was tranquil, except for the grunt machine to my right, ruining the tranquility. I followed the meditation guidance to notice the breath, and become aware of the air coming in and of the nostrils. Hairy Bearded Dude snorted harshly through his.

Through a veil of general disgust and irritation, I was determined to dismiss Hairy Bearded Dude from my thoughts, and keep bringing my awareness back to my meditation. I softened, breathed, focused on my breath and reeled in my monkey mind every time it leapt around like the monkeys outside. Miraculously, within a few minutes, Hairy Bearded Dude’s presence subsided and dissolved into the rest of the room and I started to feel quiet inside.

TushitaThe meditation guide’s words were ironically fitting, as she spoke about how we want everything to beautiful and perfect and how when it is not so, we reject it. How we create more suffering for ourselves when we reject reality. A suggestion instead, to rather accept everything as it comes and goes, without craving something else or grasping onto something we like. Sensible words about choosing not to react strongly to things, but to choose equanimity and balance instead. Was she reading my mind?

Everything changes, nothing is permanent – the air we breathe, the blood circulating in our veins, our cells regenerating and dying, the light outside; nothing stays the same. So, to crave something else or try and hold onto something we like, is futile.

My breath slowed, my mind quietened, the hour passed quickly and peacefully. At the end of the meditation, we were guided to send loving thoughts to those we love, with “May They Be Happy” wishes (lovingkindness meditation), and then to send the same love or compassion to people we don’t know, and finally to those we “don’t like as much”. Yes, Hairy Bearded Dude was on the receiving end of my wishes. I smiled softly as I thought of how I was drawn to sit on the cushion right next to him and how he had actually helped my meditation; by showing me I could choose to stay frustrated and angry at his presence (and increase my suffering), or just let him be, let go of my desire for the circumstances to be different, and not be affected by him.

Now for the ongoing challenge … can I repeat the same approach and bring this kind of response into my everyday life?

Ayurveda, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Ayurveda and Yoga

Ayurveda is the Vedic science of healing for both body and mind, developed in ancient India around 1500 BC. The word means “wisdom of life”. It’s a vast subject, and I like the way it’s summarized in the book, Yoga for Your Type – An Ayurvedic Approach to Your Asana Practice (David Frawley and Sandra Summerfield Kozak):

image“We develop disease because of two factors that usually go together: externally, a wrong relationship with environmental forces like food or climate and, internally, a wrong movement of internal energies brought about by disharmonious thoughts and emotions”. It’s an excellent book, as is Mukunda Stiles’ Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy.  [[Update: 1 October: many people have asked me where to find these books. My photos show covers printed in India, but if you click on the links, you’ll find the same books online, even if the covers look different.]]

Today, Ayurveda is emerging as one of the most important systems of mind-body medicine in the world. Its treatment of disease prevention and cure is based on key lifestyle changes, individualized diet, herbal formulas and a spiritual focus of Yoga and meditation.

The practice of Ayurveda first identifies our body types and behaviours into three different categories, or “doshas”: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We’re typically a blend of all three constitutions, with one more prevalent than the others, and when all three are in a balanced state, we naturally choose what is good for us in terms of diet and lifestyle.

When they’re out of balance … Look out! A cocktail of fear, anxiety, panic attacks, rage, impatience, criticism, laziness or lack of motivation follows, depending on what your dosha is. And guess what a major culprit is for imbalance of the constitutions? Diet and the digestive system. We’ve heard this so many times during the past 3 weeks, it’s like a broken record. We just keep coming back to the logic of You Are What You Eat, and Your Body Is A Temple.

Ayurvedic-yoga-therapy-Mukunda-Stiles
Mukunda Stiles’ easy to read book on Yoga and Ayurveda

“Food is that which you eat, as well as that which eats you” – Anonymous

When we eat without awareness, shoving the wrong food into our bodies at the wrong times of the day or night, we place stress on the systems of the body as it attempts to balance hormones, digest and eliminate toxins.

Not surprisingly, Yoga and Ayurveda are a perfect match.

“Yoga and Ayurveda belong to each other like a brother to a sister, the breath to the body, a plant in its soil”. – Mukunda Stiles

There are specific yoga poses, breathing techniques and meditation types that vary for each of the three dosha types. It’s ironic how a Vata-dominant person who is out of balance will often seek a fast, active and potentially harmful style of yoga, when what that constitution really needs is more meditation and a gentler yoga practice; holding the poses for longer. Or a Pitta-dominant person will benefit more from shorter holds without strain, but when they’re out of balance they’ll tend to overdo it, pushing their bodies too much with over-enthusiastic intensity. And a Kapha-dominant person when out of balance would like to lie around on restorative yoga boulsters or dedicate their yoga time to kirtan chanting, when they would get more out of a regular and active yoga practice.

Yogi Sivadas tells us that when we live a healthy and balanced “Sattvic” (clean) life – in diet, lifestyle, exercise, attitude and meditation, we will create an environment for a happy body and a calm mind. And if you can’t live this totally Sattvic life, obeying every single discipline? He’s in favour of the 80/20 rule; being pure and clean 80% of the time and allowing yourself indulgences 20% of the time, making those choices with awareness.

And as it’s getting late and I’ve already eaten a bar of Cadburys chocolate tonight, I would like to keep in line with the circadian rhythms of the body, so I’m heading to bed for a good night’s sleep!

Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Daily Scenes of McLeod Ganj

Halfway through the teacher training tomorrow; amazing how quickly it’s whizzed by and how the foreignness of things has subsided into the new normal. The monkey that came ransacking last week appeared again tonight at my door and this time I was armed with my squeegee/mop thing to chase him off the balcony. I am officially a local!

Other signs that I have settled in:

Kerala veggie - how do you spell "bitter"?
Kerala veggie – how do you spell “bitter”?
  1. I know which guy sells the best fruit & veggies, ESPECIALLY the pomegranates
  2. I now know what this veggie is and do not plan on cooking it again
  3. I’m loving how nice it is to have thick, brown, oozy palm sugar (jaggery) on your oats in the morning
  4. I’m breezily holding Downward Facing Dog as a resting position for what seems like eternity and Chaturanga Dandasanas have transformed from challenging to cheerful
  5. All the Tibetan monks and nuns look like part of the scenery now and I smile when I see them, without grabbing my camera
  6. I know several of the street dogs, by name or shaggy coat or crooked tail
  7. I’m starting to dream in Sanskrit chants
  8. I’m no longer frightened for the safety of the cows/goats/dogs/cats in the road when the taxis, auto rickshaws and car come blaring past, missing them by a hair (and neither are the cows/goats/dogs/cats frightened – it all seems to work out, without casualties)
  9. I can’t spell it, but I know what Tashidelek and Jayla Jay-yong means
  10. The start to the day doesn’t feel right unless I hear the call of the eagles nesting metres away from my balcony

Daily Scenes from Mcleod Ganj

Street-vendor
This is my new Publix
Not a bad view, for brushing your teeth and getting ready for the day
Not a bad view, for brushing your teeth and getting ready for the day
Laundry
Laundry service
Lhamo's Croissant is a frequent indulgence - thank heavens we're doing 4 hours of asana a day!
Lhamo’s Croissant is a frequent indulgence – thank heavens we’re doing 4 hours of asana a day!
Mukti Hair Salon - Salvation for your hair?
Mukti Hair Salon … Salvation for your hair?
Roadside Snacks
Roadside Snacks
Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Hanuman Comes Visiting

McLeod-Ganj-monkey-visit
Monkey Business

Today, a monkey strolled into my yogi cottage. And when I advanced towards him, shooing him away, HE advanced towards ME, and bared his teeth. I backed off and watched as he made his way to the kitchen shelves and started to pick things up and toss them across the room, while I tried my negotiation skills. “Not the carrot cake, PLEASE, not the carrot cake”!

My yogini neighbour, Elsa, wiith the cheeky intruder
My yogini neighbour, Elsa, wiith the cheeky intruder

He grabbed a container of moong dal, sauntered out, sat on my balcony, ripped the Tupperware open and nonchalantly ate his way through most of it, occasionally looking at me as if to say, “Look, you can spare a tub of lentils, and at least I didn’t take the carrot cake”. And then when he’d eaten his full, he tossed the remaining lentils and container over the balcony and walked off.

McLeod-Ganj-white-monkey
McLeod Ganj white monkey

Cheeky monkey. Reminds me of the stories of Hanuman, the Monkey deity renowned for his courage, power and faithful, selfless service. He makes frequent and often impudent appearances in yoga mythology, and the yoga splits, Hanumanasana, are named after him.

The monkeys are certainly naughty and bold here, but will leave you alone if you leave them alone (and share your lentils with them). They only tend to get nasty if you come between them and their young, or if you show your teeth, as they see that as a sign of aggression. If you find them amusing, remember no grinning when they’re up close and personal with you!

McLeod-Ganj-monkeys
Monkey cuteness at McLeod Ganj

We see monkey families on our walks and the babies are irresistibly cute. Tiny little fingers, wizened faces, with bright and clever eyes peering out from under their wrinkled brow. And how adorable is this albino monkey in his little white fur coat?

I’m ready for any future uninvited monkey visits, armed with a broom in the kitchen and a mental note not to show my teeth.

Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Yoga Kriyas and Welcome to the Digestive System

Yogi Sivadas’ teaching of yoga is classical and is also strongly influenced by Ayurveda, the ancient science of better health. He believes that most emotional, hormonal and physical imbalances and agitations of the mind are caused by bad diet, poor digestion and a sedentary and/or stressful lifestyle.

Healthy digestion and elimination is crucial. The exasperated expression, “Oh, she’s full of shit!”, is literally that – when the body is clogged with toxic waste, it creates hormonal imbalances and makes us behave like crazies; unreasonable, impatient, fearful, depressed, bad-tempered, and the kind of person you hardly recognize as yourself. In fact, this is not your true self. It’s your body and mind poisoned by the toxins in your digestive system. Get them out!

The Kriyas are yogic cleansing practices which promote healthy digestion and well being and there are several basic and advanced purification techniques. None of them should be done without the guidance of an experienced teacher, and some of them should not be done at all, depending on your state of body and mind.

In our quest to create happy elimination, our daily routine involves Agnisar Kriya, “activating the digestive fire” first thing in the morning. It involves rapid contraction and expansion of the abdominal muscles, pumping the stomach with muscular effort. Great for the abs! It also kickstarts the digestive system and should result in a bowel movement. Or maybe I’ll just go back to the place that gave me Delhi Belly and get the same result 😉

Yes, this tongue scraper is coming home with me
Yes, this tongue scraper is coming home with me

We’re also scraping our tongues in the morning with a little metal tongue scraper – it’s particularly revolting to see how much gunk there is on your tongue in the morning, after your body has tried to digest what you threw into it the day and night before. And then you swallow those toxins on your tongue when you eat and drink at breakfast. Yukk. You shower, wash your ears and brush your teeth regularly, so why wouldn’t you keep your tongue clean? (If all this talk about poop and bodily functions is too much for you, fast forward to Hanuman Comes Visiting, for light relief. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve learnt so much about the effects of poor digestion on our lives, the subject for me has now changed from being icky to being hugely therapeutic and helpful).

I am definitely taking the tongue scraping habit back with me, as part of a daily routine. The Neti practices? Um, not so much. Even as Yogi Sivadas describes the techniques, I start to feel panicky. OMG, I’ve seen this in one of those weird yoga books; is he going to make us all do it together?

I watch him demonstrate Jala Neti (nasal cleansing with water) and I instantly start to feel as if I’m about to be waterboarded. (Me, melodramatic? Never!). When he shows us Sutra Neti (nasal cleansing with rubber string), I stare at him, wide-eyed, and I feel tears streaming down my motionless face, in cold and abject fear. Misplaced and unnecessary fear, because of course we’re not forced to do anything that makes us feel uncomfortable (or evokes spontaneous and illogical, sheer terror).

Gargling salt, to kill unfriendly bacteria
Gargling salt, to kill unfriendly bacteria

The salt gargling I can handle. Yogi Sivadas gives us a bag of “black” salt, which is white and slightly sulphuric. When I mix the salt in water it smells like someone farted in my room. This completes our morning routine before we head to our 7am lessons – pump stomach, shower, scrape tongue, brush teeth, breathing exercises, meditate, gargle, and I’m also doing my usual daily Tibetan Rites – no wonder we get up at 5:30!

Travel, Yoga in India, Yoga Philosophy, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Bhakti Chanting, Sanskrit and Mythology

imageOut of the mountain of our yoga teacher training study materials, I was immediately drawn to the chanting books; Bhakti or devotional chanting, which I love. We sing the invocation to Patanjali every day, and it’s nice to begin asanas with this familiar chant that I know well from many Iyengar yoga classes at Pura Vida Yoga.

For the first week, we have an hour of chanting in the morning, sometimes accompanied by the beat of tabla drums. Our voices are all a bit rusty and querulous to begin with as we get used to the melodies, but Yogi Sivadas‘ rich, deep voice fills the sunny room and we soon let go of our shyness or self judgment as we join in with the ancient chants.

Sanskrit
My Sanskrit scribbles!

Repeated chanting improves concentration and is extremely calming, physically and mentally, as your brain focuses only on the words and the tune. Devotional chanting to the deities (and it doesn’t matter which religion or belief system you have; they’re all here, including Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Ganesh, and more), when sung with intention, can create a peaceful mind. I took my blood pressure before this morning’s chanting: 199/97 with a pulse rate of 69. After an hour of chanting: 129/80 and pulse of 59.

Slightly less calming (i.e. challenging!) are our Sanskrit lessons. “Sanskrit” means well written, or purely written, and is an Indo-Persian tree of language that evolved around 30,000 years ago. We start to learn the basics of the sounds and letters – who knew there were so many ways to pronounce the sounds ‘s’ and ‘sh’! We practice lines and lines of squiggles and dots, repeating them out loud as we write.

Yogi Sivadas writes our names in Sanskrit
Yogi Sivadas writes our names in Sanskrit

Yogi Sivadas writes our names on the board in Sanskrit and they look so pretty, it encourages us to keep on squiggling. He tells us that even if we find it difficult, the very act of focusing your mind on something new in an attempt to learn something, is good exercise for the brain, and you will benefit from that, regardless of the results of the studying. And when he tells us that the Sanskrit word, “cittrashalabh” translates as “insect painting” or “insect art”, doesn’t that sound much more beautiful and poetic than the English word, butterfly?

Our daily studies are peppered with colourful analogies, as Yogi Sivadas explains some yoga philosophy concepts through yoga mythology and allegories. I am constantly reminded of how rich and mystical this culture is, making our own Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty seem dull, by comparison!

Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Little Tibet: Settling In

Vibrant and happy yoga room
Vibrant and happy yoga room

Loving it here! It’s a combination and contrast of chaos and peace! Goats, dogs, cows, bikes, tuk tuks, taxis and people, all claiming possession of the narrow main street; vehicles missing you by millimetres as their horns blast loudly in your ears.

And then inside our tranquil little yoga school perched on the mountain, there are these idyllic vistas across the valley;
sometimes clear, mostly misty; nesting eagles and naughty monkeys.

View from my balcony
View from my balcony

Every time we leave our little bubble of peace and venture up the hill and into the street, it’s a yoga practice of maintaining a sense of calm amidst the confusion of the street. Like those annoying noises and distractions while you’re in Savasana.

The goats LOVE eating the adverts off the walls!
The goats LOVE eating the adverts off the walls!

The big change of culture is quite an overload on the senses as I keep taking in the many  quaint and peculiar characteristics. I’m delighted every time I see a Tibetan monk in their burgundy or saffron robes,  and I laugh at the goats in the road, chomping at the billboard stickers pasted to the building walls.

Tibetan-Monks-McLeod-Ganj
Tibetan monks in my local grocery store

I know Mcleod Ganj is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but I didn’t realize how big the Tibetan community is here, and it feels more like a Little Tibet than India. I’ve hung Tibetan prayer flags on my balcony; vibrant patches of yellow, green, red, white and blue greet me as I start my day. Hard to believe I’ve easily slipped into the routine of waking up at 5:45am as I’m not exactly a morning person. The mornings are peaceful and each day’s view from my balcony is different. Human beings whose dance music pumped across the valley late into the night are still asleep, while the birds are awake and welcoming the day. Their calls and cackles are interspersed with the occasional mooing of cows.

Yoga studies are in full force as we start to make our way through the mountain of books on yoga philosophy, therapy, Sanskrit language, physiology, anatomy, Sutra, chakras and more.

Yoga-study-books
Yikes! That’s a lot of studying!

Asana practice (4 hours a day) is a mixture of Mysore vinyasa and traditional Hatha yoga poses and we ease into it as our bodies recover from jet lag and adjust to the altitude. The first few days were mostly misty and raining and then there was a magical moment when the clouds cleared and we stepped out onto the long balcony to do a series of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana poses, one foot up on the railing, arms to the sky, gazing out towards the mountains and smiling at the beauty of the scenery and how lucky we are to be here.

Daily Checklist:
1. Lock door so the monkeys can’t get in
2. Switch off water heater to save energy
3. Don’t absentmindedly brush teeth with tap water

Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Delhi to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj

Good morning, Delhi! A comfortable, clean and quiet night at the Lemon Tree Hotel, just 5-10 minutes away from the airport. I’d recommend this as an easy overnight stay, especially if you’re arriving or leaving late at night.

I flew to Dharamsala with domestic airline, SpiceJet, which I thought won first prize for a fab name for a local airline (and then I spotted IndiGo as a close contender).

Taxi
The taxis had Om, Ganesh or Shiva on their windows 🙂

Airplane views of the Dharamsala area showed rolling green hills dotted with houses and trees. A row of official taxis waited at the quaint little airport and I hopped into one decorated with an Om sign and Ganesh on the rear window.

Wild taxi ride to McLeod Ganj
Wild taxi ride to McLeod Ganj

The drive started off with some charming landscapes, the occasional group of cows or goats suddenly appearing in the middle of the road, people standing in doorways and watching as we drove past.

And then, “the heavens opened” was an understatement for the torrential downpour that made our rain storms in Florida look like Irish mist. Okay, this confirms I’ve arrived in monsoon weather. As we made our way on the steep ascent to Mcleod Ganj, peering through the blurry windscreen, I was more entertained than panicked, because the driver was excellent; throwing the gear stick into different positions and revving or braking as he swerved around people and animals, squeezed past oncoming cars, hauled the jeep around hairpin bends and ploughed through rivers of chai tea coloured muddy water gushing down from the mountains.

Impressive stuff. At one point we lurched past a sign that read, “Only for car and jeep” – yes, because the goats have given it up as a bad idea a long time ago!

We stopped at the bright yellow and red sign for the Kailash Tribal School of Yoga. It was still Noah and ark weather as I lugged my huge suitcase down the narrow stairway, teetering down the mountainside, to meet Yogi Sivadas, our yoga teacher and founder of the school.
image

I was soaked through, but laughing and happy to be here, as he welcomed me and showed me my cosy little yogi cottage; complete with second-chakra-orange doors and cheerful pink and blue bedding.  Included in his welcome was a warning to watch out for the mischievous monkeys, who “come looking for food and if you leave your door open they’ll have a party in your room – but they’ll also have a poop party there.”

The cheerful room in my yogi cottage
The cheerful room in my yogi cottage

I stood on my balcony, wondering what the view out over the valley would look like once the weather had cleared, and thinking about what the next 6 weeks of yoga adventure will bring.