Sunday, January 23, 2011

Delhi Belly

Ufffffff......

After a month of being in India, Stephanie and I finally experienced the infamous Delhi Belly. (or should I be calling it Rishikesh belly???)

Whatever you call it.... it's no fun.

It hit us the evening after the Music Ashram Blessing party. I was the first to go.... A wave a nausea enveloped me, and soon found myself wincing and toppled over in bed. Stephanie helped comfort me, and lead me to the toilet, but 3 hours later she was hit with the exact same thing.

Steph and I were up the entire night taking turns in the bathroom.

I realized you can't let your guard down while in India. I had a false sense of security in regards to the food here. We have been in India for almost a month now with zero problems. We started out so safe.... using bottled water to brush our teeth, showering with our mouths zipped up tight, only eating the hot food which was offered to us in the ashram... but after a few weeks, we started to slowly trust the filtered water at the ashram, drank the delicious (and cheap!) street chai, ate snacks off the street, and had no problems.


I find it difficult to say no to food when attending a cultural event. I remember thinking twice before eating the sweets and fruits that were generously offered to us... but we got swept up in the moment... and with our stomachs growling for food, we scarfed down the sweet snacks.

I cannot even look at this photo without feeling nauseous all over again. Uffff....

Luckily, our waves of nausea and violent bouts only lasted 12 hours.

As day broke, we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and headed down the street with what little energy we had to go to the shop. One of the beggars on the street must have noticed our condition and blessed us while saying: "God sends his power to you." ;-) The following 24 hours were spent sleeping the day away, sipping on flat cokes, sprites and ginger ales, and then finally gaining the courage to try eating some plain biscuits.


We also found electral, which is India's gatorade. If you find yourself sick in India, go to any street stall and ask for it... It only costs 15 rupees. You mix it into a liter of bottled water and WALLAH! You can start re-gaining your liquids and strength.

At least we learned our lesson... and will be much safer from now on.

Devi's Music Ashram

Last week, Stephanie and I went to scout out yoga classes on the other side of the bridge. As we fought off the hoards of little children begging for rupees, we climbed the hill through the market area and came across a young man dressed in a white robe. Without a common language between us, we shared smiles, and somehow ended up accompanying him to his harmonium lesson at the Sivananda ashram. We were welcomed by the long bearded, orange robed, swami-ji, took a seat, and were given tin cups of hot chai. We listened and bopped along to the 7 or so harmonium and tabla musicians in training.



(The harmonium is a portable keyboard/accordian. Tabla are a set of hand drums)









Two friendly sisters, Neeti and Neha, sat across from us, introduced themselves, and answered our harmonium and tabla questions. They were originally from Bihar, but moved to Rishikesh to open a music ashram. At the end of the lesson, we found ourselves in a tuk-tuk with them to go see the construction of thier ashram.
















We were told their sister, Devi Bhojpuri, is a famous singer of Bihar and Jharkhand. http://devismelody.weebly.com/ The music ashram is going to be a place to celebrate life with music, dance and meditation. Devi's Music Ahsram will arrange many events such as musical concerts, dance performances, kirtan, painting and photography exhibits, book fairs, daily yoga and meditation, music and dance classes, and more.

Neeti invited us to the opening and blessing of the ashram. How could we say no?!??!

We arrived the morning of the 22nd and were soon whisked away in chanting, prayers, singing, dancing, and more. A man came to give official blessings to the ashram. They set up pictures of dieties, offered fruit, money, flowers, and incense. Everything received a bindhi (red dot).... the bananas, the money, the paintings, and even us.



















































































































Towards the end of the 2 hour blessing, they passed out Indian sweets and fruit, and then danced and sang the afternoon away.
















The music ashram is now officially open, but the scheduled meditation, music, and yoga is set to start in February 2011. ;-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pranayama

We've been missing in action this past week because we've been busy breathing.

Stephanie and I took a 7 day intensive Pranayama course at Tattva yoga shala.

Pranayama means "the extension of the life force." Many believe here that a person has a set number of breaths in one lifetime. Therefore, a person who breathes short, fast breaths will live shorter than a person who breathes long, deep, slow breaths. Pranayama is a series of breathing exercises and controls, which helps you extend your breath and life force. It also helps you to clear your mind, control your mind, control the energy within yourself, and purify nadis.

I have done bits and pieces of pranayama in my Sivananda yoga classes, and at other studios... but never had the opportunity to properly study it.

We started out learning abdominal breathing, chest breathing, and then focused on the yogic breath (which uses both abdominal and chest breathing.)

After learning the basic breathing techniques, we moved onto Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. In Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, you use your thumb to close your right nostril, to breath through the left, then switch to close your left nostril with your ring finger, and breath through the right nostril. We learned various techniques, lengthening exercises, how to incorporate ratios, holds, bandha locks, and more.

We also studied Uddiyana Bandha, Kapal Bhati Pranayama, Bhastrika, mudras, cooling pranayamas, and more... Although we couldn't stop from laughing as we practiced the dog breath pose... you kneel down with your hands down like a dog.... and stick your tongue out as far as possible, while making panting like breaths! ;-)

We left class each and every day feeling high on life. It has improved our yoga practice tremendously, as we are now even more aware of our breath and how to incorporate it into our asanas.

But pranayama isn't only for those who do yoga. It is universal... so anyone and everyone can benefit!!!!

Breathing is life.

I highly recommend you to get high on pranayama. ;-)

Great book to get you started if you can't find a course near you: Iyengar's Light on Pranayama http://www.amazon.com/Light-Pranayama-Yogic-Art-Breathing/dp/0824506863

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A gorgeous misty winter day on Laxman Jhula Bridge


Off to Rishikesh market...

Stephanie and I took the afternoon off of yoga to travel into Rishikesh town and check out the market.

For only 5 rupees (11 cents) we caught a tuk tuk and zoomed and swerved our way into Rishikesh town.

We wandered around in awe at all the colors, fresh veggies, fruits, colorful saris for sale, peanut vendors, sweet shops, home stores, and mooooore....

We window shopped, bought some clothespins, and feasted on delicious, fresh and chewy 12 rupee (26 cents) huge naan. Can't beat that!!!! mmmmm......

We enjoyed exploring the city... to check out all the action..... but were just as happy to arrive back home to our quiet and peaceful yoga town. ;-)






Friday, January 14, 2011

Shakti Durga and the white robed fly swatters...

When you stay at an ashram, you meet very interesting people.

During mealtimes, we couldn't help but notice a huge group of people dressed in all white warming their hands over their food and swatting at it like there were swarms of flies hovering above it.

We later found out that they were an Australian group who came to Rishikesh on a retreat with their guru Shakti Durga. We spoke to a few of the crystal wearing, white robed Australians, and found out they were having a public satsang later in the week. Stephanie and I HAD to go to see what they were all about.

They opened their public satsang with a yoga performance by some local youth. I'm all about yoga, but when you see 5 - 9 year olds contorting their bodies in bizarre formations for our pleasure... it kind of makes you feel a bit awkard. They then sang, and chanted. This was followed by an enchanting sitar player.

After a short break their guru, Shaki Durga, came to the stage and gave her messages of peace for the world. She encouraged us to open our hearts and see the divine inside. She said once you raise your own vibrations you will find the passion in your heart. Then, came time for the singing, music, and chanting. Shakti Durga said: "We've been united in many past lives together.... so we've been practicing this for a loooooooooooong time."

We joined their satsang openly.... trying not to judge. I honestly did feel amazing vibrations during their singing, music, and chanting... but was it because it was spiritual??? or was it just because it was great music??? Probably the latter.

Then it was time for blessings. The crowd gathered in a line to head to the front to receive blessings. We watched as people laid down on the ground at the guru's feet as she raised a hand up to the sky and swooped it to their forehead. Others in their group were coughing like crazy (we were later told they were coughing because their throat chakra had become unblocked. weird.) Stephanie and I gave each other that "what in the world are we doing here" look... but decided to give it a go anyways...

It was my first experience being blessed... and was quite bizarre. Stephanie was matched with the guru, and I with her "beloved" Shiva something something. (They all greet you with their "spiritual" names...) I kneeled there for what seemed to be ages. Maybe he knew I needed extra help with this whole spiritual heart opening thing. ;-)

The next evening at the internet cafe, a woman approached me and asked if I had received a blessing from "Shiva blah blah"... she then told me it was one of the most beautiful blessings she has seen. Whoa. Bizarre.

We were glad we went to experience what a guru gathering was all about... but it was definitely not for us.

If you want to read more on Shakti Durga and her Harmony Center Foundation... the website is:
http://www.harmonycentrefoundation.org/about-us/shakti-durga

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sri Ved Niketan Ashram

The other day Stephanie and I decided to check out Sri Ved Niketan Ashram which is just down the river from Parmarth.

Rooms there are only 125 rupees ($2.50) a night which include 2 yoga classes a day. We wanted to first check out the yoga class to see what the ashram was like before we made a move.......

The ashram itself is a lot more run-down than it's neighbor Parmarth. It is a concrete courtyard with a desolate atmosphere, and disgruntled guys at the front desk. The main hall where the yoga class is conducted was painted colorfully and opened up into the concrete courtyard.

We attended the "advanced yoga class" which was from 8:30 - 10am. The teacher arrived 15 minutes late, and by then our bodies and digits were almost frozen off. Since the yoga hall is completely open, there is no warmth whatsoever. We were expecting to do a few sun salutations to get our bodies warmed up... but no! We were led in meditation, and then found ourselves sticking our fingers in our ears while repeating "OM" a gazillion times. Normally I don't mind long meditation sessions... but when you are FREEZING your butt off, and can't feel your fingers and toes... I can only take so much. We gave eachother a glance.... and about 45 minutes later he finally finished our "OM"ing, laying about, and then ordered the students to line against the wall to do the scorpion pose!!! HUH!??! We weren't even warmed up... and he wants us to go straight into the backbending scorpion pose?!?!? No thank you... So Stephanie and I gave each other a knowing glance, and as fast as we could packed up our mats and darted out of that place!!!!!!!!!!! I never in my life have walked out of a yoga class before... (especially one that costs 75 cents.)

I was really disappointed with Sri Ved Niketan. Possibly the class would be better in the summer... but if you're visiting Rishikesh in the winter... beware of Sri Ved's yoga classes!!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Parmarth

We have now been at Parmarth Ashram for 10 days.... but we are starting to question the true spirituality of this place. The more we stay here, the more it seems to be more of a hotel for foreigners and Indian tourists. I can't complain since their "donation" for staying is 300 rupees (about $6) per day per person in a shared room. That includes your room, three meals a day, a yoga class in the morning, meditation class in the evening and the public Aarti which takes place every evening along the Ganges river. Not too shabby, eh???

BUT...... I was hoping for something more. You always hear how spiritual India is, and how many people come here to take a few steps on their spiritual path... so I was hoping to do the same.


We went to a few of the garden talks given by Swami-ji and the Western woman who also wears an orange robe. She spoke of how Parmarth is not dedicated to one path... Instead, it is for people on a spiritual path. The only requirement of staying here at Parmarth is that you leave one step further on your path than when you arrived. She spoke of spirituality: "We are all one. At your core you are divine, so you and I are part of each other, and every creature is part of God."

(the couple next to Swami-ji are Japanese and came to Rishikesh to have an Indian traditional wedding. For three days at the ashram, we felt like we were back in Japan!)



But for a place that speaks so highly of "oneness," I find it contradictory how the guru here is put up on such a high pedastool. His picture is in gold frames everywhere you go. When he enters the garden, or room, everyone is silent, stands, and bows down to him. His face is plastered on all these signs and billboards around town.... now wait.... is that advertising "oneness?" Hrmmm...







Also, I have been extremely disappointed with some of the staff here. At one of the fire ceremonies, one of the bearded men in orange robes (of striking resemblence to Swami-ji) was leading some Indian tourists in the ceremony. However, as he was passing around the flowers, and placing the red dots on the people, he was looking away as if he had never been so bored in his life!!!! Makes me think if they are doing the ceremony from their heart, or to put on a show for the tourists to get donations. Hrmmmm....



Another thing... We had originally booked two weeks at Parmarth, but we wanted to stay another week. We asked the middle aged vested man at the desk if it was possible to extend our stay and he replied with a sharp, "NO!!! NO WAY! WE ARE FULLY BOOKED! MANY GROUPS COME. NO!" Not the kind of response you expect to get from a a worker at an ashram.

If you find yourself at Parmarth, just make sure to direct ALL your questions to the younger guy at the front desk, or with the white robed woman (we asked her the next day about staying longer, and without hesitation she told us to stay as long as we'd like!)

So, as for now, we will stay here for the gorgeous grounds, the delicious food, filtered water, and we are able to meet heaps of interesting people from around the world. But as for spirituality... we will start looking elsewhere.



















Meals at the ashram.... YUM!!!!















Parmarth's website: http://www.parmarth.com/home.html

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Our Yoga Journey Begins...

One of the main reasons I wanted to come to India was to study yoga, improve my own practice, and learn how to teach it to others.

We were drawn to Rishikesh because it is a small city FILLED with different styles and classes of yoga.

From February until the end of March, Stephanie and I will take a 200 hour Teacher Training Course (TTC) in Hatha yoga. Before our TTC begins, we are going around to the various studios and ashrams to get a taste of the kinds of yoga and teachers Rishikesh has to offer.


For the next 3 weeks we are focusing on Ashtanga Yoga. Yesterday, we started a week-long "Art of Adjustments" course offered by Yogi Kamal. He is a master of adjustments in Ashtanga yoga.

After only 2 days of class with Kamal, we have been stretched, bended, and put into positions we never even dreamed we could do!!!

My first class, he picked me up while in headstand and had me bending over backwards into scorpion pose with my back arching, and toes touching my forehead. holy crapola. He has magic , is so gentle, yet pushes me to my limit without going past it. The studio where we practice is right on the banks of the Ganges, with floor to ceiling windows. We instantly knew we wanted to spend a good chunk of time with Yogi Kamal so bought a 3 week pass.

Our daily schedule is:

8:30 - 10:30 am : Ashtanga Primary Series
11 - 1 pm : Art of Adjustment Course
1pm : Lunch and relax
2 - 4 pm : Review and study the poses and adjustments we learned
5 - 7 pm : Ashtanga MySore Style
7pm : Dinner, relax, review, and CRASH!!!

It is intense, but at the same time extremely relaxing and energizing.

To review and practice our adjustments, we head up to the rooftop of the ashram where there is a gorgeous view of the city and the Ganges river. We hang our laundry out to dry, roll out our mats, and dodge the occasional monkey that comes darting over the roof where we practice.

Off to our evening session now........ Namaste

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Photos

You can find my first batch of photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliesorensen/

Ayruveda Diagnosis

I love random happenings...

Two days ago, Stephanie and I were wandering around Rishikesh when a plump, jolly, older man approached us with a BIG smile. "Where you from!?!?!" He almost burst at the seams when Stephanie said she was from Florida. 25 years ago Satish moved to Florida from India... It was at that moment he took us under his wings. His wife passed away a few years ago, so he spends 3 months in Rishikesh every year. Satish was ECSTATIC we also were staying for three months., and told us how we'd be spending our days - we would take long walks together for our health, he would show us the local canteens which are dirt cheap yet the best food in India, he would teach us about his country and culture, and more. How could we refuse to have our own Indian dad here in Rishikesh???

I mentioned in passing that I was interested in learning about Ayurveda. Ayurveda in sanskrit breaks down to: āyus, meaning "longevity", and veda, meaning "related to knowledge" or "science". It is a traditional Indian system of medicine which has been around for 1,000's of years.


Satish grabbed us by the wrists and took us to a charitable hospital and straight into a doctor's room. We met Dr. J. P. Rathi, who is an Ayurveda doctor in Rishikesh, and after talking with him in broken English for about 40 minutes we had an appointment for an Ayurveda diagnosis the next day at 12 for only $5.

After our meeting, we went around the local bookshops to pick out a book on Ayurveda. Stephanie and I spent the rest of the evening, and the next morning studying up on the art of Ayurveda healing, so we could better understand Dr. Rathi's teachings.

Dr. Rathi led us to a rooftop where he would explain to us the history of Ayurveda. He explained to us patiently about the four vedas, three gunas, and the three dosas: Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water), Kapha (water and earth.) It was all extremely interesting, but I started to get a little nervous when he spoke of pancha karma - which is how to clean and detoxify the body. They can do so (depending on the illness/disease) through forced vomiting, enemas, catheters, strapping leather around your head while dripping oil on you... or the way I would prefer - oil and herb massages.

After his lecture he gave us a diagnosis. He chanted a mantra, took our pulse, checked out our body type, asked a few questions about our sleep patterns and bowel movements... then gave us our diagnosis. He said I am definitely 101% a Vatta-Pitta. Vatta probably 65% and Pitta 35%. While Stephanie was a Kapha-Vatta. He gave us suggestions on how to live accordingly.

I'm still clueless, but at least am beginning to understand the basics around Ayurveda, and can't wait to read up more on my airy fiery ways.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Arrival in Rishikesh

How do I even begin trying to describe this fascinating, colorful, spiritual, bizarre, beautiful country???

Getting to Rishikesh from Delhi was an adventure. We were woken up at 4:15am with shouts from our driver outside the hostel gates. We took off through the dark sleepy streets of Delhi. Indian drivers are.... how do I put it??? CRAZY!!! I thought Kenyan drivers were the worst... until I arrived in India. The comforting thing is that there seems to be a rhyme and a reason to the chaos on the roads.


There definitely is a hierarchy to the roads. #1 is the cows... being sacred and all... they have the right away to everything in India. After cows, it goes to vehicles... the bigger you are, the better. Then the crazy weaving bicycles, and last of all, the pedestrians. You have to be aggresive and know these rules to drive in India. I would be eaten alive if I drove here. I trusted our quiet yet aggresive driver with his gods and goddesses on the dashboard to protect us, sat back, and read my book with a smile on my face.

Right before reaching Rishikesh, he took us through Rajaii National Park which was gorgeous. He told us to lookout for elephants and tigers... I tried my elephant call out the window to see one, but our driver quickly replied: "NO! elephant... one leg... kick... you down. But Tiger... no problem."


Our first stop in India is the Parmarth ashram in Rishikesh. We were dropped at their door, and entered this mystical, peaceful city within a city. There were gardens, orange painted buildings, statues of shiva, fountains, monkeys guarding the grounds... We checked in at reception and were led to our cute, quaint little room which will be our home for at least the next two weeks.






















We headed off to join the New Years meditation retreat which was already in progress. First on the list was the "World Peace Yagna." It was a sacred fire ceremony which was on the bank of the Ganges river. Stephanie and I were clueless as to what was going on, but tried to follow the locals. We through spices into the fire and listened to their enveloping chanting. Holy crap I realized... WE'RE IN INDIA!!!!!!!!!!





Our yoga teachers in Japan, Tae-sensei and Fuku-sensei, flew out to stay at Parmarth with us for the New Years Retreat. It was sooooo great to see familiar faces and share our first few days in India with them. They took us on a tour of the streets of Rishikesh, pointing out various ashrams and yoga studios we can check out during our three month stay in Rishikesh. Tae and Fuku pushed my yoga to new heights, so I am grateful to start my journey in India with them by our sides.




In the evening was satsang and darshan. We gathered in a garden and met Swami-ji for the first time. He had a HUGE beard, and was dressed in an orange robe. He sat in the middle of the garden and gave words of advice, answering any questions that people had.



Before bed was meditation, bhajans and kirtan in the main hall. We sat down in the main hall surrounded by little monks in training. They ranged in age from 6 - 20 years old. They sang out songs and prayers led by a man with this boxed Indian accordian. We meditated and joined in by clapping our hands and swaying about. We went up to the boys afterwards and wished them a happy new year.






On the way back to our room, we enjoyed the millions of stars that were out, and watched some of the little monks play with a fire outside in the garden.

As midnight struck, we heard some fireworks in the distance, jumped on our beds... so excited to finally be here in India.