As much as I usually like my comfy spot backstage and the idea of putting myself out there tends to make me cringe, I think the next 3 months of my life will be worth documenting on a blog. Arrival in Delhi, Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, Cultural Immersion, Yoga and Ayurveda Training in Kerala - that's the "plan" for now, leaving plenty of room for the unexpected... D-10 until departure - countdown is on!
Indian Hospitality Feb 21st, 2013
After a rather sleepless night on my Air India 142, I landed in Delhi on time (actually early), got my suitcase in one piece and my driver was there "with [my] blue color name card near exit gate number 4 at Coasta Coffee Restaurant": everything was going according to plan (who said always expect the unexpected in India???) Quick shower in my Paharganj busy hotel before meeting my friend D. in an even busier subway hub (thank you Indian lady for sharing your phone with a lost looking tourist - good karma coming your way!). From then on, I did nothing but enjoy a day in the life of a welcoming Indian family: lunch on the floor (note for self: old news papers make perfect "table" cloth) made of homemade chapati, crunchy and spicy padam, paneer and veggie stew. Then off to driving around the neighborhood (the 90 year old home stray dog loves rocking at the window), pit stop at the coconut water cart, more driving then tea time with D., Mom and Dad, then more walking around and hooking myself back to the virtual world, then dinner time with D, Mom, Dad, Bro and Sis'in Law - homemade dosa, sambal, coconut curry, gulab jamoun (local pastries - condensed milk and cardamom - qui dit mieux???) - oh yeah! One happy day with the kindest people. Feeling very very grateful for such a warm welcome - thank you D, thank you India!! To more eating, praying and loving!
Side notes: First ad I read in the airport: "Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even your troubles" (ad or Indian philosophy?) Next on the road from Airport: " Change yourself, you can then live anywhere in peace and hapiness" (I definitely came to the right place!)
Second day - First times Feb 22nd, 2013
First night in India: slept through 12 hours of Delhi non-stop night soundtrack of honking and barking! First rickshaw ride and 2nd metro ride by myself: like a fish in water! First cow on the street among car and vendors: spotted (pictures to come)! First sight-seeing: Sarfdajung Tumb (to your left) First purchase at the market: Ayurvedic shampoo (of course!) First gift received: a hand knitted hat from D's Mom (it might be cold in Rishikesh she said) First train ride: tomorrow, bright and early 6.50am! Rishikesh here I come! Actually very much looking forward to leaving the city for peace and quiet of the Ganges and the ashram...
Side notes: I was told many times about the tourist syndrome in India aka. people loosing it because of too much noise, people, odors, colors, poverty, just too much stimulation for the brain and body to handle. I don't know if I lived in NYC long enough, but I feel just fine :) PS: the Tourist syndrome might have been the reason why I couldn't sleep on the plane, my monkey mind going crazy and expecting the worse. Conclusion: never take any Indian urban tales for granted and don't listen to the monkey mind!
What a day! Feb 23rd, 2013
Midnight - bed time 2.30am - still not sleeping (10pm french time and my body is still on NYC time...) 4.45am - alarm goes off 5.30am - huge thunderstorm, rain, lightning and all 6am - rickshaw to the train station, holding to my suitcase like my life depends on it to make sure it doesn't fall in the mudd 6.50am - train is leaving, hoping the sky will clear out as we go 7am - staff serves every person riding the train first class a tray of porcelain cup and plate with individual warm water tea pots (clean you ask? Hmmm...) 7.15am - Serving staff picks up the trays and distributes porcelain plate and bowl, then hot milk then corn flake (how crazy is that???) 7.30am - I fall asleep and lose track of the gastronomic show... 11.30am - arrival on time at Haridwar. My goal: find a ride to Rishikesh. To my dismay, it still grey and COLD here... 11.31am - I spot a blonde lady who has to be going to rishikseh - bingo and she has a ride waiting for her and she's kind enough to offer me to share it - sweet! 12-ish - arrival at her ashram where I kindly ask the driver if he'd mind taking me to Parmath Niketan Ashram where I'll be staying. He says yes, his face says no ((Note for self: always trust body language over words). But off we go and 20 minutes later he stop and tell me he cannot go any further and I have to continue by foot, cross that bridge and my find my ashram on the other side. No way Jose! After some negotiating with firmness and love, we are on the road again, crazy mountain roads and we finally make it after another what seemed hours... 2.30pm - I finally get to see my "luxurious" room - I'm less concerned about the rustic look of the bathroom and bed but the cold! "I'll be sharing with another girl, but for tonight I'm the boss in my own room" dixit the receptionist - sweet bis :) 3pm - I can't get out of my cell, sorry my room... "Help, I'm locked in, could someone heeeeeelp meeeeee" "sure, I'll go get someone" respond Ana, my first ashram friend from Panama. Ooops, the keys were hiding on my bed... 3.30pm - Chai with my new friend at the place be for tea on this side of the river "the office". We're joined by natalie from argentina (who had the most beautiful mandala tattoo on her left wrist) and jose from mexico (who I'd get to practice my rusty spanish in rishikesh...) 5pm - first yoga class - more of an iyengar workshop of 2 hours, but not too intense, perfect to get back into a routine. 7.30pm first dinner at the ashram, sitting on the floor, in silence: rice, chapati, sambahr and potato stew (I have a strong feeling it'll be our daily menu, yum!) 8pm - beautiful walk over the Ganges, across the bridge (much better WITHOUT my limping suitcase) among locals, westerners and cows. 9pm - internet cafe pit stop 10pm - just back on time for the curfew, shower and bedtime! Night, night...
Side Note: The warm socks I took "just in case" and that I was so excited to wear because it's freezing in my room: they were gloves...
A day in the life of a Rishikeshi Feb 27th, 2013
6am morning yoga class with an amazing teacher (Gurmukh was taking the class too, that says it all + open studio, windows overlooking the sun raising over the mountains, oh yes), lazy breakfast at the terrace of Freedom Cafe - Chai & fruit porridge, - meeting new people from Isreal, Italy, Chile, you name it... every country seem to have representatives here, Satsang with Mooji #2 followed by traditional music, Henna from Rajnee, a hardworking Mother of 2 boys who gives cooking classes and paints henna from her open street-room, crossing Laxman Jhula bridge and getting lost in the rocky roads of the Tapovan hill, late chai by the river with a good book, Puja by the Ganga (daily offering ceremony to Mother Ganga) along with more traditional music and chanting, Shirodhara massage at the ashram (warm sesame oil running along your forehead, your third eye to be exact - say whaaaaat???) and the list goes on... Life in Rishikesh is as sweet as it could be, but I have to say, I cant wait for the festival to start on Friday. I'm here on a mission and my hunger to learn is growing stronger each day. Time to be a student vs. a tourist -thought a tourist is a student of the culture too...
Side notes - compliments of Mooji: "We all have a diverting power that keeps us busy with trivial matters but we also have TIMELESS LIGHT, pure emptiness, silence..." "Pull the plug of distraction out - today I will not listen to the chatters and focus on stillness instead." "Your life is like a book on water - it's fresh, ever changing, non stopping - don't let the wave of the mind disturb the stillness of the SELF."
Portraits March 4th, 2013
I had no idea what I signed up for when I decided to attend The International Yoga Festival other that it would be a great way to connect with people from the yoga community. All I can say is that it is way beyond what I could have ever expected: classes, lectures, workshops from 4am to 9pm from the most renowned teachers and spiritual leaders worldwide! Which explains why I haven't had one minute to update my blog. I'll tell you more about my experience during the Festival when it is over but for now, here is a portrait gallery from the beautiful souls of India and elsewhere that I met along the way.
Going with the flow March 9th, 2013
As I reflect on the last few months, I'm in awe of what manifested below my eyes... It all started by my screaming inner voice that I could no longer pretend not to hear. It had actually been yelling for years but I was paying it no attention. After changing positions, companies, moving to 3 different countries, it was time for me to acknowledge the fact that corporate life was not for me. And just like that, once my intentions were clear, I was able to put myself in action and focus my energy on what had been calling for a few years now: India, Yoga, Ayurveda, Healing. From the moment I took that leap of faith, it's been one synchronicity after the other, just as if life wanted to show me that I'm on the right track. For instance, I quickly decided that I wanted to attend a yoga festival to experiment with different types of yoga and meet like-minded people from the yoga community and BAM! There was an international festival happening in the ashram I was planning on staying. How perfect... My plane ticket, my hotel in Delhi, my train ride to Rishikesh and the festival pass were the only things that I booked solid before leaving. I did tons of research on my own thanks to the numerous people I met and talked to along the way and had a clear idea of what I wanted to do after the festival but I decided to leave things open for the Indian flow to do her magic and she did! Here is how I found myself in ashram #2: being out of work for over 2 months, I was eager to start LEARNING not just tourist-ing around. Having 1 spare week before meeting my friend F in Goa I wanted to find a workshop of some sort in Rishikesh. On the last day of the festival, one of my new friend mentioned an ashram 5km outside of Rishikesh. I took the name down - as I've been doing religiously during the festival whenever someone shared some info about any good yoga/ayurveda places - and decided to check the website. Bam! Phool Chatti ashram was running this 7 day-intensive retreat starting the next day with lots of early morning meditation, pranyama, yoga asana (position), walking meditation by the ganges, karma yoga (selfless service around the ashram) and chanting, and there had space left - how perfect after the husstle and busstle of the festival! How interesting that my job title had been "Planner" for so long and all of a sudden I found myself not knowing what I was going to do the next day but trusting that the universe would point me in the right direction and it did just that (actually more than that! - I happen to grant one of the nicest room of the ashram because some people didn't show up - sweet! Thank YOU!!! - mind you, I still need to use buckets to shower, and electricity and hot water run on and off! But I have my own room (after a week with 5 roommates during the festival) and my own bathroom - priceless!!)
... when driving, keeping a hand on the horn is as essential as keeping a foot on the break ... 3 lane highways are really 5 lane highways... ... even buses and trucks are colorful and beautiful ... planes and trains run on time and cab drivers show up as planned - every is so smooth so far (I'm either really lucky or I was lied to about always expecting the unexpected) ... domestic flights are like a big playground for kids - don't plan on catching up with some sleep... ... masala chai is the new nespresso ... orange is the new black ... women wear saris and men wear skirts (called dhoti - so who wear the pants?? Sorry, couldn't help it)
A day at Phool Chatti Ashram March 12th, 2013
5am: alarm goes off - time to shower, I meant time to "bucket" - the hot water is on, yoohooo 5.30am: the bell goes off to make sure everybody's up and ready to attend meditation at 6am: meditation starting by thanking every person and situation that allowed me to be sitting here right this second, focusing on the reason why I want to meditate and find the strength, determination, and discipline to practice consistently. Lesson to remember: You don't meditate - you practice meditation until meditation happens to you. 6.30: cleansing time - neti-pot, my new best friend, great to clear sinuses from all the gunk that accumulates from our polluted cities. 7am: pranayamas and asanas aka. breathing exercise and yoga postures - how interesting that we reduced yoga to the physical practice in the west when yoga actually includes all the below and so much more (bahkti yoga or devotional practice, gnana yoga or study of the scriptures, karma yoga or selfless service...) 9am: breakfast time, yay! This morning, the usual milk with tea (and not tea with milk), porridge, pretty and delicious fruit salad (pomegranate makes everything look so special and festive) and delicacy of the day: white bread sandwich stuffed with mashed potatoes (what's wrong with carb on carb you ask? Sad thing is that after that busy morning, I'd eat anything! Been up for 4 hours including 2 hours of exercise for Shiva's sake!) 10am: karma yoga - service around the ashram. My task for today: cleaning the first floor bathroom (yes, that include the toilet) 10.30am: silent walk by the ganga, offering of a flower to her (without smelling it! Would you lick the cake you bought as a gift for someone?) River cleaning ritual - 3 handfuls of water onto the 3rd eye chakra, 3 more onto the crown chakra then 3 dunks (and yes, we're in the mountains, the water is C*O*L*D but the sun is out to dry our clothes (no bathing suit here, full clothes on). We are so close to the source that the river is clear as crystal, just beautiful... 12.30pm: lunch time 1 to 3pm: free time sitting on the terrace overlooking the river, breaking silence for the first time with the ones from the group who feel like socializing 3pm: lecture about the 8 limbs of yoga from Patanjali 4pm: more pranayamas and asanas Sunset: temple puja (prayer ritual) and kirtan (chanting of sacred mantras) 7.30: dinner and tea on the terrace under a starry night like I've rarely seen before (I think I've actually spotted my lucky star, I was laying down on the roof admiring this breathtaking view when everything disappeared before my eyes but one bright shiny one...) 8.30am: mantra meditation to Vishnu, the maintainer (brother of Brahma the creator and the popular Shiva, the destructor but who, according to the legend, grants all desires when praised for). Our mantra: Om Hari Satsa Jai Guru Data, over and over and over again to the sound of the harmonium, quite hypnotic... 9.30am: late night tonight, time to reflect on all that, in the dark, no more electicity for today... How perfect? PS: this is the view from the roof where I had to sit to catch reception on my phone :)
Back to basic March 15th, 2013
One of the main learning from my retreat at PhoolChatti ashram is how little we need in the end... My room was nothing but a bed (from where I could gaze at the beautiful starry nights), a chair and a few shelves on the wall. More than enough to make me feel comfortable and safe at night. I made it extra roomy burning some indian incense (gift from my Bombay lovely friend met during the festival) and spraying my pillow with lavender. Side note: Ok I could have done with the worms I once found all over my blanket that totally GROSSED me OUT! But once I understood how they made it there (and once I got a new blanket) I (sorta) found my cool back: at the end of their stay, all guests are asked to sweep their room, clean their bathroom, empty their garbage (the ashram is self-sufficient and burn all garbage in the garden) and take their sheet and blanket out to hang on the balcony before they get washed. So some insect must have laid eggs on my comfy blanky (I don't blame them) while it was hanging out in nature because of karma yoga... This week I also experienced washing up with a bucket and I have to say that I really liked it. I realized how little water and time we actually need to fully bathe and keep ourselves so fresh, so clean! Meals in the ashram were another beautiful ritual. On the first day, each guest was given an aluminium plate, spoon and cup to use throughout their stay. All meals were enjoyed in silence - breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Ganges and the mountains, lunch and dinner sitting on the floor of the dining hall. Once all guests were crossed-legged seated, service could start. 3 or 4 local volunteers living in the ashram would start serving water and small portions of the usual 6 components to our meals: stewed vegetables, dal (watered-down lentil soup), chutney, salad, rice and chapati (home made flat bread), each served off of heavy aluminium buckets that they carried humbly from one person to the next. Once everybody had all the different components of the meal in their plate, a prayer was said and we could start eating in full awareness. It's amazing how good food taste when your entirely focused on it. Of course, the fact that all dairies are made with the dozen cows that live in the ashram, that almost all fruits and veggies are locally grown in the garden, that everything is hand-picked, washed with filtered water, hand-made and most importantly, cooked with love, definitely helped :) Once we were done eating and cleaning our own dishes, we were off to the terrace to enjoy a cup of tea and share our life stories, travel adventures or meditation experiences... Quite special.. So many of us in the west could benefit from a reminder that the simplest things will always taste and feel the best in the end...
It's not so much about the destination but the journey March 23rd, 2013
It's so interesting how aspirations become clearer when you give them time to blossom... When I started thinking that 2013 would be THE year that I'd travel to India, I was still in my corporate job and contemplating a vacation to finally experience that culture that's been intriguing me for years (lifetimes?)... Then comes Diwali, festival of light in India, and I start receiving warm wishes for good health, wealth, love and happiness from random strangers on my Canadian phone... The job is getting worse, leaving me so unfulfilled and drained... And before I know it, I resign and my vacation turns into the leap of faith I talked about in previous posts. I then decide to go to New York in January to get back into a regular yoga practice with the amazing yoga teachers the city has to offer and I start planning my trips as much as possible knowing that this trip could take many turns: - I could go for 3 months, just to saturate my soul with Indian culture - its cities and countryside, its beaches and mountains, its people, its food, its colors, its natural fabrics, its jewelry, hinduism... - I might fall in love with a tree and spend the rest of my life meditating... - I could learn yoga, convinced that everybody on this earth could benefit from it, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually... - I could learn Ayurveda, yoga's sister science, preventive medecine/holistic way of life that I've been fascinated with for a while.... I eventually decide that I want to learn as much and as tangible as I can while in India, so that I can start using whatever I learned right away while keep studying on the side (you cant become a master at anything in a few months unfortunately). So I had places in mind for both a yoga teacher training and some ayurvedic cooking and beauty courses that I wanted to check out in person before signing up> What a good call. That's where trusting my feelings, intuition and guts were to come to play and so far none of my happy-lights have been triggered. It's hard to explain but I haven't experienced that "yes - I am exactly where I'm supposed to be" feeling that I've felt in a few situations in my life before. Disappointed? A little bit, everything was going so smooth so far but I love the fact that this trip is about to take another shape yet again. My conclusions of the day: I can't learned 2 millennial disciplines in a few months, I need to choose and stay focus for now. There has been such a buzz around Ayurveda that it's getting really hard to find authentic traditional lineage hospitals and training centers among all the ones surfing the lucrative wave and offering washed-down Ayurveda services I didn't come all the way to India for wishy-washy training, I'm here for the real deal! Yoga might actually be a little easier thanks to the yoga alliance that gives certifications and might make it easier to find recognized schools and authentic teachers. Now authenticity is one thing but I realized how important it is for me to resonate on a personal level and by inspired by my teacher (for having practiced with beautiful teachers such as Elena Brower, Gurmukh, Vishva from Rishikesh). And there is nothing but a face to face encounter to feel the matching (or not) energy frequency of a being. So my trip is now turning into a * YOGI MASTER QUEST * (while reading Pratima's "Absolute Beauty" - my beloved ayurveda book - during my long train rides, laying down on the side berth so typical of Indian trains, among all these Indians staring at this western woman travelling by herself with a big smile on her face :)
La plage March 26th, 2013
Life is always so kind to me. I was planning to go to India all by myself and somehow it sent me chaperons along the way - my friend Dewakar in Delhi and Mary, a friend of my friend Andrea, who was also attending the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. My chaperon down south were my aunt Claire and her husband Ranjith, who live in Alleppey. Many of you know their story because it's one my favorite love story ever, one of those love-at-first-sight kinda story, they recognize each other instantly, they just knew. Sigh... <3 It was 8 years ago and somehow I still had not seen Claire nor met Ranjith since. But I heard about them often from my family and was eager to discover their corner of paradise. I was finally going to see that fishermen's village they revamped beautifully to say the least into LA PLAGE and finally meet Ranjith, born in a Brahmana family in which Ayurveda had been passed on from generations to generations... It was very interesting to meet him and get his take on Ayurveda today and especially the booming business made around it, which is actually quite ironic, knowing that traditional ayurvedic care was never provided against money way back when... Time has changed... Western way of life is just catching up in Kerala and you can't blame its people to want to get their share of the cake... Ranjith has one of those unbelievable life that could easily be turned into a movie (which Claire will manage to manifest one day I'm sure). He basically got into a bad argument with his family and removed the rope, symbol of his Brahmana cast, as a sign of anger knowing that he would never be considered part of the family anymore... He was left with no one and nothing. Meeting such a happy, smiley, charming and knowledgeable man, you'd never guess he'd been through so much... Which reminds me that you never know who's standing in front of you... Everybody has their own story. "L'habit ne fait pas le moine" is what we say in french. Never judge anybody from the way they dress and look... Today Ranjith no longer practices Ayurveda and is quite sad and angry by the abuse being done to this beautiful discipline, sister science of Yoga... His warning was of great help to get over my disappointment when visiting the few course centers that weren't up to my expectations. But I can feel how much he loves talking about his culture and about Ayurveda and I'd love to learn from him one day! Might as well learn from the best of the best :) Claire was a great source of advice about India both before coming and once on site. Having lived here for so long, she's almost became a local (and actually hold a status of "Person of Indian Origin"!) - straight up, she told me when you come to India you just need to drop any kind of expectations, remove your "Westerner" glasses and put on the "open-minded" ones! In eight years, she's seen the rapid impact of the new consumerist way of life coming from the West and still has sparkle in her eyes when talking about her first trips to India. But I loved the fact that despite her disillusions, she still gets super excited about things you only see in India or Kerala (a nursery of local plants on a random side walk, trying a new type of banana - there are a few hundreds in Kerala only or seeing red flags and pictures of the Che floating around this communist state (yes, as in Communist!) ) and admits that the more she knows about this culture, the less she knows... and isn't that the secret to stay humble and curious? On that note, no words could do justice to the beauty of La Plage, pictures will help but you'd have to be there to experience for yourself the peace and tranquility that dwells in every corner of this magical place thanks to Claire and Ranjith.
Buses are kings of Indian roads March 31st, 2013
A month and a half into my trip now, I've traveled enough to get accustomed to the Indian way of driving. At some point, you just gotta trust your driver, if not you're just good to stay parked indoors, which is not part of my plan. So it's very clear to me now, that the biggest and strongest always win here - bikes win over people walking by, tuktuks win over bikes, cars win over tuktuk, trucks win over cars and buses win over them all!! And that holds true for mountain roads too. I almost saw the end of the tunnel 50+ times while driving from Coimbatore train station to Coonoor, small village nestled 2300m up in the mountains of Tamil Nadu. Though I promised myself never to get on an Indian bus - let's see if I can hold that promise for the next few months - I love them and cant help taking shots of them! So here's my truck/buses/tuktuk collection for you!
Indian Wedding April 4th, 2013
Absolute Beauty April 6th, 2013
There is no coincidence and no accident regarding my previous life in the corporate world of food and cosmetics, because these 2 universes have always been passions of mine, especially when they collide. Those who know me well know that, ever since I was "this" big (as in small), I've loved to open my Mom's pantry looking for the next ingredient to experiment on my skin or hair (and/or my sisters'). So I decided to start my Ayurveda training with a 2 week beauty course to learn all about natural ayurvedic recipes at Greens Hospital (which is also a training center), in Mahe, Kerala. And boy have I been enjoying myself! Learning daily routine to keep clear skin with natural ingredients such as milk, lemon or honey, discovering the best fruits and vegetable to nourish dry skin, soothe a sensitive one or promote radiance to any skin! It's so much better for your skin and your wallet than any chemical-loaded products you find on the market these days... And a lot simpler that it seems for the newbies...
Here is a luscious mango recipes for you: Mash a peeled mango in a food processor Mix 2 spoons of the mango puree with 1 spoon of liquid honey and apply in circulation to your make-up-free-skin to wash it. Rinse it (no licking!) with cool water. Now mix 4 spoons of mango puree with 1 or 2 spoon(s) of milk and apply in thick layers all over your face. Let it sit for 15 minutes (listening to your favorite Bollywood music). Rinse it off with cool water and voila! Hello radiant complexion!
Mango is rich in vitamin A and antioxidants ideal for skin rejuvenation. Milk and honey are both cooling, nourishing and hydrating.
Take care of your outer-shell my friends, but make sure you take good care of yourself within as well. The reason why I love Ayurveda so much is that its principles lay on the fact that our natural beauty is just a reflection of our inner world. As Pratima beautifully says: "Without happiness lasting beauty is unattainable. Our face and complexion are the physical manifestation of all that we think and do, an exacting mirror of the soul As long as any corner of our mind or heart is unfulfilled, beauty will be elusive".