Saturday 25 August 2007

Fjords Skyscrapers and Hindu Temples

June through August found this yoga teacher in a number of exciting places. My friend Michael Foley brought his exuberant group of gifted dancers to the Centre de Yoga du Marais in June for a week long yoga workshop as part of a creative experience abroad to nourish his University of South Florida dance students’choreographic and interpretive skills. Their month long stay in Paris culminated in a dance performance in the Marais inspired by all they learned read and wrote about while experiencing la vie française. Michael and I decided to make this yoga intensive an annual event and I am so looking forward to welcoming them back next June. The dancers and yogis are also looking forward to a summer yoga retreat to add to their experiences- a retreat I kicked off this year with the help of yoga friend and Centre de Yoga du Marais student, Joanna Mallin-Davies.

This summer’s yoga retreat was in a lovely little one postal box, one bus stop, one vegetable stand Danish village called Lundo on the picturesque Limmfjord. Joanna is actually Welsh but lives part-time in Denmark and was inspired to create a yoga retreat in this peaceful little village. No one from Paris took the plunge for a flight over but my dear friend and yoga enthusiast Susan flew all the way from New York to have a gal getaway with me and a roomful of enthusiastic and warm new Danish friends. Joanna tirelessly organized this retreat finding lovely rooms for students to stay in, providing bicycles so we could take in more of the landscape carved out by these beautiful fjords and even took Sue and I up to the North Sea past the geological sit of Morse Island a glacier turned inside out by the sea that unearthed ancient hidden fossils. It was also in this location that Hamlet avenged the death of his father in killing his uncle. The pictures you see of the yogis are in the village’s charming tea salon which became our yoga room. An added attraction to this arrangement was the perfume of fresh baked rolls accompanying our early morning practice and rewarding our efforts at the conclusion. The Danes liked a strong practice and one new student to yoga took the entire workshop and is hooked. The Danes, they were Great! And once again a big heartfelt thanks to Joanna.

Next stop New York. New York is one of the important places I refuel as a yoga teacher. It is here I started practicing, became a yoga teacher and it is here where inspiring teachers pass through quite spontaneously to give of themselves. Mark Whitwell who has authored a new book titled, Yoga of Heart, is one such teacher and I was happy to see him at my yoga home in New York at IYI on 13th street in the Village. Mark gave satsang and a class to yoga teachers and students on Yoga from the source, the breath. Body movement as breath movement. Asana to support pranayama, pranayama to support meditation, meditation to support your life. I highly recommend his book and have added it to a list of yoga resources I have culminated for this blog for you to look into. New York is also where so much of my heart is among my friends. Here you can see my friend Steve performing as the ghost in a send up of Hamlet called Green Eggs and Hamlet a creation by yet another old theatre friend, Lizzie. (I enjoy the serendipity in the threads that link my travels this summer, note the Danish flag.) My friends Lisa and Josue play acoustic guitar so sensitively at the Tibetan museum, Lisa and I also like long bike rides and practicing asana out in the fresh air in the parks surrounded by soaring skyscrapers. The massive space inside the new MOMA is another unique way to feel your heart soar in Manhattan as well. And my favorite thing to do? Loop Central Park on my bike. Thank you too, to my friends Amy, Steve and Stephanie for their hospitality every time I get to go “home”.

Preparation for another return home to India was brief. Since I travelled during the month of monsoons I planned my itinerary to take in the north, the state of Uttaranchal and to visit the Valley of Flowers made famous by explorer and writer Frank Smythe in the 1930’s when he accidentally stumbled across this beautiful valley unknown outside India when he descended one of the local peaks. The Valley, not far from Tibet, blooms from Spring through October but it is in full bloom with a diverse variety of flowers in July and August. Even if you have the briefest of time to spend in India it is a trip worth taking and is easily manageable from Delhi. I spent 3 weeks in India but if you even had only a 10- day vacation you could arrange a trip to Rishikesh to absorb the beauty and majesty of the Ganga and then move up the mountains closer to her source. From there it is a day’s bus ride to Govindghat which is the last place you will see cars and rickshaws. From there plan a 13k trek straight up a mountain past cascading waterfalls, roaring rivers, fill up your water bottle and drink this mountain water right from the streams, it hits you between the eyes, enjoy a great climb over boulders to get up to the base camp which is called Ghangaria. If you get there early enough you can continue 4 more kilometers to the Valley of Flowers but it is worth taking a rest and going at sunrise the next morning. A documentary film shows once a day in Ghangaria on the history of the Valley of Flowers. The park is a UNESCO protected biosphere, you traverse rain forests and a glacier to get there and when the Valley opens up in front of you it takes your breath away.

Before I went on my trek I stayed a week in Rishikesh, Yoga Capital of the World. There are so many ashrams and yoga organizations there, you cannot count them. The International Yoga Festival arranged by Uttaranchal Tourism in conjunction with Parmath Niketan Ashram is held annually in Feb/March. Yoga and meditation masters from around India converge on Rishikesh. There are packages and it is necessary to reserve in advance. Otherwise when it is not the annual Shiva mehla from the end of July until mid-August which was when I was there, I hear it is a quiet sleepy little place hugging the banks of the Ganga. The all night long ‘bumba bumba’ of the stream of orange- clad pilgrims mostly teen-age boys who have walked for miles and miles carrying their darshan-offering to the River so as not to touch the ground before it reaches Shiva’s temple in the hills of Rishikesh, can be in turns invigorating and exhausting. They clog traffic and their offerings colorful and beautiful as they are also clog up the Ganga when they throw them over the beautiful Shri Ram Jhoola Bridge before they leave. I loved the little ashram I had chosen purely by chance, Yoga Niketan, is next to the Omkarananda Ganga Sadan which offers week- long Iyengar courses from good teachers but they were not offering courses during the mehla. Still I checked out the rooms and they are clean and lovely with balconies overlooking the Ganga. Just next door is the Yoga Niketan Guest House which I chose to sleep in over the ashram up on the hill, due to its nicer accommodations. I was on the ground floor and my room had a back door like a bungalow with a beautiful garden full of flowers and butterflies and what’s more my own ghat! Direct access into the river which I took a dip in each morning, holding on tightly to the chains so as not to be swept downstream. I felt so happy there. For 500 rupees, less than 10 euros, the room includes two daily classes at the ashram and two meditation sessions. If you wish to eat at the ashram it is 100 rupees a day. But, I recommend skipping that and heading down to the beautiful Welcome Center a 10 minute walk in the direction of the Hotel Great Ganga and you are in an oasis away from the hustle and bustle. The owner, Karuna a sweet and knowledgeable chef will serve you wholesome and organic ayurvedic food in her sanctuary garden restaurant. She also has a few rooms to rent out. I think her place is Rishikesh’s best kept secret.

The yoga courses at the ashram were fun. Big white fluffy monkeys frolic about and want to look into your bags for treats. The whole staff was Indian which is not at all conventional for Rishikesh where popular resident teachers come from as far away as Korea Japan and Switzerland. Classes were simple and accessible to many levels of practice in the room but sneakily challenging. The young men were so strong and they expertly guided us through openings many of us had never gone to before. I love practicing at the source, yoga in India, it is pure. My body feels weightless, like I am doing asana on a cloud. The heat and humidity just open space in the body, insight in the mind. I love being a student. We had an ancient resident master who offered satsang each day but all of us including himself struggled to stay awake. He spent meditations fast asleep and tried to sneak in a nap between sentences when he spoke. Life must have gotten him very tired, but I found him comforting all the same.

Many students in the ashram opt to take a 10- day Pancha Karma Ayurvedic treatment along with their 10-day yoga stay. Here, I have another recommendation, the Arora Clinic
I had an ayurvedic consultation with Dr. Arora because I wasn’t staying long enough to take advantage of a full Pancha Karma treatment, but the students I talked to who come from all over the world to see him were enthusiastic and one student I met from Italy returns year after year. I like the doctor immensely, he is so kind and “gets you” right away. He is positive about his diagnosis and recommendations in treating your dosha balance, (students of Joyson at the Centre will know exactly what I am talking about) and Dr Arora’s analysis of my pita dosha was exactly the same as Joyson’s. Both Joyson and Dr. Arora even knew the same things about my history without me ever saying a word to them. The science of ayurveda fascinates me and I came home with more insight , more tools.

I also came home with more friends which is my favorite part of traveling. Here I have pictures of, Kamal a Bollywood actor from Mumbai on retreat in Rishikesh who took me over to the grand Parmath Ashram Temple to share sunset puja on the river in the company of the young vedic scholars who were just initiated into their life long studies of the Vedas. Here they had just shaved their heads. They recognized my new friend. And also, Edel an adventure seeker from Dublin, a school teacher on her way to Dharamsala. Making a Hindi friend is invaluable, you get to be on the inside, you are in the company of people who know the ins and outs and can help you, you can relax. I also hired a guide to help me get up to the Valley of Flowers because I was alone and it was a very good idea. But, my biggest appreciation goes to my new friend Sapna Dutt. She is a beautiful yoga teacher who runs her own yoga studio outside of Delhi in Gurgaon called Yoga with Sapna. If you are ever in the Delhi area and don’t know where to practice, see her. Thank you to her and her lovely family and staff who made me so comfortable in my transition periods after arriving and recovering from my landslide experience coming back down the mountain toward the end of my trip. That is another story! (Monsoons in August, something to think about before you go.) I hope I can return Sapna’s hospitality someday in Paris.

Namaste to you all who have made my summer so beautiful and eventful,