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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Down to the Wire: Writing a Thesis

My thesis is due in four days. I should not be writing a blog post right now but I need to get away from something so structured. I enjoy writing when I can do it freely. It's fun to write ideas down on paper, to go back and edit them until you get the wording just right. Maybe you lose sight of a typo here and there, but everyone will understand what you mean anyways.

A thesis is not like this. It's not storytelling. A thesis is extremely structured writing with attention to detail that must all flow in a logical order. I'm convinced my brain doesn't work in "logical order". My brain wants to jump around from one idea to the next. My mind lets me focus on my paper for no more than 10 minutes at a time and then I realize there are much more important things to do... like paint my toenails, or see what people are up to on Instagram. Then I remember the larger task at hand, return to my computer for approximately 10 more minutes before I realize I haven't showered yet today. Once I'm clean and dressed in stretchy pants, I'm finally ready to sit down and write for the day.

I take a deep breath, I start scrolling through the 30 pages that exist so far to see where I need to add more detail. What isn't flowing logically and where do I need to explain deeper or add more information. Man this would be so much easier if I only had an iced venti unsweetened soy light ice shaken green tea latte right now.... That thought is all it takes and I'm out the door with headphones in walking to a Starbucks I swore I wouldn't go to again because the customer service there is so bad. But let's be honest... I only have four days left to work on this paper, so it's pertinent that I not waste any time and go to the closest Starbucks I can for my aforementioned green tea latte.

With a latte on my desk and a kale and butternut squash wrap in my belly, I'm finally ready to write again. Here we go... Maybe I need a nap. Just 10-20 minutes. I mean I did just eat after all. I need to relax while that wrap digests. That's important. I lay down for a minute but my mind reminds there is something else I should be doing. I really need to enter that contest to try to win a pass to the San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference. I mean as soon as I'm done with this darn paper, all I want to do is teach yoga anyway. Isn't increasing my yoga experience in every way possible a better use of my time than writing a thesis?  Yes, yes it is. And now that I have yoga on my mind, I have been sitting at my desk all day (sort of, don't judge...) and my back is starting to get sore.  I need to go roll my mat out and do some asana practice.

I move through a few rounds of Surya Namaskar, I go into headstand which is known to reinvigorate the body and focus the mind, I finish with a nice twist on each side. 10 minutes total. You know what would make me feel even better? I need to get more oxygen to every cell of my body. I practice pranayama. My pranayama naturally guides me into meditation and after another 20 minutes I'm finally ready to sit at my desk again.

I scroll through my thesis once again to find a good spot to begin working. Then I realize I haven't written a blog post in a very long time and my two followers must be very worried about me and my whereabouts. I also just need a break from the structure. So here I am, letting my mom and my best friend know that I am okay. I am in Hawaii and I am going to graduate in less than two weeks because I will get my thesis done on time. I will have a perfect manicure, perfect pedicure, my skin and hair will be radiant and shiny. Every cell in my body will have oxygen, my body will not have any stiff spots whatsoever. I will be well fed and well caffeinated and somehow it will all come together and I will get it done. I will turn my final draft in in four days. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Abundance

I am doing pretty well on my journey to not spend money for the rest of the year.  A big factor in that is that I have no money to spend! While this is slightly frustrating, I am able to see the lesson within it. For starters, nothing I can purchase is going to bring me happiness. I am happy just as I am whether it's teaching a yoga class, giving a reiki session, working on my thesis or chatting with friends. I don't think I would be any happier right now, and in fact maybe even less so if I had more money.

Not having money is a great way to learn how to be a better saver. I am confident that eventually money  will find its way to me again, when it does, I now know that I am not reliant on it for happiness. I look at all the items sitting in my closet that I never wear. Yet when I purchased each of those items I thought to myself "if I just had this dress, I will be happy" or "if I wear this when I go out to this event, my friends will be impressed". The truth is, nobody cares. Sure compliments are offered up but wouldn't those same compliments be offered if I was wearing something I already owned instead of some new piece? I think they would.

Right now I am following my passion, trying to create a career in the yoga field where I don't have to rely on another source of income. It takes time to build a practice and build steady students especially when I live in one of the world's most touristy places. Yet, I will stick with it. I don't need to make a ton of money, just enough to pay the rent, a cell phone bill and groceries.

Speaking of rent...In my last post I mentioned that I wasn't sure if I would be able to pay September's rent in full. I wasn't able to. Luckily my landlord is very nice and understanding and was willing to wait until my student loan check arrived for the second half of September's rent.

It just goes to show that there is always enough. If we have fears or anxieties (as I did about telling my landlord I couldn't pay), they are usually created within ourselves and not based on any truth. I am being put through a test at the moment to relearn how to react to situations. While I react and evolve I am able to shut off the power attached to these fears that I have created within myself. Abundance will come in more ways than one, in that I am completely confident. 

Butterflies are free to fly...

As a distraction while I should be writing my thesis, I have found several new books to lose myself in. Mostly they are books on yoga or the chakras as I strive to make myself a better yoga teacher with each passing day.
While looking for a book that was recommended to me by a student "The Celestine Prophecy" (which I haven't gotten to yet), another book jumped out at me. On the cover was a blue butterfly, and if you've read my blog post "The Journey" then you understand that butterflies have become my totem animal. When I first judged the book by it's cover and saw the title "Butterflies are Free to Fly" I thought, why do I need to know about butterfly flight patterns, but as I looked closer I saw the sub-title: a new and radical approach to spiritual evolution, I thought this book might have something I needed after all. The best part is...It's FREE!
So while I should be writing about a Social Impact Assessment on an eco-resort in Bangladesh, I am busy reading about spiritual evolution.
The book discusses Quantum physics and how that applies to life, and questions life in general. Are we real? Are we holograms created from an infinite source of power, abundance and love? How do we live our lives without suffering and pain? What is the key to life?
As Robert Scheinfeld was this authors (Stephen Davis) mentor at one time, the book is very similar to the book I talked about in "The Journey", "Busting Loose from the Money Game" . Thus speaking of a holographic universe and the need to show appreciation and gratitude. While I ultimately enjoyed the message from Busting Loose, it left with me some questions, such as how do we relate to each other if we are all creating our own holographic worlds. Davis takes it a bit further and seems to fill in the gaps that left me confused at the end of Scheinfeld's book.
While I am not finished reading yet, the message is good and well explained with lots of science to back it up.
If you choose to read this book based on my recommendation, just keep an open mind and remember that truth is just an opinion. Once upon a time it was "true" that the world was flat and the Earth was the center of our Solar System. Who knows when our current "truths" will be proved wrong. As humans (whatever that means and entails) we are constantly learning and evolving.
Read this book, and see where it takes your personal evolution...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thesis

When trying to decide on a topic for my thesis, I kept returning to the idea of Buddhist Economics. If you're not familiar with this concept it is the idea that we base our economy on the general happiness of the citizens rather than income levels and GDP. If you remember back to September 11, 2001, when the twin towers were hit, President Bush didn't tell us to go home and spend time with our loved ones, he didn't tell us to rest and remember what is really important in life, friends and family (Buddhist Economics), he told us to go shopping. Our President told us to go out and spend money in order to keep the economy going.

GDP is only a recent economic indicator for us. It was invented as a result of the Great Depression. At the time it worked (depending on how you look at it) but now we need something different. GDP created a sense of devaluation to our natural resources. It was with this boom that we as Americans became more wasteful. Instead of having something fixed, we could just throw it in a landfill and buy a new, better version of the same thing. Disposable diapers, plastic cups, plates and silverware, the birth of the fast food restaurant, mono-culture farms the list goes on and on. People working together a little less, and competing against each other a little more... Competition in a sense where athletes start making insane amounts of money, amounts that mean they have to use drugs to be the best in their fields. You want to hit the world record for home runs? Great, there's a drug for that. You want to consistently win the tour de france? oh, we've got a drug for that too!

When we look at what GDP has created in our society, don't you agree it's time for a new measurement of success? Let's stop competing. Let's purchase things that are built to last and that can be repaired when they break. Bake some cookies and take them next door to introduce yourself to your neighbors. Build relationships with old friends and new. Spend more time with your family and less time at work. Patch the holes in your clothes, shop at Goodwill or hold a clothing swap with your friends (two birds in one stone!, great chance to socialize and get some new to you, slightly used clothes).

Since I have returned from India, I have purchased very few things other than groceries...A couple of new swim suits that are more appropriate for leading a Paddleboard Yoga class, some sheets for my Reiki table, and a cowboy hat to protect my face, chest and shoulders in the sun.

Less is more. The more we have the more we have to be attached to. Attachment is a distraction on the path to enlightenment. Only buy what you absolutely need. Sell or trade the rest of it. Try to lose that sense of competition which is ingrained in us as humans.

I am not writing my thesis on this topic as it would have been a huge challenge to find a test group to collect the research from. However, I am trying to adopt Buddhist Economics into my own life and hope that you will consider it as well. As I read other blogs and books I see this topic coming up more and more. I am happy to see this shift in perspective working its way into American culture. Had I known the changes I would make in my own life in the course of this past year and half, I probably could have used my own life as my thesis research, but who knows, maybe I'll write a book about it in the not too distant future.

Currently, I am not making much money. I am following my dreams and living my life exactly the way I want. I don't know each month if I will be able to pay my rent or not. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to ask for an extension on September's rent from my landlord. My student loans are on the way and I can pay it as soon as they get here, but in all honesty, I'm not worried or stressed about this or the outcome it may bring. I am happier than I have ever been, pursuing my passion as a yoga teacher.

I will go the rest of this year without making a purchase other than necessities (no, an ipad is NOT a necessity!)  can you do the same? Can you go a month, or even a week without making an unnecessary purchase?  When was the last time purchasing something truly made you feel better?  Happiness is within, if you haven't figured that out, set down your wallet and sit on a meditation cushion. Spend some time with yourself, remember who you are. Find that inner peace. Bliss.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Full system shut-down, going into introvert mode

People are always surprised when I say I'm an introvert. Introvert doesn't have to mean someone who has no social skills or is socially awkward. Introverts can hold their own in social situations, but only for a limited amount of time, then we need to rest, restore and recharge. Some of us need more alone time than others, and I know I personally need a little less alone time than some of my fellow introverted friends.

After returning from India I took some serious introvert time for myself, some of that was due to jet lag, some of it just to process everything that had happened in the past year. Eventually I felt recharged again and started slowly working my way back out of my shell. Then I went on a rampage and joined a bunch of social groups on meet-up.com and asked my friends to hang out more and had a really great, busy couple of weeks. However, I over did it and now I need to be alone again. I have a lot to process and I only have a couple more weeks before my final class for my master's degree begins. I need me time. Down time.

This is the time where I keep the door to my room shut, I read alot, I might start trying to get a head start on my thesis, but probably not. I'll sleep a lot, short naps throughout the day. I might work on my never ending blanket which I am crocheting, I might paint and make a new vision board focused on my new business, I might start writing a book in hopes it will someday be published, I might learn to play the Ukelele and I might just sit and stare at the wall for a while.

It's nice to be alone once in a while to be able to hear your own thoughts. It's nice to sit still and not feel like you always have to be running to the next event, gathering or whatever it may be. Of course I still need to make money, so you can find me at any of my regular yoga classes, maybe I'll even focus my classes on the beauty of silence in the next couple weeks. Who knows, but whatever I do, I'll be completely happy and comfortable doing it, knowing that when I'm ready to come out again, my friends will be there for me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Neyyar Dam, Kerala, India

Where Swami Vivekenanda
achieved enlightenment
When I signed up for my 500 hour teacher training in India, I thought I was going to be staying at an Ashram like I did for my 200 hour in The Bahamas. In The Bahamas I had wished I had been able to stay longer and do some Karma Yoga to let all my new knowledge sink in, but I wasn't able to change my plane ticket. When I found out my 500 hour would not be an Ashram and again no chance to stay on and practice Karma Yoga I decided to find an Ashram where I could do just that.

I decided on the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala in the south western part of India. I flew from Rishikesh to Kerala rather than taking the train as I was now on my own and the train would have meant two full days and nights of traveling and transferring with all my luggage. No thank you!

Where the 3 Seas meet
I arrived at the Ashram just in time for breakfast. Breakfast was already laid out as I walked into the dining hall. The plates and cups were on the floor in front of bamboo mats. No utensils. Good thing my friend Huda taught me how to eat with my hands in Bangladesh! Seriously, I'm not talking about finger foods here, I'm talking about rice with sauces and gravies, vegetable curries and things that you wouldn't normally consider eating with your hands, it takes skill. There was a cup with some pink colored water in it so I assumed I was supposed to dip my fingers in that to clean/sanitize them before digging in to my food. I also used this cup to dip my fingers after they got covered in slimy food. Nope...I was supposed to drink that water which was infused with Ayurvedic herbs giving it the pink color.

After finishing breakfast I went to find out what my karma yoga duties would be. I was going to be working in the Health Hut, making smoothies, juices and all sorts of snacks for other guests of the Ashram. I was actually excited about my duties. When my shift ended I could make my own snacks. I had to pay for them of course, but I got to make them myself.
Sunrise Satsang at Neyyar Dam

Every Friday at the Ashram is a day off. I arrived on Thursday and you don't have to work on your first day. So I chilled on Thursday and found out about an excursion happening on Friday to the Southern tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea all meet. I paid the fee and got up early the next morning to go visit this place where 3 seas meet and visit some temples including the place where Swami Vivikenanda (the first Swami to bring yoga to the west) achieved enlightenment. It ended up being a really long and seemingly unorganized day, so I promised myself on the following Fridays I would just stay at the Ashram and relax.

Around the Ashram
I believe this is Brahma
I wanted to stay at this Ashram as a karma yogi and use up the rest of my visa there. However while still in my training in north India an opportunity arose which required me to come back to Hawaii sooner than I had originally intended and it also required me to start putting together some slides on my computer. So I figured I would return to Hawaii in early May but everywhere I went I could not get internet access to purchase a plane ticket. The Ashram was no different.


Without internet I felt like I couldn't really get anything done that I needed to do. So on the next Friday I went to Varkala with a couple of friends I had made and we spent the day at the beach, eating amazing meals and using internet. I booked a flight back to Hawaii but I also found a room to stay at in Varkala and decided I would go back to the Ashram for a couple more days but then I was going to spend the last 3 weeks of my journey at the beach, where I belong.

As much as I wanted to stay and be a karma yogi in The Bahamas, and I feel I would have also loved doing that in North India with the group of swamis that were teaching us during my training, this Ashram in Kerala had a different vibe to it. The "staff" and "karma yogis" that were there were very negative. The were like yoga nazis. It's not uncommon for Ashram food to make you a little sick while your body is adjusting to it. However, the staff would give you a hard time if you missed any of the events you were supposed to be at, like Satsang or lecture. The initial reaction from them was always a condescending "why aren't you there?" or "You need to be at such and such" without ever checking to see if you were okay. There was just no compassion in it. Myself and friends of mine were all having trouble dealing with the staff. I felt bad because for most of the people there they were on "yoga vacation" which is like a way to come see the ways of an Ashram and how it works and decide if you might want to take your yoga practice deeper. For them, this was a terrible experience. I kept explaining to them that I had been in other Ashram settings and they were amazing, even with the same organization. One big thing that seemed to be missing was the guidance of any swamis. There wasn't a single swami at this Ashram, only Chaitanayas (teachers of yoga) and they had apparently let "power" go to their heads. In the end, I decided I didn't want to be a part of this Ashram and finished my time up at the beach. However, I made a lot of new friends at the Ashram, and two of them decided to head to the beach with me!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rishikesh

Two of the most sacred cities in India were by far my favorites...Varanasi and Rishikesh.  Rishikesh is fairly small and easy to walk to wherever you need to go. There are many excellent restaurants (all vegetarian!) and lots of shops where you can buy any Indian souvenir you could possibly want. Sadly I refrained knowing that my luggage was probably already overweight and I would be flying to Southern India in just a couple days.

I traveled to Rishikesh by jeep taxi with 4 other women who had been in the training. Three of them were in the TTC and one of them was with me in the ATTC. All of them were Spanish speakers and only my friend from ATTC could speak English! It took us about five hours to get to Rishikesh and once we arrived we had to load all of our luggage into a walking rickshaw and follow the man pulling it to our hotel which was probably a 15 minute walk. Two of the women only had four hours to spend in Rishikesh before they had to head to Delhi to catch their flight back to Spain. We dropped all our luggage at the hotel and then speed walked through the city for these women to buy their souvenirs and grab lunch. I wasn't worried about buying anything initially since I knew I had a couple more days to spend there. The sights, sounds and smells were a little overwhelming for me from just having come from a secluded Ashram setting way up in the Himalayas. As we went back to the hotel and the Spanish women left for Delhi, I passed out in the hotel room. My friend asked me at one point if I was ready to eat and I think I just mumbled at her and fell back to sleep! Finally I woke up and was ready for round two of sensory overload.

Rishikesh is situated at the base of the Himalayas along the River Ganges, the river is sacred to Hindus and revered for its healing powers. There are many ashrams in Rishikesh and it is where the Divine Life Society was founded, which is the start of the lineage of yoga which I am trained in: Sivananda Yoga, a form of Hatha yoga.

Dog using the healing powers of the River Ganges to aid
his sore hip
The next morning we found a yoga class to go to, but to our surprise it wasn't taught by a local, it was taught by a young Japanese woman, probably fresh out of a TTC. However, she did a great job teaching the class. We spent the day wandering around Rishikesh and eating whatever sounded good (we had just finished a month long intensive with meals set for us, and we kept getting the same foods over and over...). We went down to the sacred Ganges and took some photos doing yoga poses (not on my camera, so still waiting to get copies). There were people getting in and out of the river, bathing, swimming etc. At one point this older dog walked over to the river, he had a pretty bad limp with his right hind leg. He walked right into the river and put his sore hip in it and just let it soak for a while. That really made me realize how sacred that river really is. When an instinctive animal walks in to it for its healing powers, you know it must be good!

Sunset along the Ganges in Rishikesh
The next day we found an Iyengar style class to go to that was taught by a local and for some reason he decided that I was going to be his guinea pig for the entire class (he must have sensed my inflated ego saying "I just graduated from a 500 hour training and I know everything, haha). Everytime he moved the class into a new pose, which was really only like three times (seriously, a two hour class and we did three poses) he would use me as the model of what NOT to do and then adjust me into what he wanted us to do! It was very humbling. We used a lot of props and I was really sore the next day, but the thoroughness in his adjustments was amazing! Later that day my friend flew back to England (she's originally from Brazil, but lives in England) and I was left sharing a room with the last woman there, Pila, who is from Chile and speaks a little English, but communication was difficult for both of us. We had dinner together and prepared for color fest which was the next day! Color fest or Holi was the reason I decided to head to Rishikesh for a few days instead of heading directly to Delhi with the rest of the yoga group.

Colorfest is a giant party where everyone throws colored powder at each other. They call it "playing Holi". Kids fill squirt guns and water balloons with water and dye mixed and use those as their weapons against people. I bought a special shirt for the occasion for $2 and wore pants that I didn't care about; I also prepared by putting some coconut oil in my hair ahead of time (thank goodness for that tip, I met a girl later whose hair had pink and blue streaks in it that wouldn't come out!).

Two young girls "playing Holi"
I was flying out later that day so Pila and I decided we would go out and play Holi at 8am. We had our dye packets ready and went down to breakfast. We asked our hotel staff how to play. They told us that we would just walk up to people and paint their faces with our powdered hands. Then we would give them a hug and continue on. We were not allowed to get mad at anyone who put colors on us (well duh!). Our hotel staff was happy to get us started by putting the first streaks on our faces, which we then got to do back to them. We headed out super excited, like kids on Christmas morning!

We were a little shy at first. With it being so early in the morning, many people hadn't been "painted" yet and we didn't know the rules and want to upset somebody or stain their nice clothes (many people were on their way to pray at temples). It didn't take long though, most people saw us with our painted faces, holding our powder packs and walked over to us waiting for us to apply color to them, they would then dip their hands into OUR powder packs and get us back, we would hug (leaving hand prints on each others shirts) and part ways. I had a great time putting colored hand prints on the "third eye" of all the sacred cattle we walked past.  We ran all over making people (and cows) colorful, getting extremely colorful ourselves and then headed back to clean up as I had a taxi to catch to the Dheradun airport.



Siva statue. We actually missed the Yoga Festival, it was
happening during our training.
Pila and Heather "playing Holi" with a local



The Ganges



Heather "playing Holi"



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Satya

After spending a week tying Ahimsa (non-violence) into my classes (see "The Journey") I decided to move on to another of the Yamas (the first limb in the 8 limbed path of yoga), Satya (truthfulness).
While truthfulness is a moral principle most of our parents instill in us at an early age, there is more to it than honesty. The thing is, who knows what is really true and what is not? Truth changes all the time. What is truth (really opinion) for one person will not hold true for another.
I came across a quote on pinterest the other day "Everybody is Somebody Else's Weirdo" (Scott Adams). When you think about that quote for a second, it is so true. We all have our own various things that interest us and those with similar interests will eventually come together to share their passions. What I think is weird (a guy I barely met quoting bible verses to me) makes another person fall in love with that person. That person thought I was weird (I believe his words were "black sheep") because I have traveled the world alone (making many similarly weird friends along the way of course!).
Finally, when dealing with Satya, if bending the truth will save someone's feelings, by all means DO IT! What comes out of your mouth is only your truth, your belief, things we say to another person stick with them, whether they just met us or have known us our entire lives. I'll leave you with a quote that I used in my classes this past week, that many of my students have been asking me for. I think it sums up the yogic explanation of Satya very well:

"Today I bent the truth to be kind and I have no regret;
for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true."
-Robert Brault

Namaste

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ATTC: Rudraprayag, Himalayas, India

Let me start by saying India is by far the easiest place I have ever been to be a vegetarian! The food is amazing and most places don't even have meat on their menus. Even though many Hindus do eat meat (just not cows) most places keep it safe by offering strictly vegetarian menus.

When I saw the online brochure for the Sivananda Advanced Teacher Training set in the Himalayas of India, I knew that's where I was supposed to go. I'd been trying to get to India for 5 years to study an advanced level of yoga, but always finances or time off got in the way. However, there are no mistakes and we are all exactly where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, so it worked out that I made my way to India early in 2013. I thought I had heard about this training before and the photos in the brochure seemed familiar to me, but upon arriving at the training, I discovered we were the first group to study there.

I didn't realize that where we were going wasn't an actual Ashram until I was already in Bangladesh. However, the European Swamis did a great job of turning our hotel into a make-shift Ashram for the month. Since we were in a hotel, there was very little karma yoga to be done. The idea behind an Ashram is that everyone staying there helps out to make it run efficiently, some people may have 1 our of karma yoga daily, others may have 4-8 based on how long they are staying and what their role is. In a teacher training, each of the trainees would typically get 1 hour due to their schedule being so packed full with lessons and homework. In this setting as I mentioned, there was very little karma yoga to be done as the hotel staff cleaned our rooms and made our meals for us.

This hotel is on the road to Badrinath, spiritual seekers in India take an annual journey to Badrinath to ask for  forgiveness and pray for abundance. The area is very spiritual and prana is extremely high. Running along side the hotel is the Alakananda River which shortly after converges with another river to become the holy Ganges.

We had two separate groups training at this location. The majority of the group was there to earn their 200 hour yoga teaching certificate (about 100 people I think), and then just over 30 of us were there to earn our 500 hour certificates, already earning the first 200 hours previously from various locations.

Sivananda Yoga is a very traditional form of yoga. The focus is on the philosophy and not the asana practice. While Asana is an important part of yoga, it should be seen only as a step on the path to Enlightenment. In the West we have turned Yoga into a fitness craze, and lost out on the true meaning and true purpose of Yoga. If we take a look at the 8 limbed path of yoga, and think of the 8 limbs as rungs on a ladder, we would find that Asana is the third rung from the bottom. That doesn't make Asana less important, it is a necessary tool for reaching the ultimate goal of Samadhi (super conscious state, no more duality, unity with a higher power), however, it does mean that we should continue practicing Asana to reach the higher levels of yoga and not stop at Asana. The actual purpose of an Asana practice is to prepare our bodies so that we can sit comfortably in meditation for extended periods of time. Asana allows helps us to build one pointed concentration. As you are holding a pose, it is difficult to allow the mind to wander off to think about anything other than what your body is supposed to be doing in that pose.

Me with my roommates Elizabeth from
Austria and Ananda from England
The ATTC course was very challenging. I chose to share a room with 2 other women (based on price) when I signed up for the course, Roommates were set up by the program, we did not get to choose. I had one woman from Austria (Elizabeth or Purna) and one woman from England (Ananda) as my roommates. They tried to pair people by languages and I think that is why I ended up with one German speaker and one English speaker because I put on my application that I could speak both. They must have run out of German speaking women for Elizabeth to share with (oops!  Mein Deutsch ist Scheisse, veilleicht ich sollte nicht dass sagen ich Deutsch gesprechen koennen!). Both women were very sweet and nice roommates, but I spent all of my free time with Tanja, a swiss chic I met in the hotel before we took the buses up north.
Tanja applying sunscreen
by the river











Christening my Mala in the holy river
For ATTC we had to be in the temple by 4:30 every morning to warm up with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) before settling in for advanced pranayama (the fourth limb on the 8 limbed path). This meant waking up around 4:00am every morning for 3 women to each take their turn in the bathroom, brushing teeth and cleaning the nose with a neti pot (essential for advanced pranayama). After one hour of Pranayama, the TTC group would join us and we would have silent meditation followed by Satsang (chanting and lecture). Satsang lasted about an hour and by 7:30 we had a little free time to grab some tea and talk to our friends before heading to our first Asana class of the day. TTC had a two hour practice in the morning and afternoon, but ATTC had less than one hour in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. Our shortened Asana class was nice because it showed us how to move our way through the most valuable poses in a short period of time, great for sticking with a home practice. After the first Asana class we had a one hour lecture, usually either Anatomy or Sanskrit before we met back up with the TTC group for brunch.
Finding a cave to meditate in

Tanja and I always saved each other a seat for meals, and there were two other women who would join us daily, Anna (from Turks and Caicos) and Kirsten (from Germany). Often other people would squish into our table too but for the most part it was just the four of us. After brunch Tanja and I often went down to sit on the rocks by the river and study or usually just talk. That river is so amazing, it has such a calming effect on the mind, just listening to it rush past. We liked to sit on the big rocks down at the river bank and meditate.

After brunch we would have two more lectures, Raja yoga and Jnana Yoga with a tea break in between. After the final lecture we had our second Asana practice of the day and this was the one where we practiced moving into the advanced poses. Our teacher was amazing! She gave such great direction and had little tricks to help us move into some of the more challenging postures. All of our teachers were good and super friendly, but watching her get into all of these postures was really amazing. After advanced asana practice we had an hour break before dinner. Another chance for Tanja and I to run to the river, or just sit around and study. After dinner was another round of Satsang, silent meditation, chanting and often a lecture or concert or dance performance from local artists.
Anna (Turks and Caicos) and Heather at graduation

This same schedule went on 6 days a week for 4 weeks. We were given Fridays off, but we still had to attend Advanced Pranayama and both Satsangs. Asana classes were available if we chose to stick around the hotel and it was highly recommended that we stay for both meals as well, but not required. Tanja and I went into town on our first Friday with a few other women. The town was 3 km away and very tiny. We were really in an isolated area. We bought some cookies and fruit to last us for the next week and then went on a hike to a beautiful temple.

On our second Friday off, we just hung out around the hotel and then went back to the same temple as the week before as this was the week of the Sivayatri and holy Hindu festivity, so we felt we should be at the temple. One of the Indian Swamis (not one of the Sivananda Swamis) offered us some weed at the temple! Hahaha, while I'm sure that helps with meditation, I politely declined as did Tanja, we went down the ghat (bathing steps) and put our feet in the water. Then we found some more big rocks to climb up and meditate on.

Heather and Tanja
Our third Friday we went into town again and if you walk through the whole town you come to a temple on the river that is the confluence of the two rivers that become the Ganges. I think this information is correct, this is what the Swamis told us, but the Indian girl (Sukanya) whom Angela and I befriended at the march in Kolkata told me that this is not the actual confluence, that happens further down.  So I'm not positive. Anyway, Tanja and I walked up the very steep steps to the temple and made an offering (40 rupees, less than a dollar) and were given pursad (a sweet offering used in a blessing) of banana and some sort of bread thing. There were some monkeys hanging around and when we came out of the temple, the woman who watches over it followed us out with a stick to chase off the monkeys. Tanja and I tried to bolt but the monkeys saw our banana and were after us! We weren't sure what to do because we didn't want to offend the priestess by throwing the prusad but we also didn't want to be bitten by monkeys. We both started our awkward nervous laughter trying to figure out what our best plan was. We ended up chucking the prusad towards the monkeys (practicing ahimsa of course with no intent to harm them, regardless of their intentions) and running down the steps. One monkey didn't make it to our offering in time and started following us thinking we had more, so we stuck our hands up open palmed and very slowly backed away from the monkeys so they could see that we didn't have anything else they wanted. Finally, they left us alone and we headed back into town where Tanja was attacked by a dog! (it just walked up behind her and started barking, she didn't get bitten but it was a startling and Indian dogs aren't friendly like American dogs).

On our final Friday, Tanja wanted to go up to a temple that everyone had been talking about, but I decided to stay at the hotel and study. Mostly because it was going to be an all day trip and I was worried about getting car sick on the windy Himalayan roads. Tanja enjoyed the temple, but I don't regret my decision not to go. Tanja even brought me back a little mala bracelet from her journey.

The next day we had our final exams and on Sunday morning everybody parted ways, some took the long bus journey back to the airport (Tanja), and many of us (me) headed to Rishikesh...

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Journey

I still have two or three posts to write about my time in India, but today is not the day...

I have been talking a lot lately about how things just seem to be falling into place for me. It's truly an amazing feeling to trust in the Universe and just let things happen. I wasn't always this way, and I think for my readers to understand better where I am coming from, I should explain a bit more.

Last year (2012) didn't get off to a great start for me. I was managing a Starbucks store, therefore working full-time, which most of you probably realize is much more than 40 hours a week. In addition I had decided that I could take a full load at school, meaning 12 graduate credits and still teach several yoga classes a week. The result was utter chaos. According to Ayurveda, I am a Pitta, and a very strong Pitta at that, so I can handle a lot, but last year I took on too much and the first thing I let go of was the thing I love the most...Yoga. I had to stop teaching yoga to focus on school and Starbucks (because that's what paid my bills).

I had a beautiful apartment that was too expensive, I had a car payment that was too expensive and a taste for Lululemon clothing that was outside my means... I made ends meet every month, but just barely. I knew I needed to get out of the cycle, but I didn't really know how to do it. I would look at cheaper apartments, but they didn't have the amazing ocean view, or the swimming pool or the closet big enough to be a spare bedroom (and that would comfortably hold my ridiculous Lulu collection).

I kept trucking along thinking if I could just make it through the semester everything would get better, but then half way through the semester I got a phone call that my grandmother had passed away. She had been in and out of the hospital, but last I had heard she was recovering and was to be released from the hospital later in the day, and yet she passed away in the hospital. Now all of my family and extended family are important to me of course, but my grandmother that passed had a huge part in shaping who I am today. For my twelfth birthday she sent me PETA's vegetarian starter kit along with an annual subscription to their little magazine. Within 6 months of receiving that gift I made the decision myself to become vegetarian. My grandmother (along with my aunt) also had a lot of land in Southern California and while she probably could have sold some of the land or used it to build rentals, she used that space to foster abused animals and try to find better homes for them. Among those animals were circus horses, Emu's, Raccoon's, chickens, goats, pigs, an abundance of "lassie dogs" and many more...

Needless to say, the loss of my grandmother (who, by the way, I was never allowed to call Grandma) was not a good experience for me. Even though I had already been studying yoga for a few years and knew that she was just reuniting with her Infinite Self and in a happier place, it's still hard for the "survivors" to understand.

The same week that I lost my grandmother, a very close friend of mine also disappeared from my life. Just "poof" gone. Slowly throughout the next few months, a couple more friends decided to drop out of my life. Were they abandoning me? At the time, I would have said yes, however now, I know that's not what happened at all.

I was allowing myself to get too stressed over things that really didn't matter that much. My relationships suffered because of it, and my friends had to protect themselves from my self destructive mind set. Not self destructive in a suicidal way, maybe self depricating is a better term. I just wasn't being kind to myself and was constantly judging myself and trying to be "the best" at everything I did, whatever that means. I can't  blame my friends for abandoning ship, who wants to be around someone who is negative all the time? I certainly don't.

One week a friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her to learn Reiki. Initially I thought "I don't have time for that" but something told me I should go. So off I went to fill up a weekend that my mind told me I should use for studying. I would say that weekend learning Reiki was the first step off my path of self destruction and a start into opening up and listening to my intuition and to the Universe.

Reiki and Yoga tend to be very much in line with each other. In yoga we send Prana- or vital energy, through the body to promote health and one-pointed concentration. Reiki is a healing technique used to guide Ki- or vital energy, through another's body to help them relax and reduce stress. Both practices have the same goal of reducing stress. With yoga taking it a step farther to ultimately unite yourself with your true Self. However, I feel like by learning and practicing Reiki, I have been able to open up more energy channels and come closer to my True Self than with yoga alone.

Once I had Reiki under my belt, I decided to go see an Ayurvedic practitioner to help me find some balance in my too stressful life. She was another big help in allowing me to see the bigger picture in things. With some natural herbs and guidance to help balance mind and body (which in Ayurveda seems to mean digestion) I continued to feel better and better and began to trust even more in the Universe.

After my "brutal semester" I really started trying to turn a new leaf. I knew this person I had become wasn't the real me. I took a study abroad course in Costa Rica. One: this gave me a nice long break from Starbucks, which was much needed at the time. Two: the experience was amazing. I was able to bond with a new friend and by this point Reiki had really become a big part of my life. I was starting to open up and just trust in what the Universe offered. Everytime my friend (Danielle) would ask me about something or say something negative (but usually funny) I would just tell her "you just gotta open up to the Universe man, just gotta open up!". She would laugh and roll her eyes calling me a "crazy hippy" and then proceed to tell me how amazed she was at my ability to open up. I think her encouragement really helped me to believe in myself and my ability to let things happen instead of forcing them.

By the time Fall semester rolled around I had a plan in place, yet one that I could easily back out of should my intuition tell me it wasn't right. Yet as the semester rolled on, both my intuition and the Universe (one in the same perhaps?) told me it was the right thing. I quit my job at Starbucks, returned my car to the dealership I bought it from (with no return for me, but at least I didn't have to pay them to take it) and put my bed, my surfboard and my obscene Lulu collection in storage. I took off with the ultimate goal of going to India to deepen my spiritual/yoga practice, but first a short stop in Bangladesh to do research for my thesis.  Those stories are in other blog postings on this site, so feel free to read through them at your leisure.

Today's post is about accepting what is. Sometimes we don't always understand the things that happen in our lives. Sometimes we wonder "why me", "why now", "why this". Yet in the end everything happens for a reason, and when we look back, I think we can understand it better.

Had the friends that dropped out of my life, not dropped out when they did I may not have taken the opportunities I did to go to Bangladesh or even Costa Rica. One of those friends I had planned on moving in with to save on rent, so if that scenario had panned out, I wouldn't have wanted to give up my cheaper rent to go to Bangladesh, but because I was still in my way to expensive (yet amazing) apartment I wanted nothing more than to just get rid of everything and see where the Universe would take me.

Last week while auditioning to teach yoga at Yoga Hawaii, the studio owner asked me if I ever integrated themes into my classes. I told her no. Not anymore. I used to, but somewhere along the way I lost that aspect of my practice. I tell stories sometimes, and I definitely drill the anatomy portions of it, but as far as running a theme throughout my class to keep students minds in the practice as much as their bodies, I had forgotten.

So, taking her advice, this past week I started with my favorite theme. Ahimsa. I used to teach ahimsa in every single class. I would talk my students through the translation: non-violence, and I would relate it mostly to animals, and a vegetarian diet (thanks to Sigi, the grandmother I wasn't allowed to call Grandma). At the end of class I would hand out vegetarian recipes to offer my students meal ideas to break out of the meat and potatoes diet that consumes the Idaho countryside.

Yet this week, when I threaded the theme of Ahimsa through my classes, I took a different approach. I asked my students to focus on Ahimsa (non-violence) to themselves. In an Asana practice this means focusing on what your body is telling you. Not trying to "compete" for a pose with the person next to you, as yoga is non-competitive. Not pushing yourself into a pose too deeply that it creates strain or discomfort in the body, but at the same time not becoming lazy in a pose. Finding that "sweet spot" where you create a nice comfortable stretch, allowing the muscles to tone slightly, without any risk of injury. To take it a step further, not judging yourself when you don't come into a pose as far as you think you should be, or when random thoughts "pop" into the mind when the goal is to clear the mind in yoga. At the end of class I offered ideas for them to take Ahimsa "off their mats" and into their daily lives by choosing positive thoughts over negative ones and helping others to do the same. So many times when it seems like our world is crashing down, if we take a deep breath and trust in the Universe, when we come out on the other side we realize that everything happened exactly as it should have.If we can try to find the positive right away in a situation, we can reduce the build-up of stress.

I wish my grandmother was still here and I am not happy that she passed away, yet I know that she is in a better place. In Reiki II we take a meditative journey to find our spirit guides. When I took my  journey, I opened a door to find a field full of butterflies, as I walked past the field and to another door, I found my guides: Sigi (grandmama) and Daisy (beloved pooch). Had my grandmother not already been in spirit form, she would not have been available as my guide. While it may seem weird to have a dog as a guide, I always saw my dog as a reincarnation of my great grandfather (Sigi's father) who came back to watch over me. Since I never met my great grandfather and only saw a couple of pictures of him, it makes sense that my spirit guide would take the form of the dog rather than the man.Now, whenever I see a butterfly, it reminds me that my guides are always close by, watching over me. This may sound really out there to many of you, and that's okay. 15 months ago, had I read about this I would have thought the person writing was crazy as well. We all take our journeys and find our paths when we are ready. We are all exactly where we are supposed to be, doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. I hope that if you haven't already, you too will find a way to open up to the Universe and allow your True Self to be your guide.

(on a side note- I contemplated deleting this last paragraph, as I do worry that it's a little too "out-there", however, the handful of people that I have shared this story with have all been surprisingly supportive and encouraging sharing similar stories in their own lives. Maybe that is why I have found those people in my life recently, like my friend Tanja from Switzerland whom I met in India, or any of the people I have done Reiki with, because we are on similar paths. Even the Navy SEAL I recently met whom I didn't share my story with, but who told me about a book, that basically hits home with the things I have been talking about.  I hope you find some value in my story and whether you think I am a "crazy hippy" or an intuitive being, I'd love to hear your comments!).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

New Delhi

I was kind of planning on skipping blogging about New Delhi as I really didn't do much there.  Angela was there for one night and then flew out and I was meeting up with my yoga training group near the airport to take a bus up into the Himalayas, so we stayed near the airport which meant we weren't near anything else.

However, I took the metro into the city after Angela left and walked around a bit. I went into this underground market and found all kinds of cool stuff. Including a tattoo shop...You know what they do in tattoo shops... pierce noses!


I checked out the place, very sterile. I saw a box of medical grade rubber gloves and asked to see the needle they would be using. First they tried to show me one that wasn't in its package. I told them that wasn't going to work for me and got them to pull out the ones that were in original sealed packaging. I made sure the package was completely sealed all the way around and then had the guy put his gloves on and stick the needle through!  So finally, my nose is decorated. Muslima offered to do it for me in Bangladesh, and I think the tradition in those areas is mother's (or family members) just do it for their daughters at a certain age, but I knew that wouldn't be sterile and Muslima probably would have enjoyed hurting me slightly since I gave her so much trouble with my diet and all...

After my nose stopped bleeding I took off for Jantar Mantar. It's a collection of astronomical instruments, so they apparently allow you to tell time, date and season without a watch based on how the sun is hitting them.

I took the metro back to my hotel with plans to go out again the next day, but ending up spending the whole day just relaxing in the hotel. The following morning I had to get up super early to meet my group of yogis at another hotel near the airport where we would board a caravan of buses to take us into the Himalayas.

I went into the hotel and found a large group of people waiting in the lobby with lots and lots of luggage. I found one woman sitting alone, so I walked over to her and asked if she was going to the yoga training. She was so we sat together to wait for our buses.

My new friend Tanja is from Switzerland (the German speaking part...AWESOME) but her English was really good so we spoke in English. We waited for a couple hours before the buses finally arrived and were ready to load up, so we had a lot of time to talk. We decided to stick together and sat next to each other on the bus. The bus ride ended up taking 14 hours and on winding Himalayan roads. Luckily, everyone on the bus was prepared and had travel sickness meds, so most of just passed out the whole way. Tanja and I included. In fact at one point I woke up and found Tanja cuddling up with me. ( I like to tease her about that). She was there for her first yoga training so she was doing the TTC course, while I was doing the ATTC course (advanced training) which meant we would not have classes together once we reached our destination, luckily the meals were split up for German and English speakers to eat at the same time and French and Spanish speakers at another time, so our friendship continued through training, but that's a story for the next blog...


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jaipur

The train ride from Agra to Jaipur was only about three hours and we were served a little meal on the ride which included a samosa, mango juice, hot tea and bottled water. We arrived in Jaipur and went through the usual hassle from all the cab/ tuk tuk drivers wanting  to give us a ride to a hotel. Luckily the hotel we booked this time offered pick up from the train station.

Our driver and tour guide quickly found us and carried our luggage to the tuk tuk (India's name for what we called an EZ bike in Bangladesh aka motorizd rickshaw). It took us about 20 minutes to get to the hotel. Our driver and guide told us that if we wanted a tour of the city the next day they could take us around for 300 Rupees. That's about $6 for an all day tour!  We got their phone number and said goodnight.

Angela had started getting pretty sick by the time we reached Jaipur. She had been having a bit of a cold but now stomache issues were setting in as well. We really liked our hotel here so we decided right away to extend our stay an extra night and just relax for a bit. On our first morning there we got up and went to have ayurvedic treatments. The ayurvedic place offered free cab service to and from the hotel, so it was a really great deal.

After that we walked through the downtown area a little bit and did some shopping. We had planned to go see a movie as there is a famous movie theatre in Jaipur, but the ticket line for the later movies wasn't open yet and after a bit of walking Angela was too sick to do anything else and just wanted to rest.

We went back to the hotel and I called our cab driver from the train station to set up a tour of Jaipur the following day. Khan and Samear met us the next morning to take us around the city. They took us to the monkey temple where I was able to hand feed monkeys some peanuts. The monkeys were really funny.  There were pigs and goats and cows on the way up to the temple as well, and the monkeys were often "riding" or sitting on top of one of the other animals.

Next we went to an old palace that was made from marble. There was a lady outside the temple known for her fancy work with Henna, but Angela and I both felt it was too expensive so we passed.

Next on our stop was Amber Fort. Amber Fort was really cool. It is this massive Fort that used to basically be a city within walls. There were tunnels and passageways and it took us a very long time to get through it and I'm sure we didn't see everything.

All the while we were viewing these treasures of Jaipur, the boys just waited by the tuk tuk for us to take us to the next place. They never joined us on the tours however, they explained many things to us on the way to each place and before we would go in. Always telling us to take as much time as we needed and finding some sort of marker to help us find the tuk tuk again when we came back out.

Hawa Mahal
On the way into town we passed the floating palace and stopped to take some photos. Then we were in downtown where another palace is as well as the Hawa Mahal (a place where royal women could watch the city without being seen) but sadly our time had passed too quickly and these landmarks were already closed for the day.

We had such a good time with our hosts that we offered to take them out to dinner. They reluctantly accepted and we went into the LMB building which came highly recommended for vegetarian meals in lonely planet. Once we got our table I excused myself to go to the restroom. In the restroom I ran into the same girl that I befriended in Kolkata who was able to take a photo of me with Seane Corn!  Her name is Bianca and she had finished her "off the mat into the world" tour and was now travelling some other parts of India with her brother. We chatted for a bit and it turns out that she works for Lululemon in Florida and teaches yoga classes there. We exchanged emails and then went back to our separate parties for dinner.
Floating Palace

At dinner I mentioned that I had wanted to get my nose pierced. The two guys agreed that I should and Khan insisted that I must get a ring and not a stud because it would suit my nose well. After dinner we went across the street and purchased a nose ring, but I don't think the guys understood that I still needed a needle to be pushed through the skin so that I could wear the nice little ring. We  finally got them to understand that I didn't already have a hole there and they proceeded to drive all over town looking for somewhere to pierce my nose. We did not have success so I went home for the evening with a still sadly undecorated nose. We made plans for the guys to pick us up the next morning to take us back to the train station.

At 6 am we headed to the train station to try and buy our tickets. No seats available. We went and had some iced coffee at the station cafe and came back to try for the 8 am train. No seats available. The guys drove us to the bus station but the buses were on strike that day and we could not take a bus to New Delhi. We had to get to Delhi today because Angela was flying out of Delhi the following day.

The guys took us to a nearby hotel that was run by a friend of theirs and we left our luggage there. That hotel also had contacts with a travel agent and they said they could get us on the 1PM train. Khan and Samear took us to a rooftop restaurant where we had breakfast together. We told them not to worry about us, that they could go enjoy their day, but they refused to leave us. We had some good conversations, checked our emails and I taught the guys a little yoga.

We went back to get our train tickets and found out we could only get tickets for the 5PM train. Angela and I were getting very stressed and frustrated and also felt like we were stealing the day from the guys. We were told that we were guaranteed seats on the 5PM train and we purchased the tickets.

Khan and Samear
We went back to the rooftop restaurant and spent out entire day there. The biggest problem was that there was a transportation strike that day and so we couldn't go anywhere by cab or tuk tuk. Our guides would have gotten in trouble for taking us. When they finally dropped us off at the train station for our 5PM journey to Delhi, we tried to pay them for their day, but they refused saying we were not their customers anymore but their friends.



Monkeys turning on water faucet
Monkey cleaning a pig



Brahman sitting in front of temple

Intricate Marble work

Amber Fort Exterior

Amber Fort Interior




Bats on the ceiling of Amber Fort


Agra

Our car ride to Agra took 12 hours!  It was brutal. Driving in India isn't much better than in Bangladesh except that they have highways here. The drivers are still just as crazy as the Bangladeshi's.

We were traveling for about 2 hours and I asked the drivers to stop when there was a bathroom we could use. They pulled over after about 30 minutes but that was a "tea stop" with no toilet. They asked if we wanted tea but we both declined since we needed to pee. The driver and his companion took about 10-15 minutes and then we were off again. I reminded them again that I needed a toilet. I used every word I could think of to make sure the request was understood- toilet, bathroom, restroom, washroom, I NEED TO PEE!!!!

I kept passing in and out of sleep but every time I woke up I would look at the time and feel my bladder and think "are they f*#$ing with me right now?". They pulled over a couple of times but there were never  bathrooms available for travelers. Finally after 4 and a half hours we found a toilet and by toilet I mean a trough in the ground with a door. I used the trough, checked to see what the place had to eat, but there wasn't much. We told the drivers we would now like to get some food. They told us that they had already stopped for tea. Apparently there was a misunderstanding there. We thought they were literally stopping for tea, which is quite common in both Bangladesh and India, but tea also means lunch in British English which Angela and I both overlooked. We waited another couple of hours and finally got to eat a meal. At this point I had decided to stop drinking water so I wouldn't incur the previous situation again. We stopped for a meal and used the bathroom there. The meal was good, but they saw two white girls and tried to WAY over charge us. Our driver had a few words with them in Hindi and we paid more than what was fair and continued on our journey.

We finally arrived in Agra at about 12:30am. We had contacted our hotel ahead of time to let them know we were coming in late and asked if there was any chance of getting a meal. They said they would have something ready for us when we got there. We checked in and got a very simple but nice meal. The two young men who ran the hostel there were very friendly and sat and talked to us while we ate. One of them was very nice and mellow. The other one was a bit high strung and kept telling us that the hotel was offering massages to their guests to help get good reviews (reviews are EVERYTHING in India). He said that they weren't charging for the massages but that we could just leave whatever donation we thought was appropriate. Angela and I both declined and said we just wanted to go to sleep. He was very persistent and getting very annoying. In India and Bangladesh it is customary that women only receive massages from women and men only receive massages from men. I think in India it's getting a little more liberal but Angela and I had just come from very conservative Bangladesh and we were beginning to feel very uncomfortable with this guys pestering. We thanked them for dinner and went upstairs to our room where we locked every lock provided on the door.

This hostel was not very clean so I pulled out my sleep sheet and dozed off for a few hours. Angela wanted to get to the Taj Mahal early for good lighting. We got there at 7am when it opens. We bought our tickets and went in. Words and photos are not enough. The Taj Mahal is something you have to see in person. It's beautiful. Aboslutely amazing. We walked around and took lots of pictures. We found one man from Rajasthan wearing a turban. We got our photo with him and then he took his turban off and put it on MY head!  I was so happy!!!

Sadly we discovered that the Taj is really the only thing to do in Agra.  The town itself is very dirty and run down. The few shops that are there have inflated their prices so much due to all the tour buses coming in and not knowing what correct prices are that it's just ridiculous. We had extra time so we visited Red Fort which was pretty cool too, but all the forts in India are pretty similiar.

We boarded an afternoon train and headed to Jaipur...





Varanasi

After a great night's sleep on the train (really, that's a great way to travel!) we arrived in Varanasi. Varanasi is known to be one of those places that you will either love or hate, truly an India experience.

I loved it!

Varanasi is considered one of the holiest cities in the world. The city was  built along the Ganges and the city is filled with ghats (holy bathing steps that lead into the river). One of the ghats is known as the "burning ghat" where the deceased are cremated. I was informed that actually only the wealthy are able to afford cremation. I had always thought everyone in India was cremated.

Upon arriving in Varanasi we tried again for our ongoing tickets to Jaipur, Agra or New Delhi with no luck.  Sadly this meant half of our total time in Varanasi would be spent trying to figure out how to leave Varanasi.

We checked into out hotel which was really nice. The room was very clean, had hot water and a great view. In addition the staff was extremely friendly and helpful.  We spent our day wandering around to look at some temples. We ended up hiring a rickshaw and the driver took us to the three main temples and then waited for us at each stop while we looked around.

The city is packed with Ayurvedic clinics and yoga classes. A must see city on any yogi's tour trough India. There is a small cafe called Aum cafe that serves auyervedic snacks and meals. They also offer ayurvedic massages and they do piercings. I had decided that I wanted to get my nose pierced (something I'd been thinking about for quite a while but wasn't allowed to do while working at Starbucks). This cafe is run by an American women so I thought it would be a good place to go. We went and enjoyed a snack but we weren't able to get appointments for anything until after our planned departure from Varanasi, so I had to sadly go on with an undecorated nose.

We went to a travel agent after our tour of the temples to see if we could get some help with our transportation situation.  It turns out part of the problem was that we were doing our tour during the Kumba Mela, a big event with yogi's and spiritual seekers from all over the world travelling to the Ganges to bath in the river. It's a ritual that only happens once every few years. I don't know that much about it but I think the location changes regularly as well so it only happens in each city once every 12 years or so. Anyway, this event created huge problems for Angela and me. The travel agent suggested we hire a car to drive us to Agra. We felt defeated and decided this was our only way out of Varanasi.  We both would have been happy to stay in Varanasi longer, but there were no hotel rooms available past our scheduled stay. We paid our fee to the travel agent to hire a car and then went to our hotel. We told our concierge what we were doing and he asked how much we paid. When we told him (I can't remember the price now but I think it was around $150 US each) he got really angry and told us to go back to the travel agent and demand our money back. He then helped us to call another agent who would give us a more fair price (which I think ended up being more like $100 each).

We settled all that and headed out to dinner. We found an Arabian place that served hummus and pita. I was so happy to get some hummus, that was the best meal I'd had in a long time! (Now that I'm home I'm making my own hummus and using my favorite beer in it!)






The next morning we took a boat on the Ganges to see the ghats. We went all the way down to the burning ghat, and then came back. Angela and another girl who had jumped in to our boat got out at the main ghat to walk back through town. I decided to stay on the boat because I thought it would be faster and I still needed to shower at the hotel before our long car ride to Agra. As the boatsman slowly rowed me back I could see some storm clouds coming our way. I saw flashes of lightening but they were far off in the distance so I thought we had plenty of time before the storm would reach us. At one point I looked over to the ghats and saw Angela walking past!  She was walking faster than the boat was rowing!  The storm came hard and fast and the boatsman rowed to the side and he and I jumped out of the boat looking for cover. Angela and I ended up under the same cover and tried to make our way back to the hotel. We were drenched!

We got our stuff together and checked out of our hotel. We found our car and settled in for a very long day...