Tag Archives: Ko Phangan

Injury

A fundamental question has been asked of me on this trip. What do you do when you can’t do. What happens when you are physically incapable of acting in the way you would like. How to practice when your body is in pain stretching and even to sit comfortably is difficult?

It is an exercise in vulnerability as I recognise I’m not as young as I was and that my physical body is not as solid as I maybe believed.

 

 

I was hiking from the town of Yuksom in West Sikkim, the starting point of many high altitude treks to the Goecha La pass at 5000 metres. I wasn’t attempting anything so difficult though, I just decided a one day hike between monasteries to the village of Tashiding would be a suitable trip for me.  It’s 19Km of supposedly straightforward trails via 4 different monasteries. I did my due diligence and chatted to a local guide about it rather than just accepting the instructions in the Lonely Planet and he confirmed it is a simple route. Things aren’t always predictable, however.

The steep but clear path to Dubdi gompa just 40 minutes outside of Yuksom was simple enough and I reached there after a breathless climb, exhilarated. The valley views and peaceful gompa were reward for my efforts but I knew this was just the first stage of my journey.

 

The next path was not so obvious, leading out the back of the monastery and downhill to the road. At first I took a path into the forest due to a fallen sign but soon turned around and found the right way. I didn’t expect walking along the road though, so was a bit unsure if it was the right path. It was stunning scenery so I didn’t mind too much and I couldn’t see another way to get around the valley.  It wasn’t until a local doing the same route pointed me in the right direction that I was really sure.

We passed through Tsong village and I was looking for a path to the small Hongri gompa. A turn off to take me above the road through cardamom fields and up to the outcrop of the monastery. Instead I reached the end of the road with a marker for the village of Dubdi 0KM the only indicator that this was some sort of destination. I retraced my steps a hundred metres or so up the road to a nearby house up a set of steep steps hewn from the earth. There an old man in a felt hat greeted me with enthusiasm. He pointed out where I needed to go, what I could see on the distant ridges and explained that he spoke Hindi, Nepali and another local language but not English. He led me up an ever steeper path with the gait of an ambling goat, leaving me puffing and panting in his wake and grateful for the pauses where he shouted “Pelling, Namchi, Tashiding!” at me, in reference to the local towns on the horizon. I made my way up the last section alone, wondering why these monasteries are always at the end of steep walks…

 

Hongri Gompa is small, remote, unpainted and it seems one of its walls collapsed some time ago. Despite this, it is a delightful spot. Stunning views, a small homestay with one of the monks and the young locals practising their mantras in the little school room.  The place charmed me even in the short time I had there but I felt the need to press on. This is where my difficulties started. The path from here was almost immediately unclear, branching in several different ways. I don’t know if I took the correct route but I found the trail through forest getting smaller, slippery and not maintained. I didn’t pass a single person on this section to ask if I was on the right path and visions started creeping into my head. What would I do if I happened to twist my ankle, would I turn around to make it back to Hongri or continue onwards?

Trying to put these negative thoughts from my mind I forged ahead. Until, at some point, my right foot slipped underneath me. I had a vision of my hat staying where it was in mid-air for a second and then the next thing I knew I was falling to my right. Down until… boom! I landed on my back, on the right side I think, padded somewhat by my small backpack. Thankful that I had two jumpers in there which broke the initial fall a little but possibly also meant that I bounced and then found myself tumbling head-over-heels down the side of the mountain. I grabbed hold of whatever I could, branches, bushes, the undergrowth, scratching and bruising up my right arm in the process and eventually came to a stop, tangled in weeds.

My right hiking shoe was almost off, my back was aching, I was winded and stunned wondering if I could walk and if there might be someone who could rescue me. I lay there for several minutes, attempting to shout “help”, “hello”, “namaste” anything to attract attention, but there was no-one nearby whose attention I could attract. It wasn’t long before I realised that I didn’t have much choice but to scramble back up the hill I had fallen down and attempt to carry on walking. I did up my shoe, cautious not to lose my grip and fall further but also not looking down to see how much further I could potentially fall. It was difficult to pull myself up to the spot where I fell but I managed.  My hat was neatly sat on the path as if waiting for me to retrieve it. I couldn’t say the same for my glasses though, it was only at this point that I realised they had been dislodged and lost somewhere down the mountain. Luckily I had a pair of prescription sunglasses with me.

I faced the prospect of an unknown distance to get to Tashiding, or at least the next place of civilisation, or quite a tricky walk back to Hongri. I decided to continue ahead, thinking I must be near the next village and maybe I could get a lift if I was closer to the road. Each step was painful and ironically going down became more difficult on my lower back than going upwards. All summer I had been complaining about walking uphill and enjoying downward steps but here I was cursing every descent as it triggered another twinge.

The first place I came to was a little farm on the edge of a village but not near a road. The family there didn’t speak much English but made me tea, gave me some muscle rub oil and tried to help me find somewhere to stay in the village. That wasn’t possible so I didn’t have much choice but to move on again.

I stopped at various villages but no-one was able to give me a lift and tiredness and stubbornness kicked in against the pain. I decided I would keep on going until I reached the famous Sanu Homestay in Tashiding where I figured they would be able to look after me.

The homestay couldn’t have been much further into Tashiding and after about 3 or four hours walking after the fall I arrived to find the owner was away. The family did their best to help me but only the young daughter spoke English so it was a little difficult. I lay in bed that night in some pain, listening to the grandmother recite mantras in the room next door as I drifted off to sleep hoping that I hadn’t done any serious damage.

 

I called my friend Anna who was staying in Yuksom for advice, and really because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to move when I woke up in the morning. She very kindly offered to jump in a taxi to come and help me to the doctor’s in the morning and help me make some decisions on what to do since I was not thinking entirely clearly.

We went to the “Primary Health Centre” in Tashiding but all the nurse there could offer was ibuprofen and a suggestion to visit the doctor in Yuksom so we managed to find a vehicle (not as easy as you would think because most shared jeeps were cancelled due to “election counting day”)

When we arrived at the hospital in Yuksom the doctor took one look at me and after hearing we had come from Tashiding and, knowing the state of the road, she made a call that I had unlikely broken anything or I would be in a lot more pain. She gave me a pain killing shot, some tablets and recommended I take it easy and keep an eye on it for the next week or so.

Yuksom was cold at night and in the morning and I would wake so stiff that sometimes it was difficult to get out of bed and almost always it was agony to tie my shoelaces. I was doing some gentle yoga to wake my back and occasionally went for walks but generally I was hanging out in little Yuksom, enjoying the hospitality of Mama’s Homestay and the other restaurants and being probably one of the longest foreign residents in a place where normally people stop only long enough to arrange a trek.

After a week I wasn’t feeling much better, my symptoms had eased and then got worse again but I felt it was really time to leave. I set off in search of hot springs but stopped first at the town of Namchi where there was a bigger hospital and I could get checked out properly.

I had an x-ray done in the modern facility and then waited outside the orthopedic doctor’s office with a number, much like being at the butcher, or the Indian Visa office. About 8 of us were ushered into the room together and our consultations took place behind a small curtain with everyone else absent-mindedly looking on.

He took one look and told me, “you see, you have a small compression in your L2, L3, er L5. One, two, three, yes L2. You need to rest for 6 weeks. No jumping, no carrying heavy things”  I asked about yoga “No sport” and massage “you could end up making it worse” and I left feeling a bit bereft of options.

 

Thailand

It was after speaking to Anna that I had the idea to go to Thailand. I’d been planning on making a visit at some stage on this trip so why not now when I am invalided.

 

I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be here on Ko Phangan. It is a  beautiful island with so many opportunities. Even so, I’m left thinking about the yoga that I have done here before, the friends that I have spent time with before and it can never really compare. I’m taking this time as one of reflection and hopefully from that creation will emerge, one day at a time. I have considered detoxes, tantra courses, and retreats to fill up my time but actually I see that it’s more important to embrace this boredom, embrace this freedom and see what emerges naturally.

I took a Reiki attunement a few days ago as part of the first course into using this energy healing technique. It has left me feeling quite sensitive with a lot of clearing of old energy and a need to be in my own space. I’m allowing this to channel through me and hopefully things will be clearer in a couple of weeks.

It’s really rainy here right now which further increases the sense of going inwards. So as I meditate and do breathing exercises there is a sense of calm, a recognition of just “being” but also that “doing” will grow out of this without needing to worry about it.

 

 

 

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Hridaya retreat and aftermath

Sat, Chit, Ananda. Existence, Conciousness, Bliss. The teachings of what we really are. The true self within us all and the awareness that we all spring from. Call it Shiva, or Nirvana, Brahman or the Absolute, Buddha Nature or Christ Conciousness during the 10 day Hridaya Meditation retreat I got some sense of the stillness and peace that lies at the heart of all of us and it opened me to great creativity and love.

Last night,
I saw the realm of joy and pleasure.
There I melted like salt;
no religion; no blasphemy,
no conviction or uncertainty remained.
In the middle of my heart,
a star appeared
and the seven heavens were lost
in its brilliance.
– Rumi

In Chiang Mai I had managed to get myself involved in a total shit-show, blown out of proportion by a lack of solid communication. It was playing on my mind because the events had affected my relationship with three good friends. I felt short-changed by their reactions but also upset with myself for dealing with the situation badly. So the retreat came at the perfect time for me, an opportunity to go deep into myself, to figure out what is really important and to connect with the heart. It was more profound and life-changing than I could ever have expected.

I came to the paradise island of Ko Phangan for the retreat having been told about it by several teachers at the yoga school in Rishikesh. It sounded like the perfect way for me to start to grasp the real meaning behind so much of the spiritual philosophy I had absorbed in the previous months, and it would certainly turn into an experiential beginning.

Hridaya is the Spiritual Heart, a place in the middle of the chest which is the gateway to access the “true self” as talked about in many spiritual traditions. Most clearly this retreat is based on the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (who I talked about in my post on Tiruvanimallai here) He explained that the Spiritual Heart is not the same as the physical heart and nor is it the Heart Chakra Anahata but it does contain the sacred tremor and stillness that enables you to touch base with your emotions and realise the greater reality.

The techniques that we used during the retreat were simple but profound. Leaving short pauses after each inhalation and exhalation and trying to be in the stillness that pervades during this pause. This allows the thoughts to slow down and the mind to relax into a point of deeper meditation. When thoughts do arise you counter them by realising that they all stem from the “I” thought. Either “I want” or “I have” or “I am” or some other variation, everything stems from this association with a solid entity we associate with “I”. The question to undercut all of these is “Who am I?” It sounds deceptively simple but when you deeply meditate on this thought you find that there is no “I” there any more, there is nothing solid that you can identify with that is eternal. There is conciousness and there is an observer – but what you see as yourself is not that which is observed. The body is not it because you can observe your body as a seperate entity and the same can be said of the mind. As you watch thoughts arise and fall away it becomes clear that you are really not these thoughts, you are just observing them. We were taught that allowing “I don’t know” to be the answer and greeting that with wonderment can connect you with the sacred within and give you an intimate feeling of existence without consistent form.

10 days of silence was difficult at times, especially when 6 or so hours a day were taken up with meditation but as the time progressed I found the course to be having a profound effect. Some of the meditations for me were unbelievable, with a real feeling of peace, tranquility and physical bliss flowing over my body far more than I have ever experienced with any other type of meditation. I still found 2 hour meditation sessions to be too much for me physically as much as anything and there were times when I wondered what the hell I was doing there. The first few days saw a lot of anger come up, with myself and others as I worked through some things that had been bothering me but I came to a point where I decided that I would let this go and settle into the meditation. After that it became a lot easier as I surrendered into the practice. One effective method for me was when we were taught “Blowing on the Embers of the Heart” where you breathe deeply and focus on the breath in your chest area to invoke feelings in the heart to remind you of this divine source. The technique had me feeling like I was burning anger and negative emotions in the energy that was centred there and I felt a great peace after the meditation. This focus can make you aware of the “Sacred Tremor of the heart”, the divine mystery of the deep throb or tremble at the chest, called the Spanda in Kashmiri Shaivism which shows you the way into the dynamic stillness that at a universal level is the very source of everything.

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Antonio Machado

The course included a lot of inspirational teachings and poetry, such as the couple of pieces I’ve quoted here, and also a hatha yoga practice each day. The hatha was similar to the Agama style I was used to but even more internalised making the class almost into a meditation in itself and leaving me perfectly ready to go deep into the practice after finishing.

The teachings in general were getting to the crux that the universiality that one can sense in the heart centre is the microcosmic experience in our ego-self of the greater whole and that it is pure bliss to settle there. Internalising and following practice can lead to this peace – “You are either in Dharma or in Drama”

One simple tenet that really fundamentally affected the way I have thought since is that “Love is in you – you don’t need it from the outside”. That and the advice that out of life’s experiences we choose to emphasise which aspects we remember. We have the choice to be positive or negative and so to avoid getting stuck in patterns we should emphasise the love and be grateful…!

I could go on and on about the teachings but it is apt to remember another snippet and not try to explain my experience too much:

“Silence is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation.”

Thomas Keating

After this amazing experience I was glowing. I came into my own power and manifested a world on this island that was quite simply magical. It wasn’t until the day after that I realised the profound effect the retreat had on me. I was seeing the world through eyes that saw things brighter and more intensely but also without fear or attachment. I threw myself into yoga practice, taking 2 classes a day of the Agama level one course and being totally present throughout each.  I pushed myself to the limit in all of these classes and found them extremely powerful (although after 4 days I’d exhausted myself in this fashion.) I was glowing and spoke to several other attendees of the retreat who had a similar experience. We would simply look, smile and sigh and know we were both feeling wonderful. I had amazing phone calls on Skype with my Mum and Dad and every interaction seemed to be full of joy.

I can’t mention all the people who I had great friendships with on the island but I have to bring a few characters in to explain the wonderful time that I had.


Sharon who I met before the retreat and who joined at the last minute to have a similar if not quite as deep an experience as I did. We had a very close friendship and she introduced me to the Shangri La restaurant which I would spend many a happy afternoon. She left to go to the jungle wanting to adopt a Thai girl she met on the beach, a very typical example of the “Sharon zone” the way wacky things seemed to happen around her..!

I met an Israeli girl in the sea one day, Nili, who was a fellow Pisces and we clicked immediately. We had a beautiful friendship for the few days she was on the island as we opened to one another in such an easy and mutually beneficial way. She was studying psychoanalysis and viewing the route to self-improvement very differently but our approaches were complimentary and the empathy we shared was tangible.

When Nili left things began to blossom even more fabulously as there were beautiful people around and our little gang of creatives continued hanging out at the wonderful beachfront restaurant making artwork. All of us were looking to bring more creativity into our lives by opening to the universe, love and being receptive to all that was available.


So there was Jackie O or Coco, living on the island for 2 years while writing some inspirational childrens books. Lulu Kattie, working on creativity through writing, a fellow water sign and showing her nurturing quality with everyone in such a beautiful and loving way. She named Shoo Shoo (and wanted to eat the little pumpkin) and was so in the love with everyone she had approx 13 leaving parties.


Flora, High Security kept us on the straight and narrow with her determination and ability to keep her wits about her when all others were losing their minds (let alone lighters). She led us to the right Mart and made sure we never paid more Bart than we should for a taxi. Strong willed and independent she would be first at the bar, last to bed and always goading us to more adventures.
‘Erbalicious lived up to her name, providing a laid back viewpoint over the whole situation and always ready to indulge in some great Shangri La grub when not getting seasick on her dive boat.


Johnny Hoops was wise and considerate with openness to all our ideas and some great additions. He and I riffed off each other and created a corner of Shiva while surrounded by the girls.


Sabine entered the group late but was one of the most beautiful, gentle souls and totally connected with the loving creatitvity that the group had established.


And then there was Sophie Wilson. Veronica, Kavita Shakti, as she became known, joined our merry group and added a new dimension of fun, flying, sexuality and spirituality all at the same time. We clicked very quickly. In fact it didn’t take long before we were living together in Chiang Mai in a New York Style apartment and starting a business empire … but then, that’s a different story…



So after artwork, writing postcards in the round, day trips to the other side of the island where we made Shiva Lingam sandcastles swam and swung on swings, had meditations interrupted by bacon sandwiches, got lost looking for the right mart and saw Johnny off in the nick of time at the pier we came back for fire shows on the beach and full moon astrological blanket ceremonies, bhajans, bungalow parties and of course that pink bucket…

It was magical and I felt my heart open with all these wonderful souls and somehow I think the retreat allowed me to be in that space and watch everyone blossom and be so grateful to see it and be a part of it.

I don’t want to forget Sofie D and Jade as well as the others who were also an important part of the energy as I continued with level 2 Agama and learnt more and more.
As the original group changed when people left and others joined we carried on in a similar vein and when Gray, Sophie’s Dad arrived he didn’t bat an eyelid, settling into the island vibe very easily and being more than happy to hang out at the Three Monkeys Bar on the beach with the rest of us. We took a second trip to the Sanctuary with him where he discussed football with Chard Jumlong and ate great fish and chips at the most incongruous place on the island the Mason’s Arms…

Good times one and all…
Some photographs are from Clara Jansen, Georgina and Chaitaly Jay

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I’m writing a cookbook…!

I stumbled across Brown Rice/Organic Bistro while wandering the streets of Chiang Mai and was drawn in by the picture of the Tom Yum drink that advertised the establishment. I went to have a look at the menu which was led by such an unusual idea and was impressed to see an array of delicious looking and fabulously presented dishes.

We went back and had a feast of Banana Blossom Curry Cakes, Thai Herb Salad and Spicy Tofu with Basil leaves (a vegetarian take on Thai standard Pad Krapow)

The food was amazing although the setting was incongruous being in the front of the Green Oasis guesthouse. Its a nice enough place with some fun people but not really the right setting for chef Duang’s excellent food when Tony, the dreadlocked manager comes out dressed only in a towel.

We chatted with Duang about his story as the author of several Thai cookbooks and his work as a “food stylist” for various magazines and restaurants.  Impressed by his love of food and his enthusiasm for new and innovative vegetarian dishes we decided to sign up for a one day private cooking class the following week.


Here he taught us his take on the classic Pad Thai fried noodle dish – with the addition of a very beautiful “egg net” and how to make Tamarind Sauce, which he uses in many of his dishes.  We learnt his take on satay, using tofu and mushrooms and the traditional soups Tom Yum and Tom Kha which are very similar.  Tom Kha has the addition of coconut milk rather than the spicy and sour taste of clear Tom Yum.

During our cooking class we got talking about the prospect of an English cookbook and he seemed interested in working with me after I mentioned my food blogging past. We actually went back several times in the next week because one of his assistants didn’t turn up and he appreciated our help in the kitchen. It was during this time that the cookbook plan came into fruition.

I spent some time on Ko Phangan, which I’ll write about soon, and then came back to meet Duang just before he moves to his new restaurant near the beautiful Wat Phra Singh.

We have been working together for the last week and have already accumulated 7 recipes for the book starting with Mee Gati, thin rice noodles with coconut cream sauce.

I then learnt Curry Soy Cakes which is a variation on his Banana Blossom recipe but with tofu since that is more accessible for a western audience. These are just like Thai fish cakes but suitable for vegetarians and served with quickly deep fried crispy Thai Basil leaves for an aromatic crunch.

Pineapple Fried Rice is a fruity dish in its own right and his crispy tofu with spicy green Mango salad is just unbelievably good.  Yesterday we took part in a free cooking class he gives on the last Saturday of every month as part of a Government initiative to help small businesses. We learnt his take on potato samosas and Salad Khaek or Indian salad, a Thai “fusion” dish which is unlike any salad I have had in India or elsewhere but with a delicious dressing.

I’ll be in Chiang Mai for the next month or so working with Duang and compiling a set of recipes for us to include while learning some fantastic Thai cooking and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my progress.

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Ko Phangan Part 4

In the meantime, hanging out with Nadine was keeping me sane. She was at the end of an 18 month trip away from her work as a social worker in a prison.  She had spent it in India and Nepal as well as Thailand, meditating, studying yoga, doing detoxes,teaching children yoga at an orphanage in Kathmandu, and despite still suffering from some feeling of not deserving love, she is a total sweetheart who I think, actually, everyone falls in love with. We went to a local fair and to a beautiful sunset spot as well as to a fabulous home made ice cream parlour where we were served the goodies in a coconut.

Mainly, though, we just hung out at the bungalow restaurant on our net books, ordering coffee and going for an occasional swim.

That is, until we decided it was time to do a brown rice diet.

It took us a while to commit to it but once we did it was full power – the Oshawa No 7 Macrobiotic diet is the most extreme of a series of diets that the Japanese nutritionist devised. Number Seven is a ten day course that supposedly completely cleanses the blood.  It is a diet where you should only eat foods which are Yang in nature, that is, the masculine, solar energy.  Given what we had available we were limited to brown rice, garnished with sesame seeds and soy sauce, miso soup, oats with water sweetened with bee pollen, black or mint tea and water which was converted from Yin by the addition of either Basil or Cinnamon.

It wasn’t an easy diet at times although I was quite impressed with my willpower which was actually improved when Nadine decided to break the diet after about three days. Once a system had been established and we had Good Times as our regular supplier of takeaway rice it was pretty straightforward, and it helped that Esmee, a Dutch girl at our bungalows had decided to join me, and also came to the Tantra course.  Munching on brown rice in the breaks where other people were bemoaning the fact that they didn’t have food at all definitely helped.  On day four or five I felt amazing, totally energised and with an intensity which was new to me.  As the days drew on I grew quite bored with the lack of variety and tired, although that may have been down to doing the Tantra course at the same time which was draining in itself.

We were taught to this principle to avoid losing Ojas:

The man should limit himself to between 50-70% of pleasure during sex to avoid getting too close to the Point of No Return where ejaculation will occur.  At this point stopping and using subliming yoga techniques like Uddiyana Bandha and the headstand which moves the energy away from Swadisthana Chakra.  These techniques are framed by the concept of offering to a higher place the fruits of the action.  Allowing the man to last longer also gives the woman more opportunity to reach deeper, longer lasting orgasm.  To really get the full power from the practice it is necessary to get into the role of Shiva and Shakti.  Shiva, the male, single pointed, steady force of the universe “bliss etc” and Shakti the feminine representation in material existence.  Everything that is, is Shakti, in movement and action.

The final exercise we did was a transfiguration where the guys sit in a circle and the girls move around sitting with each guy in turn.  Everyone holds hands and in the other’s face visualises the presence of Shiva, for the guys, and Shakti, for the girls.

This was such a powerful exercise.  It, and the meditation that followed, left me floating in Sahashara, the “crown Chakra” somewhere.  It was fascinating to see how different girls reacted to the exercise.  Some powerful, some nervous and some with a loving gaze.  They all meld into one at the end.

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Ko Phagnan Part 3

So Allison and Alex started off by asking if we were “From Agama” the local yoga school on Ko Phagnan and we continued by comparing stories about India, spirituality and the reality we live in.

I loved it, I’m not sure Marion was quite as interested (having already had an earful of philosophy from me earlier)

They told us all about the school and some of the things they had learnt (without mentioning the Tantra element actually) and I took it as a total sign that I had to go to this place. We were the last ones at the restaurant and I left having arranged to meet Alex and Allison at a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita the following night.

Agama is a controversial school but I didn’t realise that until a little while later. I was confused a little at my first Yoga class when people asked me if I knew what I was “letting myself in for” but to be honest I didn’t find it intimidating and I think there are a lot of insubstatiated stories. Certainly from the first lecture I found the Swami immensely well read, very knowledgeable and a good speaker. I’m not sure I felt in the presence of a realised being but this large Romanian guy in orange robes with quite a brash manner perhaps just doesn’t fit my restricted idea of a guru.

Marion and I spent several days together, hanging out at various beaches on Ko Phagnan and exploring before we went to the Half Moon Party. I had spent a long day at Agama, walking to both the morning and afternoon classes as well as staying for the lecture with Nadine, the sparkly eyed German who Marion had met on the bus and had been another pointer to Agama, having completed the first level course previously.

I didn’t really fancy the party after this long day but Marion and I had been planning to go so I didn’t want to pull out last minute. I probably should have though because she knew some French guys there and we ended up hanging out with them. The guys were alright although it was pure Gallic Drama as one had injured his leg meaning his holiday may be cut short while his companion was in the grip of great despair due to not wanting to travel alone. I had a traditional bucket of Sang Som with Red Bull and Coke to try and enjoy the party but apart from the fire show which was, in equal parts enchanting and extremely dangerous it wasn’t really a great do.

It was this night and the resulting hangover which made me decide to quit drinking, for a while at least, and I went a good month before having anything again.

Meanwhile, the Yoga was really interesting, I arrived on the last day of week 2 of the 1st level 1 month intensive course. This proved to be a good day to start since we were taught what I would call Agama’s “Special Move” the ultimate energy-sublimation asana, Uddiyanda Bandha. This involves exhaling through the mouth to empty the lungs and then doing a “fake inhalation” pulling the chest up and navel towards the spine with knees bent and hands on the thighs to hold the exhale with a concave stomach. This causes energy to rise up the spine, moving it from the lower chakras.

The Class in general is characterised by its intense focus on these energy centres and movement, either bringing in cosmic energy from above or channelling through the Telluric Earth energy from below.

This is achieved by concentrating on particular chakras during the Asanas but also by holding the postures for much longer than I am used to.

I liked the slow, reflective and meditative style though and the classes were certainly challenging, leading to a deep final relaxation.

My first day was a big one because as well as Uddiyanda Bandha the evening lecture (led by Swami Vivekananda) was about the Yogic concept of Brahmacharya which is basically Sexual Continence.

Interpreted by most as meaning a celibate path is the only way to enlightenment, Tantra sees things differently. Outlining that the real reason behind Brahmacharya is preventing the loss of Ojas and not specificially refraining from sex.

Ojas is described in Click Here!” target=”_blank”>ayurveda and is a kind of “life force” which is lost in large amounts through ejaculation for men and so it is understandable that there is a correlation.

The ascetic path which takes the “fastest” route to enlightenment by cutting out all opportunities to failure by for example heading off to a cave, teaches celibacy as a way of cutting out the sexual urge at the root. Tantra however, teaches the mantra “sublime, sublime, sublime” that this energy can be harnessed and transferred to higher chakras to actually aid in spiritual development

For men this means giving up ejaculation, and in the short term the orgasm – we learnt that the two are not explicitly linked.

Orgasm causes certain muscle contractions which cause ejaculation but the two can be separated (although this takes a while)

This means that with practice and by offering the fruits to the divine it is possible for men to have multiple orgasms without ejaculation.

So maybe you can see why this school has a slightly “odd” reputation – I should clarify that some of the details here weren’t taught in this initial lecture – in fact Swami made a point of keeping away from the sexual side since the yoga classes are kept totally aside from the “tantric” side.

However, I did attend the separate “mens meeting” and after much deliberation I did sign up for the one week Tantra Level One workshop.

It turned out to be much more Sex-ed than I was expecting or really hoping for…!

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Ko Phangan. Part 2

Of late, things have been kind of leading on, one step to the next without too much attention from me. I have been happy to let the universe do its thing and let the experiences that I want to have come to me. (Of course I had to make the initial leap of coming away in the first place and be constantly willing.) It’s all about meeting the right people to resonate with but the place you are in obviously helps you meet those people and be directed onwards.

Allowing for the natural order of things to pan out is sometimes more challenging than it sounds. These connections can be very strong and unnerving as you realise that you have met someone for a very specific purpose, however unlikely it may at first seem.

I guess places and courses can work in a similar way and I was drawn to Ko Phangan despite my previous visit being purely for the Full Moon Party in all its dayglo, bucket swilling glory. That is the main reason most people visit this place but after spending just an hour or so in Haad Rin I was glad to be nowhere near it. I enjoyed my time here 6 years ago but was in a totally different zone this time.

So my arrival, by accident, in what appeared to be the hippy central of the island on a beach so beautiful that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I sat in my hammock, became even more profoundly interconnected by meeting several people within a couple of days of arriving.

I was wandering and wanted to see the local Sri Thanu Wat, set apart from the main street down a dusty side road lined with trees and with nothing else much around. The Wat seemed to be still under construction with bamboo scaffolding surrounding it and piles of yellow dirt and other materials lying about in the sun. In the background a few monks went about their daily business in the hermitage which I decided against entering.

Slightly feeling that I had made a wasted trip up this street I decided to have a look at the little cafe advertising books and home-made brownies in a ramshackle way that I had passed. I entered through the rickety looking furniture with toys strewn about the dirt floor to be greeted by Jenny, 8 months pregnant and also from England. We had a little chat, I ordered a brownie and browsed the books for sale or to borrow, realising that the fantastic selection of interesting spiritual books were all for rent.  I decided to take Eckhart Tolle‘s The Power of Now which I subsequently spent several days reading in a hammock and at every other opportunity. It speaks about living in the present without the distractions of a past and future that only really exist in our minds anyway and fits in with Buddhism, Yoga and all the other stuff that I’ve been learning. He came to a realisation after sinking to a low but seemingly opened his eyes, looked on the world differently and now teaches this around the world to an adoring audience, it’s inspiring actually. Of course, synchronicity meant that this book had come up before and has been mentioned by various people a lot since, I feel it is one I need to buy and revisit often.

Jenny also told me about the buffet that they had on that night of healthy local vegetarian fare which seemed like something not to miss, ever the indecisive diner, I do love a buffet.

So when I turned up that evening with Marion, the beautiful French girl from my guesthouse with an accent to make the knees tremble, we found the place abuzz and ended up sharing our table with a couple who were clearly a sign…

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Ko Phangan. Part One

I arrived on Ko Phangan looking for Yoga but not really knowing where to find it. Through my online and guidebook research I had seen there were a few places mainly on the West coast of the island which was also far away from the party central Haad Rin but there were other spots spread about as well. I took it as a sign when the only tout offering accomodation on the island while waiting for the ferry was a guy from the Laem Son bungalows on Sri Thanu beach, right on the West coast.

I wandered around the village and came across the Orion healing centre, a cute family run spot offering Yoga and detox courses with Reiki and massage. I went for a class here and although it was fine I knew it wasn’t going to be challenging when the girl taking the class was pregnant, my friend was doing her first ever Yoga class and the other girl there was in the middle of a detox. It was a nice setting though and the teacher was very friendly and introduced us to her son who was running around the place.

I also found the Art Cafe which had adverts up for all sorts of Chakra Balancing, Theta Healing, Cosmic Energy Massage and every wonderful and unusual form of alternative practice you can imagine. They sold home detox kits and advertised Colloidal Silver, Gold and Platinum that you could drink for various benefits.

This was my bungalow and view from the beach, so yeah, I figured I was in the right place.

I gradually became introduced to a Yoga school called Agama which I started to attend, but that will require at least one post of its own…

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