Tag Archives: meditation

Connecting to the Heart

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
― Kahlil Gibran

I’m in a period of transition and uncertainty at the moment. All the major areas of my life are in flux and changing. My living situation is unclear, my job is only short-term and chaotic and my girlfriend is all the way over in Mexico (although not for long!)
It would be very easy not to feel grounded and to get overwhelmed by all the change and lack of a clear way forward but I naturally like to flow, (my triple water star chart reflects what I have already recognised in myself) and when I allow this all is good.

Legs and heart

Legs and heart – Hermione Armitage

Things were getting a bit much last week though and while I was discussing all of this with Felicity she suggested I pull an Osho Zen Tarot card. I got “Traveling” which you can read here.
To summarise it reminded me of the Lao Tzu quote

“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving”

because it was all about enjoying the journey as a reminder that the important thing is to stay with the present. Your future is not created by endless planning and worrying but is instead manifested as a direct result of what you do right now. We plant seeds and as long as we are aligned and allowing, the right things will emerge for us.

The universe will unfold as it should…

So, how do we know we are aligned, and by that I mean in touch with what is really true for us, what we are passionate about, what makes us feel connected, at peace and happy?

The heart is a wonderful gateway. You can feel all of those things in your heart, you can’t figure it out in the mind because it will always be a reflection. The connection in the heart is always in the present and is where we feel this deep motivation.

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I was at the “Be Love” 11 hour Bhakti Immersion, an event all about the practice of devotion and singing which brings you straight into the heart. It was an amazing reset for me, an opportunity to ground in something far more powerful than the “material” security can offer.

I can have a big house, job and so on but if I’m feeling adrift from this centre then I don’t have peace. All the material stuff is impermanent and when you have this anchor in the deeper space of the heart it seems less important. If you can be happy in any situation then this is surely real freedom.

What is Sufism?
To feel joy in the heart when sorrow appears.

I should mention the fantastic work the Sivani Mata does in arranging these events which bring a large community together in such a beautiful space. We first met while travelling to the fantastic Colourfest, separated in the back of a car by bags stacked so high we couldn’t see each other!

I started teaching yoga on Wednesday at the Jamyang Buddhist centre, taking over from the lovely Naz who is taking the opportunity to head back to Mexico. I’ll be there every week with the class starting at 7.30. I’m charging £10 with the option to pay for a pass at a reduced rate – contact me for details!

I’ll also be running a meditation day with my yoga sister Emma in Bedford on the 8th November, it would be great if you can join with us in diving deep into this heart space and feeling our deep connection.

Feet and Heart - Hermione Armitage

Feet and Heart – Hermione Armitage

Photos courtesy of Hermione Armitage

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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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Spiti

Leah left us in the early morning to head back for a Tantra workshop in Dharamsala which left Sev and I alone. I don’t think Siddarth wanted us to leave as his instructions on how to catch the bus were somewhat reluctantly given but we walked down the hill to the main road and then waited by the chicken shop for about 2 hours. As we are cursing Siddarth the bus eventually comes and Caroline, a French girl we met in Peo is sitting at the front.

We have to stand for some time but eventually arrive at Nako where we stay in an odd room with the most terrifying water heating system I have ever seen. The village is amazing though and we walk up to a past the lake to a pass where we see even more mountains.

It is our first experience of walking at really high altitudes and is noticeable but exhilarating – Sev climbs to the top of a rocky outcrop where for a moment I consider what I would do if he didn’t come back.

There is an old monastery here, a shop that sells Nutella and we find a place with some decent Tibetan food.
Our next stop is Tabo with its very old monastery and meditation caves up the hill.
The road here is particularly treacherous, with steep drops, narrow roads where the bus has to pull over often to allow trucks and cars coming the other way to pass and often you are driving seemingly through the side off the cliff that has been hollowed out.
The bus stop is an incongruous start coming from this direction as you approach the edge of town surrounded by big, ugly, modern buildings, part of some sort of agricultural centre and stop in a big car park.
Things change when we get up early and hear the Monks giving a puja in the new monastery, however. It is a beautiful, meditative experience and the first meditation that I had done for a while.

The ancient mud walled monastery has some incredible frescoes and statues in its dark corners (torches very necessary) and is still well used by the community of Sangha here.
We find a restaurant with a load of local food on the menu, and being adventurous we order about 6 dishes between the 3 of us. This prompts great activity as the 4 staff jump up from their TV watching and begin moving. Two rush out to the market while the others start preparing and soon all four are beavering away in the kitchen leaving new customers unserved as our feast is cooked up in a dervish. The tsampa porridge with Yak Cheese was a bit disappointing but the other dishes were great. A local type of Momo which was more like a Cornish Pastry, another Momo that was similar to normal and a “local” thali, which was a slight variation on the normal sabji.


Our next stop, off the main road and up a hill overlooking the valley and river is the mighty Dhankar, a village pretty much situated on top of a rock.

There is a monastery here as well (of course) and an old fort, although that is pretty much derelict.

The monastery is literally balanced on a rock, on the edge of the world. We were given tea by the monks there as we looked around and climbed onto the roof.

It was here that we stayed with Anil and his family in a basic but beautiful little homestay at the top of the village. He helped us wash our clothes in the stream, served us home cooked food and then took us on a five day trek.

He has worked with Ecosphere who do a lot of great work in this very impoverished region and Caroline had heard people who had done a similar walk from village to village, ending up at the main hub of Kaza.

After a couple of days exploring the village, visiting the beautiful lake and doing yoga on his terrace we set off for the first town…

The first day in blistering sun took us on an easy 4 hour hike to the village of Lalung along dusty paths and into the wilderness of Spiti. As well as the three of us we had Anil as guide, Tenzin our young porter and the donkeys, later to be named Prem and Dill. We were shown the ancient monastery here, a theme in all parts of the valley, and spent some time meditating by a beautiful tree.

That night we sat and practiced our Momo making skills with the family – mine leave something to be desired but it was nice to have something other than rice and dal to eat.

Day two saw an easy start and then a very difficult second section after crossing the river. We had to climb 800m on this day and the majority was straight up on a steep series of switchbacks. I found untapped energy during this, listening to the Prodigy and storming ahead but we were all knackered by the time we reached Dhomul at the top of the hill. We were fed tsampa porridge with Yak cheese when we arrived and it was significantly better than in Tabo – really tasty actually, but it did include a big heap of sugar which might have helped.

The basic family room was comfortable enough and the corridor was filled with cow dung to be used as fuel for the long winter.

In the morning we had omlette and parantha (as usual) before setting off on the next stage.
This was the day we reached our highest point, the Dhomul pass at roughly 4500m with snow covering the sides of the path and the wind whistling a shrill and freezing breeze around us we only stopped long enough for a quick photo.

Our next stop was slightly lower at Komik where I wasn’t feeling the best. We had a look around the monastery, one of the biggest in the region, but all bar two of the monks were away attending a ceremony in Kaza. The guesthouse was pleasant enough although the large windows made the room a little cold and I couldn’t really stomach much dinner.
The next day we set off for Langza which would be the highest place we would stop at 4325m. We approached through some fields and scanned the whole village before finding the homestay (Anil’s first choice was full.) Sev wanted to go on a search for fossils so we went to a dried up riverbed but I was more interested in the huge herd of animals, yaks, cows, goats, donkeys, sheep etc that were grazing down there. I went and checked out the monastery and the big Buddha statue on the hill and the place felt noticeably closer to civilisation, being just up the road from Kaza.

During this time we spent our evenings watching Arrested Development on my laptop – it’s great by the way. I think this is the best episode…

One night we watched I heart Huckabees which seemed to mirror what was going on in the trek… Caroline and I loved it but Sev wasn’t so sure. (He preferred The Expendables..) For me though I realised that, having watched Huckabees after my last trip to South East Asia and really enjoyed it, this movie could have been my first introduction to Buddhist ideas and explains a lot how I took to Buddhism very quickly. I mean the film isn’t explicit in this, it very cleverly talks philosophy without really specifying where the ideas come from and the techniques clearly aren’t Buddhist per se but the concepts.. oh yeah.

Kaza is the administrative centre of Spiti and finds itself cut off from the rest of India for most of the year when the nearby road to Manali is closed. The town itself is nice though, split into old and new Kaza by a small river but there isn’t too much to distinguish. There is a modern Gompa which is great and I saw the monks doing a big puja with horns, cymbals and drums – one of the more dramatic ceremonies I have attended.
We spent a couple of days winding down from the trek, though, eating Indian sweets and pastries from the German Bakery and enjoying the things we hadn’t been able to get on the trek. Sev and I did a trip up to Kibber for the night, which used to be the highest village in the world with a road (although there are now places higher in Tibet.) We walked down to see Ki Gompa, one of the most famous monasteries in this region and found ourselves on one of the steepest paths we had been on..

Looking back where we had walked from it was hard to believe we had just come down what looked like a sheer cliff face!
The Gompa was impressive as you can see but we found ourselves without a lift back to Kaza and started walking. At first we thought, there will be something we can hitch-hike soon. After a while, with all the traffic going in the opposite direction, it became clear we would have to walk the 11Km back to Kaza – we got a lift for maybe the last 1 or 2 K but pretty much walked the whole way..!

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Himachal Pradesh Valleys

 

Stage One: Parvati.
We could hardly believe it as we sat down in the warm tent on cushioned seats more like beds and perused the menu of Indian, Continental and Israeli food while the more established guests cleaned their chillums. The culmination of a five hour trek through challenging but quite breathtaking scenery led us to this point and it was only then that someone mentioned the hot springs. Pinching myself to be sure my near death experience on our walk had not landed me in some sort of backpacker heaven I was eventually able to relax.


 Our journey had begun 3 days earlier in Rishikesh where Leah, Sev and I set off without a clear destination but with a motivation for mountains, nature and adventure. We took the bus to Dehra Dun and then asked where their buses were going. Kasol was the place that jumped out and despite not entirely being prepared for a lengthy Himachal Pradesh local bus ride we took it in our stride and arrived in the early morning for tea and an omlette while Babaji, our guesthouse owner, shared a joint with an Israeli girl on the opposite table.


The Parvati Valley is known for its beautiful lush valleys, its charas and in recent years its influx of Israeli tourists from where a burgeoning psy-trance scene has developed. It was incredible to hike out of the town into the woods, meditate on a rock by the river and enjoy the serene countryside but less enjoyable to hang out due to every place blasting innappropriate music. There was a festival “Shiva Squad” just out of town when we were there but the whole place felt a bit like the dodgy part of a festival to me, all black light t-shirts and posters and people wandering about looking lost, confused and pale.

From here we follow our noses and some scratchy notes from Leah’s sister towards Pasani by hitch-hike and bus before setting off towards Khir Ganga, the destination we know little about.
Pasani is dominated by a hydro-electric dam project, so we just get off the bus and follow a route pointed to us by tourists and locals. It turns out to be the long way, but what a way… Possibly the most amazing trek I have ever been on saw 5 hours of enormous trees, gushing waterfalls, grassy clearings and the light coming through the leaves and making the place look like a kaleidoscope of colour.

It was challenging as well, with steep sections, muddy sections, slippery sections, bits where you had to climb over trees or hop across rocks and the bit where I nearly lost my footing on a rock and slipped down a ravine. I made it though and arriving in the most amazing place with hot springs and schakhlab with nutella has never been sweeter.

We stayed 2 nights, and it would have been longer but we hadn’t really brought anything with us. So then we returned, this time by the more simple, but still beautiful, path and then took a last minute detour to stay at the small village of Tosh. Tosh is actually a village, with people living there, and things happening. I mean, not much happening, but still. We stayed at the basic Last Resort Guesthouse and were really upset while having a rudimentary chat with the woman running the place on understanding that her husband had died three weeks previously falling from a cliff. It was one of those conversations that started normally and then ended up without any of us knowing what to say or do. The eldest daughter came and showed us a photo of her with her Dad and looked sad so we did our best to keep the children amused and were as generous as we could be, although we hadn’t brought enough money with us to be really charitable.


The next morning we stroll down the hour to Pasani and just make the bus for Kasol where lunch is taken and our next long journey on to Reckong Peo via Mandi begins immediately.
Peo is the entrance to the Kinnaur Valley which leads on to Spiti, one of the most remote places in India.

We self-medicate for the overnight bus from Mandi to Peo and riding along the treacherous mountain roads with the bus swinging from one side to the other it was a good move. From the window all you can see is darkness, lit up by the headlights to show either nothing, or a rock face in front of you. Sometimes you can see stars twinkling but then you realise that stars aren’t below you and that actually these are houses a long, long way down in the valley. To say it is terrifying would be an understatement. At times you start praying, chanting mantras, fingering your mala and crossing yourself in an attempt to cover all the potential bases. It turns out this isn’t even the most dangerous road we travel on during the trip.


We don’t stay in Peo, despite the exhausting journey, but take the bus up the mountain to the pretty village of Kalpa where we meditate in the ancient gompa, are amused by the erotic artwork and enjoy not being on a bus for a while.

We had been recommended a place called Chitkul in the adjoining Sangla valley so take the bus along the scarred countryside where dam projects, military bases, and other construction have left the place looking pretty ugly. Chitkul itself seems pretty well shut. We are greeted in an unfriendly manner, if we are greeted at all and the guesthouses seem to be waiting for the season to start. Apparently in a month the valley is lush and verdant but when we are there it is cold, barren and looks like the end of the world. Entertainment is in the form of the farmers abusing some oxen to plough a field but it is effective farming as while we watch they turn the earth, plant some seeds and cover with fertiliser. Food is hard to come by as is decent accomodation and after one night we turn around and get the 6AM bus back to Peo.


From Peo into the Spiti Valley it is necessary to get an “Inner Line Permit” because of the proximity to the Tibet/China border. The talkative travel agent suggests an option for us since we don’t want to take another 6 hour bus journey onwards the same day and so we get the bus to the village of Ribbe where we are put up in a homestay by the generous if slightly overbearing, Siddarth. We are most welcome in his awesome house – one of three his family own in the village, and after all the travel it is the most amazing place to relax.
The sun is shining and we have a lawn to relax and do yoga. Siddarth shows us around the village, taking us to meet his father and baby daughter and arranging for a local monk to give us a tour of the three gompas in the village. Ribbe seems to be a pretty well off place, with Siddarth’s family alone having a large farm growing apples as the cash crop but also almonds and wheat alongside the house among other things. Visiting this “backyard” was absolutely beautiful and felt like the garden of Eden in comparison to Chitkul.
Siddarth also made us sit through his wedding video which was interestingly produced and included a segment that was a good 20 minutes long showing cars arriving. There was a lot of money being draped over peoples necks as well. For an hour or so this would have been interesting but I think the film went on for at least 3 hours. He fed and watered us very well though and it would be churlish to complain too much, even when he woke us up at 6 in the morning with a chai. Ribbe was a great experience and off the tourist route so I’m really happy to have stopped there.

It was here that Leah left us and Sev and I found ourselves waiting by the side of the road next to a chicken stall cursing Siddarth for getting the bus times wrong.

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Meditation dans le Park


Click Here! “>

Meditation course here.

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Camel Safari. Day One

After the Camel Fair a few of us had not had enough of the beasts, or at least the opportunity they provide for getting out into the desert.

Our original plan was to take camels from Jodhpur out on a journey to Jaisalmer which is really far away from anywhere.  Due to some time pressure for Esther and speaking to a friend of a friend we were talked in to taking the camels from Pushkar to Jodhpur, a route that proved rather hazardous.

Before I start recalling some of the calamaties that befel us, let me say that I did enjoy the trip, it was great fun and done with great company but it could have been even better for reasons I’ll explain.  I don’t feel particularly attached to the camels but being outside for almost a whole week was pretty cool.

Day One we were picked up by Dharmo on his motorbike without brakes and taken to his house where we were immediatley surprised by how small the camel cart was and how packed it already was with camel grass (feed).  We crammed in four big backpacks and our other stuff along with food and cooking pots, covered it all with thin duvets/blankets and pondered how we would also fit.

After a spot of lunch at the house we set off full of excitement but slightly dubious about just how professional this outfit was. (NB it wasn’t)

Riding on the cart could be comfortable if you had it set up in the right way, which for the most part we didn’t due to being rushed in the morning and while Thomas always seemed to be able to find his comfy spot I was often either half hanging off the side balancing precariously or sitting on something hard and not designed for the purpose.

The first few hours passed pleasantly as we trundled through dirt roads past farms and small settlements.

I tried riding a camel, first with Koen, who seemed to have the knack.  I was sat up front and hadn’t really got to grips with sitting up so high or understanding how to control the direction with the reigns, let alone keeping watch for potential hazards, before I managed to ride us into one of the really spiky trees that the camels love to eat.  We rode straight on through the branches, with one large one nearly knocking us off and I got properly served in the face with a large scratch above my eye and on my ear lobe and several more on my arms and hands.  Luckily, Koen is a nurse and just happened to have a bandage handy.

This wasn’t to be the last injury on day one though, my laptop bag was secured to one of the side poles of the cart by an unbreakable metal tie, or so I thought.  Stupidly really, after a scare in the morning where it slipped, I should have moved it somewhere more secure.  Anyway, I didn’t, and the next thing it was lying on the floor, tie snapped and covered in dust.

When we got to camp I discovered its contents hadn’t held up too well.  My laptop was well and truly knackered, the screen bent in an angle it shouldn’t be and the base not any better, although I hold out hope the hard drive may be salvageable.

After Tushita, I could only think to look on this as a test of attachment and I meditated on it that evening after yoga, rather than get upset about it.  I was getting fed up carrying my heavy laptop around, it was old and would need replacing when I got home anyway etc etc.

Slightly harder was the loss of my mp3 player, again, the HD actually works but the display is gone, and since it’s touch screen that renders it useless as a player.  Finally, and equally as annoying, my camera was also gone, the SD card is ok but the screen was no good.

Travelling without a camera or music could be a real issue but the meditation worked and I was able to come to terms with the loss without any real distress.

That night in camp was really damp as well with the blankets saturated, leaving us tired and cold.

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Rishikesh – Yoga, Meditation & more

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Rishikesh – spiritual supermarket on the Ganga

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

Looking back on my trip, Rishikesh is the place that I think I am most likely to return to.  Perhaps aided by having many people I knew in town (half of Tushita were there for example) but also because it is a very beautiful, very spiritual place with loads of yoga happening everywhere.  Not least the International Yoga and Indian Music Festival which by a wonderful coincidence was taking place a couple of days after I arrived.  With a programme starting at 7AM with a Kriya (or cleansing) Yoga session and going through until 7PM when there was an hour of live music it was such a fantastic introduction to all sides of Yoga.

The Kriya Yoga, led by one of the festival organisers and Rishikesh resident, Yogacharya Kamal was something of a new experience.  Taking a Netti Pot (small spouted receptacle) and filling it with warm, salted water, tilt your head to one side and pour through one nostril and out of the other.  It was great for me, often blocked up by dust in my sinuses, I felt a totally clear head.  I tried the next step, which was to take a mouthful of the salty water and then attempt to expel it through the nostrils.  If you can get a dribble then supposedly you are on the way but I wasn’t able to get the technique at all.  The third step (which I didn’t even attempt) was to drink quite a bit of the water and then vomit it out.  All of these techniques are for cleansing the body from within and we also learnt about doing this with a rubber tube (danda) through the nostril and out of the mouth, and a further thorough inner cleansing by passing salt water through the system.

Kriya Yoga, Rishikesh

Kriya Yoga, Rishikesh

Umesh

After this, the first actual class was with Umesh who quickly became one of my favourites with his wide-eyed delivery of stories and the joy with which he introduced his ideas.  Bringing things to the present moment through meditation, chanting mantras and some tough Asana classes he will be someone I would like to seek out in the future.  He is a personal disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ji the guru who the Beatles spent time with here in Rishikesh in the 60’s… speaking of which…

Beatles Ashram

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Visiting this spot, now overrun by nature and falling to pieces, was exciting and eye opening more than I imagined.  Led by a guide who was able to explain what the buildings had been used for and where the Beatles had stayed in their time there (not least John Lennon’s room #9).  He had me clambering through broken windows, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and beating a path through the overgrown foliage.  The place was taken over by the Forestry department in 1997 and they haven’t done much to keep it up which makes it more authentic if you like, it also means you have to bribe the gatekeeper 50Rupees to get in.

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

The Office

Perhaps the only problem (although, what is a problem?) with the programme at the yoga fest was that such an early start made it impossible to get breakfast and sometimes meant we would skip out, not because we were done with the Yoga but because we were hungry.  This was especially tempting because Ram Jhula, an area in Rishikesh, had one of the best little food places you’re likely to find anywhere.  The Office came onto our radar because of a rumour about Chocolate Banana Samosas – a rumour I should add, that was totally true.  They also did an Apple Cinnamon Samosa that was equally, or perhaps even more, delicious.  Their menu in general was small but perfectly formed, with some of the best Chai i have had in India not even making the highlight reel because of the fruit, muesli, curd, honey which as you can see, was truly epic.  Add to this a scrummy pakora plate for 15 Rups and always happy service, the only thing they need to sort out is the fly problem on the balcony.

Muesli, Fruit, curd, Rishikesh

Muesli, Fruit, curd, Rishikesh

Sivananda – Om Dwivedi

Sean, who had done a Sivananda Teacher Training Course, was particularly interested in attending this class, and since spending time at the Ashram in Neyyar Dam since, it is a style I am now most familiar with.  Following 12 basic asanas after an initial relaxation and warm up, Sivananda style is characterised also by long periods of Savasana as well as a lengthy final relaxation to allow the body and mind to appreciate the benefits from the Asanas. Swami Sivananda opened a large ashram here in Rishikesh and it is here that he spent a lot of time meditating on the banks of the Ganga.

Other teachers included female Yogacharya Kiran who was keen on making us hum like a bee, Yog-Vibhuti Yogrishi Swami Shivyogi jee Maharaj who had lived in a cave for 20 years and seemed pretty wild.  Naveen Joshi (“little yogi”) who liked getting us into a posture and telling us all how “Beauuuutiful” it was and Yogiraj who is a highly regarded practitioner  who’s class I did enjoy, although I found it more like a form of aerobics.  It was a memory I think I will struggle to forget though, seeing a fat old guy in an orange robe doing the lion pose and causing everyone to roar in delight.

Kundalini

Kundalini Yoga, Rishikesh

Kundalini Yoga, Rishikesh

So, following on from the Yoga as aerobics thing, I went along to watch, although not participate in, Gurmukh’s Kundalini Yoga session.  Billed and then rearranged, presumably to fit into her busy schedule, this was pure new age California and I found it difficult to take seriously.  The session started with vigorous running on the spot and jumping and such like before the music really kicked in and everyone was skipping in pairs, swaying from side to side with arms around each other, and crying to a song with lyrics that went something along the lines of ” We are the people the world loves to hate”.  As if this wasn’t enough to induce hysterics or vomiting, there was a mantra recited while touching the relevant areas – ” I love you my heart, I love you my eyes, I love you my head, I love you, I love you.” (there is a video of this but I’m not going to post it due to the embarrassment factor of those taking part)  I’m not sure it could have got any cheesier and I don’t know quite how this fits with loosening ego-grasping but those who took part seemed to really like it. (Brainwashing springs to mind and one guy described her as an “honest swindler” which I guess would sum it up.)

Surinder Singh

Another Sikh got rave reviews from those that went to his daily classes held in Rishikesh town because of his skill with adjustments, although with a group of 100 or more this wasn’t so easy, one great reason to go back at least.

Usha Devi – Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga, Rishikesh

Iyengar Yoga, Rishikesh

Iyengar Yoga, Rishikesh

Iyengar Yoga, Rishikesh

Usha Devi taught one of the classes I enjoyed least and yet I still remember hints from it to this day.  Teaching in the Iyengar style, which focuses on very precise positioning and holding the Asanas in exactly the right way – we spent 90 painful minutes doing a Triangle pose, but I still remember where my feet should be…! She also teaches regular classes in Rishikesh.

Swami Yogananda Ji

Swami Ji, Rishikesh

Swami Ji, Rishikesh

Swami Ji, Rishikesh

Swami Ji, Rishikesh

Finally, the oldest and most inspirational of the teachers in some ways is 101 year old Swami Ji who took us through a traditional yoga programme of light stretches and exercises for all parts of the body from the eyes to the ankles.  He also showed us some of the Kriya techniques.  Coupled with this he had myriad tips on health, usually to prevent constipation.  We should have motions after every meal apparently.  Eat Papaya in the morning, no fried food ever, Jaggery after each meal, hold a point in the centre of the right arm for two minutes each day to live to 100 etc etc.  He was in perfect health and a little bit more flexible than I am…

Swami Ji, Rishikesh

Swami Ji, Rishikesh

Along with the Yoga Asana classes there were lectures about life philosophy and also Ayurveda, although sitting uncomfortably on the floor in a hot stuffy room meant I didn’t stick around for too many.  One I did go to saw Thomas getting chastised for leaning backwards, the teacher thinking he was lying down, maybe sleeping and started complaining about western students not having the right levels of respect and so on.  What was a slightly awkward moment amongst the entirely western audience was dispelled when the teacher’s mobile phone loudly went off in the middle of his rant causing laughter throughout the room.

Mama’s

So other than Yoga and some good traveller restaurants (Mahoosive Hello to the Queen courtesy of the Little Buddha or the ridiculous Joney OK at Mohan’s Ganga Beach View) the best food was up at High Bank where Mama would serve up an illicit beverage alongside her sensational thali.  The pumpkin dish was incredible in its sweet tastiness and the Banoffee Pie made with oodles of condensed milk was total decadence.  Add to that a friendly communal atmosphere and Mama being a total enabler for indulgence and it was always a good place to spend a Rishikesh evening.

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