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Leprosy & Lessons in Love: Meditation In Action

With fear on my mind and love in my heart, I choose to follow people who live to benefit more then just themselves.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, in total health and abundance but I became aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a life without service to others.

Nathan & Zohar, run meditation in action projects around the world known as Sangha Seva Retreats.

They first came to Anandwan in 2004 as volunteers and have been facilitating groups of people to experience and contribute to the community every year since.

Anandwan (‘Forest of Joy or Bliss’) is a leprosy rehabilitation center in Mararashtra, India. Baba Amte, a saintly man, founded Anandwan in 1951 with the mission of providing a life for people with Leprosy that went beyond offering medical support but a way for each individual to be wholly integrated in society.

All Photography by Shilpa Shah

Leprosy is the oldest known disease and is extremely misunderstood and stigmatized all over the world but particularly in India – as being grotesque, highly contagious and even a personal curse of God or Karma.

Historically, India has had the highest population of the disease with many afflicted people being rejected and disregarded from society – left to fend on their own support, in times of dire need of the support of others.

Baba Amte fiercely started this project with 6 patients living on donated government land- without even a water source. With the power of love in his heart, within only 2 years the land completely transformed into a self-sufficient community – apart from sugar, salt, and oil.

Therefore, you can imagine the jobs that were manifested – from making on-site homemade mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, fabrics, housing and furniture, homemade specialized wheelchairs, custom-made shoes for all these differently shaped mended bodies and feet, bio-waste methane system turning cow and food waste into gas to cook with, growing food and cooking for all these many mouths – all day, every day!

The community has grown to host approximately 3,000 individuals with a range of differences in the body and mind (children, elderly, with physical and mental disabilities) that may have not had a safe place in the world without Anandwan.

Anyone can live here with the guidelines of not taking any intoxicants, non-violence, and being willing to work, if able. Baba said “give people a chance – not charity,” which from my observation seems to be clearly successful.

As a part of the meditation-in-action mission, 17 international volunteers, joined together for 3 weeks to practice meditation while consciously living and working in various workshops throughout the Anandwan community.

I choose to work in the elderly home in the mornings and alternating between the hearing and the visually impaired school in the afternoon.

Besides working with other people, I had to deal with my own suppressed internalized fear I was unknowingly hosting around touching elderly people’s bodies. It really had nothing to do with Leprosy as in retrospect I remembered that I also felt this sense of rejection at my grandma’s retirement home in Toronto. The look of fragility and potential weaknesses somehow gave me the impression of it not feeling safe to touch the bodies of these human beings. Maybe some unconscious fear of “catching” whatever they have even if it was just my own projection of their pain and suffering. As it turns out, odds are as a human being, if I’m super lucky, I will indeed catch the state of old age regardless of physical contact will people or not.

Baba was known to say that the real leprosy to fear is this leprosy of the mind.

The illusive walls between where the being behind ‘their’ skin and mine – began to fade away. I realized that my intention was to share moments of connection, not “fix” anyone or anything.

Through breaking down my own barriers of fear I shared in the most precious exchanges of love during this project.

They, like you and me and all other beings- simply want to experience happiness- feel love, less suffering, less pain. Something we can all naturally offer to each other – but as I can see it must start with the fragile being behind our own skin.

The human beings living at Anandwan showed me strength and joy through the endurance of suffering and pain. Maybe it really is the challenges that strengthen the spirit. All I know is the light and love radiating from these people felt so bright that I couldn’t even see the different abilities, shapes of bodies or sense capabilities in all their various forms.

We all have opportunities to dive into these unfamiliar environments and into the power of love that exists beyond the discernment of our mind that constantly creates distinctions between good, bad, less or more, like or dislike, into this golden thread that ties us all together – the aliveness that exists in meeting each moment with full awareness- of life, exactly as it is.

“Namaste” – the people of Anandwan say here with their hands at their heart and I couldn’t imagine a greeting that was more appropriate. I see you – as a pure divine living, breathing, feeling being – as significant a life as the one I consider “my own.”

May we all find ways of stepping outside our own fears and into the transformation power of love – for ourselves and for each other.

 

 

 

Sacha Bryce, BSc, RYT, is a Holistic Yoga Therapist based in Toronto, Canada. She has travelled the globe studying, teaching and living Integral Yoga. Her mission is to share the power of the practice to liberate herself and others from suffering.

IG: @sachabryceyoga

Before and After Rishikesh, India

One year ago I decided to leave my country to explore the world doing Yoga. Ive been practicing asana since I was 15, but had never thought I’d ever study to become a yoga teacher. When I started the trip I didn’t know exactly what countries I wanted to visit or how this was going to play out, I just had some clues, ideas, a mental map of what I wanted to do. A MUST was going to India to do a Yoga TTC.

In my mind, I had planned to do this in December 2016, but in the middle of the trip I was in Hawaii and I decided I wanted to leave to India right at that moment (September 2016). It was something I can’t explain as a mental process, it was just a call from destiny that I had to take. One month later I was arriving in New Delhi, the capital of India. I cannot lie, at the beginning it was a real shock for me…everything. The noise, the heat, so many people, everything so crowded, the food, I was not the kind of girl that immediately falls in love with India, it was something that came with the process; in the end, I liked it that way because slowly but surely, you fall in love with things much deeper than when it’s just a crush.

Finally I was there, living one of the most intense experiences of my life. Everyday we woke up at 5:30 am and started practicing Hatha Yoga, then Pranayama; after 3 hours being up, we finally had breakfast, and then the day went on, class after class. At 8:30 pm more less, we were done, but it was really intense each day, not only because of the obvious things, but also because you are living your own process, and at the same time 15 more people like you are living their own process too; that deep journey inside yourself, a lot of intense, hard stuff comes out. In the third week, the magic happened and I was feeling much better; my ashtanga practice was improving a lot and I felt I was unstoppable; I felt I never wanted to stop practicing. Every time I went to a cafe with my friend, I could hear everybody talking about the same, even though they studied in different schools; everyone had the same issues and concerns, and I, who felt my feelings were so special, was actually feeling much the same as everybody else! ( hehe)

 

Anyway, I don´t want to talk so deeply about the TTC exactly but about what happened inside after living that experience in that part of the world with those teachers. Rishikes, India is a small city 230 kms away from New Delhi; it is a sacred city, the world capital of Yoga and it is one of the most special places I’ve been to; surrounded by the Himalayas, separated by Maa Ganga, and full of Yoga schools, Babas, Gurujis and all of us; westerners trying to learn from the source and the root. This place is pure magic, they don´t sell alcohol, or meat, and everything closes at around 9-10 pm.

Those days in that place, after that experience I wrote: How can you be the same after your eyes have seen the most beautiful and the ugliest both outside and inside yourself… I still don’t know if I’ve found my destiny but it feels like something very profound. I’m not the same person that arrived back a month ago; something has changed; priorities are not the same. I truly feel lighter inside, and I’ve finally understood what really matters in life for me. I don’t want to argue anymore with people just to be right. I want to be more patient everyday. Sitting at the banks of Mother Ganga taught me so much about letting things and people go, about having complete certainty in the process and timing of things. This doesn’t mean I never feel things anymore or that I’m a Hipster-Hippie, it means I feel things deeply in my heart but everyday the distance between my feelings, the reaction and the letting go of the control is shorter, and that is priceless. It is not all about India, but Rishikesh helped a lot. ( I think Alanis Morrissette also felt that way when singing “Thank you India”)

In my opinion, it is really important to find a School – an Ashram to study and stay where you feel like you’re at home for that month or 2 months that you´ll be living there. To this end, I can totally recommend the place where I studied: Anadi Yoga Centre, not only because of the incredible Indian Teachers with a lot of teaching experience, but they are also very concerned about sharing the Yoga knowledge in a very professional and passionate way, instilling in you the wish to do and give your best everyday, and always very open to addressing all your doubts and concerns. ( Trust me, there are many, many schools that are just businesses )

My connection with this place is so deep that I decided to go back to study more, and to live there so I could experience it in a different way this time. Totally worth it. Rishikesh, India is a place that I can also call Home, because there I feel nearer to myself, to the true being that I am.

Namaste

 

 

 

Fiorella is a Chilean Wanderlust Yogini & Travel Blogger. Her personal seal is to share about everything that has made her a happier and healthier person. Her beliefs: Kabbalah, Her Life Philosophy: Yoga. // www.fioreyogini.com @fioreyogini

11 Things You Didn’t Know About the History of Yoga

I’ve spent the last year fine-tuning and teaching a History of Yoga workshop curriculum. It’s meant listening to endless history podcasts, combing through interviews with senior teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater and Richard Rosen, reading arresting new scholarship from academics like Mark Singleton and James Mallinson, and thumbing through primary texts like Light on Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita.

You know that old cliché about how if you really want to learn something, you should teach it? It’s true. I’ll never look at my yoga practice the same way again. And after reading this, you may not, either.

Here are a few unexpected revelations:

1. Yoga history is a total mash-up.

It’s quintessentially postmodern. (That’s a big word that basically means questioning long-standing truth narratives and lifting up identity politics and personal narrative as sources of insight and wisdom. Whew, right?) Postmodernism reminds us to think critically and take every perceived notion of “truth” with a grain of salt. It’s personified by creative artists like animator Sanjay Patel and hip-hop musician MC Yogi, both of whom blend ancient and contemporary Hindu traditions in electric cultural mash-ups of their own.

Postmodernism reminds us that our job as yoga historians is to ask: who preserved yoga history in this particular way? What purpose or agenda did that preservation serve? And whose voices are missing here?

2. Patanjali probably wasn’t just one dude.

That guy most of us know as the granddaddy of yoga philosophy, the scholar-priest who codified the Yoga Sutra for the first time? The one who likely lived sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century? Yeah, no. He very possibly didn’t exist. The compilation of the Yoga Sutra that historians have long attributed to him was likely the work of many priestly men. (But, then again, who really knows for sure?)

3. Yogis weren’t always mainstream.

In fact, as recently as the early 20th century, yogis were often perceived as wild renegades, dangerous rogues, and unruly highwaymen rife with black magic. No reasonable, respectable person wanted to be around them.

Those sadhus who stood on one leg in the middle of a river for two years straight? The same ones who practiced expelling their semen and then recalling it (yes, really)? They’re a world apart from the pastel-clad soccer moms and the lithe former ballet dancers you see now splashed on yoga magazine covers.

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When Swami Vivekananda came to speak at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago — the moment that’s often recognized as the birthplace of yoga in America — he hesitated to speak of any postural (or hatha) yoga, focusing mainly on meditation and pranayama, for fear of alienating Westerners. That’s how unpopular and renegade most yogis were.

Even 40 years ago, many yogis were often still perceived as countercultural hippies. It’s only been within the last two decades or so that they’ve really found their place in bourgeois mainstream America. And now, of course, they’re at the center of a mass cultural phenomenon.

 

4. Asana itself is quite new.

Most of the poses you know so well from class — like Downward Dog or Triangle — are relatively contemporary creations. (As in, maybe a hundred or so years old.) Truth be told, the body didn’t even really get involved in yoga until maybe the 13th or 14th centuries. Prior to that, any asanas were probably seated poses like Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus) or Virasana (Hero), the kind designed for ease of pranayama and meditation.

Hatha yoga poses developed sometime in the Middle Ages, right around the writing of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, when an explosion of Tantric philosophy finally brought the body into the picture. (And yes, Tantra is about so much more than sex, in spite of notorious stereotypes that’ve arisen over the years.) Even those poses were still fairly simple, though they did much to challenge the sacred/profane binary that had previously denigrated the body as less holy than the spirit. Once Tantra emerged, the body finally became a locus for the sacred; literally, a temple for the divine.

Most of the standing poses we practice now, though? They’ve only been around a few hundred years at most. And many of them are much newer than that.

5. The practice as we know it is a total hybrid.

British military exercises. Scandinavian gymnastics. European curative medicine. Indian nationalist bodybuilding techniques. Freudian and Jungian somaticization of the emotions. Toss in New Age spirituality and a pop cultural emphasis on positive thinking, and you’ve got a diverse practice that spans the globe.

If you’ve ever heard your teacher wax poetic about how early yogis were doing sun salutations on the banks of the Ganges River 5000 years ago, now you know: they’re full of crap. Nobody was doing Surya Namaskara A 5000 years ago.

Whenever I teach sun salutations now, I point out that Mark Singleton and his fellow academics have doggedly uncovered the reality that Surya Namaskara A and B are maybe a hundred years old at best. (Check out Singleton’s book, “Yoga Body: The Origins Of Modern Posture Practice,” for the ultimate in recent scholarship on the history of contemporary asana.)

Mind. Blown.

6. Women are often invisible in yoga history.

And it’s the job of contemporary historians to bring them back into the picture.

Michelle Goldberg’s 2015 biography of Indra Devi, “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West,” was a crucial first step into reclaiming the feminine side of yoga history. Goldberg is more often known as a writer of politics and religion, so she brings a particularly sharp cultural lens to excavating the “woman factor” here.

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Turns out Devi, née Eugenie Peterson, the Russian-aristocrat-turned-world-traveller, fought to study with Krishnamacharya, only to be turned away because she was a woman. The reason she was finally allowed to stay was that the Maharaj of Mysore stood up for her. Devi was one of Krishnamacharya’s key disciples, right up there with BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar, though she isn’t often included in that nexus of primary teachers responsible for spreading yoga across the West.

Dive into Goldberg’s book for more dishy history, like how Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947, taught starlets like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson, and later ended up moving to Mexico and Buenos Aires.

7. Context is everything.

Your understanding of yoga history depends so much on your cultural context, your moment in time, and your teacher’s perspective. When you learn yoga history from me (as a white, cisgendered, upper-middle-class woman in the world), you’ll get a mish-mash of self-consciously postmodern, progressive, queer, countercultural, intersectional perspectives. If you’d studied with premier German yoga historian Georg Feuerstein 30 years ago, you’d have gotten a whole different (incredible) vault of knowledge. Neither is right or wrong. Both are useful. That’s why we need to continue seeking out new teachers and new sources. Always. Don’t get complacent. Curiosity is key.

8. “Yoga is about half-Indian and half-Californian.”

I overheard this tongue-in-cheek quip some time ago on a podcast by Lucas Rockwell, listening to an interview while I did my home practice, and laughed out loud. No truer words have been spoken. One thing we know for sure is that yoga originated in India. That’s undeniable. But, as for the spread of yoga in the West? California has been hugely influential: a fertile soil for New Age thinking, body insecurity (hello, Hollywood), and health fads, all of which exploded across the country thanks to the power of celebrity. You can think of the evolution of yoga in America less as a movement from East to West and more as an ongoing dialogue, a cultural conversation between the two.

9. There is no “one true yoga.”

There are only variations on a theme, ever-evolving.

If old-school yogis from the 4th century walked into your Monday happy hour Power Vinyasa class, they’d have zero idea what the heck you were doing jumping around doing push-ups. They certainly wouldn’t recognize it as yoga. Just as, for most contemporary gym rats, sitting around meditating for hours at a time and living the ascetic, celibate life of a wandering yogi doesn’t sound much like the $16 drop-in class we’d willingly toss on our credit cards.

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So if somebody says their yoga is “right” and yours is “wrong,” or that that Vino & Vinyasa event or your Dog Yoga class or the brewery-hosted Yin workshop isn’t legit, have no fear. Yoga is in constant co-creation. It will continue to evolve. There is no one right way.

10. The history of yoga is a history of scandal.

I know, I know; it seems incongruent, given the fact that yoga, at its heart, is an ethical system for being clear-mindedly in the world, for lending ease and peace to all sentient beings, and for causing as little suffering as possible. But, as with all institutions and systems like the church or the government, when there are patriarchal guru relationships ensconced in sometimes-unhealthy power dynamics, shit happens.

The deeper you dig, the more you realize the history of yoga is rampant with sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and impropriety. A quick rundown of even the last 75 years reveals sordid sexual scandals, substance abuse, frozen pensions, adultery, exploitation, an epidemic of narcissistic gurus, and more.

I hesitated to include those scandals the first few times I taught new teacher trainees. I didn’t want to cast a shadow on the history of a beloved practice. This last time around, though, in light of the current events unfolding in the Presidential election, I realized it was essential to include the shadow side along with the light. The burgeoning teachers and I had a fascinating, sobering conversation about sex, power, ethics, and what it means to be a teacher of integrity. It was immensely rewarding.

You can’t leave this ugly stuff out because it feels uncomfortable. It’s just as much a part of the practice — and its legacy — as any of the good.

 

11. There are so many reasons to be hopeful.

Look at all the incredible spin-offs coming out of the yoga tradition right now. Yoga for veterans! Trauma-informed yoga! Yoga Trade! Political activist organizations like CTZNWELL and Off The Mat, Into The World. Yoga in prisons and senior centers and elementary schools. Decolonizing Yoga. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Transgender and queer-informed yoga philosophy. Weekly yoga classes at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that attract some 700 people of all faiths, living, breathing, stretching together in sacred stillness.

There are great things happening in the name of yoga everywhere you turn. Keep learning. You’re as much a part of it as Patanjali and his priestly cohort. Maybe even moreso.

Rachel-Meyer-Headshot

Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga

From Ashram to the Andamans

A Yogi’s Transformational Journey through India

I’m not your typical world-traveling yogi. There aren’t too many 40-year-old women leaving everything behind for a taste of adventure. I mean, unless they’re having some sort of mid-life crisis, which I am not. No, really.

However, after recently becoming an empty-nester (I started young!), and after recently divorcing my husband, I felt the need to explore life differently, a new way to think, a new way to be. (yes, I’m aware that part does sound a bit mid-life crisis-like)

Yoga was a big catalyst for this new way of being… I had been practicing daily for a couple of years and was getting stronger by the day- mind, body and spirit. I felt the next step was obvious, to become yoga certified.

So I began the search for teacher certifications. Initially, I wanted go to Bali, Indonesia. Maybe it was because of reading Eat, Pray, Love– but I had this image of Bali being this goddessy-glamourous place toThe-Flying-Elephant-yoga-studio study yoga, and who knows maybe I’d find love there. I wasn’t looking for love, I was (am) already in love but the man of dreams didn’t (doesn’t) love me back. Anyway, I digress.

I found a few options for yoga training in Bali, but for whatever reason- doors kept closing. So I thought, maybe that’s my sign to stop looking so far away and just find training nearby in Florida where I live. But again, doors kept closing and nothing seemed to be working out. As I was taking a long walk on the beach one day- a thought became crystal clear: I needed to go to India to study yoga. Duh! Why wouldn’t I go where yoga originated?

I have a friend who quit her job, sold all of her possessions, and is now travelling throughout India. I remembered her telling me about a small ashram that offered yoga teacher training AND it was cheap. So I found out the name of the place, emailed them, and almost too-perfectly everything just sorta lined up. Tuition- check. Airfare- check. Indian Visa- oh, shit. No one told me how time consuming this part would be and after all the waiting there’s a chance I could be denied a visa. But just in the nick of time, the FedEx guy showed up at my door with my visa-stamped passport. Whew! (By the way, I highly recommend anyone traveling to India to get their visa FIRST. This will save a lot of stressing out!)

I read all kinds of blogs from people who had travelled though India. I spent a lot time working myself up over a bunch of stuff I didn’t need to be worrying about… but it did help me to prepare for my trip. And somewhere during this time of searching blogs, I came across an awesome blogger “This American Girl”, and that’s where I heard about Yoga Trade. I signed up and immediately found a posting for a yoga-exchange opportunity in the Andaman Islands. I had never heard of this part of the world but as it turns out, it’s a cluster of islands between India and Thailand but it is considered part of India. Perfect! I’ll be getting my teacher certification about the time they need an instructor at this resort on Havelock Island.

I remember telling my friend, the one who quit everything and moved to India, how I planned on going to Havelock Island in the Andamans after my training at the ashram. She responded with “are you sure you’re not just wanting a cookie at the end of your India trip?” I hadn’t looked at it that way at all. I saw what looked like this amazing paradise where elephants swim and the water is the loveliest iridescent turquoise, yes, but it was also a wonderful opportunity to get some hands on experience after my ashram training.

After weeks of going back and forth, and trying to organize the travel from the mainland to the islands (it’s not easy to get there)… it was finally set. I would be going to an ashram in south India for three weeks, then I would make the journey to one of the most remote places on the planet- the Andaman Islands.

As I write this, it’s now been two months since I’ve been back from the most exciting adventure of my life. And here’s my observation. Life at the ashram on the mainland and life in the Andamans on Havelock Island, couldn’t be more different.

At the ashram, we had a disciplined schedule. Up at 5am to “shower” (it’s a bucket with a cup for rinsing) and get ready for our asana practice, yoga history and philosophy throughout the day, volunteering at a rural school-house, and an all-vegetarian diet with little to no sugar or caffeine and definitely not any alcohol.

Whereas, on the island, 8am for yoga but many times people missed class because they were up too late Havelock-Beachdrinking the night before, Nutella pancakes for breakfast, prawns as big as your head on the barbeque, the wine is flowing and cigarette smoking is quite common.

The ashram life allows you to reflect on everything, why am I here, what am I doing? I had dreams of conversations with goddesses, I faced my demons head-on, and I came to peaceful conclusions of letting some things (and relationships) go. Spirituality thoughts seem to overtake any thoughts of the flesh.

On the island, all I could think of was how unbelievably grateful and happy I was to be alive. I met new friends, I met a very young, very attractive Indian man, made out in the ocean and on the beach, had totally different kinds of dreams and felt lots of love.

Now as I reflect on these two experiences, I would like to somehow be able to balance my life somewhere between the disciplined schedule of the ashram in India and the carefree frolicking on Havelock Island.

Vegetarian diet with almost no sugar or caffeine most days, but sometimes Nutella crepes and espresso for breakfast or a late-night dinner feast and the wine is flowing.

Practice yoga and meditation for hours but occasionally skip the mat and go swimming in the ocean with a gorgeous boy as we kiss with the crashing waves on us.

Get up early most mornings enjoying peaceful solitude but not missing birthday celebrations, nights on the beach watching the full moon, and staying up late talking with new friends about love, life and God.

How can these two places be so close and yet so far away? But I think the drastic contrasts of the two helped me learn something about myself. I’m not a typical yogi. I’m not a typical anything, really. I’m just me. I’m somewhere in between these two lifestyles. I’m not following “the path”. I’m making my own path as I go along. Yes, I could stand to incorporate more discipline into my life but I also need to make time for carefree living too.

And as it turns out, my friend in India was right, I did get my cookie.

 

angie

 

 

Angie is a yoga certified instructor with a passion for traveling and learning about new people and new cultures. She teaches yoga on the beach at sunrise in Florida, USA and organizes yoga retreats around the world.

Connect with Angie:

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Travel and Connection to the Authentic Self

I started practicing yoga (a well rounded spiritual practice) just over two years ago now. At that same time I bought a guitar and started eagerly seeking something else to quench my thirst for goodness, authentic living, and authentic self.

I had spent a few months not doing much of anything, living in a basement apartment with skylights, shining light on to my face first thing in the morning. Those moments right after sunrise were my favorite, In my half awake state the light would filter through IMG_7015the tress, dance across my eyes and I would slip deeper into dreams about far away places, about love, about what would eventually become my future. I was feeling stagnant and trapped in the cycle. Working to earn money to escape for a few over priced days at some ski resort. Fantasizing about travel and longing for my previous life. I had recently returned from London where I had been living for the past two years, London had robbed me of my heart but talked dirty to me and had soothed my soul in this dangerous sexy way. I missed it but knew it was not the way foreword.

When I started practicing it all began to shift and unravel. I had been prone to bouts of existential crisis, breakdowns, and anxiety attacks my whole life. Yoga confirmed everything I had already thought about the world but the difference was, yoga allowed me to experience it, rather than think about it. Suddenly the concept that I am made up of ancient molecules and atoms just like the dirt under my feet became empowering instead of terrifying . I began to experience this immense presence in my life and the “thoughts” about this vastness and my insignificance became obsolete. I became self aware, unafraid, and empowered. There is something magical about fully embracing yourself as part of the universe instead of a separate entity. I realized that I was the universe experiencing its self, I was the universe, and so was everyone else. That’s where the adventure really started.

A few months later I turned down a fabulous fashion job in NYC and decided to go follow my intuition. It lead me to a few funny places in that first year. My cheap Jasmine guitar and I ventured first to Portugal to reconnect with my family. It was there that I established a personal practice on a sun soaked terrace, I took long walks among the eucalyptus and orange trees and marveled at neon pink sunsets over the ocean. Then to an Ashram in Virginia where I cleaned toilets and meditated and experienced a love for the universe, myself and others I did not know was possible. I spent 2 moths after that retreating back into my old life style as I prepared and saved to take off to Costa Rica. This time it was different though, I entered my witness state and observed everyone and everything around me. I collected inspiration and began to write the songs that now serve as my songwriting home base. I listened to iconic songwriters like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Indian classical, blues and american folk. I started to nurture my creative energy and slowly but surly began to learn how to play my guitar. At the end of February I ventured down to The Yoga Farm in Punta Banco, Costa Rica.

I was deep in the jungle and the sounds, nature’s music, captivated me. There were clean waves and beautiful, strong, creative people. I fell in love with the jungle and my bare feet. I fell in love with surfing and hammocks and cockroaches. I fell in love with my 6:30 AM yoga practice. I found my drishti in views of the ocean, monkeys, and ancient trees. I began to feel my inner self waking up and coming alive. My body got stronger every day, my hands got more flexible and I began to write songs about the light. I wrote and sang about my heart , my adventures and self discovery. It was then that I discovered a whole genre of progressive music. I found it first in in my own songs and then through friends recommendations. I learned about Nahko and Medicine for the People, Rising Appalachia, Trevor Hall, Dessert Dwellers and others who sang about beauty and our golden age.

Once I returned to New York the music really began to take on a life of its own. I met my musical soulmate Annie Trezza and together we started blazing a trail through the dense forest of New York egos. We sang our hearts out and shared our authentic selfs with everyone we met. At the end of a long summer of working we headed off to Europe in search of inspiration, chocolate croissants and the chance to inspire others. We were doing it, and people started to notice. It wasn’t our style or our Instagram, it was the fact that we were living. We were living within, we were living in the light and were hell bent on spreading and shinning it. Everywhere we went we shared our mission like renegade missionaries of light. We wandered with no plan and were led to incredible places.

It’s funny how as soon as you stop worrying about success it surprises you from behind. Around that time we debuted our First EP, Gypsea Blue, my song “Make it” was featured in a major film, “Ask Me Anything” and we came to the realization that we were being fast tracked to success. We were at the point that if we wanted to we could exclusively live and travel off of our music. It was…is…pretty great.

On January 1st, Annie and I said goodbye to each other. I headed east to Mama India by myself and Annie headed home to frozen New York. In India everything began to shift again. I had ventured to India to deepen my yoga practice, to become more acquaintedIMG_5871 with my authentic self and to learn from the land of God. I kept thinking life could not possibly get any better and sure enough it would. My consciousness expanded and my soul was blown open. I was raw and vulnerable and so blissfully happy it spilled into everything I did. Most notably it spilled into my music. I was writing everyday, my fingers were getting stronger and I began to play with brilliant musicians from all over the world. It was magnificent. I became a yoga teacher on the beaches of South Goa, saw beautiful Nepal on the back of a motorcycle, taught a yoga workshop to Bollywood actors in Mumbai, was blessed enough to go and teach for a while at Kranti (my YTT school), I even convinced my New York parents to come and practice yoga in Goa with me for 10 days and to my great surprise they did. I had first hand experiences with God in Rishikesh, I basked in the sun and swam with technicolor fish in the Maldives and marveled at the incredible design and shameful use of recourses and people in Dubai. My eyes were opened wider than ever before. In only a few months I had experienced some of the world’s deepest poverty and greatest wealth. Both were as shocking as the other. I returned feeling open, enlightened, and blissfuly aware.

I write to you now from an awesome coffee shop in Charelston, South Carolina. Annie and I reunited when I returned to New York last month. Two weeks later we packed up the car with our surfboards and guitars and headed down south. We are calling this phase of our wild life the “Happiness Tour”. We are continuing to spread the light and are encouraging people to quit their day jobs everywhere. We would love for you to join us.

Go on an Adventure, roll out your mat, pick up your pen, whatever… just know this one thing. The only moment that ever exists is right now, and if you are not totally happy in this moment it’s time to move. The shift happens within but you can facilitate the shift by choosing to do what you love.

“Travel Facilitates Inner Growth”

You are responsible for your own happiness and the most brilliant thing is that happiness is 100% contagious. Do yourself and everyone around you a favor, follow your dreams, follow your heart. Become an inspiration, people will follow. Be happy, be light, be love.

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Christiana is a full time traveler, yogi and song writer. She is passionate about fresh food, vibrant cultures, holistic health and manifesting dreams. Connect with her music here: http://gypseablue.bandcamp.com/ 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZYc3s-TLuEWoRluMM0cn8A

Cover Photo Credit: Megan Kathleen Photography

Lessons From the Jungle

This article is a repost by Laruen Lee, founder of RAISE YOUR BEAT. The original posting can be found HERE

A REFLECTION ON NATURE, CULTURE, & BEING

Arriving back into Mother India (after having spent a couple of years away) I have been instantly been brought back to ‘earth’. From the moment I landed, all was like a familiar dream – the chaos, the simplicity, the incredible sense of freedom and openness that jungle3permeates every cell in my body. There is something powerful about being in tropical weather and immersed deep in nature, something magical about weaving on a scooter through a family of carefree cows, and something deeply rejuvenating about walking barefoot and letting my curls soak up seawater and coconut oil.

I have spent 3 months at Lotus Yoga Retreat, nestled on a secluded eco farm Khaama Kethna, which lies in a lush valley of jungle and forest. I have felt myself get grounded, quite literally as I spent my time living in an open air hut, and my feet continuously covered in the fertile red earth. I have been spoiled with fresh foods – so fresh the chef collects it from the organic gardens and passes through the restaurant with bundles of color cradled under her bosom. I have indulged in some of the deepest sleeps of my life, falling and rising with the mysterious jungle sounds which somehow meld into one melodic rhythm. I have taught yoga to diverse and unique individuals from all over the world who leave their daily lives behind and arrive for the same universal sense of connection.

It has been an absolute retreat in all senses (for both myself and students) as modern luxuries and ‘comforts’ are stripped away, which can be a shock to the system at first, as we become more exposed, more raw and more genuine as we journey closer to freeing the mind from conditioning. As we begin this process of cleansing, it’s as if we throw away all the ‘junk’ (negative emotions, stress, ego) and layer by layer we uncover (or come back to) our true being.

This true being is our most authentic self…the part which lies within the heart center and is inherently connected to our unique purpose and life all around us.

Experiencing a foreign culture (such as India) and immersing yourself in nature both bring us closer to this place of authenticity, truth or being. 

In a country like India, life is more simple, and its accepted. The majority of the jungle2population still cook over a fire and take showers with cold water using a bucket. Many do not have a car, or use modern electronics such as toasters, refrigerators or washing machines. Most go to the vegetable market and local shops each morning to purchase their daily amount of milk and produce.

Without the need to ‘consume’, life becomes more sacred and more free. Most work to provide shelter, food and support their families. There is time for prayer, play, cooking and community –  and this is honored as a culture.

Experiencing a world and lifestyle unknown (or unnatural) is key in expanding our perspectives, appreciating our own circumstances or maybe even aid us in observation of unnecessary aspects of our own lives.

When we find ourselves in nature, we are reminded of the power of ‘prana’ or natural intelligence which surrounds us each and every moment. This prana is what moves life and it instantly connects us with this place of authenticity. 

It is why turtles return to nest their eggs in the same spot. 

It is why whales migrate thousands of miles.

It is why ants can carry up to 5,000 times their weight.

It is a seedling sprouting from the earth to follow the light.

It can be seen in a cascading waterfall.

It is the sun and moon rising.

It is the tides of the ocean.

It is the climate and seasons.

It is life and death.

It is the flow of communities and societies. 

It is the life that moves us, guides us and supports us.

It is within and around us.

 

Living in harmony with nature, washing my clothing by hand, enjoying daily morning chai before the sun rises, sweeping the leaves from the yoga shalas, lighting sandalwood incense and reciting a simple mantra of ‘love, trust, surrender’ have become my daily jungle4rituals which are simple and sweet. They have helped me to find more gratitude, devotion and love.

Of course living simply in nature and in a foreign context has its challenges, some days more than others, and when things don’t go ‘as planned’ I have found laughter to be a powerful practice.

I am working to extract the positives from living in a foreign culture (which at times feels very unnatural) and becoming aware to life’s lessons, big and small, which are found in every moment when you open your eyes.

I am grateful for this space to retreat and reconnect. To live without internet and without walls. To experience new people and places. To let go of any plans and definitions of who or what I am ‘supposed’ to be, instead urged to slow down and let go. Through this surrender I have become more clear in who I am and what my purpose is…and more awake to the pranic flow of life and beauty that is around us each and every day. I am leaving the jungle feeling blissed and blessed for this experience, and look forward (without attachment and identity) for whatever life brings.

lauren_bancoLAUREN LEE is passionate about holistic health, exploring the world and empowering others to live vibrant and happy lives. Founder of Raise Your Beat, dedicated yogini and sun seeker, she lives for creating connection and enjoying simple pleasures.

Inner Beauty

This inspired reading is a repost from the Mindfulness Blog of Josh Blatter. He is currently traveling in India and so kind to share his stories. The original post can be found here:  http://joshblatteryoga.com/inner-peace/

Inner Peace and Liberation

Vipassana meditation is a technique in the Buddhist tradition of seeing things as they are. You start by scanning different areas of the body and reflecting on the sensations that arise. What often comes about through these techniques is an unveiling of stories that keep us bound to our suffering and if you don’t like the word suffering there are many alternatives that may resonate better; discomfort, lack of ease, frustration, stress, unambiguity, regret, etc. As we unravel the stories and strip away they exterior shell that conceals us, what remains is understanding. And from understanding comes the end of suffering. Understanding, or clear perception, can only come through such insight. But you do not need to sit for 10 days to have this same experience. Liberation is possible between the meditations.

As I was walking down the road today I was struck by a spark of understanding, much like in meditation, into what that moment of liberation from suffering feels like. When you look around an impoverished country it is quite easy to bare witness to how your senses become pulled in many directions. Being immersed so deeply in India and this culture makes you very sensitive. I don’t mean sensitive in the way in which it is often referenced, such as emotional fragility or a fluttering heart, but sensitive as in our sense capacity. Awareness becomes heightened – the light becomes more light and the dark becomes more dark. Everything is revealed. Sounds, tastes and smells are all so illumines and piercing that the sense of self actually begins to dissolve.

With the dissolution of the self comes dissolution of our ego. Our identity and the stories that hold us in a state of comfort, whether good or bad, no longer feed us. What we consider ‘normal’ is no longer painting our perception and a whole new set of colors are added to the palate. Experientially it feels as if you were looking through binoculars and what you believed to be the whole world was in actuality just a spec of dust. In that moment of realization your whole sense of who you are drops away. As I was walking I no longer saw poverty. I no longer saw trash and filth. Struggle and strife. What I saw was just the essence of life; breath and body. But there was something more which was set much deeper. I can’t josh2really put a word to what that subtleness was that I saw and I don’t want to use the word like spirit because it is not tangible. It saw as if there was a thin thread of silk that held everyone together. It didn’t discriminate on age, gender, social status, etc. It was all pervading and let me feel truly free.

Josh Blatter is a writer, entrepreneur, and a sought after yoga and meditation instructor residing in San Diego, California.  His classes are vibrant, thoughtful, creative, and heart-felt.  His spirit overflows with authentic and compassionate energy.  Connect with Josh here:

Josh Blatter Yoga

And be sure to check out his community project:

The 32 Metronome Project

“The 32 Metronome Project challenges us to DO something different. It is a calling to engage life more mindfully – to pay attention, to slow down, and to truly listen. It dares us to disrupt old patterns and demands us to defy the parameters of what we know. It is a shift into a new paradigm in which we smile more, give more and show more love and respect to ourselves and one another.”

32mp

Yoga Trade Gets Us Started

When Jenny suggested spending her birthday in Spain, I had no idea how we would afford such a trip, given our financial facts which included my decision to leave the business community and teach yoga for the last several years and Jenny’s continuing education, pursuing her doctorate in education, with an emphasis in Organization Change, our spending was reduced to necessities (what we need, not what we want). We were already living a simplified life with minimal income and expenses. We were not planning a vacation. We wanted a different way of living congruent with our core values.

It occurred to me that we could do volunteer work that might make travel affordable, trading our time for a DSCF8512bed and food. My first and only search was on Yoga Trade: Suryalila Yoga Retreat Centre in Andalucía, Spain. Within a short week or so, we heard back, Skype interview, and we’re in. We spent the most incredible three months doing so much more than we expected. The Suryalila job stated dish washing and clean up with general help in areas we may have experience.

We discovered an interest in sharing the Yoga Retreat Centre experience with the local community – a small town of 6,000 – Prado del Rey. Starting with 2 classes a week, one at the centre and one in town Jenny and I got local town people to translate and negotiate free space for the first community yoga class. Sundays in town and Wednesday evenings at the Centre with sunset and picnic options after. The first class was a huge success with over 30 at the Centre – many new to yoga!

While at Suryalila, we also provided a no cost yoga teacher training, coaching and support to individuals and Jenny provided business support and team leadership coaching to the Centre while helping to evaluate and install a new booking automated booking system.

Our efforts are over, for now, in Spain (90 day visa max) and we are working our way towards the Andaman Islands, India, (Thank you again Yoga Trade) sharing our knowledge of yoga, mindfulness and personal and business coaching with those who may benefit. Today, we are in Morocco teaching yoga at SurfMaroc (a Google search and several emails) and then the Andaman’s beginning November 1st pending work visa applications.

We left our home, our friends and families, to volunteer our time, experience and knowledge with others. We gave our possessions to family and friends who could make use, sold the car, and packed lightly with what was left. Clothing – mostly yoga. Although the days have been long, and the ambiguity of how we can keep this going longer is challenging, the experiences are incredible. Seeing the joy outside the United States that yoga and mindfulness training can bring to others is well beyond our initial beliefs.

Teaching others and teaching others to teach means more people will find moments of peacefulness in their lives – and the friendships we have developed will continue to spread this way of being around the world. We now have global relationships with too many to list, and invitations to keep up our efforts wherever we go DSCF9152including London, Dublin, Barcelona, Seville, Denmark, Washington DC, Italy, Austria and more. Traveling by foot, bus, rides from friends (Thank you* Javi), car loans (*Daniel, Harry, Thea & Gemma), travels to towns (*Emilio & Montse) to learn about local cultures, and by boat to Morocco – we are aware of our spending more than ever as getting from place to place is our major expense. We successfully launched a YouCaring fund raiser and are grateful to the friends that understand.

We have enjoyed the generosity and hospitably of many (*AJ, Lidiya & Paddy, David & Maria, Javi & his parents and many more) in efforts to keep sharing our mission to live a simpler life of service.

The road is our home for now.

Some of the unexpected: Warren did not plan on wearing out a pair of shoes in 3 months; riding the grape picker at sundown in the vineyard (*Mila!) Javi’s dog eating a kilo of the best Granada chorizo – tin foil and all – that we received as a gift (*Angel); Warren almost blowing up the truck teaching *Emma how to drive a manual transmission (*apologies Suryalila), 30 people showing up for the 1st community class from the town of Prado del Rey and then other towns (Villamartin, El Bosque joining in); the generosity of so many April-29-023(*Spanish people and immigrants); translation from so many including *Anja Dibbert, Academia Pradoventura Language School and her introductions to new yogi’s from around the world!! Jenny dancing like she was meant to . . . and so much more.

 

Sharing his personal experience with individuals & groups, Warren teaches yoga & meditation. His role with Sersano Wellness delivers Stress Management Programs to businesses promoting a Whole Person Approach: Meet people where they are & begin from there.

http://jandwtheroadlesstraveled.wordpress.com/

Events

200 hour yoga TTC in Rishikesh

Ekattva Yogshala by Spiritual Punditz is providing residential Yoga Alliance recognized 200 Hours Yoga Teacher Training at Rishikesh in India. Our Teachers are thoroughly trained at Registered Yoga Schools and have University Education in Yoga. They have a rich experience in teaching yogic methods. Proficient in Hatha Yoga, Astanga Yoga, Vinyas Flow, and Meditation techniques, they are instrumental in helping one to use their full potential whether as a Yoga teacher or as a practitioner.
 At Ekattva Yogshala, the focus is not only on the depth of knowledge and disciplined practice but also on providing you a comfortable transition, hygienic facilities, and a nurturing environment. We look forward to sharing with you a memorable experience.

The 200 hour yoga TT certification program is based on Hatha Yoga techniques and will include detailed coverage of Pranayama, Meditation, and Viniyas Flow along with the mandatory subjects as per Yoga Alliance directives.

Visit https://spiritualpunditz.com/EkattvaYogshala.html for details or write to info@spiritualpunditz.com

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