Swapping Siva for Buddha, Namaste for Sawadeeka, ashram life for Bangkok – welcome to a santi santi summer!

It wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t always fun, but every day of my time in India was making a positive step forwards. Anyone who’s ever volunteered will understand that there’s never a more satisfying day than when you have done your very best, for the benefit of others, without the need or expectation of thanks. Save millions on self help books, just help selflessly and sleep easy!

I’m not such a saint that I didn’t receive any gratification from the experience, of course I did learn a lot more about yoga and I did get a lot more teaching experience, but it can’t compare to watching somebody float out of the ashram with their teaching certificate in hand, having had a hand in helping them through it, or in watching somebody leave with more of a spring in their step, filled with contentment and love.

My South Indian adventure ended rather dramatically with half the ashram being blown down in a overly gusty thunderstorm. My last week in the ashram was spent limping around picking up the unripe mangoes that had been blown down from the ashrams scores of mango trees; trying to salvage anything we could from the poor beaten up dormitories and packing everything that we could away for the summer low season.

After staffing two Yoga Teacher’s Training course, a Sadhana Intensive course, two yoga vacations and an Advanced Yoga Teacher’s Training course and having done yoga asanas almost every day for 4 months; I ended the season thinking I was some kind of Russian gymnast and in a botched attempt at the splits (although to my amazement I’m actually not that far off doing it!!!) I snagged my Achilles tendon and took myself out of yoga action. I might try and blame my extra ashram kilos on that… but I think that might do a disservice to SuKumar’s most excellent, number one in all of India, South-Indian cooking. If I could fit him in my ruck sack (and manage to carry it) I would have kidnapped him from the ashram.

It’s surprising how much use such a little tendon receives and how a wobbly one can affect simple things like going up and down stairs, sitting cross legged, sitting in a chair, walking around, let alone doing yoga asanas! So I got a little lesson in the practice of yoga not just being about asanas and a big lesson in patience. In fact even now 2 months it’s still causing me trouble and 3 days after a massive hike through China Town it’s still niggling me

I could run through a whole list of highs, but it would probably make most of you say “you Krishna jaya Siva what?” so I’ll encapsulate with a montage… Tony Hart eat your heart out.

…Friends, colleagues, students, teachers, Swamis, Christmas, new year, multiple graduations, weddings, vishu, sivaratri, swami Vishnu devananda’s birthday, staff meetings on the roof, trip to Swami Sivananda’s birthplace, puja’s, teaching, laundry, eating, chai time, assisting TTC, satsangs, payasam (especially birthday payasam!) the memories are endless and I carry them in my heart so they will always be a part of me…

Obviously one of the lows is the communication situation at the ashram, I apologise wholeheartedly for the birthdays and births, weddings and christenings, travelling adventures and new homes that I’ve missed. I’m sorry my contact has been sporadic and unfulfilling, it’s taken 6 months but now I’m making the most of the modern world and all her technical splendidness.

From the ashram I travelled from the very south to the very north of India and had the great, great pleasure of hanging out with my dear friend and very first (and still the very best) yoga teacher, Rory, for some rehabilitation into the real world, in the very very beautiful Himalayas in Uttar Kashi, which have a strangely familiar feeling of home to them.

It took a while to get here, fully trains, planes and automobiles; but was well worth the travel cold and 8.5 hours squished into a jeep winding round Father Himalayas rather womanly curves. Met by a beautiful friendly face from home, with a big smile and a big motorbike I was whisked off to my new home for just under 3 weeks. 8km’s north of Uttar Kashi to Ganeshphur, with a little bedroom backing onto a Siva/Shakti temple and overlooking the Ganga. Going to sleep listening to Mother Ganga’s lullaby is a more than acceptable substitute to the weary sleep of selfless service.

We slipped forwards into a routine of Vedanta and exploration; and backwards into coffee and a lot of chat. The 4.5 months of struggling to get out of bed before 5.30 every morning, made getting up at 5.30 not so difficult to maintain. At 6 am we went down to take Bhagavad Gita class with Swami Ramaswarupananda at his Kutir, washed down with a nice cup of tea; next I alternated teaching and practicing asanas with Narayani (former Sadhana Intensive student from January, 2009 at Madurai who was staying up there) before Rory came back with his milk pan and made porridge from still warm milk and we scampered down the stairs to Swami Premananda’s ashram for Yoga Vasista lectures from 9 – 12.

Swami Premananda was a direct disciple of Swami Sivananda and somewhere in his 70’s has been teaching Vedanta for some 30/40 years. The lectures made me think so much it hurt my tiny little brain and I had to take a few days after to let the confusion dampen down, but his eyes were so sparkly they looked blue and as he seamlessly translated the Sanskrit text into English and Hindi, laughing throughout, I knew I was blessed to be in his presence and fell totally head over heels in love with him (Grandad love that is!).

I had great fun enjoying the pleasures and passivity of exploring the area on the back of Rory’s bike. Nothing quite like the wind blowing through your hair as you weave and wind round the mountains bends looking out onto the Ganga and the mountain forestry mmmmmmmm bliss.

One of the highlights of the stay was my first North Indian wedding. After a night spent mostly eating and watching the drunk dancers at the Grooms Bachelor party, we got up early to watch Rajanesh (one of the kitchen boys from the ashram in madurai) partake of his pre-marriage rituals and then followed him on foot as he rode off on horseback to collect his new wife. Whether by misunderstanding or miscommunication, we mistakenly believed the destination to be the other side of the Ganga…rather than a one hour bike ride to what we thought was the very peak of a mountain, only to undertake the remaining one and a half hour hike up on foot… Birkenstocks, a bust Achilles heel and full midday sunshine did not contribute to a pleasant hike, but as we sat at the top of the world waiting for the bride to come out resplendent in red and gold, it became one of the best things I’ve done this trip.

Unprepared for such a hike we ran out of drinking water and sat there hot and dehydrated, I had my first knowingly reckless potential Delhi belly bringing moment, where there was nothing for us to do but drink the orange squash being dolled out from a big plastic bucket. I’m sure any amoeba were soon burnt out by some seriously spicy but very delicious wedding feast curry.

Joining the happy couple on their honeymoon (honestly that’s the way they do it here!) we shared a jeep to Gangotri, dipped our feet in the Ganga until the icy cold took all feeling away in about 30 seconds, had a Puja on the banks of the Ganga and visited Swami Vishnudevananda and Swami Sivananda’s sadhana caves before descending back down to uttar kashi, away from the ice capped mountains and picking up some world famous Maneri Pakora in the midst of a thunder storm with hail the size of golf balls!

My last days in India were spent in Rishikesh and Delhi after safely descended down through the mountains from Uttar Kashi on the back of Rory’s most wonderful Royal enfield motorbike, with a lot of luggage (mostly mine!). Weaving down through the Himalayas we hit a distinct point where the wind blowing against our faces and through our hair stopped being cool and made me feel like I was sat in a huge hair dryer on full heat.

Tucked up in blankets in the mountains, I’d lost all my Madurai conditioning and sweated myself through 3 sleepless nights in Rishikesh. We take a coffee tour around Haridwar and visit some ashrams and some full power Babas. Saying goodbye to my beloved friend Rory I took on the role of tour guide and showed my Brazilian ashram friend Rishi around this beautiful town of saints and sages. Most of this tour guiding involved giving in to our ashram oppressed urges for cake and delicious food at the pyramid cafe! Mango crumble anyone? Yep we’ll take double. Potato and cheese burger with chips and salad? Yep two please, with pasta and another salad. Sshhhh don’t tell Swamiji… but it’s ok, we didn’t find any icecream!

Onto Thailand via a quick stop at the Sivananda centre in Delhi ran by my teacher’s training course teacher, Maniji. A beautiful little haven of peace and quiet despite the oppressive 40+ degree heat?! It was a such a wonderful way to leave India, safe in the hands of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda; surrounded by friends, teaching Yoga to almost the last minute and being sent off with an Om Tryambakum by my dearest Swami Govindananda, sweet Jenny and beautiful Sita.

Sawadee Ka to Thailand, a land so peaceful, even the mosquitoes are peaceful, they don’t make a sound and I bet they struggle against their God given natures each time they have to bite somebody in this land of kindness and smiles, devoted to Buddha and his teachings of non-violence, mindfulness and enjoying life.

A moment to appreciate Bangkok, in all it’s tasteful glass and concrete, it’s sprawling suburbs of clean street; endless food stalls;, trees, plants and if there wasn’t enough natural foliage, forest and forests of plant pots; over politeness; boats to work; AC trains travelling over the top of the city; enormous shopping centres illustrating the Thais predilection to moving their enormous Buddhas to the west in their skinny jeans and nu-rave hair cuts. In fact remove the seedy side that every city has, and which here is mostly a result of seedy Europeans bringing their guilty desires and you have a city any self-respecting City dweller would be happy to call home.

Having spent 4.5 months in an ashram keeping the five senses tantalised with nothing more than Su-Kumar’s fabulous south-indian cooking, and a few weeks in the Himalayas in Uttar Kashi where the local coffee house serves Nescafe with steamed milk, I’m not ashamed to say I have gone a little crazy in Bangkok…

It may be Emma’s beautiful spare bedroom with a proper mattress, fairy lights and a wardrobe that makes me feel like I must participate in the civilised world again, or all the pretty girls walking around with super short shorts and skinny little legs, but I seem to be treating Bangkok like London, only I’m forgetting that whilst I may have been working, I haven’t been paid for 6 months and Caramel Lattes and millionaire ice cream sundaes are not part of every day life anymore!!

We spend hours exploring the lanes of Chatuchak’s weekend market, with everything from Tom Yam to kittens (and hopefully not combined!); go shopping in Tescos (surreal in it’s non-normal normality); try to ignore the bits of meat floating in my ‘Gin Jay’ vegetarian food; go exploring thieves market in China town and take in the jaw dropping enormity and beauty of Wat Po’s reclining Buddha.

The rehabilitation over, sensory pleasures indulged, my wallet dictates I confine myself to house arrest before I splurge all my savings on Bangkok’s delights. As I wait to start my Thai massage course I spend a week catching up on some sleep and trying to build a shanti shanti calm and peaceful daily routine of Yoga asanas, swimming, Reiki and catching up with you lovely lot; and then my friends…. THE BEACHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

If like my little nan you would like to send me a letter, you can post it to Em’s flat and I’ll pick up throughout the summer as I swing between Bangkok and the beach (woohoo did I say I was hitting the beach?!…..yay!!!)

I know it’s rude to ask when all I did was send a mass email, but please do send me your news and then I promise to reply personally

Love you all dearly

Em x

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