Ashram life. The journey into.......

'I am so blissfully at peace’. This was my thought as I sat at the edge of the ashram staring at the rolling waters of the Ganges one last time. Taking in the white caps as the rapids broke over the “turquoise” blue water that was unlike any other blue I had seen before. Turquoise doesn’t aptly describe it. I understood in that moment why some yogis ran off to mountains to live a life of solitude. It is so much easier to create less noise when you have less stuff, when you have less connections. I also understood in that moment that honestly I could live without the connections that I have, but that I don’t want to. I had been too often reminded of the power of sharing energy here.

 

                                                             Outside the steps of 54

                                                            Outside the steps of 54

 

Phool Chatti Ashram granted me so much by allowing me to have so very little. Peace of mind, gratitude, appreciation, awareness, understanding of my own inner strength are just a few gifts I received while there. These words will be a little more personal to me, less about trying to share a teaching lesson, but since some of you may wonder like I did what ashram life is like, that is my motivation for sharing.  

                                                       Phool Chatti steps from the Ganges 

                                                      Phool Chatti steps from the Ganges 

It was uncomfortable. Or at least it was at first for me. I have a lot more than many on this planet and I realized how many of those luxuries I take for granted and how many of them I could do without if I needed to or had no other choice. My new shower and tub was a small bucket and cup, but I was grateful to have hot water. I realized how little space we actually need to shower and how mindlessly I use water. I savored every single drop here because there was not much of it available. How many of us take for granted being able to turn on the tap, get water and actually be able to drink it or brush our teeth with it safely? You can’t do that here and so many places around the world. How ridiculous is that? How often do we forget to recognize what a gift it is that we do? Gratitude. I’ll admit I’m a picky eater. I have the luxury of making choices of what I buy, cook and order. Not here. You can’t run out to the store. You can’t ask them to make something special for you because you think you’re special. I ate things that I will probably never know what they were. Things I have outright refused to in the past and guess what? I learned to like things I never thought I would. Porridge with honey? I almost gagged the first morning. (I’m a weird food texture girl). Day 3, I was going back for second helpings. I realized how in a box my preferences kept me and how much I was limiting myself. And I know that pattern often goes way beyond food for me. How limiting we can be on ourselves with our supposed dislikes and likes. How much we miss out on experiencing because we have the option to say yes or no. Awareness. There were many other things; always damp sheets, a bucket washing machine, scorpions and lizards as roommates, no air conditioning, just to name a few that made me see how damn lucky I am to have what I have. Appreciation.

                                                                          My bathtub  

                                                                         My bathtub  

It was energizing. There was a beautiful connection to earth and to the other humans there that happens in the silence that we lived in. I’m usually a night owl, but there's something satisfying to wake up at 5:30am and slowly rise to life as the sun does and to go all day until 9pm and slowly drift to sleep as the darkness envelops the space around you. There is a beautiful connection to earth as you bathe in the water of the Ganges and she refreshes and soothes the heat and fire you contain. There is a beautiful connection to another human as you sit along side them and eat in silence, as you practice along them in silence, as you meditate along them in silence, as you walk and clean and do everything along them in silence. There was this ability to sit with, share, and absorb their energy and not be uncomfortable. To not have to fill the space like we often try to do. We could all just be. There was a beautiful connection as we joined vibrations and voices with each other while chanting and practicing kirtan for hours. There have been studies that show that we can affect the energy of another human. There was literally a buzz in my body when we shared those times of organized sound. It has happened every time I’ve taken part in chanting and kirtan at festivals or chant groups. I’m often brought to tears, to laughter, to joy and to dance. It can be the weirdest and most self conscious thing to do for the first time or the fiftieth and you may think you aren’t doing it right, but if you can let that go, it can be some of the most profound moments of connection you ever have. And you never have to say a word to anyone else, but you know them. Connection. It is so delicious.

                                                                     Silence for days  

                                                                    Silence for days  

It was peaceful. There is something to be said for the removal of noise. Cell phones, television, radio, internet, most of technology in fact. Even books in my case. I did no reading, although I did a lot of journaling. I was so calm when I didn’t fall into my sometime stories of comparing myself to others’ online lives. When I didn’t worry about having to keep a presence so that my students won’t forget who I am and I will still have a job when I get back. When I didn’t mindlessly stare at some screen and create some story about who they are or who I’m not and what I have or don’t have. I was so in the present because there was nothing to distract me away. Tasting each bite of food, seeing each butterfly drift by, hearing the always present gurgle of the Ganges, feeling each asana to the fullest, and smelling the muskiness of the incense. Presence.

                                        Bathing in the Ganga during one of our afternoon hikes  

                                       Bathing in the Ganga during one of our afternoon hikes  

 

Finally gratitude. Trust me, I know I am lucky that I got to leave my life back home for this time and dive into this experience and all the experiences that I do. Gratitude that I have the willingness to dive into uncomfortable situations and things. That I don’t shy away anymore. Gratitude that despite break downs and set backs at times in my life, I have an inner strength that gets me through. Gratitude that I have people back home who support and love me while I am doing these silly things that I do, especially my mom, who puts up with and spoils my crazy dogs. Gratitude for things that make life easier; clean drinking water, washer/dryer, heat/air, my local coffee shop, lol. That make life not as sufferable, but yet me and you often still find things to create drama and stir up shit about. Gratitude that I am in now a much more peaceful, content and strong place so that I can say fuck it when need be, that I don’t have to give my control to others to tell me what to do or who to be anymore.

 

Yoga has been my spiritual path. It’s not a religion the way I practice it since I don’t prescribe to any and never have, but it became much less about asana or doing anything the right way a long time ago. It has and still is my path to be a better person, a stronger person, a more content person and more at peace. My experience in India just helped solidify that I always have work to be done, but damn, I am in a much more solid place than the almost 7 years ago I began this new journey.

 

So, that’s it. A little narrative about me and my own experience with ashram life. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here or email me. If you have any thoughts, critiques or criticisms, do the same. I am forever a student. If you ever wanna meet and chat about life, or yoga or anything, let’s do that. Let’s connect and much gratitude if you got this far.

                                                         From the muck comes beauty  

                                                        From the muck comes beauty  

I'll have more of my pictures from India, Rishikesh, Thailand and Bali on my Facebook page. Link is here on may site. Go check them out if you'd like :) 

I. Don't. Breathe.

I. Don’t. Breathe.

When I am trying to suck in my stomach to look skinnier. When I am immersed in listening to the words of another. When I am trying to formulate a well thought out answer to a question. When I am attempting to quell a rising wave of anger. When I am deep in concentration. And these are just some of the times I consciously know that I do it. Am I alone in this? I do not believe so. Well, maybe in the personal reasons of why, but I believe the dysfunction of breath is a common phenomenon. As I have started to research, learn, and explore more the patterns of my own inhales and exhales, I have been reminded of their immense power. It is literally our life force, but how many times a day do you and I take it for granted or do not even give it a second thought?

As I am being called to different destinations along my journey right now, I have begun work on my 500 hour training, and it was there recently in a small town in Pennsylvania that I was asked to simply lie on my belly and breathe and watch. Multiple times a day, over and over again, so much so that at times I wanted to run out of the room and scream. Seems a bit dramatic, right? I wasn’t being asked to undertake some hugely challenging physical feat. I was being asked something far more challenging in my opinion. I was being asked to explore and confront deep reactionary patterns that I was again realizing were no longer serving me and had probably never been healthy. As a student, I know how hard the explorations that are being asked of you can be. As a teacher and student, I know how mind blowing the awareness can be that comes from those same explorations if you are willing to machete your path so that it starts to become clearer as you forge ahead. Later on, I will give one breath awareness and strengthening exercise I have come to love and appreciate. It is quite powerful in its simplicity. Until then, take a pause, in your reading, not your breath and watch yours. Was it the rise or fall of the belly or chest or ribs you noticed most? Was it the inhale that was smoother to take in or the exhale that was easier to let go? Were they even? Was there a struggle for one? Did the rhythm of inhales and exhales ever pause unnecessarily? What might those answers mean?

Even more recently, I laid on my side on a massage table, riding the waves of sobs that battered my psyche like the waves of a stormy sea battering the hull of a ship. I had not been consistent enough with my breath work since I left training and the universe was showing me once again how important it was, how needed it was. Has that happened to you before? The same lesson showing up again and again cloaked in just slightly different garb to see if you learn from it this time. Well, for me, this time it was dressed in the strong hands of a body worker.  The universe had decided it was going to beat it out of me or into me depending on how you look at it. As he dug deep into knot after knot, hammered into tight muscle after tight muscle, broke into a lifetime web of gripping and holding it was as if I was a guard of Castle Black (if they had allowed women) watching the White Walkers batter the castle door, knowing that something life changing was about to happen and to resist would be futile. Of course, I would not be doomed to a horrendous immortality, but graced with visions of my own wisdom that I had been blind to see if willing to surrender. I began to see pictures of things in my past I thought I was finally over, but obviously I had not been able to let go of. So much holding, gripping, tightness. Me as a little girl praying for a dad that would just give me one hug or say I love you. Me as the shy, only child thinking I had to figure out everything on my own, handle it on my own. Me as the insecure teenager and college student hiding under a shield of bitchiness creating a mask of false confidence. Me as a women sucking in my gut to look skinnier and in my head more attractive thinking that was all I had to offer. As my body and breath seized up against his hands, a pattern of unconscious defense I had adopted, I was confronted with two paths. I could be my same stubborn self, continue to battle once more against this same fight or I could try something different, give in, trust and surrender. As the tears came, they became the waves that broke down the dam holding back my shame and pain. As the breath came, it became the tool of release. My inhales became fuller. My exhales became smoother, less raw and jagged. Oxygen is pulled in as we inhale and with that we are nourished from the universe. Carbon dioxide is released as we exhale, we let go of waste and cleanse the body. So, I invite you to take another pause and watch your breath without need to change. What are your inhales and exhales saying about you? Your patterns? Your easier ability to either nourish or cleanse yourself?

So, for former students, current, and future, these are just a few of the reasons why I preach the power of the breath. Why I harp on the importance of it. Why I believe it is possibly the most important part of our practice. It is the gateway. Our first gasping one is the gateway to life in this body. Our last gasping one is our gateway to whatever lies next after this body. And all the in betweens, they are our gateways, our clues, to discovering more about ourselves, to getting to know ourselves, and to healing ourselves.

How can you cultivate more awareness of your patterns of inhales and exhales and more? I would like to share with you a fairly simple technique I think can be really profound. It is a way of strengthening the diaphragm, the muscle and tendon system that is our primary tool of breath. Diaphragmatic breathing can take us into a pattern of breathing that shifts us out of our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight and all the chemicals that come along for the ride) and into our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Far too often we hang out in the stressful world of the sympathetic nervous system needlessly. In this technique you can watch your breath, the fullness, the depth, the continuity, the evenness. From that knowledge, what doors of wisdom open up to you? It can also allow you to start to change your pattern a breath into a healthier one if needed which can translate to the physical body as well. 

1. Lie on your belly in crocodile pose (Makarasana).

a. Your legs will be about shoulder width apart and at first try turning your toes out away from one another, heels in, setting the femur bones into a bit of external rotation. If this is any way uncomfortable, adjust the positioning of toes in a way that will allow you to be comfortable.

b. Cross your arms, hands placed on opposite elbows, allowing the shoulders and chest to be lifted off the floor a bit. Allow your forehead to relax on your forearms. If this is any way uncomfortable, trying rolling a blanket into a log. Form a horseshoe shape and place the log under you to support underneath the fronts of your shoulders, your chest, the sides of the blanket hugging the sides of your torso. Relax the forehead on a small pillow or another blanket and allow the arms to come out to the sides from the shoulders with elbows bent like cactus arms or field goal posts.

2. Allow the belly to relax on the floor, and begin to breath in and out through your nose and notice the work of the diaphragm. As it contracts, the lungs fill with air, the belly expands into the floor into resistance and the breath expands into the back and ribs. As it relaxes, the lungs expel air and the belly retracts and the back and ribs sink.

3. Allow the rest of the body to relax and sink into the support of the floor.

4. Allow the breath to become deeper, smoother, even out, stay continuous and become quiet.

5. Carve out 10 minutes every day if you can or a however often you can spare to  practice this technique of diaphragmatically breathing and of breath awareness. See what lessons lie in the awareness of breath and body for you.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments and insights. Let me know if you have any questions about the breathing technique. Thank you sharing your time with me.

Photo by Kristina Kashtanova http://www.icreatelife.photography/