Goodwill to all men this Christmas – some thoughts on altruism this Christmas

Goodwill and Altruism at Christmas and beyond

I’m not one for Wish Lists at Christmas – a year of living out of a suitcase has taught me that core Ashtanga value (yama) of non attachment (Aparigraha), and that we really don’t need ALL THE STUFF to make us feel happy and fulfilled.

So this brings me on to what I will be wishing for this Christmas, and that is goodwill to all men. Yep, I’ve reached the point in my spiritual journey where I am wishing for peace on earth and goodwill to all men!

we rise by lifting others - giving by effective altruism

Let me justify – I learnt so much in Vipassana earlier this year, and one thing I took from it is that no matter how people have seemingly wronged you, you can still send them out love and compassion and wish them well. Even though people’s actions or words hurt you or others, try to empathise with them and realise that in someway they felt justified in those actions. I believe this way you can find peace for yourself.

This Christmas try to send out love, compassion and goodwill to ALL MEN, take a moment of quite meditation to wish well to others.

If giving to charity is financially available to you, try using some ‘Effective Altruism’ – a growing movement in Charity Donating.

(More details on Charity donating with Effective Altruism can be found HERE)

And remember, just like puppies, giving kindness to others is not just for Christmas!

Om Shanti x

 

offerings of peace and prosperity at a Shiva temple, Chamundi Hill Steps, Mysore, India
offerings of peace and prosperity at a Shiva temple, Chamundi Hill Steps, Mysore, India

 

 

 

Eat right, feel bright?

eat right, clean eating, plant based, diet, health, wellness

Eat right, to feel bright. Yeah I just came up with that tagline….probably why I don’t have a high-flying career in marketing!

Eat clean, detox, cleanse, paleo, gut health, probiotic, fermented foods – get ready for the onslaught of people telling you how to lose weight in January! I myself am leading a detox and cleanse workshop (details on my facebook page). With the start of a new year everybody looks to how to improve their life, mostly, sadly, led by the media and our ever evolving obsession with perfection.

 

smoothie, cacao, banana, chia, plant based, almonds

 

People, there is no quick fix!!!! Diet means ‘habitual nourishment’ it’s something you need to do for the rest of your life! I just want to talk to you about what I have learnt over the years of trial and error, yo-yo dieting and more recently, working on a yoga and detox retreat, about healthy living and permanent dietary changes. It is, after all, what I hope this blog to be resource for. Over the next few months I will be sharing what I believe to be healthy eating habits to improve your body and mind.

Eating right – FOR YOU AND YOUR BODY, will make you feel ‘bright’ and by that I mean healthy, full of energy and vitality, and as a consequence of this, help you feel good about yourself, because, let’s face it, it all starts with the mind.

 

 

I cannot tell you enough (and I will not stop telling you) how eating a plant-based diet will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!!!! Also, plant-based does mean BASED, not solely vegan or vegetarian but bringing more vegetables, grains, legumes and plant-based proteins into your diet.  It’s about caring about what you put into your body, and respecting yourself.

If the idea of no meat (where will I get my protein from?!!!!) scares you, try to maybe cut down on your consumption and move towards 1 or 2 meat free meals a day. Even this small change will help you feel better.

 

 

There are a glut of amazing blogs and websites out there that can advise you and provide you with some wonderful recipes, I will add a few of my favourite resources at the end of this post.

I’m a big fan of documentaries, and would recommend you watch this great one to give you some factual, scientific based research on how this kind of diet can (sometimes) save your life. (You can view the whole movie on Netflix)

https://www.forksoverknives.com/the-film/

To close, I hope reading this post has encouraged you to think about your diet, and how you can make small changes to help improve your health and mind-set. Now, I’m off to bottle my freshly brewed kombucha…….

 

fruit salad, spirilina, protein, plant based food

 

Resources for more information and food inspiration:

Food Matters website

The Healthy Apple

My New Roots

Kris Carr – an amazing survival story

 

 

Why should I do yoga?

Yoga, Ashtanga, Yoga, Healthy Mind, Body and Lifestyle

Why should I do Yoga? you may ask yourself. What’s in it for me?

I try not to go on too much to people who I meet, friends and family, I do believe that it’s a personal choice. But ask anyone who already does it and they will probably tell you it’s one of the best decisions they made in regards to their health.

 

Claire yogagogo Camel pose in Mysore, India

 

Yoga works on the BODY and the MIND more than any other style of exercise. Arguably people find moments of meditation and or calmness of mind during running, cycling, many other sports, but yoga is as much about the mental as it is the physical and unlike other sports you should leave a class practice feeling calmer and more positive than when you entered.

‘I really regret going to that Yoga class’ – said NO ONE EVER!!!!!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As with most people I came to Yoga from a purely physical perspective, as a dancer it was a good way to keep flexible and what other class do you get to lie down and have a little rest in at the end?!! As I dived deeper into the yoga ocean I started to like how that ‘little rest’ left me feeling relaxed, positive and calm. During a time of emotional turmoil I started my teacher training and now can say, without any exaggeration that Yoga changed my life.

So, that’s me, and if you don’t like Yoga no worries, find something else that works for you, but as the one of the western world’s fastest growing ‘fitness’ style it is proven to work for many.

 

eight limb pose, ashtanga, mysore, India

 

So WHY should you do Yoga?

Here are just some of the amazing benefits:

  • Stress relief, helps anxiety and depression
  • Helps breathing problem, respiratory related illness
  • Improves strength, balance, dexterity, and mental clarity
  • Helps physical ailments improve, particularly back pain
  • Improves your awareness of a healthy diet, and sustainable living and eating
  • Tones the body using own body weight
  • Helps the mind focus and stay positive
  • Brings loads of lovely, comfy yoga pants into your life 😉

So, if that hasn’t convinced you to give it a try then I don’t know what will!!!

But seriously, I find it the best thing for me, and I would love to share that passion and enthusiasm with you – so if you live in Gloucestershire, UK, come and join me on the mat! Details of classes can be found on my Facebook page:

Claireyogagogo

bird of paradise, hotel metropole, Mysore, India

 

NAMASTE xxx

Mysore – Magic?

Mysore Magic? An guide to Ashtanga Yoga Practice in Mysore, India

So I have just returned from my second visit to Mysore, to study Ashtanga at the birthplace, the K. Pattabi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Insititure, or KPJAYI for short, or just ‘the main shala’ to those who go.

 

Shiva Feet, temple Chamundi Hill, Mysore, India

 

This time I applied, and miraculously was accepted, to study with the big boss, Sharath Jois, Pattabi’s grandson. Sharath is now the direct lineage of this method and is continuing the work, by parampara, (knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student) that his grandfather started in 1927 when Pattabi was a student of the great Krishnamacharya.

After practicing with his mother, Saraswathi back in March (reflection here) I knew what to expect and how the shala works, but none the less I was so nervous on day one of practice – it was like your first day at school/new job magnified by 100!!!!

My main concern was that I was going there with my pre existing injury of a strain or tear (yet to be MRI scanned!) to the Lateral Collateral Ligament in my knee (sad face emoticon). I had come from practicing with the wonderful KPJAYI authorised teacher, Elise Greenspoon who was working wonders with me on opening out the hips to relieve the pressure on the outside of the knee when in half lotus. As Shakira says, the hips don’t lie, and having tightness in the hips can affect your practice BIG TIME.

 

yoga, lotus, meditation, yoga teacher, ashtanga

 

‘Performing’ in front of Sharath in a room full of super advanced practitioners is nerve-racking, but there is an energy in the shala, and Mysore itself, that is hard to describe. It’s a pressure cooker as everyone is yearning for a bit of attention from him (and don’t let anyone fool you that they are not) but it is also an electric charged dynamic space to work in, and the energy in the room does help you deepen your practice.

Sharath is this small but powerful presence, he controls the room with dominance and a strictness that makes you break out in a sweat before your first vinyasa! Yet there are moments of laughter, his cheeky little sense of humour and of course his catchphrases that are infamous amongst the community that lighten the mood somewhat.

 

Sharath Jois funny sayings

 

Sharath Jois, KPJAYI, Mysore, India

 

For me, it was a great experience, I found the waiting to get in the shala for self practice (Mysore style) monotonous, I preferred the order and regiment of the led classes, of which there are two per week, Saturday and Monday. Sharath never stopped me in the led classes meaning I could finish the series and practice my ‘favourite’ asana which are from Upavistha Konasana to Setu Bandhasana!

My practice did improve, I was told ‘you stop there’ in my nemesis, Marichyasana D until I could bind in half lotus (just!) without an assist, and then only got moved onto Bujupindasana. But I felt this let me really work deeply in all the asana up to that point and I came away feeling stronger and can walk now without knee pain! I’m only a novice Ashtanga practitioner, only having being practicing properly since March and I learnt back then to leave my ego out of it if I was ever going to progress (more on the ego in yoga in later posts!)

 

KPJAYI, Mysore, India, Ashtanga Yoga Nilaya, Gokulum

 

Don’t go to Mysore if you think you are going to get taught, as I have mentioned in previous posts you go there to take a journey to the self, to self practice in this amazing place, to meet other people from all over the world who share your passion for this crazy practice, and to look inwards on yourself, which in my opinion is the true nature of spirituality within yoga practice.

I’ll be back, (as often as I can afford it), to continue to deepen my knowledge of this wonderful practice, that has changed and shaped the way I now live my life.

I hope to share some of the knowledge I have accrued over these two visits with my students, to extend some kind of parampara with them, you, and hope to see you on the mat soon.

If you are planning to go to Mysore then you can read my Yogi’s guide of what to do when you’re not practicing here: Mysore Guide

 

Crouchasana, Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore, India

 

Vietnam – my street food diaries

Street Food, Vietnam

Probably the thing I liked best about visiting Vietnam was the food, and in particular the street food.

I basically made it my mission to only eat from the street vendors and not to go to restaurants. This was in an attempt to find the real food of the country and not the glorified ‘made for westerners’ fayre. I also thought it might be a neat way to get chatting to locals and experience how life is for your average Joe. Oh, and dare I mention, if you are travelling on a budget this is also the answer to your dreams, as most meals coming in at around £1.

 

Street food, Vietnam
Fresh shrimp rolls with a sweet and sticky soy, peanut and chilli dipping sauce

 

So, after reading this excellent post by Jodi Ettenburg at Legal Nomads, I set off to try my first street food Pho, excited and intrigued to meet ‘Prison Granny’

I should probably also point out here that I did not stick to a plant based, vegetarian diet for this trip, opting to go local style.

I’m sure there are a plethora of good vegetarian, even vegan options in the country but it is not traditional Vietnamese and I wanted to try authentic dishes as previously highlighted.

My search for Prison Granny ended in vain – I was definitely on the right alleyway (or ‘Bis’ in Vietnamese) but I could not spot any Pho joints. So I employed my own tactic, which I like to call ‘follow the local/office workers’  – in Ho Chi Minh this worked a treat as I stalked young office folk on their lunch breaks and basically just ate wherever they did!

 

Com, street food, Vietnam
My first point and smile meal was braised beef and carrots, morning glory, rice (the ‘com’ part of the dish) and a morning glory watery soup.

 

Street food, Vietnam
Second office lunch ‘Com’ with cabbage, pork, boiled egg – and a bonus banana!

 

I also found two very good food courts, a little more on the tourist trail but full of enough locals to keep me happy, these I felt more comfortable visiting at nighttime as a single female traveller rather than ducking down dimly lit alleys.

 

Pho, Street food, Vietnam
My first Pho was pretty good, and light on the beef. I love that you add your own herbs and spices to taste

 

 

Canh Bun, Street food, Vietnam
Crab Canh Bun (I think!) This was a perfect mix of sweet and sour – delicious and one of my favourite dishes of the trip

 

 

The best part about my follow the local trick was I had pretty much no idea what the things I ate were called – it was a case of point and smile, the places I have learnt since are called ‘Com Ta’ which is basically a buffet of plates you choose what you like and get given a humongous portion of rice to accompany as well as a watery soup and sometimes fruit and cold tea.

I also tried my fair share of Pho, and other noodle dishes, and of course the obligatory fresh rolls (which varied in flavour and freshness from place to place)

 

 

Street food, Vietnam
This lady was very popular so although I had no idea what this was I ordered one anyway,  it was a sweet puffed rice pancake with treacle and coconut lathered inside. Too sweet for me but I like to take a chance from time to time!

 

 

In Hoi An I discovered the wonderful dish ‘Cao Lau’ the melt in your mouth White Roses, Shrimp pancake rolls, and of course plenty of lovely tea and coffee cafes.

 

White Roses, Banh Vac, Street Food, Vietnam
The delectable White Roses, my favourite dish of the trip….
‘banh vac’ is a dumpling stuffed with shrimp and spices and then steamed in a shrimp broth. The resulting taste is delicate and just a little bit sweet, the dumplings are topped with fried onions giving it a little crunch and saltiness

 

Banh Xeo, Pancake, Street Food, Vietnam
Banh Xeo, is a shrimp pancake, like ‘Crispy Peking Duck’ you lay a flat noodle sheet out, place the pancake on, add cucumber and herbs, sweet hoi sin sauce and roll. Wonderful.

 

Banh Xeo, Street Food, Vietnam
All rolled up and ready to eat!

 

Street food, Vietnam
Choices in the Indoor Food Market at Hoi An

 

Drinking Tea and Coffee (mainly iced) were some of my favourite things to do. Just sitting in a cafe, reading, cooling off and watching the world go by: this is what ‘travelling’ is all about for me, which, ironically, is the most static of activities!

 

Ice Tea, Hoi An, Street Food, Vietnam
A break from the heat with a Passion Fruit Ice Tea

 

Cold Brew coffee, Street food, Vietnam
Cold Brew Coffee, Hoi An Roastery

 

Reaching Out Tea Rooms, Hoi An, Street Food, Vietnam
Stopping for a cuppa – the beautifully presented Oolong Tea at the wonderful Reaching Out Tea Rooms in Hoi An.

 

I hope this has inspired you to travel to this wonderful country. I would love to hear back from you on your food travels, in Vietnam or anywhere else in the world. Please leave me a comment with your favourite places to eat and drink.

Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutations, a guide to these full body dynamic sequences

A guide to Sun Salutations, Surya Namaskar, Salute to the Sun

Surya Namaskar – or for you sanskrit-phobes, Sun Salutations, are the full body dynamic workouts of yoga. If you only do 10 minutes of yoga per day – make it these sequences!

Those of you who have been to a yoga class will already be familiar with these set sequences as they should be included in all but Yin and Restorative styles of yoga in some form and variation.

There is so much importance in these sequences, which originally stem from the Vedic traditions of chanting to the sun each morning.

I would like to point out once again here that Yoga is much more than the physical practice of asana (postures) but it is this side of yoga that people normally start to practice first. And that’s cool! We all started somewhere – the importance is that you made the decision to start.

If you learn these two sequences then you have a good basis for starting a yoga practice and you will be targeting all the larger muscle groups in the body, which is why they are so important to learn.

But before you begin to learn the sequence it is vital to mention that you need to use the BREATH correctly whilst doing this to get the benefits. Breathing in yoga happens in and out of the nostrils with the mouth closed.

 Nasal breathing  (as opposed to mouth breathing)  increases circulation, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, slows the breathing rate and improves overall lung volumes. (Swift, Campbell, McKown  1988 Oronasal obstruction, lung volumes, and arterial oxygenation. Lancet 1, 73-75).

You should aim for the inhale and exhale to be the same length (we often exhale longer than we inhale) so to begin just sit or stand with the spine tall and practice just breathing for 5 inhales (count in your head 1,2,3,4) and 5 exhales.

Then start the sequence with an INHALE (remember the inhale should be at least 4 counts in length, so that will give you time to perform the actions)

 

Thank you to: http://ashtanga-yoga-zurich.tumblr.com/post/102711106445/suryanamaskara-ab-sun-salutation-ab-the-start for this drawing and great explanation
Thank you to: Ashtanga Yoga Zurich
for this drawing and great explanation

I will describe here the postures (without using the sanskrit terms) and scroll down for a video of me demonstrating the postures:

Start with feet together, standing tall, ground into the floor with the feet, relax the shoulders.
1. Inhale, take the arms up above the head, look up to the thumbs.
2. Exhale, fold forward from the hips, place the hands flat on the floor outside of the feet (knees can be bent to start.
3. Inhale, lengthen through the spine, look up, try to straighten the legs.
4. Exhale, bend the knees and jump back into high plank and lower or if strong enough, straight back to low push up (Chattugranga).
5. Inhale, push through the shoulders to raise the back into a prone postition, relax the shoulders.
6. Exhale, push back and up with the hips into an upside down triangle.* Try to bring heels to the floor. HOLD AND BREATH (1 inhale, 1 exhale) 5 times.
7. Inhale, look to the space between the hands and try and jummp the feet into that space, lengthen the spine and look up.
8. Exhale, fold the body over the legs, drawing the ribs onto the thighs.
9. Inhale, push into the floor standing up, reaching arms over head as in (1).
10. Exhale, bring arms down by sides, to start again from (1).

Repeat the whole sequence (from 1-10) 5 times.

Sun Salutation B:

1. Inhale, bend the knees, sweep the arms low to tthe floor, then keeping the knees bent reach the arms up above the head and gaze to the thumbs.

2. Follow Sun Salutation A from 2. up to 6.* then:

7. Inhale, pivot the left foor inwards and lower the heel to the floor (mat), stepping the right foot up to the space in between the hands. Push into the floor with the feet and raise the body and arms up, gaze goes to the thumbs.

8. Exhale, lower back down and release the right leg so you are in ahigh plank. Lower to the low plank

9. Inhale and push shoulders up to raise the back into a prone postition, relax the shoulders.

10. Exhale, push back and up with the hips into an upside down triangle

11. Inhale, pivot the right foot inwards and lower the heel to the floor (mat), stepping the left foot up to the space in between the hands. Push into the floor with the feet and raise the body and arms up, gaze goes to the thumbs

12. Exhale, lower back down and release the left leg back so you are in a high plank. Lower to the low plank

13. Inhale and push shoulders up to raise the back into a prone postition, relax the shoulders.

14. Exhale, push back and up with the hips into an upside down triangle. Try to bring heels to the floor. HOLD AND BREATH (1 inhale, 1 exhale) 5 times.

15. Inhale, look to the space between the hands and try and jump the feet into that space, lengthen the spine and look up.

16. Exhale, fold the body over the legs, drawing the ribs onto the thighs.
17. Inhale, bend the knees, reaching arms over head as in (1)
18. Exhale, bring arms down by sides, straighten the legs to stand tall and to start again from (1).

If all that seems confusing I (will) be putting together a basic video of me demonstrating the sequences with some annotations, but I cannot stress enough that you find a class and go and be instructed under an experienced yoga teacher.

I will be covering classes in Cheltenham, UK, throughout December and January – so watch this space (blog) for details coming soon!

****DON’T FORGET IF YOU SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG YOU RECEIVE A FREE YOGA FOR SNOWBOARDING BROCHURE*****

 

Climate Change – it’s real, and deadly serious

Before the Flood, Climate Change

As part of the blog I want to focus on you, the reader, getting a healthy mind and body, and sharing tips on how I do the same. However, all the spirulina digesting and yoga practicing in the world is going to be fruitless unless we all start taking some positive action towards saving the planet.

Ban Ki-Moon, Seceratary General of the United Nations sums it up thus:

“Climate change is the single greatest threat to a sustainable future but, at the same time, addressing the climate challenge presents a golden opportunity to promote prosperity, security and a brighter future for all.”

This is a real problem, and action is needed by everyone, NOW.

I implore you – watch this movie, and more importantly, if you have them, make your children watch this movie, and then sign up to show your support.

EDUCATE YOURSELVES AND YOUR CHILDREN (click here to watch the movie)

The ‘Before the Flood’ website states:

Research at Standford and other major universities is showing that we can in fact quickly transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050 making fossil fuels obsolete. When we stop burning fossil fuels the climate will gradually cool off again. It may take a bit of time to get back to a stable climate, but if we act now we can do it.

Write to your goverment representative asking them to support using alternative energy sources, eat less red meat and diary, offset your carbon emissions (if you live in the US this is live here) just do whatever you feel is going to make a postitive impact on the rest of your life, and the lives of our future generations. But please do something. If you can’t change the world – change yourself.

Before the Flood – TAKE ACTION

Hoi An – a photo essay

Hoi An, a beautiful mixture of culture architecture, from Chinese, French Colonial, Vietnamese and Japanese. It’s an Instagram lover’s dream come true. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Centre and has charm and ambience unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. Cars and Motorbikes are prohibited in the Old Town so it has a much calmer atmosphere than other places.

I decided that as it was the most picturesque place I visited this year rather than bleat on about things to do or see I would create my first photo essay. To be honest, unless you are getting clothes made to order there is little to do here other than roam the streets coo-ing at the beauty of it. I had a chilled couple of days riding around on a bicycle and drinking lots of tea (and coffee) but more on that in another post.

 

The Japanese Bridge, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
The famous Japanese Bridge. Seemed like a photo shoot happening here daily, so I got up early to take this tourist free shot

 

Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Quintessentially Hoi An

 

Bicycle, Cycling in Hoi An, Yellow walls, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Me on my trusty bicycle, with one of the famous yellow walls in the background, and my favourite Vietnamese fan seller in far right

 

Fans, locals, local life, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
This lady – that smile. Job satisfaction? Or just happy to be? Either way her hidden smile says it all to me

 

Reaching Out, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Blue shutters on yellow walls, the wonderful Reaching Out traders shop. All the staff have disabilities and the store and tearooms give them a livelihood.

 

Blue Doorway, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Not everything is yellow

 

Boat Trips, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Boats on the river, these are the boats lined up for the tourist tours

 

Fishermen, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Real Fishermen at work

 

Rooftops, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Looking down from the rooftops

 

Cocobana earthenware, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Teapots everywhere, not just for tea – in the wonderful Cocobana Shop and Tearooms

 

Wicker baskets, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Wicker is in abundance at the market

 

Teapots, Cocobana, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Teapots in the shade

 

long-fishing-canoes

 

Rice Fields, Buffalo and Herons Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
How come Heron’s are always with Buffalo’s???
Rice Fields just outside of the town in Hoi An

 

Round Fishing Boats , Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Traditional Round Boats

 

Round Boats, River into Hoi An, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Another river shot, this time up river into the Old Town

 

Temples, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Many temples to visit

 

Lanterns Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Lanterns of just about every shape, size and colour adorn the streets and shops, making this such a pretty night time arena

 

River life, Hoi An, Photo Essay, Vietnam
Looking downriver towards the sea

 

Vietnam – a whistle stop guide to Ho Chi Minh City

Firstly, let me point out this is what the title says – a ‘whistle stop’ guide, meaning I do not profess to be in any way an expert on matters Vietnamese. I only spent 6 days there!

However, it left a lasting impression in my heart and mind, and can safely say it has shot straight to the number 1 spot as my favourite S.E Asian country! (everyone has their own ‘top of the charts’ lists right?)

It’s a country steeped in history, dominated by the war history. The people are friendly, a massive bonus, and as a solo female traveller I never felt uneasy or unsafe. But what is the jewel in Vietnam’s crown? THE FOOD! Of course, why on earth would it be number 1 with me if it wasn’t for the amazing street food. I’m going to devote a whole post to the food, to be honest you could (and some have) devote a whole BLOG to the food. It’s that good.

Anyway, I only visited two places as I had limited time in the country, I swung through Da Nang, but only enough tell you there is a lovely noodle place opposite the train station, a kindly man helping me to the right bus stop for Hoi An, and a terrible Banh Mi vendor opposite the train station….the only ‘bad’ food I had in the whole country.

So, I’ll begin with:

HO CHI MINH CITY or as some still call it SAIGON

 

Saigon Beer, rooftop of Rex Hotel, Saigon, Vietnam

 

This crazy busy, manic city is alive with activity, 24 hours a day! Yes, the roads are almost impossible to cross and there are lots of fumes and pollution in the air (if you are there for more than 3 days I strongly recommend you buy a face mask) but it has an amazing charm, and some beautiful architecture, plus a couple of must see museums.

I’m going to say that basing yourself in the Le Loi area, close to the City Hall is pretty much as good as it gets, and I’m going to shout our here to my lovely hotel which was cheap (by western standards) clean, with smiley, lovely, helpful staff. Also a nice little bonus is they provide you with a lovely silk dressing gown for lounging in! The location is up an alleyway, do not be discouraged by this, I felt totally safe at all hours walking up the alley and it also means it’s a little quieter than being on the main road. Here’s a link to their website: Little Saigon Boutique Hotel

So. You’ve got yourself a base and you can now get out and explore. There are many things to see so if you have limited time choose wisely. I read quite a lot of other blogs about the city and loosely based my first day on this walking guide by Sharyn at Hoh Chi Minh City Highlights Walking Guide Day 1

As I’ve already mentioned I’m a fan of the charting method of preference, so here are my ‘Top 5’ of things I did (not saying you should do them too) in HCMC

Tao Dan Park

 

Like the X factor live sing off -  for birds.
Like the X factor live sing off – for birds.

Possibly the best two hours (actually I went there a number of time so racked up many more hours) I spent in HCMC. My train back into the city arrived at 5.20am, so I walked to the park and found a coffee stand…plonked my already sweaty body down on a chair and settled in for some of the best people watching on the planet! It was Sunday morning and the place was BUZZING!

training is harder on concrete
Training is harder on concrete!?

Ranging from ferocious badminton games to gentle fan dances it seemed like the whole of the city had descended upon the park to get their fitness on. I had an urge to join in and do some yoga, but resisted in favour of keep watching and moving to areas that had ‘display’s’ going on.

 

Every piece of space is utilised.
Every piece of space is utilised.

 

Fine Arts Museum

Not only is this museum a wonderful (and a cool break from the heat with lots of fans) way to pass a few hours with lots of beautiful, mostly post war art, but it in housed in a stunning colonial building which I literally could not stop taking photos of.

 

Modern Vietnamese Art, Vietnam

 

Stairwell, Fine Arts Museum, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Colonial Windows, Fine Arts Museum, Saigon

 

 

War Remnants Museum

 

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam

 

I’d class this as a ‘must do’ regardless of your thoughts and preconceived ideas about this war. It’s harrowing in parts, be warned some of the photography exhibitions can get quite upsetting, and it is of course biased, however it is an education and a thought provoking way to learn more about this devastating war.

Tanks and Helicopters, Vietnam War

 

Sunset at Bitexco

 

Bitexco Tower, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Another tip from the HCMC City Highlights website is not to pay for the observation deck in the city’s largest building, the Bitexco Tower, but head up to the 52nd floor Heli Bar for their happy hour, even after buying a VERY expensive drink (in Vietnemese terms) you will still pay less than the observation tower entry price and can sit there whilst the sun sets over the city with the most incredible view.

 

view from Bitexco Tower, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Saigon from Bitexco Tower at night, Sunset Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

 

Eating Street Food

 

Pho stand, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Of course! what else would I do when in this country?! I wanted to try street food, and after reading this delicious post by Jodi at Legal Nomads: Guide to Saigon’s street food

 

Street eating in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) Vietnam

 

Although I did try to find the ‘Prison Granny’ Pho stall (seemed to have been replaced with a Com Ta joint?) I gave up and rather just walked the streets, ducking into side alleys and following office workers on their lunch breaks to just find my own food. I also visited a couple of food courts, where they had menu’s so you knew what you were eating, but I found although the food was good these lacked that atmosphere and were double the price of the real street vendor’s. Anyway, food being one of my favourite subjects a whole other blog post will be coming very soon dedicated to my Vietnamese culinary tour.

Chicken Pho, street style, Saigon

 

I hope this post gives you a flavour of why YOU too should visit this wonderful country and city.

Vipassana – A 10 day meditation course

**GRAB A CUP OF SOMETHING YOU LIKE TO DRINK – THIS IS A LONG ONE** 

Vipassana is a style of meditation that you learn on a 10 day meditation course, some refer to it as ‘silent meditation retreat’ which I did in my previous post, and that the whole thing is called ‘Vipassana’ however this word refers to the technique you learn to meditate whilst on the course.

 

photo taken from http://biohackyourself.com/the-10-day-goenka-vipassana-meditation-retreat/
photo taken from http://biohackyourself.com/the-10-day-goenka-vipassana-meditation-retreat/

 

So I managed to complete the course – no small feat I can tell you! I had met so many people who had done a course and they all had such wonderful things to say about it, no one, I repeat NO ONE said just how blinkin’ hard it was going to be – had they all just breezed through like buddhas? What was I doing wrong that I found it, sometimes each minute, so damn difficult??

Let me go back to the start. We have to meet at a designated meeting point as the retreat property is up a very steep road and we are shuttled up and down and still able to talk at this point, I nervously chat to a few people but trying to ween myself off talking I try to stay unsociable. We then have registration and our assigned our beds (this retreat at Penang Hill is dormitory style rooms) I was F17, actually in a small dorm with old students. This became a blessing. We then had a couple of hours ‘free’ time, a light meal and an evening introduction after which ‘Noble Silence’ starts.

Let me explain ‘Noble Silence’ – no talking to other participants, no eye contact, no gestures and absolutely no physical contact. Also men and women are separate and only join together in the meditation hall (where we are also kept on separate sides of the room). The reason for the silence is that you are supposed to approach the course as an individual and that there are no distractions or stimulation. This is also why you must stay on the (in this case small) premises.

Then from ‘Day 1’ the day goes like this:

4am: Morning wake up bell (gong)

4.30am – 6.30am Meditation in the hall (or your own place)

6.30am – 8am Breakfast and time to shower/do laundry/rest/go back to sleep!!

8am – 9am Mediation in the hall

5 mins break – 9.05am – 11am Meditation in the hall

11am – 12am Lunch/rest

12am-1pm your choice to have a 5 minute interview with the teacher, but only about the technique and meditation, no chitter chat with a cuppa, otherwise ‘rest’

1pm – 2.30pm Meditate in the hall or your own place

2.30pm – 3.30pm Meditation in the hall

5 mins break – 3.35pm – 5pm Meditation in the hall

5pm – tea break – new students allowed a piece of fruit, old students complete fast.

6.00pm – 7pm – Meditation in the hall

7.00pm – 8.15pm Discourse (a video of SN Goenka on the technique)

5 min break – 8.20pm – 9pm Meditation in the hall

9pm – question time if wanted, otherwise rest and bed

10pm – lights out (I never made it much past 9.15pm any night!)

And so on, for 9 days…….9 days, 9 whole 24 hour segments of time…. (day 10 is similar but it feels like a festival of joy after those 9 days believe me)

9 long, long, tough, challenging days of focusing your mind, training your mind to focus, and many many hours of self reflection, or in my case, listening to the complete and utter madness of my monkey mind.

I’m not going to talk about the technique in much detail – go learn it yourself or meet me for a cup of cold pressed tea and I’ll divulge, but I will tell you about MY experience in summary:

 

The view that saved my sanity
The view that saved my sanity

 

The negatives and lows (cause I want to end the post on the highs/positives) 

Meditating for that amount of time is SO FREAKIN’ HARD. I mean if capital letters isn’t enough to get that point across I’ll rephrase – Meditating, alone, with no one to moan to about your pain and suffering is THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE.

Sitting in cross leg or full/half lotus position for 10+ hours a day is SO FREAKIN’ HARD. Painfully, physically, hip, knee and back breakingly hard, even after many years of yoga and with a fairly flexible body.

Training your brain to just focus on one thing is HARD. The toughest. I’m pretty sure understanding rocket science would be easier to achieve by my brain that this.

My brain is manic. I have an overactive imagination – I can create whole ‘scenes’ nay, whole PLAYS in my head about future events that are probably never going to come to fruition, and even if they happen they won’t happen how I’ve directed them in my brain.

Being confined to a bed, a table and stool to eat and a 25 metre drive to walk in is probably worse than the conditions in most modern day prisons. In fact if it wasn’t for the view (picture above) I may have gone loopy loo in 2 days.

 

Room, Bed, Vipassana, Mediation, Penang Hill East
My cell, I mean, my room for 10 days

I’m not very good at meditating 🙁

Nearly every day from Day 2 – Day 8 I wanted to leave.

 

The Positives/Highs (because this story has a happy ending)

I have learnt so much about myself, and can surmise that on the whole I have had a pretty fabulous life and I am stronger than I think at dealing with the tough bits.

I have learnt to approach all situations with equanimity (those of you who have done Vipassana will love the use of this word!!!) *for further clarification on this ask me about Day 2 – giant spider in meditation hall…..

Nothing is permanent. Everything changes.

To be truly happy you have to see things how they really are and accept them.

I have a lot of love to give.

Nothing is failure, it’s all learning (see this post for more on that)

SN Goenka is a wonderful man without whom I would have done a runner – and I even missed his chanting when I got back to the ‘real’ world!

Vipassana is a wonderful technique that helps you see the world in a positive and balanced way.

Although meditation (in this style) is hard – I am good at it. I can even sit cross-legged for a whole hour! (This in itself is nothing short of a miracle)

May all beings be happy

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam

Be Happy 🙂

 

night lights of Penang

 

To conclude: I think that maybe, just maybe everyone in the world, certainly everyone who is reading this post, and therefore has some kind of interest in this technique and or meditation should participate, devote 10 days of your life and go and experience this for yourselves.

Seriously, I strongly believe that if everyone were to do this then we would have world peace! Yep, strong statement, and of course a romantic vision, but non the less this is how powerful I believe it to be.

More details on the courses can be found here:

Dhamma website