My reflection on life this week – and why I’m blaming Mercury.
So I’ve been feeling all down in the dumps this week. And having a crap ‘I hate my body’ week. churning up old feelings of inadequacy and beating myself up about it.
It’s taken a lot of internal arguments with myself to not go complete hermit mode and I’ve had to force myself to practice, and even just to have dinner and socialise with friends. Then I read this:
Mercury retrograde wants us to move back spiritually. It is providing us with a chance to re-examine various areas of our life which may need a little more work, so that we can move forward to a bright new dawn. Now, more than ever, the time is right to look at things with clear eyes. Delicious, fresh perspectives are revealed. We often have major breakthroughs — intellectual, emotional or spiritual — during this time.
taken from: Gala Darling
So, I’m not going mental after all! It’s just those pesky planets spinning around, the new moon probably needs to take some of the blame for this too…but mostly yes, a time to reassess and re-evaluate what has been, and what is to be.
Oh hang on though, am I not supposed to be living in the now? Erkhart Tolle will be very upset with me thinking about the past and future. Gosh, all this spirituality is very confusing and contradictory.
It has made me reflect on the life I had, the person I was and make some positive changes. I feel healthy and happy and have a true sense of who I am. I’m working on my practice and myself everyday.
But this week I have been reflecting in a negative way, I don’t feel healthy OR happy, jeez louise my world has gone tits up!
So today, more than any other day I decided to just focus on the breath and movement, the steady rhythmic flow of the vinyasa. Being mindful of my body and listening to it, breathing deeper in the postures, trying to release the tension from my body and mind.
And guess what, I left the shala feeling OK, not awesome, or amazing, just OK, which was better than yesterday. No problem, that’s OK. Shake it off, tomorrow will bring something new (ha! just realised the irony here, tomorrow is LITERALLY the New Moon!)
I bloody love Yoga. And life, yeah life is pretty good too, even when it’s rubbish. So you keep on retrograding Mercury, I know what your up to….and from NOW I will start to use it as a positive. Thanks.
Ubud is known as the yoga capital of Bali, however when for this visit I didn’t have the time to head to Ubud. I needed to be nearer the city, and wanted to have a surf, so I knew Canggu was the place I needed to see. Naturally I looked into the places to practice as I wanted to experience new shalas and teachers. Canggu is fast becoming the next stop on the yoga map for Bali.
I only visited two centres and practiced Mysore Ashtanga with KPJAYI authorised teachers in both. So this guide is somewhat potted, but if you are an Ashtanga practitioner then you will be interested in these two centres both with authorised teachers.
Serenity Eco Guesthouse
This place is an eclectic mash up of cafe, chill out areas and a beautiful garden and grounds. It is close to the beach (Fisherman’s Beach) and also has surfboards for guests. They offer a packed timetable, and a range of rooms for all budgets. The guesthouse is laid back, with spaces to chill and relax, and has two shalas and a pool for guests too!
What I liked best about the place was it’s Eco approach, and how things around the place were labelled so you knew what herbs were growing, what water filtration they were doing, etc. I didn’t see any of the rooms so can’t comment on those, and the shala I practiced in was with a tiled floor and a good size to fit about 15-20 people in.
The vibe in the room was very relaxed, I think there were quite a few beginners. Fernando has a strong presence and gave me some good adjustments. They offer all kinds of yoga classes all day, a single class drop in costs 100k (about £6) it gets cheaper the more classes you take.
At the other end of the spectrum from the hippy vibe at Serenity is the beautiful ’boutique’ shala and centre of Samadhi Bali. An instagrammer haven. It is on a beautiful road full of rice fields and it is stunning from the entrance to inside. It has a beautiful, wooden floored shala with a modern architecture feel with nice little Indian and Balinese touches, a good restaurant and a wonderful shop (I literally could have bought everything in that shop!)
The grounds are landscaped with lush plants and foliage, and it also has luxury (but pricey) rooms and a spa. I didn’t see these but can only imagine they are as good as they look on the website.
I took another Mysore Ashtanga class here with the owner, Damien De Bastier, who studied and was authorised by Sri. Pattabi Jois, he had a few assistants in the room so you got more attention for adjustments and alignment cues than at Serenity.
Damien has a wonderful nature and he was so active in the room, he was flying around helping every person in there. There was a lovely energy in the room and there was a wide range of levels from beginners to advanced practitioners.
They also have a full daily schedule of classes, Ashtanga being the primary focus but also Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin and some Yoga for surfers sessions.
If I ever own my own place, this is the kind of place I want it to be – beautiful, relaxed, classy!
Places I didn’t visit but have heard good reviews about are:
The Practice – heard it has a stunning shala with views over rice fields.
Desi Seni – heard this place is very beautiful and good reports on teaching here.
(lyrics from For Good, Wicked the Musical, Stephen Schwartz)
So after my short holiday in Goa I hopped over to the Thai island of Koh Phangan where my good friends, Teresa and Kes Kennard, have a yoga retreat. They had offered me the chance to work on the retreat as a teacher and I had offered to help them with their online presence and social media.
The Yoga Retreat is a very special place nestled in the jungle in the North West of the island, but only a short distance from the beautiful bay of Haad Salad. When I say it’s a very special place I really, really mean this, not just because I work there or my friends own it, but because it has a wonderful energy and since arriving here in April I have seen it make such a positive impact on so many people’s lives that I feel it really deserves that accolade.
Focusing on Ashtanga Yoga the retreat offers daily Mysore style classes and beginner’s courses with KPJAYI Authorised teachers, so you can see why I took up the offer to work here with them, to continue to practice 6 days a week on the beautiful jungle shala with experienced, authorised teachers.
They also offer daily Hatha Flow classes (of which I teach on Friday’s) and Saturday’s and Sunday’s I teach a restorative Yin Class to work the connective tissue and fascia so to support people in their Ashtanga practice (let’s get those hip and hamstrings open!)
At the risk of sounding like I’m writing a review, the food on the retreat is some of the best food I’ve eaten. EVER. Deserving a post of its own, and definitely stealing some recipes for my health and nutrition posts, they offer vegan, vegetarian and raw options for the health conscious yogi…..cacao bowl breakfast, hummus salads, vegetable wraps, cacao and avocado mousse, raw pad thai, I mean seriously good stuff…mmmm I’m getting hungry and I only just had my cacao bowl!! (Have I overused the work cacao here?!)
So, yes the yoga is phenomenal, the food outstanding, but the real thing I love about working here? The people I have met. This is the joy of not only yoga, but travel, like-minded people from all over the world coming together and firm new friendships being made.
I have connected with people here who I hope to be friends and stay in touch with forever. A yoga retreat is a very transient business, which can be hard as you are always saying goodbye to somebody. You have to rejoice in the fact that you met in the first place, and that somehow you have made a positive impression on each others lives. And of course, now we have social media we can keep in touch with each other all over the world daily so in fact they only ever leave you in a physical presence.
Flashback to the start of this yogi’s adventure, at the end of February this year I flew into Bangalore and began the adventure, a life changing trip to Mysore City. I have already briefly discussed Mysore in this post: Mysore, why I went there, to study Ashtanga Yoga at it’s source.
Well, let me start by saying that after a hiatus of 12 years my first impressions of India and Bangalore was wow! this place is so modern! We took a 4 hour taxi (2 of those hours stuck in Bangalore traffic) to Mysore and it started to feel more like the India I remembered (hot, dry, scorching sun, poverty and dirt) but when I arrived in Mysore what couldn’t I see? The rubbish! The roads are so clean here! (Mysore has been voted the cleanest city in India)
The suburb that most of the yogi’s stay is Gokulum, this is where the KPAJYI shala is and it is an affluent suburb. I honestly believe that even the ubiquitous cow pats get cleaned up in this suburb!
The cows are worthy of a quick mention here – most cows in India you see are just roaming around to their own volition, however the ones that roam in Gokulum have a smart system of getting fed. They simple have designated streets (who decided which cow goes where, and is there a territory battle if one cow decided to roam of plan?) they then ‘moo’ at each gate (yes this is an affluent area and most of the houses are gated) and wait for the ladies who work for that house to bring them the days scraps of vegetable skins or any other unwanted food stuff. The most fantastic recycling of food waste I have ever seen.
Woops, I have digressed from the main point of the post which is to provide you with a potted guide to the city, specifically aimed at the yogi. What to do when you are not sweating it out on the mat in the shala, chanting or attending lectures.
EAT: yep, as my number two activity in Mysore – eating! refuel, and rehydrate.
First stop, the coconut stand – ok so there are many coconuts stands in Gokulum and each shala has their own coconut wallah outside, but the main one which is used as a landmark in Gokulum is ‘THE’ Coconut Stand, on the corner of Contour Road and 9th Main. Coconuts are one of the worlds most nourishing foods and a post practice coconut is an absolute must. But ‘THE’ coconut stand does not just provide coconuts, you can also get a mean chai here for 10p and it’s an awesome place to hang out and people watch.
Eating, well there are many types of food on offer, from the traditional to the healthier ‘yoga’ inspired cafes. Full details can be found in my previous blog here. A few of my favourite places are:
Anokhi Garden (on Contour Road, 5 mins from the coconut stand) – beautiful front and back gardens and some indoor seating at this geared for the yogi cafe. Must try’s are the Flora Fruit Salad and Fancy Porridge, but I loved everything on the menu and never had a bad dish here. Plus the waiting staff are all Ashtangi’s and super friendly and the owner, Marie Lovato, is a wonderful woman.
Santosha (on 2nd Main, 5 mins walk from the main shala towards Lions School) – similar cafe geared towards the post practice crowd, good shakes and omelette here and again a nice garden to sit in and people watch!
Anu’s (on 2nd Main, 5 mins walk from the main shala towards the park) – on the roof of Anu and Ganesh’s house they serve up an incredible buffet style thali most days and are open at sunset for the coolest, thickest smoothie bowls. Seriously good food and fabulous hosts. Also, Ganesh is THE person to know in Gokulum for taxis or renting mopeds etc.
Depth and Green (on 9th Cross, walking away from the shala and coconut stand) – open all day they do a mean buddha plate and again good shakes and scrummy vegan chocolate cakes.
Chakra House (walking away from coconut stand and shala, turn left after the temple) – Manjula cooks the Thali here but they offer again yogi inspired menu. A really good place to chill out with fast wifi and Rajesh is a cool host. Open all day.
Sri Durga (on the road before Gokulum Main Road, turn left at the Honda garage) – BEST dosas in Gokulum! no other explanation needed. The best 25p you will ever spend on food! This place may look a bit intimidating for the solo female traveller but they do great chai and are really friendly.
Green Hotel (Hunsur Road, off Mangalore Highway, best get a rickshaw to this one if you haven’t got the nerves of steel for riding on the highway) – to be honest not the best food or service but a really beautiful little colonial hotel worth a visit. The dhal is pretty good and they have a bakery inside the hotel with nice bread and cakes.
Shree Guru Residency (behind the Regaalis Hotel/Pool) really good South and North Indian food, all vegetarian and so cheap! (Thalis start at 60p) don’t bother eating at the pool, the food is average and overpriced, just pop out the front, turn left and left again at the luggage shop and you will end up at this local’s favourite.
Home cooks – you will find out about the ladies Manjula, Sanjit and Shalia, and many others, who cook amazing thali style buffets that they host in their own homes. This is some of the best an authentic South Indian cooking you will eat. Again, just ask around as many people practicing at the shala who have been before will know when these are happening and how to get to them.
Malari Hotel Dosa (in the city) – people rave about this one but I found them a bit too dough like and more like an american pancake, but they are a firm favourite with the ashtangi old timers.
Secret Dosa! This is a tiny little hole in the wall dosa vendor hidden in the depths of Laksmipurum, if you find the rickshaw driver Raju he can take you there! I have no idea where it is but if you ask people I’m sure they all have their favourite dosa place!
Again, I would suggest you try many more places, and go into the city and try some local food. India has some of the best food in the world, and, predominantly healthy and vegetarian too – perfect for a practicing ashtangi/yogi.
WHEN YOU ARE NOT PRACTICING OR EATING:
There are many things to do in Mysore that don’t involve food or yoga! There are so many temples to visit I can’t list them all, just walk into one as you walk past it, they are all beautiful.
Mysore Palace – has to be at the top of the recommendations, it is a stunning piece of architecture and you can go inside but I recommend you arrive at sunset on a Sunday (before 7pm) and at watch as they turn on the 100,000 lights simultaneously.
Chamundi Hill – again another sunset or sunrise visit is the thing to do here. The temple at the top of the hill is full of monkeys and the views are breathtaking across the city. Your choice but the hike up the steps is rumoured to be fabulous, or you can take a rickshaw/drive to the top for the temple and views!
Devajara Market – I love a local market, this one is so colourful and natural, not like some developed for the tourist but a real, where people get their ‘stuff’ market. Do not buy oils or sandalwood here though, the quality is not great.
Regaalis Hotel – I could not not mention this hotel, another favourite with the yogi crowd, you can pay to spend the day lounging around and cooling off. In March it was essential to go there just to keep cool!
So, I have tried to keep the post practice part concise as really if you are in the city to practice at KPJAYI or any other shala you will need to try to chill in your time off. Read a book, meditate, watch some movies, write, cook or simply just be.
I had googled ‘what to do in Mysore’, or ‘Mysore guide’ before I left for the city and you can find some good guides on other Yoga blogs – I can point you to a few in particular that I found very informative:
My own detailed diary of one month in Mysore is here!
So the first stop of the ‘claireyogagogo yogi express’ led me to Mysore. After talking with my most trusted and experienced yoga friends I took the plunge and decided to set of on this journey, and felt the best place to start was the origin of Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore.
Mysore, in the state of Karnataka, South Central India is famous for its silk and sandalwood, and thanks to Krishnamacharya and Sri. Pattabi Jois is the home of Ashtanga Yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabi Jois and Krishnamacharya all deserve posts, whole blogs even of their own. If you’ve arrived here at my blog of your own volition then I recommend maybe googling them to find out more about Ashtanga and the eight limbs, or follow this blog where I will hopefully start to write more on them as time goes on….
Yoga (Ashtanga) is not just exercise for me now, it’s a way of life, nay, a lifestyle. And with this comes less the urge to have the cutest yoga pants and take Instagram selfies but more to delve into the self and challenge what you find there.
I don’t think I can put into words the feeling of achievement I have from completing the month of study with Saraswathi in Mysore, which has been at times frustrating, annoying, jubilus and rewarding. In the end it wasn’t about completing the series or achieving certain asana, it was about a development within me as a person and a yoga practitioner that I can now bring to the mats of the people I teach.
Ashtanga (Mysore) the Pattabi Jois lineage, the ‘parampara’ has an energy and spirituality of its own that I don’t think you can fully understand unless you come here to the birthplace.
I will never forget walking into the shala on the first morning to the sound of the ujayi breath like the ocean breaking onto the shores, sometimes as I walk through the shala after practice I look at the other practitioners and thought that it looks as beautifully choreographed as a ballet, yet as calm as Buddha in meditation.
Ashtanga will reveal things about yourself you may have wanted to keep hidden. It will test you physically, mentally and spiritually. It will make you want to cry and make you jump for joy, all in the same practice. It will make you reassess how you live you life (and not just the yamas and niyamas) it will control what you eat, when you sleep and may well ruin your social life, unless your social life is with the other ashtangi’s who understand that you have to leave the party at 8.30pm to go to bed.
Ashtanga changed my life at this point, and shaped the way forward for it. So through the friends I mentioned at the start of this post I went to the next stop on the ‘yogi express’ and found myself in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
So the point of starting the blog was to be able to write about my time as a travelling yogi, meaning how I hope to be able to see the world via teaching and sharing my love of yoga. Firstly, let me point out that I am pretty well-travelled, I did my backpacker bit way back when from 2002-2004 (I know, I’m old right?) so I could write about my experiences from then, but as the world is changing at a ridiculous rate, what I tell you about the countries I have visited just won’t be relevant, or current, and you may end up going somewhere and it being nothing like I remember it! So I will really only speak of my travels this year, from February 2016 and keep adding to the blog as I move around, or indeed stay in one place (which I’m still classing as travel at this point as it’s not my home town – get it?)
I started the travelling yogi journey in Mysore, India and have made many blog posts about my time there back on my old blogger page: ye olde blogge I will do a whole post about this wonderful city and how it really took a piece of my heart and kept it there. I am hoping to return at some point towards the end of the year. I would say, although I heart Mysore, as a non yoga tourist you may only want to factor in a few days here. Really, it’s all about the yoga in Mysore for me.
Here’s some gratuitous pics from Mysore just to spice up this page/post
I am currently in Koh Phangan, teaching and working on a wonderful Yoga Retreat, of which I will also dedicate a whole post to…but for those of you when you hear Koh Phangan think ‘Full Moon Party’ with lots of young people drinking way too many bucket cocktails in neon vest tops, think again, the ‘other’ side of Koh Phangan is a deeply spiritual Yoga haven.
So, that’s basically a heads up before I start to do separate, more specific posts on the cities and islands I have been to this year. I don’t want to become a blog of ’10 bests’ I really want to try to write more holistically about the feel I get for a place, the Yoga in that place, and of course the food on offer in that place. If you like the sound of that, give me a follow – and thanks already for your support by just reading this post!
In a recent interview with LA Yoga magazine Sharath Jois commented:
‘Nowadays, it [YOGA]has become more physical, like how to do handstand. There is no spirituality in that. It’s just physical, how to bend your body and how to align your body, but classical yoga is about how to bring the discipline to your body and your mind, and how that discipline leads you towards spirituality. That is called yama and niyama. These are very important limbs in yoga practice. Not many people are putting attention to these. They are putting attention only to the physical aspect of yoga….there is no breathing, no vinyasa, no gazing. All these things, what we call tristana, are very important to our asana practice’
Oh sweet music to my ears…why only one year ago was I obsessed with being able to do a handstand, and thought I was not worthy if I couldn’t?
Social Media is a great platform for building a business profile for sure, but it does tend to promote too many images of ‘perfect body’ yogi’s doing complicated asana….and how is that being true to the origins and spirit of yoga??? I have been in classes, even handstand workshops with people, like myself, who were not physically ready for such a strong asana, but everywhere you looked on social media people were handstand pressing like it was all there was to do…props to Erin Motz (of Bad Yogi) who at least kept it real with an ‘expose’ video of what goes behind getting the perfect Instagram shot.
It was almost simultaneous, when I got to Mysore earlier this year, that I stopped taking yoga selfies for my Instagram and Facebook pages…and I started a real study of yoga.
‘classical yoga is about how to bring the discipline to your body and your mind’
Coming on the to the mat, day after day, working on the basics, learning so much about your body, how it works in every single asana, from samashiti to shavasana, and how the mind works alongside it, and then how you can take what you have learnt from that off the mat into your life, and the lives of others you interact with. And the irony is my body and asana are so much stronger than they were a year ago, so I am probably capable of doing a fairly decent handstand – but I don’t care anymore
That’s yoga, that’s union, that’s bringing together the body and mind. Let’s all stop trying to be the ‘perfect’ yogi (as depicted by Instagram et al) and start trying to use the practice to change ourselves for the better?
Or Man, it’s not gender specific. But I recently posted this quote on my Instagram account and changed the gender – just felt like having a feminist moment.
Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to leave the shore. A quote by Andre Gide. The sentiment is there, you cannot discover new things in life until you can let go of the old things, the routine, the norm. I suppose this quote can be related to life in general and not just travelling. I found it perfect for me, especially when I was leaving sight of one shore (job, home, family, friends) and heading out to discover the new oceans out here.
It’s so easy to stick with what you know, but you know, what you know will still be there should you wish to return to it after you have done a little, or a lot, of discovering. I’ve been away almost 5 months and I really feel I haven’t actually travelled that much! MY plan was always to study in Mysore for a month, go and check out Goa (as in my previous trip to India I didn’t get there) and then…well, there was no major plan, but it involved getting a job teaching yoga somewhere in the world, and if I could also get some surfing done, even better. Well fate had me end up in Thailand for now, where I am teaching at the wonderful Yoga Retreat, and having a ball. As I sit on my balcony with a view of the Gulf of Thailand across to the mainland I think how lucky I am to be ‘brave’ enough to have left the comfort and security of the shore. And how there is so much more out there yet to discover…..
I have been pondering on this question for some time now. I think that the answer is that it is going to mean different things to me at different points in my life.
For the moment I am living and breathing a yoga lifestyle. I literally eat, sleep, repeat YOGA
Pattabi Jois describes yoga in his book, Yoga Mala as ‘upaya’ meaning path, or a way in which we follow or a means we can attain something. I think this is a great description
For me, like many others I know, I started practicing yoga as a way to exercise and stretch my body and compliment by dancing. Then, as I retired from dance and began teaching I always tried many different other forms of exercise, HIIT, the Gym, Insanity, Spin, Running, Cycling, Pilates and kept coming back to Yoga. I did enjoy most of those others too but they didn’t keep me long-term.
When I started going to Cheltenham Yoga and Pilates 4 years ago I really started to take things a bit more seriously. Firstly I loved how I felt physically after a class and also because in Shavasana I felt it was the only time (with a busy job and trying to renovate a house, a social media addiction etc) I got to truly have some time just to be present. And I found going to the studio a calming and restorative experience.
Then the opportunity to train as a teacher arose at Ella and Fleur, something i had been meaning to do for some time and so I signed up and well – let’s just say that changed my life. The training definitely took me on that path to which Pattabi refers to…again, coming into it from a purely asana aspect, i was pleasantly surprised when I started to enjoy the spiritual aspect. I found the history and philosophy of Yoga in all it’s forms, dating aback to the Veda’s and Upanishads totally enthralling.
I found a connection with my chakras and even began to enjoy the odd Aum here and there! I learnt that Yoga means so much more than a good workout, so much more than the asana.Friends and family could see a difference in me and I started to love something as much as I loved dance.
Of course, all this came about just when I was going through one of the toughest times in my life, and I can attribute the teacher training to something akin to therapy for a broken heart. It gave my life a purpose when I felt all was lost. And it gave me something to focus on that wasn’t the pain of heartache
It gave me a new identity when I really needed to be reborn. And maybe most importantly it taught me that I am good enough, where I am right now. I am striving to be the ‘best version of me’ and all those other corny motivational quotes.
And then I made the decision to come on my own path, to journey to the self, and I had a new romance, with Ashtanga. Which brings me to where I am now, if you are new here you can read my online diary of my yoga journey here: from Mysore to present
So, what does Yoga mean to me? Yoga is a lifestyle, it’s MY lifestyle. I’ve given up a career in education and left friends and family at home to pursue this lifestyle now. It’s not just asana (postures) it’s a way of life. It’s my way of life. It has made me reflect on the life I had, the person I was and make some positive changes. I feel healthy and happy and have a true sense of who I am. I’m working on my practice and myself everyday. Practice and ALL is coming.