Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

Shifting Gears: Unplugging and Reconnecting

Welcome to Yoga Medicine Yin Yoga & Meditation Module!

The day after losing my grandmother, I boarded a plane for Thailand to participate in the Yin Yoga & Meditation module of my 1,000 hour yoga training with Tiffany Cruikshank.  The decision to continue with this trip on the heels of this loss was extremely difficult and one that was made after heavy discussion with my family.  Everyone was in agreement that my grandmother would not want me to cancel my training.  We felt that it was beneficial that I saw her before she passed.

While a heavy heart was a major part of my luggage, I went through the motions of boarding my flights and taking a 38 hour trip.  From LAX to Taipei, Taiwan, I noticed an overwhelming fragrance of perfume filling the cabin.  I really didn’t think much of it other than that I was annoyed that someone would not think twice about dousing themselves in a strong fragrance before boarding an extremely long flight.  I let it go for that moment as I popped in my headphones, watched movies that I had been too busy to see in the theater and took advantage of the complimentary wine service paired with the terrible airplane food.

As I boarded the plane from Taipei to Bangkok, I began to get settled in for another long leg.  Earplugs?  Check!  Eye mask?  Check!  No-Jet Lag tablets?  Check!  Then, all of a sudden, I noticed it again.  That smell.  The overwhelming fragrance from the last flight.  It was here again!  I peeled off my eye mask and looked around, but no one in my immediate vicinity looked familiar from the last flight.  I mean, what would be the odds, right???  Again, I really didn’t think about it much other than the fact that I was irritated that I was having to smell this fragrance for yet another flight.  I felt a bit like I had just walked into Abercrombie & Fitch, but what could I do?  2 glasses of wine down, eye mask on, earplugs in, good night!

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Mellow morning flow.

I groggily wandered through the Bangkok airport from 2:30am-6am before finally making my way to Koh Samui for the Yin Yoga & Meditation module with Tiffany.  After everything that I had endured the week leading up to the retreat, plus the extensive traveling, I was so glad to be here.  Not only did I need a shower and some decent food but remember, half of the clothes in my suitcase were dirty!  (read about that in the last blog, if you haven’t already.)  It was lovely meeting new yogis where were like minded and spiritually connected, but it was fantastic to reconnect with fellow yogis who I have had the pleasure of traveling with in the past.

Fellow Yoga Medicine yogi's who I had the pleasure of exploring India with for our Seva project.

Fellow Yoga Medicine yogi’s who I had the pleasure of exploring India with for our Seva project.

One of the things I have loved the most is making friends on just about every continent.  Here, you see Australia, Sweden via Jakarta, Holland by way of Abu Dhabi, London and Norway, just to name a few!  Practicing with this group brings a sense of peace, harmony and cohesiveness.  Knowing that I had been through so much in the recent days, it was like having a family away from my own family.

Wind Chimes outside of the yoga shala.

The first evening of the retreat was taking place at the same time as my grandmother’s funeral back home.  Needless to say, the practice was very emotional for me.  At the end of the practice, I laid in the silence and stillness of savasana.  As my body rested and absorbed the recent events I had encountered and the travel that I had endured, my mind was called back to the present moment by the sounds of large, metal wind chimes. Chimes similar to those that hung on my grandmother’s back porch.  The porch that I spent many summers catching lightning bugs, swirling sparklers and rocking on her wooden rocker while watching the hummingbirds refuel at the feeder that she always had waiting for them.  It was at this moment that it all came together for me.  The wind chimes.  The fragrance on the airplane.  I realized what it was and why it was so familiar to me.  It was Liz Claiborne.  As in the red plastic triangle that we used to wear in high school.  My gram used to wear it.  Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first!) but I swear it was  a sign from her.  The perfume.  The wind chimes.  In my mind, it was her being there with me.  Telling me that she was no longer in pain and that she was free and at peace.  It was at this moment that I, too, felt at peace.  In that moment.  In my body.  In my mind.  Peace and tranquility.   Despite the fact that we had beachside winds each and every day, I never heard the chimes again during my stay, yet the sense of peace and calm remained.  Om Shanti, Namaste’

Finding peace and calm in Savasana

Finding peace and calm in Savasana

Holding On & Letting Go

Not all of the travels of this yogi are filled with sun, sand and good times. Recently, I took a trip that was quite the opposite. At a young age, I lost both of my grandfathers. I lost my paternal grandmother when I was 16 and my father at 18. I’m almost 41 now and have been fortunate to have had my maternal grandmother in my life to celebrate milestones and life events. Not many people can say that. In fact, she was a great-great grandmother to my granddaughter. We had 5 generations in our family!

Gram and her legacy of 2 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren and great-great granddaughter.

Gram and her legacy of 2 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren and great-great granddaughter.

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Three days ago, I received a message from my mother that my 97 year old grandmother (who was under Hospice care), was not expected to be with us much longer. I immediately booked a flight to Pittsburgh, which was the closest airport to her. I had plans to leave for a yoga retreat that Friday and was worried that she would pass while I was away. I rearranged my flights, packed my bag (to be honest, I’m still not sure exactly what is in it as it is sitting next to me right now!) and headed to the Greenville airport to board my flight to be with my family. As I arrived at the airport, I had thought I had my boarding pass downloaded to my phone; however, once I found myself in the security check-in line, I realized that it was not my boarding pass, despite the fact that it said e-ticket on it. My heart immediately sank. I quickly ducked out of the line and ran as fast as I could downstairs to the ticket counter. The gate agent confirmed that indeed, it was not my ticket. I had packed a small bag (for both Pittsburgh and Thailand) so that I could just carry on my luggage and not worry about checking a bag. I begged her to just give me the boarding pass and pleaded that I could make it through security in time. Tears rolled down my face as she informed me that FAA regulations would not allow her to issue my boarding pass due to time constraints. I had tried to keep it together, but at this point I began to “ugly cry” right there…at the ticket counter…in the middle of the airport. The attendant gave me the phone number for American Airlines reservations and told me to call them to see what they could do about getting my on another flight. Once I got an agent on the phone and began to explain what had happened, again, I lost it. No longer could I hold on to the tears that I had been fighting back in an effort to be strong for my family who was already there by my grandmother’s side. The fear that I wouldn’t make it in time had taken over and panic had set in. As the agent on the other end begged me to be calm, she assured me that she would get me to Pittsburgh, and she did. I boarded the next flight without incident. Arrived in Pittsburgh, got my rental car and headed to my Gram’s side.

When I arrived at the nursing home, it was after 11pm, but my mother was there waiting for me. To see my grandmother, laying in her bed, tiny and frail from the wretched effects of the dementia that signaled her body not to eat. The horrific scene that my mother had described for me the day before and earlier that morning was one of agony and pain. A vision that I would not wish on anyone, especially my beloved grandmother. To help relieve the pain and suffering, morphine was administered and she lay unresponsive. She looked peaceful and calm when I arrived. As if she were simply asleep. She appeared to be pain free, as we all had prayed for. We stayed with her a few more hours before heading to a hotel for the evening.

The next morning, we met my aunt and uncle at the nursing home. We shared stories of Gram and spoke of fond memories as we sifted through photos from the past. She was a mainstay of our family. I grew up looking forward to holidays at her home. I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go…” each Christmas. Countless Christmas cookies that we just couldn’t get enough of! I even recall my oldest daughter sneaking into one of the boxes of cookies made with Hershey’s kisses and we found her sitting on top of the kitchen table pulling all of the kisses out and eating them. (I knew she was too quiet!).

Holiday traditions like the customary Christmas shot of whisky, the holiday wafer from Poland and the ham and kielbasa after midnight were things that I longed for each Christmas along with the routine trip to Kraynak’s Christmasland the day after Thanksgiving. Daffin’s chocolate eggs in our basket each Easter.

Eating food picked right from her garden.  Sitting on the back porch in her rocking chair and watching the hummingbirds as they fed at the feeder that she religiously kept filled for them.  Going school shopping at Hills and getting the red cherry Icee and popcorn followed by a trip to Reyers…The World’s Largest Shoe Store!  Trips to our family camp that her husband and family had built by hand. (It wasn’t fancy…it even had an outhouse!) Cookouts, s’mores and walks across the street to Bob’s Trading Post for ice cream are some of my fondest memories.

We continued sharing memories as my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter arrived from Missouri. They had driven all night to be there. Despite fatigue and a flat tire, they had made it. Thankfully, they were able to see her one last time. I truly feel as though she was holding on until they got there. Eventhough she was unresponsive, I feel that she knew we all were there. A few hours later, she was gone. It was inevitable and we knew it was coming, yet it seemed surreal. All of those memories we had shared earlier that day had flashed before my eyes. Thoughts of my own children and the rest of my family that was surrounding me rushed into my mind.

While each of our birthdays was celebrated with a Tootsie Roll full of change (and sometimes bills!), my Gram celebrated her 97th birthday this past January. She was never one to make much of a fuss about herself, but she was definitely celebrated. She was welcoming to anyone and everyone. If you were a guest in her home, you can be sure that she would put out a spread for you. Her kindness and generosity were immeasurable and she will long be remembered for the presence she had in my life and those around her. As I hold on tightly to those memories and the legacy that she left, I honor her strength and tenacity that she had until it was time to let go. Holding on when it’s time to let go is painful. It hurts like no other pain. Yet as I write this, ugly crying again, I feel lightness for her. I feel calm knowing she is no longer in pain. I feel peace knowing that she is at peace. And this letting go has left me holding on to one thing…love. The love that was felt and the love that was shared. The love that will be celebrated during her service. The love that will never be forgotten. That is what I will hold on to and never let go of.

“Lokah somastah sukhino bhavantu” ~May all souls be happy. May all souls be at peace. May all souls be free of suffering.

Calm or Chaos Among the Cattle

We’ve all had that experience of waiting in long lines; whether it be at the post office or in line to ride a rollercoaster at our favorite theme park. Some of those lines are ones filled with anticipation and excitement of what is to come while yet other lines are less enjoyable than a root canal (sorry, dentist friends!). As I set out on close to a month of travel, there were no shortages of lines, that’s for sure. After a delayed flight out of Greenville/Spartanburg to Newark, NJ, I was able to sit for a bit and enjoy a meal before the 14+ hour flight to Mumbai, India.

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Despite what seemed like complete chaos at the check-in gate, the cultural intermix was a melting pot of joyful faces and pleasant conversations. “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?” were questions I could hear all around me. Everyone was out on their own adventure. Some were beginning their journey and others were ending, but the friendliness and positive vibes were in abundance. As we boarded the overnight flight, we were all in the next 14 hours together.

Upon arrival in Mumbai, one of India’s largest cities, I was herded through baggage claim and on to customs and immigration. Though we were all exhausted, spirits were still of the friendly nature. I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet an Indian couple who were travelling from Asheville, NC to Mumbai for a family wedding (December is wedding season in India- and they are parties NOT to be missed!) It was evening (10:30pm) here in Mumbai and I was spending the evening at a nearby hotel. As we approached the hotel security, I was quickly reminded that the security here varies greatly from what I was used to in the USA. The hotel security guard used a mirror on a rolling cart to look under the carriage of the vehicle as well as under the hood. We were definitely not in Kansas (or South Carolina) anymore.

The next morning, I was heading to Pune to visit my friend, Nital. As the driver and I embarked on the 3 hour drive to Pune, we needed to get out of Mumbai first. This meant more lines, more waiting, as the traffic in Mumbai is about 100x heavier than the streets of Manhattan during rush hour. Oh! Wait! I forgot! Manahttan does not have to contend with goats, chicken and cattle weaving their way through the streets.

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While the addition of these furry friends into the streets of Mumbai added another layer of chaos to the already densely populated thoroughfares, no one seemed to notice. Everyone just kept going about their business as if the goats were people. Rather than get annoyed with this, I took it all in. I loved being able to sit back and observe this culture of inclusion. And while the honking horns of thousands of cars created a symphony of sound, no one was rushing. No one appeared angry or late. They were just being present; in that moment, at that time.

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This rush hour traffic scenario was one that would set the tone for the rest of my time during this trip. I wanted to see and observe as much as I could. I wanted to be open to experiencing every single moment that was placed before me. While I fully intend to visit India again in the future, I knew that these particular moments would be ones that I would never have again and I wanted to be fully present for each and every one of them. Not just here, in India, but in every facet of my life.

Travels of a Yogi: Ayurveda with a side of Fifty Shades of Grey???

I am no stranger to a good massage, or Ayurveda treatments for that matter.  I have been a regular at Canyon Ranch Spa in Arizona for several years.  While there, I thoroughly enjoy the Abhyanga-Shirodara package.  For this treatment (and all the treatments at CR) you are given a cozy robe and slippers and led down a corridor with soft lighting and relaxing music.  The Abhyanga-Shirodara is a treatment that involves two therapists giving you a massage; followed by the Shirodara, which is the warm oil cascading over your forehead taking you into a state of bliss.  Of course, Canyon Ranch is cushy and offers the best of the best, which is probably why this discerning yogi feels right at home!  Lest, we are in India.  No cushy robe.  No soft music.  Reality check ensues.  At the Ayurvedic center at the Somatheeram Health Resort, Ayurveda is their “deal.”  They live it, they love it and they want you to as well.  Upon checking in at the health center, everything is very clinical.  Doctors in white coats have you fill out a lengthy intake form to determine your Dosha.  (If you want to find out yours, go to http://doshaquiz.chopra.com )  In the intake, everyone is very matter of fact and bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired.  Not to self:  you are in India…

I am told that I will be receiving a head massage, a foot massage and Shirodara.  I am then introduced to my therapist that would be with me all week.  Her name is Usha.  She is a voluptuous woman with a soft smile and kind eyes.  Her English is very minimal.  She knows the basics: “How are you?”  “OK” “Pain?” “Sit” and “Problem?”  Ok, I can deal with that, I mean, what more words do we need to have when I am expecting her to whisk me away to a room of relaxation and bliss.  We head off down the path to the treatment rooms.  As we get closer, I ask myself, “What have you gotten yourself into???”  Upon entering the treatment room, it reminds me of something out of Christian Grey’s Room of Pain.  We enter and she closes the door behind us.  Hmmm…Ok, yoga breathing in place.  The room is very clinical with white tiled walls and floor.  The massage table is to my left.  It is a thick, heavy wooden table that looks somewhat like a butcher block.  I can still run now, right?  From the ceiling in the center of the room hangs a 4’ rope with a knot at the end.  The corner of the room hosts an altar-like table with an oil lamp, incense and various powders and oils.  In front of the altar is a small wooden stool with a piece of chintzy gauze draped over the top of it.  A towel lays on the floor at the foot of the stool.  Usha tells me to undress.  Ummm…are you going to leave the room???  Apparently, she was not.  I ask her, “take everything off?”  She nods.  Again, I say, “Everything?”  I’m not a prude, but I am a bit modest.  I’ll be honest, I like my curves, but there are certainly days when I wish they were smaller!  I try to remind myself that she doesn’t know me, she does this many times a day and she’s a curvy gal herself.  I try to push my insecurities to the back of my mind, swallow my pride and get on with the show.  After disrobing, she points to the stool and, in a calmly commanding voice says, “Sit!”  I do as I’m told. She comes back over to me, stands in front of me and puts her thumbs on my forehead at my brow center.  She chants in Sanskrit, much of which I can actually understand- thank you, yoga!!!  The treatment begins with a head massage.  Albeit not what we would normally expect, but with scratches, shakes and movements that are similar to what one does when washing their hair in the shower.  I have to admit, it felt quite amazing; however, I was still trying to stuff down my insecurity of sitting on a stool, buck naked, with a women giving me a head massage.  Next, on to the shoulders… Usha walks to the opposite corner of the room where there is what appears to be a hot plate with a metal bowl on top of it.  She turns it on and I hear the oil begin to bubble.  I turn away before she sees me watching her.  She comes back with the oil and starts drizzling it over me and wiping it down my arms, my chest, back and legs.  She commences with the shoulder massage.  She has super strong hands and worked out several knots I had from carrying my luggage, that is for sure!  The Ayurvedic method of massage is, again, quite clinical and precise.  The therapist performs series’ of strokes, grabs, slaps, pats and “chops” to different areas of the body.  I can tell you that the slaps to your backside while covered in oil definitely get your attention!  Ouch!

For the next phase of treatment, Usha has me stand up and moves the stool to the corner of the room.  Again, the politely commands me to  “Sit!”  She then proceeds to unfold a huge mat that resembles a vinyl gymnastics or wrestling mat.   She positions it underneath the hanging rope and ties another scant piece of gauze to the rope.  She performs a ritual of cleaning the mat (I’m not sure what with) by sprinkling the cleaning solution on the mat and “skating” across the mat on another piece of gauze with her feet.  After cleansing her own feet, she spreads a paper thin sheet onto the mat with a piece of gauze at the top.  She points to the mat.  Ummmm, what?  Are we naked oil wrestling???  I thought I was getting a foot massage?  Well, apparently, this type of foot massage was with the therapists feet.  Hmmm…ok, I’ve had the Ashiatsu at CR where the therapist massages your back while holding onto bars attached to the ceiling.  I follow her command and proceed to lay face down on the sheet.  I her the oil boiler again.  She then sprinkles yet more oil onto my body.   I feel her slightly scratchy, large feet begin to press on my sacral area and my low back begins to release.  Again, she performs succinct, calculated movements up and down and across my back.  As she approaches my hips and thighs, I can’t help but think to myself,  that with all of this oil coating my body, one wrong slip of the foot and she is going to end up in a place where the sun doesn’t shine!  Yikes!  Whew!  Thankfully, it does not!  She tells me to turn over and she proceeds to massage the front of my body with here foot.  I have had a stomach massage before, but never with a foot!  A bit odd, but not terrible.  Once this portion of the massage is completed, she cues me back to my stool in the corner.  She takes the sheet and places it on top of the hard, heavy massage table.  She calls me over and has me hop on to the table face down while she cleans up our massage mat from the floor.  The massage begins again.  Precise movements, circles, strokes, pats, slaps and chops to my well-greased body.  By this time, I have decided to just let it be and tried to quiet my mind.  Now for Shirodara…

For the Shirodara, Usha covered me with near-transparent pieces of gauze, hardly covering anything.  She positions the oil cask over my head and lets the warm oil begin to flow over my brow center.  It feels great!  My mind starts to drift off and I begin to forget my insecurities of just moments ago and nearly forget that I am scantily clad on a rock hard table in a room that had ants climbing the walls, in India.  I even catch myself dozing off a few times.  At one point, my leg even jerked- now that was bizarre!

When the treatment was over, Usha guides me back over to the “submissive” stool where she wrings the oil out of my hair, rubs some type of God-awful stinky powder into my scalp and then wraps it up turban-style in a piece of gauze.  She then tells me that I need to keep this on for one hour.  Yikes!  The oil, I can take as I tell myself it’s like a deep conditioner, but the stench of the powder was almost unbearable.  Despite the fact that our cottage only has hot water for a mere 30 seconds, I couldn’t wait to scrub my hair!

Usha then walks me back to the Ayurvedic reception area and tells me to sit.  She comes back with the local beverage of “Herbal Water,” which is similar to tea, but not quite.  The doctor then calls me back into the makeshift “office” and pulls out bottles of brown liquid, two kinds of tablets and a jar full of a pudding-like substance (which, by the way, tastes NOTHING like pudding!)  She directs me to take these concoctions either before food or after food, tells me to eat the foods on the buffet that are marked for my Dosha and tells me to come back the next day at the same time for the same treatment.  Ummmm, you mean I gotta get nekked again???  Yep, ‘fraid so!  I completed a week of treatments here.  I followed the medicinal regimen and the Ayurvedic treatments that were prescribed for me.  By the end of the week, I was feeling wonderful and was grateful to Usha for taking such good care of me in what turned out to be no where near Christian Grey’s room of pain.  Thank you, Usha 😉

Namaste’
Lisa

 

Travels of a Yogi: Tales from the Taj: “Pure love is the soul of life.”

After taking our 2 hour train ride from Delhi to Agra, we arrive at the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Not to sound cliché, but it’s no wonder! To call the Taj breathtakingly beautiful would be an understatement. Honestly, there really aren’t words strong enough to describe it’s magnificence—like everything else I have encountered on this journey through India, it is something that words cannot adequately describe, but rather is something that must be experienced and felt. India is different for everyone depending on what they have experienced in their life and where their mindset it. If you are not ready for India, you cannot appreciate what she has to offer, but the Taj, oh, the Taj! Not only is she a sight to behold, but her story, just like each of our own, is one to be told!

The construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1631 and took 22 years (1631-1653) and 22,000 workers to complete! Fashioned out of marble and onyx inlay, the spectacular structure was designed as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the 3rd wife of Emporer Shah Jahan. (He had 4 at the same time, but she was his fave.) During her 14th pregnancy in 19 years, Mumtaz had a dream that she would soon pass away. She then share 3 wishes with the Emporer:

1) Take care of my children.
2) Build me a beautiful mausoleum
3) Do not take any other wives (Don’t worry about him, remember, he has 3 other wives as well as 500 concubines, so he was not lonely!)

Soon after her dream, Mumtaz went into labor and died during the childbirth. In Islamic tradition, a woman who passes on during childbirth is considered a martyr. The Shah began construction of the Taj Mahal as the final resting place for his late wife. Of all of his wives, she was considered the most beautiful. The name “Taj Mahal” translates to “Place of the Crown.” The marble of the Taj is white; however, depending on what time of day you visit, it can catch the sunlight in different ways. In the morning, the Taj appears pinkish, milky white in the evening and golden in the moonlight.

The beauty of Taj Mahal and the story of Emporer Sha’s endearment for his wife is absolutely exquisite beyond words. The message of the Taj to all mankind is that Pure love is the soul of life.” Rabindranth Tagore described the Taj as a “teardrop on the cheek of time” and, believe me, while in her presence, it is hard not to shed a few of your own. Whether it be the Taj’s story appealing to your romantic side or the feeling of the energy there reminding you of the loved ones in your own life. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is impassible to visit the Taj and not be moved. Definitely another of my most amazing life experiences. Until next time…

Namaste’-
Lisa

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India

 

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