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.
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.
As a child, hearing my father’s stories of his experiences growing up in India as a planted that seed of curiosity in me. This was long before I had ever experienced yoga and before I had ever been out of the country. I took my first trip to India in 2012 with one of my best friends and inspiration yoga teachers, Leeann Carey (http://www.retreatmaven.com). After that trip, I knew I would be back, I just wasn’t sure when.
I constantly remind my the students in my 200 hr yoga teacher training program that the best teachers are lifelong students. Because I believe in leading by example, I decided that I wanted to further my yoga education and explore new ways of teaching and inspiring my students. I came across Tiffany Cruikshank’s Yoga Medicine (http://www.yogamedicine.com) program. When I saw her 1,000 hr program, I knew I had found my next educational path. Not only is Tiffany’s teaching orthopedic in nature, but it is done retreat style! What more could a yogi who loves travel ask for?!?!? Little did I know that my first retreat with her would forever influence my life. Where else, but India! In December of 2014, I received an email from Yoga Medicine describing a module coming up in Kolkata, India in December 2015. The moment I read it, I knew I had to go. With tears in my eyes, I looked at my (incredibly supportive) husband and said, “I HAVE to do this!” What was the message that provoked such an emotional response in me? Human trafficking, homeless children and children living in slums in red-light districts. It seems surreal and just a Liam Neeson movie, but it’s real. And as a mother of two daughters, this hit way too close to home. These are the words I read that inspired me:
“Each year, millions of women and children are trafficked in India. A child goes missing somewhere in the country every eight minutes. Almost 35,000 children were officially reported missing in 2011, however it is thought only 30 percent of cases are reported.
Almost 80 percent of all worldwide trafficking is for sexual exploitation, with an estimated 1.2 million children being bought and sold into sexual slavery every year, and India is the poisonous hub. These staggering statistics aren’t just statistics, they are very real.
We, as a global community, have a unique opportunity to make a lasting and deeply meaningful impact in the community of Kolkata. This is our chance to give back to a spiritually rich community that has given us so much.
Our chosen project is to support the day-to-day operation of 15 street kids shelters, preventing the trafficking of kids ages 4-15 living in the slums and red light districts of Kolkata. The shelters provide healthcare, education, nutritional meals, tutoring, job coaching, yoga classes and other recreational activities for over 525 children. Our funds will be used towards teacher’s and supervisor’s salaries, accounting, programming, transportation, and educational materials.”-http://www.yogamedicine.com
I signed up immediately to be a part of this movement to make a global impact on the lives of yoga girls and children who were less fortunate that my own. On December 1, 2015, I set out on this adventure to “Be the change”. It was while I was on this journey that the inspiration for “Travels of a Yogi” was born. Pack your bags and join me!
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…
As I mentioned before, the energy is definitely different in Delhi. The people getting from point A to point B by walking, public busing, tuk-tuks, buses, motorbikes and rickshaws is a bit overstimulating to say the least! And the incessant honking! Oy, vey! It’s constant and is meant as a means of communication between the drivers of the various forms of transportation, but for us Westerners, it is hard not to take offence. Another reminder that we aren’t in Kansas anymore (or South Carolina, Ohio, California or England for that matter!) The craziness of the streets carried with us onto the railways as we caught our 6am train to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Upon arrival at the train station, we are reminded of how the rails are a significant part of mass transit in India. At the station, there are people EVERYWHERE! They are bustling about like an ant colony on crack yet, others are at a complete standstill laying anywhere and everywhere trying to catch a little bit of rest before their next train. We are seated in the highest cabin possible, yet the accommodations leave a lot to be desired. While the seats are fine, describing the bathrooms as disgusting would be an understatement. We are served water, tea and breakfast on the train, albeit only the bread and the stale cornflakes sans milk were palatable. I am told this cabin is about 1200 Rupees or about $22 for this 2 hour ride. The other classes of cabins went down as low as 200 Rupees; just under $4. Those unfortunate enough to be in the lower class cabins were lucky if they even had a seat. We could see them packed in this metal box like sardines with no A/C. At one train station, we see a passenger on another train being motion sick out the window. Not a pretty sight and I am again reminded to give thanks to the man sitting next to me for switching his seat so that I could face forward in the direction that we were headed, otherwise, I would have my head out the window as well.
The arrival into the Agra train station was my first realization at just how much poverty and despair there is here. Women carrying babies, small girls who couldn’t be more than 10 or 11 years old carrying babies passing them off as their own (or who knows, maybe they were their own) and little children begging for anything and everything: food, water and even asking for shampoo, of all things. This was almost unbearable. The pulling at your bags, your sleeves and your pants as they beg and plead was yet another reminder of the amazing life I lead back in the States and I wonder what my own children are doing at that time—hopefully behaving for Daddy!!! To add to the experience, the number of disfigured and crippled beggars is gut-wrenching and since I am at a loss for words to describe the pain I felt in my heart at that time, I won’t even attempt to try. Until next time…
As we celebrate the transition into Fall, it is like saying goodbye to an oldfriend or family member. It’s hard to let go, but also reminds us that the road continues ahead of us waiting for us to embark on our next journey.
For me, it is hard to believe that 19 years ago this month, I lost my father to cancer. That loss taught me so much and helped shape me into who I am today. One of the fondest memories I have of him is listening to his stories of how he grew up in India. His stories were fascinating ones of pet monkeys and elephants and getting bit by a pit viper snake!
Well, for me, this fall welcomes the journey of a lifetime for me. I will be heading to India at the end of this month. I will visit places that my father had been before me. Even though he is not here, or there, I feel that he will be with me as I make this trip around the globe. I invite you to come, too. Just as I blogged while in Thailand, I will be blogging my way around the World. Come along, it is sure to be a trip that I’ll never forget!
Om Shanti, Namaste’