Settling into Arambol

I’ve been here over a week already and slowly I am getting to know what’s what in Arambol. I’ve barely scratched the surface I’m sure but I at least feel like I’m getting settled. Do I love Arambol? No.. But I do recognise you take what you need from somewhere like this and leave the rest. It’s easy to find fault but it’s more rewarding to find the good. It’s a very busy place and the volume of motorbikes and scooters is by far the biggest hazard, given the roads are only very small. So you have to have your wits about you! Moped dodging yoga – it’s a way if life.. The place itself offers an easy way of life with more yoga and various activities than anywhere I’ve experienced. I have also discovered an amazing restaurant that does incredible salads.. My oh my… There are also so many places to get juices, one place here has such an extensive menu that it includes radish juice??!

Being in Arambol also gives me a solid base for my remaining time so I can focus on utilising the last couple of weeks studying and practising. I can settle into a simple routine, which makes this much more realistic. Vallee and I have started a daily practice together, which has proved inspiring and given us both a bit of spark. We were falling into the “we’ll do it tomorrow” trap, which of course never comes. So we made a resolve to get on with it and just do. Today we had a lovely session just playing really. We were lucky to be able to use Vallee’s teachers Shala a short distance away that has a few props, including handing ropes, so for the first 15mins or so we hung upside down! That then evolved into shavasana and then an impromptu meditation. Then on to some play… A couple of my ‘fear’ inducing poses. The crow and headstand.. Vallee had some valuable learning to pass on and it really helped. There was a significant difference, the relaxed atmosphere and new blood and energy surging around my body from the invigorating inversion where a winning combo!

Since I’ve been here I’ve met 8 people I know! Vallee of course, the silent Baba from Rishikesh, two Aussie girls from the ashram in Gokarna, three people from my Vipassana course (including the couple I also met in Fort Kochi!) and then a couple of days  ago I met an Italian woman called Parvati from Sivananda. It’s kind of weird seeing everyone out of context to how I met them but nice to catch up with them all.

The first course at the Himalayan Iyengar Centre went really well and totally broke down the asanas that we learnt, which has been insightful. It’s caused me to really consider my approach and realise how important it is to really feel what I’m doing from within. Using instructions to make minor movements or adjustments that make a dramatic effect on the alignment of your body. Tadasana being a prime example. The act of engaging different parts of how the foot is placed on the ground makes such a huge difference to the position of the rest of the body, without any other ‘local’ movement. I’ve learnt elements of this before but learning it and more extensively at this point is perfect timing.

I’ve signed up to the next course, which starts tomorrow at the earlier time of 7am, so I’ll have to forgo the early morning run but I’ll get over it!

So what else has Arambol revealed.. That sunset time on the beach definitely creates the most smiles, it’s by far my favourite time of day. All everyone’s woes seems to disappear with the setting sun and people come alive, there seems to be no end to all the different activities taking place! Some examples: acro yoga, various people meditating, groups of drummers, small groups singing and playing instruments, dancing, flying huge kites, some people kite surfing (if that’s the actual name..) There was a man on stilts walking into the sea the other day! So quite an eclectic mix…

I practiced with Vallee’s teacher Bittu for a couple of days that she has been working with. As always is great to experience a new teachers technique and knowledge.

I’ve also started some yoga therapy with Bittu, I was interested as there are still a few areas of my body, where I’m holding tensions that as I’ve learnt are common to many. My shoulders are one that continue to be a trouble spot and he described them as concrete. He works on blocked energy points called nadi’s that restrict the flow of prana (vital energy) around the body, creating tension and discomfort in certain places. It sounds a bit out there granted but the work he does, combining applying pressure on specific points around the body and contorting you into various shapes certainly feels invigorating afterwards. I couldn’t sleep after the first session because there was so much energy buzzing around my body!

As I approach my final couple of weeks the biggest challenge is trying to stay present and not look to my plans when I return home, a tricky balance of staying present and experiencing every last drop of India and being mindful of the next step. Although that is clearly a contradictory statement and I just need to be here. The rest will work itself out…right?

 

The Sivananda Way. Part 2

The next big event was of course New Years Eve, not one I normally celebrate in any way but this was to be different…

Again one to remember and still right there on the surreal end of the spectrum. It started with some musical entertainment which was mainly singing and it certainly got the crowds up and dancing, which created a great atmosphere and it was lovely to observe people letting lose. Another taste of the herbal coffee to awaken the senses and then down to the lake… Mysterious.. We were met by a bonfire (yet to be lit) and some banging Indian dance tunes… Not at all what I expected from an Ashram NYE celebration but this is India, the land of contrasts after all.. Some sparklers and fireworks were added into the mix, there’s something about setting off fireworks that brings out the over excited child in an Indian. This is fun of course but add in a total disregard for any safety and a small area to work within you have a toxic mix. So one had to be on the guard for any explosions nearby. It was mostly amusing but interlaced with moments of fear! There was one man in particular that was a bit unhinged or had potentially indulged in something a bit stronger than herbal coffee. At one point he was dancing whilst waving a string of fire crackers around his head! He was also partial to setting off fireworks in his hand.. I can report he finished the evening with all limbs in tact.

The bonfire was set alight and burned at pace given that it was made of coconut leaves and coconut husks. There were some hidden firecrackers within the mix which also helped make it a visual delight. After some more dancing and dodging of fireworks it was back to the main hall for some peace chanting to bring us back to a more ‘Satvic’ state. This in a lot of ways was my highlight, it felt really powerful after the energy charge of the dancing and fireworks.

To finish off the evening there was a massive cake! Everyone was very excited about this and it was demolished in minutes. A nice little sugar rush before bed!

The other main event from my time at the ashram was without a doubt a lecture and performance from a woman called Parvarthy. Baul an experience as I often find with moments in India that is very hard to put into words. She talked about Bhakti yoga (devotional yoga) through the Baul tradition, performance of songs that speak of love and devotion and ‘oneness’.

She performed with two instruments: Ektara (a simple string instrument, with a hypnotic sound) and duggie (drum). She played these both at the same time whilst singing! Impressive stuff.. He spoken voice was so delicate and soft but the power behind her singing voice came from somewhere quite different. I found it
quite overwhelming but in a very electrifying sense. This was only the afternoon lecture and performance, that in itself was a experience. I loved hearing her talking, done so from a great depth of knowledge but delivered with touches of humour. The evening we were fortunate to enjoy a performance of singing, playing the two instruments and then also dancing. A whole lot going on at once!! Her presence was certainly very intense felt like she was the ‘real deal’.

 

There are many other experience and moments to share but in a vain attempt to cut down the length of the post here is an overview of some other memorable points:

Visit to the Elephant sanctuary and watching them being bathed – an elephant loves a bit if pampering

Swims in the lake.. Ahhh the beautiful lake. The swims were a nice respite from the yoga and a nice chance to stretch in a different way.

An Ayurvedic massage from a local man with incredible energy. One of the best I’ve ever experienced and quite intense! Afterwards he took me on his motorbike to a bakery so I could buy a plum cake for someone’s birthday. Indian kindness – priceless.

Kerala is abundant in resources. Rubber trees for one. Channels are created in trunk of the tree, the rubber is collected into a pot, which is then made into sheet of rubber and then sold to manufactures to make flip flops, etc. Everywhere you travel there are mats drying on roadside.

Abundance of different bananas: red, mini, normal – who knew there were so many.

Kerala has the friendliest people ever, so many smiles!

The little escape when we were allowed out of the Ashram to the chai/coffee shop a short distance that made omelettes, for some much needed protein.

Book club!! I’ve always wanted to go to a book club and my wish was finally granted. A lovely woman Heather was the organiser and the book of choice was a collection of essays written by Swami Sivananda. They certainly produced some lively debates!

So to conclude.. It was a memorable experience staying at the ashram and I met a huge array of personalities on the way and was given the opportunity to learn and experience many parts of the traditional Kerala culture.

The next leg Vipassana….