Monday, February 28, 2000

Hello from South India!

I have been at yoga camp for the last 2 weeks – at Sivananda Ashram in Neyer Dam which is located in the state of Kerala. It is a tropical paradise here with rich and succulent vegetation. The ashram is situated next to a huge lake between banana and cashew and tapioca plantations. The setting is picturesque – quiet, pollution free and unaffected by the outside world. There is a lion park across the lake and we can hear the load roar of lions while meditating. Most of our living is done “outside” – meditation is under the stars and with the sunrise, the yoga hall has 2 stories and the walls are largely open with domed arches every ten feet or so. The windows to my room were always open – the weather is so nice that you live outside all the time.


Sivanada Ashram. This area is used for large group meditation and chanting, morning and evening.

For the last two weeks I have concentrated solely on my health and well being. The program consists of practicing four types of yoga: 1) Karma yoga, the path of action, focuses on finding enlightenment through selfless service (e.g., Mother Teresa); 2) Bhakti yoga, the path of love and devotion, is very expressive and requires surrender to God; 3) Raja yoga, the path of mind control, is the practice of yoga assanas (positions) and pranayama (breath control) to better control the mind so you can find God through all the mind-clutter and 4) Nyanna yoga, the path of knowledge, focuses on meditation and developing one’s intuition.

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The alter and stage where morning and evening chanting and meditation happen. My job was to help dress the alter.

The program at the ashram is fairly rigorous. All of the activities are mandatory. Tthey do not want to “entertain” casual seekers. Our day starts at 6:00 a.m. at the lake where we meditate, chant and have a talk until 7:30. From 8:00 to 10:00, we do yoga and then we have our first meal (lunch) which is a very delicious and healthy, pure vegetarian delight. We eat sitting on the floor with our hands – I must say I really like it! From 11:00 a.m. to 12:00, we have Karma yoga. My karma yoga assignment was to help a woman named Uma take care of the alter for meditations – a most enjoyable “job” that helped me get more connected to Bhakti yoga. We had free time from 12:00 until 2:00, than we had a yoga talk from 2:00 to 3:30, which were given by the big swami who is a wonderful man. From 4:00 to 6:00, we did more yoga. We ate dinner at 6:00 and had meditation and chanting from 8:00 p.m. to about 10:00. A long day! We got Friday’s off and had the option to take two side trips which I did.

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A waterfall we visited on our outing.

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Me in proper dress for touring and temples.

I have never felt such freedom in a structured environment. Since I have been an entrepreneur, I haven’t experienced structure in a long time. I appreciated not having to think about what I was going to eat – I just had to show up. Their only purpose at the ashram is to ensure that individuals who stay there experience growth and development and they deliver!! They encourage that we live a pure life – eat pure food, spend time in meditation and exercise our bodies – the ashram setting allows us to put it into practice and establish good habits. My body has responded well to yoga – I am a little stiff but am starting to gain the flexibility I had as a young gymnast. My body remembers how to balance itself which is more than half the battle with yoga. The food is so delicious that even though I’ve eaten 2 meals a day of pure veg. – I haven’t lost weight – but I haven’t gained either.

The also offer cultural programs. We had a fire ceremony one night that was incredible. A local Hindu priest and his assistants built a brick fire pit and decorated the floor with sand medallions. We did a special ceremony that celebrated Vishnu, a Hindu god. I also went on a jungle walk for a day in a wilderness area to a waterfall and swimming area – they trekked in a delicious meal that we ate on banana leaves. I also went on a temple tour with one of the swami’s and gained access to and learned first hand about the Hindu faith. Hindus don’t want non-Hindus inside their temples so it’s best to travel with someone who has influence and can explain what is happening. India is rich with spirit – every corner, every nook, every cranny – temples and spirit pervade.


Fire Ceremony. Big Swami on the left.

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Barry Manin sporting Fire Ceremony attire. He was a great person to talk and hang with during the camp!

Yesterday, I learned a body purification technique called neti. You take this little neti pot, fill it with warm salt water, put the spout into one nostril, tilt your head down and allow the water to flow in one nostril and out the other. We also learned how to floss our nasal cavity. You use a catheter (thin rubber hose) and put it into the nostril, lean your head back and breathe in – the tube settles at the back of your throat, and you reach into your mouth and grab the tube. So, the tube is going into your nose and coming out of your mouth – then you move it back and forth and floss the nasal cavity. These exercises aid in breathing practices. Fun! Fun!

My next stop is a remote village about 80 km from the ashram. I will undergo a 2 week ayurvedic cleanse where I will receive a massage a day with special herbal medicines. I will also get an herbal enema – so much to look forward to! I expect to feel great after the cleanse but the cleansing itself may be a bit rough. I’ll let you know how it goes…I hope everyone is well!! I look forward to hearing from you!! I will be out of touch for 2 weeks and will enjoy lots of mail in my inbox!

Love, Jen