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India: Sivananda Yoga Ashram

My joyous experience of learning and understanding Yoga and Hindu Culture at the gorgeous, peaceful Sivananda Ashram...... Hare Krishna, hare Kirshna, Kirshna Krishna, hare hare!

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Sivananda Ashram

Jaya Ganesha, jaya Ganesha, jaya Ganesha pahimam
Shree Ganesha, shree Ganesha, shree Ganesha rakshamam!

Journey from Varkala

My friend Ana also decided to try an ashram experience and joined me on the train bound for Trivandrum, Kerala's capital.
Trivandrum is super busy, and not really a place to stop to look around.
We caught a connecting bus bound for Neyar Dam and then an auto rickshaw to the ashram.

What is Sivananda?

Sivananda is a Hindu yoga ashram founded by late guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati.
The available programs teach the 5 points of yoga in equal measure, with Hindu philosophies and culture.
Foreigners and Indians alike were here to study, learn and experience - mostly for the 1 month teacher training program.
I was here for the shorter 'Yoga Vacation' program.

Yoga

Yoga is a sanscrit word meaning Unity… unity of the 5 points.
Unfortunately 'yoga' has been misinterpreted in the west, focusing on only one of the 5 points - the asanas (positions) / exercise.

To embrace yoga one must adopt all 5 points (each of which are taught with almost equal fervour within the program)

  • Proper breathing
  • Proper relaxation
  • Proper nutrition
  • Proper meditation
  • Proper exercise (asanas)

One follows the other - if you practice asanas, but don't take care with nutrition or breathing, the benefits will not be realised.
If your mind is not at peace, in a state of attachment or craving, then the focus is lost and full benefits will not be realised.
Be calm, light, aware, focused, content… embrace yoga, and the rest will follow... for me it did!

Daily life at the ashram

  • 5:45am The bell rings for everyone to get up!
  • 6am Satsang

This is in the main grandiose hall, where massive paintings of each of the Hindu deities adorn the walls.
Everyone must attend Satsung!
I found it an amazingly joyous and uplifting way to start the day.
We begin with a silent group meditation for 30 minutes, and then chant the universal sound of Ohm
As nearly 300 participants chant "Ohm" together, the enormous sound reverberates through the sound enhancing hall - it is big and powerful.
A universal sound of creation.

Then musical chanting for roughly 45 minutes - almost always in praise of deities - Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, Rama, Hanuman, etc.
Interestingly, some of the chants acknowledge deities of other religions - Hare Jesus, Hare Buddha, Hare Mohammed….
After chanting, everyone is uplifted and ready for the day ahead.

There are plenty of jambes, chimes, bells, tambourines around for people to pick up and tap, bash, plus a melodeon As the chants were all in sanscrit it was difficult to understand what we were singing, but after a few days we got to understand who each deity is, and what the praise words mean.

On Sundays, we started instead with a silent walk down to gorgeous Neyar Dam - reaching it just in time for sunrise, and then chanting together in the sun - just beautiful.

Satsang:
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  • 7:30am - Tea

We have a choice of masala chai (spiced milk tea), or ginger tea in the morning.

  • 8am Asana class

In asana class we gradually learn each of the 12 a,sanas (yoga positions/transitions) combined with the science and benefits behind them.
There are of 8000 documented asanas.
Sivananda picked only 12 of the most beneficial asanas as part of the course.
The teachers were very patient, though made sure everyone got the transition and held the positions in the proper manner.
After each asana we lie down to reeeeeeelaaaax, before embarking on the next, allowing our bodies and minds to refresh, so that the next asana brings the full benefits to body and mind.
By the end of each class I was ready to fall into deep relaxing sleep!

  • 10am Brunch

Brunch is usually dosa, and can be nice - with some rice, yogurt, dahl or vegetable based curry and a super food (like shredded beetroot).
At all meals, we sit on the floor, cross legged and observe silence. No utensils are used for eating and you must only eat with your right hand.
I initially found this very difficult, but once you get comfortable seated in such position, and eating sloppy stuff with your hands (pick little bits at a time between thumb and middle finger), you are eating traditionally and mindful only of the nutrition filling your body,
Having only 2 small meals a day, I was still never hungry at the ashram, and was always "full of beans".

A great deal of thought, research and preparation goes into the food here - to maximise supply of proteins, carbohydrate and vitamins.
You will either love or hate the food ;-)

  • Karma Yoga

Karma yoga can be described as selfless service. Everyone attending the ashram must contribute at least some of their day to helping others. I opted to help out with serving tea - which really only took 5 minutes of each afternoon.

  • 12:30 Coaching

Additional coaching of the asanas is available at this time where you can have a 1 on 1 with the teachers to perfect, or go further with the asanas.

  • 1:30 More tea!
  • 2:30 Lecture

The first 2 lectures were on Hindu culture and the significance of yoga within it; and conducted by a retired senior army official.
At 73 years of age, he looked more like a fit 50, and gave the group an entertaining, but concise view of what it is to be a Hindu and leading a healthy life.
The remainder of the lectures focused on the 5 points of yoga and how to incorporate them into every day life.
The lectures were largely practical, looking at the biology of the breath, maximising oxygen absorption, providing nutrients to the body, the effect of toxins, maintaining clarity and peace of the mind, minimising attachment, living cleanly; plus maintaining a balance between the yogi's life and your material world.

  • 3:30pm Arvo asana class
  • 6pm

Dinner - same formalities as breakfast. The food was a bit more dinner like - with a bread or rice, hearty veg curry, some shredded salad and (occasionally) something nice like a pineapple slice.

  • 8pm

Evening Satsung. Same format as the morning Satsung, however on Saturday nights there is an open mic style talent show - some folks came out with really great acts - singing, dancing, crowd involvement etc.
Also a local dance troupe came in to perform a traditional Hindu dance depicting one of the stories from the Vedas - involving Shiva tricking a nasty king, and having him killed by a half tiger half man beast.

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The Hindu Vedas can particularly violent and detailed stories, and are very influential in India - the deities are very interesting characters to me - beautiful, colourful, powerful, emotional, and festive - much like their loyal devotees.

This kind of devotion, however, to such poetic verses prompted a memorable, if not controversial conversation in the men's dorm.....
What will people buy into in 3000 years time? Surely something new and (mis)interpreted from today's mythology....

....All hail the great Batman - the courageous and selfless warrior from the ancient city of Gotham, who despite great wealth, forfeited his safety and lavish life to rid the world of evil; foiling the evil totalitarian aspirations of the Joker.
Chant in praise of Batman, Robyn... perhaps even Alfred.
Hare Batman Hare Batman, Batman Batman, Hare Hare!
.
Though, surely modern the world of Gotham is very tame and meek compared to the Vedas!

The Ashram Grounds and Lodgings

Sivananda is a beautiful, comfortable, serene, well managed, large and well kept place, I could have easily spent a month here to to teacher training if time permitted!

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The dorms were clean and relatively comfortable. Good places to socialise. There were private rooms available for a fairly hefty cost, though I didn't get to see them.
An ayurvedic treatment centre, boutique (selling yoga mats, etc) is also there, plus a "Health Hut' if you fancy a sneaky fruit salad between meals.

All in All....

All in all Sivananda was a really positive experience. I left lighter in body and mind, informed about looking after myself and more spiritually aware.
I learnt a lot about breathing, nutrient absorption, looking after my mind and body, Hindu mythology and alternate thinking. I made some great friends both Indian and foreign. One of those life enriching experiences!

Hare Krishna, hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, hare hare....
Om Shanti, shanti, shanti

You can see all of my photos from beautiful Sivananda here.

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:38 Archived in India Tagged yoga sivananda ashrams_india Comments (1)

Thailand: Atsumi Healing Retreat

Healing and rejuvenation through fasting, detoxification, yoga, meditation and learning!

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Atsumi

Atsumi is a health retreat offering a comprehensive and informative program for detoxification of body and mind through fasting, cleansing, yoga, nutritional education, meditation, spirutual guidance, varied exercise and many other great offerings.

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Where is it?

Located in beautiful, sparse, quiet and super health conscious - Rawai, Phuket - with raw food cafes, roughly five muay thai boxing camps, and a strong contender for world's best unspoiled beach (Nai Harn) - the perfect place to immerse yourself in a healthy culture with no looming temptations or notable nightlife.
In the mornings hundreds of fitness tourists stomp the pavements for the mandatory 8km run as warm up before their respective Muay Thai / yoga / etc training starts.

Nai Harn Beach:
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Why fast to detox?

Here is my in-eloquent explanation...

Western diets are full of acidic / toxic contents that our bodies weren't designed to ingest - i.e. sugar, alcohol, red meat, etc.
Further, we cook foods for taste however enzymes are completely killed off in the process and more toxins are introduced.

When we consume in this way our bodies go into "defensive mode".
As part of this defense our bodies produce a mucoid plaque in the intestines in an effort to shield the body from inducing the bad stuff whilst protecting our inner linings.
A consequence of the plaque is that it slows the flow of foods into our system, inhibits nutrient absorption (which is why people who consume higher levels of sugar, alcohol, etc have bigger appetites) and also becomes a breeding ground for nasties.

When we fast, we have a clear path to flush the plaque (and all that it has trapped) out of our system, whilst letting our other digestive organs recuperate.
Think of a car - if you really want to clean the engine, do you just drain the oil and then put more in?
No, you empty the engine and give it a good scrub, then a flush.

What happens?

In a nutshell, you don't eat anything, however throughout the day you consume:

  • 2 coconuts (water only, no flesh)
  • Liver flush drink (garlic, lemon juice and olive oil)
  • Lots of water
  • Capsules containing plant based proteins and vitamins
  • Several cleansing drinks (consisting of natural fibre and a dried volcanic clay)

.... the clay expands in the intestinal tract and stomach and pulls the mucoid plaque and all the bad stuff down through the system.

Participants do 2 self administered colemas to "flush" from the system.
Sounds horrible perhaps, but you gradually feel the benefits both physically and mentally, as your body becomes cleaner (both in and out).

There is a lovely herbal steam room to help expunge toxins via our biggest organ (our skin!).

Each day we had a choice of massage. I went for the Thaiatsu most days - a strong mix of traditional Thai and Shiatsu.
The masseuses were strong and buff almost like muay thai fighters (only, older ladies) - so the massages were brutal but effective.

Further Activities

There is daily yoga or fitness training in the morning, and a variety of interesting sessions in the evening including:

  • Meditation practice
  • How to come out of a fast (slowly and gradually, increasing metabolic rate), and keep the good thing going.
  • Technical discussions around nutrition, digestion ( incl. good food combos and BAD food combos), and technical explanation of what your body is going through
  • Chakra healing
  • ......much more

Atsumi grounds:
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Additional Offerings

As with most health retreats there are additional treatments that can be undertaken. Atsumi's are specifically eastern and I have to say very effective.
I did one session with a chiropractic/physio healer who (whilst inducing more pain than I have ever experienced), completely reset my body framework and healed an accident injury that several visits to a western osteopath did nothing for.
I also worked with a spiritual healer who guided me through some of my trials and bigger life questions - I have to say this session had life changing impact, and everyone else who did similar sessions reported the same impact.

Results

I left Atsumi 7kgs lighter, much fitter, happier with a much more informed balanced and calmer view of the world.
Would recommend to anyone!

Photos

You can see my photos of Atsumi and the gorgeous surrounds of Nai Harn :here

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged yoga detox health_retreat_phuket atsumi Comments (0)

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