(Post in Progress)
The 3Gs have been reduced, since G #1 returned to Brazil. This leaves The 2Gs = Gracia + Gina (although I have decided to change the spelling of my name to "Jeena" to match the Hindi name, meaning Life. I really like that!)
We 2Gs set off today toward Rishikesh, but never made it far from Tapovan. I learned more secret alleyways and shortcuts, finally arriving at the much quieter, much more narrow, Laxman Jhula Bridge, less than 1.5km from the ashram through slim passages that still served as thoroughfare for too-fast scooters, immovable cattle, and both wandering dogs and people. This is a much more enjoyable route toward Rishikesh, as it is on the northeast side of the Ganges, with less people in parts, meaning slightly less traffic noise and dust. On the route down to the bridge, we discovered some cute cafes with overlooks of the river's bend and a Sai Satya Baba ashram. Some sort of parade celebration passes by, all saffrons and crimson that matched the vivid clanging of bells and drums. I thought it might be wedding, but the centerpiece of honor standing upright in his jeep said it was not, when I asked. At the entrance to the Bridge, Hanuman the Monkey God -- embodied in a petite man -- called us over with a monkey screech and a command, and although I knew he would demand money after the rites, he offered his blessing while tying a thread bracelet round and round our wrists. I cannot say no to a Monkey God, whether Sun Wukong of the Chinese lore or Hanuman of Hindu origin, me being a Monkey sign myself--especially when the Monkey God himself calls to me! This red-faced character held my gaze with his chants, unblinking and convincing. I was happy to fork over his fee of rupees.
Crossing the suspension bridge, of which the steel parts were painted the tri-colors of the Indian national flag, we immediately found a chai vendor. "Must have chai" has become my version of the zombie mantra, "Brainssssss".
Our original plan was to find a coffee/tea spot and spend a few hours writing and chatting. After a few hours looking in shops, buying colorful items we wanted but perhaps did not need but were to inexpensive to pass up, we found a lovely outdoor cafe along a noisy creek that offered the type of respite that only sunshine mixed with shade and the soothing sounds of flowing water can offer after walking along busy streets overflowing with human noise. Well, it also offered truffles. The 2Gs are both writers and we mused about our years of writing, the habitual enjoyment that we both wished to turn into a professional endeavor, and the varying themes of our work. It was a lovely afternoon spent sharing confidences and laughter and life stories to accompany chapatis and dahl and kofta.
Oh, and yes, and the truffles.
When you round the corner with your head down, in your own world, and a determined-looking grey monkey -- the size of a medium German Shepherd -- is loping toward you...
No photo :-(( Too surprised to pull out my phone as I was backing up, I then quickly turned around to run down the stairs! He just wanted to get off the balcony and onto the roof elsewhere! They generally just want to be left alone or get (steal) some food.
Cows aren't dumb! This giant Brahma bull waited for the oncoming traffic to slow, letting the scooter and car in, and he walked alongside them, entering the traffic flow!
Yesterday was an interesting day, full of Firsts!
First, "The 3 Gs" (our agreed upon appellation, because we are: Gracielle from Spain, Graciella from Brazil, and Gina from All Over, managed to catch a tuk-tuk (small, cheap, multi-person taxi) into Rishikesh, without getting too ripped off or bounced too hard. Why is it that in every country it seems taxi drivers are notorious for either trying to overcharge for the ride, or at the other extreme, are amazingly kind, honest, and helpful? Perhaps they work too hard and make little money? Any way, the ride in was noisy, crowded, and interesting. These little tuk-tuks hold 10 people uncomfortably; that is, the 8 people crammed in back on two opposite-facing benches made for 3 thin people are uncomfortable. The driver and the one passenger that fits up front have their own seats. I sat across from a friendly, bright blue-eyed, Sannyasin from Denmark, who spends several months each year in Rishikesh. A Sannyasin is one who has renounced "worldly life" to dedicate themselves to their spiritual practices. A HIndu or Yoga sannyasin is analagous to a Buddhist monk or Catholic nun. We chatted a little about our spiritual histories, as she gave an old beggar a few rupees. Before we parted ways, she directed us to the market. The clarity in her eyes struck me, and her face has stayed with me, the image of her smile visiting me several times these past few days. I could feel the power she emanated; a calm, loving demeanor, at peace with herself and the world. This sannyasin's self-possession imprinted on me a desire to achieve the same, reminding me of my longing to live at an ashram without attachments in the outside world. I know that at this time, I would only be capable of living at an ashram for a short time -- maybe one year; I have too much wanderlust still flooding these veins.
Click "Read More" after the photos below for more!
I need to brag just a wee bit (picture a smirk with false modesty). It is Tuesday, February 5th. I've been at the ashram for 10 full days. I am stronger in mind and body. My adrenals are rested; I am no longer operating in Fight-or-Flight Mode. I can think clearly about decisions that need to be made in my life; in fact, my mind and heart and body have relaxed to the point that clarity is viable and real once again! Seven more full more days in Rishikesh, although I am still considering an extension through Saturday or Sunday, which would give me an additional 3 days for a total of 10!
Aforementioned in previous posts, I feel better, I look better, I am building the resilience needed to return to a stressful and unhealthy environment, and gaining the clarity needed to leave said environment. My asana practice improves daily: my back no longer hurts from sitting perfectly straight-backed for long periods; my ligaments, muscles, and tendons are lengthening; my ability to control my thoughts is returning; my feelings of inner peace, self-confidence, and power are rising; my daily habits are changing to make room once again for my yoga practice; I am reclaiming my power and sense of purpose; I am calling back to me my sense of worth and value not only in the workplace, but in life; my inner voice -- and thus, my inner strength-- is growing powerful.
And what's really awesome is that I was able to get into Lotus pose (Padmasana) again, after 3 years (since tearing my miniscus in 2015)! That's what I aim to brag about! For the rest, I am simply feeling gratitude and excitement about the changes!
Monday, January 4
Yesterday, I finally walked into town, mainly Tapovan and halfway to Rishikesh. When I put on my hiking pants, I had to take in the belt -3 times! The Panchakarma treatments, along with daily yoga, meditation, pranayama, medicinal herbs, hopeful attitude, and amazing Ayurvedic meals have made me stronger on all levels and I have definitely lost weight and size--it feels like 10 lbs! Now I really want to stay that additional 3-4 days!
The treatments have begun a familiar pattern: shirodhara alternating with vasthi. It always begins with an amazing massage with heated packs of herbs, gram flour, and oil (Snehana). Then either Shirodhara (oil flowing onto the third eye center) or Vasthi (ring of gram dough enclosing heated , herbed oil). The session ends with the herbal steam sauna (Swedana). In truth, the session ends with me relaxing or napping on my bed! Aromas of camphor envelope me in the sauna.
Today I relaxed into the massage, followed by Shirodhara, and finishing with the steam sauna. A detailed account of these experiences, with photos, can be found in my "Tortilla" post (in progress).
Tuesday, January 5
Yesterday I experienced a new treatment--2 actually! I was feeling crampy and fatigued from my period, so I declined the Bhasti treatment. Santosh said she would put more heat on my belly and focus more massage there. Although I was still tired later, I didn't feel the grey, draining, fatigue I felt beforehand. At the end of the massage, she pulled out this delightful flowery face creme and gave my face a delicious, wrinkle-defying rub. Then, medicated drops of oil were poured into each of my ear canals, which were then stuffed with cotton to hold the oil in while I melted in the daily steam sauna. The ear treatment is called Karana Purana, and besides aiding in hearing, it diminishes tinnitus. It felt wonderful, of course! All the treatments I used to offer myself in the form of self-care -- daily, weekly, and seasonally -- that I have gotten away from, I will return to and add to my repertoire of healthy habits and regimen of self-care! www.ayurveda.com/resources/articles/the-daily-routine
Wednesday, January 6
I was supposed to have a job interview with a great, progressive-seeming school located in Kunming today, but the Admin had to reschedule (sigh). I was so psyched and prepared and excited to land this job, in a town in which I dearly want to reside for the next few years! Kunming is situated at 2000m, is surrounded by mountains, and sits on the shores of a magnificently huge lake. Plus, it is a small city, has clean air, and is the locale for many ethnic nationalities, such as the Yi and Bai, to name two. I skipped yoga this morning so that I would not be too tired for the interview, although I attended pranayama/meditation, and of course relished in my massage. I felt energized and ready, but no interview--aaargh!!!
...oh, about the massage hehehe... daily rejuvenating oil massage, followed by Shirodhara (which is always followed with a vigorous scalp, forehead, and neck massage), and ending with the menthol steam sauna. As per the norm, incredible!! Dr. Raj commented afterward about how healthy I look and that my weight loss is tremendously noticeable! WhooHoo! Tomorrow, I will resume Bhasti (oil enema).
Thursday, January 7
New treatments today. Nasya with face steam, uncomfortable but no pain.
Friday, January 8
No treatment today--ventured into the noise of Rishikesh!
Saturday, January 9
Massage, shirodhara, steam sauna.
Click "Read More" to the right!
I'm going back and forth about whether to extend my trip another 4 days or not. I'm loving my time here, and the treatments are working so well I feel newer every day!
Staying would require a new plane ticket, and a return to Chengdu late on Sunday night, making me really tired Monday after a 12 hour trip and multiple airline connections. But I would enjoy an additional 3 days of pancha karma and 4 more days in Rishikesh.
On the other hand, the plane trip Weds. is only 10 hours, and I would have time to catch up on some miscellany, prep for the week, get my yoga practice in order, buy a bike so I can bike to school, and put more time into the job hunt. I just dread going back to work, not so much Chengdu, but definitely work. Dr. Raj asked me if I wanted to stay another week, and I said "I wish!" If I could stay here for 3-4 weeks doing pancha karma, yoga, and eating the healthy Ayurvedic food, I really would be completely new and rejuvenated! And I might be able to return to work less bothered by it (although I am definitely still leaving the Black Hole!)
I guess I'll go back at the appointed time, dangit. I leave on Weds. Jan 13, very early in the morning, which means I still have 12 more days of healthy goodness coming my way!
I'll get into the science behind chanting later, but suffice to say:
I just had a mystical chanting experience!
Think of chanting as singing a prayer or an affirmation.
I either haven't had an experience like this one before, or it's been so long I have forgotten it. I have definitely
felt group energy and divine presence
when chanting in the past, but I don't recall ever having the physical feeling I just experienced in the session we just had! We were chanting the
Peace (Santi) mantra,
although in my other traditions we called it by a different name. I've been practicing this mantra for over a decade, so know it well. Plus, it is what is chanted as prayer prior to every meal at
Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in Virginia, USA.
There were two new people at the ashram today, so first we practiced pronouncing the Sanskrit and saying parts of the mantra over and over. Toward the end, we built up to phrases, then the full mantra. We sang it over and over and
I began to notice a lightness in my cranium--a floating sensation.
I can only describe the incident as a sensation akin to the one you feel when you hyperventilate to the point of feeling lightheaded; however, lightheadedness implies a loss of control and vertigo, whereas I felt completely empowered and aware.
Really, it can be best characterized by a sense of lightness or floating in my head,
as though my very Being was levitating.
And it was definitely accompanied by a sense of ease, joy, and peace!
Asato ma sad gamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mryitor ma amritam gamaya
Lead us from unreal to real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
Photo Credit: Yoga Anatomy, www.yoganatomy.com/psoas-resources-old__trashed/
It's seems that every move I make in yoga class causes tension and pain in my ilopsoas muscle; this is the muscle that runs down the front of the groin --from stomach to leg-- in laymen's terms, on both sides. Simplified, It connects backbone to leg bone. This muscle helps contract the body into the fetal position - used when crying or scared, for protection or comfort. It fiercely engages during the Fight-or-Flight and Fear Responses; the psoas strongly contracts the body to "duck and cover". Because it contracts and is activated during emotional turmoil, the psoas can hold deep psychic and emotional tension from trauma for long periods, even after the trauma has ended*. With that said, it is understandable that my psoas is tense and tight. As I stretch and strengthen, it resists. Not only am I releasing muscle tension on the physical plane, I am releasing years of emotional tension held there.
I sit cross-legged all the time, so it is surprising to me that it is so hard to sit cross-legged for long periods. Perhaps because I am more aware of my posture. This is one of my goals during this trip: to regain and rebuild my strong, straight posture! I have always had such excellent posture-- from a strict upbringing where I was constantly reminded to "sit up straight" and "hold your shoulders back", to years of yoga training where I was constantly aware of my body posture and actions. Slowly, over the past few years, my shoulders have rounded, I slump most of the time, and I look down. Slumping, looking down, and rounded shoulders are all ways to self-protect: protect the heart from pain, protect the body from suffering, protect one's Self from the dangers of the outside world. My poor posture is a physical manifestation of fear and anxiety-- an obvious result of trauma that has reinforced itself over time. Doesn't mean it can't be undone, though! This self-protection mechanism of my psoas is one reason my posture is so bad; I have been in "protection mode" for a few years now: feeling unsafe, unsettled, lacking security, and so forth. I've been walking around in an emotional fetal position, and as Dr. Van Der Kolk repeats again and again my body is keeping the score of the hits I take emotionally, physically (sports injuries), mentally (stress and worry), professionally (jobs and money), spiritually (all of the above)... have I missed anything?
Within 3 days, my posture is already realigning. I am sitting straighter and breathing deeper. I am following Dr. Raj's instruction: "Smile and Let Go!" I have forgotten how cardinal is the psoas to my overall posture. I am recalling and re-learning so much of the yoga science and practices I have forgotten from disuse. Instead of beating myself up too hard for letting my body and my heart reach this state of disuse and ill-repair, pain and isolation, I am remembering that I have done the best I could do the past few years. I survived remarkable trauma and hardship and I have come through relatively sane and broken only to the point that is reparable. If I look upon myself with compassion, and I look back at the past few years with compassion, I have done remarkably well. I have faltered, I have fallen (literally and figuratively), but I pull myself hand-over-hand back up.
Here I am, in Rishikesh, healing my body, my soul, and my heart. My psoas is releasing, as I release. The asana classes, pranayama, meditation, healing food, treatments, medicines, environs... they are all working to heal and undo, to create and build. As I "Smile and Let Go", I am released from so many shackles of the past. I will continue to unbind myself, stretch my muscles and my mind, build my willpower and determination, and create the Gina that is strong enough--more than strong enough!-- to leap toward the future I want for myself, and into the next transition ahead...! See you there!
Additional psoas info:
*Reference "The Body Keeps the Score" by Vessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.