A pocketful of Thailand in 8 days

After 2 months in India, I thought a short trip to Thailand should be the best intermezzo before heading down under, to Australia, where my spiritual journey would be supposed to end on the shores of the Pacific ocean and in New South Wales Hinterland.

Scuba on the Similans

Being a passionate scuba diver I put a dive liveaboad as a priority. I already went diving on day trips in South-East-Asian waters, mostly quite close to the coast. This time I wanted to get a top-notch underwater experience and decided to get on a 4-days-4-night-tour to the Similan and Surin Islands nationalparks, out in the Andaman sea. It costed a lot, however, since we managed to see plenty of underwater life including huge oceanic Mantas, White-tip-reef-sharks, sea turtles and many more. The Similian islands alone are already worth visiting, as hosting not only breathtaking beaches, but also spectacular granite rocks.

Beaches and Buddhas in Krabi

What I wouldn’t have imagined: the place from where I embarked for the liveaboard, Khao Lak, offered beautiful opportunities, too. On just one day it was possible to visit waterfalls in the jungle, a temple, have an amazig sunset on one of the nice, clean beaches and get live music in a local bar – all this done easily by bike, by the way!

My second destination in Thailand was Krabi – well known and described by hundreds or thousands of blogs each year, probably. I’ll keep it brief: It’s defitively worth visiting. In only two days I went to the beaches of Ao Nang and Railey, mastered the 1237 steps up to Tiger Cave Temple and the big golden Buddha and still had enough time to enjoy several night markets in Krabi town. What I did not do was free climbing at Railey, although the rock looked pretty good and the scenary around is amazing.

I eventually also had to skip a trip to Phi phi islands this time, since I had little time and to priorize. Although the Phi phi’s are considered extremely overcrowded nowadays, I’d still strongly recommend them, especially to Thailand beginners. To me they are a little jewel of the Andaman sea. Both the rocks and the waters there are superb, and, despite the thousands of boats crossing daily and the coral bleeching, you’ll find great snorkeling places rich of fish.

“Vegetarian” – an apparently unknown word to the Thai

The only downside of my time in Thailand was the thing with porc and chicken – the Thai seem to put it in everything they eat! Having become more conscious about my eating habits during my time in India, I felt quite uncomfortable about meat being everyhere, suddenly. And it would appear to be tougher than imgined to explain them ‘vegetarian’ – they often looked at me, as if I had just ordered human flesh, or something else very very unexpected… In such moments I would melancholically remember Indian food and flavours with a silent smile in my heart…

Anyway, thank you Thailand for an amazing time!

Why I would come again to Thailand

Thailand knows how to live on tourism – infrastructure is top notch, everything works and is (mostly) in time.
Things have been organised for visitors and tourists – you find tons of ATM’s, pick-up services and more. You feel safe. Even alone and as a woman (I got it confirmed several times during my stay…).
Amazing landscapes – underwater and above the surface! Despite coral bleaching some of the best marine life meories I carry were caught in Thai waters…
Plenty of Buddhist temples and sights.
Smiling and friendly people 🙂
Food everwhere – although not always poviding the right choice for me, the night markets are really worth exploring!

Goa and the Delhi belly – my least pleasant impressions of India

Why I chose Goa…

I spent my last days in Aramabol, Goa, in the south-west of the subcontinent on the Arabian sea. The decision why I came to Goa was based on two suggestions mainly:

First, Goa was among the places that offered plenty of yoga teacher training opportunities, as I found out back home, when I was still looking for a good place to do my TTC.
Second, the little town Arambol up in the north of Goa discovered by hippies in the late 1960ies had hosted a colorful and alternative public from Europe and beyond since then. At least, that’s what my selective eyes had read about it, so far. According to some guide’s description, the place reminded me a bit of Valle Gran Rey, the Canary Islands’ hippie refugee – a place I particulary fell in love with and that I’d recommend to anybody looking for a time-out-vacation between stormy waves, steep rocks, rain forests and warm-hearted, open-minded people…
So, still being eager to try out different yoga styles and teachers, and to meet some cool people, I decided to take a plane from cold Delhi to the warm south west of India.

…and why I didn’t like it in the end

The Goan reality, however, appeared to be way different than I had naively imagined. The main reasons why I really wouldn’t go back to Goa:

It’s an overcrowded place

Today, every single inch is commercialized and mostly visited by well paying Indian and Russian tourists. Masses of tourists. And of sellers. There’s hardly any place in Arambol where you wouldn’t be asked to buy ‘somethig, Sir’. To reach your favourite beaches you would have to walk your way litteraly through miles of improvised souvenir shops. Well, some like it and see souvenir shopping as an essential part of their vacation – I don’t… Once you find your place, you might be offered drugs or other semi-legal services by some spooky guy coming out of the bush… It apperared impossible to just sit on the beach and simply enjoy yourself and the sunset without any interruption. Since Russians are one of the biggest parts of visitors, prepare yourself to be approached in Russian regularly, if not looking very un-caucasian! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got many Russian friends and excellent relations with our ‘big neighbour’, yet, all this was not what I was looking for – especially, since local prices adapted to the well paying customers. One would consequently pay Europen prices in many of the places there – still getting the Indian service, however 😉

Tough tropical climate

Be ready to have 33 to 37 degrees, even during what they call the ‘most pleasant season’! I really like warm weather, but since you don’t get aircon in budget accomodation and they don’t use moskito nets in general, it becomes a bad combination when it comes to staying in bed at night, not breathing any fresh air with well above 30 degrees…
Also, be prepared to practice your yoga asanas in an ocean of sweat. You might dislike it, you might not care. Who definitively will love it, however, are the moskitoes! You can’t believe how glad I felt that I didn’t come to Goa to do my TTC in the end, after having worked out my sweaty way through a vinyasa flow…

Food quality and hygene

Food is everywhere in Goa and according to certain guides you would even find some of the best restaurants of south Asia (!) down there. Actually something I appreciate, and by then I really had been enjoying Indian food enormously. I even cought myself seriously wondering, whether I should adopt vegetarianism on the long run. I simply haven’t been missing neither fish, nor meat, since I started my journey in Octorber!

However, something about food went terribly wrong in Goa: I couldn’t believe this would be possible to happen still after 7 weeks, but after a horrible night during which my body was refusing to keep anything I ate or drank and after two days of diarreah there were no doubts: ‘Delhi belly’ finally got me! Delhi belly is the form of diarreah and throw-out pattern one gets after having eaten something which bacteria your body doesn’t stand (yet). Can be due to poor water quality (which is quite normal in India), or due to food that has been lying open-air for some time, while probably being contaminated by flies and other germ-carrying visitors…

Of course, the Delhi belly can hit you anywhere beyond India or Goa. Yet, to me, the bad impression will remain linked to the place, especially, as the penetrant smell of cooking everywhere day and night wouldn’t make tings easier during those days…

Bad internet

Although really not cosidering myself an online-addicted, I noticed an unpleasant thing that can mean a severe downside to some of you: On 3 out of 5 days Aramabol had serious problems with the internet connection. Means no WiFi at any bar, means no or really weak mobile network coverage in many places. Additionally, the connection at the hostel was very weak and not even reaching all of the rooms most of the time.

It’s absoutely not my intention to discourage anybody from visiting Goa or Arambol. I also had really good moments when meeting two colleagues from my TTC, or playing the guitar and singing all night long with some random Spanish and Israeli guys in a small street restaurant. These moments and encounters meant deep joy and gratitude and prove that life can be great everyday. Yet, Goa wasn’t my place to be for many reasons. Let’s finish this post with a positive conclusion, however: sometimes we have to experience what we really don’t like, to appreciate much more what we actually have in life!

 

Yoga in Rishikesh with the “Indian Kelly Starrett”

By the time I finished my Yoga teacher training at the Arhanta Yoga Ashram in Khajuraho, central India, Yoga had already become a daily routine I couldn’t imagine to skip in ‘real life’. Thus, I was convinced to continue the practice, be it in an ashram, be it in a 6 square meter room at the hostel (I’ve already done both options since then 🙂 ).
So, when I came to Rishikesh I randomly tried some drop-in classes. That’s how I got to know Mittra, a competent, hilarious and truly devoted yoga teacher. Besides practising asanas and even some chanting for nearly 2.5 hrs, his classes would become real biomechanics workshops: it made me smile when I realised that he applies the same mobility and stability principles I studied and tought in functional training classes back in Europe. A lunge would not be a simple lunge anymore, but become a complex pose that requires maximum control of your feet, legs, hip and spine position, not without stretching your hip flexors at their best. A great strength-mobility exercise, thus. Also, Mittra would help you understand how to increase your forward bend – less throug pain, but subtle pelvis tilting and correct leg positioning, instead. Moreover, I somehow feel my backbends have also improved since then…
Due to Mittra’s thorough approach to movement precision and joint alignment, I decided to call him the Indian Kelly Starrett 😁
Ok, but what about yogic wisdom and philosophy? After all, not everybody wants to have an anatomic lecture while doing Yoga! Don’t worry… Mittra never finishes a class without telling you a little story…like a metaphore that helps you seeing yourSELF from a different light and perspective. Wanna taste? How about this one:

“The student asks the Shaolin monk ‘Master, how much will I have to practice to fully master the art of Kung-fu? The master replies ‘maybe 10 years…’. Student: I will dedicate all my time to training, I’ll practise day and night, I’ll study more and harder than all others, I’ll be observing you much closer! So, when will I be ready then? Master: 20years!”

Got the message? Little hint: it’s about mastering your ego …

I finish this post quoting what I found on Mittra’s Facebook site, as it perfectly meets my current state of mind:

“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.”

Thank you Mittra. Shine on, man!

PS: find Mittra on fb https://www.facebook.com/manoj.rawat999

#india #travellife #dignity #rishikesh #yoga #healthylifestyle #yogattc #yogainspiration #yogalife #lovestrengthdevotion

So,this is Rishīkesh … the Yoga capital of the world!

When I arrived at this lovely place, I had to think immediately of what somebody told me before going there, something like ‘it’s a spiritual Disney land’… Well, the first impression seemed to confirm: I was confronted with huge and colorful temples, ringing bells, the Om Navah Shivaya song playing at each bar, all kinds of yogi- and super-vegan-breakfasts, esoteric libraries, and of course, plenty of ashrams offering yoga teacher trainings and daily drop in classes. Yoga and spiritual seeking obviously have become a business in this place! This is only the western perspective, however. Indians go to Rishīkesh mainly to get a bath in their maa ganga, many would also add a wild Rafting trip to the holy experience… Yet, both Indian and western tourists, somewhen would definitively meet on the famous Lakhsman Jhula bridge…together with scooters, cows, some beggars and always under the curious eyes of the many monkeys. And not to forget, surrounded by the first peaks that gently arise from the Ganga valley to complete the scenairy.
So how was my personal experience eventually – let me tell you my 4 favorites in Rishīkesh/Lakhsman Jhula.

My Rishīkesh/Lakhsman Jhula fav four

1 Taking a yoga class before breakfast

Definitively a must in this place. Either you join any drop-in class around – I tried 3 different ones and never got deluded. Or you go for it on your own, i. e., on the roof top of your hostel, or down at the banks of the gange – quite chilly, as the cold winds from the Himalayas are strong in the morning hours. Anyway, filling your lungs with India’s cleanest air will be worth it, and after 6 rounds of sun salutations you wouldn’t feel cold any more…

2 Having a delicious ‘yogi breakfast’ at one of the many wonderful cafés around Lakhsman Jhula

You’ll find rich options ranging from exotic fruit porridge to peanut butter wholemeal toasts, protein pancakes, or vegan chocolate brownees. Chai always goes, however, even a picky cappuccino lover would’t have to starve – they really know how to make it! I’d also recommend a fresh vegetable juice or a mixed fruit lassi. Choice seems endless, taste is mostly good to very good. Same goes for lunch and dinner. Our favourite places for food where: Little Buddha café, the Ganga view café, the Beatles café, the Tat café, and the German Pumpernickel bakery. Anyway, don’t skip the Indian canteen like restaurants – you’ll get the Indian version of fast food: thali. That’s rice, lentils, chickpeas, spices and souce,some raw veggies and roti. It’s healthy. And cheap. Don’t expect to pay more than 1€…

3 Looking through the local bookshops

You’ll find scientific reviews on the health enhancing effects of yoga, spiritual works, famous Yogi’s biographies, some novels, as well as all-time best sellers like Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The power of now’. You don’t know this book, yet!? Read it!

4 Taking a walk to the Beatles ashram

Even if you don’t wanna get inside which I’d totally understand, as 600 rupees are ridiculously over charged, you should consider that some would come to Rishīkesh mainly due to its famous ’68 guests – besides, it’s a really nice walk and in the forest and you’ll enjoy some silence from the ever-honking cars and scooters that are dominating the roads all over the place…

Believe it or not: all this wasn’t getting annoying for 7 days – but I got some weight 😉
Believe this: you won’t find any alcohol in Rishīkesh – it’s the yoga capital of the world. And a holy place.

 

10 things you can learn from yoga – besides the headstand

Why taking a Yoga teacher training course (TTC) doesn’t make automatically a yoga teacher out of you

My 26 days yoga teacher training at ‘Arhanta Yoga International’ is over and I can proudly call myself a certified Yoga teacher. To be precise, I should actually say ‘Asana teacher’. Why?
Well, the association that trained us did a really great job providing very good education for teaching Yoga asanas and becoming self confident instructors. Excellent methods, excellent content. Professional staff, yet, always approachable in case of personal questions and needs. Now, why am I not a real yoga teacher then?
Although daily meditation and philosophy lectures were included, our teachers emphasized repeatedly that strictly speaking we were still far far away from a true Yogi’s way.

A glimpse of the true path of Yoga

So what’s a true Yogi then? We were already living a very restricted life at the ashram, at least, that’s what most of us thought: no drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, no meat, fish, eggs or dairy, a strict and overloaded schedule from 5.45am to around 8pm. 30mins of limited wifi and no allowance to leave the ashram on 6 days a week. And, of course, hours of asana training ever day that made many among us feel as exhausted as never before…
Well, big buddhist smile…that’s just the surface, the minimum requirement for personal change! Yoga, if practised seriously, goes far beyond asanas and vegetarian food. It stands for the path of self-realization, seeking for universal truth and liberation from all suffering. Going far beyond the little complaining me, while embracing your SELF in vast and timeless spaciouness.

As you see, I am good in talking about all this, but don’t ask me about my practice. Words are like a finger that points at the moon – a fool keeps staring at the finger searching for the light.

10 lessons you can learn from Yoga

So let me try to break down this complex and challenging issue at least into some small hintes and lessons that make part of yogic science. They are mostly statements made during our philosophy classes, some quite clear, others rather provoking. If you ever thought of going on a Yoga retreat or training, keep in mind that you might be confronted with such exclamations:

1 Having a strong EGO means being attached to your ideas.
2 All human suffering comes from attachment, in the end.
3 Don’t trust your intellect too much – it usually just follows your Ego! After all, the mind is a very limited insrument of our SELF…
4 Never blindly trust your feelings – you actually can choose what or how to feel. If you never thought about that, you might have to take a closer look at your subconscious where 90% of your actions and attitudes are actually determined…
5 Living in its simplest form means breathing. In other words: no breath – sudden death. Good breath means calm breath – means longer life. Yet, it’s not oxygen that is our life givng force, but Prana. That’s why Yogis do Pranayama.
6 To deeply calm down you should deprive your senses of any incoming information. Just try to imagine what this means and what you would have to do to get there…
7 You can’t teach or train meditation – only concentration. Meditation is a state that may arise after a certain period of focused concentration and total withdrawal from all sensual and intellectual activity. Meditation just happens!
8 Classical Yoga asanas do not work on muscles, but on your organs primarily. However, stretching the right muscles will not only be very beneficial for your posture, but even have hormonal reactions that make you happier!
9 Asana means “physically and mentally stable an comfortable pose”. If you’re doing the cobra and thinking about how tough it is, or that you’d rather enjoy a massage, you’re not doing an asana!
10 According to Ayurvedic science your hair color says a lot about your excremation patterns. Ayurveda cooking books, however, have nothing to do with classical Ayurveda. They are a sort of good selling New Age stuff, instead.

All this cannot be considered as knowledge, of course. These are random information. However, let me highlight that my first contacts with yogic science felt like a door opener to a new and enlightened world. Leaving the Arhanta Yoga ashram after 4 weeks made me feel sure about one thing: this journey has just started!

Yoga lifestyle vs classic gym training – a personal review

I was trained as a sports scientist and a functional strength coach and always have loved to be active. Thus, different forms of resistence training have belonged to my weekly routines for many years now. So does high intensity cardio exercise. Combined with a moderate intake of carbs and a breakfast rich in proteins and fats, it’s likely to keep fat-burning metabolism high and preserve or increase lean body mass.

Yoga, however, stands for something completely different: asana practice benefits your organs mainly, however, gives only a moderate strain on muscles and joints. Instead, the main health enhancing effects – if done properly – consist in lowering the heart rate, oxygen consumption, metabolic rate, and stimulating the hormone system – definitively a great anti-stress treatment, I’d say. After all, “Asana” means “comfortable, steady pose”! Increased flexibility, as well as strength (to hold poses) are rather regarded as side effects, also depending on your starting level.

Let’s bring it to the point: due to the above mentioned facts I didn’t expect to stay in shape throughout the teacher training. Especially when considering that you are served 3 vegan meals a day at the ashram that are usually high in carbs.
Well, these are my surprising results:
In terms of body composition nearly nothing did change to the negative. Arms remained the same size and my abs have become even more visible. Only my legs (quads) seem to have lost some mass. Still, I have the impression the muscle tone is higher all in all.

My (subjective) explaination: Having only 3 meals a day and literally NO SUGARS my body was constantly burning considerable amounts of fat. After all, food daily contained lentills, beans and chickpeas – all rich in protein and thus preventing increases in blood sugar. Besides that, time gaps between meals ranged from 4 to 14 hours. Back home they would call this intermittent fasting, already!

The diet was complemented with 2-3 hours of asanas daily for 6 days a week. So, let’s put some light on some of the more intense warm-up exercises and asanas:

1 Sun salutations – rather stretching than stregthening, yet definitively awakening the organism, especially when done super fast!
2 Double leg raises – tough, if your core muscles are poorly developed.
3 Dolphins – even tougher, if your arms and shoulders are rather PC-trained…
4 Push ups. Yes, PUSH UPS! Our teacher loves them!! At this point, some of us started doubting in their choice…
And now some asanas:
1 Headstand – requires body control and some shoulder and core strength.
2 Half bridge, the cobra, locust and the bow – the back bends require a considerable amount of lower back stregth (apart from spine flexibility), if done properly!
3 The crow-poses, the peacocks and other super-fancy-looking balancing exercises: they require extreme body control and maximum effort, basically by your whole upper body.
To sum it up: only trying to get into some of these poses already exceeds the muscular capacity of many people. They require maximum voluntary contraction and consequently can be regarded as max. isometric strength exercises, comparable to some gymnastics exercises.

The program was eventually backed up by proper sleep quality, which adds to the physical experience. I mention this, since a regular and early sleeping time (before 10pm) and duration (approx. 8 hours, if possible more) will increase testosterone production of the body (which supports muscle growth).

All this been said (and experienced for 4 weeks), I can strongly encourage anybody to start yoga and integrate it into daily life. It definitively won’t make you weak! However, you have to make sure it becomes part of your lifestyle.
So with my present knowledge I’d recommed you:
To practice regularly (3-4 times per week).
To stretch your limits by trying to get into the harder poses or hold your poses longer.
To get good sleep.
Not to cheat on food: especially quit sugars and alcohol, make sure protein and carb intake is sufficient (I won’t comment on the meat-fish-eggs-issue in this post).
In addition to this, I suggest breathing exercises to activate your parasympathetic system and calm your nerves, especially before going to sleep.

Eventually, I’d like to highlight that I absolutely do not see yoga as another way to look fancy or shredded – this aspect would not even capture 1% of it! Yoga goes much deeper, if taken seriously, and people reading this know it. This post was simply meant to be a very subjective observation by a curious thinker that tries to live an embodied life 🙂

Living Ashram life

With this post I want to give a brief impression of how my days at the yoga ashram look like

I get up at 5.30 am, drink some water and go to the meditation hall. For the next 60mins I’ll be sittig in stilness doing yogic breathing exercises to enlarge my lungs’ capacity, clean my respiratory system  and improve the brain halfs’ connection. Sometimes we add chakra chanting to purify the energy centers of our astral body. And, of course, I focus, or better, I try to. The biggest opponent is often within yourself: in this case, it’s my mind creating and recreating scenes and thoughts while I’m trying to concentrate on the breath and calm the hyperactive thinker within my head. Well, it’s only the beginning of my meditation career, I’ve got to be gentle. So, I decide to not resist my mind, but, instead, to observe it during its journeys to my past and my future. The lesson can also be: don’t get attached to the thoughts, don’t identify yourself.

At 7.15 it’s time for breakfast! Rice or chickpeas, usually served with herbal tea and bananas – not really the classic intercontinental one, but I got used to it…

From 8.15 to 11.15 we learn everything about the yoga asanas and how to correct them – also known as ‘How to teach’-class. This part resembles probably the most the Western physical activity workshops and seminars I am used to from Europe.

When finishing this class I’m usually starving already and looking forward to lunch that is taken in complete silence, as is also the breakfast. Lunch is abundant and the Indian spices and flavours add to this welcome break of the tight schedule.

After lunch we dedicate 30mins to our Karma duty: serving the community with a selfless attitude. In my case it’s about keeping the gardens and paths of the ashram clean of fallen leaves.

From 1 to 3pm we are introduced into the basic assumptions of yogic philosophy. One of the main and maybe for some most shocking relevations of this class is that classical Yoga never meant to be about fancy stretching methods embedded in some flowerish ‘love-and-peace-attitude’. Instead, the physical training, the asanas, are a means to maintain our inner organs’ health, while the musclar benefits can be seen as a nice side effect. On the mental side Yoga means dedicating loads of time to sitting still and facing the most essential of all questions: Who am I? Sounds like a holiday? Believe me or not, when done seriously, it’s really hard work! I’ll talk about this in another post…

After the often challenging and provoking philosophical input we reach the  physical climax of our day: for some percieved as pure enjoyment, for others a painful duel with the own mind and body, the 120mins asana class is without doubts a highligt of the day. Even the ones among us that never were able to do a stable headstand are now easily holding the ‘king of asanas’ for one minute, while others already exceed a 5minutes period!

After a shower (under cold water only!) it’s finally time for dinner, the only meal where conversation is permitted.

From 6 to 6.45 pm the WiFi is on – not even the best and most devoted ashram can exclude 21st century dwellers from the web. However, the connection never permits more than messaging and email – after all, we are in the middle of nowhere. (The reason why I can edit this blog on Sundays, only, when it’s our free day and I’ve got time to go to a place with proper wifi…).

At 7pm we used to gather either for self-study (you don’t get the certificate without passing the exam at the end of the 26 days period), or for evening classes that could range from singing and dancing of traditional chants to more modern lectures on ‘How to start your own Yoga business’.

At 8.30pm herbal tea is serve; you would have a chat with your mates on how the day went. You enjoy the stars. You’re happy another day is over…

9.30pm lights out. Believe it or not, after this day you wanna sleep!