YOGA is YOU


 
Today morning, after a few days of heavy rainfall due to the cyclone on the other coast of India, I ventured out to the beach in front of our house for a walk. After a short walk and some free movement on the beach I sat down to attempt meditation.  With deep conscious breathing my thoughts gradually started sorting out from the usual thoughts about duties, responsibilities, judgements etc. to the more reflecting ones.

My wondering thoughts brought me to my friend, whom I have known since the time before yoga. You know the calendar era notation of BC and AD. My time noting is BY and AY (read: before yoga and after yoga). So she has been my friend from the time BY. Since the lockdown in India, which has been extended for the 4th time since March 23rd, I started a few online courses for myself and later invited my friends to join with me. No challenges like who can make it or who can make it better, just joining together in common effort to make our lives more positive and fulfilled. At present, I invited my friends to join in with a 40 days mindfulness course. Today, most of us are on day 12 or 13.

My friend whom I have known since the time BY has never been interested in spirituality, rather she expressed her despise towards such disciplines. The more I was surprised, when she decided to join in with my groups. Believe it or not, not only she started enjoying the tasks, but she told me, that it is the one thing she looks forward to everyday.

During the meditation today, I realised that nowadays we often get asked, if we practice yoga and if you don’t, you are out of fashion. Therefore, many people, like my friend, thought yoga has something to do with being fashionable, yet it is rather the opposite. Fashion orients itself according to the outside objects. Yoga is about our inner state of being free of external influence – the most natural, original, the pure state of our being. Yoga is the feeling of peace and unity, once our mind becomes quiet and free from thought fluctuation. Yoga is not only for fashionable people, yet also, yoga is not only for Indians, yet also, yoga is not only for white people, yet also. Yoga is for the whole humanity. Yoga is not about DOING but about BEING that which you already are. Yoga is YOU!

Awareness through his “corona art”

Arsha Yoga GurukulamOne local artist from Chennai spreads awareness through his “corona art”. This proves again that India stands for “Unity in Diversity”. In crisis, religion or caste step aside for the sake of joint effort, whereas Europe mostly worries about losing personal freedom. Freedom is inside, not outside. As a European, I am still working on it…🤫 #IndiaLockdown #corona #freedom

Intro or Extro – Which One Are You?

For many years, my husband was talking about extroverted vs. introverted people. For many years, my understanding of his talk was a complete opposite of what he meant…

Have I understood it now? Probably not completely, but some improvement is detectable. 🙂

For all those years, I understood extroverted as a trait of somebody who is open-minded, outgoing, enthusiastic –  a role model for a modern person. However, according to my husband, it is somebody always looking for happiness and satisfaction outside and his mind is rather distracted.

Look at today’s modern world. If you live in a city, think how many unconscious sensual stimuli will be thrown at you at a speed of light just on your way to work. Either you start becoming conscious of them and start filtering and balancing or sooner or later you will be stuck with diagnosis such as hypersensitivity, ADHD, burn out, etc. I don’t intend to underestimate the diagnosis of such modern diseases but we have to realise that a constant overload on external sensual stimuli is a huge stress factor.

You don’t even have to live in a city to observe this. Even in places like ashrams you might have observed people looking at
others during asana classes or trying so hard to fake meditation whilst thinking about the delicious prasad (blessed food) which will be served at the end. If you could observe this, then you are probably also one of them :). But please, no bad conscience. Each of us is on the road, in some sort of process. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Here.

However, the fact is, that in order to progress on the spiritual path, we need a certain portion of introversion, where we look inward and reassess our progress at every moment.

The extroverted character is especially threatening in children. When encouraged, they easily fall into the trap of instant gratification. What is this term all about? It is easy. You have a desire and you want it fulfilled NOW, immediately without further effort or waiting.

Have you ever observed the behavioural pattern of people in a queue? A such simple act of waiting has become a torture for many people. Why? Due to the habit of instant gratification overlapping delayed gratification. In modern times, we are so much used to getting all our desires and wishes fulfilled immediately. Do you want a new washing machine? It is just a mouse click away on Amazon. Do you feel like eating pizza tonight? Hop in the car and go buy one. (Talking from my own experience…)  We don’t just want a ceramic cup. The cup has to come in a certain size, red in colour and painted with flowers. If we don’t get it, we become cranky and are ready to blame the store or the sales person for it.

India was a great teacher for me in this regard and in many others also. I remember one time we were trying to get a certain type of curtains for our ashram. I invested months of effort and energy to get the ones I wanted that I finally gave up and bought cheap curtains of colour and pattern which I didn’t like. And you know what happened? Nothing! They still provide shade for the rooms. In India, you don’t get to choose the colour or shape. You are happy if you can get it at all! And I must say that I am truly thankful for this experience. There, when instant gratification happens by chance, you find yourself in a bliss state for days. 🙂

Isn’t this the natural process of life? Don’t I need to bring in the effort and then allow time to carry out the fruits of my actions? Isn’t it self-defeating to expect instant gratification of our wishes? Us as humans, the law of nature, the animals we all do not act at a push of a button.

Practice mindfulness. Practice meditation. Become conscious. These can be the techniques to prolong the time of reactivity and to strengthen your will and motivation for long-term goals. In spirituality, there is no shortcut, only adventure!

When One Night Seems Longer Than Your Whole Life

WARNING: This article is long, even I needed the patience to write down my whole experience, but there is an urge inside of me to process these events of the last days now from the comfort of my seafront garden.

April 5 – day 1

This day we set off on our long-awaited journey to Bhutan, a Himalayan country, where there is no GDP (gross domestic product) but just a GHP (gross happiness product). This is the only country in the world without any traffic lights and whose CO2 footprint doesn’t exceed the O2 production as 78% of the country remains covered with dense forests. Medical care and education are completely free. To this day nobody, not even the Bhutanese embassy in Delhi, could give us a clear answer on our immigration status. From the Bhutanese government website of Tourism we knew that all foreigners excluding Indian and Nepalese nationals had to obtain a tourist visa from one of the authorised Bhutanese travel agents. The respective travel agent shall also plan a travel itinerary including all hotel bookings. The exact route plan has to be submitted to the immigration officers at the time of entry. The minimum cost for a foreigner per day staying in Bhutan is 250 $. We couldn’t afford that but as both me and Gayatri were living in India and had our residence permits there, they could make an exception. As nobody was able to give us a clear answer in this regard, we decided to cross the border by land from the Indian side and see for ourselves.

On day 1 we took a plane from Cochin to Kolkata with a layover in Bangalore. We reached Kolkata late in the night and had our Airbnb accommodation reserved. Thanks to the exact directions of our host we reached our destination at first attempt. That is in India not always the case. After a good night sleeps in a Kolkata apartment obviously kept exclusively for rent purposes, we ventured out into the Indian metro city of 5 million people, the third biggest city in India after Delhi and Mumbai.

April 6 – day 2

First, we had to find a suitable restaurant for taking our bfast. It took us about 2 hrs and multiple Uber taxi rides until we found a decent veg restaurant serving bfast. You would think that during the time of “Uncle Google” getting lost is impossible. Well, all rules and patterns have exception in India. Telephone numbers and addresses are not up-to-date. Sometimes they are, but due to narrow and congested roads, even the taxi driver cannot find them. Next day we decided to make oats porridge at home 😉

In the evening at 8:30 pm, we caught an overnight train to the nearest railway station to the Bhutanese border called Hasimara. As our train tickets were on the waiting list, we had to count on a sleepless night. As we boarded the AC compartment, a side berth was allotted to all the three of us plus our 2 big bag packs. After an extended discussion with the TTE (train ticket examiner) who goes through the whole train and ticks off the names of all passengers on his never-ending reservation chart, Harilal got allotted with another berth. It is amazing if you think that 2 weeks ago you booked a train from the comfort of your home through the online ticketing system and then exactly 2 weeks later 3.000 km further north your name is stated on this particular piece of paper…Through how many software systems and human hands this information about one lady from the Czech Republic called Marie Karanath had to pass to reach its proper destination on time? Amazing!

April 7 – day 3

Reached the town of Hasimara at 1 pm as our train was around 1 hr delayed. The biggest “attraction” of this sleepy dusty town seemed to be the Indian military base… During our train journey, we got into a conversation with one of the fellow passengers who originated from this region of West Bengal. We got some basic information about the entry to Bhutan and the contact details of one of the local travel agencies operating from the Indian border town of Jaigaon.

After exiting the railway station at Hasimara we were flooded with taxi and rickshaw drivers just like flies stick to spilled milk. Instead of the habitual and often tiresome bargaining deal, we decided to take the local bus. Where is the bus stop? There. Which direction? There. Ok. Finally, a small bus with a grumbling sound approaches and we get in along with one older Swami. Our bags are packed onto the roof. “If you hear a thumping sound, we have to stop the bus. Those might be our bags”, added Hari with a smile. 😉 After 30 minutes of a dusty and sweaty ride, shy winks of the co-passengers and lots of hooping, we reached the border town of Jaigaon. Ok, what now? We have to reach the local gas agency. That is the landmark to get to the travel agent’s office. Hopping into a sharing rickshaw. Ended up paying 10 Rs more. No change. That’s normal. No change, pay more.
We reach the gas agency and see our travel agent waving at us from the first floor of the neighboring building. “Foreigners need a visa for entering Bhutan”, so was his verdict. But we have a permanent residence permit for India and we are living here. “Really? Ok. That’s a new case. Let me check.” This sentence accompanied us like a familiar mantra during the whole trip. We found accommodation in a classy hotel except that construction was still going on of the upper floors and the lift. This is also common in India where you can see 2 floors of colleges and hospitals operating already while upper floors are still being constructed. It’s a good way to raise money for the final stage of construction, I guess. 🙂 In the evening we venture out to the Bhutanese side of the town called Phoentsling. I do feel like in a different world. No trash lying on the ground. No cows meeting with you faces facing on the street. Zebra crossings where drivers stop and let you cross. Please don’t evaluate it at this stage. No good or bad. Just different. We reach a small park with a Buddhist temple in the middle. There are many people circumambulating the temple while chanting mantras as part of their evening prayers. There are many families with small children. Some look Asian, some Indian. Did you know that India has a common border with China and there people look Asian, even though they carry Indian passport? I feel comfortable in this country from the very beginning. Only later I knew its drawback.

April 8 – day 4

The previous night we found a Bhutanese travel agent who reassured us that we could make it possible to travel to Bhutan together and how wonderful his country was. His mouth was “bleeding” from chewing the pan. (Do you know this habit of chewing tobacco with betel nut and betel leaf? Have you seen red spots on Indian streets and in lifts? After chewing people spit it out wherever they are. This habit is common all over India except in Kerala, where it has been banned a long time ago. Is this why I live in this state? Hmmm. Anyway, yoga teacher or not, this habit highly disgusts me.)

So even though he belonged to the vampire clan, we also felt that he had a good heart, so we trusted his opinion as he had been in the tourism business for the past twenty years.

April 9 – day 5

Finally, Monday arrived with its fresh hope for departure in direction Bhutan. We are literally commuting the whole day long between Bhutan and India. Morning coffee from Bhutan, veg food from India. Our travel agent inquires about the possibility to travel on a permit just like Indians. Not possible. Very strict rules. If you don’t have an Indian passport or Voter’s card as a foreigner, you have to pay 250 USD per day, plus 40 USD consumer tax, so a total of 290 USD per day in Bhutan. Partially comforting might be the fact that this sum includes a taxi with the driver, all hotel charges and food. Now what? We traveled all the way to the Bhutanese border and now we return home? No way! Let us go for at least 3 days…. And what about Gayatri? Does she need to pay as she holds a foreign passport? The travel agent reassures us once again that she doesn’t need any extra travel documents for Bhutan as she is only 4 years old. So we go ahead with the application – Harilal as the citizen of India receives his permit immediately without any fees. I have to wait several hours for the permit to be processed through the capital of Bhutan called Thimpu. Finally, we pay around 1.000 USD and I get my permit for 3 nights.

Gayatri, on the other hand, is denied entry to Bhutan as she is a holder of foreign passport and she is fined by the immigration officer for illegally crossing the border. The fine is 25.000 INR and we have to reapply for her permit as a foreigner that costs one time 40 USD for children up to 5 years of age. Bhutan’s main income is from selling energy to India and from tourism. By keeping this restricted entry for tourists, they are able to maintain their traditions and provide free medical care and education. This whole procedure is taking a lot of time and energy. This is the third day we are spending in the dirty border town of Jaigaon.

April 10 – day 5

We spend full day at the Bhutanese immigration office trying to get Gayatri’s visa sorted. Lots of paperwork, lots of time spent in the sun waiting. Gayatri is getting tired. She is allotted her permit from the next day, April 11th, while mine was allotted from April 10th already, so that we wasted one day of travelling and money. “Never mind! It is as it is! Let us enjoy the upcoming 3 days in Bhutan”, we thought.

April 11  – day 6

Gayatri develops a slight fever in the night. I am getting restless as I know her medical history. Whenever there is a small sickness, we have to be careful as her immune system is weak. Morning I tell my concern to Hari that maybe we should turn back. Might have been my mother’s intuition…

Before our travelling can start we have to go through some formalities again – first getting an exit permit from the Indian officials and then an entry permit from the Bhutanese side. The Bhutanese office opens only by 9 am. All paperwork is processed by 10:30 am and we set off on our journey together with our local guide Tashi. The mountain scenery is beautiful and we start a steep 5 hour ride up into the mountains in direction of the capital, Thimpu, which is 2.500 m above sea level. In many places like shops and restaurants along the way, you can see the picture of the present king and the queen.
They are being worshipped by the Bhutanese people as semi-gods. Gayatri is sleeping throughout the whole journey and refuses to take food, she takes only water. I become concerned and upon arrival in Thimpu, we directly go to the hospital for check-up. All her parameters are fine. Doctor’s diagnose: tonsilitis. He prescribes antibiotics and paracetamol for fever. “Ok, with antibiotics she’ll be fine. We keep it easy and in a few days she will be up and running,” was my initial thought. Still, as a precaution, we decide to shift our flight to an earlier date and fly from Bagdogra airport, the nearest airport to Bhutan in West Bengal, on April 14th.

April 12 – day 7

Fever comes and goes. Gayatri eats only a few spoons of oats porridge and water. In the morning Hari starts suddenly screaming with pain in the abdomen. I have never seen him in such a condition. Immediately, I call our taxi driver to bring him to the hospital. Anyway, medical care in Bhutan is free… Alone in a hotel room in Bhutan with a sleeping sick child and a husband in pain in the hospital, I am watching the chilled wind blowing through the dusty streets of Thimpu. I feel like one of the characters in a novel. But this is not fiction, it is my own reality. The outside temperature is about 10 degrees and drizzling. After a few calls back and forth with our driver Tashi, I get to know that the pain has subsided after 3 injections and that it might have been a minor kidney stone that was being flushed out. “Thanks god, I really need Hari’s support now, when Gayatri is sick.” Gayatri is still not well and we decide to stay an additional night in Thimpu.

April 13 – day 8

In the morning after bfast we head towards the neighboring town of Paro, where there is the famous Buddhist monastery called Tiger’s Nest. Hari encourages me to climb up and that he will wait down at the base with Gayatri. I agreed as returning to Bhutan for 290 USD per day won’t be an option again. Half way up I climb on a pony. We start at 11:30 am. It is a steep climb where at times I am praying that the horse knows what he is doing and looking up rather than looking down. After 1 hour ride on the horse, I have to continue 1 hr more on foot. I have my own doubts: “I am not much trained for steep climbing and my stamina might not be high enough. Ok, so you stop half way and return.” Do you know this familiar voice in your head that tries to blame you and discourage you? Just don’t give in.

I started climbing. The Buddhist mantra – om mane padme hum – starts resonating in my mind and I stop feeling my aching legs and I am able to feel the space beyond the body and mind. I am thinking about including more hikes to spiritual places during our Indian journeys and retreats (agreed Pradhipaji?) “Ok, this is easy, this must be the end,” I think as I am nearing a cliff. Then I see the real thing. There is another about 300 steep steps leading to the monastery. Ok, never mind, more. Repeating my mantra and climbing. Reached the monastery after about 1 hour of a steep climb. I take a seat on a wooden bench and meditate in the mountain sun. I can’t believe I am sitting in Bhutan on top of the world. Even if this whole trip has been difficult, this one climb becomes a memory of a lifetime and I am mentally thanking Harilal for letting me make this experience. I reach back to the base at 4 pm.
During my climb, I forget all my concerns about Gayatri’s health and now they are slowly sneaking in. She greets me with a smile and I have the feeling that she’s doing better. For lunch, she ate a few spoons of oats porridge. In desperation to make her eat, we buy a chocolate cake for her. No, sorry, Harilal buys a chocolate cake for her. 🙂 We set off in direction of the Indian border as my visa expires that evening. We are again reassured by the travel agent that there is no time limit for reaching the border and receiving the exit stamp. Gayatri sleeps throughout the whole drive (5hrs) and has a slight fever and also cough. For a few days, she has been refusing to walk and we have been carrying her. Arrived at the Indian border at 10:30 pm. The taxi cannot cross over to the Indian side. We have to unload our luggage that Hari carries and I carry Gayatri over to the hotel on the Indian side.

April 14 – day 9

In the night Gayatri gets a high fever and I become worried. I wake up Hari at 3 am and tell him to find a hospital nearby. We don’t know anyone. We have to get to the hospital by taxi. Taxi tries to rip you off. I don’t care, I want a medical check-up for my daughter NOW. We wake up the hotel management and ask for a taxi. The taxi arrives and takes us to the nearest decent hospital that belongs to the Indian air force and is 20 km away. After a thorough security check from a guy carrying a machine gun, we are let in into the hospital compound. A sleepy officer comes out and leads us to a treatment room. Without checking Gayatri, he diagnoses her with viral fever and gives different antibiotics and tells to continue with paracetamol. I am a little calmer but still, a bitter aftertaste of the visit remains… “Why didn’t they listen to her breathing or check the throat at least?“ She has been taking paracetamol and antibiotics for 3 days and her health hasn’t improved much. I felt something was wrong. Especially I know the health of my daughter and I know that she reacts to western medicine very fast….

I wish to leave to the Bogdagra airport at the earliest to ascertain a smooth taxi journey for Gayatri. Our flight is at 4 pm. In the morning we have to get the final exit permission from the Bhutanese immigration. I am carrying Gayatri on my shoulder across the border and into the office. The two officials are sitting behind their counters with expressionless faces while I know that the time is running up for the health of my daughter and want to speed up the check out process. “Mam, there is a problem, because you exited the country last night without getting the stamp. We have to call a higher official.” This seems like an unreal nightmare and I start crying. I want to see the higher official and I cry in front of him that my daughter needs medical care (while I know that the proper medical care is 5 hrs drive away). “Maybe my drama scene will help my daughter”, I thought. But the official looks at me without any mercy and says that we must pay a fine. “Noooooooooooooooo”, my heart cries out louder than my thoughts. I have to go out to calm down while Gayatri is still hanging over my shoulder. I cannot think anything else than getting Gayatri to the airport in Bhogdagra and then to the nearest hospital in Kerala.

We leave Jaigaon only by 12 pm. According to our destiny or karma, we reach the airport only 10 minutes before the plane’s scheduled departure and we are not allowed to board the plane. Immediately I thought: “maybe, fortunately! Where is the nearest good hospital?” Ok, only 7 km away. Prepaid taxi and go! Never mind the missed flight and the money! The taxi ride seems endless, stuck in traffic. I am ordering the driver in Czech and crying. He understands the seriousness of the situation and tries his best to get us to the hospital at the earliest. We get down at the reception, Hari with bags, me with Gayatri over the shoulder. “Where is the casualty?” I am screaming at the security guard. Poor man! Heading to the emergency admission. I put her down on the bed. “Doctor will come in a minute,” I hear from a distance with the blurry vision from my tears filled eyes. How long can a minute be? “Is this an emergency unit, so that you take so long for the doctor to come?” talking in an irritated voice to the nurse. The doctor finally arrives and checks her breathing. Gayatri receives oxygen and nebulisation. It is a junior doctor on duty and she says there is no major issue. We stay in the hospital overnight. We book into a deluxe room which looks far better than any hotel we had stayed at until now. I and Hari joke about it and get relaxed being in the safe hands of the medical staff.

April 15 – day 10

In the morning the pediatrician arrives. Gayatri is put on IV antibiotics and a drip since she hasn’t eaten properly in days. Her oxygen saturation in the blood is low. Time is passing fast…

During the next visit, the doctor announces that we have to move her to the ICU due to some other serious cases with similar symptoms. “Is it a matter of concern?” I ask the doctor. “Yes, it is.” My heart drops..… Only one person can stay with Gayatri at the ICU. Without hesitation, we decided that it should be me as Gayatri doesn’t accept any other person when she is sick. The communication with the nurses is not easy as they all speak mostly Hindi and only a little English. Fortunately, most nurses are from Kerala, so I can make my point in Malayalam. At the ICU the regime is strict. Entry only with a mouth mask and a special gown. The vitals are monitored by the hour. Fever subsides, but Gayatri suffers from a severe chest infection – viral pneumonia. This is the day, that I inform my parents that Gayatri has been admitted to hospital. I blame myself for allowing this to happen one more time after the similar experience that we had in Cambodia in October last year. A mistake becomes a mistake when it happens twice and this happened for the second time…

April 16 – day 11

Gayatri’s health is not improving according to the high dose of IV antibiotics and her oxygen level is still low. No fever. “Let us see”, the doctor says. I am 24 hrs vigilant as Gayatri cries by every look at the nurses in white. Her one arm has a drip, and taking blood from the other arm. I am surprised where I get the energy from to withstand all this. Hari develops fever and cough and cannot come in. “We have to make it. I cannot get sick.”

April 17 – day 12

The doctor expresses his concern that we might have to shift her to a higher institution in Kolkata or Delhi. My heart sinks once again. How shift? By road? That’s impossible! Through the bumpy and hot roads, it will take at least 8 hours to Kolkata and much longer to New Delhi. If we have to shift her than it will have to be by air ambulance. Gayatri refuses food and fights and kicks me. I remain calm for my baby. “Some time ago, we had a foreign couple here with 2 children of similar symptoms, where one died. There is a chance of bleeding into the lungs and then we cannot save her,” utters the doctor. Can my heart sink any deeper at this point? The longest night of my life is about to start. On one hand, I ban myself on giving up hope, on the other hand, I am planning Gayatri’s funeral and the way her death will affect mine and Hari’s relationship. I start chanting mantras. Gayatri doesn’t react to my words, but she becomes calm while chanting. One nurse asks me: “Are you a Christian? No. A Hindu? No. Do you believe in God because you SHOULD start praying….” So I do it in my own way. Mantra, the tool that sets your mind free. I truly recognise its effect in this situation. I become calm and can get at least a few hours of semi-sleep.

April 18 – day 13

Gayatri screams and fights which I see as a good sign that energy is coming back and she asks for a watermelon. This seems like Christmas or a  Birthday celebration! I am that excited! At that moment I know that she has decided to live. Still, we decide to shift her by air ambulance to New Delhi. I love this about India and the strength of the Indian family. Within the course of a few hours, a half-million rupees were transferred by Hari’s sister, so that the air ambulance could arrive at the earliest along with a doctor on board. Just last year we decided NOT to include Gayatri in our medical insurance…..Damn! But money is secondary. Let’s get her safely and fast to the hospital in New Delhi.

I arrived at the AIIMS hospital at 5 pm at the emergency unit. What a sight! Two or more children occupying one bed. Needles and medical instruments lying around. There is no time to clean up properly with so many people flooding in. Somewhat a shock when you shift from a private hospital to a government one. “But treatment should be the best here,” I keep repeating to myself. After the administration staff told us that there is no free bed for Gayatri and some strong convincing, we manage to get a bed at the semi-ICU ward. Again only 1 person can stay with Gayatri. In-between Hari’s sister had arrived from Cochin and is helping with the administration and arrangement of food as food is not provided in Indian hospitals. I am on 24 hrs watch beside Gayatri’s bed. Again they are taking many samples of blood where Gayatri’s crying and I have to squeeze her hand to get sufficient blood for a sample. I become resistant to pain day by day. I know we have to go through this to restore her health. We are at the oncology ward surrounded by children in the terminal phase of cancer. I realise that our problem is nothing compared to theirs.

April 19 – day 14

More chest x-rays, more blood tests. Gayatri’s liver seems enlarged – abdomen scan. Time passes quickly. I cannot recognise if it is day or night outside. Getting home made food delivered by one of my friend’s sister who lives in Delhi. Again this is what I love about India. Human values prevail over money. The left over food I offer to the mother next to me who feeds her child with some food out of an old dirty newspaper. Her husband sleeps outside the hospital on the sidewalk, nowhere to go. They have probably traveled hundreds of km from their village to find treatment for their daughter. I give Gayatri’s doll to her. Sometimes her mother goes away for hours and the child cries looking towards the exit. That time I go over to her and caress her bold head and sing mantras. She speaks only Hindi, but the language we both speak is universal.

All of Gayatri’s reports tend to confirm the diagnosis of pneumonia.

April 20 – day 15

Gayatri starts asking food. Her oxygen level is still low and requires oxygen supply. She lost a lot of weight and I have to carry her to the toilet. I don’t take shower as the hygienic conditions of the bathroom are quite poor but toilet uses we cannot avoid, right? The doctor tells us every day that her recovery will take 2-3 more days as her nature is allergic and asthmatic and that prolongs her curing. The roles of all caretakers have been divided: I am on ward duty, Hari is put on outside matters duty and Hema is on hospital paperwork duty. Yes, truly it keeps a whole team fully busy the whole day. There are no hotels in the immediate vicinity of the hospital so that Hari and Hema have to travel 3 km each time to reach their hotel room.

April 21 –  day 16

High standard private rooms are available at the hospital. We try to apply for one. Again the related paperwork takes a full day of errands. At the end of the day, Hari and Hema can move into the private room at the hospital premises.

April 22 – day 17

Gayatri starts sitting up, playing and commenting on her surroundings. I know that her curing is a matter of a few days. I want to speed up her discharge process as our flight ticket to Europe is scheduled for April 26th. At the same time, I realise that it is not realistic and that I should not risk her health once again. I postpone our flight to May 2.

April 23 – day 18

We all shift to the private room, where nurses attend the patient. As Gayatri’s condition is stable, Hema decides to fly back to Kerala the next day. The private room is only for 2 people anyway. That night I sleep in the bed with Gayatri, Hema on the bystander’s bench and Hari on the floor. 🙂

April 24 – day 19

Hema flies back home and Gayatri allows me to leave the room occasionally for me to sneak in a cup of coffee for which I travel one metro stop. In the morning hundreds of people queue up in front of the hospital to receive treatment and others camp on the sidewalk in front of the hospital gate. If they are not sick until then, they become sick within days spent like this. But what to do? Nobody else to turn to for them? Some free food distribution is going on on the street by a Delhi-based NGO, where rich people volunteer to serve the poor. Can you imagine this in the west? A lady with diamond earrings reaching out to the dirty bony hands of a beggar? In the evening after multiple phone calls and my personal visit to the supervising doctor, we got a final answer about Gayatri’s discharge that will be the next day.

April 25 – day 20

We reach our home in Kerala at 11:30 pm. We just had the best experience on an Air India flight by the way. Why are people complaining so much about Air India?

being a mother is the greatest of gifts

MM

India – My Guru

The word Guru doesn’t exactly mean “just” a teacher as it is often translated. It comes from the Sanskrit: गुरु, where gu means darkness and ru means dispeller. Guru is the one who removes darkness of ignorance and lights up wisdom. A guru is the one who is knowledgeable, wise and authentic and guides others through his wisdom. In this regard India has been my greatest Guru so far.

India is also being referred to as the Mother. Ancient Indian proverb says: “mata, pita, guru, daivam.” This saying describes our life journey. In another words, for a baby first comes the mother, than the father, who introduces the child to the outside world, then the guru and at last the divine. In this sense, for me India has been all of the above.

At the wake of tomorrow’s speech at a women’s conference in Cochin, south India, titled “Crossing Intercultural Limitations in the Empowerment of Women” I feel it is time to draw the balance of my past 8 years life in India.
It has not always been easy for me, Meera, a white woman, who grew up in a European metro city. Even though I loved everything about India and its’ people prior to moving here, it becomes different once you start living here and you know that there is no other place to return to. This is it. This is your home, there is nowhere and nobody to run back to.

It also depends, where you live. We never wanted to live in a city due to pollution and lack of greenery, so we moved to a deserted beach 60 km north of Cochin. At first everything was new and exciting: beach, fresh fruits and veggies, maids to clean your house and cook your food.

Later on as the years passed and my daughter was born, life became harder for me and I realised the reality: beach is always there, therefore no more interesting. Maids will take leave without prior notice at occasions such as temple festivals, funerals and marriages (trust me, there are many of those in India). You have to speak the language of the maids (the local language Malayalam is not enough, you should recognise their way of thinking). Privacy is an unknown phenomenon to most Indians – they may enter into your bedroom at anytime without knocking. If you are a young, white woman, you will get many marriage proposals and stares. (Difficult to even pick your nose, without somebody publishing an article about it in the local newspaper the next day). When somebody says, that he will do it, it mean he might do it, he might not do it or he might do it later. Time plays no role. Society, family and parents stand above individual needs. (Very difficult for a European!) Indians never say NO, they prefer to make up an answer. As a white woman, don’t smile at Indian men, whom you do not know, especially when they are smiling at you. (A challenge for someone who wears a wide grin most of the time). If an Indian says something is impossible, if you don’t give up, they will make it after a few attempts. Sometimes people don’t look at you when they speak. (After sometime you might be surprised, that they still haven’t moved on.) Re-establishing your phone connection may take up to 3 weeks. When seeing a doctor, you are expected to carry all previous prescriptions. (Even after 8 years I still tend to forget). There is no prescribed monitoring of your child’s health after birth. If a man talks to your husband, he won’t talk or look at you, you might as well carry on walking. Indians travel, work and live in groups and communities; if you are alone, they find it suspicious. Child is god. Mother is god. Elderly people have high respect.

Within the spam of 8 years that I have been living in India, I repeated the Czech proverb more than thousand times: “The things that don’t kill you, make you stronger.” I have sensed a deep truth and wisdom in it. Even though, many times I felt dead, abandoned, pushed on to my knees, I managed to get up again and fight. My female intuition and womanhood were my weapons. And what does my life look like now and which are the lessons India – my guru had taught me? 1. I made part of our house strictly private and have to use locks sometimes 🙂 2. I don’t sympathise with the staff but try to help if possible. 3. I play the “dead beetle” sometimes as we say in Czech ( pretending like you didn’t hear or understand anything and let the time find a solution). 4. If everything gets too much, I don’t hesitate to jump into the car and drive 45 minutes to the nearest town, go to the poshest mall, eat a sandwich, drink a coffee, and look at nice clothes. 5. I don’t suppress my anger. If I have to yell at somebody, I do and then I apologise. Still I am trying to find a long term solution for this one. 6. I don’t try to please our guests. I introduce our rules and those who are not able to follow, have to leave. At the same time I remain open and kind. 7. I concentrate on the essentials that are necessary for my own mental and physical health, then my daughter’s and husband’s, then everything else. I am not ready to compromise on this. 8. I try to live and work according to my lunar cycle respecting the dynamic, expressive, creative and retrospective periods. 9. If one thing doesn’t work, the next one or another one will. 10. Failure doesn’t mean the end, but another beginning. 11. Trying means purely the action of attempt, not the result in the form of success or failure. 12. No means no. Yes means yes. (This is my favourite. Very simple indeed. Why should you get disappointed when you hear or have to say no? Why should you get excited when you hear or say yes? 13. Anything can change at any point of time. 14. “Adjust, adopt, accommodate, bear insult, bear injury – highest yoga.” (my favourite saying of Swami Sivananda) 15. I don’t regard our guests immediately as friends. 16. I wait for the right situation to pass a message. 17. I learned that toilet paper is not essential and is even unhygienic. 18. I know how much waste I produce. 19. I learned that water and electricity should not be taken for granted. (Water doesn’t come from a tap. Milk comes from a cow and a cow gives milk only for 1 year after giving birth to a calf. By not switching off a light or a fan, I am exploiting nature.) 20. Food is not a commodity. It is holy. It should not be thrown away or wasted. Eat and consume only as much as you really need. (Except the occasional sandwich and coffee 😉

And today? Now? All of the above has made my mind calmer and my life happier. By the grace of something or somebody I survived and grew stronger. Now a new life era starts for me, in which I want to concentrate on women’s health regardless of nationality, creed or race. Every woman is different and yet the inner needs are one and the same. Therefore in the next months you can see more yoga for women workshops and retreats on my schedule.
Jaya Mata!
Germany (Potsdam, Speyer and Bad Meinberg):
https://arshayoga.org/pec-events/liebe-dich-selbst-workshop-fur-frauen/?event_date=1525514400
Czech Republic (Prague):
https://arshayoga.org/pec-events/hlas-jako-nastroj-k-sebepoznani/?event_date=1529748000,
https://arshayoga.org/pec-events/joga-vune-a-hvezdy/?event_date=1530900000

UK (Atherstone, near Birmingham):
https://arshayoga.org/pec-events/womens-worth-womens-wellness-yoga-worskhop/?event_date=1526664600
https://arshayoga.org/pec-events/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-modern-yogini/

India (Arsha Yoga, Kerala):
https://www.facebook.com/events/1515904115145721/

with love
-MM-

Golden Qualities of a Teacher

One thing I realised during the past 9 years of dedicated work as a co-founder of an ashram and a yoga therapist and what I call “ashram police”. No matter how long the list of the ashram rules and regulations is, there is always someone who will be an inspiration to make a new one, if you know what I mean 😉
Some people refuse to wear the training uniform altogether. Some make their sleeves and trousers shorter and shorter every day. Others try to get friendly with the kitchen staff to close favorable deals later or escape outside of the gate even after the night fall. As you can see, the eyes of a teacher have to be everywhere. One saying says: “There are two kinds of people who don’t sleep at night – the thief and a yogi.” I would like to add a third one – yoga teacher running intensive training. 🙂 And yes, it is a myth that yoga teachers have perfect bodies and never fall ill. They also have their problems and stress. Still, they commit for one month to be there for the students truthfully in every aspect of their training. Sometimes it means to be strict, but not out of anger but out of empathy. For example, it is very important during the practice of the Shatkriyas (cleansing techniques). People shouldn’t express any negative feelings towards the practice as it will negatively influence others. Also, they should follow the instructions without fail. Sometimes it means to repeat the same instruction 5 times. “If you feel that you cannot drink more water, drink more. I can’t. Yes, you can. Drink more!”
My colleague and yoga therapist, Claudia Göttling, inspired me to write this article when I saw her yesterday morning full of dedication running for more cups of water to assist the students during their morning Kunjal kriya practice (one of the six cleansing techniques, where you drink as much saltwater as you can and then bring it all out).
During a 4 weeks intensive yoga therapy training, you are likely to encounter one or more challenges as a yoga teacher and a trainer that make you realise which qualities are the most important, that a yoga teacher, trainer or any coach should have.
Therefore, the golden qualities of a teacher are:
1. empathy: feel empathy with the student, NOT sympathy. Try to put yourself in the situation of the other person, but keep inner distance. Don’t get entangled into the problems of the other person.
2. pratipaksha bhavana: this term is used in the Yoga Sutras and literally means “moving to the other side of the mansion”. Among yoga practices, it means to move the mind from the negative to the positive by cultivating the opposite thought. In the context of a teacher-student relationship, it means to be able to think from the student’s angle and pick them up from their present level of knowledge and experience and guide them further.
3. patience and detachment: we need the patience to tell the same thing all over again. How often our mind is not present, then how it will be of a normal student. The mind becomes receptive to the same thing at different times. Detach from the idea of success and “good teaching”. Sometimes your teaching will bear fruits, sometimes not.
“bear insult, bear injury”: Swami Sivananda once said: “bear insult, bear injury, highest yoga.” The longer I teach, the more truth and depth I find in this statement. You shouldn’t get disappointed or discouraged just because your students are not satisfied or don’t profit from your teaching. Forget it and resolve to go on.

I bow to all teachers who have dedicated their sincere efforts to uplift the mind of their students.
-MM-

Photo credit: Sarka Konecna

How Advanced of a Yogi am I?

Nowadays, Yoga has become a prosperous business like no other. Every month there will be a different yoga style being trademarked in the US that costs 5.000 USD and only its certified trainers are allowed to train others. Is this what the sage Patanjali has once foreseen? But who cares about Patanjali anyways, the main thing is it sells!

Am I advanced if I have a special aromatherapy oil to spray on my yoga mat, the stretch organic cotton bra that matches in colour with my yoga outfit or the travel mug with a picture of Ganesha? But did you notice? It is all about having and the possession of outside objects. Yoga is just the opposite. Once an Indian yoga master A.G. Mohan said: “Yoga is work in, not work out.” Don’t get me wrong, I like all these material things and I can enjoy them, but they should not build the base. And of course: we are never finished in life. I am also working on it 😉

During the 4 weeks Yoga Therapy Instructor’s Course at Arsha Yoga, where I am finding myself at the moment, each time I get a deeper insight into the yoga philosophy and I am grateful for being where I am at the moment. The course set-up is as follows: yoga teachers (max. 14) from different cultures and backgrounds with different amount of teaching experience come together for 28 days of learning and living with us the teachers under the same roof, eating the same food, resting when we rest. It is intense sometimes, no doubt. But only intense moments can bring a breakthrough in the old samskāras (deep rooted habits), taken into account that you are willing to bring about these 3 qualities: tapas (will power, endurance), īśvara praṇidhāna (trust), svādhyāya (self-analysis). Two main enemies will try hard to thwart your efforts: rāga (like) and dveṡa (dislike). What is wrong with liking or disliking something? But I am a human being and an adult! I am free and I can do what I want! I paid for the course! This might be the arguments our mind tries to bring up. Actually, the good things are expensive but the best things are for free. And what is freedom? It is just the opposite of likes and dislikes. The freedom and expansion of mind is the ability to accept any life situation. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with it. Accept, agree or disagree and act according to ahimsa (non-violence).

The problem with the two “mind devils” is that there is always the other side of the same coin. If you like something, you will dislike the absence of it and vice versa – the other one is missing or you dislike its presence. God dammit! Isn’t it better to just accept what is? Easily said then done, I know. But it is just about constant mind training – tapas – trust in the system and teacher – īśvara praṇidhāna – and the self-analysing capacity that I might be wrong and correcting – svādhyāya.
Today, I ask myself: How advanced in yoga am I? No matter how many times I had already thought about this the same answer pops up like the screen titles at the end of a movie: The more I am able to comply by the yamas and niyamas (ethic rules of conduct), the more advanced of a yogi I am.

May I be given the courage to accept things that I cannot change. May I be given strength to change things that I can change. May I be given the wisdom to know the difference.

with love
MM

Palm trees, burning sun… What’s this Christmas all about?

Sitting in the shade of a coconut tree in front of the house, overlooking the shimmering colours of the Arabian Sea and reminiscing about Christmas. 8 years ago I exchanged my life in a metropolitan city in Europe for a life at a deserted beach in central Kerala, south India for whatever reasons that are still not fully known to me. 😉 True to my own tradition, I planted a Christmas tree into the sandy soil 7 years ago and unlike other tropical plants which have grown into lush giants over time, the foreign species of a pine tree has remained more or less the same, so that this year I could decorate it together with my 4-year-old daughter. Celebrating Christmas in the middle of a tropical paradise started to make sense to me only after I could share this tradition with my daughter. We would speak about “ježíšek” (baby Jesus) and she would ask me if he had needles. (She confused the word ježíšek with the word ježek, meaning hedgehog) 🙂

The importance of a snowy landscape, the scent of Christmas pastry and the twinkling of Christmas lights disappeared in a second as soon as I saw the magic sparkle in my daughter’s eyes. It was the very same sparkle that I used to see as a child in the eyes of my parents, brother and sister in front of the fully lit Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. At that moment I realised that the feeling of sharing, belonging and togetherness is much more important than the external conditions.

As everywhere in the world also in India Christmas is regarded as a Christian tradition. Children get long holidays regardless of the fact if their God is called Allah, Rama or Santa. So the holiday spirit is definitely in the air even with 33 degrees air temperature. The colorful paper Christmas stars light up in the evening on all houses regardless of creed. I remember one incident that struck me during one of my first visits to India. We were traveling around with a group and all were Hindus. As part of our round trip, we visited a church. As soon as the members of the group approached the altar, all bowed down on their knees as a sign of respect. Growing up with the idea of religious segregation, I was blown away by this sight.

It is maybe not by accident that this year I am spending Christmas Eve in Amma’s ashram at Amritapuri. Thousands of people flock to the ashram to wait hours in a queue (we waited for 2,5) to receive Amma’s darshan (tight hug on her breast and a whisper of a mantra in the ear) The sound of mantras and Xmas carols in many different languages fill the air. People’s eyes water with love and devotion. This is the real Christmas, I thought.

While I waited in the queue I had enough time to think about what I wish for this Xmas. And voilà: I wish for less ego and more compassion in the world starting with myself. Why do we have that sense of ownership? Why always me? Why always mine? If we give up the idea that only by the sense of ownership we do acquire existence, can there be any more scope for conflict or war? I wish for everyone to acquire the right ego knowing when to act and when to take a step back. And for now, there is only one left to say: Merry Christmas or rather Hare Christmas! 😉

-MM-

Ashram, My Home

Dear friends and enemies also; ),

Some time ago, I wrote an article about the Amritapuri ashram and other ashrams in general titled “Ashram Life”. Today, I am ready to disclose my experience running an ashram in my own family home. Kindly excuse my politically incorrect language in some abstracts of this article. Maybe it will sound bias, but I feel that I have to be biased (exclusive) if I want to run the ashram sincerely and at the same time, be there for my family and preserve my own health. Namaste and cheers!

The word ashram comes from Sanskrit āśramaḥ: meaning “penance, austerity”. When translating from Sanskrit we should never take the literal meaning as final as it is often misleading. This is the reason why an interpretation of classical Vedic scriptures is much more important than the scripture itself.

An ashram is a place of retreat and self-discipline. With self-discipline, I mean mainly the discipline of our own mind. Some people interpret an ashram as an abode of peace, learning (mainly about yourself) and simple living. For others, it might be one of many points to tick off on their bucket list while traveling in India and the third category seeking cheap accommodation and quality food while not being ready to adjust, comply or do any action of a community spirit. (Please note my biased tone already 😉 ) Why would they want to stay at such a “prison” anyway, where they cannot do as they wish? I often ask myself the same question.

The first category of humble seekers of truth goes with the flow and can accept our rules and changes without any resistance or struggle. The second category is often travelers that do not have much yoga experience and require our full attention and care. This kind of work is not always rewarding as their stay normally doesn’t exceed 3 days and as a beginner, you cannot experience the real benefit of yoga in the course of just 3 days. Still sometimes, rarely people do benefit and that keeps me going, thinking that even a minor benefit and a wind of change in their mind is worth all the effort!

Now, what I want to say is, that I strongly discourage the third category to stay with us. Why? People with low theoretical knowledge and strong ego (sense of self: my needs, my rights) may think that their knowledge is incomplete and try to adjust or change. However, people with high theoretical knowledge and strong ego think that their way is the only way and not only they are not ready to adjust, but they also try to convince others of their truth. Often as a paradox, they are themselves yoga teachers who had been teaching yoga for many years. In that case, I ask myself: “What have they been teaching all these years and mainly practicing themselves if they hadn’t mastered even the yamas and niyamas (behavioural codex relating to oneself and to others according to the sage Patanjali like non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing etc.)? Nobody is perfect, I am also not able to practice non-violence 100%. Maybe only Mahatma Gandhi was. Yet, if someone is bargaining about the price of their stay and arguing that he didn’t have all three meals on that day while we lent him a bicycle and searched for a train connection????!!!! Him being a yoga teacher for more than 25 years and a life coach, trying to break every single rule we have at the ashram and at the end of his 4 nights trying to bargain for a few hundred rupees at a place where we offer community yoga classes and community one-year teacher training course. Should I tell you his name, date of birth and passport number? Maybe not. Not because I don’t want to insult him. Sometimes insulting or directly challenging someone brings the desired change of perspective for the sake of humanity. However, not in the case of the third category of high theoretical knowledge and a “skyscraper ego”. In this case, you have to say “svaha” (thank you Šárka Konečná) – the most commonly used word during retreats and workshops meaning “past, gone, let go, chuck it overboard” – and write an article to ventilate your emotions. 😉

This is the time when I feel nearly ashamed for my European descent, where our modern culture and education work hard on inflating the ego to the heights of a skyscraper. This is also the time where I remember what Swami Dayananda once said: “Good heart is not enough, you have to be intelligent also.” Yes, I had to learn this during the past 7 years running Arsha Yoga, establishing a place where East and West meet and people coming often with a big burden on their shoulders called life and looking for instant solutions to their problems – reaching out with the loving heart to those in need and showing the hard stone face to those we cannot help or teach. And all this while sharing a common living space and having a family also – being there for my small daughter during every spare minute and taking care of our partnership life. Often, we literally drop into our bed lying side by side and just acknowledging the familiar face of each other without having the energy to exchange even a few words.

Anyway, back to the real-life scenario. After observing the behavior of this particular guest for the past 4 days, I was expecting a bargaining situation upon his departure and I was preparing an answer while taking a shower this morning. Then, following the recommendation of Swami Dayananda and in terms of protecting my own health and my family’s well being, my answer was: “This is our price for 4 nights and as a yoga place I don’t accept bargaining, but if you cannot give from the heart, I leave the donation up to you. You don’t have to give any money if you don’t feel like it.” Full stop, my dear friends! No more discussion! I think I did a good job, considering that 7 years ago I was not even able to say “NO” to anyone. I still recall when my dear friend, my first real yoga teacher and now calling her sister of the tribe 😉 – Shakti Simone Lehner from Yoga Vidya Speyer in Germany – used to give me as an example of selfless service to others by telling that I was always ready to jump in as substitute when other teachers canceled. The secret of it all was that I was just not able to say no!!! :):):)

Conclusion: we are never done. There is always something to improve. And maybe next time I can react with less emotional turbulence? And now it’s over. Life goes on!

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (including myself 😉

-MM-
Gayatri Beach

Safe and Loved – in the Arms of a Living Saint

When we hear the word ashram, we think of a strict and rigorous routine that will limit us in our “freedom”. Once I also thought this way. We have to follow a fixed schedule. We have a limitation to exit the ashram premises. Some strangers in orange dress tell us what to do… Have you asked yourself why it is so? Is it because they want to torture us? Yes, when looking for an answer to our questions, we should always ask why it is so and maybe there is a reason for that, which we cannot see at the moment.

As I and Harilalji are the organisers of the Bhagavad Gita retreat in Swami Bhoomananda’s ashram in Kerala, south India, a few days ago we asked for an appointment with Swamiji to talk about the details of the upcoming course starting on November 21st. It was 4 of us visiting, moreover 3 and a half – Meera, Harilalji, our daughter Gayatri and our karma yogi Mahavira. I have visited the Narayanashrama Tapovanam (www.narayanashramatapovanam.org) many times as Swamiji is my husband’s teacher. Gayatri was a small baby at that time, crawling around the ashram and I was changing diapers in the office room 🙂 Some people describe the ashram as “the clean one”. Clean it is alright, but more than just clean, everything has a purpose.

Narayanashrama Tapovanam
Even the plant pot is standing right in the middle of the window – not a few millimeters to the right and not to the left. This is the power of Vedanta or jnana yoga – yoga of knowledge and intellect. As a woman and a mother, I personally practice some jnana yoga but moreover karma and bhakti yoga, so that I never felt particularly attracted to the ashram and its teachings.

My view changed when Swamiji called us up to his office in the 2nd floor. He did this purposefully as he wanted to make the meeting informal and welcome us as friends. I bowed to his feet as one is supposed to do when meeting a respected person in India and wanted to get up quickly. But Swamiji insisted on me staying at his feet and went on stroking my hair. I felt like an innocent child in the safe arms of a mother. And I realised that even though Swamiji is highly intellectual and gives discourses all over the world, he embodies so much love also.

Furthermore, he spoke to each and every one of us and asked personal questions and expressed concern about my post-surgery convalescence. Gayatri, who normally doesn’t pay any respects to anyone, only if she herself wants, showed a great amount of freedom with Swamiji and even played a song (or rather made some noise) on her harmonica. This also Swmiji appreciated. Our visit was concluded with a delicious vegetarian lunched served in the ashram and blessed by Swamiji prior to serving to make sure all impurities had been removed.
Yes, there are rules, there is a hierarchy, yet there is also infinite love – all for the selfless benefit of the student.

Jaya Guru!