Healing is a Process of Accepting All, Then Choosing the Best!

I am writing this article to close the chapter of my “spiritual hospital retreat” mainly to give news to my family (in the sense of family = love and trust) all around the world who cared for me during this turbulent time and maybe to motivate other people who go through difficult times at the moment. Experience differs but patterns are similar. This is the reason why I am writing in English to reach out to as many people as possible and maybe to polish my own language skills also Warning: it is long but in my opinion definitely worth at least a try!
Whilst in hospital, I noted down a few things that struck me either in positive or negative sense. Some are serious and some funny, but from all we can learn something:
  • doctors ask me from where I learnt fluent Czech or if my parents were foreigners. (This only reaffirms my theory of being an Indian in my past life. )
  • as doctors and nurses found out that I lived in India, I started receiving sympathetic looks. (I forgave them as they do not know I went to India not because of forced marriage but by act of free will.)
  • I found meat pieces in the “vegetarian meal option”. (Luckily I was in “survival mode” and had to just get through the days and knew that they are preparing food for thousands of people and some lady cook doesn’t realise the importance of no “meat contamination” for a vegetarian. Plus I was not able to chew or swallow much anyways.)
  • It is important to prepare for the worst but out of a positive mind and inner wisdom. (When the doctor says “oh, don’t worry, your throat will hurt a little only for a few days”, it means that you won’t be able to drink or eat without pain for a week.)
  • Being able to speak when you need and to eat and drink when you are hungry or thirsty is a privilege. (First 4 days after the surgery I was able to eat only liquid food and drink little by little through a straw even though I was craving for lots of food and water. I was not able to ask or cry for help. I had to spend energy on gesticulating or writing a note.)
  • all doctors and nurses were professional and kind. (Despite the general aversive mood of Czechs towards the hospital environment and staff, I had a positive experience. Maybe because I was trying to keep my role as a patient and also be kind? I don’t know. It remains a mystery.)
  • I was given an option of a “luxury room” for 1.100 czk/night. It is a single room with TV, attached bathroom, water kettle, fridge and locker. (I was lucky that this room was available which is not always the case and even though I mostly try to save money, even if my husband would not agree on this , I went for this option and I was grateful later. I could make my own tea as the hospital version is not one of the tastiest. I could cough, sigh, weep and make all kinds of sounds without disturbing others. I put up an altar with the picture of my grandma and other for me sacred and healing objects that could cause a traumatic experience to rational brains who most Czechs are. I gave dance a few tries just to relax the stiff body.)
  • I was asked to arrange adoption of a child from India. (Shortly after my arrival in hospital I became famous with all the “India and Yoga life” and the sanitary assistant on the way to the operation room asked me if I could help him adopting a child from India for his lesbian friends’ couple. Later he came to my room with a written note stating his name and phone number. I have nothing against adoption. I have nothing against homosexual couple adopting a child. But this was clearly beyond my scope of action.)
  • I was pleasantly surprised by the “human look” of the hospital café and juice bar. (I exchanged my normal day-to-day survival strategy of espresso macchiato for fresh fruit and vegetable juices. And I might even keep it that way. I felt an intense inner craving for sweet fresh fruits, first in the form of juices, directly after the surgery and can still feel now during the recovery period. I know that the word “craving” already contains the intensity of feeling, but this was almost like animalistic. It was that strong. Me and my friend Veronika found a word for it: Wolf’s Plums :):):) ).
There are a few life lessons that I had learnt or deepened during my surgery experience.
What difficult life situations can do for you:
  • make you grow in your personality and spirit (The purpose of my life, which is to help people, became more clear.)
  • fortify ties with family and friends (I cannot remember sitting quietly at our garden terrace with my father for years.)
  • open doors to spontaneity and creativity and free you from dulling daily routine. Do what you feel like and eat what you feel like even if it stands in contradiction to your previous habits. It’s necessary for healing. ( I started eating fruits in the morning instead of oats porridge and ate 2 boiled organic eggs. Unbelievable, if you know me )
  • teach you not to suppress your emotions (I cried loudly and felt like smashing things while not be able to talk or move. I did all of it at least mentally with full awareness and it carried its own beauty of expression and brought a great amount of relief.)
  • teach you about areas of life that you might never come across otherwise (I finally learned, why in Czech the ENT department (which in English is easily explained by Ear,Nose,Throat) is called ORL. (ORL = otorinolaryngologie) That not only tells something about the language but also the culture. You all know how I love languages and cultures!)
  • bring out humour in situations you would normally think of as unpleasant or tragic and that way make the situation less painful. Try to embrace the “monster” and make him to your friend. (I am closely following up my friend’s cancer treatment and we started making rhymes to chemotherapy.)
These are the spiritual and social aspects. Of course that I also followed a certain diet and lifestyle during the convalescence time. This I have done before the surgery also only with some alterations. I took lots of time in silence in nature (no tv, no radio, limited mobile and internet access only to communicate with my family). I wished to just spend time in virgin nature, but as it was not possible due to my husband being away and my parents taking care of Gayatri, our garden did the job . So if you have the possibility to spend at least some of your healing time in pristine nature, this is the best you could do for you. Breathe clean air, drink pure water, eat clean food, rest enough, be kind and compassionate to yourself (this doesn’t mean to feel sorry for yourself. That is quite the opposite.) and if possible meditate. All allopathic medicines as well as other alternative supporting methods that you have access to like homeopathy, ayurveda or craniosacral therapy will support and accelerate your natural healing intelligence.
Finally, I would like to thank all people who made this experience more humane and bearable for me: my husband Harilalji Karanath, who was regretful that he couldn’t do much because he was teaching in Germany and then had to fly back to India. He was calling me several times a day to check just if everything was ok. My family in India. My daughter Gayatri who bravely left to the countryside house with her grandparents and cousins for nearly two weeks while knowing that her mother is going to be cut at her throat (yes, we don’t spare her the truth and she can well understand it.). My mom and dad who are always there for me the best way they can even with the “complicated Indian vegetarian cooking” and dairy free diet for my daughter. My sister Zuzana Humhalova, who nursed me during the most difficult 3 days after being discharged from hospital. Her husband, who didn’t oppose to her sleeping at my house, even though it was their rare time at home without kids. My brother Aleš Posselt who would definitely be there for me if he could, but he was in Taiwan during the surgery time. And as the Czech proverb says: “In emergency, you will know your true friend”, my friend Veronika Vališová (she hates social sites) drove me to the hospital for bandage change when my sister was still at work and I was too weak to take a taxi. Petra Masopust Sachova who brought me homeo medicine. Barbara Haracova who motivates people even though she experiences herself a serious illness at the moment. The biggest of gratitude to my friend and doctor Marcela Schejbalová who helped me with the surgery arrangements. Doctor Miloš Taudy from the ENT department in FN Motol who operated me and still spends his personal time to make sure that the whole healing process will be smooth. To my friends and doctors Sarita Nair who is in India and her father is seriously ill and Jan Vojáček and Šárka Konečná who are themselves in the middle of a life change, yet they were ready to answer my panic messages the night the wound started swelling up. Shakti Simone Lehner and Maheshwara Manfred Lehner from Yoga Vidya Speyer who are always checking on me no matter what. Dr. Sarada Rajiv, clinical psychologist, who helped me literally come back to my feet during my difficult times in India, and whom I call Amma now (amma means mother in Malayalam). Tanya Lofy who will always inspire me in her “Lightness of Being”. Katrin Nostadt who has suffered a serious spine injury recently and now we joke that we are going to be both “Women who survived the attack of Jack the Ripper”. The whole Czech-British-American-German-Austrian-Bulgarian yoga community. And maybe even the nurse who took my blood for testing and gave me a bandaid for children with pictures and colours. Did I forget anyone? I must have because I am a human being
title photo: Šárka Konečná

Among the Shadows of Grey

For today`s article I got inspired during my walk-in Germany where the street sign said: “By following the rules, you save yourself a penalty ticket.” This sign triggered a further thought: “Can human beings follow discipline only when non-compliance results in punishment?”

During my teaching in training or short-term seminars, I seem to come across the same cognitive pattern of “black and white” thinking without noticing the shadows of grey. I am not trying to blame anyone but to point out a repetitive behavior that can significantly curb our feeling of happiness and completeness.

In terms of our school, family and social education we were taught to think in one direction only and to regard everything else as non-existent, disturbing, redundant. It is like climbing up to a castle through the forest and missing the sight and smell of flowers and singing of birds along the way. If we concentrate explicitly on the macrocosm of result, target, immobility, control, rules, and laws, we might miss the microcosm of buoyancy, fluidity, the world of small joys. We are constantly programmed for efficiency and result and forget to be in the moment that happens particularly “on the go.” We want to get clear answers for all our questions and if possible, only a single clear answer. If we all live according to our dharma (the universal law of righteousness), we don’t need laws and regulations. We will know how to deal with ambiguous situations that come frequently in life and those uniform laws cannot apply.

To promote change, we have to individually step out of the cycle that in the yoga psychology we call vṛtti – samskāra – a cycle in which our thoughts build a certain behavioural pattern and from this pattern, similar thoughts emerge creating a vicious circle.

A meadow near Yoga Vidya Bad Meinberg, Germany
Certain cognitive patterns promoted by the modern education are so strong that any impulse for change is regarded as threat to our own identity – the ego. In yoga we often hear masters talking about “giving up the ego”. This is rather a part of a higher spiritual practice. For us normal human beings, I dare to say, we have to find our “right ego” which comes out of balanced vijnanamaya kosha (the wisdom sheath of our mind). Then we can recognise our strengths and weaknesses without a reason to feel either superior or inferior.

Our modern educational system is based on information – IQ (intelligence quotient). However, in order to “digest” the given information properly, we need a corresponding amount of EQ (emotional quotient). If we have access to a large amount of information, but we don’t know how to integrate it within our personality and in regard to relationships with other people and society, we become confused and emotionally imbalanced. This disruption of the psyche is often the triggering factor for autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or even cancer. In my seminars, I have acquainted several people who were highly informative and could narrate almost the complete world history and the current political situation, but they were not able to be at peace with themselves. Does the school syllabus, today, including subjects such as Mindfulness in Daily Life or peer projects bearing the title How to Recognise and Harmonise Your Emotions?
Why NOT?

Because the legislators governing the ministries for schooling and education themselves had no access to another form of education. They themselves are not leading mindful lives and legislative bills are mainly introduced by a lobby of multinational companies that supply school books and soda and snacks machines to schools.

We are interested to meet like-minded people to organise seminars dealing with the topic of Vedic education and mindfulness. If you are interested, please contact [email protected]

As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The world has enough resources to satisfy everyone’s needs, but not enough resources to satisfy greed of even a single person.”

Arsha Yoga, Kerala, India
Dear friends, let each of us take small steps and work together for a better tomorrow.

Lokaḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu.
May all beings be happy.

Being a Woman and the Concept of an Indian Marriage

“I do” to whom? Not to you but to your whole family!

As I married into an Indian family, people had asked me about “the Indian marriage” thousands of times and I waited and waited until today. The last drop to my cup of motivation in writing this article was an article in today’s newspaper The Times of India, where an 18-year-old couple was found hanged in a house somewhere in Kerala due to disagreement on marriage arrangements of the daughter with her parents.
Still even today, most marriages in India are arranged. The “other kind” is called love marriage :). Do you ask yourself that arranged marriage is not out of love? Well, the Indians say that love comes after marriage. So there you go!

Anyway, what does arranged marriage really mean? In most cases, it means that families including parents, siblings, uncles, and aunts search for the right partner. This search is a highly sophisticated process. First, it depends on your religion. For my part, I have come into contact with three religions here in Kerala, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, even though there are many more in other parts of India. So criteria no. 1: same religion. Criteria no. 2: “sub religion” (in case of Christians the different order or Church, in Islam – Sunni or Shia, in Hinduism – caste). Criteria no. 3: age – some time back groom had to be at least 10 years older than the bride. (Note of the author: And I strongly agree, because men usually mature slower than women. Just to let you know, my husband is 10 years older than me ;). Since then the age difference has decreased but the groom always has to be older at least by a couple of years (Author’s note: too bad for my sister :). The usual age for a groom is 26-28 years and for a bride 23-26 years. But it differs from caste to caste and in Muslim communities, the women are married off usually with 18 years. Criteria no.4: education and profession – the couple should have same level of education and the husband should be financially stable, otherwise FORGET IT! In India nobody is going to marry a Bohemian artist. Maybe better that way as he might not be fit for “one for life” relationship. Criteria no. 5: beauty! Yes, believe it or not. Indians are on the quest for fair skin. The fairer your skin, the higher chance for a potential match. (Author’s note: Should have known earlier…….) And come on, admit it, everybody wants a beauty, whatever the concept of “beauty” is in your mind. So a groom of a darker complexion will only get a bride of a dark complexion and vice versa. Criteria no. 6: horoscope match: at least in before Hindu marriage the Jyotisha (Vedic horoscope) will be compared and five out of 10 criteria have to match. Criteria no.7: space for personal preference (if your parents allow) – non-smoker, non-drinker (alcohol, not water), vegetarian. The families will then conduct a vast search with the help of a so-called marriage broker or through a pages long matrimonial section of the daily press. If they find a suitable match, they will discuss it first over the phone and then meet and discuss again, then call and discuss……Then finally, if the family allows, the potential husband and wife to be are going to see each other and possible exchange a brief conversation.

Let’s have a look at my “score”. Criteria no. 1: 0/5 (my husband is a born Hindu and I was brought up an atheist). Criteria no. 2: 0/5 (different caste, different languages, different culture, and different worlds, even though the same planet Earth). Criteria no. 3: 4/5 Yeah! Scored on this one, even though a little old fashioned. Criteria no. 4: 2/5 I finished postgraduate studies of translation and interpreting and my husband high school, so no comparison there but we ended up both as yoga teachers. So I give myself 2 points out of 5. Criteria no. 5: 5/5 We feel beautiful, at least I do and feel the same way about my husband. Criteria no. 6: 0/5 Didn’t do one as there was no point. But maybe we should do one now ;). Criteria no.7: 5/5 This is my highest score section as it was mine according to my choice. So summoned up I would be a big failure in an arranged marriage, but luckily it was “a love one”.

Now, you might ask yourself (like my mother does) how can you live start living with someone and share the “intimacies”, if you don’t know them beforehand? Well, Indians ask the same question: “How can you live with someone without being married?” So now what?! I will share my reflections on this topic. As an Indian, you are brought up with the idea that one day your parents will choose your partner and you see this tradition as the only reality while growing up, so this will be your ultimate given truth. If you do not know any other way, you won’t also think any other way. It’s as simple as that. Your mind is preprogrammed. Just like if you have a pet cat inside your house or flat and never let her go outside, it will never desire to see nature because it has been trained that way. Not to compare a bride with a cat, but in this case, it is the same concept. This is the first point. Another point is that in an arranged marriage you will try your very best to stay away from expectations as you don’t know the partner. In love marriages, however, you have a certain concept of your perfect partner and you are trying many options hoping to find the perfect match one lucky day. Some people manage on the first try either by pure luck (or in Indian philosophy we call it karma), some manage on the second go and some keep trying their whole life 😉 (that we might call “double karma” :)) But one is enjoyable and the other one is suffering. In an arranged marriage you are marrying for life. That is the concept and in 99% it works. The divorce rate in India is much higher in love marriages. And many times I have thought about all those lonely western friends for whom an arranged marriage, even though maybe not the Indian model, would be an option. I have even tried to arrange a few couples to meet but was highly unsuccessful in my attempt and I could forget my career as a marriage broker for good…….. Thank God! Otherwise, there might be more divorce in the world.
The wedding itself is a life investment for the parents and with the act of marriage they are handing over their child to the partner and his family. They still keep in touch, naturally, but their main responsibility as parents is over. Sometimes they will spend their whole savings towards the marriage expenses and sometimes get into a huge depth due to the dowry system of the bride. Recently, a lady from the neighborhood, who cooks in our house during retreats, came to us asking for money. She always asks for money but this time it was a higher amount. Guess why? Her daughter’s marriage was coming up. For that purpose, they got into a huge depth by taking a loan from charlatan money lenders for high interest to renovate their house and purchase 25 pavan of gold (note: 1 pavan = 8 grams, 1 gram of gold = 3.800 inr) as dowry. It seemed to me that they almost took pride in being able to give so much dowry, even though they would pay with their health and sometimes even with their life later. But in India “later” never comes :).

Wedding hall
The wedding ceremony takes place in a temple in the case of Hindu marriages first, that only the closest family attends. The marriage act itself takes place at an auspicious time called muhurtham calculated according to the planetary constellation. So imagine….. All these precautions are made so it must work out! Then the couple and family move over to the marriage auditorium. Yes, auditorium which resembles a big theatre with a stage, where the “marriage drama” takes place. The couple, the closest family and the wise men are present at the stage and other guests (a modest number of around 1.000) form the audience. Some more rituals are being performed like “tying the knot”, no sorry “tying the taali” which is a gold ornament in a teardrop form that the newly married should wear her whole life. After the ceremony which can take anywhere between 1 and 4 hours depending on the caste, there is sadya – festive meal served on a banana leaf. As Indians are masters in organising mass gatherings, cooking for more than 1.000 people is a piece of cake. For young Indian boys, it might be a popular way to kill time by what can be called “marriage feast hopping”. They sometimes attend marriage feasts without knowing the married couple or family because even the family doesn’t know everyone. Traditionally, after the wedding ceremony, the bride moves to the husband’s house and lives there with his parents. For most ladies in the West, it is a scary idea to share their living space with their mother-in-law, yet this tradition was set up mainly for the elders to be taken care of.

Even though the act of marriage itself has diminished in the course of social development today, the finding of a life-time partner stays a priority as it is a natural biological need of a human being and especially in the case of women who look for security and protection for themselves as well as their children. Marriage is a granting media for the female role of motherhood, care and endless love as well as for the male role of the “family security guard”. Any violation of these male and female polarities may lead to psychological imbalance that later manifests in the form of low libido, irregular or missing menstruation cycle, infertility, cysts, lack of self-confidence and self-value, unfulfilled partnerships etc. Now, despite any cultural or social tradition, let’s not forget our role as daughters, lovers, mothers, wives and grandmothers. Let’s not try to GAIN power by fight and force but rather BE powerful by tenderness, love, care and compassion.

Jay Ma!

Ashram Life

Many people who decided to adapt yoga as a way of life, have the desire to visit India at some point in their life and especially an ashram. The word ashram comes from Sanskrit āśramaḥ: meaning “penance, austerity”, but you can find much more there, if this is not sufficient for you, like a cup of good coffee (not this time, unfortunately) or a banana chocolate muffin. That sounds incredibly tempting even for a great India fan like me. Your roots you cannot deny. And also you should not attempt so, as you will end up stranded half way with anxiety disorder or depression. And why should you anyway? But about this topic some other time.

Amma (Amrtanandamayi Ma) meditating as a young girl
For three days I ripped myself away from my husband, my 3-year-old daughter and all household and yoga center responsibilities and went to the ashram known as Amritapuri (www.amma.org) also called: the ashram of the hugging mother (amma – in the local language Malayalam meaning “mother”). She removes people’s problems and suffering from her unconditional love and compassion. And this is transmitted by hugging.
While coming from an atheistic and utmost rational family, at first I thought this is one of the new age esoteric techniques. Do you know what I mean ;)? But we should never believe our thoughts are 100% true. And because my inquisitive nature and repeated visits and maybe also progress on the spiritual path, it all started making sense and the word love widely misused in the western culture developed into a feeling of joy and open heart just like a mother watching her child’s worry less play.

View from my “ashram penthouse” accommodation
And why did I choose this particular ashram for my “family holiday” away from family? Oh yeah, you might have guessed it right. In the main role capuccino and muffins. Okay, please have mercy on me. I have been in India since 8 months ?. Now seriously. As a foreigner living in India, I do admit that I like coffee and I do admit that I like muffins and I do admit that I like to socialize and I do admit that I like to travel alone as a woman and I do admit that I miss it sometimes……… I want to pick my nose, if I wanted to, without reading a report about it in the local newspaper the very next day. Just imagine: “Our respected yoga teacher Smt. Meeraji picked her nose 3 times yesterday at 3pm at the Vatanappally bus stop using her right index finger.” Ok, I’ll stop it for now, but I really feel this way sometimes. When I go out of the house all eyes are on me. Some days you feel like a superstar but some days you wish to be invisible and on those days you become the hit report for the local newspaper ?. And this is the reason why I came to Amritapuri – not to seek enlightenment, even though I don’t say no when it comes, not for Amma’s hug, but for the anonymity and space where you don’t have to be alert about the outside conditions and you can simply BE. And of course muffins and coffee is a bonus ??!

Morning and evening seaside meditation
I think that is why so many different people come to an ashram. There are Indian tourists coming to look at Westerners, there are western tourists coming to tick off one more spot on their sightseeing list, there are devotees of Amma dressed in white who tell you with a smile whenever you ask them any question: “Amma says, that…..”, there are widows, old people, sick people and lonely people seeking family and support in the ashram life, there are families with children who want to live differently than the mainstream. And then there is someone like me – a passionate yoga teacher and an amateur writer. They are all allowed to BE.
And there is also AMMA, even though not always physically present, you can see her executing her will through her devotees and if you are blind, there is always the Amma says,that….

Om amriteshwaryai namah

Beauty and the Beast OR Pet or the Beast?

I am sure that after publishing this article I might lose a few FB friendships, as “pets” is an emotionally loaded topic, but I am going to write it anyway. Just stay cool, lean back and if you get emotionally deranged, you can still go to your pet and seek comfort.

No seriously, I have always been an animal lover. Ask my parents! I have taken dogs home from the street that I knew that I was not allowed to keep….but only a few hours, you know….. I also had animal hair allergy, so the “bold” animals I was allowed to keep were reptiles – no, unfortunately, I was not allowed to keep a snake, but I had a turtle and a tortoise and I was the head manager of my own Extatostoma tiaratum breeding station. Those, who are not familiar with this cute little pet, please extend your knowledge here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extatosoma_tiaratum. Read more

Death? Not me!

In Czech we have a saying: “Pokud nejde o život, tak jde o hovno.” (freely translated as “If your life is not in threat, don’t give a shit.”) However, the science of yoga tells us that even if your life is in threat, it shouldn’t cause much havoc inside of you.

Abhinivesha, fear of the unknown or fear of death, is one of the 5 kleshas, impediments on the spiritual path. In the second chapter in the Sutra #9 the rishi Patanjali says, that abhinivesha is the source of all other kleshas (dwesha – despising, raga – liking, asmita – ego identification, avidya – ignorance). Abhinivesha, the fear of death is imbedded in all regardless of gender, cast or creed and becomes stronger with progressing age mainly because of the identification with our physical body. The yogic science says that if we cannot overcome this fear, we are bound to the cycle of rebirth.

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