09 August 2016

Leave Your Comfort

"You start dying slowly if you do not travel, if you do not read, if you do not listen to the sounds of life... You start dying slowly if you become a slave of your habits, walking everyday on the same paths… You start dying slowly if you avoid to feel passion and their turbulent emotions; those which make your eyes glisten and your heart beat fast. You start dying slowly...if you do not allow yourself, at least once in your lifetime, to run away from sensible advice…" – Pablo Neruda

30 July 2016

Seven Times the Charm? Vermont 100: Cookies, Lightning, Hills, and Fun

Vermont 100 has become a tradition, a staple in my annual racing schedule. I skipped it one year, and I spent that entire weekend, jealous out of my mind with FOMO. A bit overwhelming.

And a mistake I won't make again!

The course is not that easy. While it's not technical like Hardrock, or with the altitude of Leadville, it has a lot of hills. A lot. Some sections have lovely nicknames like "Agony," and some hills seemingly go on forever. Like, "Are we ever going to get to Bill's? This hill never stops." My pacer last year pronounced it cruel.

But it's gorgeous. Meadows and hills and oh-so-scenic. Imagine you bought a calendar of Vermont. These vistas would make the pages. There are rolling hills and meadows and barns and silos and adorable cows and greenery and a section called "The Sound of Music Hills."

worship the oreo-choc chip cookie hybrid

And the food. I have never eaten better food at an ultra. Homemade cookies and grilled cheese and so many other things. I stuck mainly with my staples (gels, chews, those biscotti cookies Delta gives out (I found them on Amazon and bought them in bulk) and coconut waters) but went kind of crazy at Margaritaville (mile 58.5). I mean, maple coconut cookies and chocolate chip cookies baked ON TOP of Oreos. Please, just hand them all over.

Jen was excited to pace me, even though she had never run more than a marathon. She was really nervous, and I tried to explain, "Seriously, it's not a problem. The main things you need to be good at are making sure I don't get lost and keeping me awake."

She was stellar at both, and more.

This girl held my hand as I had a total breakdown - crying hysterically, thinking I was going to die and get struck by lightning. I went to the bathroom way too close to her far too many times (much to the delight of her adorable 4-year-old daughter. Oh, and by bathroom, I mean I squatted in the bushes or on a patch of dirt. I think I did use one port-a-potty, but they are few and far between.

at the start. i want to puke. i feel like i'm going to puke. omg. omg.

Jen and I drove up the day before. She's been through a bunch of major changes in the past year, and we talked abt them, and some changes I've been going through (You know, quitting a job I'd be at for ten years, re-discovering how awesome happiness is, studying yoga for four months while traveling around India, starting a new career of yoga teaching and freelance writing while trying to figure my life out.). She had never been to Vermont before, so I got to impress her with the amazingness of The Vermont Country Deli. (Those cookies in the front...just get one. No, get two. And also - the lemon blueberry tart. And the mac and cheese. And the sandwiches - get one on the marble rye. And the carrot cake. And the...and the everything.)

I had packed everything into drop bags a week earlier, so after getting lost (Another VT100 tradition for me.), I dumped off my drop bags, got my bib, greeted Amy (the awesome RD, and a fantastic elite ultrarunner in her own right), said hi to lots of friends. Then we found some friends front and center and sat down for the pre-race meeting. Rules and talking, and then dinner.

And then I got back to our adorable Airbnb (Fluffy free range chickens everywhere!!! I want to move to VT!), I discovered ALL of my gels were in my drop bags. I remembered finding a few extras that must've been with my first 20 miles stash. Jen hooked me up, and then I tried to go to bed at 8pm. 

That didn't happen.

Finally I fell asleep and then we got up at 230. I force fed myself half of a bagel, drank some smoothie, and then dragged Wayne out of bed. Jen seemed the most ready, and I felt like I was going to vomit.

But then I started. I settled into a rhythm pretty quickly and felt kinda decent.

I also knew I had no business shooting for the moon. But you try anyway, right? Because if you don't, well, what's the worth of living in mediocrity?

My training had been crappy. I didn't have a strong enough base from being in India in yoga-land (I often started meditating and chanting and asana at 6 or 7am, which meant I had to get my run in before...and there weren't too many safe places or enough sunlight for me to run enough.) and then dealing with my weak ankle...I had one 100k, an 18 miler, two 16 milers, and a handful of 13 milers. Ummmm, yeah.

But mentally, I was good. All this yoga has really settled me. I have never felt so mentally good. The miles flew away. I kept running. I walked some atrocious hills. I did what I could. I didn't feel bad when I knew I wasn't running as strong. I caught up with friends. I enjoyed the views. I ate tasty treats.

Jen was the best crew. She showed up at all the aid stations with so much energy. It really kept me going. (That, and the popsicles...."I want the red flavor." Not cherry, red.)

It was hot, but not too hot. I enjoyed the peacefulness of my mind, the beauty of the hills. I reflected on so many of the changes, and hydrated in between.

My feet were also in pretty good shape. Farm to Feet had offered me an ambassadorship, which meant free socks - but I have never had such good feet after a race. (Usually I am covered with blisters. This time - whew!)

And then somehow - I was back at Camp Ten Bear again. It was time to start running with Jen.

So glad Jen joined me at Camp Ten Bear my second time...just over 69 miles run!
We had a good time. We talked and laughed, told each other tales about our day.

It was dark just before Spirit of 76, and I was glad to get there. Wayne was there! Always a great pickup.

A few miles beyond, we picked up another runner at an aid station. Riley was only 21 and so full of good energy. We chatted as we ran.

And then the lightning began.

I am totally afraid of lightning. You can die it if hits you.

Riley and I were holding hands. We were both crying. I'm pretty sure if was not either of our finer moments in ultrarunning.

The rain began. In buckets. It sucked. I have not been wearing my glasses very long, and this was my first time racing in glasses (I only wear them at night). The rain was hitting them sideways. It sucked.

Bill's was a haven. I peed in the port-a-potty and then we didn't stay too long. It was kind of like carnage. Wayne never showed up (He got lost with the thunder and lightning.) and I figured he was asleep in the car.

When we took off, the rain had stopped. Everything was somewhat magical and dewy and beautiful. My hallucinations were intense and things were glowing and gorgeous. I could do this. I could do this.

And then I couldn't. The rain picked up. It drenched us. I fell apart. My hallucinations went from gorgeous pieces of art to scary things. I stopped looking off trail; there were too many scary things popping out that weren't really there.

Riley took off. I began almost falling asleep. The rain in my eyes. It was all too much.

The lightning. I was pretty sure we were going to die.

I got to Polly's, mile 94.5 or so. I didn't want to leave. I was shivering. They fed me warm plain noodles in water. I didn't want to leave. What? I figured I'd wait out the rain. (Bad tactic - it never stopped and I just wasted time.)

Then we left. More lightning. We were running through open fields, and I was pretty sure I would never go to Burning Man or do anything. I was going to get torched by lightning. (I somehow never thought Jen would; just me.)

But we made it. The trails became horrendously muddy and difficult and barely runable. I slogged. Mudfest.

And then, I saw the sign for a mile. I wanted to cry. It still felt so far.

Jen was there. We saw a huge hill. "Are you going to run this thing?"

"This course is eating me alive."

And we pushed. And we pushed and we pushed.

I finished. It was pretty miserable at the finish line, but Amy was super nice, giving hugs, buckles, amazing shorts (great schwag!) and then I had hot cocoa. 

The race was a big deal for me and Jen. She's never run further, and I never ran a 100 on such poor training. It pulled us closer together, we shared so much about ourselves, and I'm so glad she was there for me.

Wayne was there with hugs and rain jackets for both of us, and I am so grateful that even though life isn't perfect, he's always there to try to make it as good as possible.

And obviously...this will not be my last time at my fave 100 miler!

The end. See ya next year, VT100!
Post finish. Best hot cocoa. Seriously, it was a packet, but tasted divine.

All pics by the best pacer, Jen Cwiok! (except maybe Wayne took the ones of us together, but Jen was the photo director)

06 July 2016

Life Is the Road

Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy. - Nisargadatta Maharaj

02 July 2016

Take flight...

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”

― C. JoyBell C.

01 July 2016

What I'm listening to....

You can get the girl out of India, but you can't get India out of the girl...

26 June 2016

I'm teaching yoga!

Join me in practicing....

Weekday mornings at 7am at Makara
Good morning yoga!
(The next two weeks, it will be every morning; after that, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursday mornings. Subbing on occasion.)
Weekday morning classes begin with an intention and theme, gentle opening (Hey, it's 7am!), an open-level vinyasa flow, and savasana.

Every Tuesday at 7:30pm at CrossFit Bridge and Tunnel
Yoga for Athletes
A gentler yoga class, we work to release areas especially tight for CrossFitters (and anyone): hamstrings, hips, and shoulders. We have lots of warm-up, lots of stretching, focus on releasing tight muscles and lengthening muscles.
Only $10 drop-in.

Yoga for Runners: An NBR event
July 6th at 8:30pm
Especially crafted for the runners of NBR, this focuses on areas runners need to release, open, and relax.

There will be future donation-based yoga classes in McCarren Park on weekday mornings. Stay tuned.

24 June 2016

TGNY100k: An Amazing Way to See 100k of NYC, While Running

TGNY is a must for any NYC-based ultrarunner. Whether you run, pace, volunteer, cheer, it's an amazing experience to be part of.

American 48-hour record holder Phil McCarthy puts on this glorious race. TGNY 100 miler starts and finishes in Times Square; the 100k version starts in Times Square and runs the exact course until Forest Park, Queens, where it finishes. And it's so much fun.

The reason it's so much fun is that it's an opportunity to see NYC in a very, very different way. I had no idea that there were so many parks in NYC until I ran this race. There are tons of amazing parks. You run from one to the other. Sure, there are some sucky sections, but the awesome sections more than make up for it.

We start at 5am in Times Square...and then run north into Central Park!

And then we run alongside Morningside Heights Park, and then eventually ending up at the river. Wait, I can't detail everything. There's just too much. Here's a map, and I'll give you the highlights:

  • The race is pretty low-key and cheap. Phil only provides Gatorade and water and watermelon, but the volunteer provide the rest - and they are pretty wonderful. I wasn't eating a ton, but there were a lot of great food options there.
  • Van Cortlandt Park, Alley Pond Park - yes, we are trail running in NYC!!!!
  • When else can you stop a race and HULA HOOP?
  • When else can you discover someplace so freaking cool to run in your very own city?
  • I hate the Triboro Bridge. But when you get to Queens, how wonderful.
It's funny - I ended up running pretty much the whole thing solo. I was planning on running with Ray, but he ended up having stomach issues and we were far apart pretty early on. Being alone meant I spent more time on the directions - there are turn by turn direction sheets, plus for the most part, there are arrows spray painted on the sidewalk (but not always), so it made for challenging. I pulled out my phone twice to verify that I was going in the right direction.

It felt good to get to Orchard Beach. I knew I was around the marathon mark, so that made me feel good, plus, the out and back allows you to see people.

I ran alone, but I was never bored. I looked for other runners, and rarely saw any. I was at one of those awkward "it's just me out here" moments. I found peace within myself.

There was the new entrance to Randall's Island from the Bronx, which was more like a road than a bridge - and it was really nice. Way better than in the past. On Randall's Island, my ankle hurt a bit. I decided to walk for 10 seconds, and OF COURSE I have to see a friend then. It was Matt, who was pacing Stephanie. He was so full of cheer in the most amazing way, and I tried to cheer up on behalf of him. So then I began running.

And then I got on the Triboro Bridge to Queens. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. I began trying to calm myself down, but of course was panicking like crazy.

And then - my yoga teacher Amanda was proud - I began chanting to Ganesh. I chanting repeatedly, and it helped me get over the bridge.

Post bridge, I ran with a group for the next five miles. They had their friends, and were uber cheerful. But then at the next aid station, they were dwadling, and I took off. I figured they'd catch me soon because the pain was starting to kick in; they didn't.

I began taking more walking breaks. The pain was so intense that I found myself audibly moaning. I was in a suffer-fest.

I ran. I walked. I drank water. I was thirsty. I was hot. I was getting sunburned. I was out of shape. Why was I doing this to myself? Where was the fun? Where was everyone else?

At the last aid station, a runner finally caught up with me. A French guy, "Sylvain, like Pennsylvania." I ended up running with him until the end. He pushed me, we chatted, it was so nice.

The last bit, we took off. And then - where was he? He wasn't near me...I ended up finishing almost a minute ahead of him, sure he would be crossing the line with me. 

And then I sat down, exhausted. I drank a bunch of water, stepped on and broke my sunglasses, and took off my shoes. New blisters. Lovely. Not my best, not my worst. 12:54.

A shower, some food, some water, more food...

And I was pretty good the next day.

Ultrarunning, thank you for having me back. I'm so glad to be here again!

20 June 2016

Routine Reflection

Routines can be very comforting. They also make life a bit easier. Before I left for India, I thought to myself, "Am I really giving up this wonderful routine?" It really wasn't wonderful, but it was managed, and it was my life, and I loved it. I loved getting up at 5 or 5:30 to run and strength train and practice yoga, work from home or bike commute, have lovely cocktails with my friends and wonderful dinner with my partner, read fascinating books, freelance write in the evenings, carry out the logistics for putting on an ultramarathon, help manage a Burning Man theme camp...

But it wasn't enough. I gave it up to find something deeper within myself.

Still, leaving the routine scared me. And I wondered if it was the right thing.

It was very much so the right thing.

Going to India was no routine. It was a bit scary, and at the urging of Jules, I created my own routine. Start my day with yoga or running; I added mantra and meditation too on occasion. Fill my time with writing, yoga, exploring, self-reflection.

Since I've been back, I thought it would be easy peasy to have a routine, and I'd have oodles of time. I imagined my mornings spent running, strength training, practicing yoga, hours of meditation...writing to fill in the blanks...working on job hunting in between...maybe even meeting Wayne for lunch frequently?

I've filled my life up way more than I can imagine. Cleaning my house, cooking excellent food, and catching up with friends and family take way more time than I could have imagined...not to mentioned looking for work (and in several different fields, no less!), plus keeping up with my freelancing. My yoga teaching means that I can't skimp on a practice for myself: I need to continue to develop my own personal yoga practice, so I spend a lot of time doing that. I read yoga books. I have been doing continuing education: Restorative Yoga Certification; RRCA coaching course (still working on that bear of a take-home test! Way more time than I imagined...); CPR/AED/First Aid certification. 

So I have lots going on, and I love it. I have no routine, which feels a bit weird, and at times, if I weren't so focused, I'd be unable to actually complete anything at all.

But it's the summer solstice. I started my day at 515a.m. with 108 sun salutations...and the day has been fulfilling, productive. Good food, good writing, and lovely weather. So I have no routine - that's okay. I have so many other rewarding things in my life to fulfill me.

30 May 2016

Welcome Back Home...

It's been hard to be back. Way harder than I imagined. But also, really great.

I arrived back to rain, damp, grey weather. Not the lovely spring I was anticipating. The chaos. The subway. The grey and black clothes. The months of cleaning my boyfriend hadn't done while I was gone. The food I needed to eat. All the amazing people I needed to see.

But it was hard. 

I've been on my own. Food has been Indian. I've been with limited choices on what to wear, so I pull out of my backpack whatever is clean. I am open to conversations. Strangers approached me, eager to chat; I chat back. I'm so distanced from my friends and family. The time zone difference makes it difficult to chat. 

And then I'm back home. Everyone is here. It's so much right away. I can't keep up. The emails. The job applications. The networking. The seeing old friends. Cooking everything in my CSA. Studying yoga. Doctor's appointments. Everything. Just...so....overwhelming.

You get used to it. India is starting to fade away. I'm starting to figure things out - even if they are a wee bit confusing.

It will work out. One day at a time. As I teach yoga, study yoga, practice yoga; freelance write; try to find at least one stable job - it will all work out, but for now, it's a confusing but kinda fun mess.

A mess where you sometimes have ice cream for lunch!

04 May 2016

be here now

The key instruction is to stay in the present. Don’t get caught up in hopes of what you’ll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.

- Pema Chodron

28 April 2016

What Did I Learn While I Was in India?

After four months in India, what did I learn?
I learned a lot. So much that I hope I can figure out how to keep ahold of it.
  • I learned heaps about yoga. I learned about alignment, adjustments, anatomy, new yoga poses, and so much more.
  • I learned that I want to be be a yoga teacher. I love teaching and helping people. I think once I get my sequencing down, I’ll find it very rewarding.
  • I learned that you can’t be somewhere that makes you unhappy. Even though I liked the perks at my old job, I felt so drained and miserable that it literally changed who I was as a person and how I felt all the time. I was almost destroyed. I won’t do that again.
  • I learned that people are people wherever you go.
  • I learned that cultural differences are huge. People are not being rude, they are reflecting their culture. Americans are probably seen as rude in some ways. You just need to accept that first.
  • I’ve seen a lot of truly incredible sights out there in the world. India is full of a lot of spectacular things to see.
  • I’ve learned that if you ever struggle when you’re alone traveling, a smile to a child or woman can make all the difference. I made a lot of new friends that way.
  • I learned that being here now is the most important thing for me to focus on and to keep my mind fresh and present. It’s been great for me to practice that.
  • I learned that there are ways to do things differently wherever you go, and still get stuff finished.
  • I learned that you need to chill out when traveling in India. Uptight traveling does not get rewarded.
  • I learned that sometimes you do need space from the ones you love, and it helps you both grow independently, and get closer even when you’re further apart.
  • I learned who my real friends are.
  • I learned a lot about tasty Indian food.
  • I learned a lot about spirituality, especially Hinduism.
  • I learned it’s better to be satisfied with where you are now than be disappointed constantly.
  • I learned that Indian women have the most fabulous fashion ever.
  • I learned that love comes from within.
  • I’ve learned that chanting mantras can make me very, very happy.
  • I learned how to be happy wherever I am.

Last Days in Mumbai

I don’t know exactly why, but there’s just something I love about the energy of Mumbai. I can feel it as soon as my taxi emerges into the traffic of the city. I felt this way last time I got there too. Even though it’s hot and kinda grossly humid and there’s horrendous traffic and poverty and chaos, I still somehow love Mumbai as a city.
This time I was staying in Bandra. It’s kind of the hip area outside Mumbai...think Williamsburg, but with Bollywood film stars instead of hipsters.
After I arrived, I took a walk to a yoga studio, found out about the morning classes, and had dinner right there at the Yoga House. I had a paneer burger. The fact that I can eat a veggie burger made out of CHEESE shows you why I love India so much.
After, I had a little wander, popping into shops, and then went back to my room to shower and go to sleep. I first tried to organized my stuff as best as I could, and felt overwhelmed. How could I be going home in the morning? How? It felt...impossible.
I got up at 5am and went to meet Amit (founder of RRUN, India’s only running nutritional company) and his awesome wife, Monica. We went on a run along Bandstand, with nice views of the water, in peaceful streets. We got coconuts at the finish, and sat there, chatting, relaxing. It was a really nice way to start my day.
Then I showered and ate at my hotel, and left all my stuff in their left luggage room. I headed out to YogaCara for an Iyengar class. The teacher that that gruff shouting Indian personality, but she wasn’t mean. She was just being firm and strict. Iyengar is always interesting and I like taking it, as the focus on alignment is so interesting and important for any yogi.
After the Iyengar class, I stayed for a Restorative class. The woman was sweet, but she had so much energy it felt a bit weird for Restorative yoga. I’m used to soothing music and Nicole Hooley’s calm voice for my Restorative yoga.
After, I hopped in a tuktuk and went to Iskon Temple. I arrived in time for some kirtan and the aarti. People were super into it, and I sang along to “Hare Krishna/Hare Rama.” There’s something really powerful about chanting (Read Ram Das’s Journey of Awakening for more on the power of chanting) and I love singing along and participating in the aartis. After, I bought some delicious coconut biscuits to eat on my plane ride (Definitely tastier than those horrid bags of peanuts!) and had a wander around, eating some random street food (spciy samosas, sweets I didn’t really know what they were…) and then wanted to walk to Juhu Beach. It was just so hot that I barely made it there, and then hopped in a tuktuk back to Bandra.
I wandered a bit into a few shops, and then sat down for a leisurely lunch. After a while, I realized I had to actually go to get ready. So I did.
I felt an overwhelming sadness. I wanted to stay, really. Yes, I wanted to go home and see Wayne - but I wanted to stay. There was so much more for me to do in India, so much to see, so many people to meet, so much yoga to practice.
But for now, I’m going home. (After a trafficky tuktuk ride where I sang the entire time to myself, and three hours in lines at the airport before I got to my gate, which was boarding when I arrived! Oh, and then two flights…)
I’m looking forward to implementing what I’ve learned, but I know it’s best to stay in the present where I am, and focus on being here now.

Patnem, Goa: YOGALAND!!!!

When I was googling yoga intensives, the Yoga Intensive at Kranti Yoga in Patnem, South Goa came up. I didn’t really want to go to go Goa again (especially in April!), but I liked the sound of school. While the intensive was costlier than other intensives, I really am glad I went - it was so worth it.

The yoga intensive was great: you are busy from 7-10 a.m., generally with one pranayama and meditation class, and one yoga class (ashtanga primary series or modified ashtanga primary series). Then you get an hour and a half off to eat breakfast (which was amazing, really; all their food was pretty wonderful and if you wanted something different, you can just go into the kitchen and ask for it. WOW. Opposite of the overboiled bland food at Sivananda Madurai.), and usually, I might catch up on emails, reading, or just relax in one of the swinging mattress and journal or write V a letter. After, it’s 1.5 hours of alignment and adjustment; then lunch. After lunch, we usually had a big break (though on certain days, there are lectures; I went to one on ayurveda), during which I’d go on the beach and relax. The waves were usually pretty crazy mid-day and swimming was almost impossible, so if I couldn’t dunk it, I’d sit in the shade and occasionally rinse off in the beach shower to cool down. Then class again 430-6, and then, time for a quick run or relax before dinner at 7. Most nights, I was so tired that I went to bed between 9 and 10, especially since I got up at 530 to go running.

There was a big group doing their YTT at the same time, and I have to say, I’m glad I did it with our group, who was way friendlier and most inclusive. (Most of them barely acknowledged me. It was totally weird.) I talked to them about what they learned, and they did some slightly different stuff than me, but I think I went to a really good program that fit my needs well.

On weekends, there were only 2-3 classes a day, and some people went off on excursions and adventures, but I spent most of my time relaxing on the beach, studying yoga, chilling. I didn’t feel the pressing need to run around and see more stuff. I’ve learned on this trip that seeing stuff doesn’t fulfill me; experiences do, and also, time to myself. So writing, reading, meditation, yoga….that’s what I need now.

The routine was nice, and I grew to appreciate the bright spots; all the learning I was doing in yoga; the amazing food; the gorgeous sunsets; the friendly locals; the six different kinds of tea that I could choose from. My little hut was cozy, and I’d chant with my mala beads at night, even saying hi to the ant festival that was taking place in my bathroom. It was okay.

And then I left, just as things were getting good, as some rad yoga holiday peeps arrived. But life isn’t about staying put, at least, for me, it’s not about staying put. It’s about moving on, and I’m almost home.

17 April 2016

Chennai, Again (Yes, Again)

When things weren't what I had expected at the ashram, I couldn't take it. The negative energy there was overwhelming; I knew I needed to leave. I didn't want to travel more; I realized I was sick of traveling and moving around.

I wanted to go back to my home-away-from-home in India, Chennai.

I was originally connected with Ash via my friend Graham and also the Ultra List. He invited me into his home, where I stayed with his super sweet parents and him. Ash and I went on humid, sweaty, hot runs every morning, ate at excellent restaurants around Chennai, geeked out on running, did a few tourist stuff, watched some movies. It was relaxing and super mellow. I had a nice time.

I cancelled some plane tickets, and booked a flight back to Chennai, where I was reminded that traveling isn't just about seeing stuff.

It's about the people you meet.

It's about learning more about yourself (ahem, that would be yoga here).

ash is sponsored by this protein powder....and they put him on the container!
Ash and I might not ever hang out again (though we hopefully will meet up at some races, if he doesn't end up coming to NYC....though I will likely be back to visit him in the next year or two!) so why not spend more time with someone that I think is absolutely awesome?

So I went back.

We had our routines. Hot sweaty runs, followed by fresh juice. We showered and ate porridge, then Ash napped (and I did once). Getting up to run at 4, 430, 5 am means that a nap is often essential! We'd drive out to do errands, and head out to lunch at some delicious place. With my stomach falling apart, we stuck to a lot of non-spicy eateries - some truly delicious ones! (Bombay Brasserie, you've won my heart! Your rose vanilla milkshake was the best....) We'd go back to AC or to a cafe or watch a movie - something indoors mid-day. The combination of the high heat and the high humidity just made mid-days too oppressive to be out. We tried one day and went to some temples, and nearly melted. We hid in an AC'd cafe until the heat died down enough to explore. In the evening, we'd get ice cream and stroll on the beach, or hit up a cafe, and get some delicious dinner. We might watch a running movie after dinner, if I wasn't falling asleep in our car ride back.
kurta shopping. showing me everything in a bright color in a size small mid-thigh length kurta.


We spent one day shopping - I bought sarees for me and a relative, bought some gorgeous sequined blouses I plan on wearing at Burning Man. I bought more bangles that I really need (but oh how I do love them!) and got my hands hennaed. We went to a nightclub after and danced to popular Indian and American music, and we were the only ones drinking juice. (I have not felt like drinking at all since I've been here in India.)

I had such a good time w Ash, just talking, creating an awesome friendship, enjoying running with the different runners of Chennai. I didn't want to leave - I had a sad lump in my throat when I was at the airport, and kind of wished my flight was cancelled so I could spend one more day hanging out with his family, running with his friends, drinking muskmelon juice, talking about who belongs in the Mount Rushmore of ultrarunning.

But travel is about bits and pieces, and it was time to move on. I came to India to do yoga, and I left to study at Kranti Yoga, an amazing yoga center, so at least, I left something amazing to be somewhere amazing.

13 April 2016

Sivananda Ashram: Definitely Not "Eat, Pray, Love" Ashram

You think, “Ashram,” and you think, “Enlightenment! Learning! Meditation!” My ashram experience wasn’t exactly that.
My friend Barbara recommended Sivananda Ashram; she had visited another one years prior, and loved it. I went to a different branch than the one she had visited, and didn’t exactly have the same experience.
I started my first day by arriving before the morning satsang; I wanted the full experience. The days were full and I thought it might be best to integrate by arriving first thing.
Here’s what a sample day at the ashram was like (or any day of the Yoga Vacation):
6-7:30 a.m.: Morning satsang (meditation, chanting, listening to a reading from a spiritual text)
7:30-8 a.m.: Tea time
8-10 a.m.: Yoga
10-10:30: Brunch (though def not like in NYC!), served while sitting on the floor. South Indian sattvic food - no onion, no garlic, no spice, vegan. Served with herbal tea and buttermilk.
10:45-11:45: Karma Yoga. Basically, you clean as part of your selfless service.
11:45-1:00: Free time. I used this time to draft emails, read, shower, do laundry
1-1:30: Optional coaching. You could bring an asana you struggle with, or a question about yoga, and get one-on-one help, and watch others and practice asanas.
1:30-2:00: Tea time, again.
2-3: Lecture or movie. Geared for beginners, with a hint of brainwashing.
3-4: Free time. I used this time to shower (again, yes, again), do laundry, have a snack, or on one occasion, go for a run wearing pants.
4-6: Asana
6-630: Dinner
6:30-7:30: One hour of wifi. Everyone would turn off and just focus on their computers, catching up nonstop over the hour and ignoring everyone and everything else.
7:30-8: Free time, used to shower, relax.
8-9:30: Evening satsang.
10:00pm: Lights out.

It sounded like an intense but awesome experience. I was excited to immerse myself, and couldn’t wait to focus JUST on yoga. How lucky was I?
Not very lucky, it seemed.
While some love this experience, I didn’t connect with the Sivananda Ashram. There was an energy I didn’t connect with, and I noticed it almost immediately. When you asked questions, like, “What does this chant mean?” You got vague or annoyed answers. Or the, “There’s a book on the bookstore on this.”
It was a sattvic living: sattvic food (We all complained about craving sugar, cheese, and alcohol!), wearing sattvic dress - you had to wear loose-fitting, well-covering clothes. So no yoga tights, no tank tops. It was boiling - days would get in the 90 F, and we were all sweaty in harem pants. (And - for those of you who know yoga, you kind of suffocate when you do asanas like plow when wearing these pants! Ugh, it’s like curtains over your face….) I would change my sports bra and clothes several times a day, hand-washing everything. (Luckily, it was so hot, things dried rather quickly.)
I went to one lecture on meditation that was so basic, but only focused on one way to do it. “You must meditate with your eyes closed.” While this is how I meditate, I know there are traditions that keep their eyes open. Everything was like, “This is how it is.” Even asanas were practiced in very different ways.
My yoga teacher, Hannah, from my YTT, told us that it is very dangerous to do backbends right into forward folds and vice versa. “It can disorganize your spine,” she told us. I’ve always noticed that yoga helps alleviate back pain, but here, possibly because we were constantly doing backbends into forward folds and vice versa, I was possessed with an achey back. Others in the program complained of the same issue. “I never have back pain back home…”
Another lecture I went to presented some basic yoga concepts and theories that I had recently studied in my YTT….but some of what she presented was just wrong. I began getting frustrated, and shut up.
And then I knew: I don’t belong here.
I had also gotten into an argument with the director about running; he refused to give me a pass to let me leave campus to run, and if I ran on campus, I needed to cover up. Pants while running in the heat? No way. I would get heatstroke. Then, the last straw was when he told me I had to pay for a single room for one night of my dormitory arrangement (I had paid up front for three nights of a single; after two nights, I moved to the dorm to save money. I asked if I could transfer the deposit to my dorm room and pay the dorm price; I was told yes. They refused and made me pay for the dorm bed at a single room price.). I just got so annoyed.
I got in a cab and went to Madurai. I felt a weird sense of relief, and I was sad. I had so looked forward to an ashram experience; I thought it would be peace, learning, yoga, meditation, and love. It was rules, acceptance without questioning, and a weird energy. I was glad to be gone.

Good for some people, but not for me.

12 April 2016

Trichy & Madurai

The only way to get from Tiruvannamalai is a night bus; I didn’t particularly want to take a night bus, especially as I had already booked a non-refundable hotel. The guy at Sunshine Guesthouse said I could take a taxi there, and the driver would stop in Trichy on the way so I could see some temples, and also get lunch. Okay.
At the first temple in Trichy, the big one, we discovered most of it I couldn’t go to because I wasn’t a Hindu. Okay. I took some photos outside. My driver was pretty stoked for his assignment because he was a Hindu; he got to visit temples and get blessings as part of work. Nice for him!
He knew of another temple - Durga Temple - and we headed there. We parked too far away and burned out feet on the road and sidewalks as we limped into the temple. There was a long line for a blessing. My driver showed me how to hold my hands, and I was all ready with a 10 rupee tip. I got a small line of jasmine, and some white chalk on my forehead in return.
I was the only Westerner. No one minded me that I could tell; I got many smiles, people looking but with curiosity. I took photos only where appropriate, and looked up, amazed, at the devotion, at the offerings, at the gorgeousness of it all.
I don’t really understand much about Hindu temples, but I know I love them. I love the energy. I love the devotion. I love the beauty. I love the preciousness. I love the grime with flowers. I love it all.
I was feeling light after visiting this temple, and as we walked out from the long metal fencing, we got to boiling hot concrete, and we hopped-limped back to the car. A woman with a skinny baby held out her hand; a man shoved her aside, selling his flowers. India is so many things, all at once.
I went to a banana leaf thali place; 60 rupees (less than a dollar) for all I could eat. I asked for a spoon, which took ten minutes to procure, during which I ate most of my meal with my fingers.
Back in the car, we went to Madurai. I checked into the Madurai Residency, which was nice. It was totally affordable (1800 rupees) for what I got: breakfast (which I skipped), tons of toiletries and a sewing kit and a comb and all these freebies. After settling in a bit, I headed out. What did I want to do? There was the Gandhi Museum...but I don’t know. I kind of just wanted to go to the big temple and wander the streets. So I did.

After a while of traveling, another museum starts to look the same. It all feels pointless. While I kind of wanted to go to the Gandhi Museum, I more wanted to walk the streets and explore, like I did. I bought cookies from giant glass jars. I sampled sweets that I had no idea what they had in them. I bought a 10 rupee chai, 20 rupee coconut. I drank a 40 rupee fresh pineapple juice. I tried the Madurai special, rose milk, and I loved it. I looked for samosas but couldn’t find them (They’re more of a North Indian food, but you find them everywhere.)
I wandered in the temple, amazed at its glory. I took some photos, but mostly, absorbed the energy. After a while of wandering, I left.
I stopped in some shops. I bought one of the tops that Indian women wear, long enough to be a dress but with giant slits up the side. (Good to wear leggings under.) I bought a 10 rupee strainer to use for making chai back home, some henna paint, some barrettes. I wandered. I hunted for an ATM, trying six before I was able to get any money out. (India’s ATMs don’t always work.)
I got lost. I looked at people, at animals, at traffic. The sky grew darker, a bit with pollution, but mostly with dusk. I headed back to my room.
I showered because your feet are always filthy in India. (You have to take off your shoes to enter any temple.) I was done. Tired. I didn’t feel like leaving.
Instead of searching for food, I went up to the restaurant on the top floor. There was non-AC rooftop view and AC no view. I choose AC. I ordered paneer and peas, a lime soda, and some naan. I ate this very good meal alone, feeling good, happy, excited for what’s next.
It’s always onto the next adventure!