Yoga Retreat At Mittersill, Austria

Boy did I need a vacation!

You don’t realise how much until you go on one. You think you know, but once you actually unwind, then you realise just how twisted up you actually were.

sonnberghof mittersill

I went on a wee yoga vacation with the Sivananda people, at the Sonnberghof Hotel in Mittersill, Austria. It was brilliant. I mean, for a start, just look at the view!

alpine views

And that’s just one direction. There were gorgeous views all over the place.

Normally my Austrian yoga vacations happen in Reith, but a couple of times a year the bio-hotel there closes down for holidays of their own, so some of the yogis decamp to Mittersill to run their retreats from there.

They have a nice yoga room,

yoga room at mittersill

and a nice wee meditation hall,

meditation room

for sadhana and satsang respectively. And in between the bouts of spiritual enlightenment the hotel has an outdoor pool,

outdoor pool

as well as a selection of sauna/steam rooms you can enjoy, with a nice lounge area for you to relax in.

spa lounge
 
swing chairs

The routine was the usual Sivananda one of satsang at 6:30am, yoga at 8:30am. Then lunch, followed by free time. Then yoga at 4pm, lunch at 6pm, and evening satsang at 7:30pm.

The luxury of being able to do yoga twice a day is always welcome. You really do feel the benefits of your practise that much quicker when you can dedicate your time wholly to it. Of course it helps if someone else is cooking the food and cleaning up after you.

The food was very good. The kitchen staff at the hotel seem to have really got their heads around cooking sattvic food. I had to limit myself. The tempation to eat way too much was quite high.

The teaching was awesome too. They do offer tailored yoga programs at Mittersill, but I was just there for a vacation. I learnt a lot as we did our sadhana, including some new exercises to incorporate into my yoga, and some new ways to correct people when I’m teaching too. All in all a very profitable vacation.

I even made a new friend while I was there…

making friends 2

If you’re looking for a yoga holiday I can recommend Mittersill. The combination of yoga and spa is an excellent one. I felt incredibly relaxed by the end of my stay, and of course I wish I could have stayed more.

Instead I flew back, drove to the Lake District, and did an epic hike to the top of Helvellyn, lol.

Helvellyn Headstand, Helvellyn, Cumbria, UK

Kind of undid some of my good work, but got another shot for my headstand series so, siwng and roundabouts, eh?

Back in London now, trying to keep on with my daily practise, see if I can’t keep the flexibility I earned in Austria. I also need to prepare myself for the Sadhana Intensive in August. It’s pretty full on by all accounts, and I need to be at the top of my game if I’m going to get the best out of it.

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Being Sattvic

I’ve signed up for the two week Sadhana Intensive course at the Sivananda ashram in Orleans in France this August. It is, by all accounts, quite intense (so much so that everyone I mention it to feels the need to tell me that).

You have to have a well established yoga practise to be allowed to do the course. And even if you do have a well established practise, there are a number of things you have to do in the lead up to it to prepare yourself for the course, so that you can get the full benefits of the exercises you will be doing.

Most of it I do already. No meat, no booze, no drugs, etc. That part’s easy. They also want you to do fifteen to twenty rounds of anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) every day. Ok, not a problem, provided I remember to do it that is. Where it gets tricky is the sattvic diet.

Trying to follow a sattvic diet, sometimes called the yoga diet, is hard because of the way most ready-made food is made (even the good stuff). To follow the sattvic diet you need to be vegetarian, but also cut out things like garlic, onion (including spring onion, shallots, leek, etc.), caffeine, and a few other things I didn’t even know about.

an unsattvic shopping bag

This is the bag of shopping I bought before going to teach last night. Now I’d been good in not buying veggie sausages. Pretty much all of them contain some form of garlic and onion. In fact most pre-prepared veggie foods have garlic and onion in, mostly because they’re cheap and they add a lot of flavour. But garlic and onion unsettle the mind and make meditation more difficult, so we need to cut them out apparently.

So I avoided the sausages, but what I didn’t think about was the ketchup and baked beans. They don’t have garlic and onion on their ingredients lists, but I’d be surprised if the catch-all term ‘spices’ didn’t include garlic and onion somewhere along the line. So, no ketchup and baked beans for me.

Ok, that’s fine. But where else did I go wrong? Well, mushrooms it seems are a bit of a no-no. I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s something to do with the cleansing quality they are considered to have in Chinese medicine, so much so that you’re meant to avoid them when ill, as they will rob your body of vital nutrients. Or perhaps it’s that they can be ‘gas inducing’, as I just read somewhere. Not what you need if you’re going to be doing lung cleansing exercises.

NB: Just so you know, I’m not saying I believe all or even any of this. This is just what people say.

So that’s half my shopping bag out. But what about the rest? Well, the chocolate pudding is no good because of the caffeine. And depending on who you ask I should probably be avoiding the bell peppers as well, because they’re a bit spicy. Which leaves me with the bread rolls. As far as I know, no one has a problem with bread, yet (though I’m sure someone would have something to say about yeast!).

Anyway…

For my purposes, a sattvic diet means vegetarian food, no garlic, no onion, no mushrooms, no caffeine. Fine. But what about the rest of your diet? What about what your mind consumes?

Swami Krishnadevananda used to tell a story about when he was at the Paris centre. He would spend all week meditating and trying to be sattvic, then on his day off he would go see all kinds of stuff at the movies. Not that he used to go see stuff that was deliberately violent or anything, I just think he wasn’t being too discerning in what he went to see. He eventually realised the pointlessness of doing all this hard work during the week, only to undo some of it on his day off. That’s why he quit going to the cinema.

That’s not to say moives can’t be sattvic. It’s just that the sattvic ones are few and far between. And often not good. When I was staff at the ashram in Austria we used to have movie nights. The films they chose to show that I can recall are Peaceful Warrior, some borderline TV movie with Nick Nolte as a zen master/warrior mechanic type thing, Stardust, a modern fairytale which has more famous faces in it than it deserves, and The Mahabarata, a six hour epic adaption of a nine hour stage play of which the less said about it the better.

Now while these films weren’t exactly bad (with the exception of The Mahabarata which was boring in the extreme!) they weren’t exactly good either. Take away the things that cause the biggest reactions in people – guns, violence, sex, etc. – and you’ve got to be pretty skillful in writing to come up with something that is both interesting and which moves people; in the same way that you’ve got to be a good cook to make nice food when some of the biggest flavours are taken away from you.

So what are good sattvic movies? Well, I’ve been wracking my brains, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Now it might seem a little obvious showing a film set in India to a bunch of yogis, but set that aside and what you have is a brilliant film about people being people, trying to come to terms with their own lives in the best way they know how. It’s a great film, and if you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend you give it a try.

I know it’s a kids movie but Pixar are the masters when it comes to making films the whole family can enjoy. And Finding Nemo is one of their absolute best. It’s surprisingly moving, and funny, and well worth your time. In fact I’d say pretty much anything by Pixar comes under the ‘Sattvic and worth seeing’ catagory, they’re just that good.

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, being sattvic in todays world can be tough. They put garlic and onion in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to add flavour. They put sex and violence in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to get a reaction with. To be sattvic we need to be discerning about what we consume. We have to check the list of ingredients very carefully. And most important of all, if we’re not sure, we have to be strong enough to just put it down and walk away, and go find something more beneficial for us to enjoy.

The good stuff is out there people, it really is. You just have to but a bit more effort in to seek it out. But when you do, hopefully you’ll find that the effort has been worth your while.

It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. As the Stoics say

“Easy decisions, hard life. Hard decisions, easy life.”

I can give up garlic and onion. I can give up mushroom. I can even give up chocolate, though that’s going to be tough. But giving up tea, oh man! Now there’s a challenge and no mistake.

caffeine delivery system

Wish me luck! πŸ˜€

Oh, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall off the wagon every now and then. Even the best of us trip up on occasion. πŸ˜‰

Make Changes. Make Choices.

This post was going to be about preparedness. I was going to talk about the five day yoga retreat I’ve just been on, and how not going to the osteopath before I went really hindered my ability to do all the asanas and meditation. Also I was going to mention the many ‘hikers’ in t-shirts, shorts, and trainers I saw slogging their way up to the very cold and very windy top of Snowdon afterwards. In fact the post was going to be called “I’ve got sun cream and a penguin!”, something I heard one of them say as I passed their group on my way down. I thought it kind of summed it all up really, the idea of the lack of preparation, and how we don’t do ourselves any favours sometimes.

But then I had something of a personal revelation, so I thought I’d go into that instead. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, so you’ll have to bear with me, but essentially it’s about being happy.

So a couple of weeks ago I realised that I was forty two, single, I had a beard, and I had recently become a member of the National Trust. Needless to say, this is not how the young me had expected his life to unfold, not by a long shot! Something had to be done. Something big. I immediately shaved the beard. It helped, but only a little.

I guess I realised that there was a certain underlying dissatisfaction with how things are, something that I’m sure will be familiar to everyone. I thought going on the retreat would help me gain a little perspective. It did, but not in the way I was expecting.

Being on the retreat was tough for me. Physically I was carrying an injury that made some parts difficult for me, plus I think I was a little run down as I constantly felt like I was coming down with something. But mentally as well, I sometimes found it hard to keep my emotions on a even keel. I’m sure never getting a decent nights sleep while I was there didn’t help either.

There were a lot of people there I didn’t know. People who were new to Sivananda yoga. From taking too much food to talking before satsang, they didn’t all quite enter into the spirit of things, and that was frustrating for me. Of course I know that’s my problem and not theirs, but still, it only served to unsettle an already unsettled mind.

I thought I didn’t get much out of the retreat, but all that sadhana seemed to have crept in somehow. After I left the centre I went to a YHA near Mount Snowdon from where I would do my climb (more broken sleep in a room with other people). I realised I was agitated, restless, keen to ‘move forward’. But I was also more centred, clearer in my thoughts, whatever those thoughts might be.

The simple fact of the matter is, I realised I could be anywhere doing anything, so why be somewhere you don’t want to be doing something you don’t want to do? Everything we do is a matter of choice, and whether we choose to stay or choose to go, we have to own it one hundred percent. If my life wasn’t how I wanted it to be, I had to do something to make it different. And there was no time to lose.

I hiked Snowdon, then the next morning I left the YHA. I still had another night booked, but there was no point being there. I’d just be sitting around twiddling my thumbs. It was Friday. I’d be back to work Sunday, so I only had one full day to start making things happen.

Also, I should mention the catalyst to my mood. Our tenancy agreement is up in a few months, and the landlord wants more money, for the same flat, after just one year! It made me mad. It made me want to take back control. And it really tied in with the ‘Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ thing.

This year in London was meant to be about getting published. Making a proper go of writing to see if I really had what it takes? Instead I got waylaid by working and teaching yoga and looking for a new girlfriend and, well, life in general. I may have finished a novel and a short story (rewrites not withstanding) but I feel like I should have done so much more!

So I’m refocusing on what I really want, and putting all the rest of it aside. I will put one full day a week aside for writing. That’s not to say I won’t write in between, but one day a week I will do nothing but! No karma yoga, no teaching, no shopping, no admin. Just me, the keyboard, and my ideas.

I’m still going to teach yoga now and then, and do the odd bit of karma yoga, but only if it’s right for me, not because I feel I ‘must’ or I ‘should’.

I’m going to put more effort into meeting someone too. I liked being in a relationship, so if I want that again I need to make it happen. I have been trying, a bit. There was someone I thought might be interested, but every time we talked about relationships she kept saying she was happy being single, so I never really went for it and told her how I feel. Always the way when you really like someone eh? Well I’m not going to do that anymore. If I want someone special in my life it’s time to do something about it!

I know this all sounds a bit dramatic, but there really is a sense of urgency to me now. I’m tired of the hum-drum, the lack of the control, the acceptance of whatever comes along. I want things to be better, and the only way to do that is to make things better. You’ve got to put the effort in. You’ve got to try. You’ve got to make choices to make changes, and you’ve got to do it now, because there is no tomorrow, and now is all we’ve got!

*phew*

Ok. Let’s take a breath. That got a little intense there towards the end there. To counter balance all that, how about some nice pictures of the view from the top of Snowdon? There were actually a few breaks in the cloud for once and I got one or two decent shots, which came as a nice surprise. Check these babies out:

the peak clears

sunlight on the lakes

summit, with train

snowdon lake

me in front of snowdon

Oh! And here’s the cream scone I had at the top, and the chocolate brownie I had when I came down; just because. πŸ˜‰

a scone deserved

post snowdon tea and cake

And here’s a sheep! πŸ˜›

making friends

New Thinking For A New Year

The new year is generally a time for resolutions. For people to make promises to themselves to do something different in the year to come. But do they really work?

for yoga

Personally I’m not a fan of the whole new year resolution thing. I think that if you want to change something in your life the time to do it is now, not just January 1st. However, if it helps get some people kick started on the change they need then who am I to argue.

I recently did a four week Positive Thinking course at the London Sivananda Centre, and the Swami there had some interesting things to say about how our minds work and what we can do to change our ways of thinking.

Because that is what is required for most of us to be able give up smoking, stop chewing our nails, eat healthier or do more sadhana (spiritual practice), is a fundamental change in the way we think about things. And that ain’t easy to come by.

Here’s a few of the notes I took on the course, presented in the order in which I took them. Perhaps some of the ideas will strike a chord, and maybe help cement your own resolutions for the coming year.

Thought is an energy you project. Thoughts have a form; thought have weight.

We tend to view thoughts as formless, being electrical impulses in the brain. But sad, angry, depressing thoughts can weight us down and make us feel heavy and lethargic, whereas happy, joyful, uplifting thoughts make us want to skip and dance.

We alone, among all beings, are able to choose our thoughts.

Changing circumstances means nothing if you cannot change the mind.

You can throw out all the chocolate in the house, but until you change how you think about chocolate, you’ll never stop craving it as much.

Changing our minds changes out lives.

Thoughts lead to actions. Repeated actions become habits. We can change our character by changing our habits. Your habits shape your life into the future (your destiny).

ThoughtΒ β†’ ActionΒ β†’ HabitΒ β†’ Character β†’ Destiny

Change your thoughts to change your destiny.

Thought is energy. Thought is alive. All that lives wishes to keep living [longer].

That includes not only all those negative samskaras (mental habits) that we have, but also all the positive ones too. The more we concentrate on the positive, and starve the negative of attention, the sooner the one will replace the other.

Negativity does not build up overnight.

Just as it took time, and repetition, for us to build up these negative mental habits that affect our lives, so it will take time for us to build up the positive ones to replace them.

Prevention means studying the law of cause and effect. Illnesses have a cause. So does being well.

You must recognise when you are unwell, recognise when you need rest, and do something about it. The body and mind deserve to be treated well.

Prevention in yoga means daily practice. It does not have to be much, but do something.

Removing a negative habit requires our choosing not to do something day by day. Adding a positive one involves choosing to do something day by day.

Anything we do to take our life back is considered positive. It inspires us. It allows energy to flow again. In the beginning it is connected to the physical movement of prana.

The mind and body effect each other greatly. When people want to change their lives they don’t always know where to start; so they come to a yoga class, do the exercises, and afterwards feel great both inside and out. Physically moving the prana (energy) helps move it mentally too.

As a man thinks, so he becomes.

Everything we think and do has a result. Therefore we must have discrimination in our actions. Positivity is a decision: So is negativity.

I can’t expect something beautiful from a half-hearted effort. Well-being does not drop from the sky.

You get out of your practice what you put into it. If you don’t try, you don’t get; simple as that.

βˆ—βˆ—βˆ—βˆ—βˆ—

Good luck with those new year’s resolutions everybody. I’m sure you’ll do great! πŸ™‚

Om Namah Shivaya!

Yoga In Toodyay, WA

It’s all very well doing your at home yoga practice, but it’s nice to do it in a group, not only for the camaraderie, but also so there’s someone there to give you a bit of a push when you get lazy. So when I spotted the sign outside Toodyay IGA for yoga at the local community centre I jumped at the chance.

I went to the Friday morning class (two, as it happens, teaching on the second one!) and as I’ve already outlined previously, the morning of my first lesson was quite eventful already. By the time I got there I was in need of a bit of relaxation.

The teacher, Sally, who’s also a local Councillor, was very welcoming, even trying to get me to teach the class there and then once she found out I was qualified. But I was there to practice, so I got my bit of wall space and got ready.

It was quite a large group, mostly ladies with a bit of life experience, and the asanas were tailored to their level of stamina and flexibility. I actually found it very similar to some of the Yin Yoga classes I’ve attended.

That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. My heart always fills with dread when the spread-legged forward bend is suggested. I can’t do it to save my life, and just sit there feeling silly and utterly inflexible.

It was a good class, and they very kindly invited me to tea afterwards, which was nice of them. We had a good natter, and I found out a lot of of gossip about people I have never and probably will never meet, lol.

the ladies of yoga

At Sally’s suggestion I turned up the next week with a lesson plan in hand. I was going to do a full Sivananda lesson, with chanting and everything, but with modified asanas more suitable to their level of experience. The ‘normal’ Sivananda lesson can be quite challenging, and I didn’t have the notes with me to be able to teach them a proper beginners class.

That’s not to say we didn’t do everything. There were forward bends, back bends, side bends, twists, inversions, breathing, chanting, and of course a proper final relaxation.

I’m glad to say they all did very well. Everyone had a good go at each posture, even the more difficult ones, and there were even a few smiles here and there, which is always a good sign.

They did better than me anyway. I messed up a bit, getting all lefty-righty during the Sun Salutations, and giving some wrong instruction for breathing during the neck exercises, but in the end I hadn’t broken anyone, and they all seemed good and relaxed, so I’m chalking that one up as a win, lol. πŸ˜‰

Considering it was only my second ever time teaching yoga (don’t think I mentioned that to them at the time) it went very well. I didn’t make any major mistakes, and I only ran five minutes over time, but since we started late anyway I’m not counting that.

It was great experience, coming up with my own lesson plan, then adapting it as I went along, making allowances for both time and ability. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did, and I’m very grateful they allowed me to share this experience with them.

What they made of the fact that I started teaching in jeans, as I’d forgot my mat and yoga pants, I do not know. Or what my brother thought when he turned up with said mat and pants, to find me sat in a room full of people chanting the Gajananam, I can only imagine, hehehe. I guess it was a world of new experiences for everyone that morning.

At least nothing gave birth this time. That would have been something else!

Sivananda Strikes Again!

Another day; another Sivanada centre, lol.

After Waitomo, Lena and I headed down to New Plymouth on the south west corner of the north island of New Zealand. We were there for two reasons; one, it’s on the way to Wellington, where we had to get the ferry to the south island; and two, there’s a Sivanada affiliated yoga centre there (the only one in New Zealand, I think).

sivananda yoga new plymouth

The centre was a ‘short’ walk from our hostel (which was good as our hostel was a long walk from everything else, including the city centre) so we actually managed to get there early for once, giving us time to chat a bit with the people who ran the place.

Our class was run by Claire, a graduate of the TTC course in Australia in February (just four months earlier), and also a former karma yogi at the Melbourne centre just before I got there, helping them turn an old office into a new yoga centre.

asana hall

It’s almost ridiculous me reviewing the class here, I’ve written about so many Sivananda classes in this blog already, and without exception they’re always good. We did the usual exercises – pranayama, sun salutations, twelve basic postures – peppered, as always, with the teacher’s own specialist bits of knowledge and understanding.

The class was thoroughly refreshing, as always, and Lena and I both felt great coming out of there at the end of it.

both of us in front of the altar

We had a lovely chat with everyone at the end, trading karma yoga/TTC stories, and giving a little feedback to Claire on her teaching technique, after which she very kindly gave us a lift back to our hostel; providing us with a chance to collect yet another inspiring ‘I quit everything to move to New Zealand and start teaching yoga’ story, as well as some very handy restaurant tips.

claire and I in front of the altar

We loved it so much in fact we went back the day we were due to leave for another class, this time with Ram, a former staff member from the Ashram in Canada of many years standing, and the director of the centre along with his partner who’s currently expecting… or was a few weeks ago anyway. She’s probably given birth by now, lol.

I tell you what, you could tell he was used to teaching in a much bigger hall. Talk about a booming voice, lol. Not much chance of you falling asleep during the relaxation, or not for long anyway, hahaha. But seriously, it was a great class, and very interesting to compare with the one we’d had two days before. Two very different techniques, different levels of experience, yet each enjoyable and rewarding in their own way. Certainly set us up right for the bus journey to Wellington.

That’s almost it for the north island from me. Got one more post to do then it’s on to the chilly south island, where much fun was had, much rain came down, and much inspiration for the future was found. Coming soon… πŸ˜‰

White Lotus Yoga

There’s just a few things I really wanted to do when I came to Oz, and yoga at White Lotus is one of them.

White Lotus Yoga is run by two former yogis of the London Sivananda Centre, where I began my yogic journey, one of whom was my first ever yoga teacher! And since it was her love for, skill in, and enthusiasm about yoga that helped me realise it was the thing for me, I was looking forward to seeing her again (since you could quite concievably say that all this quitting work and leaving London to train as a yoga teacher and travel the world was in no small part down to her).

white lotus yoga

White Lotus Yoga is just down the road from Byron Bay where we were staying, but, true to form, we got there just as the lesson started and barely had enough time to change and get into sivasana before we were up again and sitting cross legged ready to begin.

The class was led by Madhava, whom I recognised from the London Centre but hadn’t had much interaction with before he left. I had had a class with him before though, in London, so I knew he was a good teacher, and I’m glad to say nothing much has changed in that respect. πŸ™‚

The class was a mix of absolute beginners, intermediates, and yoga teachers, so the teaching was skilfully given on several levels so that everyone could practice to their own abilities.

I have to say, for all the self practice I’ve been doing, and the other classes I’ve been to in Australia, it was really nice to go to a proper full length Sivananda class again. I really managed to get a good work out from it, with some good stretches and some proper relaxation in between. By the time we’d finished I felt the same joyful invigoration that I always felt coming out of Putney on a Wednesday night.

And there was that special moment too, when you get a good bit of correction and finally find some comfort in a posture you’re not quite happy with. For me it was in the Half Spinal Twist. With just a few adjustments, and a little physical ‘encouragement’, I was able to go much deeper and further into the posture that I have ever done before.

yoga studio

When class ended Lena and I got to have a good chat with Madhava and Shyamala (his partner, and my former teacher). It was great to catch up, to have a look round their new centre, and to discuss what plans they have for the future. Madhava might be going to the new Melbourne Sivananda Centre where I did my karma yoga in February to help out for a while. They’ve finally got their permit through, so it’s all hands on deck to get the place up and running. (NB: That was the reason I had to hide my first Melbourne post, because they were worried it might give the impression that the centre was operating without a permit, and they didn’t want to mess up their chances with any misunderstandings.)

shyamala, madhava and me

All in all it was a great night and, as I’ve said already, it really reinvigorated my joy of yoga. It is amazing what a difference a kind, attentive, skilful teacher makes. All I can say is the folks of Lennox Head and Byron Bay are blessed to have not one but two right on their doorstep! πŸ™‚

Karma Yoga, Melbourne Style

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks in and around Melbourne. After the dramas of my arrival I then went and spent a week with my friends Tom and Petra, and their two little ones Lexie and Cian (more on that in another post).

Then on Tuesday (6 days ago) I came back to the city and moved in the new Sivananda Yoga Centre that has opened up here (their first in Australia).

SVYC Melbourne

Perhaps ‘opened’ is a bit of an exaggeration. The building is occupied, and it is mostly set up, but since a change of use license has to be applied for, the centre cannot officially open for a little while yet.

But still, there’s plenty to do to get things ready. I mean, downstairs is a bit spartan (we are awaiting delivery of some pictures to put up),

SVYC Melbourne, downstairs

but upstairs is starting to look nice,

SVYC Melbourne, asana hall, 1

SVYC Melbourne, asana hall, 2

and the whole place has a nice energy about it too. With all the natural light and open space it feels very comfortable, and will be a great place to do yoga once we have a few students.

Like I say, we cannot ‘officially’ open just yet, but if people want to pop by and come have a look around they are most welcome to do so. Evenings are good, Mon-Fri after 6pm; or Sat/Sun around 4pm. That’s when we’re there for sure and open to visitors. If you need more info just message me below and I’ll get back to you.

Apart from building Ikea furniture, guess what I’ve been doing most of? That’s right, cooking. πŸ˜‰

SVYC Melbourne, kitchen

I have to say, it’s nice to be back in the kitchen again. I miss the opportunity to cook while I’m traveling about. The state of some of the kitchens in the hostels, you wouldn’t want to cook anything in them. So to have a kitchen all to myself, even one as compact and bijou as this one, is a real blessing.

And to have somewhere decent to stay for a while too! So nice to be able to spread out a bit and not have to worry about your stuff. I mean initially I was camped out on the floor for a day or two, as we had two Swamis and only two bedrooms,

SVYC, downstairs, Melbourne

but now that we’re down to one permanent Swami and me I get a room to myself.

SVYC, upstairs, Melbourne

Still on the floor, but I’m not complaining. Just nice to have a chest of drawers to unpack into.

Also nice to be able to do my sadhana (spiritual practice/asana) on a regular basis again. I mean it’s only been a week, but already I’m noticing a marked improvement in my flexibility. Just starting to get back to where I was, but after the last two weeks of exercising just once a week (if that) it’s great to finally indulge myself a bit.

Have to get used to the early starts again though. Satsang at 6am every day. More chanting and meditation, which is tough for me that early on. I’m a sleep in until 9am kind of guy. But it’s good to challenge yourself now and then, and it’s only for another three and a half weeks.

I’m here until the 26th of March, then I head off to Sydney. Just the right amount of time to relax a bit, get a bit more flexible, and maybe get a bit of rest (fat chance, lol). Either way, it’ll be nice to stay put for a while. All this traveling around, trying to figure out where to go, how to get there, and where to stay when you do get there can be a little tiring. It’ll be nice to enjoy a bit of familiarity for a while.

So if you’re in Melbourne do stop by! We’re at 86 Tope Street, South Melbourne. And anyone wanting to help out with a few hours of karma yoga, I’m sure we can find something that needs doing. πŸ˜‰

La-La Land

I’d heard a lot of things about Los Angeles – it’s just a sprawl, there’s no centre, there’s nothing to do, there’s loads to do, you need a car to get around, the public transport’s better than people think – each piece of information more contradictory than the last that in the end I realised there was nothing else to do but just go there and see for myself.

la-la land

To be fair, LA is a big place, more like several towns that butt up against each other than one big city. I was only going there because I had to fly out from there to go to Australia. But I figured while I was there I should hit up a few of the local attractions, see what all the fuss was about.

I was staying at the Hollywood Hotel, quite a nice place that was surprisingly cheap for what you got; big bed, air-conditioned room, breakfast, the whole deal. What was best about it for me though was the location. 2 minutes walk from a Metro station which took you to Union Station in one direction and Hollywood in the other, and just a short walk to Griffith Park, home of the famous observatory and the Hollywood Sign.

griffith observatory

For my four days visit I started out doing what I did for San Francisco, I just jotted down the things I could think of off the top of my head to go see and do – the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Sign, the Universal Studios Tour, Santa Monica Beach & Pier – and then tried to fit them all in in the time I had.

It took me thirteen hours to get there from the meditation retreat via cab, coach, Amtrak and cab, so my first night was spent just sleeping off the journey. The next day I had a nice slow start, checking e-mails, uploading pictures, blogging (I’d been offline for over a week by then, the Amtrak free internet not actually working for my entire journey), so slow in fact that it was the middle of the afternoon before I left the hotel. And with the sun going down around 5-6pm that didn’t leave me much time to do anything. Thankfully I’d planned for this, so I didn’t have a lot to do anyway.

I set off walking towards the Walk Of Fame, which was just a few blocks up and many blocks over, but I soon got sick of that and dove into the nearest Metro station. It was quite nice down there I have to say. Big, open, mostly empty (just how the London Underground should be). I got where I was going quite easily. The aggro came as soon as I left the station.

I was heading to see Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where all the celebs do their hand and feet prints in concrete and sign their names at premieres, and the Walk Of Fame, that collection of red stars that runs the length of Hollywood Boulevard. What I walked out into was a scrum of tourists all getting their photos taken with people dressed up like famous people, and a bunch of hawkers trying to hock me this, that and the other, or to get me to go on their tour of whatever. It was a bit of an assault on the senses, especially considering I’d just been on a one week silent retreat in the mountains.

hai-YAH!

I was a bit shocked, so I did the only thing I could, I put my London head on, followed my feet as they dodged the hawkers and gawpers, got the shots I needed (few of which came out in the end), then got the hell out of there. It took me all of five seconds to realise there was nothing there for me, so there was no point sticking around. I must say, when I got back to my hotel, I was somewhat unimpressed with what Hollywood had to offer.

For day two I decided to take a break from the city and head into Griffith Park to check out the observatory. I knew I’d get some great views of LA, and I thought I might get some peace and quiet as well.

This time I did walk all the way, there not actually being a public transport option available (that I knew of, anyway). It was ok though. I set off early, and it was a straight run up the road and into the park. Then I just had to follow the road round to where I needed to be. All told it took me about 45 minutes or so to do.

galileo

The Observatory itself was quite impressive. A simply designed building that’s well taken care of, it’s position high atop the hill offers some commanding views out across the city.

the LA sprawl

I checked out the exhibits inside, the observatory itself is free though you have to pay for the planetarium show (well worth it), but it was too early to have a go with the big telescope (and too early to wait for night too), so instead I decided to go get a closer view of the Hollywood Sign.

You can see the sign from the Observatory, but there are also trails you can take to get nearer to it, as it’s quite far away. In fact you can probably get right up to it, but that requires walking quite a way and I had neither the time nor the inclination. I simply got close enough to get the shot below and then called it a day. After all, the sun was going down, it was getting mighty chilly, and I still had to walk back to my hotel.

5. hollywood headstand

My third full day in LA I’d earmarked for a trip to Universal Studios. I’ve got to admit, for all my yoga and meditation and that, I was ludicrously excited about taking the famous Universal Studios Tour and going on all the rides they have. The ticket cost me $80, but with all the had to offer I figured that was a bargain.

I got there early, taking the Metro up to Universal City and catching the free shuttle from the station up to the park itself. Once inside I headed straight for the Tour shuttle. We had a short wait, less than the 20 minutes they’d said I reckon, and then we were off.

The shuttle took us round all the permanent sets they have at Universal Studios, as well as past sets of cars and other props from movies old and new, to give us a glimpse of what it’s like at a real movie studio. We had a great guide who was thoroughly entertaining and who really made the whole thing come alive for us.

universal studios tour

eight cars

london square

I just sat there taking photos and enjoying whatever happened. From the Jaws section to Psycho to King Kong, each bit was individual and entertaining in it’s own way.

entering skull island

the bates motel

can you spot jaws

I loved it, but that was just the start of the day. After that I went on dozens of rides (ok, eight, but still…); some where traditional roller coasters, with visual elements, some were full on movie type experiences, just with a moving car, and one was a good old fashioned log flume. They blended movie and theatre in a way only Hollywood can do I reckon, and none of them failed to impress in one way or another. I certainly enjoyed myself anyway. And as a ‘lone rider’ I got to jump most of the queues, as they use you to fill up empty seats in the cars, so I can’t complain about that now can I? πŸ™‚

The only let down was the pitiful selection of vegan or even veggie food. I was stuck paying $15 for a grilled vegetable roll, which was only slightly less disappointing than the bone dry roast potato I had later on. I’m telling you, if you’re veggie or vegan, take your own food with you to Universal Studios. You’ll save yourself a lot of effort trying to find something to eat (and a good few bucks as well!).

My last day in Los Angeles was an odd one. I was flying out from LAX at 10pm that night, but I had to check out of the hotel by 11am, so what to do with myself (and my bags) in the intervening eleven hours? Well, there was just one thing left on my list – Santa Monica. A quick check on the map showed it to be right down near LAX, and so a plan was formed.

santa monica door 1

santa monica door 2

After checking out I lugged my luggage (ho-ho!) down to Union Station and jumped on the FlyAway shuttle for $7 down to the airport. Once there I called a left luggage delivery and collection service to come get my bag for storage ($20 for collection, storage and delivery back to the terminal), then I jumped on the free car park shuttle bus to the LAX Transit Centre (bus station). $1 on the number 3 bus and I was in Santa Monica. I tell you all this because it took some working out, and when I’ve done something clever and inventive I like to show off, lol.

santa monica pier

santa monica beach

It was a lovely day down in Santa Monica. I didn’t do anything special, just walked up and down the beach, strolled along the pier, took another headstand photo…

6. santa monica headstand

then went to get something to eat at a vegan restaurant I’d found on Happy Cow.

what $15 buys you in santa monica

It says a lot to me that, for the same amount as I paid for a nasty veggie roll at Universal Studios, I got this delicious macrobiotic burger and fries in Santa Monica. Still a sizable hunk of dough for a burger, but infinitely more value for money.

My other reason for visiting Santa Monica is so that I could visit the LA Sivananda Centre, and squeeze in a yoga session before I got on a plane and flew 15 hours to Australia. I had to walk a heck of a long way to find it, my written directions being a lot less detailed than would have been preferred, but find it I did, and just in time.

sivananda yoga LA

I won’t go into detail now about the class now, as I’m going to do a Sivananda Yoga in California post after this one, but it was an excellent session with a very warm and giving teacher, and I felt great coming out of there. More than ready for my mammoth flight to the other side of the world anyway.

I’m in Australia now, near Perth (Toodyay) on my brother’s 100 acre plot, just chilling out (and by that I mean baking in 40 degree heat!), planning what my next move is. I’ve got lots of ideas but nothing definite yet. I should figure that out in the next few days, and when I know you’ll know.

In the meantime have a great new year everyone, and remember to party like the world didn’t end; coz it didn’t, okay? πŸ˜‰

Bad Yogi, Bad Vegan, Bad Karma?

a story from the Teacher Training Course;

There’s this little cafe in Reith, the wee villagey type place down the hill from the ashram. When you’ve had enough of ashram life, and the TTC, it’s a God-send. You can pop down there for a quick cuppa and just pretend you’re ‘normal’ (whatever that is) for a little while. But!

They do have the most tempting cakes. Beautiful, moist, chocolatey cakes that could tempt the most staunch of vegans (have no doubt, eggs and butter are abound!).

Now I resisted for almost the entire TTC. I was a good boy. But in the last week a bunch of us went down there for a break, everyone else was having a cake and, I’ll be honest, I cracked! I had some cake. Want some proof? Here it is.

bad vegan!

I wish I could say I felt guilty, but the fact is it was lovely, and just what I needed at that point in time. I ate it, and didn’t give it a second thought.

Flash forward to the evening meal. It’s the usual fare or veggies, grain, and a healthy dollop of salad. I’m just sitting down, tucking in with gusto, when I catch some movement out the corner of my eye, buried deep within the bowels of my salad. I take a closer look and find, much to my surprise (and his too for that matter), a little green caterpillar, thoroughly drenched in salad dressing and no doubt wondering what the heck was going on?

Needless to say I took the little fella out to the garden and set him free, but it occurred to me that maybe he was a message from the Universe. Basically,

“Ok, you want to eat animal products? Well here you go, eat this!”

That got to me a bit, and did kind of get me thinking about practicing austerities like veganism, with the odd ‘accidental’ lapse here and there. Plus it kind of felt like the Universe was mocking me a bit, getting a bit of a dig in.

But then I thought about it. You see, I know that the Universe is on your side. It wants to help, and it wants to help you do the right thing. It doesn’t do things like mock and punish. It is all loving and will do anything for you. So what was the caterpillar all about?

I realised that of everyone who ate that day, I was the one that got the caterpillar, and nobody else. Someone could have seen it, freaked out, and squashed it. Or they could not have seen it and eaten the poor little fella. But it was I that was given the opportunity to set him free, and in doing that make amends for my earlier indiscretion. And when I realised that I felt a whole lot better about my lapse, and about being offered the opportunity to make things right again.

That being said, I wish I could tell you I have had a will of iron since then. I mean I’ve been pretty good, but when it comes to cake I still lapse every now and then. Want proof? Here’s some pics of my latest indiscretions.

kirschstreusel -cherry crumble cake
 
indiscretion 2
 
indiscretion 1
 
What can I say? I do my best, but at the end of the day I’m only human, and the Austrians do make exceedingly nice cake! πŸ˜‰