Monday 13 Nov
Not really sure what to expect, we signed up for the 2 week yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwanthari Ashram established in 1977 by Swami Vishnu Devananda in Trivandrum, Kerala (how is that for a mouthful?).
The first thing we noticed on the daily timetable was the 05.20am wake up call... okay so this was not to be the kinda 'vacation' to which we'd become accustomed... as we scanned the rest of it, we realised that 'vacation' was more being used in the sense of - you will need a vacation after you have left here... the rest of the timetable was equally startling - 3 hours of meditation and chanting, 4 hours of yoga and the rest taken up with lectures, meals, tea and karma yoga (selfless giving which can be likened to slavery in that you have to work and you get nothing for it )
Amazingly we loved it!
There is something rather calming about waking up before dawn and meditating (or what I called my 'thinking time' - my mind was not at all into clearing itself of all thoughts) in a gorgeous setting. And we are talking mega luscious and gorgeous - the main location was open to the outside and we were surrounded by jungle, candles, afternoon monsoon downpours and of course the obligatory mosquitos the size of helicopters. These were of course not as gorgeous, but at least they were slow and easily killed, this rather murderous activity giving us immense pleasure but of course not being sanctioned by the ashram - our swami blew them off gently. Unfortunately even with 2 hours of chanting every day, we never quite reached those heights of being in the love with the universe. We will also freely admit to eschewing the environmentally friendly lemon oil for the rather more nepalm like DEET in industrial amounts - and the bastards still managed to find every missed spot.
The yoga asanas (as in the exercise bit - what we learnt was only 1 of the 5 parts of yoga) was our favourite time of the day and it was amazing how we improved over our time there. One would hope for this after 4 hours a day I guess but I was especially proud of Andrew being able to do the headstand after 10 days of practice in his whole life. Carol I know you will be livid at that! This was all done to the rather amsing sound of humping lions - I kid you not! (see pic for evidence) from the lion park over the lake (and yes, to finish off the ideal setting we were on the shores of a lake). We also loved the hindu ceremonies - it seems that every other day it is one of the God's celebration day which meant prasaad (sweet Indian treats) and a break in the repetition of the day - we attended Krishna's wedding and reincarnation and Ganesh's fire ceremony amongst others. They were all pretty cool for example in the last one the priest made an actual fire in the hall (no health and safety concerns here) and threw in oils, herbs and flowers for about 1/2 hr whilst chanting - if he didn't know what he was doing, he sure made it looked like he did!
Luckily we managed to land the prime job for karma yoga - the un-prime job being cleaning the dorm toilets. We worked in the kitchen at the Health Hut which meant unlimited HEALTHY goodies all afternoon - this being of prime importance when the veggie curry meals made you run out of juice in about 2 hours. We actually loved the food - even though I had never pictured myself ever chanting 'Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare Hare; Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krisha, Krishna, Hare Hare' about 50 times before eating! Our enjoyment might have had something to do with only getting meals twice a day, but we never seemed to tire of our veggie currys (for brekkie too) even though the strict food rules would normally rule out most flavour - no onions, salt, eggs or garlic and just in case any of you are thinking of going there I better tell you that there is no drugs, alcohol and tobacco - Jilly I think you can rule this one out of your 'must go' list.
You would expect to find some weirdos and nut cases in a place like this but actually most people were really lovely and from all over the world including Denmark, the US, Germany, Mexico, Israel, South America, India and the U.K. Our main swami was actually from Zimbabwe and had been a medical Dr in London before life turned him towards this rather different alternative. We mostly hung out with a 2 couples from NY, 1 of them we had met as they had approached us to be photographed for a book and a series of exhibitions they were putting together about Westerners going to spiritual places in India and the others were our co-slaves at the Health Hut. I know I said people weren't too weird but this couple had been part of a cult and got married without having met each other before! Okay... so that was a little weird.
Although on the one hand we were ready to leave, we could have also stayed much longer in this peaceful place where every day is groundhog day and everything is calm and safe. However, we managed to hurl ourselves into the craziness that is India and after a chance last minute conversation with a Swede about Arambol in Goa, decided to get off the train and rediscover freedom.
Link to Trivandrum photos