On a normal afternoon in San Diego, I love to go for a peaceful walk through the neighborhood and picturesque central Balboa Park.
Photo Credit- https://www.doorsteps.com/articles/the-best-neighborhoods-in-san-diego-for-a-walkable-lifestyle
On the streets of Rishikesh, India, I also desire an afternoon stroll, but instead of the spaciousness of sidewalks and streets lined with palm trees, I'm thrown into complete chaos. With a width of about 10 feet on this cobblestone trash lined street, I'm bombarded with barking wild dogs, families of holy cows eliminating waste, weeping beggars, shouting store keepers, and honking motorbikes that won't stop for anyone.
This is an overwhelming experience for the senses. Everyone and everything seems to have a hand stretched out, desperate for me to bless them with some form of wealth. The dogs and cows not only wish for affection, but also clean water and food while the shop keepers are willing to embarrassingly drop their prices just to get a single sale. Those riding a motorbike would be thrilled to take me to my next destination for a small fee. My heart breaks at the sight of beggars with missing limbs or holding a box labeled "ear cleaning kit" I'm obviously a foreigner whose clean clothes and trendy haircut suggest a life full of blessings. I starkly realize that even what I consider to be a humble load that I carry with me on this journey is worth far more than some of these people will ever have in their lifetime.
Each day that I dare to brave these uncomfortable streets, I feel tense and cautious. Are the onlookers waiting for me to drop my guard for just a second so that they can snatch my bag? If I even respond to a simple "how are you?" I'm instantly surrounded with more questions and crowds urging me to give. Even when I have selectively purchased a small souvenir or beverage, it's never enough. They want more.
So, what should I do about this? If I start giving my cash and belongings away to everyone who asks, I will be completely broke and left with nothing in no time. How do I decide who to give to and how much? How can I have an open heart of compassion in such a situation?
On the sixth night of the 29th annual International Yoga Festival, I felt a spiritual awakening. Throughout the week, I had been learning techniques for developing a peaceful and joyful demeanor through yoga and meditation, but I was having trouble maintaining this calm on the streets. After dinner, the Pujya Swami Chanand Sarawatiji was exiting the dining hall just as I was about to as well. He paused and turned towards me and made eye contact. With his hands at his heart's center, he offered a simple bow of Namaste. My heart filled with warmth and connectivity. Instantly, I knew that this gesture of love and light was what I needed to bring to this outside world.
On the very last day of the Yoga Festival, I stepped out onto the streets with the courage to go a lot further, but this time leading with love and trust. Each time a shop keeper or beggar asked me for something, I brought my hands to my hearts center, lips curled into a gentle smile, and I softly bowed to them. When the cows blocked the road or motorbikes whizzed by, I took a long slow breath and noted the rhythm of sounds surrounding me. I walked slowly, careful not to step on excrement or dog's tails. When asked if I would be willing to take a photo with an Indian family, I gladly accepted, letting the joy and love in my heart shine through.
Later, I left a generous donation to the ashram as I know they use their income to take care of the land and the people. "Pujya Swamiji has also increased several-fold the humanitarian activities undertaken by Parmarth Niketan (www.parmarth.org). The ashram is not only a spiritual haven for those who visit, but it also provides education, training, and health care to those in need."
Now I am in Nepal and "Namaste" is the typical greeting. I am constantly reminded of its true meaning...
"The light within me honors the light within you!"
As each day passed at the 29th International Yoga Festival of Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh, India, we settled into a routine and the days started to blend together. Is it the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th day of the festival? Is it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday?
My roommate, Crystal, and I rose every morning just before 6am, attended a meditation class, ate breakfast, attended a 2-hour physical yoga class, took notes at a following lecture, ate a hearty lunch, participated in a restful yin or nidra yoga class, and in the late afternoon went for a walk, attended another lecture, or meditation. In the evening, the Ashram would hold a gathering on the banks of the Ganges River, followed by dinner and a cultural show. We would be in bed with the lights out before 10pm.
Coincidentally, as I began reading a book called, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy (www.amazon.com/Ayurveda-Lifestyle-Wisdom-Complete-Prescription/dp/1622038274/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) I realized that the Yoga Festival schedule was somewhat aligned with the Ayurveda daily routine. Acharya Shunya started learning Ayurveda techniques from her enlightened grandfather and throughout this book, she shares his stories and words of wisdom that have been handed down for thousands of years.
Shunya teaches about the importance of living a daily routine in accordance with nature's time clock. In this contemporary world with light bulbs, commutes, and computer screens, we have become distracted and divided in our routines, far from the truth and beauty of Mother Earth. Shunya recommends rising early for cleansing and meditation, then exercise and breakfast. Until lunchtime, she advises completing intellectually challenging work, then after lunch, go for a walk and complete tasks that don't require too much brain power. After dinner, engage in pleasant activities like reading or meeting with friends and family. I highly recommend soaking up this entire book that includes amazing tips about consuming and releasing food along with much more about routines and peaceful healthy living.
The word Ayurveda means "knowledge of life" as through these practices, we can enrich the quality of our lives to that of healthy joyful consciousness and unity in our bodies without drugs, side effects, or insurance companies. The bottom line is "The closer we are to Nature and her ways, the healthier we will be. The farther we wander away from Nature, the more we will suffer." This enlightening book is filled with a wealth of more information about how to connect with nature and the divine within.
The natural Ayurvedic routine sounds similar to a typical day for me back home, except a few subtle, but key differences. At home, I would usually rise between 6 and 7am, check my Facebook and emails, make and drink a cappuccino and begin writing. In this modern society, we use technology to separate ourselves from nature and ignore these important ways of living.
Lately, I've noticed that I initially wake up well before 6am, but I would start tossing and turning as I believed it was not yet time to get up. However, I just read an article by Do You Yoga that proclaims if we awake between 3am and 6am, this could be a sign of spiritual awakening. This frame of time is tied to the lungs and if we get up to practice mindful breathing exercises through meditation, this calls to our inner Self for guidance towards a more peaceful, joyful, and loving life.
Have you ever wondered why the birds start chirping and cooing before the sun rises in the morning? They are singing from the joy of their hearts, welcoming the light in rhythm with the grass, trees, and plants. Just like the birds, Ayurveda philosophy urges the importance of waking up while it is still dark outside, sometime before 6am to witness universal consciousness as the sky becomes infused with divine light. By spending the early morning in a meditative state, we take time to show gratitude and reverence to the life force. Through our breath and concentration, we return to balance that enhances our immunity.
At this 29th Annual Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, India, Tommy Rosen taught a chant in his class titled The Wonderland of the Consciousness, "Ong namo guru dev namo," which translates in English to 'I bow to the divine in everything.' What a beautiful mantra for the early morning ensemble of gratitude. I'll share some more techniques for early morning meditations and practices in future blog posts.
The similarities between my previous routine and the Yoga Festival/Ayurvedic routine included doing more intense work in the late morning, and more social or chore/errands in the evening with a slower, more calming late afternoon. Between 2 and 6pm, I usually enjoy going for a walk and reclining into some slow Yin Yoga Postures, such as putting my legs up the wall while reading some of a book. This is also a good time to complete chores and run errands. Then as evening begins to fall, so does the darker side of our being. This is a great time to gather support and connection by sharing a meal and discussion with friends and family.
"You're going to 8 countries in 7 weeks, alone?! You're crazy Hannah!" People say.
"I know," I reply with an archaic smile.
I know that many other people in this world could do this trip, but would they want to?
I believe that I was meant to go on this trip. One of my favorite, most inspiring mantras is a quote by Swami Rama. He imparts, "You are the architect of your spiritual life. Be brave. The brave alone enjoy the world. Enjoy the world by living in the here and now."
What would your special and unique trip around the world look like?
How do you live in the now?
I'm waiting here at LAX about to embark on the most epic adventure of my life thus far.
I feel calm and confident. I've created my detailed itinerary, packed all the essentials, found coverage for work and a pet sitter for my kitty. I've done my part in preparation, now I'm leaving the rest to the Universe to guide and surprise me.
In yoga hatha philosophy, our will represents the front side of our body and the Divine Universe represents our back. Yoga teaches us to find a balance and listen to our bodies. When we strengthen our core, we support our back as well. Likewise, when we need to find an equal balance between doing our part through willpower and trusting in the Universe for the rest.
I know that I was meant to do this trip. Every trip that I've experienced has lead me to feel prepared for this journey. I know I can handle 19 different flights because I've flown over 4,000 times during my flight attendant career. I know that I don't have to worry about impure water becauce my Life Straw will keep my water clean as it did on the trek to Machu Picchu. I know how to treat the blisters on my feet from the treacherous Trans-Catalina Trail. I know that I can hike for two weeks straight with a heavy backpack because I did almost 250 miles of the Camino de Santiago in 2014. I know that I can scale high altitudes because I reached over 17,000 feet at the Salkantay Pass in Peru and submitted the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., Mt. Whitney.
Like the pyramids of Teotihucan, I'm excited to explore the Pyramids of Giza. I have been exposed to poverty in cities in Mexico, so I hope that will prepare me for New Delhi. I've attended silent buddhist retreats at Mountain Center and that will prepare me for buddhist temples and tea houses. I've lead full weekend yoga retreats, so I feel prepared for teaching at the International Yoga Convention in Amorgos, Greece.
So why 8 countries in 7 weeks?
It started as a journey to India, the yoga mecca and motherland. I want to see how yoga is practiced there, with a spiritual angle verses the athletic style that is mostly taught in the western world. I'm curious about the colors, sounds, chants, and silence. I'm also hungry to meet other yogis from around the world and learn how their styles are different as well. I found that Rishikesh is the yoga capital of India, and therefore the world, as it hosts an annual International Yoga Festival from March 1-8. This city is considered holy, as the Ganges runs through alcohol and meat of any kind are forbidden.
I also want to fly in a few days early to tour some of the historical sites, like the Taj Mahal and film a yoga video at an Ancient India site. A couple of years ago I decided that it was a goal of mine to record and Ancient Civilizations yoga video course on location, so I'm going to start here.
As I was looking into flights and time off, I thought that since I love an intense hiking adventure and I will be so close to the Himalayas, I might as well sign up for the 15-day trek to Everest Base Camp, 19,000 feet! March-May and September-October are the best times to go, so this looks like perfect timing. I joined a group from March 10-25.
Then, I received an invitation to teach at the International Yoga Convention in Amorgos, Greece from April 5-11 I'm so excited to stay at this spiritual island and stunning 5 star resort while making new friends with yogis and learning more about sound healing, subtle bodies, yoga nidra, etc. Learn more at www.elysiaconvention.com (save 50% if you use the code HFELYSIA by March 6th). Then I realized that I can also record another yoga video at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Yes! Two out of the five videos will be done.
At first I thought that maybe this was too much. How can I afford to take this much time off work, 7 weeks? Then I asked the Universe to send me a sign so that I know I'm supposed to do this.
As I started looking into the flights, I noticed that I can have a 15-hour layover in China and 11 hours in Egypt!!! OMG, I might be able to film this entire Ancient World Civilizations Yoga Course in one trip. I felt goosebumps as this concept surfaced. I felt a true alignment with my purpose. Everything is falling into place.
Since I have 10 days in between the trek and the convention, this is an awesome opportunity to check off some more must see destinations on my dream list: explore jungles full of Buddhist temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, climb and kayak around the limestone cliff islands at Krabi, and explore the Grand Palace of Bangkok.
After my near death experience running from a train last summer, I decided read Gabby Berstein's book, The Universe Has Your Back. I've been learning the importance of trusting in the divine plan. The Universe puts obstacles in our way to help us grow and become stronger. Every struggle that we face is an assignment. How often do we let go of the ego and choose Love, the divine connection. She declares, "To truly say yes to the love of the Universe means you have to look at your resistance and give up a thought system that you mistakenly identified as safety, security, and the foundation of your life." For me, traveling strengthens this kind of trust as I have to leave behind my home, friends, job, etc.
As Lao Tzu teaches, "Every journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step." This trip is no longer a dream hovering in the future. It is my present. I strive to soak up every moment of now.
I am truly grateful for the amount of savings that I can put towards this trip and the available credit that I have built over the years. If you enjoy reading this blog and you want to hear more, will you help to support this journey? Check out this video at www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/hannah-s-spiritual-experience-in-india-and-nepal
My heart melts from your warm donations!
I write this with love and extreme gratitude for all your prayers and safe wishes. I know the Universe has my back and has yours too when you choose love and trust.
Hannah seeks to find relationships between nature, cultures, yoga, and art through her writing.
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6 nights stay at the AMAZING 5 Star Aegialis Hotel & Spa elysiayogaconvention.com for the 1st International Yoga & Wellness Convention on the island of Amorgos, Greece!
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My Paintings are now on Yoga Pants!
Fun Yoga in the Park
Travel the world with me through yoga!
These themed lessons are fun for all ages and levels at Mission Bay Park.
See the page, Park Yoga, for more information!
Lessons from Abroad