Nepal and Namaste

Namaste. I say this multiple times per week at the end of yoga classes that I both teach and attend.

The light within in me sees and honors the light within you.

I easily recite this. I have given some reflection here and there to it’s meaning and it jived with me, made me feel very spiritual and enlightened to say it. I even bought a Namaste sticker and have it on my pink clipboard that I carry around work to show everyone how busy, but also, at peace, I am. However, I finally begin to understand Namaste as an actual verb, in Nepal.

27986716215_a4c2044752_o In both India and Nepal, you are greeted with a “Namaste.” It’s also used to say “thank-you” and “good-bye.” In both places, the people strive to treat you this way. They are extremely kind, helpful and friendly.

Our experience with Namaste in Kathmandu was punctuated by our stay at The Family Peace House, which we found through AirBnB. We stayed with Hemraj and his family and were welcomed to their extreme hospitality and kindness. Dylan was able to play with Hemraj’s children, we were welcomed at the dinner table and served tea every morning. This truly gave us a more intimate experience of Kathmandu and allowed us to learn more closely about the culture, get tips on sight seeing and sit and talk with our host, his family and fellow Family Peace House guest, Angelo. When our travel plans became frantic because we realized we could not board our plane back to India without a new visa, Hemraj and others at the Family Peace House quickly swooped in to help with recommendations, allowing us to borrow their personal laptop and easily allowing us to stay extra days when we decided to extend our time in Nepal. The Family Peace house arranged transportation for us when we visited Durbar Square and booked our Mountain Flight. I cannot recommend them enough, when visiting Kathmandu. Thank-you, Hemraj and The Family Peace House for showing my family so much kindness and taking time to teach Dylan all about the rubik’s cube and introducing him to futsal.

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Throughout our trip, we also made a few visits to Fireflies Hostel, up the street from The Family Peace House. Fireflies Hostel is excellent for younger travelers. It has a bohemian, artsy vibe and delicious food at the community space on the top floor. We stopped by for dinner, beers and excellent conversation with fellow travelers. We met people from Spain, Italy, South Africa, Australia, etc. We met Bishal, one of the owners who shared his absolutely amazing life story with us and helped me gain a whole new perspective on gratitude and happiness. I loved our time at Fireflies and the opportunity to connect with people from all around the world.

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I was a total creeper tourist as we walked through the city and took pictures constantly of not only the sights, but the people. There was something so captivating about the art around Kathmandu and the smiles of the Nepali. I felt like they smiled constantly and were always extremely friendly. I hope that comes through in some of these pictures. These were some of my favorite shots:

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I know I must return to Kathmandu. This trip was the beginning of a journey that will bring me back one day to the Himalayas, the temples, the momo and the light which has honored me and taught me more how to honor others.

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Kathmandu, Nepal

The sentence we repeated over and over in Nepal was “we have to come back here.” We stayed in Kathmandu for a little over a week and it was not nearly enough. There was so much more we wanted to explore and one day we will return during trekking season to hike the Himalayas properly.

We found the relief of cooler temperatures in Kathmandu, less crowds (and cows) and calmer streets. We found extremely kind people, beautiful art and Momo! We ate copious amounts of Momo everyday. They were the perfect blend of the Chinese and Indian influence that you see throughout Kathmandu. They were pillow dumplings filled with curried vegetables and potatoes. They were readily available and extremely inexpensive.

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We also found a city still showing effects of the 2015 earthquake, daily rolling power outages and on-going construction everywhere you turned. Make no mistake, Kathmandu is a safe and wonderful place to travel, even with the effects from the earthquake. The aftermath has not been detrimental to the spirit of the city or the people and with slight adjustments to Western comfort levels (expecting readily available electricity and smooth streets) it is a wonderful destination filled with temples, marketplaces and tons of outdoor excursions.

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On our second day, we set out to explore the city and visit Swayambhunath (or Monkey Temple). Monkey Temple is definitely a fitting name. Monkies were all over the place! One grabbed onto my scarf as I walked by and I had to yell at it to let it go. Another monkey tried to steal coconut out of my step-son’s hand. They are fast and mischievous, but oh so cute to watch.

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Swayambhunath had beautiful views and sights. We climbed the many steps up to the main stupa (shrine) and were greeted by hundreds of prayer flags, statues and religious art.

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A huge reason we wanted to visit Kathmandu was to visit the Himalayas. We came at the wrong time of year to get a great view, and so again we declared “we have to come back.” On our third day in Nepal, we visited the quaint town of Nagarkot which is known for it’s views of the Himalayas.

Do you see them back there?

27395439493_c17323f45e_o Neither did we.

The boys climbed up this tower hoping for any chance of a view, but it was far too cloudy. Still, we sensed their presence and it was nice to be amongst their majesty.

Next, we visited Durbar Square, an ancient square that used to be the entrance to the palace. Durbar Square was highly impacted by the earthquake and some of the structures were completely gone or had significant damage. Still, it is a must-see destination filled with ancient architecture and interesting temples.

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The highlight of our trip was taking The Mountain Flight on our last day in Nepal, which we had not planned on doing, but our time in Nepal became extended and we had to take advantage of it.

We had a change in our travel plans and a few hours of frantic re-structuring of our trip. We arrived at the Kathmandu airport to fly back to Delhi, where we would spend the last four days of our trip and leave from India. However, we were not able to board our plane because we did not have the Indian visa. The visa we initially got was single entry and because we left India already, we were not able to return without doing the whole visa process again. When we left the Delhi airport, we saw stations for “Visa on Arrival,” and we wrongly assumed we could get our visas when we returned. Why they have signs that say “Visa on Arrival” when you actually cannot get a visa on arrival (you must apply ahead of time) is still confusing to me. Still, it was a big lesson learned and we decided in the end, to not return to India but extend our time in Nepal and fly home from there.

The Mountain Flight is an hour trip that gives you AMAZING views of the Himalayan Mountain range and an up close experience with Mount Everest.

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Guys and gals, I saw Mount Everest!

It’s pretty implied that it’s HUGE, right?! But, WOW, I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how enormous and majestic it truly is. It towers above the clouds and you feel as though you are being sucked into it’s stratosphere. It is a absolutely amazing sight and I completely teared up being in the presence of such an overwhelming force of nature. I kept saying WOW the whole time and felt completely inarticulate, but there really was no other word.

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I would absolutely recommend The Mountain Flight. It’s a must if you are ever in Kathmandu. It’s a small plane, so everyone has a window seat and you are invited up one at a time to the cock pit for clearer views and picture taking.

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In between the sight seeing and Momo eating, we got a chance to meet some of the nicest people on this planet. I will share more about the beauty of the Nepali heart, in my next post.

Varanasi

Even at the airport in Varanasi, I felt the difference. There was a shift in the energy and it felt much calmer than Delhi. The cab ride from the airport to our AirBnB took us about an hour with traffic. The road into the city was more rural and there was a pervading peace in the air.

We checked into our AirBnB and headed straight for The Ganges River (Ganga). We chose to visit Varanasi because it is a holy city and pilgrimage for many Hindus. The Ganges River is the destination in that pilgrimage and a Ganga bath is said to remove impurities and sins from both this and past lifetimes.

After discovering and learning to navigate the busy Main Road, we headed towards the main ghat to the steps of the Ganga. As we descended the steps and the Ganga came into view, I felt emotional and overwhelmed. There was a beautiful presence and something very admirable about so many people coming from all around India, to be cleansed and renewed.

 Almost immediately, that spell was broken as we were quickly approached by vendors asking if we wanted to take a boat ride. Boat? Boat? Boat? It’s a constant question when you are near any of the ghats and it’s better to move down to less popular ghats in order to take in the majesty of the Ganga uninterrupted.

Still, there was a sacred energy among the crowds at the main ghat. We walked around and explored. We soon found a guide who would become a great friend over the next few days. Vishl took us to the cremation ghat and a priest explained to us the intricate and sacred process of preparing a body to be cremated and ashes emptied into the Ganga. There was a cremation in process as he was talking. It was beautiful and horrifying, and smelled surprisingly sweet, since either mango tree wood or sandalwood is used. I could not help staring at the feet that were sticking out of the fire throughout the priests explanation. The feet kept charring more and more till eventually, one dropped down to incinerate more and eventually into ash.

Every evening, at the main ghat there is a huge ceremony where priests perform offerings to the main hindu gods. It is filled with lights, incense, fire, chanting, singing and an opportunity at the end to light a candle and send it into the river for a blessing.

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The next morning, we were up early and at the river by 5:30 AM for a sunrise boat ride and bath in the Ganga. We knew we definitely wanted to go in the river and feel the full experience of the Ganga.

The boat ride was quiet and peaceful. We were able to see the other ghats and get a feel for the expanse of the Ganga. Our guide took us to the bank on the other side of the river (said to be less polluted) and we eagerly went in. Bathing in the Ganga was probably my most favorite and peaceful experience in all of India. There were tons of other people in the river, yet the energy was quiet, contemplative and pure as opposed to the chaos on the streets. After our Ganga bath, we continued our tour around the various ghats and then returned to main ghat.

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After our Ganga bath, we visited Kasha Vishwanath Temple. It is pretty common for pilgrims to Varanasi to start their day with a Ganga bath and after they are cleansed, to visit the temple to offer a pooja (offering) to Shiva. The temple was an absolute insane experience. The line was extensive and the narrow street to get to the temple was completely packed. We had to take off our shoes and tip toe in the street that wound up to the temple. There was a strong police presence around. It was explained to us that because this is such a holy site, it has been the target of past bombings in religious wars. We were questioned by the police before we went in and my husband was scrutinized for his beard. We had to leave all our things in a locker, absolutely no pictures were allowed, so the only photos I have to share are of pooja being sold on the streets as we were in line. I love these pictures because they look so peaceful and colorful. What you don’t see is the insanity occurring behind me; the water I am standing in barefoot, the elbow that was just shoved in my back, the police yelling or the woman crying asking to go to the front because she is so dehydrated and looks ready to pass out.

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After offering our pooja and being blessed by the priest, we set out to explore some less crowded temples and the rest of Varanasi.

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One of my favorite parts was finding an quiet spot on a balcony of an old building near one of the ghats. We had a nice breeze thanks to the curved arches and a gorgeous view of the river at sundown.

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The next day, I checked off a huge wish list item and took a private yoga class. It was such a fun experience. The instructor, Senile, led us through some laughing yoga and I learned a different spin on the sun salutations.

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We stayed in Varanasi for a total of five days. When we were in Delhi and people were asking about the rest of our trip, we were told we could easily see Varanasi in two days. Although the city is not very big, I am glad we took our time. We probably could have seen the main ghat, the ceremony and temples in two days, but with our extra time we did a whole lot of sitting, people watching and exploring of less popular ghats. We were able to better take in the sacredness of the pilgrimage that many people make from all around India.

We were able to witness many pilgrims shaving their heads before their Ganga bath for ultimate purification, since the hair is believed to be the dirtiest part of the body:

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We did some swami watching:

We saw some pretty sweet tuk tuk art:

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And we witnessed water buffalo taking an afternoon Ganga bath:

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And the many, many cows of India were all interrupted during one meal or another by Dylan:

27371001423_e10ce2b9bf_o I truly loved Varanasi. I felt at home and serene. It’s definitely a place I would love to visit again and I feel that I found what I was looking for when my heart begin to seek out India.

My time in India is still sinking in to my heart and mind. I cannot fully explain it into words, but it had a huge impact on me. I am still processing all the stark contrasts, the challenges to my privilege and adjusting my mindset about what the means to me back in the United States, the beauty I found in completely surrendering myself to discomfort, chaos and everything foreign, the amazing similarities I found even in a surrounding that was so different, but some things about people, hearts and kindness all being the same. India is somewhere I am sure I will I will re-visit again and again through my lifetimes. I am sure there is so much more the beautiful land has to teach me.

New Delhi-The Sites

We landed in New Dehli after 20+ hours of travel. Our plane was about an hour late and we worried that the taxi our AirBnB host sent for us would no longer be there.

Around 1:30 AM, we exited the airport to be met with our first wave of the heat and humidity, followed by the overwhelming noise of honking, yelling and constant chatter of people trying to offer rides. Our delirium and exhaustion gave way to worry as could not find our driver. We were quickly approached by quite a few offers to take us anywhere we wanted to go and after searching around and deciding our driver had probably left since we were late, we took one of the offers.

This kickstarted a scam we got taken on by what we were told later was probably the mafia who look for tired foreigners at the airport to try to up sale them on the sites around Dehli.

A quick summary of the story: our driver told us it was Shiva festival and the city was very crowded. He drove us to what he said was our AirBnB, but in fact was a road that was shut down and impassable. We were told because it was Shiva festival, a lot of the roads were blocked. We were taken to his friend, a travel agent, who called our AirBnB host for us (after speaking to him in Hindi first) and our host talked to my husband on the phone to tell him he had to cancel because of Shiva festival. We then went through a prolonged back and forth of trying to sell us a trip to Agra, Jaipur, rent a car, book a super expensive hotel, etc. Around 3:30 AM, we had enough. We were tired and hot and said we would walk the streets and figure it out on our own. Our taxi driver tracked us down and said he may know of a place. He took us to a dirty hotel that we paid way too much for, but we needed a shower and a bit of sleep. Around 5:00 AM, my husband gets a call from our actual AirBnB host who confirmed that was absolutely NOT him on the phone that was called and we did still in fact have a reservation. He sent a car for us immediately and around 6:00 AM, we were finally settled in to the AirBnB we had booked.

The whole confusion stemmed from this. When emailing our host, my husband said we would arrive in Delhi at 12:05 AM. However, India is on the 24 hour clock, so our host understood that to mean 12 in the afternoon, when he in fact, had a car planned to meet us at the airport. We should have typed 0:05 AM. Big lesson learned.

That was our introduction to Delhi. People scamming and people helping. It’s a big, chaotic, overwhelming city and you never quite know who to believe, but there is always someone willing to help you around every corner and things always seemed to work themselves out.

Our first day in Delhi was spent learning how to walk on the streets without dying, adjusting to the insane heat and humidity, discovering our neighborhood, shopping for clothes and finding food.

The food was pretty amazing and super easy to find vegetarian options, most already vegan or easy enough to modify. Some of my favorite dishes were from street stands. Our favorite stand was close to the train station, down the street from where we were staying. My favorite dish was aloo matar (peas and potatoes) in a spicy sauce. My favorite drink was fresh pineapple and lime juice.

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Our next few days in Delhi we set off to explore the various sites. I do not have as many pictures to share of India as I had hoped. The pictures I will be posting are all from my phone because somewhere in our packing and unpacking at different AirBnBs, we lost our camera card for India. I will admit to being a wee bit devastated about this, but am also trying to practice non-attachment to those pictures and give gratitude that I still have quite a bit from my phone. The camera card from Nepal is still in tact and there will be more pictures to share from that portion of the trip.

The first site we visited was The Red Fort, where the Mughal emperors lived from the 1600-1800s. The walk to The Red Fort was interesting. The neighborhood just outside this sprawling palace was extremely poor and drug use was prevalent. We wanted an early start to beat the worst of the heat, and even at 7 AM, I saw pipes in the mouths of people ranging from older ladies to young kids. It was pretty shocking to see a boy who looked my step-son’s age smoking and I realized he lived a life that my privilege could not even fathom. India is such an amazing place where the horrendous and beautiful co-exist so closely together.

The Red Fort is a work of art. The architecture was so unique and intricate. Curved archways, sprawling gardens and green space prevailed throughout the grounds.

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The next day we took a train into Agra, to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The train ride into Agra was also extremely eye opening and challenging. We passed so many slums along the way and got a very filtered, ignorant and small glimpse of the conditions that others live in day to day. It was early in the morning, so many people were using the restroom right near the train tracks. I saw many people’s butts that day and then some. The train station was pretty overwhelming with people sleeping, begging, and congregating all over. We had many, many offers for a guide, a ride, a trinket, etc. Vendors are everywhere.

A word about guides. Normally, when we travel, we do not hire a guide. We enjoy to explore a city without a tour group and generally do not feel the need to have much assistance with sight seeing, purchases or just general getting around. Part of the adventure of traveling is figuring that out along the way, with the mistakes, miscommunications and lost alley ways along the way. However, in India, it was hard to turn down a guide. We were bombarded with offers and when you finally have one, everyone else leaves you alone. They are pretty affordable, knowledgeable and incredibly helpful. We met some amazing guides throughout our trip and I truly admire how hard they work.

We did end up hiring a guide and a car to take us from the station to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was just as opulent as you would imagine. It literally sparkles. It is an impressive display of love, devotion and extravagance.

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Next, we visited The Agra Fort, another palace inhabited by the Mughal dynasty. It was later in the day and the heat was building. However the arch ways are brilliantly constructed to create a wind tunnel and provide a nice breeze. Our guide was wonderful to make sure we did Taj Mahal first, then Agra Fort when the day was hotter. The Agra Fort has a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal and the grounds are gorgeously maintained. We spent a lot of time standing in marvel and imagining what the palace must have felt like when it was packed with royalty, when the dry moats contained lions and the water moats contained alligators, how it must have looked when there was a market occurring in the gardens and when the court was being held and decrees being made.

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The rest of our time in Delhi was spent exploring bazaars, dodging cow poop, stopping Dylan from petting cows when they were eating and trying not to get hit by cars. By the end of our time in Delhi, we were much more knowledgeable about how to walk through the insane traffic.

Delhi was a crash course in India. I am glad I visited. I saw so much beauty and so much horror. I loved it all, but was ready to move on to the next city. I finally found my place in India when we landed in Varanasi…

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India: The Land of Contrast

India was beautiful. India was horrible.

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India was unbearably hot and overwhelmingly humid. India had beautiful, tranquil breezes.

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India stunk like cow shit, hot piss and rot. India smelled like aromatic spices, sacred incense and sweetness.

India was scathingly loud with non-stop honking, shouting and zooming. India is filled with soft-spoken, respectful people.

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Indians wanted to sell us things constantly. Indians all wanted to help us.

I felt incredibly uncomfortable in India. I felt completely at home in India.

All these things are true.

Contrasting information flooded my senses throughout the entire trip. India was completely in my face and confrontational. I felt myself confronting my own biases the most. My privilege was thrust in my face. I was forced to acknowledge and contend with it constantly; when women with babies asked for money, when I brushed my teeth with bottled water, when I had to cover up despite the heat, when children asked for food and shattered my heart, when the constant heat pushed me to my limits of rationality.

There were times when I wanted to run back to my privilege as fast as I could. I longed for the clean sheets in my bed, my superfood additives for my green smoothies, air conditioning, clean feet, friends who were in the same time zone, my spoiled dogs, my lavender scented sugar scrub and roads where everyone drove inside of the lines.

And yet, once I surrendered to the discomfort, heat, filth and noise, I felt completely at peace. In India I felt constantly surrounded by love. I cried on the ride to the airport to leave for Nepal and recalled one of my favorite quotes from the book Shantaram. I finally understood what it meant:

“That’s how we keep this crazy place together – with the heart. Two hundred fuckin’ languages, and a billion people. India is the heart. It’s the heart that keeps us together. There’s no place with people like my people, Lin. There’s no heart like the Indian heart.”

What Does A Yogi Look Like?-Jennifer

Jen is one of my running heroes. She runs Boston qualifying marathoners like a champ and has a beautiful heart. Jen has been my long time pal and came to the first yoga class I ever officially taught. I was so nervous, but her smile and support put me at ease. Jen is runner, skier and “not a pretzel.” Jen is what a yogi looks like.

Jen

1. When did you start doing yoga and why? Back in 2001, I visited the Nike Employee Store in Portland through my job and was given a stipend to purchase whatever I wanted. (Score!) In between running tanks, shorts and shoes – I bought a pair of yoga pants, because someday, I thought, maybe I’ll start doing yoga. I have never been flexible, and it took four more years before I could get up the courage to actually go to a class. In 2005, I made it a New Year’s resolution to stop making excuses and start going to yoga classes. I started at the gym I went to Redondo Beach had early morning yoga classes. Bonnie was the teacher’s name. She was great! So patient with me – and she could tell that I just wanted to get better at it. We moved to the IE after a few months, and I continued in whatever classes I could find. Starting just above the Fox Theater, then moving to Blue Mud, then onto Inner Evolution Yoga. As I progressed, I found a sense of calming, and a feeling of strength and power that I’d never felt before. I was hooked!

2. What myths or misconceptions did you have about yoga before starting? Flexibility required! There used to be a yoga series that aired early mornings on PBS back in the 80s that my mom used to watch. She was never flexible and would try her best at the poses, but would get frustrated when she couldn’t do a pose. I always heard her say, “I’m not a pretzel.” And she’d comment that the lack of flexibility runs in the family and I’d never be able to do those poses either. So yoga was never something on my radar growing up, making it that much harder to start as an adult.

3. What is your favorite pose and why? There are so many I love for so many different reasons. My top three are:
-Half-moon – it reminds me how much strength, balance, focus, breath and vulnerability are vitally important to work in harmony to get the most out of the pose. Isn’t that what life is about?
-Pigeon – it forces me to a place where I am not comfortable, and allows me to ease into being more comfortable in that space
-Chair – for the power it gives me. Plus, it’s the BEST pose to get in shape for ski season.

4. What are your thoughts on yoga and body image and has it affected your practice? I am so thankful that yoga is so accessible to everyone and anyone – and you don’t need to be a “pretzel” to start (or continue) on your journey. It took me some time to accept that there are some poses I may never master due to my own limitations (cow’s face and twisted pyramid, I’m talking to you), and that is OK. Heck, it took me ten years to be able to touch my toes on a regular basis! I don’t think anyone should ever be made to feel like they have to have a certain body trait to do yoga.

I’ve always been involved in sports. I ski and snowboard, played soccer and used to be a semi-competitive swimmer. Now, I’ve channeled the swimming and soccer into running. I’m into challenging and punishing myself. Often, I wonder what my body would be like if I hadn’t started started a yoga practice. I can guarantee that I would be nowhere near as flexible as I am now (which isn’t very flexible, but much more than 11 years ago!!), and I would probably be nursing many more injuries. Plus, I wouldn’t have the awareness of engaging and relaxing my body as I do today.

5. Do you feel that yoga conflicts or compliments your religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identification or any other form of your identity? Yoga has become deeply personal for me. My husband just doesn’t get it, nor do I ask him to fully understand my reasons why I practice. Yoga helps me to find my own path in the absence of religion. It complements my being, and is one of the parts that make me who I am and who I want to evolve to become as I get older. Each time I roll out my mat and practice, I make a promise to better myself on that day.

6. What do you love most about yoga? Yoga has helped to calm my busy mind, and has allowed me to understand how to live in the moment. Unfortunately, I am a control freak who plans out the minute details in life – traits that can turn negative for myself and my relationships with others. Practicing yoga gives me peace to give in to what I can’t control. Is it an exact science? Far from it. I’m still learning, growing and accepting every day.

Yoga gives me another avenue to challenge my inner self. I always appreciate hearing my yoga teachers tell me to hold the pose one more breath, and if I can hold it one breath, try to hold it one more, and one more after that. Like all things in life, the pose (the hill, the day, the rough times) has an end point. But taking it breath by breath, step by step, day by day – that is living in the moment.

7. What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting a yoga practice?
There is no shame in being hesitant to start. Stepping through the doors of an unfamiliar place seems daunting. It certainly was for me. But once you’ve finished that first class, you will be amazed at what your body is capable of on the mat.

Be honest in what you want to get out of your journey. But also be open to where that journey will take you. You never know where it may lead.

Finally, don’t buy yoga pants because you think you might go to a class someday. Buy them because you signed up to take your first class within the week!

Thank-you, Jen!!!

Would you like to be featured? I would love to hear about your yogic journey. I am looking for yogis of all levels, years of experience, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identifications and sects. Please email me at angieeatspeace at gmail.com. 

What Does A Yogi Look Like?-Kartsee

I met Karstee through Rock Your Bliss’ 7 Weeks to Bliss program and was excited to find she was also a contributor to Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It, along with my friend Eduardo Martinez. Karstee has used yoga to practice forgiveness and truly connect with her body. Karstee is what a yogi looks like.

Karstee 1

1. When did you start doing yoga and why? The first time I ever went to a yoga class was towards the end of Summer in 2014. I had signed up to go to an early Saturday morning class at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado. It’s funny because looking back I can’t remember how I even came to hear of this event or what even possessed me to sign up to go– by myself none the less! I remember that morning rising before the sun and grabbing my dusty mat from the corner of my room, it was propped up against my dresser and I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it actually had cobwebs on it! I threw my hair up, threw the mat in the back seat, stopped for a coffee and then hit the road. I got to Red Rocks just after the sun rise…. and the light was stretching across the city below in one of those “everything that light touches is yours” Mufasa-esque type of moments. It was beautiful. Yogis & Yoginis were all over the amphitheater sitting on their mats and soaking up the warm morning sun. I picked a spot (in the very back row, or course) and unrolled my mat. I sat down and did some very beginner stretches and smiled at the people next to me. After a while the class began, I moved through poses that were familiar and learned some that I of course had never heard of before. In downward dogs I noticed I lacked the strength to hold myself up for very long, my arms would tremble and I would have to drop to my knees. I noticed that I could never gracefully pull my leg all the way through from downward dog into a lunge (I still can’t), but something about the overall message of the class made me feel like it was ok to forgive myself for not being there yet, for not being perfect. There seemed to be a message of letting go, of not lingering on any thought for too long, but rather just acknowledging, breathing and being in the moment. Towards the end of the class in a chautauranga (that I most certainly was doing wrong) the teacher said something along the lines of, “take a moment to send gratitude out to everything and everyone that has brought you to this very moment in this beautiful setting.” You could feel the electric buzz of gratitude, it was overwhelming. Tears welled in my eyes as I thought of the years that I had spent away from Colorado and of the person that I had been married to in that time. We had hurt each other and it had ended in such a final way. In that moment of gratitude I felt a subliminal wave of forgiveness and love to the people we were, to the person I had become. I saw the way I had been feeding the hurt inside of me for so long with unhealthy things like Chipotle Burritos and I had so much compassion to myself. It was strange. And when I left that day, I felt so peaceful and I felt like I had just done the kindest thing I possibly could do for myself. And so even though I don’t remember why I initially went that day, I know what keeps me coming back.

2. What myths or misconceptions did you have about yoga before starting? I thought that every single person that practiced yoga was going to be blonde, wear lululemon, and be kind of snobby. And while yes, there are blonde people, and yes the yoga community loves their lululemon… I have literally never felt like someone was being snobby to me. I had a lot of fear because I don’t fit the mold of what I thought a “yoga person” would look like. But I tell people all the time that my initial beliefs could not have been further from the truth, because if a person has developed a physical practice of yoga, I honestly believe they cannot help but for the practice to spill over into all the other areas of their life and so if a person is a yogi… there’s no way that person could ever hold lasting judgment against me because when they come back to their mat, back to their breath, and back to themselves they would only be able to see love. And I SWEAR I feel this when I go to my yoga studio (Core Power Yoga in Boulder)! Going to 24 hour fitness as an obese person, I feel completely invisible… but when I go to my yoga studio it feels like going home. I’m greeted by my name, I’m supported, teachers actually take the time to show me adjustments. I feel the very opposite of invisible, I feel seen.

3. What is your favorite pose and why? It’s definitely Supta Buddha Konasana (reclined bound angle pose)— I love after flowing, just laying in that moment and slowing down. I remember my favorite time ever in this pose— That day NPR and all major news outlets were reporting how the world was facing the biggest humanitarian crisis our generation has ever seen with the floods of migrants and refugees pouring into Europe. My heart and mind were so on this topic, I was fixated… I almost felt like I was driving in a daze on the way to class. While I was sitting at a red light I happened to look over and made eye contact with a homeless man on the corner holding a sign that said, “You are awesome”. He suddenly pointed at me and then mouthed the words from his sign… but he did it slowly and with a big smile, “You. Are. Awesome.” I smiled back and pointed at him and said, “You are awesome too.” We laughed, the light turned green, I waved and drove on. Class felt like any normal class until landing in Supta Baddha Konasana— I love practicing yoga to music and there are so many times that it has amplified the moment for me. Laying there with one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart, I listened to Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”, it came to the line “and every breath we drew was hallelujah”. I thought of the migration crisis… all of those people running from the unimaginable and looking for a better life for themselves and their loved ones. Hallelujah. I thought of Germany (Germany!) opening it’s doors and arms and hearts and receiving thousands of these weary people. Hallelujah. I thought of that man on the corner smiling in the sunshine and bringing joy to other people’s day. Hallelujah. I came back to the moment– to a studio where you can fall to pieces in the dark concentrating on your breath and sending love to the whole world. Hallelujah.

Supta Baddah Konasana— how delicious. Hallelujah.

Karstee 2

4. What are your thoughts on yoga and body image and has it affected your practice? I feel like yoga has improved my body image. I’ve come to appreciate my body— the things it can do and the areas where it’s limited. As I said above, I also really try to honor where I’m at and not beat myself up. I also feel I’m more in tune with the areas that are sore, and I know that most the time it’s nothing a good hour on the mat can’t fix. I also have become really mindful about my breath— and I try to send love to the areas that need it through my breath. I really love doing this during my menstrual cycle.

5. Do you feel that yoga conflicts or compliments your religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identification or any other form of your identity? Yoga has strengthened my spirituality, it’s a beautiful complement to the beliefs that I already held about what this whole world means and how I should behave in it.
As for my sexual orientation/gender identification I feel like for so long I was trying to be invisible, I had been so hurt that I thought if I could just be invisible no one would ever notice me, love me, hurt me, you name it… I was hiding from it all… but really being in your body through a yoga practice just makes me eager to explore things I’ve been avoiding for a long time. And I’ve been excited, even though it’s been slow going, about the process of bringing my body back to life, if you will. Also, I know this is strange, but one time I went through class with my hair down (total accident— forgot a hair tie) and it was actually a really cool experiment and ended up being quite nice; I felt very feminine and sexy and as someone who has almost been living like a gender less asexual type of person it felt very exotic. haha!

6. What do you love most about yoga? I love the community that I have found, it is one that is so embracing and supportive!

Karstee

7. What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting a yoga practice? What do you have to lose? Try it, and if one type of class doesn’t strike your fancy then try a different one! And find the teachers you like, that is key! I love yoga for the physical practice, but I adore the classes where there is a spiritual side or lesson or something to ponder; and like I said I like music, some people don’t. There is a world of options out there, and I guarantee you will be able to find the one that fits you and that elevates whatever area of your life you might be looking to better!

Thank-you, Karstee! You can read more of her work on her blog or by picking up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.

Would you like to be featured? I would love to hear about your yogic journey. I am looking for yogis of all levels, years of experience, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identifications and sects. Please email me at angieeatspeace at gmail.com. 

What Does A Yogi Look Like?-Marcella

Marcella is my sister and when I asked her to be apart of this series, she said, “...but, I just stared doing yoga.” Even though she considers herself a beginner, I felt her perspective was still valuable and a good reminder that no matter what your level or abilities are, it does not make you any less of a yogi. Marcella is what a yogi looks like.

1. When did you start doing yoga and why?
I don’t remember exactly when I started yoga. I think it was maybe around 2013/2014. In the course of 1 year (2011-2012) I was in a major car accident, my grandma died, and we had lost our dad to a homicide. My sister had found major benefits from yoga to help her through that and she encouraged me to try it. At this point I was still have back pain, anxiety and plenty of nightmares, so I willingly went.

2. What myths or misconceptions did you have about yoga before starting?
I think the biggest misconception that I had about yoga was that I needed to be a certain level of fit or flexible to start the practice. This is clearly not the case. What’s great about yoga is that you start at the level you are at.

3. What is your favorite pose and why?
My favorite pose is tree pose. It requires a lot of my concentration to keep my balance, but once I’m there, I feel strong and tall and confident.

Marcella

4. What are your thoughts on yoga and body image and has it affected your practice?
Like I mentioned earlier, I thought I needed to be at a certain level to even try yoga, but it really is for everyone. I don’t look like a fitness yoga Barbie, but I can see myself getting stronger in my practices. It’s about strengthening your whole being.

5. Do you feel that yoga conflicts or compliments your religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identification or any other form of your identity?
I don’t feel any conflict. I grew up Christian and still practice that in my life today. If anything I feel like that helps me. Yoga helps me to stop and look around, to remain quiet and listen to what God has to offer me. It has really given me time to be open and honest about my feelings and release them.

6. What do you love most about yoga?
The thing I love about yoga is that it’s mindful. While practicing, I am mindful of all aspects of my body, and try to keep in touch with that throughout my day. I find myself watching my posture more and realizing that I’m not relaxing or breathing as I should. Stopping to take the time to do that can really help de-stress throughout my crazy days.

7. What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting a yoga practice?
I encourage so many people to do yoga. I tell them that first of all it’s not as scary as they think. There are different levels and different types of practices and it’s about finding the one that works best for you. You don’t realize the stress you put your body through until you start working through it in yoga. It’s very eye-opening!

Thank-you, sissy!

Would you like to be featured? I would love to hear about your yogic journey. I am looking for yogis of all levels, years of experience, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identifications and sects. Please email me at angieeatspeace at gmail.com.

What Does A Yogi Look Like?-Melinda

Melinda is a yogi I met through an Instagram challenge. I truly admire her strong, home practice and how honest she is in her poses. Melinda is a former smoker and fibromyalgia thriver. Melinda is what a yogi looks like.

Melinda 1

1. When did you start doing yoga and why?

I had always be pretty healthy and active throughout my 20s and 30s but kind of went through a “midlife crisis” just before I turned 40. I had really neglected my health and diet and had picked up a really bad habit of smoking just before my 40th birthday. Jump ahead 10 years just before my 49th birthday. I had started having pain from what I now know was from fibromyalgia and severe back pain. I was terrified of spinal surgery and was going to do anything possible to avoid it. I decided I was getting healthy no matter what it took! I gave up my bad habits cold turkey. No smoking, no junk food, no fast food, and I had to increase my activity. Chiropractic therapy and spinal injections were not helping very much but I did get instructions from my Chiropractor of exercises to do every day. One look at the drawings and I thought “this looks like Yoga”, or what I thought Yoga looked like. I looked up yoga on youtube and was hooked! I couldn’t get enough of it! It’s been almost 6 years now and my only regret is that I wish I would have started sooner, much sooner.

2. What myths or misconceptions did you have about Yoga before starting? I thought that if I walked into a yoga studio I would see people sitting on mats chanting and doing crazy poses that only thin, extremely flexible people could do. That you really didn’t sweat, exert yourself, or build muscle it was mainly for relaxation and stretching. I didn’t see myself as the type of person who could practice yoga. I was overweight, in bad health, and didn’t even know the first thing about it. In my small rural town there are no yoga studios or gyms that offered Yoga and I didn’t know anyone who taught or practiced at home. I didn’t understand that there was more to it than a physical practice and that Yoga was a lifestyle. That you could actually LIVE yoga.

3. What is your favorite pose and why? I have several but if I had to choose only one it would be Wild Thing! Or Camatkarasana. I used to be able to drop back into Wheel Pose anytime I pleased when I was young but I thought those days were far behind me. Before I started my practice I couldn’t even turn my head to look behind me without pain or even do a simple twist. No way did I ever think I could do Wild Thing! After about a month of daily practice I was in the pose without a care in the world. I can’t flip into the pose without a smile on my face. My next favorite pose is Sleeping Pigeon. This is the first exercise my Chiropractor gave me to do that reminded me of “Yoga”. I love this pose and it helps my hips and back so much. I get so much benefit from it. My last one I’ll add to this list is Headstand. I have never NOT been able to do headstand. It shows me how to look at things from a different angle and perspective.

Melinda 3

4. What are your thoughts on Yoga and body image and has it affected your practice? My answer to this question has changed many times. I started my practice to help with my physical pain, and it did help but not only did I benefit from how my body felt but how I felt about my body. I was overweight and unhealthy in the beginning and so my focus was on how to make my body feel better. I thought I was not “in shape” enough to perform the poses correctly and it bothered me a bit. I thought if I just got some weight off I would be able to do this pose or that pose. As time went on I saw improvement in my strength and flexibility and found it didn’t matter what the scale said. I did drop 50 pounds, not that it mattered to my practice but I did have more confidence and wanted to interact with other yogis. I don’t have a studio in my town and no one I knew practiced. I came across a studio 90 miles from me that had a workshop with Kathryn Budig. I couldn’t pass that up! I came back from that weekend with a different attitude toward my body as well as other’s bodies. Kathryn told us to forget about how we looked and asked us not to adjust our leggings if they rolled under our muffin tops! We were all enjoying the practice and it was wonderful! I still struggle with my own body image from time to time just like most women but I try to not let it affect my practice. To just be there in the moment just as I am. I know to some, social media is not their thing but to me it is contact with other yogis that I wouldn’t get elsewhere. I get on Instagram and join in on challenges, post my pictures as well as look at other yogis’ pictures. Everyone and anyone can practice yoga and should without being afraid of what their physical body looks like. We are not our bodies, we are so much more! I know I’m rambling on about this but I get so upset about comments I read on social media. I don’t understand how people can be so rude to others and make such hurtful comments about the way they look or what they’re wearing or even if they are “real yogis”. Ok, off my soapbox.

Melinda

5. Do you feel that yoga conflicts or compliments your religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identification, or any other form of your identity? I feel that yoga compliments everything about me. I decided early on that my yoga was just that. Mine. Whatever I wanted it to be. Once I found out it wasn’t all chanting and twisting your body into contorted poses that is, unless that’s YOUR yoga of course. It’s whatever you want it to be. I believe there are no set rules and anyone can join in at any time no matter what their religion is, who they love, or whatever. But that’s just me. It may be totally different for someone else. I believe yoga is about being true to yourself and your beliefs. It’s about being a good person and doing what is right for yourself, others and our great planet and universe. Being honest, the thing that brings me some grief in relation to yoga is my husband. He totally does not get it. I mean not at all. He knows how it helps my back pain and fibromyalgia but that is really it. One time he jokingly referred to yoga as a cult and my use of essential oils and crystals as voodoo! I laughed because he really thought he was being funny but I did let him know it hurt me a little. I just do my thing and hope that one day he’ll want to practice with me a bit. Who knows!

6. What do you love most about yoga? Hmmm. Most? I guess if I had to choose what I love MOST about yoga it would be the way that it has touched all aspects of my life. I didn’t know this going in but it didn’t take long for me to weave it into every part of me. My body, mind and spirit all get to benefit. I guess some people practice for the physical benefits alone but little by little it has become my lifestyle. I have gotten so much benefit from it in fact that I want to get my yoga teacher certification so I can bring yoga to my little rural town. It’s difficult to find a teacher training close to me without costing me an arm and a leg but I’m determined!

7. What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting a yoga practice? I would first ask “what is holding you back?” “What do you think yoga is and how do you want to benefit from yoga”. I started my practice at age 49. I know I had doubts about my abilities and what kinds of physical benefits I would get. Yoga is something everyone can do despite any physical limitations you may have, what your weight is or how old you are. Only do what your body is ready for and don’t think you have to keep up with anyone. Yoga isn’t a competition and you aren’t getting a grade for your practice. Modifications and props are your friends. Find a studio or private teacher. If you are nervous about starting alone grab a friend to join in the fun. Just do it!

Melinda 2

Thank-you, Melinda <3 You can follow her beautiful yoga journey through her Facebook, blog or amazing Instagram. 

Would you like to be featured? I would love to hear about your yogic journey. I am looking for yogis of all levels, years of experience, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identifications and sects. Please email me at angieeatspeace at gmail.com. 

What Does A Yogi Look Like?-Joanne

I hope you are loving this series as much as I am loving working on it. I have had the pleasure of connecting with yogis who are in different states via email and some who are local. I have to say that being able to meet and connect in person with some of the participants has added an extra layer of amazingness to this process.
This has been especially true of Janet and her mom Joanne. First of all, I have never met a Joanne that was not just simply amazing (I have some great ones in my life) and I knew I loved this Joanne when Janet told me she was interested in “chocolate yoga.” She was referring to the chakras, but I am all about this idea of chocolate yoga!
Janet shared her story last week and I was touched by the way she talked about how inspiring her 74 year old mother’s practice was, even after major surgery. I was giddy to find out that Joanne would actually be visiting Janet the next weekend and agreed to sit with me and tell her story.
Joanne is a 74 year old yogini recovering from bypass surgery, with strength and energy that will inspire you! Joanne is what a yogi looks like.

Janet and Joanne

1. When did you start doing yoga and why? I started going to yoga when I was 70 years old. Janet said I would like it and brought me to a class. (Janet chimes in: “I took her to a heated Level 1-2 class and I looked over at her sweating and thought, what have I done? I have killed my mom! But, after class, she said she loved it.“) I live in Arizona and found a gym that offers great classes. I started going everyday.
2. What myths or misconceptions did you have about yoga before starting? I thought it would be too slow for me. I have always been active; aerobics, hiking and lots of exercise. It has been interesting to learn how yoga gives me power over my own body. I can notice my heart beat in my toes. It has improved my focus and done a lot for me in ways that are hard to explain. I can’t tell you whose around me when I practice or what they are doing. I have learned to focus in a whole new way. I often wonder where would I be today if I started doing yoga when I was 18?

3. What is your favorite pose and why? The warrior series. There is so much that goes into those poses, they raise your heart rate and require focus.

Joanne

4. What are your thoughts on yoga and body image and has it affected your practice? People might think there is a “yoga body,” but there isn’t. Maybe people think that they won’t look good in yoga clothes, but if you are truly there for yourself, it doesn’t matter what the person next to you looks like.

5. Do you feel that yoga conflicts or compliments your religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identification or any other form of your identity? I don’t do it for any type of religion, I do it completely for me. Maybe I have not found the spiritual part of yoga yet, but I do notice I don’t pick up people’s negative energy as easily. I wish they would teach it to kids in schools!

6. What do you love most about yoga? Yoga gives me strength. It is something I do just for me and gives me energy for the rest of the day. There have been small things that I notice like being able to easily put something in the lower cupboard or putting my pants on without having to lean against something for support.
Yoga helped me recover from bypass surgery. (Janet says, “the doctor first came out and told me my mom would not make it through the night, and then when she did, he said she would never walk again. I stayed at the hospital with my mom and would practice yoga breathing with her when she would wake up and panic because of the tubes being down her throat. This kept her from having to be sedated and I believe got her released from the hospital much quicker.”)
The surgery was 6 hours long and I continued to have blood clots. But, 8 weeks later, I was back doing yoga. I slowly worked my way back and my strength gradually returned. I asked my doctor what I could do for therapy and was told “nothing” because there was tissue damage. I did not want to just sit in a chair and do nothing as the world went on around me. I started my focusing on my feet and moving them around like I was trying to expand a rubber band. I am now working on getting my crow pose back as strong as it was before my surgery!
I am going to tell my doctor when I go back to tell people to do yoga!

7. What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting a yoga practice? Yoga can give you more in your life than you can imagine. Everyday is different, somedays I can’t do what I did the previous day, but no one cares if you go to child’s pose. Accept yourself and your capabilities. It gets so important as we get older. You have to have more discipline because there isn’t as much busyness in life with kids and work as there was when we were younger. It’s easy to get lazy, but, if we don’t work the strength of our bodies, we will lose it.
Thank-you, Joanne! It was a true pleasure to connect with you!

Would you like to be featured? I would love to hear about your yogic journey. I am looking for yogis of all levels, years of experience, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identifications and sects. Please email me at angieeatspeace at gmail.com.