Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

There is a place…

June 2, 2018

There is a place….

where magic happens.  It’s not far from Seattle, just a short ferry ride away on Vashon Island. For a few years now, I’ve offered day retreats at what I will call a “secret garden”.  I’m not allowed to say on social media where this place is because it is a private property, but those of you lucky enough to have been at one of my yoga day retreats there will know exactly where it is.

The photos from this blog post are from a yoga day retreat I offered at this site two weeks ago.  I am afraid that this may have been my last retreat offered at this enchanted site as there are some changes taking place on the property.  I am not to talk about the situation.  Just like Jury Duty!  Being cryptic is not my style, but there you have it!

What I can say is that two weeks ago a group of 14 lucky yogis got to breathe in the emerald forest air, see a bit of Indonesia in the Pacific Northwest, walk among ancient stones imported from Asia, eat organic, locally-sourced food infused with love and tenderly prepared by Karen Biondo of La Biondo Farm on Vashon.  Together, we meditated in an ancient temple, shared some beautiful imagery we observed during our stay on the property, images we continue to carry in our hearts, did yoga in an authentic antique Chinese tea merchant’s house, and shared meals and warm conversations.  New friendships blossomed and old friendships deepened.  It’s the kind of gathering every yogi dreams of.

I will always have a deep gratitude and respect for David Smith, who visualized this lush paradise and created this Indonesian-Meets-Pacific Northwest haven at his home on Vashon. David was a delicate gentle soul. When he passed away, he left this precious legacy behind.  The current caretakers of the property have done a marvelous job of keeping this place vibrant and ever more beautiful when I didn’t think that was possible. I can’t believe we have been lucky enough to practice yoga on this property.  I will continue to search out another treasured place to host my next day retreats on Vashon.  Wish me luck and if you have any leads for future Vashon sites, let me know.

Chillin’ before our meditation session inside this temple:

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Summer
Summertime brings joy
The sun warms us outside in
Nature calls us out

Beach Walk
Nature opens eyes
While great blue Herons hunt fish
Water sparkles wet

Poems by Milo Minnis: fellow yoga instructor, yoga day retreat participant, poet, student of Judith Lasater, visionary, beautiful human being

Serene: photo of statue below taken by Skye McNeill (Surface Designer, Illustrator, Photographer, Graphic Designer extraordinaire! visit Skye’s website)

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“As yoga teachers, our job is to mirror back the inherent goodness and inner wisdom of our students. But first, we have to find it in ourselves.”  – Judith Hanson Lasater

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High on Montana

May 31, 2018

Our yoga retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, Montana was better than I could have ever imagined. The weather was excellent, the ranch and accommodations beautiful, the vast property exquisite, the guided hikes almost perfect (perfect except for the damned surge of voracious mosquitoes on the first day because it had rained the night before our first hike), the optional on-site massages with Michelle Richards therapeutic and deeply relaxing, the yoga studio spacious, fully equipped, and pristine.

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Swings

The guided hikes fell into two groups. The group who chose to do the easier and shorter hike was led by Amanda.  I was not in this group, but had a twinge of regret when I heard that Amanda knows her wildflowers and was able to identify the array of flowers popping up here and there, dotting the landscape.  The second group chose to go on the more challenging hikes, the first hike being a climb to the ridge on the property where the views were breathtaking. My group was led by James on both days. Though he does not do plant identification, he was knowledgeable in other areas: landscape and geology, plus we learned so much about his interesting life. There were only four of us led by James on the first day hike and two of us on the second day.  On the second day’s hike, Zimmie and I selfishly felt it was a treat to have James all to ourselves on the hike!

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Our happy group participants came from Seattle, Vashon, Eugene (OR), Whitefish, and from the District of Columbia environs. We enjoyed nutritious, abundant, delicious vegetarian meals made by our on site chef, Michelle Berry.  One evening after dinner, Michelle, a very talented and knowledgeable nutritionist, plant-based chef, and beautiful mother of three came and sat with us, answering our questions about plant-based nutrition.  We learned so much from her as you will see below.

How much water should we drink per day?

Take your weight, divide it by two and that is the number of ounces you should drink in water per day.  Drinking green drinks or herbal teas do not count as your recommended water intake.  These are seen as medicinal (good), but do not replace your water needs.

Sole Water Link 

Please refer to the link above to read about sole water!  I am going to try it. It is a great way to make sure you are getting essential minerals into your diet.  It helps prevent muscle cramping. All you need is Himalayan Salt and Water to make the mixture.

Name some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Bee Pollen with Almond Butter
  • Spirolina (add to your smoothie)
  • Sprouts
  • Hemp Seeds

Strategies to Detox/Cleanse:

  • oil pulling using coconut oil (how to and benefits) LINK
  • Body Brushing on skin that is not wet and later oil your skin before your shower  (See technique and how it is done)
  • Michelle mentioned that there are many kinds of detox.  Detox can include “emotional” detox as well as “screen” detox. Screen detox means moving away from your phone or your computer for a few hours or for a whole day at a time.
  • Colonics

Diet for people undergoing chemotherapy (these detox strategies can be used by anyone, even when not undergoing chemo):

  • Include chlorella in your diet (probably in a smoothie)
  • Eats lots of cilantro (sorry to those of you who do not like cilantro)
  • Better yet, if you do the following, it is one of the best ways to support and cleanse your body when undergoing chemo:  Eat Chlorella.  Wait one hour.  After one hour, eat Cilantro.  Do not eat the two together.  Do not change the order.  Wait one hour before eating the cilantro.
  • Eat a super low carb diet and a high vegetable fat diet (ketogenic diet).
  • Follow the detox ideas above.

What are some Calcium Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Figs
  • Tahini
  • Broccoli
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Leafy Vegetables (includes Kale)
  • Almonds

What are some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (list is not complete):

  • Edamame (soy beans)
  • Spirulina
  • Peanut Butter and other nut butters
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black beans
  • Broccoli

Below: one of Michelle’s breakfast skillet dishes:

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Everyone we met on the ranch had a very gentle spirit and I am left to believe that those who are lucky enough to live in such a pure peaceful environment, take on a very grounded, peaceful, gentle, and content demeanor.

One evening before dinner, the manager of Walking Lightly Ranch, Dave, played music for us with his friend Lee. Dave plays guitar and Lee plays cello.  Put the two together and add vocals, lyrics from renown folk singers or lyrics written by Dave or Lee, and you have a delightful impromptu evening of pure joy!  The next day, Lee came to the yoga studio and played cello for one of our yoga sessions.  Wow!!

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We also had an inspirational Shared Reading one evening after dinner. Some of what was shared follows:

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

 

Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

 

The Yoga Exercise by Floyd Skloot

Within a rushing stream of morning light

she stands still as a heron with one soul

held flush against the other inner thigh

and her long arms like bony wings folded

back so that when the motion of a breeze

passes through her body there is a deep

repose at its root and in an eye’s blink

she has become this gently swaying tree

stirring the wind of its breath while linked to ground by the slow flow of energy

that brings her limbs together now in prayer

and blessing for the peace she is finding there.

I already look forward to going back to Walking Lightly Ranch for another long weekend retreat. Not too early to sign up for February 2019.  Just let me know of your interest by commenting below and I’ll be in touch with you.

Feb 15-18, 2019 (3 nights) Yoga + Snow Shoeing (two guides: one for an easier shorter trail and another for more challenging longer trails offered on both days).

and further down the line…

May 22-25, 2020 (3 nights) Yoga + Hiking (just like this past one)

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I came back from Sicily and hit the ground running with teaching my weekly classes, leading the Vashon Yoga Retreat (a blog post yet to come!) and leading the Montana Yoga Retreat, doing workouts geared to get me in shape for a 5k Run for the Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser I am doing for my friend Lynn Fallows and for a duathlon I am doing with my nephew Chuck in Chicago in August (am I insane…a duathlon in August in Chicago??).  AND Jury Duty, on top of it all, these past two days.  I really wanted to be on the case as it appeared to be very interesting, but just got dismissed today.  A much needed quiet restful weekend at Ocean Shores awaits me this coming weekend.

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Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)

Dentro L’Etna

May 10, 2018

Sicily Yoga and Hiking Retreat is in full-swing and there is no time to blog…will post these photos of our exhilarating trek up Etna.  Climbing Etna was tough, but we did it!  It is one of those bucket-list activities that we dream of doing.  Yes, we did it!  We were accompanied by our trekking guide, Federico, plus a volcano specialist, the vulcanist Amilcare, and we also invited Darwin to come with us.  At one point, the vulcanist Amilcare shouted, “Siamo DENTRO l’Etna! (We are INSIDE Etna!) and my skin was covered in goosebumps by the very fact of it. I looked around me! There we were inside this great mountain, on the cinder slopes, looking down at Etna’s massive crater.

It was incredible!  It was a high that I have never felt before. Stay tuned for next year’s Sicily Retreats September 2019.  (only one of those weeks will be focused on yoga and hiking and we will be sure to trek Etna!)

Below is our group at the start of our trek up the mountain. We look so fresh and excited in anticipation of our adventure.  At this point, Amilcare explained to us that Etna is a woman, a mother, one who deserves our respect.  He told us that we were about to enter her sacred territory and that we should approach the mountain with reverence for Mother Earth, Etna, Gaia.

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Fantastic Federico of Step Siracusa Trekking and our volcano specialist, Amilcare:

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Dramatic cloud formations:

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Sweeping views:

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Mountain-Man Vulcanist Amilcare:

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Clouds clear so we can see Mt Etna’s peak:L1400879

Dentro Etna:

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Mounds of new growth on Etna’s lava fields:

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One of our Hale and Hearty Yogis:L1400885

Looks like a lunar landscape.  We practically floated and flew down these ashen slopes, boots full of ash.L1400897

Rick, my Mountain-Man:

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Us, the little specks on the mountain:

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Yoga and Hiking in Sun-Kissed Sicily

April 23, 2018

Yes, our yoga and hiking retreat in sun-kissed Sicily will be taking place very soon.  I am excited about this yoga retreat coming up and wanted to include some of the trip’s highlights!

Temperatures look to be in the 70s for the week ahead. Many of my readers know that this is not the first time I am offering a retreat in lovely Sicily and that this will not be the last time I will be offering a retreat in Sicily.  I love this island, its history, the sunshine, the warmth of the people, the sea, the landscape, the food, and the Italian language and the dialect.  I love doing yoga at the villa, outdoors, looking out at the sea.

On arrival day, we will be greeted by this lovely family of caretakers of Piero’s villa (photo below). They are originally from Mauritius, have lived in Sicily for many years, and they make sure we are well cared for during our week on this magical Mediterranean island, the pearl of Italy, Sicily.

The Bangaroo family: Darwin (son), Sheemee (daughter), Luckshmee (mother), Narain (father)

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Retreat participants will be impressed by the inviting villa with its breathtaking views of the Ionian sea and Mt. Etna.  This is the view we enjoy as we do yoga. I have taken so many photos of this view.  It is different every morning and evening.

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On arrival day, we’ll unwind with a yoga session of deep stretching and relaxation.  Weather permitting, our sessions are held out on the lawn overlooking the most fabulous yoga setting I have ever experienced in my life.  All week, our yoga session themes will vary.  During shavasana, I will pepper the relaxing imagery with Italian words and the yoga retreat participants will be lulled into a deep transcendental state of being.

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And sometimes, we will go a little crazy with our yoga creativity!

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Yes, we will spend time on the road, en route to various hiking trails.  We are certain to pass field of wildflowers. Spring in Sicily is green!

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On Sunday, May 6 we will travel to Piazza Armerina and the nearby Caltagirone.  In Piazza Armerina, we will visit the famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with our guide and archaeologist, Serena.  I visited this incredible site long ago, when I was 16 years old. I have always wanted to go back. And I am finally going back! 

More on Villa Romana del Casale LINK

Thirty minutes drive is Caltagirone, a town known for its ceramic arts and for the town’s famous 142 ceramic Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte built in 1608.  Those who like, will climb this staircase with me and we will all have time to walk around the town. There are various festivals throughout the year when the ceramic staircase is covered in flowers or in candles. Ceramic Staircase

On Monday, May 7, we will visit the historical nature reserve of Vendicari. In the past we have gone on archaeological tours and birding in Vendicari.  We will certainly see the many birds nesting here as well as the archaeological sites as we hike to Sicily’s most beautiful beach, which also happens to be a part of the protected nature reserve, Calamosche Beach.   I can’t wait to do yoga on this beach!

Flamingos of Vendicari as seen through my scope:

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photo below taken in Vendicari:Untitled Design

Tuesday, May 8, we will go on a long day trip Mt. Etna, where we will hike, if it is safe to do so.  It is about an hour and a half drive from our villa. Mount Etna was known to the Romans by its Latin name Aetna.  The Sicilians call it Mungibeddru, which translates to “beautiful mountain”.  It is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily. The name Etna comes from the Greek Aitne, from aithō, “I burn.”

Some facts about Mount Etna:

  • It is Europe’s tallest volcano and one of the most active in the world.
  • Mount Etna stands at 10,810 feet tall
  • Since 2001, Mount Etna has erupted every year except 2007. The last major eruption was in 1992.
  • The circumference of Mount Etna is 93 miles (over twice the size of Mount Vesuvius).
  • There is snow present on the volcano year round.
  • The soil surrounding the volcano is very fertile. 3/4 of Sicily’s crops are grown near the volcano.
  • The biggest recorded eruption was on March 8, 1669. The lava reached Catania.  At least 20,000 people died.
  • “Another myth surrounding Mount Etna is that the Roman God of fire, Vulcan, used the base of the mountain for metalworking. As God of fire, he was considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron and armour, amongst other items. In this mythology, it is thought that Vulcan married Venus, the goddess of love and beauty after being promised a wife by Jupiter. At the base of Mount Etna, Vulcan built a blacksmiths, where he would beat red-hot metal whenever he found out that Venus had been unfaithful, causing an eruption.”

The photo below was taken by our hiking guide in March.  We will enter the park from Schiena del’Asino, which translates to “Spine of the Donkey” and take this trail for our hike.  Years ago, I went on a day trip to Etna.  At sea level, the day was warm enough for swimming in the sea, but up on the mountain, the wind whipped and chilled our bodies as we held our wind breakers tightly around us.

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After our hike on Mount Etna, we will head over to Taormina where we will have some free time to roam around this ancient Greek city.  We will have time to see the Greek Theater ruins and the romantic piazzas overlooking the sea and the butterfly-shaped beach below.

On Wednesday, May 9, we will visit the Baroque town of Noto and hike in the nearby Cava Carosello.  While on the hike, we will do yoga at this lovely spot photographed below by our trekking company, Siracusa Trekking:

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On Thursday, May 10, we will go on an Archaeological-trekking tour in Pantalica (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with archaeologist, Alessandro. Pantalica.  This is a place where ancient man lived and died in nature, a necropolis with honeycombed tombs dotting the sides of the trail. We will  have yoga at the ruins at sunset.

More information on Pantalica

Photo below Pantalica in March:

Pantalica (1)After yoga, we will head to the medieval town of Palazzolo Acreide where we will have dinner in a restaurant owned by two brothers by the last name of Gallo. They believe they are related to me, but I don’t think so because my father shortened our family name from “Brunogallo” to “Gallo” when he immigrated to America in the late 1950s…but you never know.

More on Palazzolo Acreide

On Friday, May 11, we will hike the nearby Plemmirio Nature Preserve where we will also have a peaceful and rejuvenating yoga session out in nature.  Later on, we will visit the colorful market of Ortigia and have free time to walk around on our own.

Link of Plemmirio Nature Preserve

I love this photo below. I saw this young woman texting on the side of this ancient cathedral in Ortigia.  The ancient and the modern side by side.  The cathedral was built over the Greek Temple of Athena. The temple pillars, dating back to 5th century BC, form the bone-like structure of the cathedral.  The open spaces between the pillars were filled in with stone to form an enclosed house of worship. The girl below is sitting on the original stairs of the Greek temple.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy:

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Follow us on our Sicilian yoga and hiking adventures by checking back in on my blog post.  Namaste, Fran

Storm (Hice Storm)

April 10, 2018

It was a stormy blustery weekend at the coast, tempestuous, complete with sideways ice-cold rain and hailstones. Rick’s impromptu spoonerism created a great new word, a noun, an appropriate description of what was falling from the sky: “hice”, a mixture of hail and ice. And the new word stuck just as the hail stones were sticking to the deck, the cars, and to all exterior surfaces outside our ocean home. The rain continued to come in angles. The rain came in sheets. The angles changed direction and it was all so unpredictable. Looking out the window at the forest surrounding our house, the scene looked slightly unbearable, very exciting, and utterly chaotic as gusts of wind deeply bent the branches of the swaying trees.

If you love storms, there is no better place to be than in Ocean Shores, Washington.

I had my Women’s Spiritual Group out at the coast last weekend.  We did yoga and meditated. We laughed. We stared into each others eyes (yes, really! and it moved me to tears). We drew and read from a deck of Inspiration Cards and talked about our lives and our dreams. Sometimes, we discovered, our lives and our dreams intersect in beautiful ways. We told stories and read tarot cards. We shared books, wonderful meals, conversations.  We munched on popcorn and stayed warm by the wood stove.

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Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! This was one of the message cards that was randomly picked out of the deck of Inspiration Cards.

And we were inspired. We decided to take action.

“Let’s go out!”

Cabin fever is a type of illness and there is only one cure for it. The cure for cabin fever is to go out into the elements. Never mind if the gusts of wind were coming in at 26-36 miles per hour (strongest gust was clocked in at 56mph), never mind that we could hear the roaring surf from inside the house with all windows shut tight.. going out IS the remedy for cabin fever.

Out we went, braving the storm. We bundled up in our rainproof gear and decided to drive out to the jetty. The roads were isolated. Even the deer and the birds were in hiding.

We were surprised to see a line up of cars, engines idling, dotting the parking area near the jetty. People in the cars sat staring at the enormous waves crashing over the jetty. The jetty parking lot had become an impromptu outdoor drive-in theater, the waves the movie, the popcorn missing!

Parkas, anoraks, rainproof jackets zipped up, hats on, hoods pulled up, ears covered, rubber boots on, gloves and mittens on hands, we fought the winds and walked toward the jetty and onto the beach. Was it really April 7th? As we staggered forward, I wondered what the Pacific Ocean has in common with the word “pacific”. We walked, keeping a safe distance from the sneaker-waves and the blasting waves hitting the jetty. We watched the waves as the people in the cars watched us. I felt as if we had walked into their movie. We walked against the wind, holding on to each other. I felt a rare gratitude for every pound of my weight!

On the way back to the car, we were hit by a force of tiny icy crystal-like hail.  Bling Bling Bling on our faces. A Pelting Facial?  So, there was a silver lining! We laughed at the thought of it.

Tiny crystal-like hail stones pelted our faces. It was an exfoliation, pore-tightening, toning, firming, softening, wrinkle reducing, collagen-building, blood circulating, oxygen increasing,  deep cleansing, detoxifying, muscle-relaxing, lymphatic drainage-inducing, puffiness-around-the-eyes-reducing, complexion clearing, a slowing down of the onset of wrinkles, a cure for a sagging face, a skin cell renewal speed-up process, de-stressing, hydrating, moisturizing, absorption-increasing, nourishing, skin-breathing, rejuvenating Pelting Facial!

We came back to the house, placed our rain soaked clothing in the dryer, put on dry clothing, sat by the blazing wood stove, sipped tea, and marveled at each other’s rosy cheeks and bright youthful faces.  We had fun thinking of all the benefits of the Pelting Facial.  There was a steep price to pay for it, but it was quite worth the adventure.

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P.S. I had fun writing this blog entry.  I hope you had fun reading it.  Pelting Facial: highly recommended, at your risk, of course.

P.S.S. No one would dare take out a cell phone or camera in the storm, so no photos were taken of the storm proper and so no photos of it in this blog post. Descriptions will have to do!

So Hum

February 24, 2018

The mantra So Hum inspires me to look around, to see my reflection in all that is. It means “I am that”.  “That” refers to all of creation.

We had a rare snowfall in Seattle yesterday. I woke up to a few inches of snow.  Green Lake looked so pretty from my window. SO HUM.

I hastily put on warm clothing (it’s frigid out there), and walked around the lake. As I walked, I was overtaken by a profound sense of awe. SO HUM.

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I sometimes share the So Hum mantra with my yoga classes.  I tend to guide the classes in a So Hum meditation when we are in a new environment (like in India or in Sicily on a retreat).  It is when we are on a yoga retreat or when we travel that we tend to really open our eyes and see the world as if for the first time.

Recently, I came across the following handwritten journal entry I wrote while in India last month.  It is a meditation on the mantra So Hum in which I use imagery from Ranthambore National Park, home to 62 elusive Royal Bengal Tigers.

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I am the jungle cat dashing across the road.

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I am the sloth bear, with its anteater-like snout, making its way up the mountain side.

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I am the barking alarm calls of the spotted deer and the sambar.

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I am the grazing blue-bull antelope.

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I am the slumbering crocodiles.

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I am the colorful kingfisher sitting on the branch of a gum tree.

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I am the Royal Bengal Tiger sleeping in the tall grass, choosing not to be seen.

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I am the monkeys jumping from branch to branch, holding their human-like babies tightly, wrestling with one another.

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I am the elusive leopard, making its rare appearance as it climbs to the top of the cliff.

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I am a dusky eagle-owl, a brown fish owl, a collared scops owl, a spotted owlet living in a gorgeous forest preserve.

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I am the kindness and enthusiasm of the naturalist guide.

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I am the rough road leading us deep into Ranthambore National Park.

So Hum

I am dust. I am sunshine.

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I am the tiger I did not see.

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I am the pink sunset, warming my heart.

So Hum

I am India.

So Hum

I am.

So Hum

India: Two Slideshows for You!

February 14, 2018

IMG_2984India is right here in my heart.

I arrived in India thinking this would be my last time teaching yoga with Spiritual India Journeys, and I left India with a plan to go back to teach yoga again with Spiritual India Journeys in January of 2020!  What can I say?  I am hooked on India!

I already miss the warmth, the sunshine, the refreshing coolness of the evening air, the generous smiles, the chaos and the jumble of street shops, and the perfect palaces and forts. I miss the temples and seeing people in prayer.  I miss our guides who educate us and keep us safe while proudly showing us their gem of a country.  I miss the forests of the south and the serenity of the hotel rooms with their fresh crisp white bed linens.  I miss my morning bowl of Indian yogurt (curd) and tropical fruit that smells and tastes as delicious as it looks. I miss my roommate Kelley bringing me a morning cup of coffee while I am still in bed.  I miss savoring the piping hot cup of coffee in that air conditioned hotel room, getting deeper under the sheets, knowing that I still had 45 minutes before the morning yoga session.

I miss teaching yoga in India, where you never know what to expect.  Will there be peacocks this time, or a surprise sculptured lion with gaping mouth looking at you?  Will there be a flock of parrots flying overhead or will it be the jungle babblers mocking us?  Or perhaps, while doing our Sun Salutations, will we encounter curious crows cawing at us? Maybe we will have to place our mats over pigeon feathers on a plush strip of grass.  Or will I have to place my mat on a sequined and glitter-covered floor, our studio home to Bollywood dancers by night?  Will the sunset be pink this morning or will it be golden?  Will we hear Hindu chanting or will it be the Muslim call to prayer as we begin our yoga this early morning?

I miss it all. But most of all, I miss the tour participants, the yogis who became my family for four solid weeks, two groups with whom I shared meals, thoughts, laughter, concerns, and deep one-of-a-kind experiences.

Together we touched the pulse of India. Together we touched life and seem to have journeyed to its very center.

Below you will see TWO slideshows from the January 2018 tours with daily yoga in India.  The first one is 5 minutes long and the second one is 6 minutes long. Turn up your volume!

(1) Enjoy the slideshow of South India 2018.

(2) Enjoy the slideshow of North India and Rajasthan 2018.

 

 

Nature as Divine Temple

January 31, 2018

The following is a list of excuses for my failure to blog in recent days:

  • WiFi has been very slow
  • I’ve been busy offering yoga daily (except for yesterday because we were at the tiger reserve longer than anticipated) plus we’ve been on the go, busy taking in all the incredible sights of Rajasthan.
  • WiFi has been very slow
  • The trip is winding down and I am needing more sleep to keep my energy levels up so I can keep going strong until departure on February 3.
  • WiFi has been very slow

I’m posting some photos of our time in Ranthambore National Park.  I know it will take a lot of time to download photos so I will do what is possible tonight.

What I really want to say about our safari outing is that, for the second time ever and for the second time in a row, my group did not see a tiger.  We went out on safari twice, but did not see a tiger.  The hotel was filled with other tourists coming from all over the world as well as Indians touring their own country.  Every person I spoke to saw Royal Bengal Tigers that day or the previous day  Our group was the exception.

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Our first outing was at the crack of dawn. It was very cold and the vehicles are open air.  As the vehicle bumped and bounced along the terribly-gutted pot-holed roads leading to the tiger terrain, I wrapped the provided wool blanket tightly around my body.  Once the sun started coming up over the trees, the air started to warm up and the sun beamed down on us. The light became golden and spilled out over the forest and I felt myself in a holy place. It dawned on me that the forest, with all its birdsong and beauty, is a temple. As the jeep jostled my bones and attempted to rearrange my organs, I looked out at the forest around me and marveled. Nature, I believe, is a divine temple.

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From our jeep, we admired birds, including four kinds of owls, and spotted deer, the blue bull antelope, monkeys galore, and sambar (another type of large deer). Our naturalist guide identified the names of the animals we were seeing.  The morning light was lovely and we saw fresh tiger tracks. …tracks but no tiger.

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Sambar:

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One of four owlets peaking out from the tree.  Not sure you can see one in the crook of the tree:

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When we got back to our hotel after our first safari outing, we met another group from North America staying at the hotel. All 18 members of the group were abuzz with frenetic excitement.  I didn’t even have to ask.  I knew they had seen a tiger on their morning safari.  One of the men, a very cheerful fellow from Toronto, said, with certainty, that we would definitely see a tiger on our second outing.  His optimism was rock solid.

The second outing was in the evening of the same day. This outing was much longer because our guide really wanted us to see a Royal Bengal Tiger.  We drove around and around the bumpy trails, my angry back refusing to keep quiet.  We stoically endured the rough trail knowing that nothing comes easy, especially when it comes to seeing a tiger in the wild

Well, as you already know, we did not see a tiger.  However, we learned all about tigers.  We learned that a female tiger currently ruled this territory we were in and that she had three cubs, two females and a male.  Her cubs were almost two years old.  The mother tiger’s tracks were visible from the jeep, so we knew she was around. Our guide also pointed out leopard tracks near the tiger tracks.

Fresh tracks.

We watched the playful monkeys and the relaxed spotted deer and, when I saw the animals so relaxed, I knew there was no tiger in sight.  There were no forest alarm calls telling us the great predator was in our vicinity.

Relaxed Sambar:

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We saw crocodiles. We saw peacocks. We saw parrots and parakeets. We saw countless birds of all colors. And suddenly a jungle cat crossed our path!  Our guide yelled out excitedly, “LOOK, Jungle Cat is crossing road!”  The jungle cat looked a lot like a large domestic house cat.  Our sighting of the cat was so brief that it was impossible to get a photo.  But, wow, was that exciting!

After much looking through grasses and trees for a tiger, it was starting to get dark and cold again, so we started heading out of the park.  As we approached the cliff rock wall area nearing the entrance/exit of the park, our guide heard the ALARM CALL!  The alarm call is when the spotted deer stand still and bark with their tails straight up.  The sambar also made piercing sounds and the fawns were ready to dart. The monkeys scattered in a panic. Then our guide saw the leopard! Wow. Was that exciting or what?  In no time at all, other jeeps filled with tourists hefting enormous binoculars and cameras with ridiculously large lenses arrived and clustered around us.

The leopard was climbing the rock wall up toward the overhang or top of the rock cliff.  He was very large and yes, spotted.  I could make out its muscularity.  He (or she) was moving swiftly, seemingly defeating gravity, making the climb up to the cliff overhang look effortless.  The leopard was by no means close to us, but we could see it.  The whole experience was breathtaking, completely exhilarating, even if the leopard was so far that my camera would never catch it in a photo.  I just took in its body and memorized what I was seeing.

I still can’t believe I saw an ultra-elusive leopard. What a lucky sighting.

But, wait!  There’s more.  Just as our guide said, “Chalo!” (Let’s go! in Hindi), we drove off a few meters and there was, along the same rock wall, a very large sloth bear.  He was even easier to spot than the leopard, who easily blended in with his/her environment.  By contrast, the bear’s shaggy black fur and bulky body stood out from the rock wall.  I couldn’t make out its snout (which looks like an anteater’s snout), but I could clearly see his body.  There was a jeep full of Indian tourists next to us and all I could hear over and over again was the excited, BALOO, BALOO, BALOO!!! (this is the Hindi name for the Sloth Bear.)

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Enough excitement for one day.  We left the park feeling satisfied with the jungle cat, leopard, and sloth bear sightings.  But frankly, I still felt more than one twinge of jealously as the other North American tourists voluntarily showed me their video footage of the Royal Bengal Tiger who walked alongside their jeep.  Bas.  Enough.  Silly feelings, I know… but I’m only human.  A leopard is no small thing, right? I repeated this to myself again and again as I went to bed exhausted on safari night.

“Ranthambore Fort lies within the Ranthambore National Park, near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park was the former hunting grounds of the Maharajahs of Jaipur until the time of India’s Independence”

End of a glorious day:

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“Ranthambore National Park is a vast wildlife reserve near the town of Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, northern India. It is a former royal hunting ground and home to tigers, leopards and marsh crocodiles. Its landmarks include the imposing 10th-century Ranthambore Fort, on a hilltop, and the Ganesh Mandir temple. Also in the park, Padam Talao Lake is known for its abundance of water lilies.”

Remnants of the 10 century fort within the park.  An antlered sambar sits partially hidden in the left lower corner of the photo:

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Spicin’ It in Kerala

January 16, 2018

Written yesterday:

Yesterday we went to the Spice Plantation. Our guide was so informative. We walked around and he showed us the various spice plants. He taught us remedies and recipes to make the most of the spice’s healing properties. He also identified birds, which were flying overhead, hanging out in the trees, and singing boisterously. At one point, an elephant strolled by. The elephant was a working elephant and was giving tourists a ride. Our guide explained that Kerala elephants have working rights. Only female elephants (male elephants go into musk and can be dangerous and aggressive) can be employed for tourism and their work hours are limited. In the past, the elephants were used for logging. Today no hard labor is allowed at all.

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Below is what our knowledgeable guide taught us during the spice plantation tour:

PEPPER grows on a vine and is native to Kerala. The vine can grow up any tree. The tiny clusters of pepper corns are green. I learned that red, black, white, and green pepper corns are all from the same vine. If you leave them on the vine long enough, they turn red and various shades. White pepper has the skin removed and tastes very mild. Most of the spiciness of the pepper corn is in the skin.

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One of the most interesting aspects of the pepper plant is that the pollinating agent is rain drops! Vasco da Gama brought the pepper plant back to Portugal with him and became a rich man! In his day, pepper was knows as Black Gold!

Cold and Sore Throat Remedy: Place 5-6 pepper corns, dry ginger, and basil leaves in a pot of water. Boil. Strain and add powdered coffee.

GINGER is related to cardamom and turmeric. All three are indigenous to Kerala. The Spice Plantation can easily be organic because, in general, insects do not eat spice plants. The only problem the plantation experiences is with the monkeys. Monkeys like to eat cardamom because it is sweet. They do not eat ginger or turmeric.

NUTMEG grows up high on trees. However, there is no need to climb trees to get the nuts because when they are mature, the nuts fall to the ground. The skin of the nut is red, is called mace, and is used in cooking in India. Nutmeg is the actual nut free of the red skin (mace). Many parts of the nut and tree are used. The shell of the nutmeg is pickled and the leaf is boiled in water and is used to reduce cholesterol.

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In order to grow nutmeg, both male and female plants are needed. Males can live within 3 miles of the female tree and pollination still occurs! The pollinating agent is wind.

Sleeping Remedy: 1 or 2 pinches nutmeg powder with milk. You are advised not to drink this more than 2x per week because too much nutmeg hurts memory power.

Reduce Cholesterol: Boil the leaf of nutmeg in water and drink as a tea. The leaf does not affect memory so you can drink as much of this tea as you like.

CLOVES grow on a tree. Our guide warned us that when you buy cloves, they should be brown and not black. Black indicates that they are dried out and have lost their oils. Clove should be oily. Clove is good for toothaches, but can damage enamel. Clove helps rid the smell of mildew. It has a shelf life of 6-7 years if stored properly. Clove powder only has a shelf life of 6 months.

Protect yourself from mosquitoes: Stick three cloves into a lemon or lime sliced in two and place as many of these clove studded lemons in your room or near your body to chase away mosquitoes.

CINNAMON tree has to be 15 years old before its bark can be peeled. After peeling the bark, it takes the cinnamon tree six months for its bark to grow back. The dried leaves of the cinnamon tree are used in biryani rice.

And yes, the tree smells like cinnamon!

cinnamon tree and bark:

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Cinnamon helps reduce high blood pressure and, when used in the winter, it helps keep you warm.

Below is a recipe/ way to use cinnamon to reduce fat. More than once, we asked our guide to repeat the recipe below…just to make sure we got it right.

Reduce Fat: Add half teaspoon cinnamon and half teaspoon ginger powder to one tablespoon of honey. That’s it. Don’t dilute it. Eat this every morning before breakfast for one month and, according to our spice specialist guide, you will see results in one month.

TURMERIC We also saw turmeric bulbs. The guide called them bulbs, but they looked like tubers to me. It is great for killing bacteria, for memory power, and in Ayurveda medicine, it is used medicinally to treat skin cancer.

Turmeric powder mixed with sandalwood and water, made into a paste and applied to the face is great for skin brightening and evening out irregular skin pigmentation and spots. This mixture also helps clear pimples and blackheads. In both cases, apply it as a facial masque, let it dry, the wash it off.

Fresh turmeric is used medicinally and dried is used as a food and spice. We learned that ginger is the complete opposite Fresh ginger is used for food and spice while dried ginger is used medicinally.

Seeing our great interest in weight loss remedies, our guide gave us the following additional ideas:

  • one or two pieces of 70% dark chocolate eaten daily every morning will help you lose weight ( of course we saw the cacao plant on the plantation).
  • Take a cup of warm water and add black pepper powder plus a few drops of lime or lemon juice. This is great for burning fat.
  • Take 2 or 3 tablespoons of cumin seeds and soak overnight. In the morning, discard the water and eat the soaked seeds. Do this daily for 20 days and you will see results.

We also saw allspice ( it comes from a leaf of the allspice tree), henna leaves used for hand design patterns here in India and hair color. Henna is always red in color though the leaves are green. We saw Indian borage, coffee plants, papaya (great for digestion) and banana trees, pineapple plants and jackfruit trees with their enormous fruit.

The list goes on and on. The variety of spice and fruit grown on the plantation was overwhelming.

The most expensive spice in the world is SAFFRON.

Number Two is VANILLA, the fragrant flower of a vine. Vanilla is native to Madagascar and grows beautifully in Kerala. Its pollinator is the hummingbird.

The world’s third most expensive spice is Kerala’s indigenous CARDAMOM. It needs high altitude and is pollinated by bees. Cardamom is used medicinally for diabetes and it reduces high blood pressure and lowers cholesterol.

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FRAN GALLO | YOGA INSTRUCTOR
SEATTLE | OCEAN SHORES
http://www.frangallo.com


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