Archive for the ‘Yoga Retreats abroad’ Category

Little Pink Houses/Heaven in Your Hands

April 28, 2017

If you are a Hoosier, you might think that little pink houses only exist in Indiana..or at least Indiana’s very own John Mellencamp would have you believe, through his music, that little pink houses are sprinkled throughout Indiana towns and countrysides.  Yesterday, we made the discovery of the very sweet town of Brucoli and its pink houses.  (Spell check wants me to write Broccoli, so I have to be very cautious when writing out the town name.)  Well, Brucoli has pink houses and much more!

We went to the Brucoli port to enjoy a two-hour boat ride on Piero’s Starfisher 840.  The weather was pleasant, not hot, not too windy…and plenty of sunshine. The harbor, where Piero moors his boat, used to be used by the ancient Greeks.  It is a natural harbor that has been used continuously for thousands of years.  From there, we cruised along the Ionian sea and relaxed.  We saw Turtle Rock and a 6,000 year old prehistoric village.  One cave was a prehistoric three-story high-rise, complete with carved stone steps to reach the upper floors of this natural cave.

After the boat ride, we walked around the town of Brucoli for a bit.  This precious seaside town seems to have a theme.  Part of the charm of the town is that not too much has been done to the houses to make them look perfect.  Instead, they retain their old world charm and all throughout the town, there are murals, poems on the walls, and potted flowers.  When I close my eyes and think of Brucoli, I see the potted geraniums on the iron balconies. I smell the sea air and see the blue fishing boats and fishing nets hanging out to dry.  The people are friendly.  They carry the sun in their hearts.  One woman told me about a restaurant that does not have a name!  The locals call it Il Chiosco (The Kiosk) and it serves only three dishes!  One of the dishes is a seafood pasta dish.  Next time, I will make sure a meal there is a part of this trip with the yoga group. I could have spent all day there.

After the boat ride, we went back to the villa and had a bowl of lentil soup and a big seasonal green salad.

Then off to Vendicari Nature Preserve.  Some members of our group went birding with birding experts Federico and Fabiano and the other half went on an archaeological walk with Alessandro.  Not enough time to go into great detail to say how incredible the nature preserve is and it is hard to say what the highlight of the day was.  I guess if I had to choose yesterday’s highlight, the outdoor yoga session at the tuna processing ruins was over the top fantastic.

We had our Sicilian guides join us for yoga.  They were adorable!  Alessandro had tight jeans on and was frustrated because he could barely stretch and bend in them!  Both Alessandro and Federico had never done yoga before and they did really well.  They both felt peaceful and calm afterwards.  Fabiano had tried yoga twice before and he hurt his back both times so he was afraid to try.  However, he did the session with us, loved it, and asked if there is any way I can set up a studio in Siracusa since that is where he lives.  He wondered why it was that his back did fine this time and I told him he must always warm up properly and do counter-poses after the asana (posture).  All three men, new or fairly new to yoga, spoke to me after the session and said they felt the energy of the earth coursing through their bodies and spirits.  I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear them speak of their experience.

Practicing yoga in Sicily is to experience the fullness of life. 

Practicing yoga in Sicily is to breathe and listen to birdsong.

Yoga outside at Villa Saracena is to stretch and strengthen under beautiful skies and to breathe in fresh fragrant air. 

Doing yoga in Sicily is like holding heaven in your hands.

Photos from yesterday:

Brucoli Pink House

Brucoli Pink House

Brucoli

Brucoli

My artistic brother-in-law photographing the blue walled house

My artistic brother-in-law photographing the blue walled house

Brucoli Port, an ancient Greek Port where Piero moors his boat

Brucoli Port, an ancient Greek Port where Piero moors his boat

On the boat

On the boat

Kim and JD on the boat ride

Kim and JD on the boat ride

John and Nora on the boat

John and Nora on the boat

Ginger and Woody at Vendicari Nature Preserve

Ginger and Woody at Vendicari Nature Preserve

Federico the birder.  The nature preserve has flamingos among many other birds

Federico the birder. The nature preserve has flamingos among many other birds

I went on the archaeological walk with Alessandro.  (Next week I will go birding)  VERY interesting history of the tuna fishing industry of days past, dating from Phoenician times, Greek times, Arab times, to modern times...

I went on the archaeological walk with Alessandro. (Next week I will go birding) VERY interesting history of the tuna fishing industry of days past, dating from Phoenician times, Greek times, Arab times, to modern times…

Vendicari Preserve is very beautiful with fields of poppies, fields of grass, the occasional house like this one, a fort, tuna fishing ruins, the sea, boardwalk, archaeological ruins, birds, and the sea.  We learned about the ancient salt mining practices here and the former thriving production of GARUM, a Roman sought after delicacy in the ancient world.  Garum was a smelly disgusting fermented paste made of fish guts.  It was processed at these fishery points.

Vendicari Preserve is very beautiful with fields of poppies, fields of grass, the occasional house like this one, a fort, tuna fishing ruins, the sea, boardwalk, archaeological ruins, birds, and the sea. We learned about the ancient salt mining practices here and the former thriving production of GARUM, a Roman sought after delicacy in the ancient world. Garum was a smelly disgusting fermented paste made of fish guts. It was processed at these fishery points.

Our yoga spot.  Hopefully I will get some photos others took of us doing yoga here.

Our yoga spot. Hopefully I will get some photos others took of us doing yoga here.

Our fabulous group:

These yogis are practicing yoga twice a day!  What an experience this is!  Wonderful!

These yogis are practicing yoga twice a day! What an experience this is! Wonderful!

 

Sicily for Adriana

April 27, 2017

I thought to post some of my best photos from the past two days.   This post is dedicated to my friend and co-worker from Seattle Athletic Club, Adriana Allison Brown, 34 years old, married to Aaron Brown and mother of two beautiful little girls.  She passed away two days ago on April 25, was hit by a vehicle as she was walking the crosswalk at Lenora and Western (Seattle) on her way to work at the Seattle Athletic Club as a personal fitness trainer.  I thought of Adriana all day these past two days.  She told me recently that she would like to come to Sicily one day.

I am heartbroken.

Adriana was as bright as the Sicilian Sun.

Adriana was as beautiful as the red poppies below.

Adriana “era buona comu lu pani“, a Sicilian expression which literally translates to Adriana “was as good as bread”  (see explanation below).

 

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say, "Era buonu comu lu pani" = He was as good as bread!

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all.  Bread is the staff of life. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say of that person, “E buonu (buona) comu lu pani” = He/She is as good as bread!

Old tile detail

Old tile detail

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Simple delicious ingredients for sauce alla Norma.

Simple delicious ingredients for Pasta alla Norma.

Sicilian Cat. Her name was Meow!

Sicilian Cat. His name was Meow!

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Cheese at the Siracusa Market

Cheese at the Ortigia Market

One of the pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

And ancient pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

La Campagnia (The Sicilian Countryside)

April 25, 2017

We wake up to birdsong and sunshine.  We wake up to our beautiful villa.  We make jokes about staying here forever.  We breathe and take in the smell of orange blossoms, laurel in bloom, fragrant flowers that smell of jasmine.  We wake up to the great big Ionian Sea.  I do the sea a great injustice if I attempt to describe the water as a deep blue.  It is that and more.  The sky is the same.  Both sky and sea take on different colors at different times of the day.  We cannot take enough photos…of the sea, of the smoking mountain, of the great blue sky, of the food, of the sunrises and sunsets, of each other.  It seems nearly impossible to capture it all and it seems not to be enough to simply stand still and take it all in.  But, we do that too: we stand still, breathe in the Sicilian air, draw in the Sicilian sunlight, and open our hearts to this experience.

our villa

our villa

Yesterday we had two beautiful outdoor yoga sessions.  We worked on elongation of the spine and on creating space.  And then we discovered, in our yoga sessions, how lovely the lettini (pool chairs) are.   You will see below how comfortable it is to do our ending meditation with legs up the chair, a form of viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) along the poolside.  Everyone in the yoga group is relaxed, happy, peaceful.

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style  (Woody and John!)

Hello Nora!

Hello Nora!

We drove to the countryside, passing the most beautiful green terraced fields, orange and lemon orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Fields and fields of wildflowers grow brightly in the springtime in Sicily.  We passed cows, sheep, stone houses, and bright red poppies and purple thistles growing amid dainty yellow carpets of flowers I cannot name.

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

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Thistles

Thistles

And then a visit to an organic ricotta farm.  Yes, the real deal.  We were greeted by Maria, the ricotta and cheese maker, her sister Giovanna, and Maria’s husband, Nino.  Their walls were filled with photos of their four daughters and their families, of their daughter’s wedding photos.  We watched Maria make the ricotta.  It was amazing!  They cooked so much homemade food for us. We felt like stuffed birds at the end of the visit. They served us their homemade wine, their country bread (and they also had gluten-free and dairy-free to suit some dietary needs in our group), their homemade pasta and sauce, their various cheese made from their ten cows, their prosciutto (yes, we saw the little piglets oinking around), and so much more.

Maria makes the "tuma" for the various cheese.

Maria makes the “tuma” for the various cheese.

The cow's milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

The cow’s milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a "Stir the Ricotta Asana"

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a “Stir the Ricotta Asana”

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

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Nino

Nino

A Tavola!  The feast.

A Tavola! The feast.

When it came time to leave, Maria and Giovanna packed up bags and bags of food for us to take home.  There were 14 of us at the table, but our farmer hosts had cooked enough for the army of the Roman Empire.  They kept bringing out food.  I made the mistake of not telling my group that the first dish set out on the table was just the appetizer, that there was more to come.  Oops!  Rick delighted in having our group experience Sicilian hospitality, country-style, just as my relatives have done for him time and time again.  We now have enough ricotta to last us a month, though it is meant to be eaten right away.  We will share with our caretakers and driver.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

At the end of our visit, Maria tenderly gave me a special mystery gift, all wrapped up in butcher paper.  “Here, Francesca.  This is just for you.  A little something made with love from our farm.  Take this home with you to America.”  Later, at the villa, I unwrapped the mystery gift and saw about a large hunk of prosciutto.  The real thing, crudo prosciutto, made from their own pigs, pigs lovingly raised from piglet-hood, fed on figs.  An extremely valuable chunk of meat, cured so perfectly that it can last 1-2 years.  I know the value because I know.  Of course, I will share with the group.  Even though I don’t eat prosciutto, I can still appreciate what it is.  Our unique ricotta experience was truly remarkable.

Our bus/van

Our bus/van

Sicilian Green Bean Salad

Sicilian Green Bean Salad with Capers (served last night at the villa)

Sicily: Notes to Self

April 23, 2017

Does anyone else wake up at 3am to write a blog in his or her head…and then promptly go back to sleep, later wake up at a decent time and write it down?

Sicily: Notes To Self

  • All of my hard work is worth every second of effort put forth.
  • I must believe in myself ALL OF THE TIME.
  • Some mysteries in my life will never be solved.
  • Yoga has kept me sane. Often, it is the only part of my life that makes sense.
  • The vivid dream I had of my father on my second night in Sicily is more than just a dream.
  • The smell of Sicilian orange blossoms is the most beautiful smell in the world.
  • The Beatles had it right when they said, “Love is the Answer”.
  • I must take some photos of the Sicilian wildflowers in bloom.  The poppies are particularly beautiful.
  • Sicily is a gorgeous sun-kissed, energy-loaded island that merits many more visits during my lifetime.

And some photos with captions taken yesterday and today:

Catania Shop Window

Catania Religious Shop Window

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

 Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Serena enjoys her spaghetti

Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl (slightly blurred, but I couldn’t resist posting!)

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

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Yoga this evening at the villa

Yoga this evening at the villa

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Cooking, Sicilian Style!

April 15, 2017

Next week I will be leaving for Sicily, where I will be hosting two back-to-back yoga retreats.  I have been so incredibly busy, with teaching classes and workshops and planning Sicily 2017!  You haven’t seen many blog posts from me, but I hope to post more often these next few weeks!  I am very excited to share this sun-kissed island with this year’s yoga retreat participants.

Last time there in Autumn of 2014, we did a cooking course with the chef Maestro Peppe Barone.  It was a great experience.  He and his staff welcomed us.  We cooked and later ate the fabulous meal we cooked under Chef Peppe’s guidance.  Afterwards, we walked the lovely Baroque town of Modica.  Below are the photos from 2014.  We will be going to the same cooking school with my yoga groups this year.  I sure hope you are not hungry as you see the photos below!  The food that stands out in my mind -and taste buds- are the cannoli!

I am so excited for my yogis!  They are in for a treat.  Of course the food below belonged to the Autumn menu.  The spring menu will be completely different and equally delightful!

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica.  Beyond the doors on the right is a lovely terrace surrounded by lemon trees.

Michelin Star Restaurant

A Michelin Star Restaurant, Fattoria delle Torri has the honor of having received many awards!

Action!  One of the chef's assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Action! One of the chef’s assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Ricotta Ravioli

Ricotta Ravioli made with the pasta in the previous photo.

And the finished product!

And the finished product!  Perfection.

Making Caponata

Making Caponata.  Every village makes caponata slightly differently! Since we were in Modica, Chef Barone added pure dark chocolate powder to the caponata. When I told my uncle in Grotte about this, he crossed himself twice, saying over and over again incredulously, “Chocolate in the Caponata?” 

An interesting note about Modica.  Modica is known for its chocolate!  When Columbus went to the Americas, Sicily was under Spanish dominion.  Some of the men who traveled to the New World with Columbus were Sicilians from Modica.  They brought back chocolate beans and the ancient Aztecan recipe for making chocolate.  To this day, chocolate is made in Modica using the ancient Aztecan recipe.  View this interesting article on the history of chocolate and Modica.

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

Making arancini (rice balls)

Making arancini (rice balls):  Saffron makes them yellow.

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like oranges (Arancini refers to "oranges")

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like the color of oranges (Arancini refers to “oranges”).  In the center, you may discover melted cheese or a bit of ragu.

Action in the kitchen...making pasta

Action in the kitchen…making pasta

One of the pasta dishes....

This is what the pasta looks like after it is cut into tiny pieces…

One of the meat dishes...

One of the meat dishes…

And what would life be without cannoli?  This was studded with pistachio.

And what would life be without cannoli?  Ok, now I know your mouth is watering! This was filled with ricotta and studded with pistachio nuts.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Afterwards, we walked the town of Modica to explore and digest! Otherwise, how on earth would we be able to do our afternoon session of yoga?

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In Modica, we saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

In Modica, Karin and I saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

Modica!  It's a jewel of a town.

Modica! It’s a jewel of a town.

Autumn Haiku Encore

December 9, 2016

As Seattle stands tall, bundled up against freezing temperatures and braced for the current snowfall,  I write this year’s final Autumn Haiku Encore.

As before, you will see a haiku poem followed by a photo/photos inspired by the haiku.  The haiku and photos appear in the order I received them.  The first one below is the Basho haiku Kevin received:

The smell of sake,

and the waves,

and the wine-cup

-Basho

Kevin put his photos into a collage

Kevin made this collage using his photos

Who was this sake-loving, nature-observing, student-of-humanity poet Basho?  Basho lived from 1644-1694.  He was born near Kyoto to a samurai family.  He abandoned the samurai warrior status he was born into in order to become a poet.  Over time, he was regarded as one of the greatest poets of Japan. As a poet he is credited with elevating haiku to a highly refined art form.

Once he became a poet, Basho left Kyoto for Edo (Tokyo) and became a haiku master (Sosho).  His name was not always Basho.  He was born as Matsuo Munefusa.  Over the years, he wandered all over Japan in search of imagery and composed poetry based on what he observed.  He also practiced meditation.  He was unconcerned with money matters, but was able to establish a small cottage in Fukagawa, Edo (Tokyo) due to a generous monetary gift from an admirer of his art.  At his cottage, Basho was gifted a banana tree, which he planted in his garden.  The banana tree, called basho-an in Japanese, became his favorite tree and he decided to name himself after it.

JD received the following haiku written by Issa, a poet and Buddhist monk, and was able to find a great old pine tree to go with it:

It has aged indeed

The pine tree that I planted

Now autumn’s ending

-Issa

300 year old pine tree

300 year old pine tree  “Of course this is a picture of the 300 year old pine from the Hama-Rikyu Onshi-Teien waterfront garden in Tokyo.  Alas, Tokyo had no real signs of Autumn, much less Autumn ending…

Here’s another angle, and a sign that tells about it being planted 300 years ago. Perhaps the Shogun who had it planted stood here many years later, at the end of Autumn, and reflected on this haiku...

“Here’s another angle, and a sign that tells about it being planted 300 years ago. Perhaps the Shogun who had it planted stood here many years later, at the end of Autumn, and reflected on this haiku…”

The sign in the above photo says, “The pine is named “300-year Pine” because it was planted in 1709, about 300 years ago, when the sixth shogun, Ienobu greatly repaired the garden.  Its majestic form, praising the great work, is reminiscent of the old days.  It is one of the largest black pines in Tokyo.”

And I watched Kim as she searched for her frog!  Luckily, Kim found two photos to go with her haiku:

The Old Pond-
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

-Basho

,,,

“The pond at Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion”

and below, the frog friend who lives in the garden at the Kimono Dressing house

“The frog friend who lives in the garden at the Kimono Dressing house”

A note from Kim: “What I really wanted to submit was super difficult to photograph. It’s more of a mind picture and it is metaphorical. We all experienced it, many more than once. It is the image of the gaijin (foreigner) wearing the bathroom slippers OUTSIDE of the bathroom. That never failed to make a splash and produce the “sound of water”!

Wendy found a unique way to represent the following haiku by Basho via her photo below.

It is deep autumn

My neighbor

How does he live, I wonder

-Basho

deer

Wendy wrote the following: “From my photo attempts to represent one of Basho’s last written haikus (translated as ‘Deep Autumn” or “Deepening Autumn”), I chose this (above) photo from Miyajima Island.

I don’t think Basho was thinking about deer when he wrote this haiku, but I imagine that he hoped that readers would look broadly outward while finding personal connections in his words.”

Below: Wendy’s photo of the autumn foliage.  This photo is not enhanced in any way.  The colors are just as we saw them!img_1609

Yoga: I Love Light

November 21, 2016

Whether he is in Japan or back at home, every morning Don wakes up at 4am and does his yoga practice.  At the end of his yoga practice and meditation, he recites the following mantra:

I am a child of light

I love light.

I serve light.

Light is in me

protecting,

illuminating,

supporting,

sustaining.

I am light.

Don was recently on the Japan tour.  One morning I asked him to share the above mantra with us as we did yoga.  Of the 13 full days touring Japan, we, as a group, had 10 sessions of yoga.  As usual, I am unable to take photos when I am teaching.  But luckily,  Jeff (and Karin) got a few good shots!  I only took some of these photos.

The first set of photos were taken on our cycling trip in Kyoto.  That day we had standing yoga in Kameyama Park.  Since we had been cycling all morning, I told everyone not to worry about bringing their yoga mats along.  And since the ground was a fine white pea gravel, we also wore our shoes.  We called the class Standing Yoga.  It felt so good to take in the clean fresh air of Kyoto!

Debby and Marc forming a bridge of friendship.

Debby and Marc forming a Bridge of Friendship.

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France that means Fly With the Wind)

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France which means “Fly With the Wind”)

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody (pant legs tucked in from the bike ride).

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Last shot for the Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we look we belong to a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

Last shot for  Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we belong in a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

See what I mean?

See what I’m saying??

Then we have lots of yoga photos from the first Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn with Hot Springs/Onsen) we stayed at on the island of Shikoku.  The room we had was unbelievable!  It was like a ballroom/atrium combo with glass windows overlooking the city of Takamatsu.  We did yoga in the evening, just before dinner and the city lights made for a dramatic and lovely backdrop to our yoga class.  One more thing: I had access to chairs so we did yoga using chairs.  Amazing what you can do using chairs for yoga!

Camel Pose

Camel Pose (Kim in the foreground)

Forward bends using the chair

Forward bends using the chair

Revolved Triangles!

Revolved Triangles! (Bill in the foreground)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting crocodile

Resting crocodile

Deeply Relaxed!

Deeply Relaxed! (Jeff!)

And photos were also taken at the Buddhist monastery at Mt. Koya.  I think that may have been the best room ever.  The floors were made  of tatami mats. There is a nice sweet grass-like smell that comes with tatami mats, which are made of rush grass.  They are gentle but firm.  The room we practiced in was cavernous.  There were several heaters which kept us warm.  This is a good thing because it was pretty cold on the mountain at night. The monastery had a great feel to it. In the morning we watched the monks chant, pray, and do their fire ceremony.  It was very peaceful and meditative. I think their good energy permeated the yoga space.  And it was quiet. A very quiet room with great acoustics so my voice carried over strongly.

Side stretching

Side stretching

Windmill

Windmill

Trees at the Monastery

Trees at the Monastery

Flip Your Dog!

Flip Your Dog!

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

May 23, 2016

While in South India a little over a month ago, we really did take a walk on the wild side.  India is a land of extremes.  Summer temperatures can exceed 38 degrees Celsius.  Just two days ago, during one of the longest heat waves in India, India hit a record temperature of 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 Fahrenheit) in the north-western town of Phalodi.

In this land of extremes, I learned about and saw a fascinating variety of animals.  We visited Periyar National Park, a dense tropical forest, a refuge for the native wild Asian elephants.  From a boat on Lake Periyar, we saw elephants come to the lake to drink one evening.  It was an exhilarating experience.  The anticipation of and then actually seeing the elephants in the wild, made us (those sitting near me and myself) giddy and silly, so much that the uptight French tourists on the other side of the boat were giving us dirty looks because they wanted “Du Silence”!  Of course, their disapproving looks only made things worse and we became uncontrollably giddier.  (Yikes, the French tourists ended up at our hotel that very same evening and I am sure they had very strong opinions about us when, at the dinner table, a cicada dropped onto one of my group participant’s clothing  and caused great alarm!  She had never seen a cicada before and had no idea what sort of insect was clinging tightly to her!)

On the following day, in the wee hours of the morning, we were led by three guides/naturalists through the dense forest on foot, where again we saw the elephants and a rich variety of wildlife.  The guides really knew their birds and animals, but they struggled with their English.  Still, they managed to teach us about the wildlife around us.  Later, I did some research on the wildlife of Periyar Park in South India. With the guides’ information and what I found on line, below are some fascinating facts about South Indian wildlife (wildlife habitat of the animals below ranges beyond Periyar National Park):

Dense forest in Periyar Natinal Park

Dense forest in Periyar Natinal Park

A wild Asian elephant:

  • They eat 130 kg-169 kg of vegetation per day!
  • In Periyar National Park, water hyacinth becomes an important food source for elephants when grass dies in the dry season.
  • The tip of the trunk is prehensile for easy grasping of grass and other leafy vegetation.
  • An elephant drinks 100 liters of water every day just to survive.  Tourists who come to Periyar Lake by boat can always expect to see the elephants come to the water’s edge in the evening to quench their thirst.
  • As you can imagine, elephants produce prodigious amounts of dung.  Butterflies feast on the dung, benefiting from the minerals found on it!  There were many colorful butterflies throughout Periyar National Park.
A clump of dry elephant dung

One of our guides proudly displays a clump of dry elephant dung

  • The adult females create a mobile fortress for the baby elephants.  This way, the calf stays safe from the Royal Bengal Tigers.  Mother elephants are fiercely protective of their young.
Baby is in the middle of the elephant fortress

Baby is in the middle of the elephant fortress

  • Female elephants gather to witness births and to witness the first steps of the baby calf!  The calf does not walk immediately, but within hours it will be walking underneath its mother in its early infancy, never losing contact with her body.
  • The elephants stay in herds because an extended family increases chances of survival.
  • A bull can weigh as much as 6 tons (the largest Asian bull ever recorded weighed just over 7 tons).
  • When compared to African elephants, the Asian elephant is slightly smaller and has smaller ears. Elephants are excellent swimmers, using their trunks as snorkels.

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Smooth-Coated Otter:

  • These Asian otters are larger than other otters and have shorter coats and fur-less noses.  We saw them swimming in Lake Periyar.
  • They are used for commercial fishing in Bangladesh.  They are bred in captivity and trained to chase fish into fishing nets.
  • Otters can stay underwater for 8 minutes.
Please Note: Otter photo is not my photo, taken from the web

Please Note: Asian Otter photo is not my photo, taken from the web

Cobras:

  • Happy to report I did not see a cobra in the wild.  I did not even see the occasional snake charmer working to collect some money.   Snake charmers are being outlawed these days.  A ban has been in effect since 1991, but only recently is being enforced by the government.  Apparently the government views snake charming as offensive to the culture, a bit backwards.  There was a news article that talked about how upset the snake charmers are.  Some 800,000 snake charmers are up in arms over the now enforced ban and recently took to the streets to protest the loss of their livelihood: article
  • Cobras are snake eaters!
  • The venom from one cobra bite can kill 10 humans.  I read one account that the venom from one bite can kill 26 people. Look on line and you will see a variety of numbers.  Even if the number were just one, it would be a terribly frightening statistic.  Cobra venom is neurotoxic and spreads extremely quickly throughout the bitee (I just made up that word..Cobra is the biter and the victim is the bitee!).

Giant Squirrel:

  • Ok, so when the guide pointed out the Giant Squirrel up in a tree overhead, we didn’t understand him at first.  I truly believe the word “squirrel” is one of the most difficult English words to pronounce for non-native English speakers.  And besides, even if we did understand, the animal we saw up in the tree could not possibly be a squirrel.  We were in disbelief.  The giant squirrel is a beautiful creature.  It mostly stays up in trees, where it is safe from predators.
  • One single leap from tree to tree measures a span of 6 meters or more.
  • The Indian Giant Squirrel is only found in tropical forests.
  • And Indian Giant Squirrel has the cutest round ears and a “hand” with an inner paw for gripping.
  • They weigh over four times more than our common Western squirrel.  The Indian Giant Squirrel weighs up to four and a half pounds and the average squirrel we see in America and Canada weighs about one pound.
  • They are omnivorous, eating flowers, fruit, eggs, and insects.
  • An Indian Giant Squirrel group is called a “dray or scurry”.  We did not see a scurry of squirrels and I am relieved that our guides did not have to use the expression “a scurry of squirrels”
Indian Giant Squirrel (Photo is not mine, and was found on line)

Indian Giant Squirrel (Photo is not mine, and was found on line, but I wanted you to see its adorable ears and human-like hands.)

This is my photo of the Giant Squirrel

This is my photo of the Giant Squirrel

Macaques:

  • Found in Wikipedia: “Macaques have a very intricate social structure and hierarchy. If a macaque of a lower level in the social chain has eaten berries and none are left for a higher-level macaque, then the one higher in status can, within this social organization, remove the berries from the other monkey’s mouth.”
  • Their diets consist mostly of fruits.
  • The number one fruit for the macaque are the figs from the Ficus tree
  • Macaques can live in social groups of 30 members.  The leader is generally a female.
  • Males tend to the young.
  • Macaques can swim (and occasionally can be seen soaking in hot springs in Japan).
Yawning

I caught this one yawning!

Golden Langur:

  • They use all four legs and tail for balance.
  • The langur and the forest deer have a friendly relationship:  The langurs hang out in trees and disturb the red silk cotton flowers, which then fall to the ground for the deer to feed on.
  • The langur feasts mainly on leaves, but also eats fruits, grass, and flowers.
  • They live in groups of up to 40 individuals.
  • They are capable of jumping over rivers.  They can jump about 10 meters.  They have to jump rivers because they cannot swim!

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There are countless frogs in Periyar Park.  There were so many that we had to dodge them so as not to crush them under our boots.  There is also a seemingly infinite variety of birds in the park.  Here is a list I found on line (Some in our group got photos of the blue flycatcher.  It is other-worldly!):

Dee birding!

Dee birding!

About 265 species of birds can be seen in the park, including migrants. Endemic birds include the Malabar grey hornbill, Nilgiri wood pigeon, blue-winged parakeet, Nilgiri flycatcher, crimson-backed sunbird, and white-bellied blue flycatcher.   Other birds include the black baza, spot-bellied eagle-owl, Nilgiri thrush, little spiderhunter, rufous-bellied hawk-eagle, brahminy kite, great hornbill, Sri Lanka frogmouth, Oriental darter, and black-necked stork.

View link to see the variety of wildlife in the park (not all birds and mammals are listed in this blog, for example, we saw kingfishers, wild pigs, sambar, and spotted deer)

Frog Dodging!

Frog Dodging!  All those blurred black lines are frogs jumping (hard to see, but seriously, there were thousands and I am afraid to say that we stepped on more than a few).

We saw a fair number of cormorants and egrets.  The egrets eat fish and the many frogs we were trying so hard not to step on. The egrets appear to be the ambush specialists as they can stand still for hours and wait for a fish to appear.

Cormorants:

  • Cormorants are aquatic birds whose feathers are not waterproofed!  That is why they often perch with their wings outspread (in order to dry their feathers in the sun).
  • Cormorants have no external nostrils so they breathe through their mouths.
  • They cool off by fluffing their throats.

Termites:

  • Last but not least, the termites!  Some 100,000 termites can live in one colony.  They clear up dead wood and turn it into compost for the soil!

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SAVE THE DATE (JUST IN CASE YOU ARE WONDERING, BELOW IS THE NEXT TIME WE WILL OFFER THE SOUTH INDIA TOUR.  IT’S A WAYS OFF, BUT GOOD TO PUT THIS TRIP ON YOUR RADAR):

SOUTH INDIA TOUR WITH DAILY YOGA FEBRUARY 2018

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Beautiful Mahaballipuram

March 26, 2016

OK..so much to blog about.  And I want to post photos so today you will mostly get photos.  The photos were taken yesterday at Mahaballipuram at the great Shore Temple and other monolithic temples and temples built of quarried stone.

Just finished a spectacular, energizing, exciting yoga session on the beach.  The yoga session was to the back drop to the Bay of Bengal which goes into the Indian Ocean.  Also in our company was a female dog, whom we named Shakti along with her male companion (unnamed) and two cows grazing and many people.  All this at 6:30-7:30am!  Those photos will come soon in another post.

Shiva's Butterball  (Shiva loved butter!!)  We were flocked by school students.  They were so well behaved, extremely energetic, and very friendly and loving!!

Shiva’s Butterball (Shiva loved butter!!) We were flocked by school students. They were so well behaved, extremely energetic, and very friendly and loving!!

Another view of Shiva's Butterball!

Another view of Shiva’s Butterball!

One of my favorite shots of the day...precious bejeweled feet of an 8 month-old girl

One of my favorite shots of the day…precious bejeweled feet of an 8 month-old girl

Granite Stone Carvings

Granite Stone Carvings

Carving at temple..Goddess Parvati is shown here (she is Shiva's consort).  She  sits on a lotus and is bathing!  An elephant trunk is above her showering her with water!!!  Utterly beautiful!

Carving at temple..Goddess Parvati is shown here (she is Shiva’s consort). She sits on a lotus and is bathing! Can you see the elephant head and trunk above her showering her with water???  Utterly beautiful!

Dee Hammer and the monkeys.  The monkeys are grooming each other.  Beautiful photo of Dee!

Dee Hammer and the monkeys. The monkeys are grooming each other. Beautiful photo of Dee!

Another one of my favorite photos of the day!!!  This little girl was playing hide and seek with her brother amid the giant granite elephants at the Shore Temple.

Another one of my favorite photos of the day!!! This little girl was playing hide and seek with her brother amid the giant granite elephants at the Shore Temple.

Elephants and their babies!  Depicted here with the massive carved temple wall of Arjuna's Penance.

Elephants and their babies! Depicted here with the massive carved temple wall of Arjuna’s Penance.

Another depiction of Arjuna's Penance.  Thousands of years old, sculpted 1400 years ago, we see Arjuna in tree pose.

Another depiction of Arjuna’s Penance. Thousands of years old, sculpted 1400 years ago, we see Arjuna in tree pose.

Cobras!

Cobras!

With Arvind Singh and Kelley McHenry, founders and organizers of our tour, Spiritual India Tours.

With Arvind Singh and Kelley McHenry, founders and organizers of our tour, Spiritual India Tours.

Tenderly milking a cow and hopefully saving some milk for the calf!

Tenderly milking a cow and hopefully saving some milk for the calf!

And a yoga pose for you. Fran and Karin.

And a yoga pose for you. Fran and Karin.

The temples are truly beautiful, even more beautiful with the lovely ladies in their colorful sari.

The temples are truly beautiful, even more beautiful with the lovely ladies in their colorful sari.

Everyone wants to take photos with us and us with them.

Everyone wants to take photos with us and us with them.

I am in love with this boy!

I am in love with this boy!

More photos with Karin!

More photos with Karin!

More....

More….I love India!  Need I say, we are so loving this experience.  And mostly, it is the people of India who make this place so precious!

Thoughts on Yoga in India

March 23, 2016

As Arvind said, “Your time here in India is not a vacation.”  And how right he is!  Time spent in India is a journey of the spirit, a journey into the vast heart of India.  We see, experience, and learn things here that stir us deeply and, slowly, we are transformed into a better version of ourselves.

You cannot come to India and return home the same person you once were.

To deepen the transforming experience, we start each day with yoga.  We practice yoga outside in the early morning. The days here have been hot, but the early mornings are pleasant.  Here in Aurangabad, we do our yoga in a big grassy area near the pool. The yoga practice is grounding and peaceful. This morning was our third class together as a group.  Diverse as our group is, we all have the common thread of loving the yoga practice and seeing yoga as a vehicle to deepen our awareness of breath, of each and every moment, of the preciousness of life.  We all experience Yoga as Union.

Together we discover how yoga helps support us through the rigors of travel and helps keep us grounded and more alert throughout our travels in South India.  As usual, I have not taken many photos of our yoga sessions because I am too busy leading the classes.  Others, however, have taken photos and later I hope I can pull together a few yoga photos for the blog.  For now, I’d like to share with you the two readings I have read to the group and some photos I took of children today.

The first reading below is from today and makes me emotional. Sometimes I am impossibly hard on myself!  And I am not alone.  I am 100% certain of this. The reading below is a reminder to embrace ourselves.  It is a reminder to wake up to what is really important in life!

Walk Slowly by Danna Faulds

It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection.  The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race; that waking up to life is what we were born for.  As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, to be, and to walk slowly into the mystery.

And the second reading is a reminder to be content, to feel and express gratitude, and embrace simplicity:

Excerpt from Meditations on Intention and Being, by Rolf Gates

I have a prayer that I use to access santosha (the art of being content).  It is the simple statement, “Thank you for bringing me here.”  I began using it each time I took my seat at a 12-step meeting.  The prayer felt like sanity.  Then it started showing up everywhere. I would say it stopping on a hike through a forest. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

I would say it at the beginning of a yoga class.

I say it now at bedtime lying quietly next to my children, being the calm presence that helps them go to sleep.

These days I am saying it everywhere I go and it is more than enough.  There is nothing to be added or subtracted; I am content to say thank you.  Thank you for bringing me here.

The group photo in this blog is our lovely lively yoga and travel group at the Ellora Monolithic Caves today.

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And the children below are pure Jyoti (light) and Love.  Here is to bringing more light, love, and simplicity into your life:

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