Archive for the ‘Yoga Retreats with fran’ 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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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

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.

 

 

Colorful Jodhpur

January 23, 2018

The day started with sunrise yoga.  We are in the high desert, so the mornings are cool and the daytime temperatures comfortably warm and sunny with no humidity.  This morning, as we did yoga, a peacock landed nearby, flocks of crows flew overhead, as did parrots.  Last night, we did yoga to the sound of trains in the distance and to the sound of crickets in the nearby grass.

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After yoga and breakfast, the first stop of the day was to Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum built by a queen in 1899 in memory of her husband, Maharaja Jaswant Singh.  This marble structure is beautiful and the views of the “Blue City” are impressive from this lofty site:

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Gorgeous marble columns on the outside of the mausoleum:

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Views of the Blue City of Jodhpur.  Many of the houses are blue and it is thought that the color blue keeps the houses cool.  The coolness is essential as summer temperatures can get into the 100s:

IMG_3273Inside the mausoleum, you can see the light coming through the marble!  The thick marble is transparent and wonderfully luminescent, just like in the Taj Mahal, in some parts of this structure.

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A beautiful young Rajasthani family.  This young couple was sitting at a cafe and had just ordered lassi drinks.  Their adorable and happy daughter has her eyes rimmed in kohl, thought to beautify the eyes. She also has a smudge of kohl on her face (forehead) to ward off the evil eye.  The smudge is thought to not look beautiful so the “Evil Eye” would be tricked into thinking this child is unattractive and would then not bother to want to take this child from their parents nor do the child harm.  I really love this photo!

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Mehrangarh Fort is set on a high hill overlooking Jodhpur.

The enclosed palaces are intricately adorned with long carved panels and latticed windows exquisitely wrought from red sand stone.  This fort has a huge museum inside, housing a marvelous collection of artifacts owned by the royal family and beautiful Mogul miniature paintings that have toured the world, including the Seattle Art Museum. It was a show called Cosmos and Garden.

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The women of the royal court looked out into the courts from behind latticed windows.

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The royal bedroom (The floor is painted and looks carpeted.  The room is mirrored so a single oil lamp could light up the room):IMG_3267

The Flower Room where entertainment took place (gold ceilings!):

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A vendor in the market. Color, color, color!!!  Beautiful textiles. This place is shopping heaven.IMG_3272

Rajasthani shoes:

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And finally a visit to the famous Maharani textile warehouse…wals-to-wall, rooms and rooms filled to the brim with incredible works of art, table runners, table cloths, bed spreads, scarves, etc…You name it, they have it.  Beautifully hand crafted work.  I was without my wallet so have to make a trip back here tomorrow to do some shopping (Linda Teri: this is THE shop I told you about!!):

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Magical Udaipur

January 21, 2018

Here we are in Udaipur!  The last two days have been an eyeful and a complete delight. Neelesh is our guide on this trip and he is doing a great job of taking care of us, keeping us safe, happy, healthy, entertained, and informed.  I have been to India a number of times and I am always learning something new.  India is so diverse, mind-boggling, and fascinating.  I am so excited to be a part of Spiritual India Journeys and to be able to share this journey with the tour participants!

Holy Cow!  The cows in Udaipur roam the busy roads.  Cars whiz by and take all precautions to drive around or past the cows with the utmost care and caution.  Cow is Mother here in India.

Cow is S-A-C-R-E-D

She gives and gives. She nourishes.  She is gentle.  She gives milk, yogurt (curd), ghee (clarified butter), and fuel (in the form of dried dung which becomes fuel chips for cooking or keeping a home warm).

In Hinduism, cows are thought to be sacred, or deeply respected. Hindus do not worship cows, although they are held in high esteem. The reason has to do with cows‘ agricultural uses and gentle nature. Hindus rely heavily on cows for dairy products, for tilling fields, and for dung as a source of fuel and fertilizer.

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The friendliest and kindest people in the world are right here in India. Below is a photo of a child and grandmother in Udaipur.  Adults often draw kohl around the eyes of children, especially in Rajasthan, in order to beautify the child’s eyes and also, along with a large dot drawn on the child’s forehead or cheek, to help protect them against the Evil Eye.

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A delicious South Indian meal in Delhi before we left for Udaipur:

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All the photos in today’s blog are from yesterday. Today we took a ferry boat just like this one below to an island in the middle of Lake Pichola in Udaipur. More photos from today to come later.

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Dancer’s Pose in Udaipur.  As of today, I posted the last of my 56-day Yoga Challenge Photos on Instagram.  It’s hard to end the challenge!  I will probably continue to post a few more while I am in India and post the grand finale when I am at the Taj Mahal!  It’s been a fun challenge!  I will most likely put all the photos together in a collage and post them on this blog, too. A great big thank you to everyone who helped photograph me.

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Our guide Neelesh loves movies! He told us that the national drink of India is chai (tea).  And he said that if you see people drinking chai and talking, laughing, or engaged in an ardent conversation, you can be absolutely sure that the topic being discussed is one of the following:

  • Cricket (the national sport)
  • Politics (of national interest)
  • Bollywood (because Indian movies are in the veins of the people of India!)

So the topic moved from sports to politics to Bollywood movies.  Neelesh had a job in Delhi some years ago as a movie reviewer / movie critic.  He loved that job!  He got to go to many movie screenings and then wrote about the movies.  He said the movie vouchers he received from work had “0 Rupies” written on them and he always found this curious because he found the movies to have such an enormous value.

Why are Bollywood movies so popular in India?

Every Indian person grows up watching movies.  1,340 movies are released every year in India. This surpasses the number of movies produced in the USA.  For three hours or for the duration of the movie, people have the opportunity to live the life of the actor!  Movies are close to the heart of every Indian.  They know certain scripts by heart, they know the lyrics to every song, and use certain lines from movies to greet one another, to joke around, to tease each other, and to get points across to one another.

As Neelesh was telling us about movies, he became extremely animated.  His happiness was contagious.  I asked him who his favorite actor is. Without a moment’s hesitation, he shouted out his impassioned answer, “Akshay Kumar”.  It took Neelesh all of five second to tell us the following: “Kumar is from Delhi.  He is 50 years old and he is the fittest guy in the movie industry.  You know, he is a stuntman!  He’s absolutely amazing.”

At the end of this tour, when we get back to Delhi, before heading to the airport, Neelesh is going to take us to the movie theater to see Akshay Kumar’s newest film, Pad Man. (No, this is not a typo! I thought Neelesh was saying Bad Man, but I looked it up and the movie is called Pad Man.)

Imagine Neelesh’s excitement when we saw Akshay Kumar’s photo on an enormous billboard at the Delhi airport:

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Lastly, I just had to take this photo for my sister Zina. She’s a hair stylist and owner of an organic hair salon in Salisbury, Maryland.  This guy had just finished cutting someone’s hair and was more than happy to pose for me!IMG_3034

http://www.frangallo.com

Wrapping Up The South India Tour

January 19, 2018

Already, we have parted ways with our first tour group and yesterday we left South India.  We are now back in smog-filled Delhi.  Most of the members of the North India and Rajasthan Tour arrived yesterday and we met up with most members of the group last night.  It takes a lot of energy to shift gears, but I know how incredible North India and Rajasthan are so I am also excited about these next two weeks.  We will all meet shortly for our first yoga session.  Theme of the first yoga session will be Post-Travel Openings and Grounding.

So before I fully enter this new phase of the overall trip, here are some photos and short comments on the photos to wrap up the South India trip.

We stayed on a houseboat in Aleppi on the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboat overnight stay was a very soothing experience.  It was so relaxing to float on the water and do yoga on the boat.  I had to be very creative with our space for our yoga sessions.  The first yoga session we had on the boat was Yin Yoga and we used the benches to do a form of Legs Up the Wall pose.  And, yes, at one point tea was served, along with banana fritters!  I mean, who does that?  Yin Yoga, Tea, and Banana Fritters on a houseboat in Kerala! We laughed so hard at the very reality of our experience!

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I’ve been eating papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and delicious mini-bananas daily. The fruit is delicious in India!

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Sunset on the backwaters of Kerala:

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Arvind, relaxing on the houseboat:

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We ended our South India tour in Kochi. Kochi (Cochin) is a wonderful city filled with much history. We visited “Jew Town”, an ancient Jewish settlement.  Sephardic Jews seeking refuge from Europe in 1492 were invited to settle here.  The community thrived, but in the late 40s, many left India and went back to live in the homeland in Israel.  Today, only 5 members of the Jewish community exist.  We visited the lovely synagogue, but were not allowed to take photos.

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Kelley with our local Kochi guide, Mary:

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We had an evening at Maria’s cooking school.  We cooked in the late afternoon and then we all had dinner together.  Later her husband, George, sang some Hindi songs for us.  It was lovely to experience their home and Maria’s wealth of knowledge about South Indian cooking. They live in a house that was built by the Portuguese 350 years ago!

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Maria’s hand ground spices and preparations for the many dishes we made together.

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Meal magic done on this one humble shining stove!  Amazing.  Maria offers cooking courses to many groups.  She is truly amazing and we had a wonderful last evening in South India together with her. She’s the real deal.  The Indian experience, whether South or North IS the real deal.

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Onward to North India!

Ellora’s Temple Caves

January 7, 2018

Today we went to the Temple Caves in Ellora.  Unlike yesterday’s caves, the fabulous temple caves of Ellora were never hidden, lost, or waiting to be rediscovered.  They were always treasured and contain Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu temples.  The 34 temples caves of Ellora were carved directly into the sides of a basalt hill and one of the temples here, Kailash Temple, is the largest monolithic temple in the WORLD!

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The excavation was done from the top and downwards.  No scaffolding was used to carve out these enormous works of temple architecture. Three million cubic feet of rock was chiseled out and removed from the mountain to create these fabulous caves. The caves were built between 350 AD and 700 AD and were inhabited by holy men.

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Imagine if you will, a bus arriving, packed to the gills with tourists. Most of these tourists are from various parts of India.  The women wear colorful saris. The men are cheerful and hold the babies.  The children are dressed up and their eyes so beautifully big and filled with light.  The men, women, babies, and youngsters are beautiful.They have come to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site, like us, to see this gem of India! They are all very excited. They are friendly. They are playful. They are welcoming.  How many times did I hear an enthusiastic “Welcome to India!”?  Children laughing and crying on the bus.  Many languages are being spoken and the whole bus is like a party!  Most people have selfie-sticks and are taking photos of groups sitting on the bus.  Well, I am on this bus, too! And my group is on this bus! In my row, there are only two seats, but three of us have squeezed in for the short shuttle ride to the temple caves. We are laughing along with the others.

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In no time at all, we arrive and everyone piles out of the bus.  There are many hawkers/vendors waiting.  Those of us from the USA stand out, as you can imagine.  The vendors spot us and they surround us, working hard to sell books, photos, postcards, purses, bags, sculpted elephants, Ganesha, necklaces, gems, rocks.  You name it, they have it.  In their world, no means maybe and maybe is very close to yes.  Their eyes are filled with hope.  Oh, some of them are very charming. Their tactics and skills for selling are remarkable and impressive. “Miss, Miss, my name is Johnny.  Remember my face!  When you finish looking at the caves, I will be here.  I’ll save you a necklace for you for later. I give you good price.”  They are very clever.  When, later, we leave the caves, we can be sure Johnny will still be there, waiting, remembering our faces.  They are full of joy, anticipating a sale.

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Inside the temples, we are dazzled by the work of thousands of hands from ancient times.  How on earth did they create these masterly carvings? Enormous life sized elephants carved from the rock greet the tourists. Kailash Temple is most impressive.  It is the last place we visited in Ellora today, the grand finale!

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Kailash is a miraculous site.  It is uniquely a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.  The temple was a great center of learning.  It’s built like a chariot and has an antechamber, an assembly hall, a sanctuary, a tower, and an open sky platform.  This is a mind-boggling cave temple within a cave temple within a cave.  Near the innermost temple is Nandi, Shiva’s bull.  People were lovingly whispering into his stone ear, their whispers releasing prayers and hopes and dreams.  Nandi, it is believed, will listen and then deliver the prayers to Shiva.

In the innermost sanctum, there is a Shiva lingam.  The lingam is the divine symbol of energy of Shiva. I felt a deep inner stillness and I felt the room was humming with energy.  My mind went blank and I simply observed the worshipers. As we stood there, Hindus came pouring into the room to pray, to touch the Shiva lingam, to raise their children to touch the Shiva lingam, to press their foreheads to the edge of the yoni and to be reminded of the power of creation, of consciousness and nature coming together in perfect union and life.

In traditional Indian society, the linga is seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of Shiva himself. The lingam is often represented as resting on yoni (Sanskrit word, literally “vulva”, “origin” or “source”), a symbol of Goddess Durga in Hinduism.

The Lingam has also been considered a symbol of male creative energy or of the phallus. The lingam is often represented with the Yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy. The union of lingam and yoni represents creation or life.

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Soon, I will be offering an evening yoga session.  As I write back in the cool of the hotel room, I hear the Muslim call to prayer.  India never ceases to fascinate!  Not only will I never forget the Ellora caves, but I will also never forget the lovely people at the caves, the large families and groups of school children, all vying to interact with us.  Such an incredible day!

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