Below is a very short piece (150 words) I wrote that won first prize in a Sunday Telegraph travel writing competition <happy dance>.
Although it was a small competition it was still pretty exciting to win. So exciting I will treat myself to an exclamation mark (!)
The prize was a Dial a Flight voucher. I spoke to a lovely Dial a Flight man called Marco on Monday and he said I could spend the money on pretty much anything I wanted. This was a relief. I had thought it might only be valid for car hire in New Zealand or an Orlando theme park pass or something ultra-specific and not on my radar but something I doubtless would have tried to shoe-horn in regardless.
He asked if I’d had any thoughts about where I might go.
Yes. All the time. With wonderlust pumping through my veins it is rather hard not to, competition or no competition. But currently Indonesia, Myanmar and, as always, India, are calling.
One flight, taxi, bus and a ricocheting rickshaw later I found myself travel weary and on a swaying footbridge over the Ganges. I was not alone. A swirl of saris, spiritual seekers and opportunistic entrepreneurs were coursing around me, as the river flowed below and monkeys pickpocketed from above. The crossing only took five minutes but those five minutes expanded as my senses filled with new impressions of wide-eyed wonder and head-shaking bamboozlement. Ahhh Rishikesh. ‘Land of the wise’. And land of everything else too if this bridge was anything to go by. Beeping motorcycles and impassive cows joined the pedestrians, unperturbed by the intentions of engineers. In this holy city the journey across the Ganges is a commute for some, a pilgrimage for many. The mysterious and the mundane rub shoulders, or collide head on, and even the travel weary are jolted awake to the adventure that is India.
The first ever International Yoga Day is here. Having been on the fringes of society for thousands of years, it’s quite a landmark for yoga, for the holistic health world and for India.
Meditating on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh, India
“Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change.”
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressing the UN General Assembly
For anyone new to yoga the idea of it ‘dealing with climate change’ might seem like quite a leap, but change starts with us and increasing the wellbeing of individuals is key. Through individual wellbeing we access clearer thinking, more capacity for caring and more energy to make better choices.
But not everyone is happy about the arrival of International Yoga Day…
Deconstructing a downward dog – teacher training with Surinder Singh
Looking for Surinder’s contact details? Now he can be found at www.swastiyoga.com
Missed part 1 or 2? read them here:
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 1: Rishikesh
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 2: Opening ceremony
We began each day at 6am. Sleepily entering the yoga hall, unrolling our mats and slowly stretching awake – or stealing a few more moments sleep under a blanket in a pretend shavasana.
Surinder would enter, prepare and pray as we came to sit, ready to begin the class. The morning class was for our own practice. It was one of my favourite times of day, knowing you wouldn’t be called upon to demonstrate a pose or to have the magic of the silence broken with a lengthy discussion on the finer points of a pose. It was a time to go deeper into the practice and learn alignment from the inside out.
It was 2 hours of yoga and pranayama, challenging but not exhausting. We’d work through a few rounds of sun salutations, going quite slowly, holding poses long enough for Surinder to check our alignment and give individual adjustments. He’d achieve this task at miracle speed, his experience and sharp eye meaning he could quickly hone in on what we most needed.
Preparing for the fire ceremony
Missed part 1? read it here:
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 1: Rishikesh
We were sitting on our mats in the yoga hall, a little apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen.
We needed to get used to this whole not knowing thing. The schedule was a mythical document for the first few days and we discovered what was going to be happening right before it happened. I think in part this was to help wean our Western minds off the obsessive need to know / schedule / plan / control what was going to be happening in every moment… but it was also probably partly because Surinder himself didn’t know yet.
I looked round the spartan room at the people I’d be spending the next month with. I was feeling a bit nervous, listening to conversations breaking out here and there, expectation in the air. [continue reading…]
Yoga by the Ganges, Rishikesh
Booking yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh was the first challenge.
I was aware that organisation and email communication were not his strong points. Although he is an ex-engineer, when it comes to planning and organisation, he is more cave yogi than yogipreneur.
Booking yoga teacher training is no small thing and I was anxious to make sure I had a place. Over the course of a couple of weeks I bombarded him to no avail.
It turned out he’d been away teaching in Russia and couldn’t respond until he was back in India. His response to my request to study with him was a simple: ‘You’re most welcome ji’.
Meditation cushion carnage, about as tidy as our minds
Walking along the path to Tushita Meditation Centre, I walked past the ‘silence please’ sign feeling the usual first-day-at-school nerves. This wasn’t my first silent retreat but you never quite know what to expect when entering the murky depths of your own mind. A touch of trepidation is probably wise.
An introductory course had started the day before and a girl with a desperate look in her eyes sidled up to me. Her eyes scanned the courtyard furtively whilst she whispered to ask if she could use my phone to message her mum. She’d forgotten to tell her she’d be out of contact for ten days.
Moments later I was joined on a bench overlooking the beautiful pine forest by a good-looking guy with a cheeky grin. He sat unusually close and reached into his bag for pen and paper. He scrawled the words ‘do you have toilet paper?’ and raised his eyebrows in hope.
Surinder Singh’s yoga class in peak season
I first found my way into Surinder Singh’s class in 2012 at the Rajdeep Hotel in Rishikesh, India. Somehow I had ended up at the front of the class and he was directly in front of me as we started the sun salutations.
Lifting my arms up over my head on the inhale, I was aware of him smiling at me. His eyes were kind with a cheeky twinkle of amusement. I wasn’t sure what was so funny at the time but I can guess that my eyes were wide with a ‘I probably shouldn’t be here’ expression.
It was a tough first class. Really tough. I still had CFS fatigue. I was weak. My arms shook in downward facing dog. My heart thumped throughout the sun salutations. I struggled to balance. I struggled to breathe. Sweat was on free flow and I was surrounded by sickeningly proficient yogis, victoriously flowing through their practice. [continue reading…]