Week 2 – more photos of The Osa/Kirtan/yoga

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Week 1 – yoga retreat with Kirtan Smith

We stayed at iguanalodge.com in the Osa Peninsula and it was absolutely amazing – highly recommended for families, couples (don’t get the upstairs casitas – check with me offline), and perfect for groups.
Lauren and Toby and staff…. call them.

Yoga retreat was hosted and classes taught by the divine Kirtan Smith, see his website here

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A New Perspective and a cool breeze

A fresh breeze is always lovely

Watching the green of the leaves change as the sun moves from directly overhead, as we’re so close to the equator, to somewhere very slightly west… the steamy heat of yesterday’s jungle hike softened by heavy overnight showers. The pathway outside is a mass of fallen flowers, frilly white ridiculous wedding decor-type flowers that fall from the leafy canopy above with a surprising whomp onto the path ahead of you, and a shocking bang should they land on the corrugated iron roof of the casita during the night.


I’m working from the principle that today is always the first day of the rest of my life, and so taking each day very seriously!! I arrived in Costa Rica a week ago, and it’s been a series of firsts ever since…

Arrived in San Jose, the capital, late, having successfully avoided the icy airports in New York and elsewhere in the US although my connection In Houston was totally delayed.

no card with my name and lots of taxi drivers yelling in broken english and spanish, sounding like their brethren in india at the bus and train stations. I kept repeating the hotel name so they soon realised I wasn’t a potential customer, and instead called over the sleeping hotel driver… who had stayed at the airport to meet me even though his shift was well over by the time I arrived.

He arranged another driver who drove through the completely sleeping streets, between car repair places, warehouses, empty lots full of trees, and simple ranch-style houses all scattered together, apparently urban planning has another aim in CR – to have people and work next to each other.

The distances are not enormous as CR is quite small, so it only took 10 minutes to reach my semi-rural stop for the night. the driver told me had driven for 14 plus hours the previous day, dropping a woman who missed an internal flight, and the start of a retreat, in the same town I was headed towards, Puerto Jimenez.


Stayed that night at a great family run b&b, Hotel Robledal, their lovely (flirty!!) father was up at 12pm to show me my room – surrounded by tropical gardens, airconditioned, huge hot shower, seriously comfortable. {$80 the night}

Eating breakfast of tropical fruit jugo (juice) and amazing banana pancakes the next morning, I met the 2 brothers who manage it, they moved to the property in 1999, and are making a good living. The property is across a potholey road from a large empty property destined to become townhouses but currently utilised by the hotel for birding tours, the local wildlife is so dense.
Saturday I flew down to Puerto Jimenez on a tiny plane, (Sansa Air – $135 for a 40 min flight which took the taxi driver 7 hours in his car the night before and cost his client $350).
Quite comfortable for the price, we were 2 pilots, and just 2 passengers in space for 16 … such a great way to see the shape of the land. Amazing flight!!!


Cemetary alongside landing strip at Puerto Jimenez

When you land in the remote southern Osa Peninsula (my location all this week) the plane taxis in alongside the local cemetary, which being very low lying construction-wise (!!?) makes for efficient use of space.

william the taxi driver collected my bag off the tarmac where one of thw captain/pilot/airsteward/baggagehandler people had dropped it, the ease of disembarking (climb out the plane – that’s it, you’ve arrived!!) -a reminder of how simple life can be when there are less people, and more time.

I’m going to end up in some sticky situations without Spanish as I could not even ask about using a bathroom before we went to the hotel, but in this case was rescued by lots of friendly voices translating and directing me to a local restuarant (have been hitting the Spanish beginner books most afternoons!!)

Really Breathing

On the rock at Netala - Swamiji's Jalasamadhi pool

On the rock at Netala - Swamiji's Jalasamadhi pool

Its so easy to get into a habit – even with something as interesting and challenging as a daily yoga practise, standing on my head, twisting my spine, balancing at new angles, there’s still a small element of the expected and known that seeps in through the repitition and brings me enough mindspace to wander off.  To leave my practise, and be somewhere else – worrying, planning – not present.

I know about the breath.  Sure – I’ve studied it, read about it, even taught other people to watch it.

But today the practise brought an unexpected moment.  A really softening breath.  I didn’t really know what that meant before – today, it just happened.  Usually, in stronger poses, I can feel my breath.  Its quite physical –  body is pushing it out, and pulling it in, and I’m “working” with it – i.e. theres a lot of control involved, me and my mind are in charge here.

Funny thing happened on the way to a really deep forward bend… my strong breath softened in an unusual moment, and became something much bigger. It became that moment of surrender I’ve told my own students to look for and didn’t realise I was actually missing before! 

Probably indescribeable, because others have explained this to me and it only became clear when it actually happened to me. 

Wish all of you can experience it.  Its a soft filling of the lung cavity with something that is probably air and probably has a lot more to do with Chi/LifeForce/Prana than I realised before.  And a gentle escape outwards of lots of things, including the old air I’ve scrubbed of oxygen, the strain of the pose I was pushing a little, some worry, some doubt, some mind stuff I didn’t even know was there, and the body curls down sweetly a little closer to itself, a lot softer, a lot more comfortable.

Then it happened again later – not straight away, because I’d noticed it the first time and that kind of stops these processes straight away – the mind is a terrible Director, it wants to be in charge of everything that is happening, and when its not, it kind of over observes and inflicts language and translation and meaning onto events that cover over the more subtle sensations and make them disapear in a flurry of “Hey – what was That!?”

Having felt the sweetness once though, I tried to leave the space open for something to come back into my body, a kindness, an acceptance that has been missing recently, a metaphorical hug !  It did come – again, a sensation hard to describe, just the breath breathing itself into the body, each part welcoming the other, the breath and the body old friends knowing how to communicate without words to break the magic of it.  I tried to be very very still and just watch it happening, and so there isn’t much to describe… :-))

Which brings me to the point.  Very much in awe of those who have practised for many years, I recently began to wonder if there was any reason for me to do so – the asanas I’d been taught all seemed to be working for me, I was certainly breathing (?!) and small parts of my life have been going more smoothly, so it seemed yoga had done what it could for me. Maybe there was something new I had to study…

Ha! Now I am again a beginner.  This moment of awareness has opened a whole level of subtlety beyond my capacity to explain.  The practise calls me to come and try again, to be still enough for that sweet small breath to come of its own accord, to enter my body and leave with such grace and finesse, bringing endless moments of silence – which escape equally gracefully into the chaos of thought as I start to analyse and think about it –  leaving a longing for the repitition of that moment, in its wake.  An understanding of the value of going into this space each day – perhaps even more than once a day – to find enough silence, enough quietude to allow the breath to rise of its own – starts to dawn on me.

the yoga mat beckons.


Sitting in a restaurant reading a great book by a master of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, called “The Art of Power” , I realised foolishly that I was reading about mindfulness, while also shovelling food into my mouth.  Not possible to appreciate his great words and the superb pizza in front of me, at the same time.

This is the key of happy living – Mindfulness.  As he explains, its being in the Present Moment, a much repeated phrase used by many great teachers, but such a simple truth hides a profound amount of wisdom.   Research shows scientifically (I always like my spiritual truth to come with backup research, its easier to accept!!) that we often realise after a great event or entertainment with friends or participating in some sport or hobby, just how happy we were but at that time, we were just doing what it was that we were happy about afterwards…

So the feeling of happiness is not what we want to aim for – it is rather  full attention to the action itself,  which makes us happy.  That is an important difference.

And frankly, eating a great pizza in Trivandrum is one of those ‘flow’ moments.  Ingrid runs a wonderful little space off the main road in Vazhuthacaud, called Casa Bianca, and she specialises in Italian food, and fabulous cakes and deserts.  In fact today was the opening of their new bakery counter, with an array of chocolate cakes, muffins and sweet cakes to make any mouth water.  To encourage you to try it, scientific research also shows that people experience their happiest moments, on average days,  when eating.  (Jumping off bridges with ankles tied together with elastic, or having sex also do it for us – but we’re talking an average day!)

I discussed this concept of mindfulness with a very special man I am sure we will hear more of in the future, as he practices Mindfulness in his work, which is plastic surgery.   Dr. Manesh Senan is one of the senior staff at KIMS, and to watch him work is a wonderful thing.  He focuses entirely on the moment, cutting carefully and stitching even more carefully, working fast but very effectively.  He comes to work early, and squeezes unexpected patients into spare moments – because he does not worry, for example about how much he has to do, he can get to assist an amazing number of people.

KIMS  plastic Surgery department are associated with a wonderful foundation called the Smile Train – they have given free cleft palate corrective surgery to over 300 children in Kerala.  Dr Manesh tells me this can take as little as 45 minutes per child and cost as little as Rs8000 – in today’s exchange rates, that’s about 160 US dollars,  and the effect is profound – not only is cleft seen as a punishment from God and a reason to abandon the child in some cases, but those who make it cannot eat properly, and cannot learn to speak – Asian languages are very nasal and if you have no palate the sounds are not possible.  There are always people who need our help, but this seems to be a particularly graceful act in line with the philosophy of  “helping someone learn to fish rather than just donating some fish…”

(the smiles of the children after the plastic surgery are profound examples of joy – even bliss – especially seen in comparison with their “before” photo’s filled with fear, uncertainly, self-consciousness)

And in thinking of those children and their journey, I am reminded how little I actually have to worry about in my life, so blessed in so many ways that really I have no reasons to NOT be Mindful all day.

Real Karma Yoga

I was thinking about the need to be constantly practising Karma Yoga in everything that I do, now that my life is back to a more Westernised structure.  Unlike at the Ashram, I now have to factor in many different new relationships, very different work (?), and finding time to do my yoga practise.  
In trying to focus my attention and energy on others and not on myself, I am finding a lot of peace and growth.  I found this guidance (below) from one of the great Souls of our generation, very useful.  While we should not perform karma yoga (selfless service to others), with the intention of getting our heart’s desire, in fact the result of giving up oneself in order to satisfy the needs of others, creates a deep pool of kindness, appreciation and gratitude from which one’s own needs and desires will automatically be fulfilled.
Quoted directly from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s website.
“There is another fact concerning the cultivation of thoughts and emotions that cherish the well-being of others: one’s own self-interest and wishes are fulfilled as a by-product of actually working for other sentient beings. As Je Tsong Khapa points out in his Great Exposition of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo), “the more the practitioner engages in activities and thoughts that are focused and directed toward the fulfillment of others’ well-being, the fulfillment or realization of his or her own aspiration will come as a by-product without having to make a separate effort.”
Some of you may have actually heard the remark, which I make quite often, that in some sense the bodhisattvas, the compassionate practitioners of the Buddhist path, are wisely selfish people, whereas people like ourselves are the foolishly selfish. We think of ourselves and disregard others, and the result is that we always remain unhappy and have a miserable time. The time has come to think more wisely, hasn’t it? This is my belief. 
At some point the question comes up, “Can we really change our attitude?”
My answer on the basis of my little experience is, without hesitation, “Yes!” This is quite clear to me.
The thing that we call “mind” is quite peculiar. Sometimes it is very stubborn and very difficult to change. But with continuous effort and with conviction based on reason, our minds are sometimes quite honest. When we really feel that there is some need to change, then our minds can change. Wishing and praying alone will not transform your mind, but with conviction and reason, reason based ultimately on your own experience, you can transform your mind.
Time is quite an important factor here, and with time our mental attitudes can certainly change. “

Pregnancy and other temporary feelings

Taking a moment

Saluting those who have carried a child within!

Was teaching assistant to Mani Ch. at the  Yoga Teachers training course in Madurai in February, it was of course the best TTC group ever (or, at least, the best this year, as Mani kept congratulating us!)

Each time I work though a TTC as they’re affectionately called in Sivananda organisation, I learn something from the amazing process that happens – about myself, and the work I still need to do. Tthis TTC was no different.

If anyone thinks being in the ashram protects you from the complexities or evils of the world, don’t be fooled – these tings reach inside the protected space in double strength, and finds you  – on this particular TTC, we even had an evil wizard, a couple of beautiful princesses in distress, princes who had to overcome huge personal hurdles, so many people making life altering decisions each day, fantastic parties and festivals, the incredible dancing Orbs, quiet moments with new friends, and lots of Yoga.

What I learned this month in India was the inkling of a kind of patient acceptance that I have been aiming for – but not achieved.  It included doing things I really did not want to do, but which seemed to be necessary and I was asked them by the Swami in charge, who I love.  And in overcoming my dislikes, I felt a real sense of release.  Finally I start to understand the concept that if we can overcome our dislikes, we can be completely free. 

And its not from ignoring or avoiding the issue or the thing we hate, but from completely accepting it, doing the chore we hate, being with a person we dislike, dealing with a crisis not of our making and which we prefer to avoid – avoiding and thinking about these things makes us stressed and the victims of other people’s actions. 

I found that when I was able to simply go ahead and be in an uncomfortable space, or listen to a horrible person, or do a horrible job, the thing I disliked was quickly over or moved away and I did not have to fear it anymore.  I can’t recommend the process to anyone else, as it may well be a personal thing I needed to go through (isn’t everything!!) and the sanskrit word “santosha”, also the name of a very dear friend in India who exemplifies this concept, has become a watchword for me.

It is one of the great teachings of yoga – from the Yoga verses of the great Sage Patanjali – he spoke of practises we need to embed in our lives before we even think of watching the breath, or standing on our heads (never mind our two feet) – the Yamas and Niyamas, 10 golden concepts for a happy life. Santosha is one of them – it is said if we can perfect the implementation of just one in our life, we will become Self-Realised.  Well, acceptance, contentment, being OK with what is happening and how much I have, has an effect on so many aspects of my life and thinking that I start to understand that. 

Not Self-realisation of course, just how fully implementing such a broad-brush practise, even just this 1/1oth of the golden apples of wisdom offered by Patanjali, could bring me to a state of complete peace.  It was tasted in the ashram this year – after a few years of being in that kind of space and really not getting it, disliking a bunch of things and working hard to change them, finally something moved in me and — “Santosha” – I felt what it might feel like.

Highly recommended.

With love.

PS the title refers to being a guinea pig with a pillow stuffed in my tee-shirt, for all the new teachers to prod and photography for their teachers training albums back home.  Did I want to do it? No!!! was it ok? Yes, actually, it was fun in the end.  Durga is a gifted teacher so I’ll thank her for that, but the practise of Santosha was partially responsible too.