The Surprising Shiatsu Massage Miracle Worker Guy

While walking with my bestie the other day, I recalled this story about a pain-in-the-neck visitor and how a miracle worker helped me through it

I awoke with an awful and mysterious pain in my neck.  It was bad.  About an 8.5 on the scale and it felt stiff and sore as hell.  I was nauseous too.

It was 1997.  Scar-beria in the North, North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth where Dean and I were renting a fabulous red-brick two and a half story house.  It had a shot-gun back yard that Delta and Grizzly loved and would fly off the back deck to chase down squirrels to the perimeter, tales wagging and barking all the way.  We had just exited the Arctic and on to a new adventure starting in the GTA. (We have moved six times since then.)

I had received a call from my Dad who was in Niagara Falls then.  He wanted me to come visit regularly.  He wanted to form some sort of better relationship with me now that we were relatively close by.  The following words came out of my mouth, as if with a mind of their own,

‘Why not come visit me, Dad?  You could see our new place and we could have a walk on the Bluffs and see all the gorgeous estates and pretty fall colours.’

Pause.

Okay I will, he said.  Give me some directions and I’ll come next week on Tuesday.

Tuesday has no feel, I thought, an automatic comedic reply, in my head, from a favourite TV show: Seinfeld.  I’ll make you lunch, Dad.

Okay…so now what?  My stomach roiled.  My forehead beaded with sweat.  My heart pounded. I was having a stress response and his visit was a week away.  Yikes.

The following morning, I awoke with the stiff, sore neck.  I searched the Beaches huge paper phone book (what’s that?)  for a massage therapist who could help me.  I made a bunch of calls but the only guy who was available asap was the guy mentioned in the title of this post.  I went for it.  Immediately.  That’s how afraid I was of this pain.

I drove down there and parallel parked in front of his address.  I literally was saying ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhh as I struggled to turn my head to maneuver into the spot.

I had never had a shiatsu massage so, I was really unsure of what to expect.  Having spoken to the guy on the phone, he sounded so nice and sincere, I was feeling hopeful.  Something had to help this pain in my neck.

When I walked into his therapy room, I saw a futon mattress on the floor covered with a perfectly white sheet.  He was dressed in white also and he had this curly head of blond hair and this angelic face that he turned toward me.  He had a dozen or so years on me and he remained kneeling on the futon in hero pose as he gestured for me to have a seat so we could have a chat before treatment. He positioned himself so that I didn’t have to turn or cock my head in order to look at him. The tears were already spilling down my cheeks.

Oh dear, he said.  Martha, why not tell me what’s going on?  When did the pain start and what’s happening in your life right now?

I told him the pain arrived out of nowhere.  Woke up with it.  Told him I was feeling very anxious about my Dad coming to visit and that we had a tough relationship.  Then I said…

He’s a real pain in the neck.

Ahhh, he said gently.  That sounds like it could be the problem.  Parents can be the source of a lot of stress.

I was making ahuh sounds wanting to nod but unable to at this point. (K, while I am writing this, there is this pain creeping into my neck…sympathy pain for that younger version of myself, perhaps).

He asked me the exact plans for the visit.  This guy was into concrete details, not airy-fairy.  I was liking him more and more as I am a very concrete-type person.  I told him that I was going to show my dad around and make lunch for him and then take him for a walk down to the Bluffs.

He asked, what sort of food does your Dad like?

I said, he likes steak and blue cheese and almost everything besides that.  He likes black coffee and desserts too.  He’s a good eater, I said.

Well, then how about a steak salad with blue cheese crumbled on top, said Mr Angelic Shiatsu Massage Guy.

Was this guy for real?  He was truly helping me.

He said when a stressful visitor is coming, it’s a good idea to have a set plan for the visit, with an end point (have something to do on the other end that brings it to a close, in this case it would be the 2:30 rush hour GTA traffic to be avoided at all costs).  Have a menu and be organized.  Next, realize that you are in control of this visit and that it is on your turf and that ninety-nine percent of things we fret and worry about never actually happen.  Have low expectations of your visitor so he doesn’t disappoint you again.  Realize that he is him and you are you.  You are an adult now, Martha.  No need to let him infect you any longer.

The pain was subsiding while he gently and sincerely spoke these words to me.

He then had me lie down on my belly on the pristine white sheet and he worked on my neck, shoulders and back.  He worked my arms and fingers too and moved to my feet.  By the end of it I was a jellyfish on the sand.  All pain was gone.

I will never forget this miracle worker who helped me through this stressful event.  It was the best sixty bucks I ever spent.

So, Dad showed up on Tuesday at 11 am. (My husband Dean was downtown Toronto at iti, as he was on an intensive 9 month course). Dad was on his best behaviour.  He was charming and funny and polite.  He loved our house and lunch made him speechless.  The steak salad with crumbled blue cheese turned out to be fabulous with garlic toast and butter tarts for dessert with black coffee.  He was eating out of my hand by the end of it. (Figuratively speaking).

We waddled down the hill to the Scarborough Bluffs and walked in the park there with the dogs also on their best behaviour, for once.  The whole visit was incredible.  Then Dad looked at his watch and said he should hit the road back to Niagara Falls.  He gave me a peck on the cheek and off he went, with a butter tart and a black coffee for the road.

One thing for sure, that pain in the neck got my attention.  It made me seek help and because I really needed it, I was open to receive the help.  It equipped me for future pain-in-the-neck challenges and helped me to realize that most of the things we worry about never even happen.

Most of them.

Highest Tides ~ Fastest Bird ~ Only in the Valley (part 3)

Today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it.  Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day…

We were scurrying quickly away from the possible dive-bombing Peregrine Falcons and their surely sharp talons on a local beach near Avonport, Nova Scotia.  (Peregrines are not to be trifled with, being the fastest creature on planet Earth, who can reach 320 km / hr with sharp talons and beak).  My hubby of 26 years, Dean and I had been strolling on the pebbly, blue-tinged shale beach marveling at the warm day in late May and kicking around ideas for future world travel, a topic we come back to again and again it seems.

Yes, the warm day…we have had an awfully cold spring which would have me donning a toque up until, oh, yesterday.  But today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it.  Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day.

About thirty minutes down the beach, the shreeeeeeeeek of the Peregrine.  (I have known this shreek and had heard it recently and curiously near our house in Wolfville.  That mystery was about to be clarified.)  It seems we were a little too close to their nest which was lodged up on a ledge in the sand-stone cliffs which towered over the beach.

A senior couple was coming down the beach in hats and rubber boots. Large camera had she, binoculars had he.  Pauline and her special friend Bernard Forsythe and was it truly our fortune to meet them!  Firstly warning them about the mad! mad! mad! falcons but they didn’t seem to want to turn around.  They nodded knowingly about the speedy upset pair and so, with one eye-ball peeled, we stood and talked on the pretty beach for the better part of an hour.

Bernie and Pauline

Turns out, Bernard has been a serious naturalist and birder since the 70s featured here on CBC Television.  Both he and Pauline had lost their respective mates in the last few years and had found friendship in each other through the Blomidon Naturalists Society.  Bernard told us that he is 77 and still climbing trees.  He has tagged more than 800 barred owls and routinely mounts owl boxes all over, to aid the owls in the nesting needs, now that old growth forests are not as prevalent as they once were.  Bernard kept us highly interested in the various and many conservation activities he takes part in, mainly he says, for fun!  He told us that Peregrines would have been in Wolfville due to it being on their flight path returning from the south.  That’s why I would hear them sometimes.  Mystery solved.  I made a mental note to let my friend Daisy know this.  She had wondered the same thing.

We asked Bernard if he happened to know our niece who had attended Acadia University and is now completing her masters in ornithology at York, Taylor Brown.  He said…. Yes, we met one day by chance at the eye doctor.  We were both bored and got to talking and then realized how much we have in common with regard to birding.

Dean and I were afraid to go back down the beach toward the nesting site but Pauline and Bernard assured us that we would be fine.  If we formed a group, they said, the falcons were unlikely to attack us.  I picked up a flat rock and used it as a helmet, to be extra sure.  Once near to but far beneath the nest, we were able to clearly see a proud, puffed-up Momma on the nest and a serene protective Dadda on a tree just a bit further on, standing guard.  Stoic.  Soon, Pauline exclaimed that she could see a fuzzy chick’s head moving just above the rim of the nest.  Time to leave them be, said Bernard.  They need to hunt and take care of necessary falcon parenting business and shouldn’t be interrupted too much.

On our way back up the beach, we were fully captivated by the many fascinating stories that Bernie told us about his adventures in ornithology, owl banding and nesting box mounting.  He would be called upon by Acadia University to take various students ‘under his wing’.  One such student was studying the murder of crows who would roost on Boot Island.  They would go to the island to study them together and so that Bernie could instruct the student in banding and other bird ways.

Bernard is also a wild-orchid enthusiast and counter.  We would have been at the Orchid Show at the Acadia University KC Irving centre in February when my sisters were visiting.  He pointed out that he studies and counts the wild ones though which he said involves a lot of hiking through the woods of Nova Scotia.

lady slippers
These were found on a hike with ‘The Bee Man’ Henry Hicks on his property in Halls Harbour

He then found us a highly interesting fossil of a fern and was bent over pointing at it as if he was in a teenager’s body.  This incredibly youthful senior man has done and still does many hikes and out-trips on his various conservation missions.  Now though most times with his friend Pauline by his side except when he is climbing trees.  At those times, she waits on the ground.  Both of them have a quick smile and a glint in their eye.  They are wise, vital, active, witty and incredibly interesting.  At one point, Pauline told me she wasn’t worried about the falcons dive-bombing because she was wearing blue and they don’t like blue.  Aren’t you lucky I said.  Why don’t they like blue? I asked. Only kidding she said.  She had me going and it was funny, we belted out a good laugh about that one!

Again, I felt completely privileged and indebted to these lovely folks of the Annapolis Valley where we now call our home.  They took a lovely day and made it even better, and… just by chance.

Only in The Valley.

Click here to read Part 1 (Reid’s Meats) and Part 2 (Dabro Farms).

 

(Peregrine picture was found on google images ~ thank you~ The other two are mine.)

Here’s another view of the area at low tide:

Just over the hill at Dabro Farms

We are big fans of really good, local, fresh food.  We aren’t fanatics about it, we just really appreciate it when it is offered and when we can get our hands on it fairly easily at a decent price.

Similar to the story about Reid’s Meats, Dabro Farm is just west a bit and is a family run farm, over the hill from our home with an honour-system market in a small barn.  It is surrounded by grazing cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd goat, geese and a couple of horses and donkeys, and the ever present Gaspereau River flowing lazily on by just across the paddock.

This one day, a few months ago, needing eggs, I rolled on over to the hill to Dabro after a sweet stroll in the sun along the canal with my then old furry girl-friend Lady Jane.

dabroArriving at the barn, set beside the country road, I parked and walked in.  The egg fridge was usually my first order of business as one grown son of mine is a true egg fan, eating two or three when he is over for breakfast.

Opening the fridge, I was shocked to find nary an egg when normally there were several dozen awaiting purchase.  Now, I didn’t let it bother me too much as I had the proprietor in my contacts on my cell.  We had taught his two sons how to drive years ago.  My trusty cell still held his phone number.  I quickly texted Shawn Davidson letting him know my predicament.  Somehow I knew that Shawn would be able to help.

I’ll be right there, he texted back lickety split.

Arriving in his pick-up truck from the other barn down the road, he dismounted and said, give me a sec.

He walked into the hen house and came out about two minutes later with a warm dozen of large brown eggs in a carton held open for me to inspect.  He had left his work at the other end of his farm and come to my aid instantaneously, to hand-pick just laid eggs out from under the feathered ladies in the hen house.  In my mind I was shaking my noggin gently thinking only in the valley.   Shawn began to apologize for not washing the eggs.  I told him to stop it as I gently pulled a warm brown egg into my palm.  It filled my palm completely.  A double-yoker for sure.  At breakfast it was confirmed.  Twin yokes.

Small farms are wonderful sustainable systems which employ families and provide good food to local folks with the circle of life working in a balancing act together.  A little bit of this and a little bit of that.  The manure from the livestock fertilizing the crops.  It reminds me of that scene in the Disney film Lion King when Mufasta explains to his son, Simba, that when he dies, his body becomes the grass.  The antelope eat the grass and later, become food for the lions.  Circle of life.  A delicate balance.  Done with respect.

dabro inside

So, to describe it further:  this particular farm market down in Gaspereau, has a few large fridges and freezers with various butcher-paper wrapped meats, poultry and pork, steaks, chops, bacon, ham and sausage as well as eggs.

There are also various other scrumptious offerings like home-made jams, jellies, relishes and pickles.  Not to mention baked goods, coffee by the cup, knitted socks, toques, mitts, candles, honey, garlic, ice-cream sandwiches which really hit the spot in the warm summer months, and a little library of novels.  All of these items are sold by honour-system.  There are no staff monitoring the market so, choose the goods, write them down in the little book. Insert cash into the cash box or send an etransfer.  Walk out the door and be careful of the roaming, foraging happy-go-lucky chickens.

Time for breakfast!

Thank you Shawn Davidson and family of Dabro Farms.  You will have noted a large contented smile on my face each time I have been in your market.  Only in the Valley.

 

(all pictures found on google images of Dabro Farms)

 

The Paradoxical Commandments ☪ ~by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have always loved these simple statements.

What do you think of them?  Perhaps, leave a comment below…

 

(Photo taken at top of Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia by Martha Valiquette)

9 Items to Improve Life a Little 📌

This post is about a few of the items in my life that I really appreciate. It’s the stuff that I find myself using quite regularly or that I need to turn to in cases of sickness or emergency.

socks

  1. Wool socks. I can’t say enough about wool socks. Living in Canada, my opinion is that they are absolutely essential for comfort in the winter months and even to put on before bed on the cool summer evening. I’m not talking about acrylic or cotton. I’m talking about a high percentage of lambs wool or merino wool and a bit of stretchy stuff like nylon and Lycra. There is a huge difference between wool and acrylic and cotton. Wool remains warm even when wet.  Cotton is worse than useless when wet. You can buy wool socks in various thicknesses and heights, from no see-ems to all the way up to, and even over the knee. One of my favourite brands is out of Vermont and is called ‘Darn Tough’. These socks are 100% lifetime guaranteed. In damp weather, wool socks are essential. I always bring wool socks with me when travelling, even to the tropics.  On an aircraft, when the floor is cold, put them on.  In Cuba we had a day of rain and the weather chilled down.  I wore my capris with wool knee-socks.  Cute! Heading out into a snowy day, thick wool socks will keep your feet toasty. If you haven’t tried wool socks yet, give them a try and then let me know.burts bees.jpg
  2. Burts bees lip balm. It’s the best lip balm that I have ever come across and it has peppermint in the original flavour which brings a nice tingle to the lips.  It is expanding into different colours and flavours.  In fact, one time I had a bit of a mishap with a coloured one…Trying Something New ?? (age 38) 💋 which was pretty funny.coconut oil
  3. Coconut oil. I use coconut oil to remove my make up, to slather on after a shower, to soften my bath water, to sooth a rash or a razor burn and to cook with.  It is even my sunscreen, providing a natural SPF of 5. (I also use a shirt, hat and sarong on long days in the sun.) I am not much for commercial sunscreens but, will use them in a pinch.  I just don’t like how they feel on my skin. There are recipes for natural, coconut oil based sunscreens with a much higher SPF due to the addition of various oils.  For example: carrot seed oil has SPF 38-40; red raspberry seed oil has SPF 28-50. I keep little decorative pots of coconut oil in the bathrooms and a large pot by the stove. It is wonderful stuff.  If you have a sore ear, lay down with the sore ear up. Put a small lump of coconut oil at the opening of your ear and it will melt and drip into your sore ear. Keep it there for about 20 minutes. This is always helped me relieve a sore ear.  An Ayurveda teacher who spoke at the ashram that I wrote about here: Ashram Rant 🕉 told us to put a bit of coconut oil, at the opening of your nostrils and then just gently sniff it in and it will melt and coat the inside of your nose. This will help with relieving dryness there especially in the winter months or in arid climates.  One last treat is to use coconut oil in your coffee. Just stir in a teaspoon along with your cream.  Now taste the exotic smoothness of it.  So lovely.carabiner
  4. Carabiner Hook.  I was in the army for a number of years and wrote about it here: I’m In the Army Now … 🔫  The army is a great place to learn about good gear that makes your life just that much easier, especially when you’re living in a state of panic for weeks on end.  Have you ever thrown your keys into your briefcase, backpack or purse only to later have to completely empty it in order to find them? With a carabiner hook on your key chain, you can simply hook your keys onto a belt loop, bra strap, backpack strap…you get the idea.  Solved.
  5. Refillable Water bottle. I take a full bottle of chilled water with me almost every where I go. In Australia, I would have perished without my Nalgene water bottle, even though the water was hot when I went to drink it. We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28) 🦇 Saves having to buy a drink when I feel thirsty.  I keep home-filled bottles of water in the car in each cup holder too.  This saves money and helps with the plastic trash problem on the planet and in our oceans.  Another good trick though, is to find a public bathroom, wash your hands and then collect water in your two scooped hands and drink from your hands.  Another alternative is the LifeStraw http://lifestraw.com/  with a LifeStraw you can drink bog water and still be alive to tell about it.  I learned about LifeStraw on a TED talk.  Awesome product.Jaden-Sunning
  6. Sarong.  Going to the beach?  Take a sarong to sun-bathe on.  They are so pretty and not so absorbent as terry cloth towels.  They therefore dry much faster and are much lighter weight.  I learned about the benefits of beaching with a sarong while in Mexico, which I wrote about here: La Cucaracha Report – Mexico 🇲🇽 We had done a long beach walk from Sayulita to San Pancho.  When we got there, little 4- year-old Leo was pooped and I laid him down on my red sarong after he drank the coconut water from a freshly cut coconut.  He had a lovely little nap under a palm tree.  I then walked into the little village to buy another one for Dean and I to sit on. I still have the yellow one today, after 13 years and a bit of mending now and then. It has so many wonderful memories absorbed in it, I can not part with it. A sarong is also a very useful sunscreen or a light blanket to shield against over air-conditioning  (don’t get me started on that!).  In the photo above is my son, Leo, in Nicaragua being sun-screened with my sarong. (La Cucaracha Report from Nicaragua 🇳🇮) Of course, it can be used as a dress or a skirt or even a shirt, if necessary.tick spoon
  7. Tick spoon.  We came across this wonderful little tool when we lived in Virginia (which I wrote about in Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳), where we became quite aware of ticks and their habits and dangers. Here is the website for the tick spoon https://www.tickedoff.com/  We have used it several times to get a nasty tick off of us and our dogs and it can be added to your key chain or carabiner and then clipped to your backpack. forearm stand var
  8. Manduka yoga mat.  I had worn out several yoga mats before I finally got fed up and decided I needed to invest in a better quality one.  The Manduka is that.  It is guaranteed for life. https://www.manduka.com  I’m liking these guaranteed-for-life products.  I have two of these mats, the lighter weight one for travel which I used for 500 Yoga Teacher Training which I wrote about here: Ashram Rant 🕉 and the heavier one for home and studio.  In the picture I am doing pincha mayurasana (pincha my WHAT??! ha ha) forearm-stand variation on my lighter-weight green one.  There is not a single nick in either mat after hours and hours of yoga practice. Namaste to that!castiron pans
  9. Cast-iron pans. A guy I worked with when serving tables which I wrote about here: A Simple East-Coast Life told me of the benefits — added iron to your food– and flavour to be derived from cooking in cast iron.  I knew about the flavour because Mom had used cast-iron at  The Camp ⛺️ to cook up a feed of fish and a feed of bull-frogs (yep!).  Lots of butter or lard and you’re all set.  Coconut oil works well in curries.  Making sure your pans are well-seasoned and oiled is essential. We found all of our cast-iron pans at yard sales.  They were slightly rusty but not beyond a good scrubbing with steel wool and then re-seasoning.  Cast-iron can also go outside on the fire and can be used in the oven for baking or to melt cheese on something under the broiler.  They are heavy pans which do require maintenance (oil after use), but, they are oh so good.  We also have a gas range.  Couple cooking over gas flame with the awesomeness of cast-iron and it’s a real winner.

So, that’s it for now on my good gear items…Thank you for stopping by.  ~M

Ashram Rant 🕉

I did the 500 hour yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas in two one-month stints separated by a year. I am still confused about my time there.

I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.  I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity.  Surely I could have one last beer?  This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).

ashram beach
Paradise Island Beach facing West.  Beach Platform is visible on left.

The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau.  The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic.  Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.

ashram beach 2
This is the view facing West.  The tops of the Atlantis Resort are visible.

There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff.  The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.

yoga at ashram
Advertisement for Yoga Teacher Training.  This is the Beach Platform which we did NOT use.

So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:

  • 4:30 wake up
  • 5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
  • 6:00 Meditation
  • 6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
  • 7:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 8:00 Anatomy
  • 9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
  • 10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
  • 11:00 Karma Yoga (chores, like dish washing, garbage collection, temple preparation, meal preparation)
  • 12:00 Raja Yoga Study or Sanskrit
  • 2:00 Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita teachings
  • 4:00 Asana Practise (Yoga and how to teach)
  • 6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
  • 7:00 Homework
  • 8:00 Meditation
  • 8:30 Chanting
  • 9:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)

When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: ‘That advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?’  Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit.  Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable.  A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person.  Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??!  How about a few hours on say, the spine?

We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice).  On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day.  It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.STUDYING IN THE GARDEN

Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay.  The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality.  We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape.  Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour.  It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a

dock-at-sivananda-retreat
The is the Bay platform where we had Pranayama at 5:00 am

deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm.  The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.

Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries.  I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting.  How I envied the knees of the younger yogis).  Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.

The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak.  The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not once check in with her audience.  It was astounding.  A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to.  Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state.  The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing.  At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally.  It was a mystical experience.

meditation-garden-e1492796503741.jpg
Garden Platform as Temple due to high numbers at the ashram

The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences.  I will attempt to explain here:

  • Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily.  Two or three huge barrels of wasted food.  Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food.  How about stopping the use of trays.  People take more food than necessary if given a tray.  Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped.  So, at least ask people to take less.  I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6.  Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were.  Mom taught us to not waste precious food. So, simply get rid of trays.  Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary.  One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food.  But, nothing changed.  It was weird.  Hire a speaker. All sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
  • Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple.  This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple.  There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple.  How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple?  To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.
  • High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch.  That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!!  I’m sorry.  That’s just wrong.  One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies.  We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls.  The brands and ingredients were hidden from us.  This just seems like a pure business decision. These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam.  My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet.  Make it ALL satvic.  Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
  • Beach platform  there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one.  It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it.  Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms.  The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students.  Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo.  It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea.  And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive.  We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
  • Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors.  There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep.  In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light.  But here’s the thing.  One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done.

So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day.  I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul.  Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained.  In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service).  I was never a scholar, so  some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? came down to straight memorization.

After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunch time promised after our exam.  I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished.  I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen.  The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam.  He asked me: Morgan, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.

Oh my god.  I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD.  I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section.  But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again.  There was NO anatomy section on my exam.

So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this.  Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity and spirituality.  I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate.  I wanted the full 500 hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya.  Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out.

I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error.  There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it.  Better to tell them.  I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here.  I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says.  Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on.  My hands were visibly shaking now.  I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen.  Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Morgan.  I was there when the Swami marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now.  All is well.

 

OM
This is the symbol OM.  It is said that Om is the first sound of the Universe. That it is the sound of creation.

So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in it’s opulence.  I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.

When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Morgan? You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.

FOOD PREP ASHRAMWhat the hell.  Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race.  It had been a long, stressful day.

I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy.  I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.

I was basically a basket case by this time.  I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map.  From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well.  I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.

Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation.  First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed.  He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.

ashram grad
Graduation Ceremony

As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me.  He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy.  Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.

Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing.  A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at.  Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one.  My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot.  They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures.  During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping.  Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day.  Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you.  One could even be sent home for too little discipline.  The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith.  She was sent home.

Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt.  We had two uniforms and only a few machines for laundry to share amoung 300 people.  A slight problem for getting laundry done.

Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness (I am Bipolar 1).  I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects.  Sleeping from 10:30 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me.  My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible.  So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night.  BONUS.  My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself.  At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle.  I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid).  So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night.  He asked me if it was truly necessary.  I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions.  That shut him up.  I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.

ASHRAM PATH

So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses.  One more thing, it was slightly cult-ish. What do I mean by that?  Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda.  I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID to stay there and perform their trade or profession (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time.  Ooookay. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going?  They are definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.

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But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life.  I will always invite people to join in yoga because it is a wonderful practice which brings calm, wellness and peace.

On that note, here below is a pumpkin person exploring dancer pose in order to bring you a smile…Namaste.

pumpkin head