Cooking up a Storm in Mysore

Fruit & Veg stallFor the fourth and final instalment of my food guide series, I take a look at the options for eating in whilst in Mysore, reviewing the best supermarkets, organic shops and fruit & veg stalls in and around Gokulam.

I suggest how to safely cook with the water in India and also share photos of some of the dishes I’ve managed to prepare in my basic Indian kitchen – for a little added inspiration.

Read the full article here:

Cooking up a storm in Mysore

Happy cooking!

Food for Thought in Mysore City

Pizza at MayaFollowing my previous guest posts for Ashtanga Brighton, The Ultimate Guide to Eating out in Gokulam and I Get the Sweetest Feeling in Mysore, my third instalment in this food guide series looks at some of the best places to eat further afield in the city of Mysore itself.

From traditional thalis and butter dosas to brick oven pizzas and Indian home cooking, there’s something to suit all tastes if you know where to look.

Check out the full post:

Food for thought in Mysore city

Namaste!

I Get the Sweetest Feeling in Mysore

Coffee and cake at Green HotelFollowing my previous guest post for Ashtanga Brighton, The Ultimate Guide to Eating Out in Gokulam, I’ve now put together a guide to the most important aspect of eating out in Mysore – where to find the best coffee, cake, chocolate and ice cream!

If you have a sweet tooth like me you’re going to love these coffee shops and ice cream parlours. And who’d have thought they’d have great ice cream in India, which used to be one of the least safe foods to eat here?!

Check out the full blog post:

I get the sweetest feeling in Mysore 

Enjoy!

The Ultimate Guide to Eating Out in Gokulam, Mysore

Eating wraps and salad at PascucciHaving spent 3 months in Mysore at the beginning of this year, and having sampled just about every cafe and restaurant there is to sample, I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts and experiences so other people’s tastebuds can have as much fun as mine!

Now that I’m back in Mysore for another 3 months, it seemed the perfect opportunity to publish such a guide, as I’ve now had the opportunity to check all the eateries are still in business, and to include a few new places too.

I’ve written the guide as a guest blog for Ashtanga Brighton and as well as listing the main places to eat in Gokulam and surrounding areas, and the types of food they serve, I also provide a price guide, the addresses and directions of how to find them – because apart from deciding where to go and what to order, the hardest part is finding the restaurants in the first place!

Thali at Hotel DasaprakashCheck out the full blog post here:

The ultimate guide to eating out in Gokulam

Bon appétit!

Travels and Trikonasanas: 5 tips to help you stay on the mat whilst travelling

Garba Pindasana

During my recent travels I met a lovely Canadian guy in Mysore, Clint Griffiths, who runs a yoga clothing brand and blog, Ekaminhale. He asked me to write a guest post for his blog, so I decided to write about an issue that was very close to my heart and prominent in my life at that time, and which still affects me now: the struggles of maintaining a consistent, daily practice whilst travelling.

In terms of my practice, the first half of my 6-month trip this year was amazing – intense, focussed and dedicated – and I felt strong, empowered and on top of my game, so to speak. But that’s because I was in Mysore. As soon as I left Mysore things took a turn for the worst, and the last 3 months were the complete opposite – painful, difficult and a constant struggle to stay focussed and stay on my mat.

You can read more about my journey, including my 5 top tips to help you stay on the mat whilst travelling, over at the Ekaminhale blog:

http://ekaminhale.com/blogs/news/14972493-travels-and-trikonasanas-5-tips-to-help-you-stay-on-the-mat-whilst-travelling

Namaste!

Vipassana: Taming the Monkey Mind

Pagoda containing meditation cells

Pagoda containing meditation cells

Ever since I heard about Vipassana meditation I’ve wanted to try it out. The introductory courses consist of meditating ten hours a day for ten days at a time, in complete silence, with no reading, writing, physical exercise, contact with the outside world or even eye contact allowed. I relished the challenge and wanted to see how I’d cope, not only with the physical pain, but with the mental discipline too (or should that be anguish, or even torture?!)

I’d never gotten around to it in England, so when the opportunity arose to take a course in India – where Vipassana originates from – I jumped on it. The only dates I could find that matched my schedule were at a centre called Dhammalaya, near Kolhapur in Maharashtra, which just happened to be the same centre a fellow traveller had told me about, so I took this as a sign and applied straight away. She said the place was lovely, and she wasn’t wrong.

Exploring Dhammalaya

Prison cell block aka our rooms!

Prison cell block aka our rooms!

The Deccan Vipassana Research Centre, or Dhammalaya, is in a lovely rural setting surrounded by trees and hills. All the communal areas – the meditation hall, the dining hall, and even the arched stone structures housing the drinking water – are covered in colourful mosaic tiling, which is so simple and yet so beautiful. In the middle stands a stunning gold-spired pagoda full of meditation ‘cells’, which again is tiled in colourful mosaic work.

A small wooded area lies to one side, where I started taking short walks in the breaks and managed to spot peacocks, monkeys, bunny rabbits, bats and numerous species of birds – that is, until I got told off as it’s apparently out of bounds and full of snakes! Turns out the ‘walking track’ that appeared to lead into the woods just referred to a patch of gravel, and after doing gentle laps of it every day it started to feel a lot like a prison exercise yard! In fact, considering you’re not supposed to leave until the ten days are up, and the tiny individual meditation rooms are called ‘cells’, the prison analogy seems quite apt.

Daily Routine

Our strict daily schedule

Our strict daily schedule

Our days were super structured and there were lots of rules to follow. The morning bell would go at 4am and we’d be on our cushions by 4.30am ready for our first two-hour sit of the day. Then it was time for breakfast (much to the delight of our rumbling tums), which was usually some spicy local dish made from rice, pulses or grains (and occasionally idli as a special treat), plus strong, milky Indian tea (thankfully they offered a sugar-free version, otherwise my teeth would not have lasted) and a piece of fruit. Now, strictly speaking, only the old students are meant to have fruit at breakfast, with only the new students being allowed fruit at tea-time, but they seemed to bend the rules where this was concerned – which suited me just fine!

After breakfast we’d have about an hour’s rest when we could shower (Indian style, i.e. a bucket and scoop), do washing, go for a short walk (with the snakes, ahem) or just rest. I often took this opportunity to do a few stretches to ease my poor muscles, or else just do absolutely nothing at all – which is a very good practice for me I’ve found. The next three hours would be group or individual sittings and, from the third day, was the start of our adhittana (strong determination) sittings, where we’d have to sit in the same posture for one hour without moving or opening our eyes. I was amazed that I was able to do this straight away simply by following the method we’d been taught, which is based on observing all bodily sensations objectively and not thinking of them as pain or pleasure.

Women’s meditation hall

Lunch was at 11am – usually a substantial, delicious thali – followed by an hour and a half’s rest time. We then had another one hour adhittana session plus a further three hours of group or individual sittings. For me these were the hardest sessions, as I’d feel hot and sleepy after lunch and I often found it really hard to concentrate. The afternoons could really drag, but the light at the end of the tunnel was looking forward to the delicious tea-time snacks at 5pm! You don’t get dinner on a Vipassana retreat, but as new students we’d get tea, fruit and lots of delicious churmuri, a mixture of slightly curried puffed rice, chickpeas, peanuts, curry leaves and black mustard seeds. I’m not sure I would have survived without it!

Our third and final adhittana session of each day would be 6-7pm, after which we’d divide into different rooms to watch a videotaped discourse by the guru, S N Goenka, himself. These were provided in Hindi, English and even Russian, as there seemed to be quite a group of Russian-speaking students on the retreat. This type of division was very prominent throughout the course, as they made distinctions between men and women (who are always separated on Vipassana retreats to avoid distraction); old and new students (different rules apply to each); and locals and foreigners (different registration processes and language divisions).

I found Goenka to be a very gentle but determined, very inspiring and very lovely man, and was sad to discover he’d only passed away some six months before. His discourses were very thought provoking, often moving, and usually made complete sense. The technique of Vipassana meditation is actually very scientific, based on the science of mind and matter. I had no idea what to expect before I took the course, and was surprised to discover that it’s all based on bodily sensations. If we train our mind to observe first our breath and then all our bodily sensations objectively, with equanimity, we can learn to live without craving, aversion or ignorance.

Drinking water

Drinking water

As the Buddha realised, cravings and aversions are at the root of all our problems, as they create desire, greed, anger, frustration, fear and a whole host of other strong, unnecessary emotions. All our misery essentially comes from desire – desire for wanted things to happen or for unwanted things not to happen. If we can control this desire, by controlling our cravings and aversions, then we can be free from this misery. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the teachings obviously go into a lot more detail, but this is the essence of Vipassana, with a strong focus on anicca (impermanence), i.e. the natural law that everything changes. Nothing ever stays the same and we can experience this by observing our bodily sensations.

After watching the discourse we’d have one more short sit, a chance to speak to the teacher in private to ask questions about our practice, and then we’d finally collapse into bed at 9.30pm, ready to start all over again just six and a half hours later. For me the routine wasn’t that different to what I’m used to: getting up before sunrise to practice yoga, only having two main meals per day, and going to bed early – but I know some people found it very difficult to get used to. One thing I continued to find amusing every day was the ‘salad’ that one of the workers had mentioned at the time of registration, saying they’d included it as they know how us Westerners like to eat salad. I nearly burst out laughing when I discovered this meant a few old dried-up chunks of cabbage, carrot and cucumber! Whenever I ate it I could hear one of my friends back home saying sarcastically “Mmm, delicious salad!”

Female residential quarters

Female residential quarters

During the actual meditation sessions we’d hear the most wonderful sounds, especially at dawn and dusk – peacocks mewling to each other across the valley, geckos cackling both inside and outside the hall, bats screeching and all sorts of birds tweeting, chattering and cawing. There was also lots of chanting, gongs and bell-ringing coming from another temple nearby (which got rather confusing at times), and even some pumping dance music from the same temple! One afternoon there was a mini storm going on with thunder, lightning and deafening wind and rain on the roof of the hall, but by the time we got outside again it had completely passed over, everything was bone dry and there was no sign it had ever happened!

We’d also hear audio recordings at the beginning of many of the sessions, with Goenka chanting and giving us instructions and reminders about the techniques we should be practising. At times his voice became unbearably irritating but at others I found it incredibly reassuring and motivating. The chanting became so familiar and I can still hear his repetitive, melodious voice in my head… Anicca… Anicca… Anicca…!

Bringing the Practice to a Close

The beautiful main gong

The beautiful main gong

On the last day we were able to break the vow of silence, which is something I found very odd and don’t think I was quite ready for. The retreat centre suddenly became a very different place and I felt like I was just another traveller again, sharing stories and experiences with others. It had been a very intense experience, which I’d shared with these 25 other women – both Indians and foreigners – but I could see how easy it would be to lose everything we’d just been learning and practising. Trying to use words to describe our experiences seemed futile and meaningless and by the end of the day I was amazed at how exhausted I felt from all the excitement, commotion and verbal activity.

Travelling back to the city of Kolhapur the following day was another level of weirdness for me. Suddenly we were back to the traffic, the busyness, the noise and the smells of typical India and I felt very discombobulated indeed. Some of my fellow Vipassana students were saying how different they felt – calmer, more peaceful, less stressed – but I seemed to be having the opposite experience. I’d been feeling very happy and contented when I started the retreat, after leaving the cosy bubble of Mysore; but when I came out I felt agitated and harassed and had to hide away in my hotel room for most of the day to recharge my batteries and come back to myself. Maybe the ‘recovery period’ that so many people seem to go through after leaving Mysore had been put on hold when I started the retreat and was only just showing itself now.

A gentle daily reminder

A gentle daily reminder

In any case, two and a half weeks later I just about feel ‘normal’ again, after two days of travelling from Kolhapur > Pune > Delhi > Bangkok > Chiang Mai; recovering from a hideous bout of food poisoning as soon as I got to Delhi (Delhi Belly quite literally); getting used to a new city, let alone a new country; and then getting immediately stuck into a five-week Thai massage course in Chiang Mai. Phew! The Vipassana feels a long time ago already, but I’m hoping I can retain some of the stillness and serenity and start to incorporate the practice into my daily life once things settle down. I have no doubt that a consistent daily practice would be incredibly beneficial both for myself and all those around me.

My Observations

These are some of the key things that struck me during the retreat:

  • Personalised plates, cups & spoons

    There are many similarities between Vipassana and Ashtanga Yoga: the five Buddhist precepts are pretty much the same as Patanjali’s five yamas; you need a committed daily practice in order to start really noticing and appreciating the benefits of the practice; the practice will start changing your perspective and priorities in life; you have absolutely no idea what experience you’ll have each practice session until you get on the meditation cushion or yoga mat.

  • With no men around, all the women covered in modest clothing and no scantily-clad yogis around, i.e. with no-one to compare myself to, I discovered a new-found love and appreciation for my own body.
  • We weren’t allowed to wear any jewellery and had to dress modestly, covering our shoulders and knees as is customary for Indian women. I realised how much my jewellery is an expression of my personality, but not being able to wear it meant there were fewer differences between each of us and I started caring less about what other people thought of me. Not being able to speak to each other was also instrumental in this: without hearing anyone else’s words, tone of voice, or opinions, it became irrelevant what they thought as I was never going to know!
  • One of the things I was most worried about was the physical pain of sitting in meditation for ten hours a day, but I was amazed at how quickly the numbness and pins & needles disappeared. I’m sure my daily yoga practice helped, and I’m not saying I didn’t have any pain at all, but it was much more manageable that I’d thought. The mental pain on the other hand….
  • The passing of time became a very strange concept indeed. Days of the week and calendar dates no longer existed, there was just Day 1, Day 2, etc. Sometimes during meditation an hour would feel like an eternity and I’d be willing it to end; other times two hours would breeze by and suddenly we were heading towards the end of the course.
  • Breaking the noble silence

    Breaking the noble silence

    I found it fascinating watching my emotions, which were often very unexpected. One minute something hilarious would pop into my mind and I’d have to stop myself bursting into laughter; the next minute a wave of sadness would rise up from within me and I’d burst into sobs. Luckily this only happened in the cells but it was still a job to keep from disturbing anyone.

  • I discovered I have something of a split personality. I seem to have these two voices in my head; one is like an unruly child, always talking, commentating or even singing along to whatever’s happening; the other is like a patient parent constantly trying to ‘sshhh’ it and calm it down. Is that normal or is it just me…?!
  • I realised how much of a stickler I am for rules. If rules have been set there must be a reason for them, so I believe they should be followed, particularly somewhere that deserves the utmost respect, like on a meditation retreat. So it was interesting to notice my frustration when people turned up late for a sit, left the hall before the gong, or wore inappropriate clothing (much to the distaste of some of the Indian women I noticed). However, I didn’t seem to mind the disregard for the no-morning-fruit-for-new-students rule at all!
  • The most important thing I think I’ll take away from the experience is something that I knew already on an intellectual level, but which somehow seemed to get driven home and made so much more sense to me during the course:

All our misery and happiness is created inside of us; it has nothing to do with anything or anyone outside of ourselves. We cannot control other people, we can only control how we react to them. 

Searching for the Unsearchable

candle_lit_heart_by_prometheus_nike-d4it3woThis week it’s time to go deeper. I could tell you about the last kirtan of the season that descended into a surreal open mic session. Or about finally discovering the actual, official Cauvery government arts and crafts emporium, not just the fake ones spelt with a ‘K’. Or even about the insane amount of dosas I shared with a friend one evening whilst sampling a ‘sharing platter’, which turned out to be 7 actual separate dosas – we were literally dosa drunk by the end of it!

I could tell you about all those things, but I won’t. Because I’d feel like a fraud. I’d feel like I’m missing the bigger picture. Or perhaps hiding from the bigger picture behind all the nice, fluffy, easy bits of everyday life here in Mysore. Which is easily done. In fact most of us do it every day of our lives. It’s much easier to live on the surface of life where things are clear, practical, rational and straightforward (at least most of the time). Why would we want to dive into ourselves where it’s dark, scary and we can’t reach the bottom? As Sharath said in conference recently, “Many people get scared: ‘Oh, I still the mind, I go crazy!’” It’s the same principle here. What if I don’t like what I find? What if I can’t control my inner self? What if I go searching and find there’s nothing really there?

But, to turn that on its head, what if there is something so beautiful and divine inside you that its light could brighten your entire world? What if you spent your whole life never really knowing or being in touch with your soul essence, your soul purpose? What if you spent your whole life feeling like there was something missing, like there must be more to life than this, like something just doesn’t feel quite right – and all because you never looked within, never looked deep enough to find out?

IMG_4075

Completing Angelic Reiki levels 1&2

I’ve heard it said many times that Ashtanga is not the kind of practice that attracts people who are happy in their lives; people who are content with what they have and aren’t interested in finding deeper meaning. Most of the people who come to this practice seem to be searching for something. Perhaps for deeper meaning to their lives. Perhaps for more of a spiritual connection. Perhaps for their soul purpose. Perhaps for enlightenment. We get on the mat day after day after day, practising asana after asana, focussing on our breath, practising mindfulness, studying ancient texts and trying to be a better person. We wonder where all this is going to lead us and continually remind ourselves of Guruji‘s mantra “Practice, practice and all is coming”.

Sometimes this search is exhausting so we seek refuge in the lighter side of life: hanging out with friends; treating ourselves to nice food; and doing things we love that make us feel good. But for me, the last couple of weeks have been a time of going deeper, of allowing space for this search to continue. I had a Vedic astrology reading, then I went for a tarot reading, then I was drawn to an Angelic Reiki course, and most recently I decided to take an Intuitive Living & Psychic Development course. The momentum has been building and I’ve recently had some very intense experiences.

IMG_2699_SmallThe messages are coming through loud and clear for me, as the same themes keep coming up again and again throughout these different exploratory mediums. Intellectually speaking, my rational mind knows what the issues are and how they impact me on a day-to-day basis, but I still struggle with how to resolve them, how to let them go, how to get over them and move on. One very poignant moment for me was during the intuition course. We were doing a meditative exercise where we were focussing on our deepest inner selves and I had this sudden feeling of dropping, as if I was literally dropping into my body, or into my soul. And then a message appeared, as clear as day, that said “You already have all the answers. You can stop searching now.”

I felt a sense of release and a brief lifting. Oh what a relief! Ok, so there’s nothing to do, nothing to look for any more. But then of course my ego or rational mind kicks in and starts with the “Yes, but what does that mean? You don’t really have all the answers do you? Where are they then? What are they? How come you still feel so confused? If you stop searching, what then?”

This battle between the mind/the ego/the external self and the intuition/the inner wisdom/the internal self can be a very challenging one to resolve. The ego can be very clever and manipulative and often speaks much louder than the inner voice of wisdom. I say this from experience, having spent a 4 year period suppressing my intuition and believing my ego was the real me. Eventually, thankfully, my inner voice broke free and started screaming so loudly that I couldn’t ignore it any more. I had to take action, turning my whole life, and the lives of those closest to me, upside down in a heartbeat. But the one thing that kept me going through all the heartache, all the pain and the guilt, was the knowledge, the absolutely clear and unquestionable knowledge, that I was doing the right thing.

And that’s happening for me again right now. Most of the messages I’m getting at the moment are telling me that I’m on the right path, that I’m heading in the right direction. And for someone who’s never had much direction in their life, this is a very positive and reaffirming thing.

InnerselfMany people feel a strong connection when they visit Eastern or Asian countries, and consider places like India to be their spiritual home. I have a similar feeling after living in Mysore for 3 months. But I also feel like I’ve found my spiritual mother and father here. There are two people I’ve met who I’ve felt such a strong affinity with. You know sometimes when you meet someone you feel like you want to talk to them, to spend time with them, to just be near them or maybe to touch them, hug them and feel close to them? Well, that’s what I’ve experienced here. They both happen to be westerners who’ve spent a lot of time in India, and they’re both very inspirational teachers, speakers and healers. I’m so grateful to have met them, to have had the opportunity to spend time with them and learn from them, and I know I’ll be seeing them again sometime soon, somewhere in the world.

And so, as I continue on my journey of self-discovery and self-transformation, I know I will continue searching for the unsearchable. And maybe, gradually, I’ll get closer to finding acceptance. Acceptance of myself, acceptance that I already have all the answers and acceptance of all that is.

In the meantime I’ll continue to practice gratitude. For all that I am and all that I have. And maybe, by sharing my experiences, others might feel encouraged – even inspired – to start looking a little deeper, into that scary place within. That scary, but immensely beautiful and wondrously divine place within ourselves we don’t want to go. And maybe, just maybe, we might catch a glimpse of the eternally glowing light of wisdom and love that we’ve been searching for, for so long, that shines so brightly inside each of us.

Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 9 Mar

This week I’d like to share some fascinating facts I’ve picked up during my last 2 months in Mysore. But first a quick overview of my week….

Best thali so far at Hotel Dasaprakash

Best thali so far at Hotel Dasaprakash

We’ve been having freak storms here: plenty of rain, thunder and lightning,with trees down, debris washed all over the roads and lots of power outages (but then that’s nothing new in India). One such storm happened while I was in the cinema watching a romcom called Shaadi Ke Side Effects (The Side Effects of Marriage). We came out into the pouring rain and experienced a very wet and hairy rickshaw ride home, with no streetlights, several trees blocking the way and lots of new potholes to dodge. With the storms having occurred almost daily for about a week, everyone’s wondering if the monsoon has come early this year.

I had a vedic astrology reading this week, which was fascinating as it accurately told the story of various events in my past, including a very shocking moment when the exact date of a particularly important event showed up in my chart. Even the astrologer was shocked as it’s not usually quite that precise! It also provided some much needed reassurance about my future and windows of time where certain things are more likely to occur, so I have some positive things to look forward to.

A beautiful elephant painted on a rock outside the Sri Krishna temple

A beautiful elephant painted on a rock outside the Sri Krishna temple

On Saturday I attended an inspiring yogic philosophy session by James Boag, which included a very accessible and down-to-earth talk on the yamas followed by an exploration of their application via the means of contact improvisation. I felt very grateful to everyone for sharing such an intimate experience and it provided me with a much-needed reconnection to others via the means of physical contact. We all need a regular dose of human touch and I realised I’d begun to crave it. I think there’s probably a cultural aspect here, as there’s something very British about keeping one’s distance and not being overly tactile towards others.

In terms of my practice this week, my start times have changed again, I was given 2 more postures, I fell into my neighbour during Setu Bhandasana (don’t ask me how when I was only a few inches off the ground) and I had a major wig out when I was completely drained of energy, too exhausted to carry on and ended up in a heap of tears on the toilet floor (which stank of wee I hasten to add). I also videoed myself for the first time and discovered I’m not straight in headstand, I’m too high in half bend and too low in Chaturanga. So an eye-opening experience all round. But that’s one thing that’s guaranteed in Ashtanga – we will forever continue to learn, to adapt, to be amazed and to be challenged in this lifelong practice of self-transformation.

Did you know…?

Mysore and its environs 

  • If it wasn’t for the Western Ghats the whole of South India would be a desert.
  • The Western Ghats, although referred to as a mountain range, are actually the side of a plateau.
  • The Cauvery river is thought of as the Ganges of the south.
  • Mysore is named after Mahasuraheshwara, a demon who was killed by the goddess Chamundeshwara, a form of Parvati; hence Chamundi Hill.

Flora and fauna

  • Coffee flowers

    Coffee flowers

    Coffee plants produce beautiful white flowers that smell very similar to jasmine.

  • Coffee berries need lots of shade to grow, as do black peppercorns, so you often find them planted together.
  • Eating groundnuts straight off the plant takes forever!
  • There are 7 leopards living on Chamundi Hill. Yes, real live wild leopards.
  • There are about 3,500 tigers left on the planet. Approximately 1,500 of them are in India, with roughly 50 in Nagarhole National Park.
  • Mosquitoes only buzz or sing when they’re looking for a mate. The male and female both sing and try to match each other’s pitch in perfect harmony, which will indicate they’re a good match for mating.

Food and drink 

  • Traditional heritage food: didn't look like much at first... until the rice arrived!

    Traditional heritage food: didn’t look like much at first… until the rice arrived!

    According to Ayurveda you should never heat honey, as it destroys the enzymes. So you shouldn’t cook with it or put it in boiling hot drinks (only warm).

  • In India if you order Chai you get normal black tea with milk and sugar. If you order Masala Chai you get the spiced sweet milky tea we call chai in the west.
  • If you mix chai with rum you get a delicious drink called GoRumli (named after the tour company we were with, GoMowgli)!
  • In traditional South Indian cooking you often eat the rice last after other foods. Meals usually start with a spicy tomato soup called Rasam.
  • Ragi is a type of millet which can be used to make bread, pancakes, dosas, rotis, etc.

Sanskrit

  • ‘Gu’ means darkness or spiritual ignorance; ‘ru’ means one who removes; therefore ‘guru’ means the one who removes spiritual ignorance.
  • There are 15 vowels in Sanskrit.
  • The difference between a sage and a monk is a sage can have a family whereas a monk cannot.
  • Technically speaking the word ‘Ashtanga’ should be pronounced the American way with the second ‘a’ as a long vowel, as in ‘Ashtarnga’. This is because in Sanskrit it is written with a dash above the second ‘a’ indicating that it’s a long vowel, pronounced ‘aah’.

Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 2 Mar

My highlights from last week were:

  • Witnessing first hand the lovely Anu Ganesh working her culinary magic at a cooking lesson where we learnt how to make dosas, potato palya, coconut chutney and sambar, and then the best bit – we got to eat it all afterwards!
Dry frying the spices for sambar powder

Dry frying the spices for sambar powder

Anu making perfect dosas

Anu making perfect dosas

Anu taking us through her trusty masala box

Anu taking us through her trusty masala box

The finished article (minus a cheeky bite - couldn't resist!)

The finished article (minus a cheeky bite – couldn’t resist!)

  • Visiting a Hindu temple to perform prayers and seek blessings for Mahashivaratri, a huge festival to celebrate Shiva the Destroyer, with all-day fasting and all-night pujas. Many of the celebrations are centred on finding partners for unmarried women, so it felt like a particularly auspicious day for me! Om Namah Shivaya!
  • Climbing Mysore’s holy Chamundi Hill (mostly by rickshaw), walking 3 times around a huge statue of Nandi the bull (Shiva’s vehicle), enjoying stunning panoramic views of the sprawling city of Mysore, and visiting the Chamundeshwara temple at the top. The best part was managing, by complete fluke, to visit the day before Mahashivaratri which meant the place was almost deserted – by Indian standards at least!
Nandi the holy bull

Nandi the holy bull

Just a few of the 1,008 steps ascending Chamundi Hill

Just a few of the 1,008 steps ascending Chamundi Hill

The beautiful Chamundeshwara Temple atop Chamundi Hill

The beautiful Chamundeshwara temple

A cheeky Chamundi chimp!

A cheeky Chamundi chimp!

Enjoying sunset from Chamundi Hill

Enjoying sunset from Chamundi Hill

  • Enjoying a boogie to some cheesy dance music and indulging in a spot of rum punch and sangria at a new moon party very kindly hosted by the ever generous Whittle at The Blue House.
  • Moving house! After 2 months of living in a Maharana Suite at Mystic School, I decided it was time to move somewhere that felt a bit more homely. It was a tough decision, as I would be giving up so many luxuries: wifi, filtered water, hot power shower, new bathroom, fresh sheets & towels, lockable safe and a cafe with sauna and jacuzzi on the rooftop. “Are you mad?” I hear you cry! I know, I know but I’m now living in a sweet apartment in a different neighbourhood, which feels more Indian and less like a hotel room. I have to say the pink and green furnishings really sold it to me. And the best bit? I’m now much closer to the Chocolate Man!
  • In the process of arranging the move I had a day where I had lots to sort out, including trying to get the key off the previous tenant and contacting the flat owner via Facebook. By the afternoon I was experiencing this strange feeling that seemed so familiar and yet so alien too. Then I figured out what it was: stress. For the first time since I left the UK in the New Year I realised I haven’t once felt stressed. And now I was getting mildly agitated over such simple things as trying to organise a key handover and having a slow internet connection! Those long, pressurised days of slaving away in an office in the corporate world suddenly seemed such a long way away. And for that I’m so very, very grateful.
Old home....

Before….

... new home

….after

The local key cutters

The local roadside key cutter

The local removal guy aka my lovely flatmate Neal

The local removal guy aka my lovely flatmate Neal

  • Attending Lakshmish’s Sanskrit and Hatha Yoga Pradipika classes. As a Linguistics graduate I’m fascinated by language in all its forms, so am relishing the opportunity to learn the basics of this ancient language, which not only has a different alphabet to my mother tongue but many different sounds too. By the end of it I might even be able to decipher some of the mysterious chants we dutifully recite day after day.

The highlight of my yoga practice this week comes in the form of a small, cheeky 7-year-old Indian boy called Sambhav – Sharath’s son. He’s just the epitome of cuteness. On Thursday we had a counted led primary class due to the moon day on Friday, but it was also Mahashivaratri which is a public holiday, so Sambhav had the day off school. We were almost at the end of the practice, sitting in Yoga Mudra, with Sharath counting his slow count to ten. He had just called “Six” when suddenly this little voice piped up from the doorway, shouting “Seven!” The whole room was sent into fits of giggles and Sambhav proceeded to follow his father around the room and into both changing rooms during Utpluthih to make sure all his students were holding the dreaded posture for the full ten slow breaths! Simply adorable.

My Top 10 Uses for Coconut Oil

IMG_3879When I was back in the UK packing to come on this trip (feels like a lifetime ago already), I had every intention of packing lightly and was trying to consolidate the various toiletries and products I might need, which proved no easy task. I mean there’s certain things a girl just can’t do without. Right? From night cream to hair conditioner, from body cream to hair serum, and from eye make-up remover to insect bite relief.

But of course, as soon as I got to India I realised there’s one product that performs all these functions and more. It’s readily available, incredibly cheap and best of all completely natural. And the name of this miracle product? Coconut oil.

I knew you could use it for a lot of things, but I had no idea how far reaching these were until I came across this great blog post 101 Uses for Coconut Oil. So I decided to try out some of the suggestions and my favourite ones are listed below. As I don’t have a full kitchen I haven’t really been cooking for myself, so most of these are external uses, but as you can see from the list there are countless culinary and internal uses too.

1. Body Lotion

Used sparingly as an all-over body moisturiser after showering. Gives your skin a lovely, healthy glow and a fresh, tropical scent for the rest of the day. Just make sure you wait a while before putting your clothes on!

2. Face Moisturiser 

Makes a wonderfully rich, nourishing alternative to night cream and is thought to have anti-ageing properties.

3. Intensive Hair Treatment

Before you go to bed you can rub it into your scalp and all the way through to the ends, giving yourself a relaxing head massage in the process. Leave it on overnight, then wash it out in the morning for an intensive deep conditioning treatment.

4. Hair Serum

If your hair is anything like mine and you suffer from frizz and pesky flyways, rubbing a little coconut oil into your hands and smoothing down the hair shafts can do wonders for your dry hair, particularly on those dry or split ends.

5. Eye Make-up Remover

On the increasingly rare occasions when I decide to wear some mascara of an evening, I’ve found that dabbing a piece of tissue or cotton wool in a little coconut oil removes the mascara like a dream.

6. Insect Bite Relief

Dabbing a little coconut oil on insect bites, particularly from mosquitoes, really helps reduce the itch.

7. Massage Oil

coconuts1I’ve had several massages where coconut oil was the main oil of choice. It goes on easily, is cheap enough (in India at least) that you can be generous with it, and it leaves you smelling lovely all day.

8. Cold Relief

When I was suffering from a cold a few weeks ago, I would blend a spoonful into herbal tea to help speed my recovery. But be careful – I found it makes the tea much hotter when you first put it in!

9. Oil Pulling 

I decided to try oil pulling while I’m here, which is a process of swishing oil around your mouth and ‘pulling’ it through your teeth for about 10-15 minutes each morning when you first get up. You can also use sesame or sunflower oil, but I decided to try coconut oil for the taste and also because it’s in such plentiful supply. I’ve noticed my teeth feel much cleaner and smoother after a couple of weeks and I think my gums feel healthier too. There are claims that oil pulling can help with not just improved dental health but in curing many other diseases and ailments too.

A word of warning though: DO NOT swallow the oil once you’ve finished pulling, as it will be full of harmful bacteria and toxic bodily waste. Spit it into the toilet, down a sink or drain and then clean out the receptacle and your mouth with plenty of water afterwards. Tongue scraping immediately afterwards also feels very cleansing, particularly when you see the residue that’s left behind!

10. Nappy Rash

A slightly delicate subject this one, but important nonetheless. The combination of the hot climate (and it’s getting especially hot now), tight clothing and overuse of either toilet paper and/or bidet spray showers can result in a sore, painful rash around the genital region. Applying coconut oil to the area after showering is not only safe and soothing but reduces the rash in just a few days.

The benefits and uses of coconut oil are almost never-ending; it really is a miracle product. Now, if only we could find a way to grow coconut trees in the UK…