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Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Well, it’s hot here in Texas. There’s no doubt about that. The people in both places are truly welcoming and friendly. And cows are important (in rather different ways, admittedly…).

This spring, I immersed myself in the study of the local Texas medicinal herbs. While my training in Ayurveda gave me a beautifully comprehensive system to understand the effects of herbs based on their inherent qualities and influence on the doshas, I had not applied this system of energetics to western herbs before. It definitely works.

In India, my teachers emphasized the importance of befriending our local herbs back home. They taught that there is an affinity between two organisms who live in the same community, suggesting that an herb will have a greater effect on the people who live near its home than another herb shipped from around the globe – to say nothing of the impact that the shipping process itself has on our planet.

Alma de Mujer Lodge

I have been studying at the Wildflower Herb School here in Austin. Our program began with a Native American ceremony honoring the earth through the four cardinal directions and their associated elements: water, air, fire and earth. There is an obvious parallel between this local indigenous cosmology and that of Ayurveda, which is also built upon an element theory and grounded in the cardinal directions. It felt serendipitous to find myself in a western herbalism school with such a holistic, earth-centered focus, fitting so well with Ayurveda’s perspective.

Making Medicine

It is also a school with powerful female energy – our primary teacher is a woman, Nicole Telkes, and our classes have been held at a retreat center called Alma de Mujer (Soul of the Woman). Our opening ritual was led by a woman who is a member of the Indigenous Women’s Network, which owns the land. Mother Nature herself is a presence here.

In our first herb walk with Nicole, we crossed the open meadow stopping every few feet to kneel down and inspect another herb with medicinal uses right at our feet. I felt awed again at the power and gifts of our earth. It seemed every “weed” we passed had generous medicinal properties.

Eclipta alba, “Bhringaraj”

And then Nicole stopped and turned to me. “Do you know what this is?” she gestured to a small nondescript plant happily sprouting up among some grasses. “It’s Eclipta alba – Bhringaraj.” Right here in the wilderness of Central Texas, a standard of Ayurveda’s pharmacopeia is equally at home.

As our national health care crisis continues to deepen, I believe more and more people will be drawn to the accessible, effective, and inexpensive realm of herbal medicine and preventive care. Built as it is upon universal truths, adaptable to different cultures and locations, Ayurveda’s healing vision is already right here. quite at home in the heart of Texas.

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On Sunday, there will be a solar eclipse in the late afternoon and evening that will be visible here in the western part of the United States. It will be an annular eclipse, meaning the moon will line up directly in front of the sun leaving a thin ring of light visible around the perimeter.

According to Vedic tradition, eclipses are taken very seriously and considered a somewhat inauspicious occasion. They are generally regarded as a poor time to undertake an important or new activity, and a good time for meditation and chanting mantras. When I was in India last year, a lunar eclipse occurred while I was receiving pancha karma treatment, and my doctors encouraged me to stay inside, explaining we are particularly vulnerable to negative energy while undergoing such deep release and detoxification.

Here is some advice from the Sai Baba Temple of Austin:

“Solar eclipses are not good times to enter into contracts, embark on new ventures, travel, do most religious ceremonies, or undertake important ventures.  However, they are considered excellent times to perform japa, or repetition of God’s name.  Repetition of mantras like AUM NAMAH SHIVAYA, HARE KRISHNA, AUM NAMO VASUDEVAAYA, etc., are hundreds or even thousands of times more powerful when done during an eclipse than during an ordinary time.  Particularly recommended is the recitation of these mantras while standing or sitting in a body of water like a lake or stream.

Other suggestions:
-Pregnant women are suggested to stay inside and avoid the eclipse light.
-Throw away leftover food after the eclipse.
-Take a bath/shower after the eclipse.
-Fast during (and if possible for a few hours before and after) the eclipse.”

Sunday’s eclipse will begin around 3:15pm Central Time and end around 8:30pm. Sounds like a good time to head down to the Green Belt and find a quiet spot to immerse in the cool waters….

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Sunrise over Vaidyagrama

This morning as I watched the sun rise over New Mexico, I marveled anew at the wonder of this globe. We spin on our little axis through space, pulled in endless scheduled circles around a ball of fire amongst countless other rotating spheres passing in their own exact orbits. The celestial bodies that I gazed up at from Vaidyagrama are visible to me now, in their turn, from here on the other side of the planet. Watching them keeps me aware of the true scale of things.

Door to door, my trip home from India took a total of 44 hours: an hour-long tear-stained taxi ride, followed by four flights interspersed with 14 land-bound hours of layovers, capped off by a beautiful sunset drive through the deserts of New Mexico. I am already missing my dear friends at Vaidyagrama – AND it is a joy to be home.

My typical pancha karma attire - oily hair in a towel and at least three patterns below the neck.

My last week of pancha karma was dedicated to recuperation. All of the intensive treatments were over so now my body just got to soak in the strengthening herbal medicines, fresh foods, natural surroundings, and daily oil massages while it got strong again. My focus shifted from my body’s cleansing and re-balancing to that of my mind. There was almost no explicit guidance from the doctors on that aspect of pancha karma, but the very structure of Vaidyagrama itself points you towards reflection and increasing mental quiet. With all of my physical needs taken care of, I took it as a rare opportunity to reduce as much mental input as possible. Just as eating more food before the previous meal is digested results in a backlog and poor digestion, I realized I am constantly putting in more information before the previous installment is processed. My mental digestion would benefit from some fasting.

So for my last week at Vaidyagrama, I gave up the internet entirely, and – even more challenging for me – I abandoned all reading. No studying the ancient texts, no yoga books, no poetry, not even a “just for fun” novel. No input. Honestly, the prospect was more than a little unnerving.

When you sit with yourself for so long in this intense practice of stripping away, you can discover what you’re leaning on, what’s keeping you comfortable but not really vibrant. My brain is always working; even my mental “neutral” is pretty active. Those shifting gears create a certain amount of background noise that is somehow reassuring, the white noise of my brain. It was a shock to have nothing to take in, nothing new to process – no white noise. Suddenly other “noises” could be heard. It felt odd, but never boring, to go out to the porch with nothing in my hands to read. I watched the rain or the birds, or closed my eyes and watched my thoughts go by, wandering through the stacks of my memories and dreams.

At first, I expected that this would provoke an internal revolution. I kept watching for the revelations, a breakthrough to rock my perspective. Before long I realized that even that baited-breath watchfulness revealed a drive to accomplish something, to have some proof of time well spent. It is an insidious pressure. What I longed for, I realized, was to have NO expectations, nothing to defend or prove. Just to sit, and have that be enough. So I sat. And I have nothing to report. No analysis, no tidy landing place…. Just a quiet, humble relief.

How do you say good-bye to a community of teachers, caregivers and friends who have come to feel like family? The best solution I have come up with is not to – to start planning your reunion as soon as possible. As the taxi pulled away down the dirt drive, I waved to Dr. Ramdas, Lima, Rtu, Dr. Om, Dr. Aruna and the rest of the crowd until the bend in the road hid them from sight, and I began picturing my return.

I’ve now been here in my parents’ home in Santa Fe for one week, with several unscheduled weeks still in front of me. As my body continues to get stronger, the wealth of experiences of the last six months are percolating in the periphery of my awareness. It is said that the true effect of pancha karma is not felt until three months later, as the cells turn over in the course of their natural life cycles and the body is literally renewed. I am certain the same could be said about the effect of living  in a foreign land for six months. The seeds sown in this season will bear fruit in their own time.

At the Ooty Botanical Garden

In the meantime, I fully recognize the great luxury I am experiencing right now – no job to report to, no family to take care of, few bills to pay – and I am relishing my diminished interactions with the world for a bit longer. I know it will soon take effort and intention to gracefully navigate the demands that will resume. I have faith that my experience of life at Vaidyagrama will give me discrimination in choosing which strands I weave back into the fabric of my daily life.

What happens next for me? I will stay in Santa Fe for the rest of July and then make my way to my new home: Austin, Texas. Some of you may know my brother Ian and his wife Jeri Lynn, two of the most inspiring artists (and blog writers, incidentally) that I know. Their roots are deep in Austin, and I get more and more excited about joining them in creating our own village, right there up the road from Barton Springs.

My niece, Koruna, whose brother is due in August

I will set up shop as an Ayurveda consultant and yoga instructor, offering workshops and individual consultations to help clients find their unique sources of health and contentment in life. And I will remain open to the guiding spirit that led me so effortlessly through India, watching for my right path to emerge, the path with the true sense of calling and a sense of ease.

One unexpected joy I found in India was connecting with all of you here. I plan to continue writing here and sharing inspirations rooted in the rich earth of Ayurveda – ideas about community, nature, delicious food, healing, the gifts of yoga, the importance of beauty, and other roadside attractions. I hope you will continue to keep me company on this path. Good company, I have seen, is often the very best medicine.

The full moon over Vaidyagrama

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Ft. Kochi at sunset - until next time...

When our week in Fort Kochi was up, Emily and I reluctantly took the ferry back across the waterway to the train station and bid our sweet community goodbye. We had begun to feel like regulars in town, with people recognizing us on the street after seeing us in a store. We had found the most magnificent restaurant (called Oceanos, in case you find yourself in the neighborhood), and ended up going there almost every night (try the kerala red beans with pumpkin, or the okra coconut curry). Likewise, we found a sweet café a few doors down from our hotel and got to know the owner, Biju, after spending several mornings eating his wife’s and mother-in-law’s masala dosas while watching the pick-up cricket game in the field across the street. I expect we’ll be back someday.

Our next stop was Thrissur, about two hours north of Fort Kochi by train, and the hometown (or “native,” as they call it around here) of our dear teacher, Dr. Ramdas. His wife Lima met us at the train station and welcomed us into the house where Dr. Ramdas grew up and where his mother still lives – in fact, where he and Lima and their two children lived until three or four years ago when they came to Vaidyagrama. Their 2-year-old daughter, Rtu-parna, and 15-year-old son, Rithwick, are an integral part of the fabric of Vaidyagrama now.

Rithwick, his cousins, and Lima at a special birthday celebration dinner

Ostensibly we came to Thrissur for Pooram, an annual temple festival famous across India for its elaborate elephant procession; however, it was a joy for us just to be at Dr. Ramdas and Lima’s home in the midst of their family, which was gathering because of Pooram. Dr. Ramdas’s sister Radika and her husband were at the house, as were his niece and nephew from a different sister who couldn’t come. The nephew lives there full-time with Dr. Ramdas’s mother, which all adds up to a full house – and lots of incredible food. Radika and Lima are stupendous, mind-blowing chefs. It seemed we never stopped eating the whole time we were there – one meal would end and it would soon be time for another.

Pooram itself is a day long festival in which two temples hold a friendly competition. Each sends an emissary of about twenty decorated elephants to the square in front of the town’s main temple. Each elephant wears elaborate head ornaments and has three men mounted on top: one carries fans made of peacock feathers, another swings batons with plumes of white fur, and the third holds a brightly colored umbrella high above the elephant’s back.

At the climax of the festival, the two lines of elephants face off across a huge field packed with over 100,000 people, and to the sound of mad drumming, the umbrellas from one line of elephants are taken down and replaced with umbrellas of a different pattern or color. The crowd cheers and then it’s the other side’s turn to show off a new set of umbrellas. This goes on for hours: umbrellas exchanged for new ones, drums pounding and people cheering. I am not sure if there is ever an official winner, but everyone plays the judge of which temple had the better umbrellas. (I am certain it was the devi temple.)

Our guidebooks warned that Thrissur Pooram has become an enormous affair which some men might use as an excuse to “get intoxicated and grope women in the crowd.” The crowd did take on a certain feverish pitch, with the trance-inducing drums and the surges of cheers. I just love the fact that two temples competing on the basis of elephant fashion, one could say, inspires such reckless abandon and drunken revelry. What a wonderful reason for a display of passion. Only in India.

Auspiciously perhaps, that same day we went with Dr. Ramdas to pick up the new car he and Lima recently purchased (a Chevrolet Spirit from “Gee-yem Motors,” as the dealership sign read). We made a motley crew: Dr. Ramdas with his brother-in-law, his 2 year old daughter, and two white girls from New Mexico. After the final papers had been signed, the salesman escorted us outside and arranged us all for a photograph in front of the car. Then, according to custom, he placed a lemon in front of each tire and we rolled over them on our way out of the lot. No one knew the reason or origin of the custom, but it seems meant to ensure an auspicious future for the vehicle.

ShreeLakshmi, Rtu, Emily, me and Lima in our finest

The next morning we drove the car to the Guruvayur Temple, an important and enormous Krishna temple about an hour away, to hold a puja for the car. We awoke at 4 am in order to arrive at the temple by our 6 am appointment, and we all dressed up (Lima dressed Emily and me in her saris for the occasion). We stood outside the temple at sunrise as a priest conducted the ritual: he lit incense and chanted sacred words to invite safe and smooth travels, placed a garland of flowers across the car’s hood, dotted each window with sandalwood paste – and placed a lemon in front of each tire.

The Dhanvantari temple

From there, we drove on to one of only two Dhanvantari temples in southern India. When Dr. Ramdas completed his training as an Ayurvedic doctor twenty years ago, he and one of his classmates came to this temple and slept there for 21 days, paying homage to the god of healing to whom they were devoting their life’s work, eating only the prasad that visitors to the temple brought. Although usually only Hindus are permitted inside, Dr. Ramdas intervened on our behalf and we were welcomed in. It was a powerful experience. A relatively small temple, it holds a quiet calm that is reassuring and comforting. The Dhanvantari idol enclosed in the center shrine is completely covered in butter, the traditional sacrificial offering at this temple. We made offerings of our own and pictured Dr. Ramdas’s 21-day pilgrimage. To imagine we were walking in his footsteps for even a few minutes was an inspiration. We felt initiated.

The last day we were in Thrissur, we went to Lima’s parents’ home, about an hour away. We were excited in particular to see her mother, whom we had treated during our training a few months ago. She taught us how to make a traditional kerala dish, kind of a sandwich of sweet coconut meat in rice flour steamed in banana leaves. They live about two kilometers from the beach but apparently don’t go very often, so in our honor, we all piled in their small mini-van (along with some neighbor-relatives) and went. It was a beautiful beach, and Emily inspired Rithwick to go in up to his chest. The rest of us stayed at knee’s height and watched a beautiful sunset.

We were sad to leave Thrissur’s warmth – and Lima’s incredible cooking – but after five days, it was time for yoga. We boarded the train and headed south to Trivandrum and took up residence at the Shivananda Yoga Ashram. Perched on a hilltop with enormous trees bearing brilliant red blossoms and dropping ripe mangoes (well, not the same trees), we felt like we had arrived in heaven. As a fellow yogi commented, “This place is like yoga Disneyland.” It really was. The rigorous schedule of meditation, yoga, and seva (mopping the floor, in my case) was a welcome dive into Spirit and heart, a good transition in advance of pancha karma. I stayed for ten days before heading back to Vaidyagrama on my own, with Emily to follow a week later.

This bathing suit is all the rage in south India.

On one of my last days there, the ashram planned a day trip to Kanyakumari, the very southern most tip of India – the place where the India Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal come together. I had not expected to make it there this trip, so it was a true surprise treat to get to take a dip in those waters. We then waited several hours to get on a ferry out to the rock where Swami Vivekananda meditated for two days straight before deciding to come to Chicago for the world’s fair in 1893, at which he gave a riveting speech that effectively introduced yoga to the West. From the rock, I looked north towards this vast and complex country and counted my blessings once again.

*******

Someone had to remind me that this past weekend was Memorial Day in the States. Being so far away myself, I think of all the soldiers and civilians who have died far from their homes under our flag. I remember too the Army officer I met on the first leg of my flight to India (he got off in Atlanta). He said he was always embarrassed when people thanked him for his service, because he loves his job – “It’s the best job in the world.” I’m not sure which aspects he loves. I think of all those who have died in wars, and I hope that they have found peace. I am grateful for peace wherever we find it, and perhaps especially wherever we make it.

Upon reflection today, I realized that’s really why I’m in India, why I am studying Ayurveda – to learn to create peace.

Sarve bhavantu sukinah

Sarve santu niramayah

Sarve bhadrani pashyantu

Ma kashchid dukha bhagbhavet

May all be happy;

May all be free from disease;

May all see only the good in others;

May none suffer from sorrow.

~from Vaidyagrama’s daily prayers

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Returning

Emily and me on the backwaters in Kerala

After three and a half weeks away, I returned to Vaidyagrama on Tuesday night. As I had hoped, it felt like a sweet homecoming. Returning as a patient now with all of our classes and travel completed, I have a very different mindset, focused on rest, integration and rejuvenation. I can feel my mind and body heaving something like a sigh of relief. While my travels of the past three weeks (and indeed, the past five months) have been entirely smooth and fascinating, inspiring even, it was still a great relief and joy to arrive at the Coimbatore train station and see Ramaswamy, our familiar taxi driver, waiting for me after my ten hour train ride from Trivandrum – but I’m getting ahead of myself. After my weeks of silence here in blogland, I have some catching up to do.

Me, Ras, and Emily (Lynn was behind the camera)

Back on the last day of April, the four of us students boarded the train to Bangalore to visit Kalpana ji, whom you may remember from my post describing her inspirational visit to Vaidyagrama in March. She and her husband Sampath are part of the team of directors of Punarnava Ayurveda, lending their expertise in organizational behavior and visioning to the ayurvedic doctors who make up the rest of the team. After Kalpana’s visit with us in March, she generously invited us to visit her home in Bangalore to “talk some more.”

The Magic House (in the background) as viewed across the future fish pond next to the ayurvedic center currently under construction.

Aside from housing and feeding us (exceedingly well), she gave us an entire weekend workshop on vision, values, leadership and self-evaluation. We stayed in their lovely and incredibly unusual home (called “the Magic house” by their neighbors, and it wasn’t hard to see why…. Among other novelties of construction, they are building an ayurvedic treatment center in their back yard, literally. Unexpected things are possible around these folks). We also visited the Hanuman temple that their family helps support. Hanuman, the strong and fearless monkey god who exemplifies the ideals of service and devotion, is a fitting symbol for this amazing family, and we felt blessed to be included in their circle for a time.

From Bangalore, Emily and I left the others and set off on our own. Our plan was loose, with the intention merely of moving where the path seemed least cumbersome. Since we had only one fixed point in our travel schedule (to meet up with Dr. Ramdas and his family for a festival in his hometown) and many interesting destination options, we developed a strategy in our itinerary-planning: to trust India’s signals in the form of ease of transit, looking for the simplest path to an endpoint; the moment we hit any resistance in our planning, like overbooked trains or a lack of convenient routes to a possible destination, we took that as a sign to try a different destination altogether rather than forcing something to fit. It has been a great lesson in remaining unattached and seeking the flow of momentum – a great strategy for calming vata dosha too, which is generally agitated by travel anyway. We ended up taking a night train from Bangalore to Fort Kochi on the coast and settling in there for a full week.

A tree overlooking the cricket field in Ft. Kochi

While it is a tourist Mecca in the high season, during the summer Fort Kochi is rather bereft of foreign visitors. There were a fair number of Indian tourists, but even as newcomers to town we could feel the lack of crowds in the shops and restaurants, the sheer number of which served as a sign of the potential for tourists – and we were grateful for our timing. Although it was indeed HOT, we were actually happy to trade the cooler temperatures of the high season for the lack of crowds and other foreigners (who we tend to think give us a bad name, ideal tourists that we are!).

Chinese Fishing Nets

To reach the town of Fort Kochi from the train station, we took a small ferry befitting a town that makes its living off of the sea. Fort Kochi shows evidence of the varied cultures that have settled here in an attempt to control its lucrative port and its place in the spice trade.  As one guide book describes it, “During a wander through Fort Kochi’s narrow lanes, you will stumble upon spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace, India’s first European church, Dutch homes, and a village green that could have been transported from England’s Home Counties.” The Dutch Palace houses some beautiful murals painted with vegetable paints in a traditional native style, depicting Hindu gods and stories. Fort Kochi is also home to one of the only communities of Jews in India. The rare synagogue there is still functioning but apparently only has about 12 members in the congregation now, all elderly.

The Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Kochi

The center of town is a cluster of shops and old buildings snuggled against a small beach, surrounded by massive towering trees. It feels a bit like the ante-bellum south of the United States, with a similar sense of dated gentility and a slow pace of living. The beachfront is adjacent to the functioning Chinese fishing nets, elaborate contraptions that look like kites made of gossamer, which are lowered into the water and after some time are raised back up, full of glittering bounty. There were many churches and cathedrals even, signs of the Portuguese Catholic influence.

In the evening at sunset, Emily and I walked along the beachfront amidst the Indian tourists, eating ice cream or drinking chai, and watched the waves crashing and the Indians wading. Most Indians do not swim, even those living in Kerala, the most beautiful coastal state you can imagine. No one has given us a compelling explanation for why not. We were ready to dive in, were it not for the stares we were already attracting by simply walking on the shore. Some people stopped us and asked where we were from, while others just smiled or giggled – we have learned to see giggling as a complimentary gesture, not laughing at us (we hope) as much as laughing out of happiness or surprise, perhaps colored by shyness or not knowing how to approach us. Once in a grocery store here in Coimbatore as a clerk was showing me to the fruit aisle, she asked where I was from and then after a few more steps in grinning silence, she simply said, “I am so happy!” It’s humbling to have people so very happy at your mere presence.

One day, we took a day trip from Fort Kochi into the backwaters of Kerala on a beautiful rattan boat. Powered by two men with poles, the speed was leisurely and entirely relaxing. We traveled along canals through residential communities, enjoying the breeze and the views. After lunch, we got in smaller boats, more like a wide canoe, and poled along smaller waterways back into neighborhoods. It felt rather like a tropical, rural Venice. We witnessed the exception to the “Indians don’t swim” rule as children cavorted in the deeper canals.

On another day, we visited an elephant training camp where they bathe the elephants in a nearby river. They led the elephants (five of them in all) to the water’s edge and instructed them to lie down and then scrubbed them with coconut hulls. A crowd of about thirty tourists had gathered on the banks with our cameras, transported from town with similar promises of possibly getting to help bathe them. After the team of trainers had been at it for about five minutes and we were beginning to wonder how to work our way in, one of them looked up and waved me over to help, and I waded in up to my knees and he handed me a coconut hull.

When they are lying down, elephants are much less formidable and statuesque, far less likely to step on you (although rolling over you is still a distinct possibility). When they stood back up, they somehow remained approachable, as we had shared this intimate moment with them at their morning toilette. Emily and I prayed that they were happy elephants. Even in this land that reveres their elephants, seeing such monumental wild beasts in captivity made us cringe a bit. Anthropomorphizing is far too easy, with their sweet eyes and apparent cooperation with their trainers.

It was the perfect preview for Pooram, the elephant festival that we headed to next, but that will have to wait for another day’s post as I am now being called for my treatment. More to come soon….!

It's hard to beat a chai on the train

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Contrary to popular belief, buttermilk is NOT what you will find in the local Food Giant or Publix grocery store in the “buttermilk” carton. Oh no. It is an amazing health-promoting, smooth, tasty beverage made from fresh milk. In Sanskrit, it is called takra, and it has many healing properties. Gently sour and astringent, it increases the appetite and kindles the digestive fire without creating acid – a perfect appetizer. It is particularly beneficial for those with edema, bloating, hemorrhoids, and intestinal diseases like colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or diarrhea. It also improves painful urination and anemia. In terms of the doshas, it reduces Kapha and Vata. We have been drinking it daily here, and it just feels good going down. Making it is one of the skills I am excited to bring home with me.

If making buttermilk seems complicated at first, I encourage you roll up your sleeves and splash around a bit. My inexperience in such endeavors gave me a lack of confidence, but having seen how simple it actually is in execution, I was inspired. If I can do it, then I’m sure you can too (provided you can get to the end of step 3, which I grant may be a challenge).

Here’s a buttermilk-making primer for the adventurous:

1.      Find a cow who is giving milk. If you don’t know her, it’s probably best to leave the milking to someone who does. Otherwise she may get agitated and not give much milk, and you don’t want that.

2.      If there is no cow in your neighborhood, find some fresh raw milk. The incredible taste and health-giving properties make it worth the effort – and there may be some required, since it is illegal in the US (and many other countries) to sell unpasteurized milk. (I have a source in Austin, TX – let me know if you want me to hook you up.) Pasteurization is the process by which milk is heated to very high temperatures to remove any bacteria. Some say this destroys the naturally occurring enzymes that make milk easier to digest, and that pasteurization is the reason many apparently lactose-intolerant people have difficulty digesting milk. To obtain raw milk, you may have to visit some farmers markets or farms and ask around – you may even need to buy a “share” in a cow, so you can simply take the milk from your “own” cow without anyone selling it to you.

3.      If you can’t find raw milk, then give it a whirl with non-homogenized milk. Homogenization is another step of processing that keeps the cream from separating and rising to the top, which is what natural unprocessed milk does when left on its own. You can find non-homogenized milk in many “healthy” or high-end grocery stores these days . It is usually in a glass bottle and you can see a thick layer of cream gathered on the top. Be prepared for it cost a bit more. Unfortunately, if it’s homogenized, making buttermilk just won’t work.

4.      In the evening, take about a liter of your fresh non-homogenized milk, boil it, and let it cool. Put it in a container with a lid. Add a dollop of (organic, whole-milk, high-quality) yogurt. Cover the container, and let it sit (out of the refrigerator) overnight. (Yes, you really must keep it out of the refrigerator.)

5.      The next morning, the container of milk will be miraculously transformed to curd, no effort required. We might call this “yogurt” but do not be confused – this creamy, sour, fresh curd is a world apart from the store-bought yogurt you likely know (and may even love… but just you wait – you’ll fall in love all over again!). Set aside a dollop of curd for tonight’s repeat performance of this process. Feel free to slurp a few spoonfuls. Marvel at Nature’s creativity.

Vijaya, our buttermilk-making queen.

6.      Pour the liter of curd into a larger bowl and add about a half liter of cool water. Now churn it to get the butter to separate from the curd. Yep, churn it. You take the churn handle between your open palms and slide them back and forth, like you’re trying to warm your hands. The churn spins around, back and forth, and after about ten minutes, tiny bits of butter start to form. If you don’t have a churn handy, try something that looks similar. Get creative. A hand-beater might work….  Take care that the weather is not too hot or the butter won’t separate. Get up early to beat the heat, if need be.

7.      Now, remove the butter (can you believe it?!). Sweep your hand through the fluid, filtering out the little bits of butter and make them into a small ball. This will take some practice, so don’t get discouraged the first few times. It will all stick to your hands in an inconvenient way, and then you’ll need to rub your fingers together to get the butter to stick to itself rather than sticking to you. After you collect about a ping-pong ball sized amount, pour the fluid through a fine sieve. It will clog quickly with butter, so you will have to scrape it repeatedly with a spoon and add to your butter ball. Better to get most of it out of the fluid with your hands first. Now you have fresh lovely butter! Set it aside for something yummy, but first wash it in many changes of water to get any remaining curd off of it – otherwise it will spoil quickly. Once it’s clean, you can keep it in cool water for many days outside the refrigerator and it won’t go bad, I promise.

8.      And guess what – after removing the butter, the remaining fluid is buttermilk! Real, fresh, wholesome, health-giving buttermilk. You can drink it straight, but for a real taste treat, add some turmeric and cumin seeds, heat it up, and garnish with cilantro. If it’s a hot day, add some cilantro and fresh ginger and sip it at room temperature.

Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

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The Way Things Work Around Here

I surprised a snake this morning as I was walking back to my room. The sun had just risen, and there was a hazy quality to the air. As I stepped onto a rock, there was a sudden swish about two feet away from me, and a three-foot-long dark colored snake (the only description my mind could accomplish at that speed) suddenly materialized out of the vague underbrush. Before I could focus it had skidded soundlessly to the side, almost flying against the ground. I followed it with my eyes as it disappeared and reappeared in the debris nearby, passing under a small log and over a basket remnant, until it was out of sight.

Dr. Ramdas, Dr. Om and Dr. Vasant

“So, Dr. Ramdas, are there many snakes around here?”

“Snakes? Um… yes.”

“Are any of them poisonous?”

“Ah… you could say. Yes.”

“What kinds of poisonous snakes?”

“Well, cobra…”

“There are cobras here?”

“Yes, cobra. That is why it is best not to go walking in the sand from 5:30 to 8 in the evening, that is their hunting hour.”

“Their hunting hour??!”

“But do not worry. I am one hundred percent certain nothing bad will happen with snakes here. We do pujas for snakes. So that is not a problem.”

To have such confidence in your relationship with nature is astounding. The staff here know they are following the rules of harmony in the world. They have set their intentions and solidified them with ritual, and in return they depend on that compliance to protect them.

And they are right. There have been no problems with snakes on their property.

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