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Hanuman

Hanuman, the monkey god, leaping from Ceylon to India.

Ah, my dear friends, it’s been a full few weeks! I have been hard at work setting up many aspects of my business – and another piece came to fruition on Friday: my new monthly Full Moon Newsletter. I hope you’ll find it to be an inspiring addition to my blog musings here.

My intention with the newsletter is to provide time-specific, uplifting and useful information from Ayurveda’s vast treasure trove of insight, as well as a regular listing of my upcoming events and special deals or opportunities I want to share. It will come out every full moon, reminding us of this pervading natural rhythm present in all of our lives.

I will continue with the “Ayurveda in Translation” blog, which will serve up more frequent bite-size tidbits, perhaps relaying a personal experience I have had that underlines a concept I am working with, or some other real-life application of Ayurveda and Yoga. I aim to write in the blog 3 or 4 times a month (and we’ll see how the timing evolves!). I love your comments, and I hope to inspire questions and dialogue as you reflect on your own life here.

I hope you’ll want to follow both the blog AND the newsletter (to subscribe to the newsletter, click here and find the “Join our mailing list” button in the right sidebar). If you sign up, you will always be able to easily unsubscribe.

As additional enticement, I will email you a little “thank you” gift when you sign up for the Full Moon Newsletter, along with my impassioned wishes for your unending health and joy.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to sharing more thoughts and ideas about Ayurveda, health and inspiration!

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Laxmi, the goddess of abundance and beauty

In February I enrolled in an online business mentoring program for yoga teachers designed around the many faces of the Divine Feminine. I had been looking for a “How to market your holistic health/yoga-like business” type of thing, something to inspire me and give me some tools – and as much as anything else, to give me some structure and hand-holding while I make some decisions. Every program I was finding, however, felt too slick, too much about “marketing” and not enough about “inspiring.” When I found this program, I realized of course the goddess herself is my perfect business guide.

Yoga here in the U.S. is practiced by an overwhelmingly female community. Something like 85-90% of yoga practitioners here are women, as are the majority of our yoga teachers. And yet, among the successful national teachers or high-visibility leaders in our yoga community, a much larger percentage are male. Interesting. The leader of the Divine Feminine mentoring program, Laura Cornell, speaks powerfully of her perception that many yoga teachers in the U.S. today actually feel quite disempowered. Although we are teaching methods to find freedom, empowerment and ease, many of us do not actually feel free, empowered and at ease, at least not in our businesses.

This is certainly true in my own circle – most of my yoga teacher/Ayurveda practitioner friends do not feel their businesses are thriving, or at least would not describe them as “abundant.” Many do not feel they are making enough money, or have taken on additional jobs in order to pay the bills. Many teach ten or more yoga classes per week and end up feeling burned out or drained. Hardly an inspiring example of empowerment. This contradiction has been in the back of my mind for years, and last month it came screeching to the front.

Our mentoring program is organized around the strengths of four particular goddesses as we explore business-building, sales, self-promotion and our personal power.  In the first unit, as we dove into identifying the types of students we most love to teach and the unique gifts we bring to that particular niche, we invoked Durga, the fierce, fearsome, poised warrior goddess. This particularly feminine form of conviction and service is embodied in the mother bear defending her cubs with unrelenting focus and passion. From Durga we can model impassioned commitment and the mobilization of our unique skills to serve our ideal students. (Saber-brandishing, anyone?)

As I listened to Laura speak in the first tele-class, a lightbulb went on over my head. I have been operating (unthinkingly) under the assumption that in order to build my business, I need to work harder, faster, MORE – a linear, rational, some might say masculine, model for expansion. This style of effort syncs up quite nicely with the Pitta strategy for progress that is my natural tendency (and periodic downfall!). I have been on the hunt for other models, models that recognize the cycles of Mother Nature, powered by fluid waves and circles. The path forward is actually rarely linear – sometimes it’s even a spiral, appearing to move backwards before spinning around the bend and catapulting ahead.

In the last week, as I’ve been inviting the goddess to hang out with me while I muse about my next steps, I have also felt a resurgence of acceptance – of myself, and of circumstances –  I am “already alright” just as I am right now, half-cooked, in the middle of everything. I don’t have to do more. In fact, as always, I must practice what I teach. Breathe. Rest. Go outside. Practice faith. It really is that simple. The presence of the Mother is divine guidance indeed.

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As an entrepreneur stepping back into the world of figuring out how to make an income, I have been spending a lot of time these days trying to accomplish, to create outlines and spreadsheets and sequential to-do lists, and to cross things off – my Pitta energy has been hard at work. I can feel this activity in my brain, behind my eyes, driving forward without regard for anything below my neck. It is all about thinking things through, making a plan, striving towards perfection. It is hard work. As one of my teachers said, “Pitta gets the job done, dragging the bloody body behind it.” Body? What body?

As I tell my clients, however, we are born with access to many strategies to move through life, strategies inherent in the three doshas that we embody. Creating a list and crossing things off, you could say, is the Pitta strategy. (Perhaps my fellow Pitta-dominant folks out there are familiar with this method.) Blessedly, we can call upon our non-dominant doshas to step up if we are overusing one strategy and getting out of balance. I realized I had fallen into the mire when I literally could not remember the last time I went outside just to take a walk.

So this week, I am reminding myself of the Vata way to move forward in a project, a more creative and spontaneous method that is less organized, but can be equally (if not more) powerful when I have driven myself into the ground and all I can see are dreary numbered lists in front of me.

Vata dosha is composed of the air and ether qualities, and consequently it can’t be lined up or pinned down. It flows and moves effortlessly around obstacles rather than beating its head against a closed door. One of its qualities is lightness – the opposite of heaviness, which can be useful, but also full of illumination and brilliance. It is the unexpected flash of insight, the colorful spark. It is quick and mobile, darting around and escaping stagnation.

When I start depending on my Pitta one-track-mind to move through my life, I need to be shaken up a bit. By relying solely on one strategy for “making progress” in my fledgling business or indeed my fledgling life as a newcomer to Austin, I need a reminder of the restorative power of flow and spontaneity.

Nature offers an easy, instant system reboot. Surrounded by trees, plants and things that move in cycles, I am reminded that life exists outside of my head, that I have a place in the world, that I am already “there.”

Here.

Sometimes all it takes is remembering to look up as I get out of the car in the parking lot.

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It has been quite the season of transition.

I am getting my feet nestled in the earth here in Austin, lining up my most important sources of nourishment for the winter ahead. It has been unsettling –  to be expected while establishing a new home base. Add in a few unexpected curve balls life has thrown my way, and suffice it to say, it’s been a wind-tossed Autumn.

The best advice I’ve gotten from one of my teachers about weathering this transition is, “Stabilize. Stabilize everything you can stabilize.” So I am working on fixing my routines and my practices. The irony I am finding is that, at this time when my life is unfettered by many of the external commitments that have in the past limited my ability to create a healthy routine, my current flexibility does not lend itself easily to internally-enforced structure. Again, not surprising, as any self-employed person can attest. It’s part of the life-long effort to pacify vata dosha amidst the turmoil of our information age. It requires tapas, the internal fire of self-discipline, to establish and stick to the routines I know serve my own sanity and joy. This trial by fire is working – it burns away illusions and makes me appreciate even more deeply the tools I have been taught.

My new (physical, literal) home continues its evolution alongside my own. With beautiful cedar siding now in place, it’s beginning to look a lot more like home. I shall not tempt fate by estimating a move-in date, but it is definitely moving closer.

A few weeks ago, the monarch butterflies were migrating through Texas on their 2,500 mile journey. I looked out my window one morning and saw a colorful scattering of them passing by. Their improbable, tenacious journey south on such papery wings gave me encouragement.

On this Veterans Day, as so many of our country’s soldiers, present and past, struggle with their own journey home, I hope for the day when we adequately honor their sacrifices by not creating more opportunities for more sacrifice. May there be peace in our time.

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The other day, Lynn said to me, “Ivy, you’re so good, going to prayers every morning.” It had never occurred to me that going to prayers qualified me as “good.” I just love going. I love the promise in the dark dawn air as we gather in the lamplight; I love the sense of connection to an all-encompassing power I feel while chanting; I love the feeling of community with others who have gotten up at that hour to think about God together. The experience is a reward in itself to me.

This morning when I came back from prayers, I watched as Lynn put on her shoes to go out for her regular walk after her hour-long yoga practice, and I felt a simultaneous wave of admiration and frustration. I am lucky to squeeze in twenty minutes of yoga asana a day. “Wow Lynn,” I said, “here I am thinking ‘Lynn is so good, being so committed to her yoga practice.’” She laughed and said, “I just enjoy it. I like the way I feel afterwards.” Right.

On Saturday, we had another surprise – a wonderful discussion with Dr. Kalpana Sampath, one of the five managing partners of Punarnava Ayurveda. Kalpana is a Ph.D. psychologist who runs a management and leadership consulting firm out of Bangalore, India. With offices in four countries, their clients include multinational companies like Ford Motor Company as well as government agencies and school systems. She was not involved with Ayurveda in any way until Dr. Ramkumar convinced her to join the leadership team of Punarnava.

She was scheduled to make a presentation on Sunday to a group of 500 physicians in nearby Coimbatore on the subject of leadership and purpose, and as she had not yet met us, she decided to re-book her ticket to arrive a day earlier in order to talk with us – us, five random students from the west who have no connection to her. Dr. Ramdas, by way of introduction, had told us, “I think it will be a good meeting for you all.” Master of the understatement.

Her topic was “vision” – or rather, “VISION.” In the last two months, we have been exposed to all sorts of teachings, delving into new subjects in Ayurveda at the Rishikesh conference, starting therapist training (we began learning oil massage last week), getting a taste of the massive scope of Ayurveda and the lifetime of learning that lies ahead of us. It has us all running in about fifty directions at once. Kalpana’s visit came at an ideal point in our training. She deftly brought our focus back to ourselves as individuals and how we will begin to put what we are gaining here into practice. And she began at the top: What is our vision of our work in the world? Not our goals or our strategy for getting there, but our higher purpose? Which activities give us high energy, she asked – which activities fill us with juice? What do we love?

Kalpana’s job is inspiration. As a motivational speaker, it is her task to tap into the diverse sources of inspiration for many individuals in order to propel them all forward. Similarly, a large piece of my work in Ayurveda is about inspiration – I don’t need merely to educate clients about Ayurveda, I need to inspire people to make (and stick to) lifestyle changes that will provide a tangible, lasting effect in their lives. It’s that “sticking to it” part that is most challenging to inspire.

Last weekend, we had a conversation with Dr. Ramkumar about moving closer to nature. It could be said that Ayurveda is about living in concert with nature’s rhythms and, in that way, discovering less need for things. He said that the key to “selling” this idea is to help people experience the happiness that arises by living without certain possessions or habits that we’ve come to take for granted.  By getting out from under our attachments, by experiencing a different way of living, we will actually feel happier, and it’s that happiness that will motivate lasting change. He said, “When people discover that these changes are actually for their own happiness, not for some theory or ideal, then maintaining the change is not a problem.”

After my last post, my dear aunt and friend Flo commented, “You’ve always made me want to be a better person Ivy, but an internet sabbatical is too much to ask,” and I thought, there it is again, that notion that by doing some laudable action we can become “good” or “better,” that by going to  prayers every morning, or taking regular exercise, sainthood will be conferred upon us – but what good is sainthood if we don’t feel better, if we aren’t more joyful, more creative, more alive?

So to be clear: don’t take an internet sabbatical to be a better person – you already are perfect. Take a sabbatical because you might actually ENOJY it. You might discover that there is something unexpectedly sweet on the other side of that sabbatical that you can’t see from here. Do it for the sake of your own happiness.

And if you try it and you don’t feel happier, scrap it.

 

Wild Geese

~Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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The Jasmine

In the middle of the courtyard in our building is a young jasmine plant – and it isn’t looking too good. A week or so after we arrived, I noticed it was rather crispy. I worried about it. “Do you think we should water it?” I asked Lynn. “I don’t know,” she replied. “It definitely needs something.”

Later I saw one of the junior doctors, Dr. Somu (who also happens to be the tech guy, the telecom guy, and at that moment he was installing a new electronic door-lock system in our building – everyone seems to be a jack-of-all-trades around here). “Hey Dr. Somu,” I asked, “Do you think that plant needs something? I was wondering if we should water it? It looks really thirsty.”

“No, it’s ok,” he replied. “It was just transplanted last week. That’s what they do – it will drop all its leaves, and then it will sprout new ones. Don’t worry.”

What a perfect lesson, I thought. Here I am, savior of the masses, trying to fix something that isn’t even broken. I always want to make things better, to stick my hands into anything that looks off balance and set it right. I laughed to myself and thought, “Check. Stop fixing everything, Ivy. Be patient.”

Later that same day, I ran into Dr. Ramkumar, who seems to keep cropping up at ripe moments. He walked with me into our building and we passed the jasmine plant. “You all should water that plant,” he said. I stopped.

“Oh no, it’s ok,” I reassured him from my new-found knowledge. “I asked about it, and it’s just been transplanted. They said it is going to drop all its leaves and then it will sprout new ones. So it’s ok.”

He smiled. “Yes, but you should still water it. You should tend to it and love it, and it will grow as you learn. Then you will grow here together.”

I keep thinking I’ve got it figured out, that I’ve found the right answer, and then Dr. Ramkumar comes along and finds a new way to pull me out of my little brain and lead me back to my heart.

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The day before classes began, Lynn, Ras and I reviewed some of the material we learned at the Institute, just to refresh our memories. We got into a discussion of how stressful the western academic system can be, based as it is on grades and competition and finding the right answer. In fact, pressure and stress seem to be part of the design of our educational system – tests are given in order to create pressure so students will study. When this strategy works, it’s because most people raised in the U.S. are conditioned to compete, to prove their knowledge and even their value through what they accomplish.

While I have “succeeded” in that system – which is to say, I’ve always enjoyed school and done well academically – it has ingrained in me a certain way of seeing the world. It encourages the belief that there is one right way to do things, a correct and an incorrect answer or version of reality. It has also encouraged in me a habit of striving and mental effort, which follows from the belief that brain work is necessary to gain knowledge.

One of the primary reasons I wanted to be in India to deepen my experience of Ayurveda was to drink from the source; I suspected that there are certain nuances of perception and understanding that just cannot be conveyed within our western educational system. Many of us were troubled by the fact that the Institute in Albuquerque seems to be moving towards a more western academic style, implementing weekly quizzes in every subject. There is even talk of posting exam grades so the distribution will be known among the students. This feels like a step away from the spirit of Ayurveda to which Dr. Lad is so committed, and it saddens many of us.

While Dr. Ramdas is our main teacher here, he is not our only teacher. Last weekend, before classes began, we met Dr. Ramkumar, one of the other founders of Vaidyagrama. He spends more of his time off-site, fundraising and supporting some of Punarnava’s other projects, but his connection to Vaidyagrama is deep. He spoke with us at one of the Pongal ceremonies (as we were waiting for the pot to boil over), and it was evident that he is quite familiar with the western mindset and which learning challenges may lie ahead of us.

“To learn Ayurveda requires the three P’s,” he said, “patience, persistence, and perseverance. It requires patience because you have to be willing to wait for things to emerge, for things to express their true nature. If you persist in looking for it, you can learn Ayurveda from everything that is happening here, not only in the classroom. Look at the fire over there, and the rice they are cooking. What transformation is taking place? What gunas (qualities) are present? If you are willing to learn from everything here, you will learn a lot. You must persevere, because there will come a time when you will ask, ‘Am I wasting my time here? Could I be learning quicker somewhere else?’

“Ayurveda is not organized,” he went on. “This can be difficult for the western mind, where you’re used to things being presented in a logical fashion, building from one concept to the next. You won’t find that here. Look at this land,” he gestured to the untended yard by the front entrance.  “To some, it looks messy. They say, ‘You should clean this up, get rid of these dead leaves on the ground and such. It doesn’t make a good first impression.’ We don’t believe in that. Ayurveda is not about first impressions. It is about lasting impressions. Those dead leaves serve a purpose; they put nutrients and nitrogen back into the earth. They think it’s ugly because it is not manicured, but there is beauty and order at play here. If you are patient, and you look, you will come to see that.”

As I’ve walked the grounds here in the past week, I’ve been turning his words over in my mind. In the U.S., there is an emphasis on beauty and order on the surface of things. We are impressed by well-organized cities, orderly traffic, cleanliness and politeness (and unimpressed, if not offended, by their opposites). In my limited exposure thus far, it seems that in India people are less focused on a superficial expression of order and beauty (although there is certainly tremendous beauty here on that level too), and more focused on the purpose or spirit beneath. When that kind of attention has been paid to the core, to what matters, it can be felt. It’s more than a simple utilitarianism in which the dead leaves are valued for their nutrients – rather it is a recognition of meaning at the deeper layers.

In the States, there is an “on stage” and an “off stage” in most places… and “off stage” is where you put the ugly. Here, it’s all on stage – you live with it all. There is a makeshift pathway we travel many times a day between our rooms and the cluster of buildings where our classroom is located – it is not traveled by patients, just by staff and students while construction is completed. That path is littered with trash – an old sandal, pieces of electrical wire, broken tiles.  I’ve been vacillating between different reactions to this little stretch of neglected land. On the one hand, it looks dirty and forgotten, and I think, “How much effort would it take to just clean this stuff up? Why hasn’t anyone done that?” I started to clean it up myself a few days ago, and then something stopped me. I decided to just watch it a little longer. For some reason, I kind of like it.

Dr. Ramkumar stopped by again near the end of last week and asked how class is going. We all said how much we are enjoying it. “We are reviewing material we covered last year,” I said, “and we are already learning so much that is different.” He smiled, “Remember, there is not just one right answer. Watch out for the tendency to say, ‘That’s right,’ and, ‘That’s wrong.’ There are many perspectives, and when you add them up, you begin to get the whole picture.”

So…. Be persistent. Look everywhere for Ayurveda. Don’t reduce things to “right” and “wrong.” Keep watching. Nothing is tidy in nature. But there is beauty and order just underneath the surface. Be patient….

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