Monday, April 27, 2009

Back in Manila and Missing India

It's been just over a week now since I've been back in Manila and boy am I missing the food in India. I'm happy to say that I'm still vegeterian. It was quite a shock to my family and friends and I think it's more of an adjustment for them than it is for me. If they had to make a list of who would turn vegeterian, I am sure I would have been the last one on it!

The challenge being back is finding good places to eat at since the Filipino culture is absolutely not vegeterian friendly. They love their pork too much that they put it in everything! I have been going to the Indian restaurants here quite often the past week because they have more vegetarian options and I'm really missing Indian food, but it's just not quite the same.

Everyone has been telling me that they don't like Indian food because it's so spicy and the smell is so strong. When they tell me this, I find myself thinking about the home cooked meal I had before coming back. The food wasn't heavy of spices, but it had enough to enhance the flavors of the vegetables. I loved the cucumber salad, it was so refreshing with the sambar and the hot weather. I remember the house smelled of the spices and fresh chapati; the fragrance so appetizing.

Here are the two lunches I had:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dosa!!!

The day i left the ashram, my roommate and I went on a search for good dosas. The rickshaw driver brought us to the village and to this small restarant that just made dosas and it's the best I've tasted! It even beats the Taj's dosa and cost a fraction of the price. I had 2 dosas and a chai for 20 rupees (about 50 cents)!!!! I can be a cheap date and be completely content. :)

Dosa:
Cook making dosa: Coconut being churned:

A Feast it Was!

The one month course has finally come to an end. It has been a tough roller coaster ride; many ups and downs. It got emotional and overwhelming at times, but something amazing and life-changing.

On our graduation dinner, we had a feast and a feast it really was!!! We didn’t get the stainless plates with sambar (veg stew) and rice, but we got so much more. There was so much food and all so different, all the flavors, tastes, and textures….you name it, we had it and it was amazingly delicious.

The experience was heart-warming and humbling. This time, it was the Swamis, the teachers, and teacher assistants that set up the dining hall and served all the food. Where in the world do you receive such a gesture? What was so heart-warming is that they were smiling while serving with such sincerity.

The night was a feast like I’ve never had before. The food, the people, and the emotions of that night will forever be in my heart.

Setting up of dining hall:
Our feast! Looks messy, but the flavors and tastes were unbelievable.

Indulging in the Taj, Kovalam

At some point in the course, about after two weeks in, I felt like I hit a wall. Part of what we were learning was about the yogi diet and how the way of life should be. They were teaching that one eats to live (while I live to eat) and that we should not take too much indulgence in food, as it is just something to nourish the body, not a form of entertainment.

It suddenly hit me, when I leave this sacred ashram and back to the city, can I still continue this way of life or will I go back to my old habits? Food is such a part of me, am I losing my sense of Self? Or what is the Self or should it matter?

Eventually, I just realized that what they are teaching is a generalization. It applies to most people and it doesn’t mean that I have to completely change. I can’t help it if I love food, the flavors, the textures, the experiences you get from it, but I completely appreciate what I eat and always thankful to have food to eat. At the end, I think that’s the most important part.

Being who I am still, I couldn’t stop to think of where to eat on my day off. Another day to taste what India has to offer. Being in the ashram for 3 weeks, I felt like I really needed to indulge a little bit. So I went to the Taj Hotel in Kovalam. The place is so beautiful and the food was nothing less than delicious! Not a kind of place I would stay in, but my day at the Taj was definitely worth it.

Freshly made plain dosa with sambar and chutney....yum yum yumm!!! love the dosas!
Cook making a dosa:
My paneer with butter sauce and naan.....delicious!
Popular South Indian dessert. I forgot what it was called, but it's some sort of milk dumpling that's fried and soaked in rose syrup. It was so divine. View of the the pool from the restaurant.

Indulging in Varkala

Two weeks into the course and living with certain austerities mentioned earlier, I really needed to get away from it. So on our second day off, we went to Varkala, two hours away by rickshaw, which is known for their beach.

Two weeks being a vegetarian, I’m proud to say that when I saw meat dishes on the restaurant’s menu, I was a little tempted, but all I could think of was how healthy and good I felt that I easily resisted the temptation.

Two weeks living such a simple lifestyle really made me realize how much things I took for granted, such as a simple glass of cold water, a toasted sandwich, and rice. It didn’t even taste amazingly good, but it felt like such a treat! From this experience so far, I’ve learned to treasure even the simplest things of life and it’s such a great feeling. In some ways, I feel like a child again, when good things are always appreciated.

Breakfast of cheese jaffle and cadamom milk tea.

Naan:
My first Vegetable Biryani:

New Moves

After all the vegetables and fruits I never felt as healthy as I do now. It’s really had a positive effect; I’m much more alert, calm, energetic, and content. As a result of it, my asana practice has improved and has become stronger. I’ve been able to learn some new poses and still continuing to master it.

Scorpion:
Not new, just liked the view :)
First handstand attempt:
First attempt at a side crow variation:

My Karma Yoga: Afternoon Tea Service

Everyone in the ashram has to do Karma Yoga, which is selfless service, to purify ourselves and lessen our egos. For the first two weeks, I was assigned to serve afternoon tea for my Karma Yoga. I really enjoyed it because I get to enter the kitchen everyday and see the people make the food, which makes me appreciate it much more.

So every afternoon before 1:30pm, we finished our lecture and I would go to the kitchen and bring about 6 pots of hot tea and 4 bowls of fresh fruits out to the main gathering area. The kitchen to gathering area was about 250 meters and we would make about 3-4 trips to bring out all the kettles and bowls under the hot afternoon sun. It definitely was hard work, but after two weeks, my arms have built up more strength and muscles. The added muscles really helped me with my poses, which was such an added benefit.

Bananas from the Ashram trees:
Yummy pineapples:

Place of Refuge: Health Hut

In my first post, I was raving about the food in the dining hall and that it was delicious, but after a week and half or so, I just got really sick of it. The flavors are not something I grew up with so I felt a bit fed up with it and it eventually tasted all the same to me. I would feel a little guilty for thinking of these thoughts as were taught to appreciate the food we are served and to enjoy it. Since I couldn’t fully enjoy nor appreciate it all the time, I didn’t want to waste the cooks’ hard work and eat the food half heartedly.

Eventually, I would just skip the brunch and go to the Health Hut and buy fruit bowls, fruit salads, and oatmeal, drink fresh milk, or have a milkshake. I never enjoyed fruits and here in the ashram, I’ve learned to love it. I never found fruits to be so tasty and refreshing until now.

The milk is also the best milk I’ve drank. I eventually found out it is because it’s milked from the ashram cows daily. No wonder! It can’t get any fresher than that!!! It became my daily indulgence. It’s amazing how something as simple as a glass of cold milk is so satisfying.

Oatmeal with banana and honey with a cup of cold milk:
Fruit Salad with Lemon Ginger Soda:
The Hut Karma Yogis hard at work: The Health Hut:

Ashram Kitchen

I’m always naturally attracted to the kitchen wherever I go and the ashram was no different. On our first day off, I walked around the ashram to take some pictures and as I passed the kitchen, I couldn’t resist.
It was a big kitchen with a full time staff who works hard everyday starting at 5:30 am to cook food for more than 200 people every meal and everyday. Each day has two meals, two tea times, and two Satsangs. They really work hard and put out a lot of food. It was very moving to see them all at working and laughing as they enjoy and cook with love in their hearts.
Here are some of the pictures of the kitchen and the cooks. Everything is huge; the burners, the pots, and the ladles.
Big Pot:
Grill for Dosas:



Fire Ceremony, Initiation

On the first official day of our course, we had an initiation and a fire ceremony to officiate it. After each Satsang (chanting) or ritual we get to eat the blessed sweet treats. Usually, it’s just a peanut ball, sesame ball, or some fruits, but the Prasad after the fire ceremony was special. We drank and showered in some coconut juice to cleanse ourselves and our Prasad was presented to us on a banana leaf. This time it was some muesli with some pomegranates. It felt so sacred and was so delicious!
Prasad:
Design made by powder:

Sivananda Ashram, India

A month ago, I started my journey to India. With my interest in Yoga, I enrolled in a Teacher’s Training Course in Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala, in hopes to learn more about myself, go deeper in my practice, and learn more about the mind and soul. This journey has been an amazing life changing experience. I have learned more than I expected to and have surprised myself in many ways.

My first week in the Ashram was an adjustment; no hot water in the bathroom, hand washing to wash clothes, no air-conditioning, hard beds, and eating on the floor with bare hands. Despite not having the simple luxuries of life we take for granted, I felt very comfortable and content with the situation.


Now, keeping to the blog topic of food, I was prepared to be vegetarian for a month, but always unsure in some way how I would feel about it. Eating in the Ashram was interesting; we sat on mats rolled out on the floor, with stainless plates where the volunteers and Karma Yogis slopped the food on. We used our right hand to eat (as the left is considered for personal use) as this transfers the prana (energy) directly from the food to your hands and into your mouth.


The first couple weeks, I really enjoyed the food. It definitely tasted better than it looks. As the days went on I felt lighter, healthier, and more energetic. I never craved for any meat, but perhaps that’s because I mentally prepared myself. It was quite an adjustment, but not as difficult as I thought it would be.


Below are some of the pictures of our meals (tastes much better than it looks) in the dining hall.

Dining Hall:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

coming...

I've been in India the past month and the food is totally different...stay tuned...will be trying to post up my stuff this week. :)