Two Weeks in Chiang Mai

My second week in Chiang Mai passed rather similarly to the first with the addition of quite a bit of friendly fun!

Class this week was focused on techniques for a client lying on their side or belly, and sitting up. A lot of the techniques were very similar to the ones from the first week for the prone position, with small adjustments for the position change. Along with a number of new techniques. It remains a great practice and a wonderful massage that I look forward to sharing it with many people! The teachers were just delightful and entertaining throughout the whole two weeks, and they topped off our time with a great little graduation ceremony.

Now, onto the rest of the week which you will find undoubtedly more interesting (unless I’m actively giving you a Thai Massage).

Most of the fun that I got to get up to this week was mostly in the Buak Haad Park in the southwest corner of the old city square. I’ve had a ton of fun playing with my hand balance practice, AcroYoga, and a little bit of slack line play. Two particularly special moments in the park this week. Early in the week I went to the park to meet up with some friends, who turned out to be a little late, and while waiting a tall Italian dude came up and asked if I was into acro and wanted to fly. He was a great base. Then, in the middle of the week, late night in the park, a group of AcroYogis showed up from their week long retreat/workshop a little south of the city to the park for the acro jam time which was supposed to be going down then and there. Nobody else was really there jamming, but I managed to build up the courage to ask to join in. It was so worth it! I played with a couple of them, and they were awesome. Took one of them through ninja star roll, star, reverse star, and some therapeutic fun. Then she flew me a bit in reverse star (my first time!) and worked on some four step to near success. Also got to fly and play with the friends I’ve been playing with from the massage school, and its been terrific to see them progress in just the last week! The best part of the night, though, came when another stranger came up to ask to play with us. She was an individual with an extremely bright spirit. So eager and excited to learn new things! Earlier in the evening she tried slack-lining for the first time with a Thai Massage friend. Then, she came up to us flying and slightly shyly asked if she could join us having never tried anything like it before. Obviously, we happily consented. I got to be the one to fly her and it was just magically joyful as she lit up with her first, slightly terrified, time in the air. Just took her through bird, throne, and a side plank. Simple, each a little more challenging, all fun, and all of them bring a big smile to your face. It was a really beautiful reminder for why we do this, why we play this way. So much fun!

Wednesday night, and through out the week, I and some other massage students have been trying to try Mango Sticky Rice dishes from as many different stalls restaurants as we can. Partially, with the goal of finding the best Mango Sticky Rice in town, but mostly to just eat a LOT of Mango Sticky Rice because it is incredibly delicious. The sweet, melt in your mouth mango, the slightly salty sticky rice, the sweet and creamy coconut milk, and, occasionally, the crisp and crunchy split mung bean bits sprinkled on top. A simple, magical dish. Everyone’s got their own preferences, but, for me, the best has the rice should be cooked with coconut milk served hot, or at least warm. The mangoes here are all amazing – green or yellow and ripe – but there are some different varieties, some sweeter and some a little more tart. Again, all good. Always. A little tart does make a nice contrast, some other flavor beyond just sweet. I like it then fairly bathed in coconut milk and definitely sprinkled with the crispy crunchy mung bean halves for texture contrast. The key is the mango, though, definitely. Our findings, otherwise, show that street stalls offer a much greater portion of mango for lower price – gotta love me some street food.

Thursday night, the school took us to an annual party to honor all of the Thai Massage teachers of the city (which, it turns out their are many). There were some dance performances, speeches and blessings from the teachers (heads of schools), and lots and lots of food that each school brought. Best surprise, for me, was the Rose Apple, a fruit I hadn’t had before. Similar texture to an apple, but a little softer, with a waxier skin, and more mild taste, shaped more like a cylinder with one bulbous end.

Saturday became an afternoon and evening of great adventure. The morning was spent simply and pleasantly enjoying a cafe with a really cool and lovely garden. The food was tasty, too, but it was really nice to sit somewhere cool and green for a while. Then the rain started to threaten, which was worrisome because we had afternoon plans for a bike ride down to the “Grand Canyon”. Fortunately, it only rained briefly and cooled off the air, which ended up making the 15k bike ride significantly more pleasant. But, a single gear bike is still not the best option for a 15k ride, except for just how flat the land is here. The ride went surprisingly smoothly, except for one little incident.

The screw that gave me a flat.

The screw that gave me a flat.

I got a flat. Of course without any sort of measures to fix it on our own (four of us went). Luckily, I noticed it right in front of a motor bike shop which pointed us back up the street to a guy who had cycle shop. Of course, by cycle shop I mean a garage with a bunch of tires and inner tubes, a compressor, and all kinds of tools that you need for fixing bikes. 20 baht and maybe 5 minutes he had the inter tube patched a refilled with air. Boom, just like that. Even better, the rest of the ride went smoothly. The “Grand Canyon” is a quarry here, now full of water.

The "Grand Canyon" quarry near Chiang Mai

The “Grand Canyon” quarry near Chiang Mai

The water is quite warm for a quarry, at least compared to US quarries. It was perfect for swimming. Plus, there are platforms to jump off of. It’s a cool place. At the quarry, we met up with some other massage students who house/pet sit near the Canyon (the internet is an amazing place). When the swimming closed down, we rode our bikes a few k back to their house for a yummy pad thai dinner they made, and then rode back to town noticeably after dark. It was a great fun night!

Planning to make it up to Pai early this week before flying out too soon, but not too soon. Talk to you in a week once I’m home, ciao.

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One Week in Chiang Mai

First off, Happy Birthday to my Dad! Hope its a great one! (It’s already your birthday here.)

So, Chiang Mai. Cool city! Its getting more interesting to compare SE Asian cities as I see more of them. First off, its really hot here now. Distinctly over a 100F everyday and it feels even hotter than that. The sun is surprisingly aggressive despite being totally blocked by both clouds and smog 90% of the time. Woof. Grateful our classes are in an air conditioned room during the hottest part of the day.

Second, traffic is surprisingly organized compared to experiences in India and Malaysia. However, this organization can be rather frustrating when the old town square is surrounded by a moat with limited crossings and one way roads on the outside and inside of the moat. Additional frustration obviously arises from a lack of street signs in a language I know and a lot of dead ends. This frustration showed itself most on Friday night when I spent time looking for a way into the wrong part to do some AcroYoga. I knew how to get to park I was actually supposed to try to get to, but when I asked, I was told to go to a different park, which is actually a golf course, so the only way to get to it was through the main entrance, which didn’t seem correct to me. So, that was an hour riding around a part of town I wouldn’t have done otherwise, which was really neat! Saw some beautiful old buildings like a Buddhist monastery and a traditional Lanna house. So those were some nice perks to wandering. I did eventually take myself to the park I thought I was supposed to go to originally and did a little Acro, which was lots of fun.

Third, street food. Street food. STREET FOOD. I love street food. Did I mention that I love street food? Because I love street food. Let’s see… winners so far… Well, there are a few street markets. Every night of the week, there are a whole bunch of food carts that set up by the south gate of the city square, and I am working my way through all of the good stuff. Additionally, there is a night bazaar every night outside the moat on the east side of the square, which I have yet to make it to, but I expect to at some point before I’m done there. Then, on the weekend nights there are markets in two different locations. Saturday night there is a market outside the wall along a road that starts just around the corner from where I am staying and runs all of the way up to the square. Then Sunday night there is one inside the square on the east side of the square. Both of these markets are mind-boggling large. Every time I think it’s done, IT’S NOT. They go on and on and on with shirts and silks and fancily carved soaps and bracelets and delicious foods and more and more and more! It’s awesome. More along the lines of awe-inspiring. I navigate them by always sticking to the left. That way I get to see the whole thing and will eventually end up where I started, hopefully recognizing that it is where I started. The markets are incredible. I look forward to haggling for some chopsticks, linen shirts, and elephant pants.

Anyway, back to food. When you think of Thai food, you probably think first of Pad Thai, which, indeed, is here and it is delicious, but there is so much more! There’s rice. Lots of rice. Mostly white, mostly steamed, but quite a bit of also sticky (glutinous – doesn’t have gluten in it) and fried (both stir fried and deep fried), and a little bit of it made into some sort of pancake. Asia loves its rice. One of the best combinations of rice I’ve had so far is incredibly simple and delicious – Mango Sticky Rice. A pile of hot sticky rice, topped with a very fresh and ripe mango, bathed in coconut milk, and sprinkled with something crunchy. Sweet, salty, creamy… fantastic. There are also many many stands which have bags of rice to go with bags of soup, bags of some sort of stir fried meat, meat on a stick, etc. And the broth soups are very flavorful and full of all kinds of known and unknown food items.
Meat, just mentioned meat, there’s meat everywhere. Sausage, chicken wings and other cuts, many different cuts of pork, at least four kinds of fish on sticks, and squid, much of it fried, the rest roasted on grills right in front of you. Walking around the Saturday night market we came across whole roast chickens, intestines, and squid roe, among lots of other stuff. Basically, there’s meat everywhere and in everything, not unlike Malaysia, but very unlike India. There are a number of vegetarian options, but not too much. I did have a whole fried fish this week, which was pretty darn delicious.
A fan favorite for the travelers who come through are the “fruit shakes” offered most everywhere to a variety of degrees of fruitiness. Fresh fruit (which is amazing in south east Asia – more sweet and flavorful than anywhere else) blended with ice, maybe a little water, maybe a little coconut milk, and almost definitely a surprisingly large scoop of sugary syrup unless you tell them not to. It’s the fruit that makes the difference. Just won’t be the same back in the states… sigh… I’ll probably try anyway. They’re the life saver when its 110F out.
One of the most flavorful dishes I’ve had so far was a Thai Papaya Salad. It really hit those five flavor profiles hard. A little sweet, a little sour, a little salty, a little spicy, and a hit of umami. Plus, the green papaya is crunchy, refreshing, and awakening (because of the spicy an sour in particular).
Desserts. You know I love my sweets, especially seeing how they’re made and eaten in other countries. The sweet I see around a lot that I have yet to eat is local ice cream. There is both “ancient” ice cream and coconut ice cream, which I will have to get sooner rather than later. The great sweet things I’ve had so far are both hot. First, I got a rotee/roti which was fried in a bath of butter until puffy and crispy, then squirted with some sort of sugary syrup. C’mon. Sweet, buttery, fried dough. How can you go wrong?! The other, and even more interesting treat, are Karom Krok (Kharom Krok/Kharom Khok/Kharom Khrok, the “Krok” pronounced “croak”), which are basically coconut cream puffs cooked on a cupped cast iron pan. A sweet rice flour batter is first used to make the cups which are a crispy and a bit chewy, and they’re then filled with thickened coconut milk, and then, at least as the lovely lady who makes them here serves them, sprinkled with some yummy flavoring like green onions, sweet corn, or pumpkin. They’re fabulous. Crispy, chewy, creamy, hot, and a little sweet. Magical. Get some.

Ok, finally on to Thai Massage School. I’m here for two weeks with 60 hours of thai massage learning, practice, and examination at the Shivagokamarpaj Thai Massage School. This past week has been focused on work done for a supine client (lying on their back) and next week we’ll be focusing on prone and side-lying movements. The basic ways we interact with a clients body are pressing, squeezing, circling, sliding, rolling, rotating, twisting, cracking, chopping, knocking, and stretching for stretching, energy line and point, and acupressure massage. There are so many options! It feels very natural and intuitive when you work on the body, and feels much like AcroYoga in the give and take between the individuals. Important parts giving the massage, like any other massage and yoga and Acro, are presence and intention, especially on the part of the masseur. I am enjoying the lessons and practice so much, feeling confident in myself and my ability to administer. The real challenge, I think, will be limiting the work to just 60 or 90 minutes. Doing everything we learned in just this first week would result in about a 150 minute massage. And I’ve got another week of learning! Hooray! So many movements. Plus, hanging out with masseurs and masseuses is pretty nice. We went to a pool yesterday and there were massage exchanges all around! Its good for everyone.

On to week two, thanks for reading!

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One Week in Brisbane

The challenge, as an introvert, of spending a week in a city you don’t know, with someone who is busy in their on life, is finding productive and enjoyable ways to pass your time while they’re busy. I had significant time to practice that this week. haha

Last week I left off after returning from Sydney and getting food, because that’s what we do. Always. Food.

Sunday morning was a simple affair, I’m sure. I don’t totally remember all of the specifics. I believe that we just went grocery shopping to prepare for future cooking endeavors, then returned to execute some of them. First up were the magical brownies (not SPECIAL) and a bomb fruit salad for a birthday potluck in the park – you gotta balance the unhealthy with the healthy. Although, we may have dropped a bit of whipped cream on the fruit salad… It was a birthday gathering for one of the students in the medical school program my friend is in, so I got to briefly meet and and interact with a couple dozen of the other people in the program who I hadn’t met before. A lot of friendly, nice folks, but that’s about all I could figure out from the couple hours. Their midterms had been the day before, so the night before had consisted of substantial partying for many. That evening, many of the same students met up again for the first of many rugby games they will be playing over the next several months. There is a 7s (7 players to a side at a time variation on the game) rec league that many of the UQ students participate in. I went along to watch (and it was just an absolutely beautiful evening to be outside, gorgeous sunset) and everyone had a great time. For almost the entire team, it was their first time playing and even awareness of the rules was next to zero. They caught on quickly and managed to keep the game to a 1-1 tie with great enthusiasm for the rest of the season (which is the important part). After the game, most everyone came back to my friend’s apartment for a cook out. Chicken and burgers and sausages and salad and “party pies” and lots of social fun. I even convinced several of the students to let me fly them and I was so grateful. Just did a bunch of lunar restorative stuff and they loved it! Great skill set to have available. Late in the evening it was off to bed, back on the floor. Which, surprisingly, still totally cool with. Apparently, I’m good to sleep most places now. Spent last night in the Singapore airport on the floor and a bench and actually found some restful sleep. Neat.

[Side note: if I haven’t mentioned it already, HUGE shift in what kind of food is commonly available and eaten coming from India to Australia and now to SE Asia. And not just in “cuisine” but there is just SO MUCH more meat! Its actually shocking. It feels like most everything has meat and I’m just staring at the menu like “ok, how do I eat vegetables?”]

Monday took my friend back to class, so I had to entertain myself for the morning. Some yoga practice, a little food prep, and some computer work for job applications and YTT planning took up time until lunch when I caught the ferry (CityCat) over to campus to meet up. I took a couple hours to eat lunch with my friend and then walk myself around the 50,000 student campus to just kind of see what was going on. UQ is definitely not a bad campus. Lovely grounds with green space and a pond, the buildings are highly architecturally consistent, the people seem friendly enough, and there are places to purchase coffee and food everywhere. That was most surprising, but I guess it makes sense when all I really have to compare it to is a <2000 student campus, don’t need quite as many dining options. What surprises my friend is the wide availability of good coffee, not just on campus, but throughout the city and the country. Instead of drip coffee or french press as the main mode of consumption, like in the states, espresso takes the lead, so most any place that serves coffee has an espresso machine, and they’re good at working it. This is only a second hand impression, as I don’t drink coffee… haha. After my self-guided tour, I returned to the apartment to do a little more computer work and chill before my friend got back. With his return, we went fancy for dinner, preparing some absolutetly bomb homemade butternut squash tortellini in a brown butter sage sauce. He had some left over pasta dough he had made, I roasted the squash earlier in the day, which we mashed and mixed with a little marscapone, brown sugar, and spices, stuffed and shaped the tortellini, and boiled ever so briefly. Then browned butter, add sage, and tossed the tortellini to coat until they shimmered with butter. Yummmmmm. We enjoyed them over a viewing of Inside Out with one of the other roommates. Terrific. Oh yeah! And with the extra butternut and some coconut milk we made some chia seed pudding, which you should absolutely make if you haven’t before. The creaminess of full fat coconut milk and the texture of soaked chia seeds make it down right delicious! Flavor it however you want.

Tuesday morning started similar, he went off for his day, I practiced and relaxed a little, and put some work in. Back from class, we headed downtown to the Central Business District (CBD) of Brisbane just to see what was going on there. It, uh, isn’t a whole heck of a lot. Super commercialized few blocks with a lot of potential, but unfortunately just like most anywhere else. Lots of chain types of places. Highlights were food related, of course. Brown butter and pistachio donut from Donut Time, a local favorite, taro buns from a korean bakery, and chocolate from Noosa (a local producer a couple hours to the south). We have sweet teeth… Oh, through crazy random happenstance there is a Spoon Deli and Catering business there! Pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Spoon in Wooster. Back up town at the apartment, we made egg casserole/sunrise squares for dinner, and followed it up with chocolate chip banana bread (a roommate had overripe bananas) and cinnamon sugar bagels to be boiled the next day. All items turned out delicious, no surprise there!

Wednesday started like the rest of the days, practice, chill, and work, then I headed downtown to the Cultural Centre just to explore the stuff they have going on by the river, namely some very lovely green space. There is also a large ferris wheel and a giant 3D sign of “BRISBANE”, which seems be something a lot of cities like to have now (of their own name). I walked around, took some pictures, acted like an noninvasive tourist. How I do. Then I experimented with my ability to find my way around all on my own – walking downtown and back by different roots, finding my friends favorite Banh Mi place in the West End on my way. Very enjoyable. Back at the apartment after classes wrapped, we finished making the bagels and another pleasant, calm evening.

I took a trip down the coast to Coolangatta, a southern beach town of the Gold Coast area, just to see what was going on down there and meet up with a couple I had met during my last couple weeks in Mysore! Its pretty much a quintessential surfer’s beach town being invaded by high rise apartment buildings. The soft, sandy beaches, which seem to cover the entire coast, are just lovely (a little too windy when I was there, but kept the heat of the searing sun at bay). The surf is world renowned – the surfing world championships take place there every year. The people all seem perfectly chill. Its moving towards the type of space I would enjoy more than a city. Coolangatta is located right at the border of Queensland and New South Wales, and there is a big lighthouse marker at Point Danger, which marks the border. Even more interestingly, south of the border (into NSW), the buildings just disappear. There is one high rise visible and several clumps of houses, but the difference is dramatic. My friends from Mysore said that traveling the coast south is just magical so if/when I come back, that is definitely a point of interest – work down and around to the GBF. Lovely way to get outside, walk around, enjoy the sun, and see something different! All by way of public transport. Can take a train that runs from the airport all of the way down to Gold Coast (an hour and change of travel there) and then a bus from there to Coolangatta – all on the same card. Super efficient. When I returned to the apartment that evening, I found my friend making a cake which he told me was for another one of their friend’s birthdays. Turned out it was for mine (not until Saturday). Some sort of Japanese sponge cake with vanilla butter cream and strawberries. It was SO DELICIOUS. Simultaneously dense and flavorful but with a bit of the lightness that comes with a sponge cake. Super cool. And that was my last night in Brisbane.

Friday morning I did some laundry, packed my stuff up, and hit up a local supply driven breakfast place which is on top of their game. We walked around West End a little bit until it was time for me to hop on the train to get to the airport. [“Fun” story, road the yellow line to both ends over my time there – the one that runs from the airport to Gold Coast. Feels like some sort of accomplishment for such a short visit.] Travel was thankfully uneventful. I spent about twelve hours in the Singapore airport – which I think I discovered is a very solid airport to over night in if you’re going to pick one. The middle of the terminal I was in was pretty much a mall with lots of shops and places for food, gardens, and koi pond. Plus, there is a hotel, several places to get massages, video game rooms, a movie theater, and a lounge that includes showers, a nap room, and a gym. Now, most everything needs to be paid for at prices that seem to be fairly exorbitant, so I spend the night on the floor and a bench, as I mentioned, but both were not unreasonably uncomfortable.

Today I find myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand in a lovely family run hostel-home sort of place. They picked me up from the airport, pointed out some important places, have two dogs, and are very friendly, so I feel good about it. Tell you all about my first week of Thai Massage school next week! Happy Birthday to me! Thank you for reading.

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One Week in an Intentional Community

After Sunday morning in Brisbane, I went back to the airport to catch a flight to Sydney so I could give my friend a week to study for his mid-terms which went down on Saturday, and so I could see a different part of Australia.

Speaking as an American, accustomed to American airports, airport access is VERY different here. *NB: this is all for domestic flights, I’ll find out if international flights are any different at the end of the week.*
1) I downloaded my boarding pass to my phone from my friend’s apartment.
2) I arrived at the airport and went through security (no checked baggage) without having to show EITHER my boarding pass or ID.
3) I was at my gate in about 5 minutes from arriving at the airport.
4) There is no order to boarding. It just starts half an hour before departure and everyone lines up.
5) I boarded the plane just by having the boarding pass on my phone scanned. At no point did I have to show ID.
This is TOTALLY MIND BLOWING compared to what were used to in American airports. I mean, you can keep your shoes on going through security and they’re still using the metal detectors instead of those fancy spinning x-ray machines (although, word in the news is that those fancy ones are useless). On the way back, I arrived at the airport within an hour of my planes DEPARTURE and was at the gate with 5-10 minutes to spare before BOARDING, and that time I hadn’t downloaded my boarding pass before arriving, I had to get it from one of those little machines where, again, I DIDN’T HAVE TO SHOW ANY ID. Sure makes life easier…

Ok, on to actually interesting things about Sydney!

Got in Sunday night, acquired the Opal transport card – another tap-on/tap-off card like Brisbane has – so I could ride trains and buses with ease, and tried to figure how in the heck to actually get from where I was to some place I wanted to go, namely any hotel downtown. Getting from the airport to central station is actually fairly easy, but, as in Brisbane, it is an astoundingly expensive trip compared to any other public transport distance. (The 15 minute train trip between the airport and central cost 3-4x my hour plus train trip from downtown to Windsor station near the Blue Mountains later.) Once downtown, it is the classic challenge to navigate the city after dark with only tourist maps (which are fairly consistently useless) and a lack of street signs. But, eventually, with the help of land marks and intersections, I placed myself in Chinatown and found a place to treat myself and spend the night. Ventured back out to walk around, see what was going on (Chinatown is always a good place to go – great food, often slightly lower prices, awesome sights), and get some food – sushi night, treat yo’self! Then, it was back to my room for a good night’s sleep on a REAL BED – what a luxury!

Monday morning was supposed to a pleasant self-guided (and I use that term loosely) tour of Sydney, but unfortunately I stepped outside to a gray, cool, drizzly day. Not too bad at first, but as the rain picked up, I sought shelter and spent an hour or two trying to understand the bits of the public transportation system I would need to use in the near future. Eventually I mustered up the courage to revisit the outdoors, thankfully precipitation-free, and made my way down to the Royal Botanic Gardens and harbor to walk around and see the iconic Sydney Opera House. It would have been better on a sunny day, but the variety of birds around the gardens was just delightful, as were the bountiful plant species. Then it was off to the trains to catch a ride out of town to the agreed upon meeting station to get me to this Intentional Community in the Colo Valley of the Blue Mountains.

What. An. Experience. I probably should have been more prepared for what the community is, but I hadn’t really bothered to think about what it would be based on how it was described on the Couchsurfing website. Anyway, it is a developing community on a parcel of land including four little peaks and three valleys. They have a couple caravans, some tents, and are building a series of structures as housing, lounges, and a kitchen, with the eventual plan of creating a whole community capable of hosting festivals. It’s a big vision. Luckily, the man who owns the land is “vision holder” who can hold this incredible vision and feels very capable with his ability to manifest everything he truly wants from the universe. [Side bar: manifesting has a lot of potential. I started manifesting opportunities to teach yoga when I get back to the states and when I got back to wifi, I had an e-mail from a friend with a full time yoga instructor opportunity! Coincidence, maybe, but cool.] Living in the community while I was there was the owner’s dad (a rather old, rather German world traveler), the owner’s French-Canadian honey, an English 21 year old who came to Australia and ran out of money too quick, and three dogs – Kiara, Lila, and Puppyong, of which Kiara was super awesome. Their neighbors swung by once to chat and on Thursday night a couple of French kids showed up just for the night (which was a little weird, but they had previously planned on staying longer and changed their mind).

The typical day wouldn’t start until about 10a with breakfast, which was super weird for me. I’d be up around 6:30 or 7 and would have to wander around, listen to podcasts, stretch… do something for a few hours until the owner was awake so that the current lounge area was available for public use, because they slept right next to the kitchen/lounge area. After breakfast, we would get to work on whatever project we were working on. My project for the first three days was paneling a wall in their newest building (their new bedroom and office) with timber boards that were about 10cm wide. The frame of the wall was already built (and not 100% consistent), so I had to cut a board, drill it onto the wall, and then measure for the next board, making the process more complicated than I would have thought it should be. Simple, engaging, hands on work out in the forest was a nice change from Mysore where it was just practice and chill in the city. Mostly being in the forest surrounded by cool, wet green was the nice change. We would work until lunch time, which could come any time from noon to three, and then get back to work until it was too dark to do whatever we were doing. Because lunch was typically the large meal of the day, evening would be very relaxed, some drinks for those who drank, maybe a little more to eat, and we would take turns reading out loud from The Clan of the Cave Bear. The first book of the Earth’s Children series, we follow the life of Ayla, an early Homo sapien who lost her family in an earth quake 40,000 years ago. In Cave Bear, Ayla loses her family, runs away from the traumatizing site, and eventually, starved, injured, and very tired, is found by a clan of Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals). In addition to seeing the differences between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, there are lengthy, expressive, and enjoyable passages on the flora, fauna, and environment, as well as how the Neanderthals live. We also hear much from the medicine woman and spiritual leader of the clan (the two members who take Ayla in most readily), about using plants to heal ailments and how they function spiritually. Cool story.

Like I said, getting out in the forest was wonderful. On Friday morning, because the French couple was with us and the opportunity presented itself, I made biscuits for everybody – a cheddar and green onion batch and a sweet raisin and 5-spice batch. They were yummy. Love baking everywhere! Other yummy things we made were tortilla pizzas and an egg and potato casserole. Lots of cheese was used. Lots of cheese.

Saturday was my time to leave. I climbed the hills in the morning to look at the trees and caves and paintings. Then, after breakfast, we spent some time learning about some spine physiology and did a little acro yoga play. It was great fun! Then we were off to the train station to get me back to the airport by a couple buses and a train. And, like I mentioned, getting on to the plane was astoundingly easy. Back in Brisbane, I met back up with my friend, hit up the West End Markets for dinner, again (because it’s amazing, and that was it for the week! I’ll be in Chiang Mai next time you hear from me. Thanks for reading.

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After Mysore

Well, my three months of Ashtanga practice with Saraswathi in Mysore are now totally done – I’m in Brisbane, Australia! Our last four days of practice ended with two Led Primary classes and two Mysore practices. I felt pretty darn good during all of them, but definitely tired by the very last practice. Felt strangely tired, but, I guess that’s what three months will do. In my Mysore practice, I got to add Pasasana, “noose pose”, the first pose of the Intermediate series to my practice. It is a squat with a twist and bind. I don’t really feel like I deserve the pose… but it is nice to be able to think about moving forward and adding postures.

Outside of practice, the last days in Gokulam were full of various social obligations or expectations or activities, largely centered around food (of course). Sunday night had a special thali dinner at a family’s house that another Anokhi’s Café work exchange individual knew well. The woman who runs the dinner works the week at a café in Gokulam and then runs this dinner on Sunday nights, in addition to cooking and caring for her family while her husband drives a taxi (taxi taxi, not a rickshaw). It was an AMAZING dinner. So many delicious dishes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stuff my face as much as I would have liked to because it was a rather late meal and I had an early practice Monday morning – have to keep those bandhas available. But back to the food. There were three delicious curries/soups, a rice dish, shredded carrot salad, beets and potatoes, gobi Manchurian (a spicy, saucy fried cauliflower dish), curried pumpkin, momos (dumplings), and ragi dosas. Of course the meal was topped off with chai. Delicious, delicious masala chai. I really wish I could have let myself eat until I could eat no more haha.

Tuesday brought about my final trip to Secret Breakfast on which I was much more liberal in how much I allowed myself to eat – rice bath and their massive onion dosa, plus some pakora (a fried onion and batter ball) and chai. Soooo good. Wednesday morning was devoted to my last visit to the wonderful idly man, plus lots of chai. Then, Wednesday night was going to be another street food night, but a bunch of the stands that we wanted to go to were disappointingly closed. Instead, we headed over to Sri Durga for more indian food and I went with set dosas. After, I grabbed some sweets from a baker to top off the night – chocolate cake ball-like yumminess and jalebi (dough deep fried like in pretzel like shapes and soaked in a sugary syrup). They were great. Very sugary.

Finally, Thursday morning (my last morning) came with a breakfast for Saraswathi’s students hosted by the assistants consisting of idly, dosa, masala, kitcheree, coconut chutney, tamarind chutney, chai, and more. It was impressive, filling, and absolutely delicious. The tamarind chutney was the first I had had of its kind and WOW was it good. Yummmmm! I’d like to eat more and I’d like to try to make it. After eating more than I should have there, I headed over to Anokhi’s for a last meal of fruit salad and vegan banana pancakes and to say my goodbyes there. In the afternoon, I had my last coconuts of India. Fortunately, my very last coconut was the PERFECT coconut. Cool, sweet water, meat that was just the right spot between jelly and toothy, and it was large! Such a great way to say goodbye.

That evening, I rode to the airport in a taxi with a New Zealander who I might get to see again in Chiang Mai! The ride went along as smoothly as one can expect to travel by car in India. Plenty of near encounters, stopped vehicles, horns, and good conversation with my travel buddy. That night, or really very early Friday morning, I got my flight to Brisbane through Hong Kong. The flights were long and uninteresting, but I actually managed to sleep rather well on the first one, which was great! Late, late Friday night, I found myself in Brisbane met by one of my best college friends here for Med school.

Saturday has been a delight so far – went to a local farmer’s market and walked about West End. After that trip about town, we hopped on a ferry and a bus to get to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to look at and meet koalas, kangaroos, and a large variety of other Australian animals – kookaburras, Tasmanian devils, dingos, parrots… It was delightful. Even better to discover, the public transportation system here is just terrific! Load a card with money to swipe for buses, ferries, and trains. Swipe it when you get on or off. Super effective and rather inexpensive. It’s good to be here. Tonight, we’re headed to a music and food truck party (basically) that’s supposed to have really great food. I’m highly looking forward to it.

Until next time, have a great week!

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Twelve Weeks in Mysore

Sorry I missed giving you an eleven week update. Saturday was a big day and then I quickly became unable to do much of anything. But more on that soon. But oh man, trying to remember two weeks back will be tough… ha.

Don’t think I did anything too crazy two weekends ago, but looking back through pictures, but the week brought a lot of fun. I’ve been spending a good bit of time with the friends I’ve made at Anokhi’s cafe while serving. On Monday, I walked around Kukkarahalli Lake with the two full time work exchange peeps and the manager. It’s an amusing place to walk. The lake itself is large and L shaped, surrounded by lots of green, and filled with wetland birds (species vary by season), but herons and storks and cranes and pelicans and parrots and much more. Surprising to see in the middle of a big city. But the best part is the surprisingly flat path that surrounds the lake. It is used by fairly large quantities of locals for walking and jogging and assortment of other movements which I have to assume is exercise. I guess. It is wildly entertaining. Plus, they do whatever they’re doing in their normal clothes – i.e. jogging in flip flops (thongs, slippers… whatever you want to call them) and much more. On the walk back, we stopped for Indian breakfast – some rice bath and dosa. Yum! One of the crew got paper dosa, a VERY thin variation that is spread out to have a much larger area than other dosas.

Tuesday morning, five of us hopped over to Chamundi hill on wheels and then hiked up and down. It was a normal day, so this was after my practice, but the Ashtanga primary series is not challenging on leg muscle strength, so a thousand steps is kind of a nice addition. Although, coming back down them is  never enjoyable… leaves them all shaky and stuff. After, the up and down, we adjourned to the ever magnificent Secret Breakfast shack (after some minor rickshaw confusion, I guess maps don’t make sense…) for dosa, idly, and more Indian deliciousness. Some of the attendees had never made it before and reveled in just how fantastic it was. It reigns as the best. Then we strapped on our sandals for a longer (rather hot) walk home to Gokulam. Secret Breakfast is in a part of Lakshmipuram (a large area/neighborhood) that is about 6km away from the part of Gokulam we live in. Not too bad a walk, but after the Chamundi climb, a big breakfast, and in the midday heat, it’s a lot more work. Haha. But it was helpful for learning the route a little more clearly.

Slowly, we returned to Anokhi’s to rest, recover, and spend the afternoon. The manager’s birthday was on that Thursday and we wanted to surprise her with a decadent dessert because, I mean, that’s what you do. Plus, she is French, and (for anyone western) if you’ve had Indian variations on western deserts like cakes, you’re familiar with just how disappointing they are – dry, too sweet cake, frosting that is overly sweet and indescribably awkwardly textured. Its sad (I did have a “honey cake”, which had been half soaked in honey, and that was rather tasty, but only because honey is bomb). So, as an individual who surely appreciates the finer points of patisserie, we knew we had to step it up for her. I went for the MOST decadent brownie recipe I have ever encountered thanks a college friend equally obsessed with fabulous baked goods. I am afraid that I am unable to divulge the recipe her due to promises made. But suffice it to know that they are absurdly dense, fudgy, and butterific. If you’re lucky, they’ll be made for you one day. We enjoyed them with ice cream Thursday night. Everyone approved.

I think I took it pretty easy on Wednesday, besides the continued Sanskrit 3 classes which I have been taking this month. Level three is a HUGE turn up from level two. Thrown immediately into the deep end trying to translate full stories with an insufficient English-Sanskrit reference dictionary (and only in one direction), plus the internet which appears to primarily offer inaccurate translations. Hahaha. Over the three weeks of the course, we translated both ways from English, from English-Sanskrit, and from Sanskrit-Sanskrit. We even wrote and translated our own story. It was a wild ride. And, as teachers tend to do, Lakshmish got more friendly and goofy with the third level than he had been in the second or first.

Thursday included Mysore Monkey acro play time in the evening (and the delectable brownie). Acro last week was an absolute blast. Two great flyers and the return of another base who is large and strong, so I got to try to do a bunch of flying – including working on the four-step, which is definitely hard. But it was a blast. Got to do some multi-flyer basing, which is always entertaining, and also flew on my favorite flyer in a bird sandwich (base, bird, person standing on the bird), great fun!

Friday was another big day at Anokhi’s for me. Worked in the morning serving and then in the afternoon made Triple Chocolate Vegan Banana Bread for sale on Saturday. It went well. Really well. Super yummy.

Then came Saturday, the big day that ended up knocking me flat on my ass for a few days. Started off normal and great – work at Anokhi’s, conference, chocolate banana bread sales… Then, after work, I ran into some folks at the coconut stand who had an afternoon at the river planned. Kindly, they invited me to join and I obliged. I went and changed clothes, got a bunch of water, and then headed out with them on scooters and bikes. It was definitely the longest scooter ride I’ve been on, and with only one noticeably poorly chosen turn, we managed to find the spot (more or less) that we had been looking for. From the popular spot by a temple, we worked our way upstream, past lots of local women cleaning clothes and wares, children playing, and piles of feces, to a quieter spot where we could climb in and cool off. (I’m guessing somewhere in here is where I made my mistake.) Very chill afternoon in the water and in the shade. While sitting by the river and chatting we interacted with some kids who were around and then were joined by a very VERY intoxicated man (not an uncommon occurrence for some of them to hit the bars as soon as they’re open and then struggle to make it home) who really really really wanted to talk to us, but unfortunately none of us know Kannada, so that made it very difficult. We managed to lose him after finding a tamarind candy stand, I remember he fell down over there… I’d gotten a good bit of sun, so on the ride back in shorts and a t-shirt I felt a bit chilly on the back of the scooter. By the time I got home, I was down right cold. Like, I had to put on a hoodie and sweatpants, I had to make some hot tea, and when I went to sleep I added my blanket. First sign something was bad. I assumed it was because a light sun burn drew my blood to the surface and then all of the wind cooled it off, so as it flowed back to the center of my body it cooled everything down. Then, throughout the night, came the… lets go with “evacuations”. I hope you don’t want me to be more specific. Because I won’t be. Aaaaaaannnyway, hardly left my room until Monday morning. Not being in bed wasn’t even fun. Drank water when I could, some pedialyte to keep electrolytes going. Managed to eat some idly on Monday and Tuesday morning and some daal I made on Tuesday. Almost eating like a normal person by Wednesday AND I managed to spend the day productively working on my computer planning a road trip and the Yoga Teacher Training I will be helping with in July! And I was finally able to practice (at home) on, just to be safe, Thursday, back in the shala on Friday. Quite the week. It had to happen sometime, surprised it took so long. The most interesting part was slowly rebuilding trust for myself further away from toilets. Very grateful to be on this side of the experience now.

On Friday, besides practice and work at Anokhi’s, I spent the afternoon with the Anokhi’s crew. We made popcorn, covered it in ghee, turmeric, and cumin, and enjoyed it with a movie. A movie in the shade and under a fan is a great way to spend these boiling afternoons. Today was equally chill.

I’m looking forward to my last four days (*gasp* FOUR DAYS) of practice here in Mysore with Saraswathi. Two led primary series and two mysore practices. I think I even get to add pasasana on Monday and Tuesday. Then on Thursday its off to the airport and very early on Friday I’m in a plane to the land of Oz. I’ll write you from Australia next! Have a good week.

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Ten weeks in Mysore

Another good week in Mysore! I feel very rested because we had a moon day this week, on Tuesday. Two days off in a week just seems like a lot now, although, it is really beneficial and important. Five days of deep backbending in a row really show, but getting that extra day off makes it darn enjoyable.

Other bits of interest from the week… let’s see. On the Tuesday moon day, I experimented with pumpkin ginger bread, and it was really tasty! For better or worse, I decided to add more pumpkin for the weekend variation for sale and I added a bit too much. Came out more like a very dense pumpkin pie on the inside – still delicious, but very dense and not much like bread. And it sold well today. I’m thinking of a triple chocolate banana bread for this next weekend. And the yogis do seem to like their chocolate around here.

Sanskrit level three is getting pretty ridiculous. Lakshmish has translating paragraph long stories between English and Sanskrit, which is particularly challenging because we don’t have a terribly complete dictionary between the two languages. This means searching for decent approximations going from English to Sanskrit. But not that we’re going the other way (and don’t have a Sanskrit to English dictionary, only the other way) I’m not sure how it will go. Certainly a challenge. Fortunately, we get to work in groups, which makes it less frustrating. He also has experimental tests planned for us, I guess lessons to help him teach better as he continues, which is reassuring in the long run.

On Friday night, after making my pumpkin bread and going to Sanskrit class, I joined up with some of the other Anokhi work exchange peeps for a street food tour around Gokulam. Started with Gobi Manchurian and Vada from one of the local guys who cooks at Anokhi’s but also has a food stand he runs at night. Some of our group also got dosas from the adjacent stand, which were quite tasty. Then we got samosas from the samosa man. After that, we found a stand preparing dahi panipuri and got ourselves some. Finally, we made it all of the way to the end of Temple road for some gelato. Thank goodness for all of the walking! It was a great, although late, night.

Oooh! Plans for the Yoga Teacher Training I’ll be helping to lead in Wooster in July are coming together. So a bit of my energy is going towards that now. Focusing on Anatomy, Pranayama, and some other bits and pieces.

Hope you’re having a great March!

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Nine Weeks in Mysore

Feels like it’s been a big week! So much change has happened. February’s meant the end of a lot of people’s time at the KPJAYI for this year. A big population shift. I have new roommates now, a guy from Poland and a girl (who turns out to be Instagram famous) originally from the New Jersey and, but who now lives and teaches in Dubai. Both lovely people, but very different from each other. I think it’ll be a good month!

Feeling better each day in my practice as my legs loosen up with foam rolling regularly and some extra stretching. Getting Marichyasana D back into the practice and Padmasana variations are coming back.

Even better, some new Monkeys have shown up to Mysore and have shown up to play with acro peeps. And they’re really skilled and dedicated praticioners! And so much fun to play with! So much fun! Getting to fly and base with these folks is incredible. She is from north French Canada, he is from Israel. Both strong and light and effectively communicators. Basing for her, I’ve managed the ninja roll, four step, croc, and more that has seemed so much more difficult before. Mysore magic? We’ve played in the park and at the pool, and I look forward to getting some of these moves filmed once we get really solid. Then I will be sure to share!

I’ve made a baking opportunity for myself at Anokhi’s. This week I made Vegan Wholegrain Banana Nut Muffins to sell while they’re open and I get the profits! Super exciting. They went over really well. For this coming week I’m thinking of making Ginger Pumpkin bread or muffins. I have to experiment with the pumpkins that are available here, though, because I don’t know how they will respond to the typical process I use to turn pumpkin into puree. Luckily, Tuesday is a moonday, so I think I will be able to play then. Hope it goes well! I have high hopes.

Big week, but I don’t have a ton to write. Oh well. Hope your March is starting well!

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Eight Weeks in Mysore

Wow, February has just FLOWN by. Felt so much faster than January. Thank goodness we get an extra day in it this year!

This week began with a full moon moonday on Monday. It was a nice extra day off. I’m definitely feeling the practice. It’s a lot on the body, especially when coupled with extra acro and hand balance work. Woof. For the Full Moon, I joined a few others for a Native American ceremony to help set intentions. We lit lamps to each of the cardinal directions and the spirits and meanings of each. It was different, but good for me. Putting words to your intentions are very helpful, however you go about it.

Acro practice is going well with friends I’ve made through Anokhi’s and elsewhere around Gokulam. I’ve been working on the Ninja Roll with one of my Anokhi co-workers who is surprisingly light for his 6’2” frame. He has a core control and we’ve almost got a full smooth circuit completed. Cartwheel into a straddle bat, lift up into a side plank, turn into a reverse bird, turn to side plank on the other side, release back down to straddle bat, and then cartwheel out or repeat. Probably doesn’t make sense with those words, but hopefully I’ll have a video to share one day.

Hand balance practice has also picked up this week quite a bit with a new challenge on Instagram from some Cirque performers and other hand balance artists and enthusiasts. Each day a group posts three levels of an inversion flow, Cirque, Advanced, and Intermediate. The Cirque flow seems to typically involve a single arm balance so far, the Advanced, just on two, and the Intermediate might have some extra support, like a wall, or in headstand for some of the time. Each day is new, it is very challenging, and extremely fun!

Nothing too wild happened through the middle of the week, but Friday/Saturday brought some excitement. After work on Friday at Anokhi’s, a few of us hung around for baking fun. I made banana bread and bagels, and others made salad, hummus, and a traditional German cake with a vegan twist. The bagels came out a little disappointing compared to what I was making back west, but hot and with the hummus they were bomb. The vegan cake came out tasty, while a little under cooked, but the part of it that really shown was the banana and coconut oil frosting! Sooooo good. But I was very very happy with the banana bread. I used a mix of wheat and ragi flour, with sugar, jaggery, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, and salt as the dry mix, then added honey and coconut milk and folded in the mashed banana. Delicious! All I’ve got to do to keep it vegan next time is substitute date syrup or something like that for the honey (I’d love to use maple syrup, but there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of that around here…). It was a great dinner!

And today starred a fun trip to Regalis, one of the pools in the area. We acro’d, swam, stacked people in the pool, tried a little Janzu water massage, and just hung out! Good times.

Led series tomorrow and a whole new week ahead!

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Seven Weeks in Mysore

Another week down and I feel like I was just here writing. Time is just flying by! It’s weird.

Ooh, steps forward in asana practice! Added Supta Hasta Padangusthasana early in the week and then later in the week Saraswathi told me I get to start standing backbending next week! Ohhhh buddy. Things are going to start changing! Which also means I get to add the rest of the poses through the end of the primary series – Ubbhya Padangusthasana, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, and Setu Bandhasana. Woohoo! Although my knees have been feeling rather tight, so I have stayed gentle on the lotus stuff, but I actually find myself missing it, which I did not expect. I hope they feel good enough that I can start pushing it again. Unfortunately, today working at Anokhi’s, I slipped on a little bit of mud and knocked the front my knee, right below my patella, into a large plant pot. Now its tight and swollen and I can’t wait to watch it change colors. Yay…

Anokhi’s was rather quiet on Friday. And then pretty busy on Saturday, but it didn’t feel as insane as others had. I need to make time to use the oven over there. Talked to one of the fully time work exchange guys who has been trying to use yeast to leaven pizza dough, and he was saying it hasn’t been cooperating for him. No rise at all, even though the yeast proofs and appears to activate in the water. Now I just want find if it can work! A conundrum to deconfound. Totally a word now. Deal with it. Is it the flour here? Is the protein content very low? It is very finely ground, so does that mean the tiny germ and bran pieces will cut more or less? Is the yeast he’s been using just bad? Or is all of the yeast here uncooperative? What happens if I try to start a sourdough culture? I know they use fermentation process for a lot of their breakfast dishes, like dosas and idly. (Soaked rice and daal, ground up, set to ferment overnight, and then cooked in the morning. Definitely want to learn that, too.) Looking forward to playing.

I’ve also been brought in by some other introvert yogis (who are unfortunately leaving in the next week or so) for poolside fun and rooftop yoga play, along with meals and general hang out time. It’s been very helpful and fun! They’re good peoples. (If you follow me on IG @fullybakedyoga, you’ve seen some of the fun we’ve had!)

Human flag and flagpole with @mariebellepr, new Mysore friend!

Human flag and flagpole with @mariebellepr, new Mysore friend!

Big news for the future: I made announcements on IG and FB for my Summer road trip and the Yoga Teacher Training in Wooster in July that I will be helping to teach! I’m really excited for both. If you think you might want me to teach yoga in your town or city when I drive somewhere near it, message me and lets see if we can figure something out!

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