Ashram Life

Happy New Year everyone! This has to be the healthiest festive season I have ever spent, having lived in an  ashram for the past 6 days, the Sivananda ashram in Neyyar Dam (check it out here at http://tinyurl.com/5tg7vtb). This is a religious retreat deep in the mountains of the communist state of Kerala, the green tropical southern sliver that Indians call ‘God’s own country’. The last time I updated you I was sitting in a boiling hot internet cafe in the muggy town of Trivandrum. I had finally left Goa and taken a 20hr bus to Cochin. 20hrs and – I do not lie – 2 toilet stops. I learnt quickly that the only way to survive long bus journeys is to not drink any water whatsoever – dehydration is only slightly more preferable to sitting with your legs crossed for that amount of time. I did, however,  risk a hot vegetable samosa in the ‘service station’ and a cup of chai and had my bill and receipt beautifully presented to me in a silver bowl of cumin seeds.  After a very uncomfortable night spent bouncing around the windy mountainous roads in my upright seat, we finally landed. I took an autorickshaw to the main station and awaited my (late) train to Trivandrum. 

‘Q’ upplease – queing for train tickets in Cochin
Bills presented in Cumin seeds



I bought a local ticket but blagged into a ‘sleeper’ carriage with a couple of Sheffield alumni people I had picked up en route (we get everywhere, we do) and procured a metal bed, suspended on chains not far from the ceiling and nauseatingly close to the fans. The train ride was hot though pleasant enough – more so than the bus and the doors were open so you could sit and look out as it passed through the beautiful, tropical, lush southern country at a chugging pace. When I arrived in Trivandrum it was an hour or so off sunset. I didn’t think it was a good plan to head off into jungle territory in darkness so acquired a very basic room (note to self, the Lonely Planet doesn’t always get it right) and spent the evening updating the blog and uploading pictures, finishing off with some hot street food from a stand at 11pm at night – hot doshas (rice pancakes) a kind of coconut sauce and pickle. I was the only woman at the stall so kept myself to myself and ate quickly, with my hands, in the shadows of a bus stop before cautiously negotiating the dark back city streets home. 

Inside the train

After a solid night’s sleep and feeling adventurous, I got myself to the main bus station which was a melee of Indian people and stray dogs. The air was thick with the stench of sewers (presumably with no toilets people use the bus station as a convenience). Nobody seemed to know which bus I had to take and in a comedy fashion, every single bus driver I asked pointed to the bus in front of him. After travelling the line of about 20 buses I finally found a conductor who told me that I could wait for an hour or take one bus then change. Keen to get to the ashram, I opted for the former and hopped on. What an experience this was – rattling around in a rickety old tin bus, I was the only western passenger and as the bus travelled further and further uphill and deeper into jungle territory, more and more Indian ladies in saris squeezed on and squeeeeeeeeezed on and kept squeezing, way beyond the capacity of the bus and each time I thought that they couldn’t possibly fit any more passengers on, fit people on they did.  I had absolutely no idea where I was going and had to trust that the brusque bus conductor would tell me where to change (something I was slightly worried about, given that we were travellling deeper into remote villages with no signage and very little English spoken). After about an hour, we got to the end of the line and I had to disembark. Again I was the only white person in the ‘bus station’ and this caused much amusement. Whilst I was kneeling down adjusting my baggage, an elderly lady came up very close and, uninvited, stroked her hand slowly all the way up my back, as if she was polishing a good luck charm. This was to the intense amusement of a cheeky faced Indian man who laughed and laughed hysterically at this and was still shaking and snorting in hilarity when I finally saw the alleged bus and boarded onward to ‘Dam, Dam’ – which was apparently my stop, despite the fact that, astonishingly, nobody knew where the ashram was. This ride was more of the same, having to trust and hope that somewhere at the end of this jungle trail lay my ashram. So I chanted and hoped and, amid my fears, had an intense moment of clarity that scary though this might be, it was also quite possibly the coolest thing I had ever done – going out into the world, totally alone. The universe was looking out for me. After about half an hour, we passed the Sivananda ashram. I disembarked and took a waiting autorickshaw up the very steep slope to the entrance.

Let’s fill this bus right up! 

Once I had checked in I was given a very thorough list of rules and regulations and the daily timetable, which is compulsory for all guests. As the Director of the ashram said in our first days here: “there is an open jail down the road here in Kerala – ironically the inmates have more freedom than we do.” The ashram follows an exacting schedule, beginning at 05.20 with the wake up bell, followed by satsang (prayers, chanting and meditation) at 06.00. 07.30 is teatime – steaming, sweetened milky chai, then, from 08.00, 2 hours of yoga asanas and kalabati and pranyama breathing, taught in the ‘Sivanada style’. The word ‘asana’ means ‘steady posture’, so this is the kind of yoga that you will all be thinking of – the classical western interpretation of yoga as a physical activity. I have learned here that whilst asanas are one small part of it, there are many other manifestations of ‘yoga’ . Pranyama basically means ‘breathing control’ and the types we practice at the Sivananda ashram include diaphragmatic breathing (breathing in and out with abdomen first), alternate nostril breathing to balance both sides of the brain, breath retention (for up to a minute at a time after breathing exercises) and kapalabhati breathing which involves a round of sharp exhalations and resisting the urge to take active inhalations. I tend to get quite affected by the breathing and have come out of the sessions sometimes feeling ‘high’, flooded with energy or experiencing the feeling of floating around or outside of my body. Oftentimes, during the retentions, you can feel the breath rolling around and up inside you. I’m convinced that I experienced a ‘Kundalini rising’ moment when, during one retention, I could feel and visualise a ball of energy rising up my spine from my solar plexus. Many people seek to attain this experience as the point of ‘awakening’ your kundalini is to bring up the life energy from the base chakra to the third eye.

The ashram temple




Getting good karma!

After 2hrs of physical asana practice we have our first of two meals for the day (completely vegetarian – no sugar, salt or spices), then at 11am we have to perform ‘karma yoga’. This is ‘selfless service’ – the performance of duties to maintain the upkeep of the ashram.  I reported under the tea tree to be given my karma yoga on the first day and unfortunately I drew the short straw and was allocated the task of cleaning the womens’ dorms. This involves not only cleaning the toilets, but the sanitary bins (also used for dirty toilet tissue as the drains cannot cope with it). I obviously need some good karma! However, the point of this yoga is to detach emotions from your duties, so you simply learn to serve others. In doing this, good karma comes back to you. I have to say that it has not always been pleasant or easy to do, particularly as a longer term stayer I have been doing it by myself on many days. I have tried my best not to have any thoughts of resentment and afterwards I have felt good and lighter for having contributed. I have even found myself volunteering for all sorts of other duties in the ashram, just for the pleasure and enjoyment of serving others (rolling mats, collecting books and even gathering firewood for the kitchen stove). Once karma yoga is done, we have ‘free time’ or coaching classes and lectures – for me this is usually spent washing clothes, organising personal admin or ‘shopping’ in the ashram boutique – my first vital purachses being more suitble ashram cothing, a text by Swami Sivananda and some prayer beads At 15.30 another 2hr yoga class, at 18.00 another vegetarian meal, then satsang again at 20.00 for an hour and a half, then, depending on whether or not we have some form of ‘entertainment’ laid on, bed.

Essential supplies – trousers, prayer book & beads

My ‘bedroom’ is a tiny, hard single bed in a women’s dormitory, sharing with perhaps 30 other girls on my floor. I am very lucky to be sharing a compartment with a lovely, smiley, shiny happy Ozzie girl called Cindy, who reminds me a little bit of a mixture between my two very good friends Annie W and Fleur. Once again, the universe has been kind to me. Cindy has been to the ashram before and she is about to study her yoga teacher training course as well as training to sell naturopathic products back in Australia after a corporate stint in Hong Kong and Singapore. She appreciates the ashram and is enthused about not only the exercise but also the spiritual apsect, which is inspiring and lovely, she is a wonderful presence to be around. She also knows how to have fun and a laugh, which has been great, in contrast to some of our more austere fellow guests who have hushed us after satsang, when we are supposed to retire in complete silence. There is a mix of people here. I have particularly enjoyed the Israeli people I have met who have all, without fail, been cheeky, naughty, flirty and incredibly blasphemous. They are not into the spiritual side at all, which can sometimes be amusing, but other times, when I want to embrace it, a little uncomfortable.

My bed





One of my favourite parts of the day here in the ashram is evening satsang. The word literally means ‘a  coming together of spiritually minded people’. After a 20 to 30 minute silent meditation we have to sing and chant in sanskrit. Being musically inclined, I really enjoy this and have now learnt most of the chants. So – and I never thought I would say this and at the risk of sounding like a ‘happy clapper’ – I grab a tambourine and join in with great gusto when we start to sing the twice daily chant “Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha Pahimann / Sri Ganesha, Sri Ganesha, Sri Ganesha Rakshamam”. We have to sing and chant all day – at morning satsang, before and after yoga, before food and before and after classes. I find the singing very moving – I have mentioned before how much I love haunting Indian melodies and Sanskrit is an ancient, powerful language which, when you sing it alters the vibration of your energy. My favourites are the opening and closing prayers we sing before yoga and also in the evening santsang, when aarti is performed. Aarti is takes place at the end of a puja session (puja is ritual worship which we do after satsang) and involves the circulating of a plate containing a flaming lamp around the statue of a deity. In our case it is Shiva and Swami Sivananda (on whose teachings the ashram is based) and Swami Vishnudevananda (who learned under Sivananda and spread his message across the world, founding this ashram and many others). The lamp is said to then become imbued with the power of the deities.  We chant and pray as one of the altar boys  then holds the flame up to our face and we lift our hands and symbolically wash ourselves with the purified light before kneeling down and prostrating to the altar. During aarti we sing a beautiful song which always makes me feel emotional. The final part is the offering of prasad, or blessed food. which we take with the right hand (in India the left hand is used for personal hygiene). Prasad is a very sweet food – deep fried banana, sweet rice or hard coated banana chips – and is a welcome little treat at the beginning and end of a day in which no sugar whatsoever is imbibed.

Prasad presented on a banana leaf



As a westerner, being immersed in the spiritual life of the ashram was an exciting, wonderous and occasionally bewildering experience. Luckily, the director of the ashram is Zimbabwean-born and is reasonably good at explaining concepts in a straightforward fashion. One of the things that I have found exotic and ‘Other’ about Hinduism is the sheer number of deities, gods and goddesses. On New Year’s day we celebrated a special ‘Lalita Sahasranama’ puja in which priests and attendants from the temple came to the ashram and drew a beautiful diagram on the floor in coloured powders to represent various energies. We then had to chant as the priest invoked the energies (I could feel this rising in the hall as there were hundreds of us there, sitting cross legged). Once this had been done we had to repeat a mantra over and over, each time making an offering to the divine mother – in this case we had already been presented with a banana leaf containing magenta powder and small flowers for the purpose. At the end of each chant we would throw a pinch of the powder or a flower petal at the base of the lamp, which represented the holy energy. This was a long period of chanting as we had to do it continuously whilst the priest simultaneously sang a hymn which lists every one of the 1,000 names for the divine mother. After this I realised that, although there are many gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion, it is really just different representations of the same thing. Sometimes we want to invoke different qualities of a god, and in Hinduism we can do just this – with a colourful, vivid representation to satisfy that particular need. It is actually very accessible when you think about it. For instance, we had another puja to celebrate Ganesha, the elephant-headed God in which again priests drew on the floor and (in typically cavalier-with-health-and-safety style) a fire was built indoors to represent the divine energy. We made offerings to the fire and chanted in celebration of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, to remove anything that is blocking us or is an obstacle to goodness in the world.  In the Sivananda ashram we also daily pay homage to other religious manifestations of God, such as Jesus, Buddha and Moses. I appreciate the fact that Hinduism is inclusive and indiscriminate in that way and, despite the fact that it took some getting used to in the beginning, I like the form of worship, which I find more immersive and celebratory than the atmosphere of a church.  I think that I will continue aspects of this on my return and have been invited to join in satsang with a group in London. 

Diagram of energies


Offerings to the divine mother 



The Sivananda ashram is renowned for its food and I haven’t been disappointed here, even though we only get to eat twice in a long, physical, 17hr day. At dinner time we all have to file into the dining room whilst the ‘Hare Rama’ song is sung (conducted by a diminutive Indian man and talented yogi named Joseph, with a powerful, resonating bass voice). Once the prayers have been sung and we chant ‘Om’ three times (we have to do this before any activity), we are allowed to sit down cross legged on the floor and eat what is in the tray in front of us. We are supposed to eat in silence as the act of eating is a ritual act, an act of worship (our Guru teaches us to ‘spiritualise the material, not materialize the spiritual’ – it is with small rituals or symbolic acts that we bring the divine into the everyday life). We eat with our hands, and the action of bringing our hands from the plate to our mouths, being a physical act is supposed to increase prana or vital life energy. Generally the food has been of a very high standard – it is usually a couple of ladles full of vegetable curry and either rice or chapati and a ladle of raw vegetables such as beetroot or cabbage and a spoonful of curd. Sometimes, if we are very lucky , we will get a poppadom or two (hooray for fried food) and occasionally they bring out the gold bowl, which contains something sweet (usually a banana risotto type thing with sultanas in) from which we are allowed a teaspoon-sized scoop. The poor yogis who get the dining room karma yoga definitely drew an even shorter straw as they are forced to walk up and down the line of  their hungry companions, serving them all the food that they want (often handing out second and third helpings), and it is only until later that these people can sit down and eat what is left. Thank God I got the toilet duty! On one special occasion (it was new year’s eve, but it also happened to coincide with Swami Vishnu Devananda’s birthday, bestowed on him by Swami Sivananda, so not his real birthday but a date to mark him entering his spiritual life), we were treated to a traditional Keralan feast, served up on a banana leaf. 

Keralan feast on a banana leaf


Typical meal





I have been fortunate to begin my visit to the ashram during the period between Christmas and New Year when it deviates slightly from its usual schedule and instead operates the Ayurvedic Cultural Programme. This means that as well as our usual yoga asana classes, karma yoga etc we have received additional lectures on ayurvedic medicine: the ‘body constitution’ (a system based on the tridoshas – the elements that make up the body) and even an ayurvedic cookery class. In the evening we enjoyed entertainment from classical Keralan musicians (including singing by a Keralan Prince) and martial arts.  Perhaps the highlight of the whole trip was New Years Eve. I had been told that this was a special time at the ashram but I had no idea quite what to expect. Rumours of parties abounded, but knowing the ascetic life of the ashram only too well, I highly doubted that there would be anything debauched on the cards. On NYE itself we underwent our usual 1.5hr satsang. After that we were entertained by more musicians – this time by an Indian troupe, the lead singer of whom played the vina, one of the oldest recorded musical instruments and said to have been played by Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology (I don’t think it is any surprise that of all the gods and goddesses, it is the beautiful, lotus dwelling, wise Saraswati I identify with the most). After the music which culminated, in typical Indian comedy style with a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ by same said traditional troupe, I was feeling exhausted (days are very long here in the Neyyar Dam ashram), but never one to miss a party, I forced myself through the fatigue. After the concert we were outside drinking ‘herbal ayurvedic coffee’, the closest thing you could get to a drink here and being led down the steps to the lake. I could hear music blaring through the coconut trees and thought that there was a trance party happening down there, but in fact the music had been layed on by all of the ashram staff and for half a hour or so we danced the night away under the palm trees to hybrid Indian / UK dance music and then were enthralled by a very decadent (and in no way regulated) firework display, culminating in an enormous banana leaf bonfire. I usually find NYE really depressing and hold the dubious honour of never having really enjoyed and new years eve party (with the exception of those spent in Australia), but this was truly wonderous, dancing barefoot in the tropical mud, under the stars and illuminations of fireworks. It was also pretty funny to watch some of the usually-serious yoga teachers dancing around in their dhotis (a kind of skirt that men wear here) to the beat. Well, I guess even yogis have to let go sometimes. The night ended with us gathering back in the Shiva Hall, sitting around and chanting Om, raising the energy levels, whilst the altar boys misted the air with incense and the priests chanted and continued their ritual worship. Way after the clock had struck midnight, the inside exploded with special indoor fireworks – rose petals and glitter. We then all came forward for aarti and an enormous cake in honour of Swami Vishnu Devandanda’s birthday. You should have seen the crowd gathered, clamouring for chocolate! The cake was huge, but that still didn’t stop many hungry fingers slipping around the leftover tray for any spare bit of icing – like I said, sugar is hard to come by in the ashram.

Entertainment


Clamouring for cake




Unfortunately, after the merry making of the previous evening (which didn’t end until after many new year’s hugs, photographs and a ceremonial singing and bashing of the tambourine for “Auld Lange Syne; and other cultural traditions to take place, predictably led by me and the rebel Israelis) I was filled with fatigue on NY day. That didn’t stop me getting up for mandatory satsang (you actually get asked to leave the ashram if you are caught sleeping in and they do search the dorms) and attending the ‘silent walk’ to the nearby lake. It was perhaps the most beautiful new year’s morning I had ever spent, winding up the steep mountainous roads and crossing Neyyar Dam to walk up to the other side of the lake as the light filtered through the banana and coconut trees and the sun rose over the majestic scenery. We could hear locals snoozing in tiny concrete houses with fabric curtains as we passed. However, my enjoyment of the moment was dulled somewhat by my lethargy and so, when others sat up to mediate and sing our daily chants at the lake, I curled up and had a snooze. Luckily, that was not the last visit there as the ashram regularly organises trips, both in the morning and at night and so I spent a beautiful peaceful satsang there one evening, in a puddle of moonlight, in meditation at the water’s edge. I have also managed  couple of swims in the lake, despite warnings of crocodiles and counted myself very lucky to be swimming in a natural freshwater lake later on new years day, when in my previous lifetime I would have no doubt been nursing a hangover under the duvet. 

View of the lake from our meditation spot NYD





One of the many reasons why I decided to go to an ashram was to discover my ‘inner self’ and nurture my burgeoning spiritual side which I believe has always been latent but only truly started to come to my conscious surface when I became reiki attuned in 2009. There are other reasons for this trip too. Since I have been in India, I have been attracted to yellow, orange and ochre colours and it has been pointed out to me here that this shade represents the ‘ability to love’. Whilst I certainly think that this rings true for me (perhaps mostly  my need to be able to love myself before I can love someone else), I have just checked and apparently these colours are more often associated with to independence and creativity, both of which are facets of my character that I intend to explore, challenge and deepen on this trip. Following the discipline of the ashram has been difficult for me at times when I have wanted to think, write and blog. I have managed to do some reading (sneakily, with a torch after lights out). And whilst I don’t feel that this ashram is the most spiritual place in the world (there are many theories about why, which I shan’t examine here!), I have also had some interesting experiences: vivid, lucid dreams, the surfacing of memories (chronologically and along the same theme). I usually consider myself to have a bad memory, but here I have thought about people and things that I believed that I had forgotten years ago. Surprisingly, the overriding theme and emotion that I have experienced is anger. I don’t consider myself to be an angry person, but my stay at the ashram has made me understand that I am angry about an event in my past and it has perhaps  taken until now to acknowledge and let go of it. Add to this the experiences during and after pranyama and a couple of ‘out of body’ experiences during meditation and the physical benefits (4hrs of yoga / day = losing 7 kilos, get in!) and I feel as if  have experienced growth in here, although others have not. I have even been encouraged to explore the out of body experiences or ‘astral projection’ further by a lovely Norgwegian lady that I have met here. 


Despite the fact that I have not always felt spiritually elevated by the energy here or the staff, I have enjoyed listening to excerpts from the texts of our Swami Sivananda and Vishnu Devanandanda and watching video documentary of them. The Director has come out with the occasional gem such as “we are all here for a reason. We must have had spiritual intentions or understanding either in this life or a previous life to come to this ashram. It is a karma”. I like this idea and I have enjoyed connecting more with my inner self. As Vishnu Devanandanda said “the guru is within you, not here. Guru is not outside. Guru awakens that knowledge which is within you”. I have had some amazing affirmations during meditation.. At other times I have been incredibly physically uncomfortable, which has proved an obstacle to concentration. Forget 4 hours of yoga asanas, it is sitting cross legged on the floor for the most part of the day which causes me the most difficulty!  

Our Swamis





Ever ambitious, one further discipline that I added to the list was a ‘panchakarma detoxification’. As if I hadn’t put myself under enough stress… This was done under the eye of the Ayurvedic practitioner here, Dr. Vishnu and apparently I can’t call it a full panchakarma because the usual treatment involves 4 x days of herbal enemas in addition to the programme I underwent. Readers- do not fear! I will spare you the details as I only had the time to complete a 9 day schedule, I was spared any enema, erm, action. According to Dr. Vish, I am a Vata Kapha and therefore I needed more ‘Pitta’ to rebalance my ayurvedic constitution. I had a consultation with him,which was then followed by 8 x days of daily massage – first an all over body oil massage, then a massage with ‘hot powder bundles’ of herbs that had been specifically chosen for me then finally the traditional Sirodhara massage whereby warm oils are dripped onto the forehead in a continuous fashion. This treatment is supposed to realign the alpha and beta functioning of your brain waves (whatever that means), open up your ‘third eye’ and help to promote good sleep. It certainly helped to do that as the first few days I couldn’t help but fall into deep slumber almost as soon as I lay on the massage table. It also made me dream vividly, lucidly and at times very physically. It seems that all my various hungers and cravings (as well as my anger and memories) came out in my dreams. Whenever I has receiving sirodhara, the previous day’s treatment was fresh in my mind but as soon as I left, I had no recollection of the vivid memories and visions that had gripped me. Although on the surface it was innocuous massage, the panchakarma was definitely taking effect. Until I started the treatment I had been full of light and joy in the ashram and kept experiencing moments of elation. After the first couple of massages, however, I was exhausted all the time, craving very specific things (a glass of sauvignon blanc one day, a ham sandwich the next, a plate of spaghetti bolognese, wood fired pizza etc.) and on other days felt like I had been hit by a truck. My moods were  very unstable and that anger and irritation just kept resurfacing. The discipline in the ashram and other guests started to get to me….


On one day I had enough. I escaped the ashram during free time and spent a couple of hours in a banana leaf shack, sipping chai with a tea mamma then finally, I found the internet. Despite my wish to ‘disconnect’ It has been surprisingly difficult and frustrating to queue for 40 mins to just about manage to log in, make one Facebook update and then give your computer up to the next person. On another day, I had been in the ashram for 8 or 9 days and we were allowed an ‘off day’. A few of us hired the ashram mini bus and a driver and headed for Varkala Beach. We were like lunatics escaped from the asylum, throwing off clothes, talking ten-to-the-dozen and  drinking in the view, the sea, the fried food and jumping into the water. Booze and fags were off the menu, due my being bang in the middle of panchakarma. But I enjoyed the samosas, smoothies and chocolate cake like never before! One lesson has certainly been learned here: deprivation leads to appreciation, as Gretchen Rubin says in the ‘Happiness Project’ (vital travelling reading, thank you to Kathleen Drum for the recommendation) “deprivation is one of the most effective, although unenjoyable cures for the hedonic treadmill” – a treadmill I was more than familiar with, having lived the decadent high life in the media industry for the previous 4 or 5 years…. 

Liberated from the ashram!





Anyway, I was detoxing from that life and yesterday, for my sins, I underwent my day of ‘purgation’ which involved drinking a foul concoction of ayurvedic herbs and waiting for nature to take it’s course as I expelled all of the toxins that had been building up in my liver for the previous 8 days. It certainly worked (although was manageable and the evacuations not as tempestuous as I had been led to believe). However, I spent my day, literally feeling like I had been poisoned – sick, headache, fever and an urge to sleep when I wasn’t allowed to. Those London nasties were certainly working their way out of me! I even broke out in spots, a rare thing for my complexion. At the end, I  experienced a kind of ‘come down’ – an overwhelming sensation that i needed to get out of the ashram, lots of anger, irritability and negativity. But today, my eyes are shining, I’m in a sunny mood and I’ve lost 7 kilos (not just through panchakarna but through healthy and abstemious Indian living and lots and lots of yoga). Hopefully in these photos you can see the fruits of my actions…

A skinny me!



My good mood in part is probably also due to the fact that I am releasing myself from the ashram tomorrow. I’m proud to say that I completed this personal pilgrimage and test of physical and mental strength and endurance at a time of traditional excess. I lived out 15 days here and participated in pretty much the entire programme. I outlasted most other ‘yoga vacation’ guests who arrived with or after me. I have learnt some vital lessons about myself (mostly, that I am only human, that I should stop categorising everything into ‘good or bad, right or wrong’, I should stop feeling guilty, I need to love myself; I have also realised that I am a phsyical human being who loves music, affection, food and physicality and much as the experience has been great, I’m not about to cloister myself up or don a nun’s habit. So I’m off tomorrow to reunite with Liz, to find a charismatic guru somewhere in Trivandrum then take a train or a bus down to the most southerly tip of India, the deeply spiritual Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. I’m looking forward to continuing the adventure with fresh eyes and to hearing your thoughts on my spiritual adventures thus far. Please don’t be afraid to follow and feed back! 


Om Namah Shivaya* 


Soph x 




*this literally means ‘I bow to Shiva, who is the representation of the inner self and the consciousness that exists in us all. Of all the mantras, this resonates with me the most. 









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