Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Yoga Experiment Part 2 – Koh Phangan, Thailand

A week ago, I spent my break at the beach snorkeling with some of my classmates. I got some great footage of schools of sunset colored parrotfish before my camera died. I was pretty bummed that my Olympus which was supposedly waterproof/shockproof didn’t hold up.

After a quick bit of internet research to find a fix, I found out I was not the only one with this glitch. Seems half the models out there are failing. So there is a good chance I won’t be able to post any more photos which is really too bad since there are so many once in a lifetime shots occurring. After four tries with this brand, I guess that is it for me and Olympus.

My second week of yoga school went well enough but it really got intense. We are advancing quickly adding harder asanas and 12 sets of sun salutations every day. There is much less theory and more practice. I have been struggling as my emotions are flipflopping everywhere. I am doing alright with the postures but its my head that is the problem. I can’t seem to focus no matter how hard I try. Infact, I would say it was easier the first week. Now my mind is rebelling in every way it knows how.

I can’t even begin to understand how some of these thoughts leak into my day. Things that happened when I was 6 are replaying themselves to me. Unfinished conversations I had with old mates present themselves again for consideration. Random outbursts of sharp judgmental thoughts about so and so doing such and such appall and embarrass my higher self. New and wonderful ways to solve all sorts of problems that I don’t even have pop up in my consciousness. Not to mention the no holds barred peanut gallery constantly critiquing my performance. “Monkey Mind” they call it but I would say mine is something more like a mosquito. Sucking my energy flitting around uncontrollably with that ever annoying buzz you just can’t get away from.

I did make a few positive steps forward with my practice which kept my morale high enough to make it to Saturday. The soles of my feet have stopped burning and I am able to stand stone still for at least 20 seconds. My balance seems to have improved which makes a huge difference in postures like cakrasana and sarvangasana. I am surprised at how quickly I got the somewhat intimidating shoulder stand yet how far away I am from reaching the seemingly simple gomukhasana.

Since I am finding it such a challenge to tame my body and brain, I have helped myself to a generous slice of humble pie. There are certainly more overt ways to learn about humility and I’m grateful for chance to take the gentle path. I guess when it comes down to it, I need to stop comparing myself to others and quit trying to be perfect, whatever that means. I sense that Compassion is another significant training that is waiting in the wings eagerly.

Could it be that trying harder is not always the best way? Could my new mantra be to try *softer*? This is a brand new direction for me and it is a bit of a mind trip. Being accustomed to pressure cooker world that says bigger, faster, stronger = better, it is a real challenge to accept peace and harmony as another way. Having resigned myself to stress as the way to success, its hard to accept that there may be a more efficient (and possibly even more effective!?!) path of less resistance. It takes so much to *just walk*…when I know I can run and possibly even win the marathon. But then I remember, there is no race. And knowing that, I have already won.

Half way through my week, I had to do a visa run. This is one of the exciting routines that farangs (foreigners) living in Thailand, get to partake in once every few months. It involves crossing over a border (usually Malaysia or Burma, here in these parts), getting stamped out of Thailand, then into said country, then out of said country, then back into Thailand. The whole process took me only 10 minutes but it was the 20 hours of travel time that was the real pain.

Luckily I came upon an organized systematic border run which for 1900 baht (60 dollars) pretty much did everything for me. The price was right and it took all the guesswork out of what could have potentially been a headache and a half. I was glad to have taken the easy option. Having exhausted myself with the yoga, I don’t think it would have gone so smoothly had I gone it alone.

One snail slow six hour night boat, one really fast ten hour A/C van ride driven by a guy who calls himself Schumacher (!), four stamps in the passport, three coffees, four mini banana muffins, no sleep, two new friends, one 3 hour ferry later, I was home. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see my scooter waiting for me at the pier. Even though I had not even been gone a day, I was so relieved to be back on Ko Phangan. I tell you, island life is where it’s at.

Today I woke, stretched in the sun, picked several varieties of purple and yellow flowers in my garden, cut up some watermelon and papaya to eat with a splash of lime, and watched the guy next door try everything to knock a coconut down from the tree. A half hour later, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when he let out an unabashed victory “yeehaw!” proudly presenting his take to his lover. I went to town to pick up some fruit for the week and also found a purple hammock for 170 baht (5 dollars). What’s a beach house without a hammock? It only took me an hour to figure out how to put the thing up but I think I need to work on my knot skills.

Now Sunday is just about over and I am officially halfway through the course. I am feeling optimistic but a little nervous if I were to be completely honest. We’ve had some very interesting lectures and it has put a lot of questions in my mind. I am now contemplating things I have not ever imagined would enter my path. I suppose what will be, will be. I will keep plugging away and hopefully, the answers will present themselves.

Grateful for paradox.

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The Yoga Experiment – Koh Phangan, Thailand

So a week ago I decided to try something drastic. Well I didn’t know it was that intense in the beginning but its proving so. I had originally planned to sit on my butt and do a whole lotta nuthin for a couple months. Well that didn’t last long. About 3 days to be exact.

I kept driving past Agama Yoga school which is just down the road from me, so I decided to stop in. Both times no one was around so my queries went unanswered. I decided it wasn’t meant to be and let the idea go. Then I started meeting all sorts of people who were involved with this place in one way or another. I decided to give it another try.

It just so happened that the one month intensive course was starting on Monday. And the first day was free. Well honestly, how could I refuse. I decided to attend the first day fully intending not to like it. If the place wasn’t full of egotistical self proclaimed spiritual gurus then surely the students would be cliquish and/or resentful that such a lightweight like myself was their wasting time asking the stupid questions. Somehow they would hate me for slowing them on the sacred path to enlightenment. At the very least I would wreck their “chi” with my clumsy self. Last time I set foot in a yoga studio I slashed my toe open making a bloody mess. Not very Zen, let me tell you. Besides all that, what business do I have going to a yoga school? I don’t even know the first thing about yoga!

Um so yeah…I was wrong. On all accounts.

The first day I was a little intimidated by the heavy silence as we waited for our teacher dressed completely in white who was perched cross legged at the front to open his eyes. I nervously snuck a few sideways peeks at the other new students and was quite surprised by the obvious range in the demographics. I could sense that there were some that were just as green as I which made it a little easier to relax.

Once the class started, it didn’t take long to realize that I had potentially opened Pandoras Box. The overview had grabbed my interest promising to cover everything from diet to natural healing methods to cleansing techniques to psychology to music meditation to yin/yang balancing to philosophy to mental concentration. AND we would learn about all the different kinds of yoga like Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Tantra, Karma, Nidra, Bhakti, among others. But when he mentioned that we would even talk about lucid dreaming and how that was connected to a type of yoga we would be studying, I was hooked.

I guess I was really excited that we would be spending so much time with theory. I have done “yoga” in the past but it was really more just like gymnastics because I didn’t understand why or what I was really doing. Bend like this, twist like that, hold it and breathe. Well, that just didn’t do it for me. Here we would learn only one new asana (posture) a day and we would look at it from every angle: physically, mentally, emotionally, scientifically, historically, spiritually, and symbolically. I was keen, let me tell you.

If there was something to this yoga, I was going to find out. Jens, our teacher, invited the skeptics (such as I) to take a challenge. He encouraged us to give it a month. Make it an experiment. For heaven sake, don’t take his or anyone else’s word for it. Test it out with an open mind. It was this type of thinking that sold me.

I made the commitment to trust their system while giving it my all. In the very least, I would become a little more bendy. If nothing happens, then I haven’t lost anything but a couple hundred dollars. For six hours a day, six days a week of instruction, information, exercise, and potential enlightenment (or at least a good start), it seemed like a heck of a deal. So, why not?

The first few days I admit, were a little strange with trying to get used to the “warming exercises”. They included shaking your head around violently which kinda goes against everything I had ever been taught about neck safety. At one point, I was pretty sure my head was going to fly right off. Also we have to poke around in our chest with our thumbs to release some toxins. I had trouble with this one because my nails are too long and didn’t want to slice myself right open.

One thing I learned was how hard it is to just stand still. I felt like a wobbly mess and wondered if anyone else was having the same problem with standing. Oh god, how ever will I be able to do the actual bendy poses without falling right over. Luckily everyone is supposed to have their eyes closed which help us focus and concentrate. I also think it is to keep us from breaking out in hysterical laughter. I can only imagine what 20 people whipping their heads around in unison must look like.

I loved the lectures which ranged from technical information to esoteric to philosophical ideas. Another bit of info we were given was how to purify our bodies. I am now tongue scraping, sea salt rubbing, neti potting, and eye flushing. Its peculiar but at some level it makes sense. I guess if I want to be a yogi for a month, I better smell like one.

We learned several different poses like pascimottanasana, trikonasana, and bhujangasana which the technique I was already familiar. But now I understand which chakras they work on and what the effects as well as benefits come with each pose.

We also learned sahaja agnisara dhauti which works with bioenergy. We area supposed to deep massage around our bellybutton which will activate the manipura chakra. Yes indeedy, I felt very odd bent over working away furiously looking for that elusive little chakra. It has got to be in there somewhere but heck if I can find it, let alone wake it up! Once when I was feeling particularly naughty, I snuck a look at the rest of the class all hunched over wiggling away like a bunch of chickens. It was REALLY hard not to laugh out loud but I managed, filing that memory away for a later time when I may need some comic relief.

The first day, I felt seriously nauseas after the first 5 minutes which indicated in itself that something major was happening. I cautiously pushed forward and by day 6, I made it through an entire session with composure. Sure, I am drenched in sweat but hey, that’s all par for the course.

I can now stand still without feeling like the leaning Tower of Pisa. I learned that my voice actually sounds quite pretty when I am singing the sun salutations. I think something is happening with my heart chakra because I felt something very unusual the other day. Maybe it is the fact that I am taking such good care of myself in such a heavenly environment.

The yoga hall is quite open so we experience nature consistently through our 6 hour day. From uplifting birdsongs to chirping geckos cheering us on to sudden heavy downpours that beat the roof like a million drums. Often curious bright colored butterflies flutter around during the rising crickets chorus just before our final relaxation. It is quite inspiring, to say the least.

Grateful for experiments.

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Things that make me happy Living in Koh Phangan

– Everything Coconut. It seems that everything here has this wonderful flavor not to mention the free coconuts that fall from the trees. Just have to be careful they don’t fall on your head. Death by coconut is a real danger here on this isle
– trapped butterflies who climb on my finger so I can release them outside
– baskets on scooters
– people who sing while they are zooming along on their scooter

 

– the daily fruit delivery lady on her bike
– geckos chirping and singing
– how easy it is to adopt a needy pet
– rolling blackouts
– sweet buttery fresh papaya
– beautiful Wats (temples) scattered through the island
– pad thai for 30 baht (1 dollar)
– fresh fruit smoothie for 20 baht
– watching the dog family who live next door raise their little puppy
– seeing random monks going for ice cream

 

– comfortable triangle pillow sitting things
– when the locals warned me to put on my helmet because the scooter police were around the corner
– the stars are so bright out here
– the amount of people that stop to take photos of my killer view
– naming my kitty the Thai word for pig which is pronounced Moo

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Settling into Island Life – Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

About three minutes after getting off the ferry, I was drenched. Damn its hot here! It didn’t help that I was sitting on a cement sidewalk outside the 7-11 trying to arrange for transportation. Finally I just gave into the persistent older Thai lady who offered “Taxi?” for the six hundredth time. I was glad of it when a brand new grey pickup truck showed up and whisked me off to the North of the island.

It only took about 20 minutes to get to Chalokum, a quaint fishing village I would stay in for the first two nights. The hotel Mandalai was modern and classy but something smelled fishy…literally. Now you know how much I love fishing and can tolerate the unpleasant odor that comes with it. But I discovered that just a few meters away from the hotel, hundreds of squid were laid out on racks to dry. It wasn’t a one time thing but actually a daily operation and we just happened to be downwind. I thought surely I would get used to it but I never did.

The tiny village was quaint and like stepping into Thailand, fifty years ago. I crossed paths with very few tourists and found the locals slightly timid. This certainly was no Bangkok. No vendors pressuring at me to buy their wares, no scantily clad lady boys parading around showing off their wares, and no reason in the world to feel I have to beware…this place felt super safe. No one was trying to rip me off and most were to shy even to meet my eyes.

I was pretty motivated to get a permanent residence sorted out so I contacted a real estate agent. I had found a few places I liked and we had arranged for viewings. Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the fact that now I was on Island Time. This means that things get done in their own time and that appointments may or may not happen and if they do, it will never be on time. Ug.

Needless to say, after I calmed down and let things be, everything started to work out. I was super stoked to get the house that I had originally wanted which overlooks the sea. What is the point of moving to an island if you can’t see the water? I was tickled pink when the fully furnished house with its own beach was available for just the dates I needed. It was awesome when my agent no only helped me get a cell phone set up, but took me food shopping so I could stock my fridge.

I moved in and got relatively settled when it was time to head out to the south of the island where two big parties were taking place. The first festival was called Loy Krathong and was attended mostly by Thai locals. It was most certainly a family affair and it was a real honor to be able to participate. I bought my hand made “krathong” which was made from banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles.

 

The idea is that you release your small raft into the water and it symbolizes letting go of negativity so you can start life anew on a better foot. I pulled out some of my hair (didn’t have scissors) and bit off some fingernail which traditionally represent ones bad parts, to add to my offering to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha. It was a serene and wonderful experience to watch all the Krathongs floating out into the sea. Many were lighting Khom Fai, which are sky lanterns which made the night that much more magical.

Next I made my way 15 minutes south to a festival which was a little less peaceful. The renown Full Moon Party in Haad Rin beckoned my curiosity. I had made the decision to stay sober for the event and I imagined I would likely be the only one. I think I was right.

They now charge 100 baht to enter the massive beach party but I had an inside track so I didn’t have to pay the ridiculous fee. I still have no idea what that surcharge is for or who gets it. As I navigated the narrow alleyways towards the music, a man asked me if I wanted some florescent paint. I shrugged and agreed since he said there would be no charge. It couldn’t hurt right? Little did I know, he was the ONLY person offering the service for free.

Others along the beach were charging hundreds of baht for a few swipes of the black light reactive paint. I guess I lucked out. I was actually quite pleased with my orange and blue dragon which spanned my back shoulder spiraling down my arm. As I checked out other partygoers ink throughout the night, I realized that not all were so lucky to have had a real artist.

The whole night was pretty much a gong show from start to finish. I only lasted until 3am and can’t imagine having stayed a minute longer. You know that point when you know its time to go home but you stick around because you don’t want to miss anything? Well, lucky for me I wasn’t fueled by the deadly mix of redbull/coke/Thai Whiskey and therefore my judgment wasn’t clouded. I knew that the only thing I would be missing is a sharp decline in moral decency. I shuddered to imagine just how disgusting the water would be by sunrise with all the urine and vomit that the drunks were already depositing on a regular basis. It costs 10 baht to use a toilet and most would rather put that towards a 200 baht bucket of death.

On the upside, the music was awesome, the set ups were grand, and the intermittent fireworks just punctuated the high notes. I did get a little worried when I saw several flares skim across the ocean exploding on the surface. It was striking and something I had never seen before. Probably because it is so unbelievably dangerous. The backdrop was perfect for an incredible beach party and I could imagine how it had gained such a worldwide reputation. I wondered what it was like years ago before it was spoiled by the air of irresponsibility and blatant disregard for others.

A few people stepped on and fell into me but I remained unscathed. I certainly didn’t require the services of the several medical centers smartly situated in the thick of it all. Many tried to have inebriated conversations but it all came out sideways in a language unbeknownst to me. Something about this being the best, the best ever, oh my god, the best…then they would add something to the effect of “I have never been this wrecked in my life”. The high grade Red Bull originated in Thailand and is more concentrated than the versions you get elsewhere. Countless others tripped (sand is a challenge for some on the best of days and with all the rubbish strewn about it became something of an obstacle course) and spilled their buckets everywhere.

It was comical to watch one young lads face morph from shock to utter misery stopping only for a moment in between to commemorate his beloved concoction seeping into the sand. After tipping it to his mouth with no avail, triple checking that all was infact lost, he angrily flung the empty bucket into the ocean. He kicked the sand sullenly shoving his hands into his pockets and I almost felt sorry for him for a second. Just then, his face lit up as he pulled out a few soggy wadded up forgotten bills. It was as if he’d won the lottery as he clutched his money flashing me a look of pure unadulterated joy before sprinting to the nearest drink stand. Oddly entertaining yet disturbing all at the same time.

I was happy to bound up my spiral stone staircase and slide open my patio doors. I nibbled on some healthy green mango and sipped some warm lemongrass tea as I wound down from my day. I crawled into my soft bed draped with luxurious white netting and snuggled into my pillows. I had passed a personal challenge I had unknowingly set for myself. I stayed completely lucid in a very difficult environment which was a huge accomplishment for me. I reflected on just how far I had come over the past two years. I am making better choices now and it shows in my smile.

Though its only a 20 minute drive, the full moon festivities seemed galaxies away from my little slice of heaven. The ground shaking bass of the party was replaced by the gentle splash of the surf kissing the sand below my bedroom window. There were no fireworks and sky lanterns…only the heavy light of the full moon reflecting off the shimmering sea. And the chaotic energy that was my reality an hour ago has now turned to calm stillness.

Grateful for steadfastness.

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The Final Countdown – Bangkok to Phuket to Samui to Phangan

I know I haven’t been writing lately. I guess a lot has happened so I will just try to give the short version. Because really, its all just a means to an end. All this (and by this I mean everything) was to get there. And now I am here.

After I got off the ship in Bangkok, I spent a couple days getting cheap massages (300 baht an hour or 400 for two hours) and seeing the sights. I really enjoyed the Tiger Sanctuary (350 baht) where I got to pet baby tigers, hug orangutans, and feed elephants. I stayed at the Landmark (75US a night) where I had free access to an amazing state of the art gym called Fitness First. I even tried a yoga class in Thai but much preferred the computerized TV treadmills.

The Grand Palace (350 baht), which I finally got to after several cabs refused me because I insisted we use the meter (150 baht), was breathtaking to say the least. It was almost too much and I felt overwhelmed. My favorite part was sitting in front of the Emerald Buddha while all the locals around me were praying and meditating. It was a heavy peace and I could have stayed there a lot longer than I did. As it were, I was with a free tour so I had to hurry along having already been left behind.

I enjoyed the food in Bangkok and the cheap shopping. I didn’t buy much except for a cute tee shirt (100 baht) and a long flowing skirt (220 baht). Truth be told, I was glad to get on the plane (1800 baht) to go south. I will head back to Bangkok to be sure, but for now it is beach time.

In Phuket, I first stayed in Kata at a place called Sawasdee Village (65US a night). It was charming and quite tranquil with the effort that they put into providing the right atmosphere. My favorite part was getting the three hour spa treatment (2500 baht) I had an entire room to myself and had one therapist dedicated to me.

I first had a steam and soak then proceeded to get a sesame body scrub. After being exfoliated, I was painted with a detoxifying clay mixture before being wrapped up in plastic. Next I got a honey mask on my face and just to make sure the ingredients were pure, I licked my lips. Yes, it was sweet honey indeed. Somewhere in all this pampering, I drifted off on a cloud of bliss. I think, I am not certain, but I may have been drooling. To ended it all, I had a relaxing massage with the aromatherapy oil I had pre selected when I had booked the treatment. The attention paid to the details such as the music being played to the refreshing teas and snacks really put this experience in a class of its own.

Next I ventured to the northern part of the island of Phuket to a hotel called Indigo Pearl (75US a night). The place was fascinating with the design inspired by tin mining. The grounds were huge and well maintained. The breakfast (included) here was the best I have ever had with quality ingredients and vast variety of every kind of fruit, pastry, and meat you could think of. I especially enjoyed the small but very comfortable gym facilities. I got to know the staff who helped me stretch out my knotted muscles and even taught me a bunch of Thai language. I can now count to ten confidently though I admit I still don’t understand the baaaaad sound of “eight”.

There was an Indian wedding taking place at the resort which I attended. Watching the groom make his entrance on the elephant which followed the traditional Thai dancers was worth the price of admission alone. I got to meet the elephant and his trainer who directed her to give me an elephant kiss. It was kinda messy. The best had to be the fantastic fireworks display which exploded right over our heads.

A 5 minute ride to the airport (a flat rate rip off of 150 baht) and I was on a plane (1500 baht) to Ko Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. I took the shuttle straight to the ferry (300 baht) and 30 minutes later I was on the even smaller island of Ko Phangan.

 

 

 

THIS is where I have spent the last two months getting to. My final destination.

Grateful for getting here.

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