Yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyardam, Kerala – all you need to know!

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam

Yoga vacation. The phrase conjures up visions of serene settings, enlightened devotees, and peaceful yoga practitioners. You get all these and more during a yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram at Neyyar Dam, near Thiruvananthapuram (aka Trivandrum – the state capital of Kerala).

I have been to the Sivananda ashram at Neyyar Dam three times over the last 2 years for a yoga vacation. I have usually stayed at an average of 4-5 nights during each of my visits. While I have joked about my experience there in a previous blog, these vacations have been an immense grounding experience in our life. During our first visit, Mukund and I had no clue what to expect. But by the third visit, we quickly and easily slipped into the ashram schedule, even though it was a year since our previous visit.

Here are a list of things you need to know about visiting the Sivananda Ashram at Neyyar Dam for a yoga vacation.  

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Three reasons why you should read the Srimad Bhagavatham

Krishna quote from ISKCON Desire Tree

If you are reading this blog, then you already know what the Srimad Bhagavatham is. Maybe you have read it already, or planning to read based on what you have heard about it. If Srimad Bhagavatham (SB) is on your bucket list of books to read, then this blog is for you.

Five years ago, all I knew about SB was that it contained a treasure trove of stories about Krishna. I purchased ISKCON’s SB, with A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s commentaries – 18 volumes in all. It stayed on my book shelf in my bedroom, and gathered dust as days went by. On January 15, 2016, I removed the clingwrap on the first Canto, sat down with a book and pen, and my life has not been the same since.

12 months later, I finished the last shloka in Canto 10 (saved the best for the last, as Canto 10 relates exclusively the stories of Lord Krishna!) It is simply impossible for me to explain in words the subtle transformation that happened as I read SB. But before I try and explain why you should read it, here is a quick summary based on my research notes.

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The Only True Reason to be a Vegetarian – here goes!

Food offered to God first before eating

I have been a vegetarian all my life. It started off for religious reasons (I am a Tamil Brahmin), but while there were no strict checks made on our diet by our parents (in fact, we were encouraged to eat omelettes when we dined out, and take the cod liver oil capsules daily to improve our health), being a staunch vegetarian was somehow an implicit and unwritten (and unmentioned) code of conduct in our family.

As I grew up, and I had the freedom to experiment with alternate diets, I really did not do so. I am not sure if I can attribute it to my religion or my conventional upbringing; it was more a deep conviction that it was wrong. If you had asked me then, I would not probably been able to spell out why it was wrong. In my mind, I associated being vegetarian as one of the basic tenets and rules by which I want to live my life; religion was just an easy way of explaining it away!

In my earlier blog, I explored popular reasons to become a vegetarian. Today, after four plus decades of practicing vegetarianism in spite of countless opportunities to be otherwise, hours of online research and talking to people, I know exactly why one should be a vegetarian. So here goes.

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The Only True Reason to be a Vegetarian

Albert Einstein Quote about Vegetarianism

Here are three popular reasons why we adopt a vegetarian diet. Go through them…and then I will tell you the only reason why you should become a vegetarian!

REASON 1: Being a vegetarian is healthier for your body 

Even as a junkie I stayed true [to vegetarianism] – ‘I shall have heroin, but I shan’t have a hamburger.’ What a sexy little paradox.Russell Brand

Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie. ― Jim Davis

This is probably the number one reason most people take to a vegetarian diet – to lose weight, to become healthier, to reduce cholesterol and so on. They equate a vegetarian diet as healthier than the non-vegetarian one.

HERE COMES THE VEGETARIAN DIET CAVEAT:

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My 25 Gurus for Life

Searching-for-God[1]

As I struggle through life I realize

That I need teachers varied and wise

To teach me how to live my life

Without too much mental strife

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The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis

Warning: This blog may offend those who were offended by the book and/or the movie

I do not know the nature of the controversy surrounding the movie or the book. Probably not knowing really helped as I read this book with an open mind. But having read it, I can see why it may have generated controversy!

The Last Temptation is an extraordinary depiction of the inner struggles and temptations Jesus goes through before he succeeds in answering his true calling – that of the Messiah. Not just any other Messiah who leads on Earth through preaching, but the Son of God who has to give up his Life so others can believe.
Nikos Kazantzakis writes simply and elegantly of the harsh life of the Jews under Roman rule, especially in the country side. This fictitious account seems to arise from his own search for inner truth which led him from Freud to Nietczhe to Buddha. One cannot but sympathize with Jesus (and the author too) as he tries to make sense of his visions and inner voices and reconcile them with what his disciples yearn for.
In one of the most telling conversations where the Disciples struggle to come to terms with Jesus’ preachings, John asks in response to his Masters exhortations that the old commandments are no longer large enough – “Does God’s will change then, rabbi?”

Jesus’ reply – “No, John beloved. But man’s heart widens and is able to contain more of God’s will.”

This widening of heart to contain more of God’s will is, to me, the essence of spiritual growth, no matter what religion, faith or dogma we believe in. As human beings, we constantly struggle to understand what God expects (Sometimes demands) of us. God does not ask for a lot – He simply asks we open our hearts to His love.

All in all, a must read for those of you who are looking to expand their horizons, and widen their heart!

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Get your daily dose of health and happiness

  How many of us read our Gita or the Koran or the Bible daily? How many of us place implicit faith in these time-tested books instead of turning outward for solutions? I recently attended the Gita Jayanthi function organized by ISKCON Kochi and was stunned by the simplicity of Bhakthi Vinod Swami Maharaj’s message – read the Gita everyday. If not an entire page, at least a line. If not a line, at least a word. Leave religion, and its myriad confusions and misinterpretations alone. Get into spirituality. Get into yourself.

 I still remember the fiasco over Varun Gandhi and his reference to the Bhagavad Gita. And Priyanka Gandhi’s rejoinder to it – if he has really read the Gita, he would not have spoken like this. For someone like me who is against politics and all politicians, this sentence conveys simply the power of the written word, especially if it is from our God.

 In summary, read your Gita. Or your Koran or Bible or the Granth. It does not matter which, but do read. Then start thinking how you want to apply the highest ideals laid out by your God into your life. Let the swamis and the preachers talk. And pontificate. You read. And think. And live your life the way your God wants you to – with love, patience and simplicity.

Come on – let’s get healthy and happy every day of our life.

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Religion religion everywhere, not a soul who thinks

I am sick and tired of the abuse of religion in our public life. Today religion is touted as the best and most succesful business around the world. And as I write this, another religious TV channel goes live; another Swami is offering the “moksha of life” for just Rs.695 plus tax.

And what do we do? We sing, we listen, we talk, and we discuss. Vehemently and passionately. In our lifelong search for salvation, do we really stop to think if these kriyas and yogas and mantras have the power to transcend our soul? Sure, most of it is faith you say. And blind belief – if this worked for my parents, this will work for me.

Instead let me ask you to think about this. Religion is an outward manifestation, a manual which helps us with our relationship with the outside world, including our God. How do I view my relationships, how do I deal with this situation, who will help me and so on. Spirituality is an inward turning into the divine spark that is within all of us. It teaches us to make that giant leap of faith (yes, faith) into an unknown world where only 2 people exist. You, and your God (or your concept of God).

Logically then, who and what you believe in should necessarily be between you and you! No other person can comment, coerce, convince you on what or who you should pray to. In fact, no one else has the right (or the ability) to tell you or teach you about your God. Everything you need to know is inside you already, awaiting your arrival.

Well then, how do I get there, you ask. Simple – meditation and reading your Holy Book – whether it is the Gita, the Koran, the Bible or the Granth. Read and then think. Reflect. Meditate. Read again. Try it out – it really works. You do not need anything, or anyone.

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