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.
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.
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.
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:
If people are not laughing at your goals, then your goals are too small – Azim Premji
Ask Mahavir Singh Phogat what his dream is and he will reply – ensure that his daughter wins a gold medal for India in wrestling. And assuredly, everybody considers this the joke of the day. As villages roll over themselves with laughter, Mahavir Singh scolds and disciplines, taunts and derides, as his two daughters prepare to be wrestlers in a tiny hamlet in Haryana.
And just as the villagers wipe their tears and catch their sides, Mahavir’s two daughters go to the next village to compete in a wrestling fight. With boys. And predictably, his daughter loses. But not before everyone has been shocked out of their stupor.
As they say, the rest is history.
Heard of Mata Hari? The dancer, the spy and the traitor? Well, so-called traitor? Paulo Coelho creates a magical narrative of Mata Hari’s life, written in the form of a letter to her lawyer. She holds nothing back as she relates her life story from the time she is raped by her school principal when she was sixteen, to the time she is shot down by twelve men from the French army.
But first let’s get the basic details out of the way.
Name of the book: The Spy
Author: Paulo Coelho
Translated from Portuguese: Zoe Perry
Pages: 186 pages (Hardbound edition)
The basic story:
In my previous blog, I listed the basic information, including some tips and suggestions that will come in handy when you visit the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Now that I have got that formality out of the way, here goes why I fell in love with the Gardens as I spent close to eight hours across a weekend exploring it.
Day 1 at the Gardens: Spectacular. Immense. Incredibly well-thought, well-planned and well-laid out. I have only superlatives to describe my over 3 hours walk that first evening. And by that time, I had barely covered one-hundredth of this entire park. I ended that evening with the lights show (at 7:45 PM) at the Supertrees Grove that was simply spectacular. Yes, this word will occur a few times in this blog!
The sound and lights show at the Supertree Grove
Day 2 at the Gardens: After wrapping up the remaining business formalities the next day, I had close to 6 hours before I had to head to the airport to catch my flight back to India. I headed back again – the call of the Gardens was too strong! This time, I did both the Flower dome and the Cloud Forest (at least 2 hours each in both these exotic domes), explored the Indian, Chinese, and Australian heritage parks, and sat down to just stare and take it all in. After that, I had to simply say goodbye to this park, and head to the airport.
What was so special about the Gardens?
I traveled to Singapore on business during the third week of August to kick-start Suyati’s operations in that island country. The first step – to incorporate the company and open the bank accounts. Since it was a business trip, I did not expect to spend any time sight-seeing. I had already traveled to Singapore on vacation a couple of times before and had done the typical touristy stuff – the Merlion, Night Jungle Safari, Jurong bird sanctuary, the Singapore Flyer, Sentosa islands, the river cruise, Clarke Quay shopping …yup, the works.
As I was talking to my CPA, he asked casually if I was planning to get some sight-seeing done. When I replied in the negative, he asked me to check out the Gardens by the Bay (GBTB or the Gardens) – a park constructed by the Singapore National Parks Board and dedicated to the public in October, 2011. I half-heartedly said yes, sure, if I find the time.
After the business formalities for the day were over, I did have time from 5 PM onwards. I hailed a cab and asked him to take me to the Gardens. 10 minutes later, my love story with the Gardens started.
He watched as the bedroom curtains parted and she looked out, inhaling the fresh scent of the new day. She wrinkled her nose a bit (the garbage man did leave his imprint!) and he saw annoyance creep on her delicate face. Poor darling. He hated her to feel anything less than perfection.
He watched as she left the window. Even if he did not see her, he knew exactly what she was doing. Brush her teeth, check on her kids, walk down to the kitchen, boil milk, light the lamp……he knew. He inched forward, hoping to hear her sing her bhajans. Lovely voice! Anything his beloved sang was lovely indeed.