So this is the overall review certain people have been eagerly awaiting (*cough*) of the yoga studies trip that kicked off my India plans!
Visiting India was a long time coming for me. As such, I owe Linda my gratitude for organising this trip, because her plans acted as a catalyst (my own plans had been sitting on the shelf for far too many years).
Before I even jumped on the plane, Linda was an amazing resource for all things India (I keep telling her she should write a travel book for newbies).
When I decided to expand my travels either side of her study group, Linda provided many helpful thoughts on my itinerary and answered my endless stream of questions. Some of which were probably quite inane.
The basics of Linda’s plans were: a week in Chennai studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), where Linda has herself been studying for many years PLUS a week in Varkala, Kerala. Linda would teach for the second week but mostly that part of the trip was all about relaxation.
Well… as relaxed as one can be in the wild cacophony that is India!
Week 1: Chennai
Linda’s main role for the week in Chennai was as tour guide.
With years of experience hanging out in Chennai, Linda took us to her favourite temples, restaurants and places to shop – when we weren’t studying at KYM (which was six lessons a day for five days).
That sort of guidance is priceless in India, where it’s all too easy to feel discombobulated and overwhelmed.
There’s many layers of frustration travelers to India can experience; usually at least half a dozen at the same time (minimum!). Which can cause a creeping sensation of anxiety and anger, coupled with the need for doing whatever you can to shield yourself from prying eyes and touts attempting to take as many of your rupees as possible.
In trying to create a smooth experience for the group, Linda took a lot of the sting out the Standard India Overwhelm.
Not once in Chennai did we have to bargain with auto drivers. I never spent a moment looking at maps to attempt to futilely figure out where I wanted to go (this can be extremely exhausting).
And finally, just being part of a group offers a level of protection that’s painfully missing as a solo traveler.
As much as I love traveling solo, doing so in India is a full-contact sport and you’ve gotta bring your full play book to get by. No, I’m not kidding.
Week 2: Varkala
Here we all got to experience Linda-style yoga (note: for numerous reasons some of us yoga teachers dislike being asked what style of yoga we teach!) for five mornings – a two hour session that combined her knowledge in teaching yin and Krishnamacarya-style viniyoga. Linda’s teachings were also flavored with Erich Shiffman’s Freedom Style, too.
Something I always enjoy about new teachings and new teachers is taking in what’s offered with a beginner’s mind. So even if I feel like I know what the teacher is talking about already, I try to strip those preconceptions away and listen from a different place. I want to learn what is being offered, because otherwise you’ve gotta ask yourself what the point is, right?
While I enjoyed all aspects of Linda’s classes, I very much enjoyed the little taste of Freedom Style yoga, since my own practice tends to be quite freestyle, too. This way of yoga-ing feels more like dancing than yoga, and all of the teachers I love and respect the most also teach this way.
Sure, I don’t often blast Alicia Keyes while practicing but it worked for the setting – an open-walled yoga shala on the roof of the Ayurvedic clinic in the hotel.
Linda’s style of teaching works equally well for beginners as for more experienced yogis, and in fact our group was very mixed in experience and skill.
When not yoga-ing, the rest of our time in Kerala was a patchwork of luxuriously doing nothing, swimming, cliff top wanderings, massages, taking naps, and haggling with shopkeepers (not my favourite activity!).
As well as the aforementioned elephant adventure, Linda also organised a Keralan cooking class for those who were interested as well as a reiki healing session with an expat friend of hers (which is almost impossible to write about).
Cooking with Khan
Our cooking class was very enjoyable both for the taste buds and socially.
Khan is a very knowledgeable and talented chef, and loves having a good chat while he works. Admittedly most of the cooking class was us observing him at work, and occasionally playing sous chef.
However, I learned an excellent tip from Khan on how to avoid crying while chopping onions, which alone was worth the cost of the class.
The tip is: hold a sip of water in your mouth. (I’ve tried it several times since then and it works every time.)
Unfortunately my camera battery died at the start of our cooking sessions, so I only got a couple of photos. But this was yet another excellent way to spend an afternoon in paradise!
The lesson ended with a feast (as all lessons should!) – eating everything we cooked in the semi-darkness and humidity on an outside table with candle light and beer.
I know that running an overseas yoga study group and trying to cater to the needs of a diverse bunch of people isn’t easy. I also know you put a lot of effort into trying to showcase your very own “best of India”.
Without a doubt, there were challenges and unexpected issues (like Sandra’s eye) but I know you absolutely did your best and I really enjoyed the “group part” of my time in India.
Sound good? Wanna go to India in 2014?
Linda is doing a two week Varkala retreat in 2014 from March 2-14, co-teaching the group with a friend of hers.
Read all about it here: The Flavors of Yoga: An India Study Retreat with Linda Karl and Oreste Prada.
I understand that Oreste is also a seasoned traveler of India, so you get two fonts of India knowledge into the bargain.
Basically, if you’re wanting to go to India but would rather not go solo, this trip would be a great starting point. You’ll get yoga classes, dharma talks, a beautiful tropical paradise and endless ocean views.
And if you’re lucky, maybe even elephants! :)