What Would You Like To Read? – Responses Appreciated

What Would You Like To Read????

A recent post I made on Instagram has got me thinking, and I’d really appreciate some feedback on this one.

(Original post):

“In the end, she became
More than what she expected.
She became the journey,
And like all journeys,
She did not end, she just
Simply changed directions,
And kept going.’
– R.M. Drake

👣

‘It’s up to you to steer your life in whatever direction you can.
Nowadays, I feel the trouble is that often we simply have too many options, and so many different opinions coming at us from all angles that it can be the hardest thing in the world to hear your own voice.
Hearing and heeding this authentic voice, passion and ‘true calling’ (for want of a better phrase) amidst all the chatter and opinions and guilt-instilling expectations is the real challenge. First making space for it. Then being patient, and giving it time to manifest into something comprehensive – an idea, an opportunity, a realisation. Following every little clue.
Whatever it is, allowing yourself the freedom and time to step back and actually HEAR yourself is the first step to achieving any sort of happiness. And this can take time.’

 

Here’s my question now:

Yoga helped me to achieve this awareness, and this balance.
And so for a while, I thought yoga was the path I had to follow.
I’ve now come to understand that it is only part of the path.
A vital part, yes, but only part of it.

My voice as a teacher, as a writer, a communicator and sharer of ideas, knowledge and skills is something I cannot ignore anymore. I cannot hold back this incessant need to speak and share and connect with people. This can manifest itself through several outlets – one of which is yoga. But I now know, through a lot of self-examination and trial and error stops and starts that my ability to express myself in words and jigsaw-puzzle phrases and sentences together is something I’ve been neglecting too much.

I need to be writing too. And that’s totally fine, if what I’m writing are things that people actually want to read.
But what if they’re not? Does this mean that I’ll just gradually stop writing, letting this skill fall dormant to the wayside until some tipsy encounter with an old colleague will suddenly unearth the wordsmith within and I’ll deliver a fully plausible argument for the most trivial of issues that most drunken idiots would accept as intelligent fact? Maybe.

So I decided to pose this post as a question to anyone who actually reads this blog to find out what exactly you would like me to write about – is yoga and wellbeing a plausible outlet for all of this? Would travel stories and narratives be of more interest? Would inspirational and motivational posts inspire you to click back here every now and then when you’re feeling a little bit bummed out?!

Or would you simply like the posts to be more regular, regardless of their content?

If you’ve made it down this far I really would appreciate some sort of response even if it’s ‘don’t bother, you’re shit’ – just to give me an idea of who I’m dealing with.

Namasté!

Sthira and Sukha – 2 Vital Principles of Yoga Explained

(pic via Zuna Yoga)

Sthira and Sukha – 2 Vital Principles of Yoga Explained

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are considered the most concise and thorough explanation of yoga and it’s significance to us as practitioners today. The Sutras, thought to have been compiled around 400CE and literally translated as ‘threads’ from the Sanskrit word, serve as individual definitions of concepts and knowledge that together form the entire ideology of Yoga.
The style of the ‘sutra’ is designed to present us with essential knowledge in as few words as possible, free from ambiguity or irrelevant information. Each principle or thread of knowledge is laid out in easily understood and straightforward sentences which has led to their successful and accurate passing from generation to generation, right down to our understanding of them today.
Two vital aphorisms which the Sutras define are those of Sthira and Sukha, key aspects of both the physical and spiritual practice of yoga as it is understood today. Although there is no successful ‘completion’ or personal attainment associated with any genuine yoga practice, the translation of Sthira as ‘steadiness’, and Sukha as ‘ease’ are two aims which we should associate and seek to embody throughout our yoga practice.

Strength and Steadiness

To hold an asana (pose) with steadiness and strength (Sthira), we are working our inner core and drawing upon a lengthy period of sustained and regular practice. Strength and confidence in holding difficult asanas is not achieved overnight, and as such the attributes of Sthira are generally realised only after a period of consistent and dedicated practice.

Ease and Comfort

Sukha, on the other hand, is a softer and more emotional element of the asana practice which usually follows Sthira in its revelation. To truly relax within a posture or given situation, we must feel both strong and at ease within our bodies. Sukha embodies the feeling of ease and peace of mind that comes with a comfortable flow from one posture to the next and the ability to maintain each asana comfortably. It is this comfort and contentment within a given posture or flow which successfully defines Sukha.

The softness of Sukha combined with the alertness and strength of Sthira is the real goal of any yoga practitioner; no matter how far or deep the twist or stretch may be, once it is held steadily and comfortably with a sense of both Sthira and Sukha, both the body and mind will be at ease within it – and there’s nothing better than the feeling of finally being able to comfortably hold a posture you once struggled with, whether it was mentally telling yourself you weren’t able, or being too physically weak to do so!
In this sense Sthira and Sukha further promote and maintain the unification of mind and body we seek to achieve through yoga practice.

The Meaning of ‘Om’

Originally posted here for Zuna Yoga

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“For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.28).

“Om,” in the yogic tradition, is chanted at the beginning and end of class or practice. It’s one of those things that’s often assumed as universally understood yet it’s rarely explained properly, if at all, by yoga instructors.

Om is an ancient sound used by various Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduisim, Sikhism, Jainism, to denote the beginning and end of sacred scriptures, texts, and prayers. Many of the world’s religions indicate that creation began with sound, the vibrations of which are said to be contained within om. Each time we chant om, we connect with the eternal vibration of being that has been in existence since the beginning of all things and is the creative source of energy behind all existence.
The Om symbol consists of 3 curves, a semicircle, and a dot. The curves represent mind, body, and soul, and the semicircle at the top is maya, understood as an obstacle to achieving the highest form of enlightenment. Om is sometimes spelled “aum,” a more accurate phonetic spelling which divides the chant into its three individual sounds of a-u-m. “Aum” encompasses all possible combinations of sounds and lies at the root of all potential or pre-existing sounds. In linguistics, all sound is said to be produced between the root of the tongue and the entrance of the lips, the throat sound being “a,” the lip sound being “m,” and “u” representing the rolling forwards of all sounds until they stop at the lips. Like the letters of the alphabet, which in all possible combinations give rise to every word ever spoken, the sounds of a-u-m pass through every formation in the mouth necessary for vocalising language, making it a magnificently meaningful sound.

Om allows us to tap into the existing energy which always surrounds us but which modern distractions and lifestyles have shifted from our immediate awareness. For millennia, various names and personifications have been used by religions to represent a single all-powerful being. This placement of belief in a deity instead of in our immediate environment ignores the connection between the individual and that which surrounds us. We chant om to not only honor the beginning of all things but to appreciate all of creation that still surrounds us. The Upanishads refer to this state of collective consciousness and universal awareness as ishvara. Om is our key to accessing it.


We do not create om simply by chanting it. Instead, om serves as a medium through which we connect to these vibrations. Physically, chanting om creates a pranava or humming sound, as Patanjali describes, which stimulates the body into a meditational state, increases relaxation, and is said to stimulate the body to remove toxins and increase our capacity for self healing. Mentally, speaking om allows us to focus, shifting our attention outwards, away from internal struggles and helping us tune in to that which can provide us harmony in mind, body, and soul.
It’s common to hear the word “shanti” included after a final expression of om. Shanti means “peace” in Sanskrit and is intended as a parting wish for peace and happiness within the universe at large and within everything around us. Shanti is commonly used throughout India to express a light-hearted and peaceful state of being in casual conversation and descriptions of everyday occurrences, while om is reserved for more spiritual practices such as yoga practice or religious ceremony.
Om shanti.

‘I Am Art’ – Celebrating Individual Beauty in Amsterdam

Picture-perfect jigsaw puzzle houses. Rows upon rows of colourful bicycles and red-brick buildings overlooking symmetrical streets, hidden parklands, and highly functioning road networks. Amsterdam is a beautiful city.

Every corner hides some kind of unassuming little work of art. It got me thinking about how we ourselves are each individual works of art, the product and end result of much processing of the experiences had and people we’ve met.

Roaming around galleries as underappreciated works of art ourselves, our bodies, our minds, all interact with pieces created to reflect the visions of others. Everything we produce, the relationships we cultivate, the words we form, the meals and practices we create and engage in are expressions of our unique creativity and potential for greatness. Of our capacity to contribute positivity and growth to the world around us.

Sometimes it takes being surrounded by it to recognise the tiny details for what they are, and for their ever-present beauty. Even in the minus-temperatures and bustling city-life many of us face from day to day, the little details are always there. It’s easy to ignore them and glance over their minuteness , but it’s nice every now and then to stop and appreciate the little things that together combine to make a whole.

Each little brick, freckle, leaf, blade of grass or crumb – each of these things possess huge importance. Just as each of us possess great power. In crowded cities and places, this often gets forgotten.


Yet here we are, a neglected gallery of beautiful and unique souls moving too fast and too anxiously; too caught up in tiny flaws to appreciate our own beauty. People pay good money (at least €17 per museum in Amsterdam!) to see the paintings and creative pursuits of others. Yet so rarely do we appreciate our own creative beauty. It comes in many shapes and forms, and through appreciating our own, we can contribute to an overall tapestry of energetic individuality. It seems that the many generations of artists and creative individuals to pass through Amsterdam’s canal-divided streets realised the essence of this. For visitors it’s humbling to observe their talents, and also inspirational to understand our own potential to create such greatness, and to humbly provide future generations with a basis to discover their own. Individual beauty is here and now, with you, with me, and within everything we’ve come to understand as reality. It doesn’t always have to be extreme, excessive or intense to manifest as beauty. Subtle beauty is the most sustainable, the most balanced, and the most universally shared experience we can hope to have in this world, and through travelling and engaging with new people and places, it’s nice to be reminded of it’s ever-present and reliable qualities.

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

To thrive. To flourish.

To take all that I am, and everything I’ve encountered, and to blend them into something new. To use what I’ve been given, and to nourish it so it reaches its highest and furthest potential.
This is what I’m taking away from my current travel experiences coming to a brief hiatus as I return home slightly earlier than planned for Christmas.

‘We are the sum of all of our past experiences“, they say and so, I am a unique blend of everything and everywhere I have been. Everyone I’ve encountered. And all that currently surrounds me.

These past 5 months have been an incredible journey. A journey through some of the most beautifully stunning and culturally rich places I’ve ever been. A journey through some of the most difficult emotions and mental limitations I’ve grown accustomed to placing on myself. A journey out of my comfort zone, out of my perception of comfort zones…
A journey with myself, by myself, to myself.

To Open Up

Everyone I’ve encountered along the way has shaped me somehow, just as I have (however minutely) impacted their journey. I’ve opened up in ways I was barely even aware was possible – I’ve learnt that remaining open is to become malleable to new experiences. My journey with yoga has allowed me to open. Open up the channels of energy I had allowed anxiety to close. Engage in open communication. Open and honest interactions, softly allowing the essence of myself I lost somewhere along the way between puberty and the end of my college years to return, frightened as it was of what others would think, what they would see….
I now know how little any of that matters. I not only know it, but I live it.
Because here’s the thing.

Travelling can be difficult, but it’s even more fucking difficult if you hate yourself.

Nobody wants to talk to the frowning weirdo in the corner who glances at herself in the reflection of every shiny surface and glares jealously at the big groups of new travel-friends all having fun at the bar. Sure, they might have issues, but nobody on a trip is going to want to be bogged down with some stranger’s lack of self-esteem, lack of balance and life lived in fear of the world around them.
We’re all here to see as much as we can, mate, it’s up to you to hold yourself together long enough to get there.

To Be Steady

And what is travelling, when you do it right, but living your life and moving, discovering, remaining and being yourself somewhere other than in your own home? Changing surroundings beg the need for a constant and steady spirit to successfully move through them, and so I’ve found a kind of satisfactory balance here somewhere in the midst of all this movement.

To Take Things Less Seriously

Taking yourself too seriously is not an option when every unknown turn in a new city could lead you into anxiety-inducing situations. Trusting yourself becomes the number one priority, and your own judgement becomes the only thing that really leads the way when you leave home with no particular direction or plan – you learn to just go with it. Taking things less seriously, but ensuring you remain steady within it. Humbly balancing out what we have, moving through it with grace and ease, going where we can and taking our bodies and minds on a modest journey through the bigger picture.

Because the bigger picture will always be the bigger picture, and we will always be just one little pixel in that grand tapestry that creates our perception of the images around us.

Our job is simply to ensure that our pixel shines as bright, as clear and as strong as it possibly can be. That’s all we can ever hope to achieve. In surrendering to the powerlessness and lack of control, we ironically gain it for ourselves.

That Comfort Zones Don’t Exist

Allowing that little dot to thrive and really believing in its’ worth is vital if we want to progress anywhere in life. For some people, this comes naturally to them. For others, we must assert ourselves and realign with these beliefs time and time again, repeatedly acknowledging our sense of worth and maintaining a persistent awareness of the things that put this balance at risk. Travelling through uncertain areas, with unknown associates and changeable destinations requires a certain sense of self and strength that I never ever believed possible for me, and yet here I am. I’ve met some incredible people, seen beautiful places, experienced lifestyles and norms so contrasting to my own comfort zone and everyday life that I’ve come to realise ‘comfort zone’ is just a label we put on ourselves to justify staying still.

Through yoga, through solo travel, and through combining them both, I have come to see movement as the one key aspect of life that helps us maintain a balanced and healthy mindset, and I’m excited to see how I will progress forwards with this newfound understanding. Moving on, moving away from damaging behaviours, moving ever onwards and avoiding stagnancy at all costs – this journey has really only begun.

Amritsar, Punjab – New Friends, New Headgear, and Very Serious Selfies!


Amritsar, Punjab New Friends, New Headgear, and Very Serious Selfies!

 

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My decision to leave Dharamkot and the mountainous hub of yoga, Tibetan culture, health food and chilled out cafés at first seemed very difficult. However after a few days of severe rain and downpours so heavy that ‘damp’ became my response to any generic question posed to me by either local or fellow-traveller, I decided that I owed it to India’s sheer size and to myself to see as much more of this vast and sensory-rich country as I can before departing for Sri Lanka. I’ll admit I was mistaken in thinking I would be satisfied with a month here. A month seems so miniscule when I think about how quickly the days have been passing, flying by in the squint of an eye against a haze of dust rising up from chaotic streets and overly potent onions.

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Peekaboo…The sun disappearing behind the entrance of the The Golden Temple

So I enlisted the help of Lakshmi Tours in Dharamkot, (the tour operators directly under Trek n’ Dine, probably the most recognisable landmark in the teeny town and some extremely yummy homemade muesli), and booked myself a one-way ticket to Amritsar, in the Western province of Punjab. A whim, a blessing, a sign, whatever you want to call it, I then proceeded to reserve a room at the first hostel that made it’s way to the head of my Google Search – Jugaardus Eco Hostel, and I have to say, for once, I did good. I’ve stayed at my fair share of dingy, anti-social, isolating and DAMP accommodation, but from the second I stepped in to Jugaardus I felt completely comfortable and welcomed, the graffitied walls of clichéd travel-quotes and creative-traveller-type masterpieces ‘just scribbled’ onto the walls reminding me of the Madpackers’ in Delhi in all it’s hipster and backpacking glory. The best thing about these hostels is definitely the social aspect, and the organisation of tours several times a day to places that would take a lot of wrong turns and mind-numbing sign language to find alone without a guide. The team at Jugaadus are also extremely friendly, open and welcoming to solo travellers and groups alike, and the included meals (donation based) were also a blessing!

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A well-timed group outing to The Golden Temple in Amritsar, home of the Sikh religion and one of the most stunningly beautiful areas of architecture and peaceful settings I’ve ever laid eyes on/stepped foot in, occupied the first evening. From being treated as tourist attractions ourselves and stared at, to being bundled into a foodhall and served chipattis in a clamour of splashing dahl and clashing metal plates as the next round of hungry mouths waited expectantly outside, only then to come out again to find the whole place suddenly lit by the reflection of real golden temples on the water where hundreds of Sikhs have just bathed and redressed the turbans and scarves of every colour imaginable…it really was an unforgettable experience, and one of my favourite outings in India so far. (That’s saying a LOT!) Beers in the local brewery (situated at the top of a shopping centre?) with new and familiar hostel friends ended the day nicely and the tourist in me was satisfied for another while.

 

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Foodhall in Amritsar’s Golden Temple
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So many colours!
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Bathing at the Golden Temple

 

Day two began with a fruitful breakfast and spontaneous jamming session in the hostel, before being whisked away on a food tour of the city, which lasted hours and brought us to some of the cheapest and most tucked away corners of Amritsar..I tasted the sweetest black chai of my life, and before even getting a chance to return to the hostel it was time to be picked up to continue the day of ‘touristing’ and go on the ‘Wagah Border Tour’. Another spontaneous decision, I only realised as we left the perimeters of Amritsar behind that we were actually headed towards the Pakistani border with India to witness a ceremony crossing flags and celebrating the two country’s heritage and peacefully maintained boundaries, as well as ironically symbolising their rivalry. unnamed-20Passports in hand and a kind of nervous expectancy hanging in the thick dusty air preceding sunset, we walked the long road-blocked entrance like that of a road headed into a music festival. Vendors painted Indian flags on our faces and sold bottles of water, fresh juices, mystery fried yellow things, and tables of other products outside.

When the stadium eventually filled to capacity and the sun had all but disappeared from the sky, Indian residents on one side of two iron-clad sets of gates and Pakistani on the other, thumping Bollywood music flooded the stadium and a troupe of dancers emerged in the road below.

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Indian supports at the Pakistani border

On spotting us taking pictures, we were pulled into the crowd by young students to join their dancing in front of the hundreds of spectators! Dancing to ‘Jai Ho’ in a mass of colourful saris and flowing black hair overlooked by a crowd of chanting Indians is something I won’t forget in a hurry!

Once the dancing ceased, drum rolls signalled Indian soldiers marching and high-kicking their way towards the Pakistani gate to a height Micheal Flatley would envy and with such conviction that it was difficult not to take it very seriously. Between the crowds chanting in Hindi, the drums rolling, the clip-clop of the uniformed officers and the opposing chants and singing coming from the Pakistani side, it felt like being a spectator at some kind of bizarre sporting event!

 

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2 sets of gates – India border vs Pakistan

After a lengthy marching routine, eventually the guards tired out high-kicking and opened the gates, where they swapped sides and lowered each country’s flag together, crossing them over in a sign of peace. And that was it. Back together the gates clanged, back down the stadium the guards skipped, and the Indian crowd’s chanting reached a peak to meet the final drum rolls end. Time to go home! It was back to Jugaardus for a shower to wash the dust away from tired feet.

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“Just one picture, Madame!”

My final day in Amritsar was spent catching up on sleep and online work, venturing into the madness of the city several times to explore local shops and market stalls! Back to Delhi now for a final night with the Madpackers and then onwards as my visa expires in a few days and I’ve yet to plan the next leg of my journey properly. Oops.

There is one thing I am sure of, however…

India, I’m not done with you yet!
I will most definitely be back. Onwards and upwards!

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Useful Links:

Trek n Dine Facebook / Trip Advisor
Lakshmi Tours India
Jugaardus Eco Hostel: Website / Facebook / Trip Advisor
Madpackers Hostel Delhi : Facebook / Trip Advisor
Gold Temple Amritsar Website

 

10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”

’10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”‘

Wonder is a great thing.
When you embark upon a journey into the wild, or on a safari, you expect to encounter wild and wonderous things and places. You choose to dabble in the unknown. Untameable, charming, ferocious, unstoppable, beautiful, completely alien in nature, enchanting in their distance and in the depth of our misunderstanding – it’s more than just language barriers. It’s communicative, instinctual, historical, habitual, and societal contrasts ingrained deep within the very cracks of the higgledy piggledy streets and contents of the stunning architecture, pungent sewers and aromatic street food stalls alike which tumble together and simmer to the surface to serve up unique experiences and interactions and form the somehow multifunctional city of New Delhi.

 This ‘safari’, for want of a better word, has been the most daring expedition I’ve embarked on yet. People coming to ‘find themselves’ by getting unfathomably lost in an unfamiliar and almost unsettlingly diverse country as a concept in itself has led me to consider the entirety of India in terms of a wild animal that I have yet to wrap my head around and tame by establishing a firm enough grasp on it. Even just in my head. There’s just so much to it.

In an effort to portray simply the ins and outs of just how intense and incredibly humbling my first encounter with India has been so far, I’ve compiled a short list of the things which most impacted me and made me literally say ‘Wow’ (in both the good and bad ways!) as I took that first tentative step into a city more vast and untameable than even my frizzy hair after a week of camping in a field in the West of Ireland.

1. Lodi Gardens

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Talk about finding calm in the chaos. Easily the most peaceful and least crowded place I visited in Delhi, these natural gardens contrast the chaos directly outside their perimeter by boasting spotlessly clean, quiet, organised and expertly maintained pathways and flowerbeds. Seemingly a popular hangout spot for young locals and couples alike, Lodi Gardens contain some of the most beautiful plantlife and temples unspoiled by litter or the everyday madness and pollution in Delhi. Bonus points for free entry and hosting outdoor yoga sessions every Saturday and Sunday morning! #Zen

2. Cables
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Cables. Cables. Everywhere. I stopped wondering why the wifi seems to disappear whenever it rains even a little bit. Everywhere you go there are crossing wires and open sockets and fuses boasting naked electrical goods that are really just crying out for a little bit of DIY to hide their modesty! It’s the kind of thing you have to just turn a blind eye to and ignore the instinctual discomfort ingrained by years of Irish paranoia that leaving the immersion on will see you meet your end. It won’t. I promise.

3. Market Madness

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It wouldn’t be a visit to Asia without a trip to the market, and Delhi’s markets don’t disappoint! Sarojini Nagar and the Spice market were favourite of mine, but you name it, you can buy it, most likely at a hilariously injust ‘special tourist price’ that newbies regularly fall victim to – haggling is key here! Start 1/3 of the price lower and don’t be afraid to say no and walk away – 80% of the time you will be called back with a lower price!

4. Hauz Khas Village

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Central to the ‘party’ scene of modern New Delhi, this hip section of bars, cafés, and nightclubs is the place to go after dark, if you can brave the whirlwind of a tuk tuk ride there and back. Our international group of ‘mixed vegetables’ as the driver labelled us from the Madpackers’ Hostel had a brilliant night here and pushed even Indian drivers’ boundaries by piling 7 into one tuktuk on the way back ! Despite my own reservations I actually did feel able to let go and have fun – maintaining awareness in late-night situations is key though, especially for girls (has to be said!), and our ‘numbers-system’ proved effective in ensuring we stuck together at all times!

 5. I Grew it Myself

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I won’t lie here. I’ve finally realised that I can’t go to any tourist attraction in India without becoming one myself. Red hair, pale skin and freckles seem to be on the checklist of all Indian visitors to their capital city and main ‘must-see’ sights, and they are certainly not shy when it comes to asking for pictures. Besides paying the substantially lower fee for Indian visitors into all these attractions, they also get to satisfy their curiosity for pale skin and hair…I now know what it feels like to be an animal in a zoo. Funny the first few times. Gets very uncomfortable after a crowd gathers and children cry when you say no.

6. Awky Momos

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Momos are great. Everyone should try them. These ones are even vegan.

 7. Bus Station

New Delhi Bus Station at night is a raving, romping, shouting, beeping, hollering, and chaotic melting pot of humanity, the contents of which departs sporadically every 5-10 minutes for destinations all over the massive, massive country and gets replaced moments later by a new influx of bodies. The heated atmosphere added to my already heightened anxiety ahead of a 12-hour bus journey, but thankfully things cooled down as we pulled away from the hub of disgruntled passengers of all shapes and sizes clamouring to be heard over the continuos din of the incomprehensible intercom announcments. Phew. I was stressed even writing that. No picture. No time for pictures here.

8. Humayan’s Tomb and the Red Fort 

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I’ve grouped the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb together as they’re fairly standard stops to tick off on the tourist checklist. The Tomb is like a mini Taj Mahal, which is good for those who aren’t prepared to take the day trip to Agra, but fairly repetitive for those who’ve already been. Steep entry fee for tourists also put me off!

9. Taj Mahal

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This may possibly seem like an obvious one and is technically not actually in Delhi, so I thought I’d leave it til further down in the list. The Taj Mahal does what it says on the tin. Even standing a few hundred feet from it, I found it difficult to believe it wasn’t photoshopped into my line of vision and wondered how on earth such a solid piece of beauty and representation of love could actually be real. The rain didn’t help, but it made for a funny day of singing in the rain with some new friends from Madpackers (see #10), who organised a day-trip for us to Agra and back.

10. Madpackers Hostel
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I can’t possibly write about Delhi without mentioning the Madpackers Hostel! Pranav, Mayank, and the rest of the team were honestly the most welcoming and hospitable hosts for the few days I stayed there, ready to help with any queries or struggle any of their guests had in a chilled and friendly manner. Met some amazing people and it really was a brilliant start to my time in India. Best hostel I’ve stayed at in a long time! Namasté!

 

 

10 Ways to Practice Yoga in the Office

Ok, so your office doesn’t exactly include being able to ‘quit the day job’ and fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming a yoga instructor yet on the list of holiday options. That’s ok. These things take time, (and money!). We all know what it’s like to sit uncomfortably at a desk for hours at a time, secure in the knowledge that next month’s rent will be payable, yet physically itching to drop to downward dog and stretch out that spine on the office rug after hours staring at a screen. As we learn in yoga, finding a middle ground is key, and if you really can’t wait for your 6pm Vinyasa class or escape for a quick lunchtime flow at Yogahub, we’ve compiled a list of 7 subtle yet effective ways to get your yoga on as you tick through your daily tasks.

 

  1. Sit up Straight
    It may sound simple – and it is. Ensuring your spine does not round and become accustomed to curving over your coffee cup and keyboard is vital to maintain a good posture and core. Uncross your legs. Simply adjust your sit bones and belly to an alert and attentive posture, and peel your shoulders back whenever you notice a curvature. Practice balanced and strong breathing, like in Tadasana. This will make sure you maintain focus, and lessen anxiety, allowing you to meet deadlines as required. You’ll also feel and look more confident! Post-it notes can be a helpful reminder to ‘sit up’ whenever your attention wanders to the walls or floor or ceiling…anywhere away from your work!
  2. Side Stretch
    Last I checked it was a perfectly acceptable office activity to have a little stretch now and then – now all you have to do is practice mindful breath awareness as you do it! On a deep inhale, raise both arms above your head. You can remain in a seated position, with your back and shoulders straight. Touch the palms together, and hold for 5 breaths. Alternate between leaning to the left and right to experience a stretch in both sides, holding each side for an equal number of breaths.
  3. Chair Pose
    It’s called ‘Chair Pose’ for a reason! Sitting straight and comfortably with your two hands on your thighs, take several deep breaths. You can even close your eyes if it’s particularly busy today – achieving calm in the chaos of a stressful office environment is no easy feat. Raise hands above head, and using the strength in your legs, lift the sit bones several inches from your seat, maintaining the ‘seated’ posture as you hover for 5 breaths.
  4. Seated Cat-Cow
    While you may lack the floor space and general social confidence to complete a round of cat-cows by the printer machine, simply peeling your shoulders back and down on an inhale, and rounding your spine to suck your bellybutton in the direction of your spine on an exhale several times is a great way to compensate. Make sure you begin sitting up straight and breathe slowly! This pose is great for alignment and re-configuring your entire system after a stressful meeting.
  5. Seated Twist
    What’s that behind you?? To the left? Hmm, not sure. How about to the right? This one is easy to do subtly, but don’t forget to focus on your breath! It’s easy to get carried away in the physicality of yoga, and an environment like an office space makes it extra hard to focus on the interior, most important and beneficial side of the pracitce. Twist from below the waist, letting your head follow your spine and remain on each side for several breaths.
  6. Forward Bend
    Depending on the understanding of your co-workers this pose is more easily accessible for some than others. Of course, you could always just pretend to have something in your shoe! With feet shoulder-width apart from a standing position, slowly bend forwards from the waist on a long exhale. Don’t force your hands to touch the floor, rather let them rest comfortably wherever they reach naturally, and remain here for several breaths. Exit the pose in a similarly controlled and mindful fashion.
  7. Tabletop Shoulder Opener
    Using the actual top of your table or desk, scoot your chair back several inches so that your arms can stretch out straight, palms still on the desk. Drop head down between the arms and hold for several breaths, ensuring the rest of your torso remains in line and legs are uncrossed. If anyone asks, just say you lost something under the desk!
  8. Aeroplane Safety Pose
    I’m not quite sure what the actual name of this pose is, but it looks like the seated forward fold from your chair that’s instructed on aeroplanes to assume should the plane get into any difficulty! Widen legs and drop slowly from the lower back and hips until your torso is resting on your legs, head hanging towards the floor. Several breaths here could serve as your new go-to pose for any panicked or stressful situations!
  9. Pranyama and Meditation
    Remember, ‘to practice yoga’ does not merely mean working through a successful flow of asanas and feeling like you’ve completed a great workout. There is much more to an active and authentic yoga practice than physically challenging yourself to a pose you’ve never done before. In this sense, an office environment can actually be the ideal location to practice breathing and pranyama techniques you’ve learned in class. If nothing else, it is certainly the environment in which they may become necessary at short notice – stressful situations and work-related anxiety hits even the most practiced yogis at times, and it is important to be able to take 5-10 minutes break from work, not necessarily from your desk, but to just breathe. Close your eyes and practice “4-2-6” breathing, or quietly work through a round of Kapal Bahti as your colleagues quabble over who’s going to pick up this week’s lotto numbers.
  10. Practice Gratitude
    This can be as simple as saying ‘thank you’ to the new intern who’s just dropped off your coffee, or more meditative as you calmly remind yourself to appreciate the job you have for the funding it provides you to live, to travel, and to attend yoga classes! Whenever it becomes too much, remind yourself of this, and be thankful for all the little things. Thank your body for being a healthy and functioning vessle by nourishing it at lunchtime, and ensuring your continued growth and focus!

 

There are many other adaptations to help you maintain your practice and focus in the office, especially with the emergence of Chair Yoga in recent years and the variety of simple stretches and twists that can be practiced from a seated position. Though they may not provide a full body stretch and sense of invigoration that a full practice will, they at least will help you get through the day in the office without tensing up too much and will definitely help maintain your flexibility and strength.

Alternatively there are also now many yoga studios and independent teachers offering corporate yoga classes to groups of workers in offices in their area- why not suggest it to your colleagues and organise your favourite yoga teacher to come to you?

Ha Long, Ha Long must we sing this song… A Beautiful Day in Vietnam

 

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If I can’t see ‘the island’ back home, I know that it’s raining. Or else, that it will be sometime in the very near future. Islands are fairly black and white in that sense.
They stay put.
Although still unpredictable, this small droplet of observant common sense derived from a fine-tuned intuition has proven more useful and informative than many weather forecasts. Strange how a place can become so familiar that you tune into it’s weather-warnings and signals as naturally as if each gust of wind were it’s very breath.

This morning, over 6,000 miles away from home, the fog is so thick that most of the boat tours out into Ha Long Bay from the mainland have been cancelled. I can’t see the ‘islands’; big chunks of grassy rock and land protruding at random from the still, grey waters like stubborn weeds or sudden video-game obstacles to be navigated – an image which makes progressive sense after the go-karting and uncontrollable chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.

 I admire our guide’s positivity. “Sun come out later”, he reassures us.
“You will see. Trust me.”
So I do.

The Northern bay of Vietnam is colder than I’m expecting. The ‘cruise’ ship’s blind persistance through the eerie silence of pre-dawn waters sends a chill down my spine, along with a twinge of regret that I failed to check the weather conditions for today. No matter. Experience has taught me that storms always lift, and that even through the most deafening downpour of rain– the islands always stay the same.
Making the most of my short time in Vietnam has meant bypassing several stops I had previously intended on, but there hasn’t been a draft of the guidelines I’ve drawn for myself where Ha Long Bay does not feature.
One thing I notice as the waves become more stable is that the sea breeze here doesn’t quite cut the skin like it does back home. The chill I’m feeling is purely due to movement – our progression through the still air the only instigator of activity for several hundred meters around us – the distance from our boat to the next stationary vessle, a ‘party boat’ still lying sleepily comatosed in the early morning haze. Several small fishing boats have passed since setting out from the docks, a familarity I can’t help but admire – it takes a special kind of storm to perturb the fishermen in the West of Ireland too.

As expected, our approach to the main attraction slowly brings clarity to the previously foggy mounds of matter. The mainland view might be good, but the towering mountains rising from the surface of the water like proud statues of Gods overlooking their kingdom are even more impressive up close. Colours saturate every glance. Pure nature, pure height, depth, and growth dwarf every man-made structure I’ve ever laid eyes on.

All attempts I’ve made at reassuring myself this trip it won’t be in vain fall overboard, as I stare in awe around me. These aren’t islands. These are natural works of art.

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A Monk, a Ginger, and a Picturesque Palace

A young Buddhist monk clad in orange robes and flimsy, thin sandals holds up a smartphone. I quickly stow mine away. Who knows where he’s had it hidden, those robes look fairly impractical when it comes to storage and safe keeping of things.
All of a sudden the tables have turned, and now I am the subject of interest; the main attraction; the pale, ginger alien from afar. For some reason all I can think of is how violently those orange robes would clash with my hair if I ever had to wear them.
I glance around the vast grounds of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, uncomfortably in search of the tour group I’d wandered away from. The young monks, (the eldest can’t be older than about 13) have started giggling amongst themselves now, as my anxiety spikes higher and I grow visibly flustered. Or maybe it’s just the heat?
They clearly don’t know how to put the camera switch on silent mode either, I grumble internally, as I hear the phone make the ‘click’ and ‘click’ and ‘click’ noises of this impromptu photo shoot.
Surely this is against some religious code or regulations, surely they’re not allowed to do things like this? What happened to empathy, understanding, treating fellow humans with respect and privacy??
As my frustration builds I realise that I’ve been guilty of all those things I just listed as being ‘out-of-bounds’ for the monks. Me and the thousands of other tourists who pass through their home everyday and gawp in awe at their clothes, their houses and schools – their entire world. It hardly seems fair that they should have to put up with it, but then again, Cambodia has many aspects to it that Westerners would consider unjust. The Khmer people just accept things as they are.
The grandeur of the Palace in Phnom Penh is testament to that, as I consider the riches and perfectly preened gardens and hedgerows in comparison to the wildness, the go-karting, free-wheeling adventures of the city streets beyond. Somehow everything in here seems calmer, as if the Playstation game has been put on pause and everything moves in slow motion until you’re ready to go again.
I eventually spot the gaggle of excited Chinese tourists who were part of my group by the submarine-pipe heads of their selfie-sticks bobbing above the crowds. Glancing behind me, I notice that the monks have fallen back, now sullen in their observation of the mass of tourists and my re-assimilation into it after a brief escapade into their camera-range.
How odd it must feel to be a stationary figure in the middle of such a steady, ferocious stream of people passing through. The orange robes to us are just about as fascinating as orange hair is to them, yet their desire to express their interest and marvel at things unaccustomed to them is met with questioning, staring, and judgement. My own reaction to their interest shamed me.
As I reach the outer gates of the palace, I lighten up at what’s just occurred, and manage to laugh off the irony of it. I steady myself to prepare for the tuk-tuk games to begin again, reflecting softly that Phnom Penh and Cambodia as a whole is truly a beautiful, chaotic celebration of the old world and the new coming together in a frenzied rush of confusion, odd smells, and exhaust-pipe dust.

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