Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Yoga and Spirituality Across the Pond

Though this blog is primarily about adventures on the water—and that is scheduled later in this trip also—for now I’ll be plodding along on land. In trains, buses, cars, on foot, and in meditation posture. 

This week, you might say I’m reliving my pre-sailing past, when many of my vacations were spent at large, inspiring Yoga in Daily Life retreats in Eastern Europe. In that region, now known as Central Europe, Yoga in Daily Life continues to be pervasive and popular, with classes taught in schools, at health centers and hospitals, in hundreds of ashrams and yoga centers, and—yes—at large, inspiring retreats. This photo was taken by my yoga colleague Dinah Wiley a week ago, in the retreat center in the Czech Republic where I am now.

The key to Yoga in Daily Life’s success worldwide is its founder and author, a yoga master who began teaching the ancient spiritual traditions of India in Western and Eastern Europe, and eventually North America, a half century ago. In addition to his teachings, he operates humanitarian projects and advocates for world peace, sometimes in conjunction with the United Nations (pictured below).
The Yoga in Daily Life practice includes lessons from the master, asanas (yoga exercises and postures), meditation, breath purification, prayer, healthy and fresh vegetarian dining, service to others, periods of silence, and more. A pure lifestyle. The rewards include serenity; joy; physical, mental and  emotional relaxation; and ultimately, if one practices long and hard, bliss. Liberation from human attachments and burdens. Enlightenment.

Anyone can benefit from even the simplest beginning practices—stretches to build flexibility, exercises to increase strength, breath and mind control to calm the mind and nervous system and awaken energy channels.
We are honored by the master’s presence in our ashram in Alexandria, Virginia, every year or two.  There, he attracts dozens who are seeking spiritual fulfillment, or just a peaceful meditation with a master—or something in between.

Here in Europe, the numbers are in the hundreds, which is always humbling to me—to be in the presence of so many spiritual seekers, all striving to follow the principles and practices of the Yoga in Daily Life lifestyle.

We practice together, under the master’s guidance, in the large, rambling buildings and grounds of a former castle in the Czech Republic. This beautifully renovated ashram can accommodate as many as a thousand overnight guests.

I am grateful to be in the master’s presence this week, in a historic castle, now a spiritual retreat center, along with hundreds of devoted practitioners of these ancient arts.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Kindle?? Aromatherapy Oils? No, Just the Essentials, Please

There's no limit to the number of things you can buy to make your flight more comfortable, improve your travel experience, flatten your wallet. You’ve seen them in airline magazines, airport shops, and Duty Free.

Books. Magazines. Bottled water. Smart Water. Ear pods, anyone? Hydrate with Egyptian Magic. Cut out sensory input with noise-deafening headphones. Relax your neck into a beanbag pillow. Indulge in a Premium Trail Mix. Pack a mini bottle of Seagrams.

I agree. All those things would reduce the stress and strain and help me arrive feeling fresh(er) and (more) relaxed.

The trade off is having room left in your luggage for a t-shirt and toothpaste. Especially if you only use a rollaboard.

If I had loads of money and someone to schlep my oversized bags, I’d be flying First Class, drinking Dom Perignon, and changing shoes every day. As it is, I carefully weigh the pros and 
cons of taking extra shoes vs. tools for better sleep, checking a bag with favorite lotions vs. making do with only a carry-on with 3-ounce limits. 

Here’s my essentials and indulgences for a trans-oceanic flight like the present one, and the trade-offs.

1-Carry-on only; no checked bag. Favorite lotions and medicines reduced to a few micrograms each, in screw-on contact lens cases. Don’t forget to label.

2-Earplugs and face mask. The plain drugstore silicone earplugs in a 1-inch case.
3-My newest toy: a sling to elevate my feet. It hangs from the seat-back tray table. This is my first trial flight. Takes up a lot of room in my carry-on, but improved my comfort and made it easier to stop fidgeting and fall asleep. Trade-off: left home extra socks and underwear; can wash those out by hand every night.

Note re second picture, from the internet: you will never have this much room on a plane. See first picture.

 4-For this trip only, an ultra thin Thermarest self-inflating air mattress. Doubles as a yoga mat for the yoga retreat I’m attending in the Czech Republic and extra padding on those awful princess-and-the-pea hostel bunks. And it was a lifesaver during a 7-hour layover following only two hours sleep on my first, overnight flight. I blew it up and crawled into a corner at Dublin airport for an additional nap. The Thermarest pairs well with...

5-...My Pillow, travel size. It’s a particular brand. I LOVE it. I’ll never go back to those dreadful inflatable horseshoes that never properly cradled my head. The Thermarest and My Pillow are bulky even when compressed. To make room, I left home my fleece vest and knit hat. If it’s cold in Denmark in late September, I can double up t-shirts and wrap my scarf around my head.

Next trip, I am tempted to add something I saw today in the Duty-Free catalog: fancy Nano-Pods earphones—wireless, self-contained music devices, supposedly delivering higher-fidelity music than what’s possible on cell phones.

Trade-off: I could leave home my toothpaste and buy a new tube across the Pond.

Eat, Drink, Why Not? First Indulgences in the Old Country

I’ve only been in Europe six hours (long layover in Dublin airport) and already I’ve rediscovered European pastries. Where else can you find two chocolate cafes and a bakery in one airport terminal?

Just the name makes me happy. Salivating over the pastries sends me into ecstasy.
First I did the responsible thing: Irish brown bread for breakfast, which I’ve always loved. Nobody makes bread like the Irish, in my opinion.

Then the temptations. Drooled over hot scones with pure Irish butter. Irish shortbread, yum. Caramel shortcake, even better. Settled on the custard tart. Then Irish whiskey and gin. No wait, that’s not pastry! But it’s offered every 50 feet or so, here at Dublin airport. How can one resist?

Stop by for a drink?  Two? Three? All morning until your flight leaves?

"Free sample will come with a smile, I promise."

Whiffs of honey and hints of toffee aside, here is my totally inexpert analysis:

Glendalough whiskey--too light and airy
Kilbeggan traditional Irish whiskey--nah
Tyrconnell single malt--better, smoother
Spirit of Gin--nah; they say hints of florals but I’m not buying it
Glendalough gin--yes! Botanicals from the Wicklow bogs! Totally herbal! Maybe it even contains vitamins! I'm not a gin fan, but I could drink this.
Hendricks gin--nah

Who knew there were so many Irish whiskies? Or so many indulgent ways to miss your connecting flight?

Feeling the need to balance all those delicious delicacies with something reasonably nutritious, I toddled (wobbled) over to the salad bar. Even though I wasn’t hungry. Just happy.

Beets can make one happy, too, I suppose.

Lest you think I am overindulging, keep this in mind: got two hours sleep on the overnight flight, another hour on the cold hard tile floor of the Dublin airport terminal (at 5 am, when no one was around, and before they kicked me out for the morning “security sweep”). 

My travel-size mini Thermarest self-inflating air mattress has turned out to be a great investment for both hard hostel bunks and airport floors. But the noise of passengers rushing by was troublesome.

Don’t you think I deserve a little respite and refresher?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Two Faces of Travel, Part 2

Pope often points out that I accentuate the negative in my blog. Well, duh. A few weeks ago I elaborated on how being a perfectionist and a pessimist colors my world, especially when it's time to travel. (Review that blog post here.) My glasses are not rose-colored. More like a dim shade of blue.

Besides, isn't that what entices readership--bad news? That's been proven over and over by screaming headlines and scandalous spread sheets. Think National Enquirer. Serial killers. Kim Kardashian. Who wants to read about blue sky, picnic lunches without ants, and peace treaties?

In July 2019, I spent two glorious weeks pickin' and singin', and chatting with old and new friends, at music camp. In two subsequent blog posts, I deliberately accentuated the positive. B-o-r-r-r-ing.

Here's the backstory you've all been waiting for--what went "wrong."

Naturally, it begins on the boat. Are you surprised?

The day before leaving for music camp, we returned from a semi-glorious sail on Chesapeake Bay. Why only semi? The sky was blue. Not too hot. Light wind responded to our beautiful pink spinnaker. Our young friend Lakshmi decorated the deck.
But the starter motor balked. This troublesome part has caused grief and anxiety for months. In June we missed a raft-up with other boats and had to head home under sail. Other times, we never got out of our slip. Press the button, no click. Multiple mechanics failed to fix it.

That was the beginning of my troubles on that clear blue day prior to music camp. Pope jiggered some wires and coached the engine into starting. Off we sailed to a cozy cove behind Gibson Island, my anxiety only somewhat mildly appeased.
On our return, the engine cooperated. Whew. Anxiety greatly reduced. Stress meter green.
But the weather changed. We tucked into our home slip just as the clouds let loose their load of moisture. Good timing, right? Well, yes. But the rain quickly coated the deck and the companionway ladder. And, coming down that ladder, I slipped.

Had it been any other ordinary day, I would have iced the injuries, slept it off, and re-evaluated the next morning. But my spine was swollen, my lower back throbbed, and the next morning I was headed for a remote camp in the mountains of West Virginia. Stress meter red and rising.

I hunkered down for six hours in the emergency room at Georgetown Hospital, being probed and pressed and waiting two and a half hours for radiologists to pick apart images from a CT scan, searching for spinal fractures and kidney damage.  (My kind of people, radiologists--perfectionists!) Home by 3 am with a relatively clean bill of health.

Seven hours after that, with a sore back that made it painful to ride in the car, sit in a folding chair in classrooms, and hunch over a guitar, I took off over the mountains for a remote location in wild and wonderful West Virginia.

Two faces of travel? You bet. This is the other side.