Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making Progress

Well, it has been three weeks since I arrived here in Mysore and I must say I have made some progress. This is very exciting, especially considering that this is not a country that works at a New York City pace (or even a Savannah, Georgia pace for that matter!).

So, here is what is happening and what steps are next:

Today I made my fourth visit to Asha Kirana, an HIV clinic here in Mysore. On the second and fourth Sundays of each month, HIV positive children come from all over India to get blood tests and medicines. By 11 am the waiting room is full of kids and their guardians waiting for their turn to see the doctor. To ease their anxiety during this time I have started teaching them yoga. They are very receptive and even excited to practice yoga together. Afterward they are so quiet and calm. They all crowd around to say personal thank yous and shake my hand.  It's an outpouring of love that is beyond anything I have earned.  

The program is so successful that Asha Kirana would like to make it an ongoing practice. I will be here through March, but am looking for someone to come with me and continue to teach when I am gone. I am also looking for yoga mats so that each child can practice properly. Many of the yoga students here leave their mats when they return home. I am hoping they will donate these used mats to the Asha Kirana program. Another option is to donate the cost of a new mat. They are sold here for Rs 250 or about $6.25.  I have set up a table at OM Cafe here in Mysore so that students who leave after breakfast can make a donation on their way out.  Please email me at if you would like to buy a child a yoga mat.  I will send you updates on the child you have sponsored.  

A slightly more complicated project is to set up a sewing organization for women in need of employment. My hope is that they will eventually make mat bags that will be sold at the shala, as well as cloth shopping bags that will replace the plastic so many use to carry their fruits and vegetables. This is going to require workspace, sewing machines, materials, and hard workers, but it can be done.

Finally, I am also helping Chethana Trust, a mental health facility, to sell their chocolates. These goodies are made by the mentally challenged and the profits go towards making these men and women financially independent. They take great pride in their work and look forward to becoming productive members of the community as their earnings come in. So far Anu's, Tina's lunch place, and Edelweiss Austrian Cafe have agreed to sign on.  I am also in negotiations with a wholesaler who may sell the chocolates as gifts for corporate events.

As you can see, there is a lot to be done. Not everyone can get away for long periods of time, or part with large sums of money, but everyone can contribute something, whether it be time, knowledge, or helping to form a new connection.  Pick one thing you are good at and make a pledge to make a difference!

Find out more about small commitments that bring big change soon at
Also coming soon:

Practice, Practice, Practice

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What is it about this place?

What is it about India? Stepping off the plane I recognize the smell. It's incense mixing with the dry air. The ground is dusty dirt. Bollywood songs blare out of rickshaw speakers. I know I have arrived, and I can't stop smiling. The streets are crazy. "No one at home would believe this," I always think. A picture would not do it justice. You need all five senses to set this scene. Cars and Motorcycles driving in every direction with no regard for lanes. We squeeze through impossible spaces to get ahead. A cow sits gracefully, serenely in the middle of the road as buses whiz by. Only in India.

Men huddle around a tiny counter sipping steamy chai out of little glass cups. Every couple of minutes someone lifts the a jug into the air and lets the water fall into his mouth without ever touching the spout. A man smokes cigarettes and pees by the side of the road. This is India.

The women are in dancing sheets of color. Rolls of belly flesh peek out. Their hair is long and braided. Some sweep streets with brooms made of twigs. Many are hidden inside. They smile and the sun shines off their gold nose and ear rings. This is India.

And this is India: In the morning I wake up and I am happy. I give thanks for another day my soul, my consciousness has been returned. I lie on the floor and breath for a moment letting the night's grip on my body slip away. I go to yoga practice. As I raise my arms in the first movement of Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) I give thanks again, this time for this miraculous instrument I call my body. Each day I really am amazed at the arch of the arm, the picture of the hands in prayer before me.

Each day another opportunity to use this gift of life for good. A chance to ease suffering and increase freedom. A chance to honor the earth by not taking for granted her many offerings. So many chances to do good. So many choices to make.

And this is India too: Today a man I see everyday has a blockage in his heart, and though he works long hours and with constant kindness, he can not possibly pay the 200,000 to 300,000 rupees -- $4,500 to $7,000+ it will cost for his surgery. His name is Guru and he is the corner coconut man here in Gokulam. This too is India.

If you've been wondering what you can do to make a difference, help Guru. Maybe that's why you happened to read this blog today. Click here and scroll down to give any sized donation.

What is it about this place? Nothing. This is a place like all others. You can leave it or you can touch it. You can make it better or you can make it worse. This is a place like all others. A place where anything is possible.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Moving Up

There is a shared concept in Judaism and Yogic Philosophy that a person is either moving towards his goal or away from it.  The idea that he is standing still is an illusion.  I don't want to lose all the good momentum I built up in Rwanda, so I am making the choice to go forward with work I did there and see how I can best incorporate it into my new setting.  It is my third trip to India, but I am seeing Mysore with brand new eyes.  As I look around, I wonder how I could have been here twice before and never asked the questions now running through my mind.  I never thought of India as a place with AIDS even though, all places are touched by this problem and traditional cultures clearly face issues of stigma for those infected.  It has been a fight to get doctors to treat infected patients with compassion and equality.  And just in the last couple of years has India developed the laws needed to safeguard its HIV positive school children against discrimination in the classroom.

Thanks to the help of my friend Tracy, founder of Operation Shanti, I was able to visit three HIV-Aids clinics yesterday and was glad to hear that progress is being made. The individual staff members were excited to show me around and eager to answer my many questions.  I knew I was truly welcome when they wouldn't let me leave without first having a cup of sweet chai.  It will take a couple follow up visits at least to find out more about these different communities and how I can best serve them with my skills and resources.  But I am up for the challenge.

It is yoga that has brought me here and yoga that has opened my mind and heart and allowed me to see beyond my own needs and desires.  It would be thoughtless of me not to mention my great teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Saraswathi, R. Sharath, and Acharye Hema.  I give thanks to you and pray that through the practice of selfless action, constant analysis and devotion, I will never have the chance to foolishly believe I am standing still.  I will always be moving up.