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India

March 11, 2018

A small ashram in historical Varanasi. I was off to study meditation, yoga, and inner art of healing classes at the Cosmic Energy Centre (Ashram). I completed a 10-day course built on several different lessons that created a unique experience beyond one single topic or skill. I left feeling that I’ve accumulated a ton of practices that were realistic to bring into my home practice and share with others. We felt Meditation.

Address: N6-2B-106, Indira Nagar, Chitaipur – Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

Varanasi, one of the most sacred and oldest cities in India. It is located at the banks of the Gange river. Being a spiritual city of Lord Shiva, Varanasi has religious, cultural and traditional significances. However, Varanasi is also popular for its Indian Classical Music and Dance. 

A special thank you to Susie Nedley  – she guided our group around Varanasi and introduced us to our teacher. She is an amazing herbalist, professional gardener and entrepreneur on Martha’s Vineyard. Visit her website at www.SusietheGardener.com.


People of Varanasi 

  • Building a boat

Shiva Ganga Lodge

I stayed in a simple family-owned lodge, called Shiva Ganga Lodge. A young couple with 3 beautiful energized children, two girls and a boy, with grandparents and an adorable guard dog named Toni. There was also a gang of monkeys that enjoyed patronizing Toni from above the yard. Several days there was one of many holy cows sunbathing at the entrance of the lodge. There were many special moments, connections and love shared between the animals that lived throughout Varanasi. Sharing leftovers or buying biscuits specifically to feed the cows, goats, chickens and puppies became a regular daily routine. 


A glimpse of experiences 

  • Boat tour with Ganga Ghat ceremonies – see below to learn about the ceremonies
  • Walking along the Ganges River at sunrise to view Ganga Ghat in the early morning light
  • Feeling the importance of the people and rituals at Ganga Ghat
  • Witnessing the religious ceremonies after people pass away at burning ghat where the dead bodies are cremated
  • Attending the Aarti, Agni Pooja performance in which a commitment is made to Lord Shiva, Mata Gange, Surya, Agni as well as the whole universe.


Ceremonies

Gange aarti is performed daily in the evenings by a group of priests at the Dashashwamedh Ghat with the sound of bells, drums, cymbals, and Sanskrit mantras. Every night starting at 6:45 pm begins a magnificent ritual, performed daily by a group of priests. All priests are students of Vedas and Upanishads and led by the head priest of the Gangotri Seva Samiti. It is performed with brass lamps and all priests, participating this pray ceremony wear traditional Dhoti and Kurta clothes. I admired the glow of light being offed to the gods, watching the worship with flower petals that were lit and sent down the river.


IT IS FAR BETTER TO LIVE YOUR OWN PATH IMPERFECTLY THAN TO LIVE ANOTHER’S PERFECTLY – The Bhagavad Gita 


One of the main reasons I traveled to India, which I shared in the introduction of this post, was my quest for experiencing time in an ashram. How does one choose and ashram? From my experience, it came to me. I did not choose one. Through re-connecting with a college friend who seemed to be on a similar path into sustainability, spirituality and self-wellness, I was exposed to her love and passion for Varanasi, India. Not just India, but there was something about Varanasi she fell for and I was intrigued to find out if I felt the same way. 

The Ashram is located near Shivala Ghat in central Varanasi, behind Bread of Life Bakery. Currently, students cannot sleep in the Ashram, but common accommodation is usually organized in a nearby lodge shown above, Shiva Ganga Lodge. The messages I would like to share from my teacher are directly from his teachings and you may also find them on his website. 

“Namaste and welcome to Satyalesary Ashram, home to cosmic healing and holistic yoga courses. Life in the Ashram does not follow any dogma nor any specific religion; rather, it draws inspiration from both human and spiritual beliefs that are rooted in every credence and spiritual path. 

All those who wish to study their Self and re-discover their spiritual heritage are more than welcome at any given time. Here you can find the best conditions to achieve your purpose: peace, stillness, silence, the slow flowing of the river Ganga and the possibility of learning and practicing both yoga and meditation.” – Umesh


Food of Varanasi

Legume, Grains and Spices  

Chai: a thick sweet drink

The rhythm of life in India. A cup of tea to start the day, enjoy during a break throughout the day or in celebration. People who sell chai are known as chai wallahs. You will find them on several corners of Varanasi. The ritual of drinking chai is found on numerous roadsides with chai wallahs who serve it boiled up. They typically make to order with spices, ginger, sugar and milk. In my experience, it takes about 5 – 10 minutes for them to brew and serve. In Varanasi, chai is still served in small clay pots, known as kulhar, the same as several decades ago. 

Chai stands are found along the Ganga River and throughout the streets of the city. They are often family businesses from many generations. I saw many people keep the memories of family that have past alive by hanging a fresh garland of marigolds every morning. 

 Ginger;
 

A popular spicy root ingredient in north Indian chai has been used for hundreds of years. Ginger is believed to have numerous health benefits.

  • Enhance digestion
  • Nutrient absorbtion
  • Joint pain
  • Motion sickness 

Turmeric: 

  • Native to the Indian Subcontinent herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family
  • Commonly used as food colouring and a staple spice for Indian curries, marinades, sabzis (vegetables cooked in spices and curry flavours)
  • Use fresh in cooking, making tea, shred onto salads……or it is boiled, dried and made into a powder. Great for inflammation of all sorts!
 

A pinecone-shaped stalk and bulbous root that look like ginger. It is pronounced tur-mer-ic, not too-mer-ic.

 
  • Bright yellow in color (pure turmeric has a more orange hue)
  • Available in powder form – The root is boiled, dried, and ground down into a fragrant yellow powder.
  • Sharp, earthy and bitter taste

Ayurveda, holistic medicine which involves cleansing the body from undigested food through plant-based drugs, special diets, massages, mediation, yoga, life style changes and more.

Turmeric is used in Ayurvedic cooking (and all curries). Often prescribed by practitioners to support the blood, liver, joints, immune system and digestive tract. In India, about 80 per cent of the rural population depends on traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

Read more about more ways to use Turmeric 


“Turmeric the preserver, keeping foods safe in a land of heat and hunger,” she writes. “Turmeric the auspicious spice, placed on the heads of newborns for luck, sprinkled over coconuts at pujas, rubbed into the borders of wedding saris – Mistress of Spices, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


TURMERIC + CAULIFLOWER

These flowering vegetables are full of vitamin C, vitamin K, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, B’s, folate + potassium. Be inspired to make roasted cauliflower, cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower, cauliflower crust pizza, raw cauliflower with hummus, steamed cauliflower, cauliflower soup.


Lassi

– popular traditional yogurt-based drink that is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and sometimes fruit. 

Papaya Pineapple Lassi at Bana Lassi

Dashashwamedh Ghat Rd, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

Lassi Collection
These recipes were inspired by my trip to Varanasi, India.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup homemade goats milk yogurt
  2. 1. Orange, pineapple + mint
  3. 2. Strawberry + Banana + Almond Butter + Honey
  4. 3. Apple, Ginger + Cardamom
Instructions
  1. Blend yogurt with ingredients for less then 5 seconds.
Nutrition from the Ground Up https://nutritionfromthegroundup.com/
Each day I stopped by this convenient shop to purchase my 2 to 4 daily waters (2 Liters each) . My body needed about 3 times more water each day to feel hydrated compared to at home. Sonu was the store owner that just had a new addition to his family. One of the examples of pure joy and smiles exchanged with many Varanasi natives. 


Kitchari + Recipes

an instant pot Finished Kitchari – Moong Lentils + Tomatoes + Peas + Cilantro + Rice .

Making Kitchari with Guruji today. Simple Indian recipe that is easy to digest. My favorite part is the option to intuitively cook your own style with different greens and vegetables. Using a pressure cooker quickens the cooking time, but also sustains more nutrients. We used tomatoes, cilantro & peas with rice + moong lentils. 

Kitchari
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup basmati rice
  2. 1 cup mung dal (split yellow)
  3. 6 cups (approx.) water
  4. 1/2 to 1 inch ginger root, chopped or grated
  5. A bit of mineral salt (1/4 tsp. or so)
  6. 2 tsp. ghee
  7. 1/2 tsp. coriander powder
  8. 1/2 tsp. cumin powder
  9. 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  10. 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
  11. 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  12. 1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
  13. Handful of fresh cilantro leaves
  14. 1 and 1/2 cups assorted vegetables (optional)
Instructions
  1. Carefully pick over rice and dal to remove any stones. Wash each separately in at least 2 changes of water. Add the 6 cups of water to the rice and dal and cook covered until it becomes soft, about 20 minutes.
  2. While that is cooking, prepare any vegetables that suit your constitution. Cut them into smallish pieces. Add the vegetables to the cooked rice and dal mixture and cook 10 minutes longer.
  3. In a separate saucepan, sauté the seeds in the ghee until they pop. Then add the other spices. Stir together to release the flavors. Stir the sautéed spices into the cooked dal, rice, and vegetable mixture. Add the mineral salt and chopped fresh cilantro and serve.
Nutrition from the Ground Up https://nutritionfromthegroundup.com/

Chana Dhal
This is a basic recipe for chana dhal. You may also like to had turmeric, cardamom, ginger, bay leaf or cumin. You may also use lentils in place of yellow split peas.
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Ingredients
  1. 1/4 c chana dhal (or yellow split peas)
  2. 4 c water
  3. pinch of rock salt
  4. 1/2 tsp sunflower oil or ghee
  5. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Instructions
  1. Wash chana dhal until water runs clear. Soak dhal in 3 cups of cold water for 2 hours; rinse and drain. Boil dhal in remaining 2 cups of water for 20 minutes. Add salt. In a small skillet or large tablespoon, heat oil and roast cumin seeds until light brown. Add seeds and oil to dhal. Cover and allow to sit for 3 minutes. Serve warm with cooked grain or chapati.
Notes
  1. I recommend adding at least 1 cup of vegetables and 1 cup of dark leafy greens to the meal.
Adapted from Ayurveda: A Life of Balance
Adapted from Ayurveda: A Life of Balance
Nutrition from the Ground Up https://nutritionfromthegroundup.com/
Palak Paneer
One of my favorite meals in India was Palak Paneer.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 lb spinach
  2. 225 gms paneer
  3. 1 big onion, finely chopped
  4. 1 to mato, small
  5. 4-5 garlic cloves
  6. 1 inch ginger
  7. ¾ tsp garam masala
  8. ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  9. ⅛ tsp red chili powder
  10. 2 tbsp heavy cream, or use milk
  11. ½ tbsp kasuri methi, crushed
  12. lemon juice
  13. salt, as required
  14. water, as required
Instructions
  1. Blanch the spinach leaves by putting them in boiling water with little salt for 2-3 minutes. Take them out and put them in cold water so that the leaves retain their green color. Puree the leaves in a blender along with tomato, ginger and 2 garlic cloves. Set aside.
  2. In a wok/pan, heat 2 tsp of oil. Once hot, add chopped garlic and saute for few minutes till its golden brown in color.
  3. Add the chopped onions. Fry the onions till translucent and raw smell goes away. Add in the spinach paste, add water according to how thick or thin you want the sauce to be.
  4. Cover and cook the spinach for 15 minutes on medium flame.
  5. Stir at regular intervals to avoid sticking at the bottom.
  6. Once the spinach is cooked, add turmeric powder, garam masala, red chilli powder and salt. Mix and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add the milk/cream, mix and add the paneer pieces and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
  8. Switch off the flame. Add lemon juice, kasuri methi and mix.
  9. Serve hot with naan,roti or rice.
Nutrition from the Ground Up https://nutritionfromthegroundup.com/
 


Short Stories of India

My last meal in India! Favorite restaurant = Tadka in Delhi. (recipe here: Matar Mushroom) .

Siblings just chillin. Many young children in Varanasi seem to be extremely independent, free to explore, play, adventure, fly kites, play games outside or just sit. .

This is my favorite place in Varanasi. The Shibendu Lahiri Temple from Autobiography of a Yogi.  Umesh Guruji showed us this hidden gem and I went 3 times. 

Most of the sewing machines were occupied by men. I took this muumuu to a local shop to be made into a shorter dress. 

Infuse your own tea – Apple, Lemon & Ginger 

A main source of grounding throughout the trip. Soothing, nurturing and healing. 

Spinach Mushroom Soup

It has been my favorite soup in India. I taste spinach, mushrooms, oregano, garlic.


Sirshasana or Headstand.

Reversing the flow of gravity in my yoga practice keeps my core strength active, my blood circulating and a smile on my face from looking at things from a different view (perspective). 

One of my classmate’s wife made us this delicious traditional Indian dessert, seviyan kheer. It is based on milk, ghee, vermicelli, nuts & raisins. Another totally inspiring recipe to keep in mind while I’m intuitively cooking at home. Intuition: going with self, trust.

Kimchi Pancake!

Such an amazing idea. Garlic, Scallions, Cabbage, Egg & lots of spicy Kimchi. – Bona Cafe 

Besan Ke Ladoo

sweetened roasted chickpea flour balls spiced with cardamom and nutmeg. I tried these at the Monkey Temple (dedicated to Maa Durga) served with fresh basil 🌿 in Varanasi. Very inspiring for future recipes. 


Morning routine:

Start each morning with a walk or 20 minutes of yoga. Rooftop yoga at the Shiva Lodge. Tommy is protecting me from the family of monkeys. Balancing poses this morning to help me focus on life balance. I’ve been sick with a cold, fever, back spasms here in India. So grateful to let go, heal and experience our bodies power. Tree pose -(vrik-SHAHS-anna) vrksa = tree 

Vegetable Mo-mo at Shiva Cafe

D.26/4, Narad Ghat, Himalaya Lodge, Raja Ghat,, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

Fire ceremony

meditation with mango tree wood + hawal. Singing the Gayatri & Shiva mantras.

A simply perfect kitchen store.

1. You can see almost everything from standing in one place. 2. Always includes the basics 3. Supports a simple kitchen

What kind of energy was your food prepared with? It’s an important question. The energy in our food is absorbed into your body. Be mindful of that energy and choose joyful chefs (and yourself). Just look at that smile!

I had two beautiful ceremonies in Varanasi. One to let go of grief I’ve been holding onto for 12 years. Two to wish peace for my family. Practicing to be free is hard work, it takes years, sometimes more than 10. We all have work to do, so keep doing your thing!

Kimchi RamenBona Cafe 

Bangali Tola Rd, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

Pakora – lightly crisp veggie patties – Monnalisa German Bakery 

TREES:

One of my goals was to work on my root chakra here in Varanasi. Strong life, base, balance, learn to give, healthy bones & muscles. I walked by this tree everyday saying my mantra.

 

Street Food

There were a couple must have stands we went to with our teacher.


DO NOT JUST STUDY – MAKE IT HAPPEN… – Umesh Guruji


Meet Umesh Verma:

We call him Guruji. He has dedicated his life to helping people rediscover their spirituality. He is an Ayurvedic doctor and a life-long student of the Self.  He started his service to people by making and prescribing Ayurvedic medicine. When he saw the devastating effects of drugs and other addictions in his hometown, Varanasi, he set out to create new medicines to make it easier for people to overcome them. He soon realized however, that a far more effective medicine exists for all diseases and addictions – it is called Self-realization. 

Since then, he has focused on teaching people how to reconnect with their Self and overcome their weaknesses with their own inner strength. He created my own way of teaching through yoga, chanting, dancing, cosmic healing and meditation and helped hundreds of students from all around the world on their spiritual journey.

He teaches how to feel your energy body, channel your energy and clean your dust to re-establish an energetic balance that is the first step towards raising your kundalini energy. By the practice of Cosmic healing, meditation, dancing, chanting and living in a group of good souls, you will increase your sensitivity to energy and begin exploring your Self.


IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD, YOU MUST FIRST HELP YOUR SELF… – Umesh Guruji 


Find your true Self. If you want to know the meaning, the purpose of your life, you must know your own self, your soul.

You already have what you search.  Beauty, joy, and consciousness are the true spiritual nature of every living being, beyond any religion and credence of any sort. We are all born free, but get suppressed by parents, friends and society and start forgetting who we really are. We spend our lives pleasing others, chasing one goal after another, never finding inner peace and true happiness. Go beyond these problems, explore the depths of Self and find your true nature.

Learn holistic yoga. There is much more to yoga than only asanas. Your progress in the Ashram will be fast. Through deep understanding and practice of all eight parts of yoga, from Yama to Samadhi, you will overcome your problems and free your true Self. By changing your habits, you will change your life.

Discover cosmic healing. Clean your karma, control your energy and become free.Through various forms of meditation, you will increase your sensitivity. Feel your energy body, clean it and make it stronger. Open channels, without blockages, will allow the energy to flow through you and fasten your spiritual development.


DO NOT THINK – FEEL IT… – Umesh Guruji


KUNDALINI – The latent spiritual force in every human being, also referred to as the sacred serpent and commonly denoted by the chakras. Through our methods we help individuals activate and recognize their own kundalini shakti. Once activated, Kundalini not only shows an individual their divine nature, but also takes away most issues from the past, starts giving divine knowledge and answers an individual’s questions such as “why am I here” and “the meaning of life”. Most people can understand the and experience universal “oneness” better with their active kundalini.

Peoples’ energy bodies are usually blocked, which obstructs the flow of kundalini energy. When the energy body is ready, Kundalini energy will flow towards your crown and open you the door to a higher state of mind.

There are countless spiritual books, texts and scriptures telling you what you need to do, what you need to believe, but these are only words. What is important is that you feel what is good for you, that you feel what is right. Grow your trust in your Self. When you reach this state, everything will be easy. Your energy will attract what you need, no conscious effort will be needed.

Surrender. I will teach you how to feel, help you find what you truly are and show you how to change your life. I will be your spiritual teacher, but even more importantly, your friend. I will take time for your problems, help you clean them and grow trust in your Self.

But you have to walk your path. You will have to go beyond your ego, face your fears and go beyond them. You will have to be patient, open your heart and mind and surrender. Only then will your progress fasten, only then will you start to understand.


MEDITATION. In India it might happen to hear this: “there are many divinities, but God is One”. It means that the manifestations of the divine are many; however, they all originate from the One principle. Also, there are many ways to practice spirituality, but meditation is only one. This is the basis on which all of the Cosmic Energy Center’s activities are focused. The students always remain the center of everything; they are guided in their search for the Self through the practice of meditation, dance, and purification.

INNER HEALING. The practice of Inner Healing is the most powerful one amongst the practices you can experience here at the Satyalesari Cosmic Energy Center. Two whole weeks dedicated to the full cleaning and healing of ourselves. The master guides the pupils in a full-immersion sessions of both practices and meditations with the purpose of getting completely rid of those thoughts (both of the past and present) that are deeply anchored in our mind and spirit. This is a powerful yet profound journey within yourself.

COSMIC HEALING. Cosmic Healing is a technique which deals with healing one’s energy body which in effect heals one’s spiritual and physical body. Cosmic healing also allows one to heal their energy centres (chakras) and maintain a balanced energy throughout the body. We also call it spiritual surgery. This tehcnique also teaches how to heal others from near or great distances. As simple as it may sound, this is a rare tehcnique which could help mankind a great deal. This technique allows a healer to not only maintain their “high energy level” but also teaches a great deal about what may be an effective tehcnique to heal most issues in people who are not willing to take energy healings seriously. This energy healing technique is the most sought after thing in our ashram.

SHIVA / SHAKTI. Every human was built on the same building blocks and energy patterns, each of us; be it male or female have the same basic structure and divine nature. Shiva / Shakti nature enables an individual to be complete in oneself and allows a couple to work as a powerful unit. Where every man is no less than a divine GOD and every woman is a GODDESS living in perfect harmony with each other, while together or away from each other. Our focus is on allowing individuals or couples to awaken their divine energy and match it with their counterpart. The energy dynamics become so profound that individuals find themselves very aware of each other’s moods, needs and can help each other overcome any external influence.


DO NOT JUST STUDY – MAKE IT HAPPEN… – Umesh Guruji


Discovering Varanasi

Varanasi, formerly known as the ancient Kashi, was once referred to as the city of Gods, Men and Mice and sometimes it is difficult to decide which is which! The city of Varanasi has been mentioned in several Indiaʼs and Chinaʼs ancient scriptures and is at least 50,000 years old; Hindu legend says it is the eternal city.

As you would expect from such an old place it is full of all extremes, the best of saints and the worst of sinners, they are all here, all extremes as well as the mundane. Cosmic Energy is everywhere, but some places are denser than others. 

  • Street snacks

 


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