Sunday, December 24, 2006

Juice Fasting: Don't Eat It

I have just recently finished my juice fasting program at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India. It's really amazing the difference that I have noticed in my mind (relaxed and focused) and my body (I lost 10 lbs). Juice fasting isn't as pure as the original water fasting, but it has the same benefits, while allowing you to have the energy to get out of bed and still enjoy life. Do a Google search for "juice fasting" and you will find 865,000 results. It's certainly not a new concept.

The program I participated in merges the practice of yoga asanas, ayurvedic massage, clysmatics (gravity colonics), flower essences and alternative medicine, such as Kinesiology and Parasite zapping. Surprisingly enough, I rarely felt hungry (although that didn't stop me from discussing the Godmother sandwich, In n Out, pizza, Indian food and Mexican food with my fasting mates).

Each day we drank quite a bit of juice and then for dinner we had a fresh vegetable broth. All of our fruits and vegetables were locally grown, in season and picked ripe, for optimum benefits. We also took Bentonite Clay (absorbs its weight in toxins) and Psyllium Husk (for bulk) 3 times a day.

Example Menu: Orange Juice for Breakfast, Pineapple-Lemon Juice for Brunch, Carrot-Tomato Juice for Lunch, Mixed Vegetable Broth with Lemon for Dinner, each meal is followed with herbal supplements.

The key to fasting is to get as far away from temptation as possible. The Ashram was a perfect retreat for avoiding temptation. They keep you busy with chanting, prayers, classes, workshops and waiting in line for the Internet. There was a feast on Christmas day, however, it was vegetarian, so I don't feel like I missed too much.

Running the fasting program is Parameshwara (aka Frank) and Susannah, his assistant from Quebec. They are very nice people who have been involved with fasting for many years. Parameshwara is 76 years old and seems to be in great health. Susannah is a gorgeous older woman who reminds me of Jane Goodall. If only we could all age so well. Five times a day, before each juice, we would sing (Om Namah Sivaya) and say a prayer (thanking nature for our juice).

The last four days of the program are for breaking the fast, which means you start to eat whole foods, like fruit and vegetables. This is when the program seems the hardest because you feel like you can start eating anything and indulge. However, the stomach has shrunk and you will get sick if you overdo it. I feel extremely full every time I eat now!

Suggestions when fasting: Bring a great book to read (for distraction), relax, relax, relax (stress makes you hungry), make sure you get massages as a reward for your sacrifice

Photography by me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sivananda Ashram: Just Like Home

My first five or six days staying in the Sivananda Ashram (outside of Trivandrum, India) were a bit rough. I had a lot of trouble acclimating myself to the new environment and way of life and found myself withdrawing. The chanting, prayers, yoga sessions and juicing times are all scheduled. There were a lot of bugs. I wasn't a big fan of my room (request the Kailash building if you go). And I was in the fasting program, making it even tougher.

However, once I got used to the routine and learned how to relax a bit I came to realize it's a lot like going home. At home there usually aren't too many really exciting things going on, but that is the beauty of it. At home there are sometimes struggles over use of the bathroom and the Internet. At home you decorate for the holidays and have the occasional visit from Santa. At home you eat together in the evening, and at home there is always someone there for you when you need them. The same holds true for the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala.

I have met so many wonderful people at the Ashram from countries all over the world, including Switzerland, Japan, Ireland, England, India, Canada and China. I have also had the chance to immerse myself in the Hindu religious practices, which are incredibly beautiful. One of the best things about the Ashram is that they are open to people of all religions and races, and it's probably the only place I've ever been to where I didn't feel judged by a single person.

There are Pujas (prayers) performed regularly in different places. One night we hiked up the mountain and witnessed the local villagers Puja at a sacred location. The sunset was incredible and the candle lit ceremony was very intriguing. However, watching the local children's interactions was my favorite part. When you are in a small town they love to stare at foreigners because they are so rarely seen, and when they smile and wave at you with their shy innocence it makes you want to take them home.

On Christmas we had the weekly talent show, where visitors can do whatever they like on stage. A large group of people chose to perform "Silent Night" in nine different languages, including Spanish, French, Dutch, English, Japanese and one of the seventy native languages of Ethiopia. After each was sung individually the entire audience joined in and we all sang in our native languages at the same time. Perhaps it sounds cheesy, but I found it quite moving.

Should you choose to visit an Ashram, wherever it may be located, be prepared for rooms with minimal accommodations and people with very big hearts.

Suggested Chant: Om Namah Narayanaya (said to promote world peace)

Ashram Pickup Line: You Have Great Energy (haha)

Photography by me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Singapore: Destination Airport

Yesterday I had an eight hour layover in the green city of Singapore. The city/country has been trying to attract more visitors and loosen it's rules, a bit. When you leave the airport terminal and go to the tourist booth you will receive a free bus pass for the day, a free shower at the spa inside the airport and other discounts. There are numerous free high-speed internet kiosks inside coffee shops and at terminal intersections.

Not to mention the Oasis at gate E8, which supplies numerous large plasma screen TVs to view every popular cable channel. There are chairs that lie flat for sleeping and massage chairs that lean back as well. Did I mention this is all free? When wandering around the "E" gates there are also numerous foot massaging machines, newspapers and beautiful plants. On site at the airport is a golf course, botanical gardens, a hotel you can rent in six hour increments and a rooftop pool (see above) complete with tiki bar (it's 90 degrees year round).

Changi Airport Awards and Accolades

If you have time to leave the airport (5 hour layover or more) then I suggest visiting Raffles to do the obligatory tourist thing. Enjoy a Singapore Sling at the bar that invented it inside. If you speak to the greeter outside he may be nice enough to show you the pictures he has with hotel guests Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

Photography by me.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

India: Close to Home

If you've always wanted to go to India, but hesitate when you think about the day and a half of travel required to get there, then please, read on. Take a yoga class taught by Vytas Baskauskas, where you will get a good workout and possibly learn a few things about the ancient spiritual practice.

Another option is to visit the Self-Realization Meditation Gardens in Encinitas (25 miles North of San Diego). Established in 1937 the Self-Realization Temple has an amazing, immaculate garden complete with an impressive koi pond. To top it off, it overlooks the Pacific Ocean (Swami's famous surf spot) from its home on the cliff. Entrance is free, although the hours open to the public are limited. Don't forget to visit the gift shop a block away for unique gifts.

Vytas' Class Schedule:
Power Yoga (Santa Monica)
Tu-Th 4:30 - 6:00PM
Sa 1:00 - 2:30PM
Su 2:15 - 3:45PM