Baguanala Slum, Uttar Pradesh
Holi Holiday March 2010
This last February I travelled to a rural slum village in the north of India to teach yoga as a women's empowerment service project for girls and women. This is a project for the non-profit 501(c)3 I started called Healing the Mother. It was an amazing and humbling experience. My friend Anka Malatynska is a film maker, and when she heard about the trip, she wanted to make a documentary about my journey. How my search for myself and personal healing has turned into a mission to share the yoga that saved my life with others. The light and shadow, the joys and challenges of connecting to help others, and having myself reflected back. I set out to change the world, and realized I was changing myself.
The photo in this postcard was taken on Holi, a holiday festival where you play the game of Holi, throwing colored powder at each other. When we would practice pranayam and asana, I would shout "Shakti!" at the women and they would shout it back to me, "Shakti!". This is the feminine energy of power, creation and life.
This November, we will be travelling back to the village to meet up with the women who participated in the yoga training in february, and bringing them by train to have a week long Yoga Teacher Training for Women's Empowerment at the Devipuram Ashram in the south. We will provide them with food, lodging and books so that they can study in an envirnment free from their village responsibilities. The goal is to teach them to be yoga teacher's in their own villages, for health and self-esteem.
Contact me if you feel called to join us in India this November.
We will be screening a short version of the movie at a fundraiser October 9th at the Bhakti Yoga shala in Santa Monica.
I wanted to share with you some of my personal journal entries from the February project.
in Service and Love
tuesday, feb 9
it is raining in the oldest living city tonight. a city so old, it has three names. falling rain always makes me feel like curling up in bed. and so i am. my 2 roomates are out at dinner, they will have to walk back through the narrow, twisting alleys in the rain. but maybe it will have washed all the cow poop away...
walking through these alleys, you see so many seemingly broken people. literally. their limbs broken, handicapped and begging. so many that you have to stop seeing them. no matter how much yoga you do, how much meditation, it causes pain to see suffering. it is difficult to look so much suffering in the eyes, to sustain the gaze.
today anka, the director of the documentary we are making about this trip, and i went to a village nearby varanasi to see about teaching yoga to some dalits. dalit is the untouchables of the class system. we were introduced to the director of the program by our friend appu, who is a brahmin, the highest of the caste system. he said that people are superstitious and say that if you touch an untouchable, your skin will burn.
these kids had very little, dirty clothes and snotty noses. but i did not feel sorry for them or depressed by spending time with them. it was as if we opened a can of joy. pure, unadulterated enthusiasm.
it was easy to look into their faces, to look at their eyes because we are sharing with each other. i am coming to teach yoga and they are open and excited to learn.
i think it comes down to that...it is difficult to look at the people begging in the city because i feel overwhelmed, underequipped and guilty, and because i am ignoring them. and because we are separate from each other. it is easy to look at the dalit children in the village because i am participating with them. so when we sustain the gaze, it is hope and friendliness passing between us.
Monday, February 22
Baguanala Village, India
suicide in the village
a woman's body was found in the river today. it was the first day of the yoga women's empowerment class i am teaching in this village. this woman was supposed to be in our group. she committed suicide after her husband beat her last night. she ran from her home and jumped into the river. it made my heart heavy to hear the news. and yet it is what i am here for. or, to be clear, what the yoga is here for. to give these women a sense of goodness and connection to strength in themselves that can with stand the difficult storms. it is easy to forget some of the difficulties and life or death situations people are living through when we practice yoga in beautiful studios in America.
life can be cruel. spread a little kindness. forgive someone who hurt you in the past. the wheel of dharma and human drama moves on.
i am in a village near benaras shooting the documentary about teaching yoga to lower caste women and children. it is all exactly as i could hope, and so it is terrifying. why is it terrifying when your dreams are coming true? i guess that's why its easier to play small and keep nursing the old wounds. this is like stepping off the edge of a cliff, what is possible, nobody knows? the faces of the children are so strong, the black eyes rimmed in khajol (black eyeliner). i sustain the gaze. even when i am afraid. even when it is all so much bigger than me.
i sat at the communal water pump today in this rural ghetto. the women and children are still so beautiful. even with dirty clothes and snotty noses.what constitutes poverty? lack of money and food? how many of us live in poverty of the heart and soul, isolated from what we love most. connection to beauty, to goodness. to a basic feeling that life is good.
i am frightened by the immensity of it. everywhere, the big eyes watching. doesn't it feel as if someone is always watching us? some call this god.
the little girls follow me through the streets calling me "didi", a hindi term of respect and endearment that means big sister. i have family everywhere in the world.
i pray for strength, peace of mind and courage, to look into the soul of the human condition which stirs things up in myself.
and so it is. amen.