Celebrating 15 years since I received my diploma as a yoga therapist from The Yoga Institute in India. I was already a yoga teacher for several years while finishing my Law degree. My parents gave me the ticket to India as my graduation gift from Law School. I will never forget my first glimpse of Mumbai from its skies. Divali was being celebrated and all the city was iluminated by little oil lamps. At The Yoga Institute, the daily routine was rough- I used to wake up at 4:30 every morning to meditate and practice my yoga postures (asanas) and breathing practices (pranayamas). I would then take a stroll and have my breakfast in the dining hall. Oh Indian breakfast in the dining hall… steaming grains dishes with veggies and my beloved tea with lemongrass and milk! Oh yes! After breakfast, I developed the habit of chewing on neem leaves for good health. NOT the most delicious item in the menu, but the leaves were picking inside through the window, as if the wise and tall trees outside were handing them over to me, like an advice in the form of a bitter, I mean bitter leaf. Neem is now commonly utilized in households as an oil from disinfecting to a tonic. Anyhow, I would then get on with my seva, my spiritual service. Every resident in the Institute was assigned a job to contribute for the greater good of the monastery (ashram) community. Mine was, lucky me, to chop vegetables and make chapati! Even though I landed in India knowing no Hindi ( Sanskrit I could manage a little bit, took classes at the University back in Brazil) but hindi, not so much. It so happens that whole crew in the kitchen spoke no English (in Brazil we speak Portuguese, and I had had English classes, but I was still struggling. I soon noticed that the only way I was going to make myself understood was to roll my Rs and uplift my Ls. They smiled, I smiled more. The cooking crew looked at me at first with not much hope. They were right. I was the most unseasoned cook help to ever set foot in that sacred veggies chopping and chapati rolling ground. Day by day, they witnessed my commitment and joy to be around them. Over time, they became a family to me. I came to learn that they all lived in the slum next door. A number of times they gave me the gift of being their guest in their homes. My best buddies were Sita and Jyoti, specially. Jyoti’s house was as small as it can fit 5 people, some laying down, some standing so everybody can fit. And yet, they gave me sweets and a can of coke. Mind you, their families were definitely the book picture of way below the poverty line. There was no bathroom, for instance. There was, though, a pile of newspaper next to the entrance, where the children would defecate early in the morning. Men and women would be on the lookout for more private spots, such as train tracks and alleys. So, trust me when I tell you that my eyes went straight into wet when I saw how they lived, and more than that, when I became the center of their generosity during my many visits. And the two of them, Sita and Jyoti, they couldn’t be older than me, they arrived early every morning, with grace, with the utmost class, saris beaming with colors and, my favorite part, fresh jasmine surrounding the coconut oiled hairbun. They were Goddesses- food giving, suffering enduring, smiling offering, coke gifting Goddesses. And they became my friends.
That was not my casual chapati rolling garments. That picture was taken right after a performance of Bharatanatyam I gave at The Institute on my yoga therapy graduation day. All my kitchen friends watched me from the sidelines, taking a frowned upon break to support their Brazilian friend. When I was all done, all I wanted to do was to climb the stairs and share my little personal moment of glory with them. You can see my Jyoti and my Sita among the male crew.
Said performance being performed. I will talk Bharatanatyam at a later post. I danced to thank India, I danced to thank Ganesha, I danced the universe and myself for the bravery of going to a whole new country for the first time to live for one year and be able to better serve my students with my teaching.
Just chilling and being silly with The Institute’s yoga mascot. The beaming joy was quite obvious in this picture. I was in my habitat. India had called me. I was glad to have heard.I was 23 years old in that picture, a happy happy kid!