Embracing Impermanence, by Sharmila Desai

 

Embracing Impermanence

an interview with Louise Ellis by Sharmila Desai on Ashtanga Yoga and Menopause

Thank you Louise for taking the time to talk to me about menopause and the Ashtanga yoga practice. As a woman the most useful information I have gathered from ladies holiday to fertility to motherhood has been from other women. Everyone needs rode models – wisdom from the heart – that nurtures, heals, invigorates, inspires as she moves through the different stages across life.

Since our early days when we were roommates in Mysore you were always that someone I turned to after practice to discuss life, family and the world spiritually around us. Discussing this topic together feels very fitting.

What are some basic signs of perimenopause and around what ages does this happen?

Some of the signs may be mood swings, changes in the length or character of menstrual periods sometimes heavy or very light periods. Sometimes when there are existing fibroid tumors, an increase or sudden appearance of PMS symptoms or irregular cycles may start when they were previously very regular. The hormones start to fluctuate. Hot flashes and weight gain not related to diet can also happen. The age where some of these might happen varies but late forties early fifties commonly.

How should we practice as we experience the first onset of irregularities?

At first I would advise just sticking to the practice while symptoms are not very intense. Not all women experience all symptoms and sometimes they can be managed easily enough – especially at the beginning since this is happening over a period of years. Secondly relating to the experience as a normal process and not a disease is key. It’s my belief that women need to to share more openly with each other. It seems to be the last big taboo subject since it connects directly with the fear of aging already so poorly dealt with culturally.

If and when a woman is going through very hard symptoms there may be loss of energy or strength.  My advice and it applies to aging in general is to note that without judgment and do stick to a routine. It’s a specific skill or art to learn when it’s appropriate to do a shorter practice and when it’s not. In order to do that, listening to the body is key because the body gives much more clear signals then the ego/mind. We already have a practice of working with the body so once in actual practice it becomes much easier to perceive. Also avoid an adversative or clinging attitude if you can toward the process…..raga/dvesha. Clinging to the past images and struggling with that can lead to further dukha there.

How does having an ashtanga yoga practice make us more attuned to what is happening in the body at this time?

Well I think that it really helps that we are already working with the natural cycles and bio-rhythms such as the moon days. Additionally we are used to increase in body temperatures which helps us to regulate easier. Then there is the sweat and purification aspect which is also very helpful. Of course as with all deep hatha yoga practice,  mental and physical awareness is greatly enhanced.

When does the shift move from perimenopause to menopause?

I believe that after one has not had a period in a year she is considered post menopausal. I considered it to be actual menopause when I started to skip periods every other month. As far as symptoms are concerned, I found the early fifties to be possibly the toughest time.

I found that in birth if I rode the waves of labor my body embraced the rite of passage it was naturally going through…if i resisted or feared their arrival it was harder to integrate myself.  I am wondering if there is a similar approach of surrender to when hot flashes occur.

Yes I think that’s a good way to cope along with layering clothing:) There is the primary symptom and then how you choose to react to it. The attitude towards it. There is so much going on that we can’t control. We can investigate the attitude we are holding that fact in. All of this takes place at a time when we have had years of experience in this and that helps.

How do we approach our practice our practice during this chapter?

We need to sharpen discrimination as to what originates in the body and what is extra. You may feel a lack of energy for instance. If you get on the mat with complete acceptance and compassion you will know when it’s appropriate to honor the body and do a shorter practice. It’s really difficult to do that just from the level of mind so I recommend just get on the mat and see. There have been many times for me that once there I found it not to be centered in the body but coming from a belief that i was holding. When it actually is a body centered fatigue it should absolutely be respected. It’s so important and not to think that it’s always going to be that way…it won’t. The point is that it provides a good ground for developing discrimination.

Is perimenopause and menopause a linear experience​?​

No not at all. So many different things are happening on so many levels simultaneously . It’s also not constant but comes and goes.

How do we engage the energy – prayer, visualizations, ritual, mantra, supplements, looking within to seize this moment as an opportunity for growth?

Well for myself I combine mantra and devotional practices with and during the asana practice. For me this works well because I won’t be willing to give them up no matter what else is going on. I will do those regardless and since it involves the asana it keeps me from rationalizing reasons not to practice physically.

Some women experience incontinence  – I imagine the practice and developing bandhas helps in its prevention. Is this related to earlier pregnancies/birth?  Yes I think the problem when it exists is a pre existing one and definitely bandhas are very important. Women should really work with this diligently after pregnancy and childbirth.

 

​Could you describe your personal experience through perimenopause and menopause? How was it connected to your ladies holiday and births?​ what is the thread between the three chapters if at all?

In my mid to late forties I noticed the onset of PMS symptoms which I had never ever experienced in my life prior and actually had dismissed as whining in others. Also I had an ovarian cyst around that time, very painful, but went away. The doctors said that it was not related to anything to do with peri menopause but my intuition was that there definitely was a connection. They also said there were uterine fibroids which since not causing heavy bleeding could be left alone and would most likely disappear with menopause. This was true.

My cycles continued to be absolutely regular but there was a gradual lightening of the flow and duration through yearly fifties. I had the weight gain not too extreme but very noticeable to me and difficult. Even total fasting for a few days had no effect. I also felt very emotionally unstable at times. I had the hot flashes mildly but it wasn’t much of an issue for me. So this went on until I started to miss every other period but still very regular cycles every other month.

Eventually, I started to regain my energy. My weight went back to normal around that time. I felt better mentally and emotionally. The periods stopped coming at age 56 . So physically not too bad but then I felt a sort of grieving process which completely surprised me for a few weeks. I had had my family and all of that so it took me aback. I realized though peeling back the layers that the root fear was one of dissolution and death. Big surprise again as I thought I had already dealt with this. I had but this is at the deep level. In any case it was what needed to happen for me to go into that in a deeper way. I’m grateful for it now and it didn’t last long, that phase.Though very strongly recommended I chose not to further interfere with hormones in keeping with my feeling that it’s a natural transition not a disease process.

I think the thread is that if we can stay open to change it’s a teacher. Lifetimes are a very long procession on a scale hard for our minds to grasp. If we leave the current life with just a small amount more wisdom and freedom then we entered it it’s a life well lived. I would really like to stress that in the postmenopausal years I have felt great  – energetically free, Whatever happens remember impermanence. Step back relax and broaden the view.

How do we understand the metamorphosis during this time from a yoga philosophy perspective?

Fearlessness is the quality of yoga so we develop and cultivate that. The wisdom of Dhumavati can be embraced at this point. We can appeal to all of the wisdom aspects of the Divine Mother to great effect here. For those for whom this sort of devotion doesn’t resonate they can turn to the many non dual forms of practice but the common thread here is turning towards and not away from the fears that are arising. This is the perfect time of life to turn toward Maha Kali, Shani Deva, Shiva etc as All forms of Time in the big sense.

As practitioners of yoga many of us are familiar with these forms and practices but any type of mediation or practice true to the heart works. It may or may not involve specific ritual. though I am partial to them myself. The form it takes will depend on the karma of the individual. It may take forms which have a connection to well known wisdom traditions or not. It makes no difference what the habit momentum (karma) is. There is just a broadening of the view so to speak.

How do we nourish ourselves naturally – diet, environment, yoga and meditation?

Meditation and practice are the mirrors showing us where we are stuck. What we are believing at a given time and how we hold those beliefs. I think diet is very individual but my practical advice is avoid over eating especially if you have a pattern with that. One thing that would have helped me was to be assured that any weight gain which is not related to diet will normalize when the process is basically complete. if you don’t realize that it’s easy to suffer unnecessarily.

What does menopause spiritually represent?

Well so much really. Even if we have a positive attitude about aging intellectually and philosophically, such a huge marker of entering the last phase of the current life can be profound on a visceral level. It has the double issue of being connected to both sexuality and aging. It calls into question some primary identity structures.I see it as a chance to continue the inner processes of learning to embrace groundlessness and impermanence that hopefully are already underway through life experience and spiritual practice.

Louise Ellis is a Certified Ashtanga yoga teacher and director of the Ashtanga Center in Rishikesh, India.

Embracing Impermanence is an interview that belongs to Sharmila Desai’s ongoing research work in Ashtanga yoga and biorhythms across a woman’s life.

Louise with a group of women she taught in Estonia, Europe.

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A Magic Trio

Whole group C4

Take a melting pot with 60 students, throw in 3 teachers with unique approaches, sprinkle it with breath and a combined focus on the practice, let it bubble away for two sunny weeks and watch the force work its magic….

When one combines teachers with unique personalities, backgrounds, experiences and different insights into Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, one is bound to bring out something special…

The fourth course at Purple Valley was one of the highlights of the season. Kicking off December on a high note, David Keil, Gretchen Suarez and John Scott got the retreat centre buzzing and high on prana.

The balance of male/female energy (both with teachers and students) worked perfectly well in the shala, with Gretchen bringing a soft but firm and assertive touch to classes. Her background in psychology and insights into one’s mental approach to practice was very helpful – her intention to bring a sense of self awareness and loving kindness to students’ practice and attitude on the mat was welcomed, perhaps because it is a lesser focus in the Ashtanga world. Gretchen offers the mindfulness and meditation elements into the practice: on the mat, she reminds students to become aware of their ‘own judge’ and of that feeling that so many of us have of not ‘being good enough’… She encouraged students to recognise the negative thoughts arising through practice, without judging them. So no-one got away with excuses such as ‘I’m not strong enough’, ‘I cannot do this/that..’, ‘I used to be able to do this’, and so on….

Gretchen reminded students that love and compassion are also practices that each and everyone of us need to carry on and off the mat.

On the other hand, David’s observant and non invasive approach was one many were particularly fond of. David runs the well-known Yoganatomy website, which in my opinion, has the best, clearest, all rounded advice and tips for most practice related issues – search ‘knee pain’, ‘psoas issues’, ‘back pain’, ‘pelvis alignment’ or any other niggle that troubles you and a list of articles, short clips and diagrams will pop up. With such an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, combined with years of Ashtanga practice, one could easily come up with certainties and firm conclusions on technique and/or alignment, thus offering one way of doing things. David, however, is quite the opposite and offers a wholly non-dogmatic approach. He suggests alignment cues or tips based on his experience -both his own and observed in classes- and these are made only once he has carefully watched students in their practices. As a teacher, it does not take long to see patterns appear in people’s anatomy, movement and technique. And with a fun, friendly approach, David always managed to keep a sense of humour even in the most interesting moments. As I struggled in a deep hip opening pose, he stated ‘oh, so this is the fun side’….

As for John Scott, he appeared like the thread in that beautiful yoga mala. Tying every single element of the retreat together – from the early morning sit, to high energy handstand twirls- he buzzed round the shala, adjusting one student whilst keeping an eye on another, and counting through vinyasas without losing track of any movement. If Peter Pan practiced yoga, that would be John…

The advantage of having three great teachers is one space, is all the attention, feedback, energy bouncing and feeding off each other. The risk would be confusion and contradicting approaches, but this was not the case here and the combination worked its magic.

The way each of them held the space, giving attention to all the students, spending time and effort, observing and feeling what could be brought in, was mind-blowing. Taking care of approximately 60 bodies practicing, all at different levels on practice is a hard task to pull off.

Thank you, Gretchen, David and John. See you all in 2016!!!

World Yoga Day, Summer solstice, Refugee Week and Warriors for Women!

Image for email & social media - Warriors for Women

If you have not yet noticed, there is a lot going on in the world of yoga today – not just in India, but on large, global scale. Fueling much debate in India, the first ever United Nations International Yoga Day is however something to celebrate. Raising awareness on a global level on the benefits of yoga can only be a positive thing, no?

People all over the world are putting together events to celebrate the UN’s recognition of Yoga as an integral part of the path toward health and well-being in our modern world.

Over in the UK,  the ‘Warriors for Women’ campaign, organised by the Ourmala charity, has connected with Refugee Week 2015, to encourage the London Yoga community to to raise funds and awareness for asylum seeking women. Many yoga studios and teachers and teaming up to donate their time and gift their class proceeds to Ourmala – the London based charity dedicated to empowering women refugee and asylum-seeking women so they can rebuild their lives. What started as a local, London-based initiative has now lit up the Yoga community on an international scale, with people joining in from places such as Ibiza and Texas.

These types of initiatives really highlight the power of the practice and the global reach Yoga may have when employed for wonderful causes.

So perhaps it is time to simply skip the debate and just get on with the practice – on and off the mat….

Learn more about Ourmala and how the London Yoga community is making a difference here: www.ourmala.com/warriors-for-women

Ourmala provides a safe space to breathe, practice therapeutic yoga, improve language skills and access others services and education. Most of the women Ourmala serves are survivors of torture, sexual violence in conflict, trafficking and FGM and are registered with the UK Home Office. This group is vulnerable, marginalised, under-represented, and live in poverty with a prevalence of mental and physical health issues, language barrier and lack access to services and opportunities.

Two weeks with John Scott

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Two words. John Scott.

Beyond the household name, the yogi superstar, the one who effortlessly floats through complex vinyasa sequences, and one of the first who brought Ashtanga yoga to the world though the eyes of the media, there is a very humble, deeply respectful student and teacher. He honours, loves and seeks to share the practice that his own guru, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, taught him in the 1980s.

Those who have never met or practiced with him before may not know nor understand the importance he places upon the method of vinyasa count. For him, it is the key to attain depth and focus of the practice, and perhaps taming that wandering mind.

He is also very aware that this method is not one that is commonly taught these days, so may bring up frustration, irritation – or in his own words ‘push some buttons’. Hopefully by triggering this reaction in students, he may encourage questioning, thinking and a greater understanding of the meaning of the practice. Guruji would call it mind control.

In the shala, he is incredibly present. His eyes focus, his voice maintains control of the space, as he skilfully manages to work his way round students, keeping an eye (sometimes at the back of his head!) closely monitoring the room, giving instructions, directions and counts when needed. He juggles adjustments whilst guiding others through a led class, checking in on both students and assistants.

John’s adjustments are spot on. He seems to know exactly when and where to push further and where to slow down. There is a sense of absolute trust in a person who has been teaching and practicing for so many years, and still gets excited by sharing his knowledge with others.

Unlike many Mysore trained teachers, there is less emphasis on deeper backbends – a relief- and more on stability and core strength. On the outside, yes there are a LOT of handstands, he throws in so many combinations (like in the ‘old days’) that involve floating in and out of postures. Not for the faint hearted. But that is besides the point. There is a fuss about hand-balancing in the yoga world these days (and Sharath clearly states that they are unnecessary, and just reinforce the ego), but from a logical, structural point of view it makes sense to balance all that flexibility with strength. At the right time in one’s practice. Extreme backbends day after day, year after year, with very little thinking going into them, can be the source of injuries.

So there is a lot of handstanding in John’s classes, and no ‘catching’ /ankle grabbing. A relief for many, a shock perhaps for others.

It also seems that every single element, word and process in John’s classes are there for a reason. Everything makes sense – perhaps not initially, but eventually it does. His melodious voice slowly counting, his deep breath slowly following each person and the twinkling eyes focusing on aligning bodies.

Like all great teachers, he will inspire many to go deeper into the practice. He has the ability to trigger that sense of intense trust both in him and the practice. He treats everyone with a sense of intensity and full attention. He also believes that a true teacher has the responsibility to offer guidance and support to his students.

Out of all the thinking and processing over the course of two weeks, some questions came up.

Why the importance of handstanding and strength in your approach to practicing?

A slightly long winded answer revealed that working on strength – besides the feeling of exhilaration- provides structure and stability.

Strength based postures like handstands captivate people on the earth and the physical level. The ‘showy ‘ stuff was just for demos, and to some extent, was there to captivate people to seek much further the physical aspect of yoga.

The ability to move seamlessly and with grace through asana practice can be a reminder of swara, flow. Through the continuous process of inhale and exhale, one develops greater harmony and flow.

And finally, he explains that every asana is in fact yoga chikitsa – therapy and structure. The entire practice is about aligning and stretching the nadis. Strength is part of this and provides a stable foundation.

Most importantly – how does he manage to keep up so much energy when teaching so much?

Power naps.

And he gets a lot back from teaching. Sharing his practice with his close team of assistants. He once said his practice was his rock. Well that is one steady and strong rock for sure!

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Photos by Coni Horler: http://www.chphotography.ch/

What we teach is what we should learn most…

One of the guests arriving to Purple valley for the last retreat of the season with John Scott asked me with interest: ‘You must be a very experienced practitioner? You have been in India for such a long time, working at Purple Valley for a few years…. ‘

This brought me to consider….what makes an ‘experienced practitioner’?

I am usually very good at offering advice, but yet I struggle to follow any myself. I wonder why it is so difficult to think clearly when it comes to oneself. For as long as I can remember, my mind and my thoughts have been spinning in at least 200 km /hour.  A friend of mine said to me the other day, when I came to his place to share my thoughts…. “all this yoga and you still think so much, you think too much. Looks as if the yoga is not helping”

I wonder if it is the case, or if, through the practice and meditation, I have managed to at least, slow down the pace of my thinking

Yogaschitta vrtti nirodaha – translating: Yogah – yoga;  chitta: consciousness; vrtti: patterns; nirodhah: blocking or stopping

The second Sutra in the first chapter of Patanjali yoga Sutra asks: What is yoga?

Yoga is the tool which helps one to stop the disturbances of the mind. This is yoga. Through the practice, we are try to slow down the activity of the mind and thoughts, to reach inner stillness or self realization. This is the aim, at least, as I understand it. Patanjali follows by offering many different tools for us to reach self realisation – yamas and niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

This all seems very accessible in theory, but why is it not working for me in practice? Or is it working and I am simply not aware of it, how would it be if I was not practicing? I have been practicing ashtanga yoga, in a very dedicated way since the age of 29 – a 6 day a week practitioner since the age of 29.  The past 2 years, I am, as well, practicing pranayama and meditation daily.

And before all the ashtanga practice I was experimenting with different forms of yoga. With these years of practice…can I really call my self an ‘experienced practitioner’?

One would assume that I have the most fantastic tools to take care of my own reality issues. Is it really so?

Hmmm, so lets just do a fast reality check. How do I respond to stressful situations and the invasion of thoughts into my life. And what do I actually teach in my classes ?

This year has put me in quite few situations where I have been having the opportunity to actually use the different tools suggested by Patanjali to ease out stressful situations. Have I done it? Well, at least I have tried. Has it been successful? I guess this is the question. The answer is that I do not know.

At the present moment when I am starting the classes that I am teaching, we start with breathing exercises, so far so good.

Then it comes, the full relaxation of the body in a comfortable sitting position, allowing yourself to notice the different sensations that are arising while you are sitting. Also allowing your thoughts to come….watch them, observe them, without reacting. Notice all the different emotions that the thoughts are giving birth to, notice them – but do not react. Just witness, be the observer… Be aware of the present moment, be present in THIS specific moment since the past is nothing we can do anything about and the future is unknown…

It all sounds so good, but in reality, what HAS been happening over the past 2 months is the fact that the witnessing has not been happening. Instead, my thoughts have been spinning at 200 km /hour. They are definitely allowing emotions to flood my being and I am for sure not only observing – but I for sure react to them. There is no meditation happening there at all…and unfortunately it takes me hours, and sometimes days to put my self back on track again, and when the track is found, I lose it very fast. And this is not the first time this is happening, it has been a recurring pattern over the years

I find my self sitting on my wonderful porch, in Goa, surrounded by beautiful greenery and flowers in full bloom, instead of deeply breathing in the fragrance of the frangipani, and remain in the present moment, I find myself biting my nails, having this extra glass of wine with thoughts much more ahead in the future than they should be. Or I find my self running round the block for 2 hours with loud fast music in my earphones, trying to release all the excess energy, which I could have been directing through the Shusumna Nadi towards the crown chakra, to reach higher enlightenment…

I am comforting myself with the thought – without the practice it would have been worse.

The same happens in the asana practice, my full attention should be on the breath, the drishti… instead the thoughts are taking over here as well. Some days it takes me 1,5 hours to quieten my mind. I have days where in the end of the practice I am exhausted from all the thinking.  Exhausted from trying to accept the present moment just as it is, without changing anything, exhausted from trying to be present.

Also here – I am comforting my self with the following thought – without the practice it would have probably taken me the full day to quiet the mind.

Is all this making me a bad teacher? A bad student of yoga? Or is it just showing that I am a human trying to evolve, accepting how I truly am, and making my self aware about habitual patterns which are happening over and over again. Observing the ongoing patterns of my behaviour, what I do notice is that the periods of feeling lost and stressed are shorter and shorter, it must be a good sign…and perhaps even a sign that the yoga actually is working. ( or perhaps I am just getting more experienced with age) I am no longer getting stuck in deep lows created by the continuity of life.

Observing my own reactions and my being, I notice that I teach what I need most. The silence of the mind, awareness and observance.

One week ago, John Scott arrived to the retreat and we started our last retreat of the season. I am so, so, so fortunate to be able to practice with this greatly experienced teacher. Who as well is so human, caring and understanding. John held a wonderful short talk, and for you who did not know this, John was the first ever teacher to teach at Purple Valley in December, 11 years ago. Since then he has visited the center a large amount of times, and this season he came twice. I think he feels home here. In fact, he almost started the retreat.  Next season he is coming twice as well, and in april he has promised us 3 whole weeks.

Words of John – in my own interpretation

‘Home is a place where we reside within, we need to be home within our body’ – from  my understanding, the self is using this physical body as its temporary place to reside. So why not take care of it.  Be healthy, not destructive. Do things in life that support the daily living. Because we will live this life in our physical body, and we will experience all the pains created to it by our selves.

Also surround ourself with people that are lifting our being and not taking it down. We are so good in doing it ourselves.

 The yoga John is teaching goes beyond the physical practice. He is teaching mind control. From his understanding this is what Guruji was teaching. Many of us have just misunderstood the practice, and we just see postures, just asanas. With John we explore the postures in a different way. The class transforms to a room filled with birds, small dogs, long dogs, short dogs… He teaches us to feel the postures. Perhaps like the old Himalaya yogis were doing when they first gave name to the asanas.

When John is teaching he is doing it in a very intimate way. He is sharing his life experience, both the ups and the lows. He makes the complex philosophy of yoga accessible to all of us, in a very playful way. I love practicing with John. I love john. His energy reminds me of Rolf Naujokat, my main teacher. Both of them are teaching from their hearts. They see is as their mission in life to share their knowledge.

For me John is like Peter Pan. He will never grow old, he will always remain the experimental teacher with a playful sparkle in his eye. Always remembering how it is to be a child exploring his first steps…..

So coming back to my question…what is an experienced practitioner….it must be John. And Rolf.

Somebody who will never forget to explore all possibilities in practice. And perhaps life?

The wonderful yet challenging paths of yoga

I think that many people today see yoga as a physical practice only. This is because the physical practice was what they were originally exposed to. And the Western world mostly focuses on physicality. In many ways it is fine, but for me, yoga is far more than that.

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Our Patanjali in the PV garden…

 

I have been teaching ashtanga to a few students recently, and they have been wonderful, very dedicated, showing up on their mat every morning for the past 6 weeks, even though the practice has been totally new to them. Since we were a very small group, they have been progressing very fast on a physical level. In 3 weeks we were able to complete the primary series -with some modifications-  and manage their own practice. After just five days, they would do a Mysore style practice, with one led class every week. Of course, there is always some polishing to do, but as my very good friend Deepti wrote in a very recent article in Huffington post recently – you can complete the primary series in one month, but it takes a life time to polish it.

And this is so true.

Watching them develop, as a teacher I realised that the physical practice may come so easily to some, while others have to struggle with it. But it also reminded me of the different parts of yoga that have to be incorporated in a daily practice, because there is so much more to it, than just the physical aspect… and the deeper part of it can be difficult for some students to integrate in their daily life.

Yoga is challenging us on different levels, and it should. Not only the physical level. Yoga, for me, is making us aware about the possibilities that we actually can connect with our selves on a much deeper level, than the physical part only. Is it making us better human beings? I do not know. I would like to think that we are all born into this world, as  innocent, illuminated souls, and that through our conditioning and surroundings, we take shape as the humans  we become. But the base, the trunk, what is the real self, although shadowed by the different situations we are exposed to, will always remain the same, pure and bright.

Personally I have been working a lot with my self, with yoga as a tool. And I would like to say, that as a tool to become aware about my self, both the good parts and less upbringing parts, it has been excellent. Still I am struggling with my self at many points, and here, I really mean many, but I would like to believe that I am more aware about what is going on, and how I react to incidents in life. For me in a life that already is filled with a huge amount materialistic illusions, it is so important to stay true to one self. And this is very difficult.

So lately I have been thinking of the most important part of the yamas, that for me, often are a struggle.

Satya – commitment to the truth.

This might sound so very easy. But for me it is not. I am the last one to lie, be unfaithful, dishonest to anybody else. I would say that I am the most honest person you will meet or employ, I would never take a penny from anybody, and IF i would lie, I my face changes colour.

BUT, towards myself I am the first one to lie and tweak reality. It seems my world so often becomes shadowed by fantasies and illusions that just exist in my own head. It is often as if I am living in a fantasy, convincing myself that this will happen or might be true. Sometimes I am even convinced that I have a very good intuition. But when reality comes…. all of this is for sure not true.

So being true to myself, is one of the biggest challenges.

Ahimsa – compassion towards all living beings.

Usually translated as non-violence, ‘do not kill or hurt any other human being or animal’. And I would like to say, that I am a very “ahimsa like person”, although I do admit becoming very frustrated with my neighbours’ cat during the monsoon, when they all decided to move into my house and make it their toilet.

For me ahimsa is about being able to remove all unkind, unhelpful, destructive and judgmental comments. And sometimes we throw out comments or loud thought that in our world, are nothing of importance, but to the person involved they can be the most painful things to hear. And they may be good to hear…but may also hurt so much. That is violence. There is a very fine line between being honest, and not creating any pain to the other person. Sometimes it is just best to remain silent. Because to hurt somebody verbally can be even worse than hitting them straight in their face. It is a statement that say – I know better then you…but in reality, you have no clue about their background.

We need to be so careful with our words, because the power of words is one of the greatest powers of all.

As Donna Farhi writes in her book,  ‘Yoga, mind, body and spirit’, any thought, word, or action that prevents us, or somebody else from living freely, is one that is harmful.

We need to see all circumstances in life, all attitudes and behaviours with an eye of compassion, removing our own ego, trying to see the world through the other persons’ eye.

There is no right or wrong in this world, there are just different approaches and backgrounds. We are all individuals, and have to be approached in an individual way.

Those two Yamas in particular have made me realise, while teaching, how vast and difficult it is to be non-judgmental – and approach every student, just at the moment where they are in life. Without hurting their emotions, self esteem or self image.

It is so important to keep in mind the diversity of all living beings, with out mirroring your personal views and approaches on them. Life is a living, transient process changing daily, there in no right way, or one way….there are just so many different ways to pursue what one hopes to achieve.

To teach is a constant development of ones’ own being. If we are just open to it.

So, coming to an end of this season, we have only one retreat to go….John Scott is arriving tomorrow.

For me, personally it has been a season of roller coasting, but I assume it is good to experience this as well. Life is a roller coaster, or like an Indian road, it is having many ups and downs. sometimes we get too focused on the ups or the downs. We get to attached to them, especially the ups….and then the downs become quite obvious.

Here the practice, with all it strength and its power is lifting me and carrying me forward. Although, I do have my doubts in between.

In the end, the inner silence, always created by the practice, shows to be the strongest tool to move on and see the world with new eyes….again 🙂

And in case you missed Purple Valley this year… we will be opening again on the 25th of October.

Love and light

Karolina

Me in the fields with the sunrise… wonderful mornings of Goa. Thank you Matthew Parker for this wonderful morning on our scooters.

Also remembering that everything that is suppose to happen will happen…. and everything that is not suppose to happen will not happen, try as you may….

Always.

// Sri Ramana Maharshi

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Sri Ramana Maharshi with Pattabhi Jois and Sharat, our little alter in the Shala. Meaning – Inspiration…

 

 

 

January at Purple Valley – two weeks with Kino and Tim

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Coni Hörler Photography

Each retreat brings new teachers, students and a brand new energy. January in itself beckons a new start and it seems that Purple Valley is always ready to greet new batch of guests and teachers with friendliness and of course, fresh flower displays.

Starting the year in Tim Feldmann’s company was not only a gift, but a true learning experience. Kino’s presence in the Shala half way through the first course was a buzz of excitement and enthusiasm, but the background energy felt constant and smooth.

Although I believe that one should spend time with one teacher, there should also be space to seek for understanding, and keep the learning process open on a constant basis. All teachers are passing down to us -students- what they have learnt, and this can be a real gift, when one is open to receive. Not all teachers choose to impart their knowledge with as much generosity and kindness, but those two certainly did….

During these two weeks with Kino and Tim, the focus was on guiding students – regardless of level or ability- and time was always given for a helpful tip or adjustment to take each person where needed into the practice.

Kino has had a lot of bad press for being such an exposed personality in social media, but in real life, she has a discreet, quiet and yet strong presence: none of this hyper-energized online persona came through in the shala. Her knowledge is incredible and she is constantly giving and sharing information. That is quite a feat for someone who travels so much and knows that she will probably not come across some of the students again. Many teachers choose to give a little and leave people figure things out for themselves, on their own and in their own time. Not here. Kino is wholly implicated in each person’s practice, and does like to push people beyond their limits – or rather the limits they have imposed on themselves. She is a firm believer that one can do more – try harder, do better- and why not? This may be the best place for most people. There are no commitments, work to get to, nothing to rush to nor stress about, so this is THE place and time where each student can give their full energy to the practice. It is a nice thing to observe and experience. I would never bother to try tricky arm balances so many times (either because I know what is coming next or I feel I should save myself for the rest of the day) or try tic tocs with so much dedication. But after all that efforting, she also clearly reminds everyone, that yoga is not a destination but a journey to be experienced and explored….

Some words that would normally make me cringe (‘squeeze the abs’… ‘really pull that foot…’ etc.) stayed with me for a long time and worked more effectively that anything else. Simplicity and clarity. Full stop.

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Coni Hörler Photography

On the other hand, Tim’s humorous, soft and yet incredibly strong presence simply seemed to make everyone feel at ease and relaxed. So relaxed in fact, that one would actually want to believe the impossible could be possible. His adjustments were (are) intense but with a gentle, deep slowness that makes one able to relax into postures. After all there is no rush.

One thing that struck me and stayed with me until now, was the act of softening into asanas, whether tricky strength-based postures or simple, basic, asana. By relaxing fully and allowing the body to sink into a position, this creates space for the muscles and bones to align themselves, to then allow the asana to reveal itself in its fullest. Let’s say you are trying to lift your entire body off the floor in Kukutasana – before using brute strength to push up, try sinking down and then lifting up.

So this all mostly stayed with me – even after returning to a cold climate with less leisurely time to practice – as did the attempt to find that soft balance between effort and subtle steadiness in asanas… As Tim rightly noted, one of the keys is “not getting tricked by the relative toughness of these asanas and to approach exclusively from effort, but balance the abhyasa and vairagya” (practice and non attachment… Yoga Sutras, 1.12 – 1.16)

His focus on the slowness of the breath and his consistent slow counts when adjusting, is a reminder that all ‘this’ is a breathing, energetic practice. Perhaps it is also a way to soften that stiff, muscular shield we all tend to build and carry through our lives and on our mats.

All in all, it made practice a whole lot more interesting. Becoming aware of the vastness of things to work on and to let go of. Going deeper into poses without a sense of rushing and hardening. Softening and allowing the body to fully release into postures.

Both their inspiration and full commitment to the practice of yoga as a whole transpires and really makes them shine as teachers. Beyond Kino’s seamless glow there is deep knowledge and faith. Beyond Tim’s playful character, there is immense love and desire to share.

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Coni Hörler Photography

Teachers:

http://timfeldmann.com/

http://www.kinoyoga.com/

Photos:

http://www.chphotography.ch/

A Mysore update – just another experience at the source

There we go, another round of Mysore. Blogs and articles are plentiful, but there is always space for more….

As always, first impressions can be quite mixed.

The initial excitement of simply going away to a warmer climate, having more time and doing more yoga was quickly spoilt by a delayed flight, delayed luggage, a 3 hour long bumpy taxi ride to Mysore, the worry of finding 33,000 rupees cash by the afternoon (involving 3 cash withdrawals and one money changer), counting my ridiculous stash of rupee notes to pay my fees for a month of practice. The first few hours in India are inevitably hectic.

And then there was the contrast of landing before dawn, waking up to Bangalore in darkness, dozing off in the back of a cold taxi, intermittently watching the morning mist lift over the rice paddies, getting a whiff of fresh morning air, followed by exhaust fumes overlapped with cow poo. With sunrise, the usual ‘Indian’ sights came into my frame of vision: the chai wallas, steaming pots of milk, stick thin labourers emerging from roadside shacks, bloated business men on their way to work, colourful and washed out saris, trucks, cows, dogs, dead dogs and the ever-changing scenery. The arrival in the slower paced city of Mysore is a yet another contrast. Gokulam, the posh side of town where the foreigners, yoga students and wealthy locals reside, is a pleasant but slightly secluded area. Most of the people who pay sky-high rates for yoga, also expect a level of comfort unusual to India – wifi, hot water, washing machines and all mod cons. There is a price to pay for luxury, but this is not so much of an issue here. If you can afford it, why not? That is the general attitude.

DSCN1616So for the first few days, I was not too impressed – so many familiar faces, small talk, everlasting blissful faces, the endless discussions on practice time and student numbers- and the longing for a few peaceful days to ease into things seemed an impossible request. Keywords for me were borderline irritation and lack of inspiration. But then everyone settles, the excitement -and irritation- lessens and life goes on. For most students, life evolves around yoga practice, classes and lunches. Or breakfasts. It seems that ‘practice’ absorbs the need and desire to do much else. But perhaps that is the whole point. And perhaps I am missing it.

It is far more interesting for me to get out of town, see a bit of normality, less Lululemon yoga pants and drink chai rather than green tea.

As much as I sometimes come with a critical mind, I do love it here. Meeting up with old friends, getting into a slightly simpler routine and having a little more time.

Sharath, besides the fact he is intensely busy and sleeps 4 hours a night, appears relaxed, fun and always open to a joke or smile. He doesn’t need to try or be funny, but he does make an effort to be kind. At the same time he never fails to pick up on a poorly executed asana and his eagle eyes know exactly when one is in their practice. The depth of his knowledge is actually pretty astounding. In led class, he corrected for the first time my Iyengar like placement of feet in Trikonasana -‘feet closer’- and in shock, I obediently shuffled my feet in what felt like a strange posture. They will move wider again no doubt once I leave.

In the conferences, there is a sense of ‘deja vu’ – the reaffirmation that we are all here to study yoga as a whole, not just the postures, that yoga happens inside oneself and is a method for self realisation. In the last conference of the year, he made it clear that yoga is not a religion, it can be compatible with any religious beliefs, but one has to believe in the energy of the practice. For him, ‘asana is the foundation for spiritual journey…. a practice for transformation that leads to a higher state of spiritual knowledge’. And a method to calm the mind.

He always makes a point to criticise the obsession with flashy postures, handstands, endless videos on how to backbend and balance on your hands. He wants to make it clear that this is not yoga and one cannot learn through a video or a two week teacher training course. He adds that it is his karma to teach the method he has been taught from his grandfather. What others do with it is beyond his control. Ironically, people are still meeting up in the park on saturday evenings to practice acro yoga and other strange or interesting variations. Senior teachers will still post daily pictures or videos of themselves contorting their body in an exotic location or hand-standing in various parts of the world. People are still obsessed with being upside down. So what, may I say? If yoga really ‘happens within you’ then none of this actually matters.

The questions asked are usually interesting, sometimes repetitive and sometimes just odd. ‘At what age should one start a child on Ashtanga yoga?’ 12 is the official answer – before that, correct breathing is not easy to understand. Scary that someone would like to stretch and bend a child before that age (for the sake of spirituality). And ‘should we stop any other sports when doing asana’? The answer is an absolute yes. Walking, running, cycling are all off limits and will apparently cause too much stiffness in the joints. What a shame for all those athletes out there. Of course, there are many….

Sometimes it doesn’t all make sense and sometimes the simple words used, illustrate the practice very well. ‘Real knowledge comes within you. And when you get rid of delusions, it means yoga is happening within you.’

Happy New Year from Mysore.

Long time no hear…. or times goes very fast when you have fun :)

Update from Purple Valley in Goa…..

We are now on our second week with John Scott, Gretchen Suarez and David Keil, and one thing I can say about this retreat is – I am so happy John is coming back in April. I just love the practice. There are 60 students now, and the energy in the shala is great…

During the first retreat with Maria Boox, late rains caught us by surprise and for over a week, we had to deal with flooded grounds, but everyone remained high spirited.  The sun’s appearance was even more welcome when it finally chose to make its way to Goa. Maria Boox was followed by Joey Miles and Donna. It was her first visit to the retreat and  we all hope she will be back next year. It is always special to have both male and female energy in the shala. On the last days of Joeys’ retreat, Alexander Medin arrived with his ‘Back In The Ring’ group. You can read more about the project here, http://backinthering.com/

Needless to say, we had a totally different form of retreat with Alexanders group. Usually the retreats are busy with people who are only there because of the Ashtanga yoga practice…. Suddenly we hosted a whole new group of people, all with some kind of substance abuse problem, coming to Purple Valley not just for the asana practice, but also to help out in the village of Assagao, with both school renovation as well a biogas plant project. The idea is that the participants are being prepared for a normal life in a non-destructive and not drug influenced society. When one has been abusing drugs over a longer period of time, in the end one does not know how to act among people who never have had a drug problem. Through physical practice ( asanas), philosophy and karma yoga ( selfless service, or giving back into society without expecting anything in return), the participants are building up their self esteem, confidence, and ability to work: by respecting working hours, showing up for yoga as well as work. Something that may sound easy to us, but for many, it is not so simple.

Being used to see very health conscious  yogis only at Purple Valley….suddenly the clientele became little different.

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The smoking corner outside Purple Valley

For instance, we had a smoking corner outside the retreat 🙂 something that has never happened before. Sometimes, especially after food, the terrace area became totally empty, while the smoking corner on the main road, was very full.

The group was also helping with garden work, supervised by Santosh. It was a totally new experience for our Indian staff to see retreat guests working in the garden, caring stones and washing tiles…

I must say however that in the beginning it was not easy for Santosh to ask them to work….he started out the first working day by saying:  ‘I am sorry…but I have to ask you to help us work in the garden.’

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Scrubbing tiles

taxi drivers watching group

Purple Valley Taxi drivers checking out the work…

We also carried out some work at the Assagao union high school…. below you can see the picture of the classroom before we started our work.

school before

Part of the school which was renovated…

The part of the school we were renovating, is a big hall where about 100 small children are participating in classes every day. Some of them are children of our staff…

renovation 2

first the classroom was emptied on all furniture…then the work started…

renovation

Helge, originally a painter had equipment with him from Norway…

best renovation team

Purple Valley staff was mingling with the foreign workers 🙂 Local knowledge is always good to have.

Finally, the last day, on the BITR group departure day, we were invited for the inauguration of the new hall, with dance, songs and snacks 🙂

ganesh dance 2

First we saw the Ganesh dance….

Listened to Helges’ thank you speech

helges tahnk you speach

 

….and finally said bye to the happy kids….

happy kids

After 2 weeks, the BITR group continued their trip towards Karnataka and Yelanpur to build a Ganesh temple…

After they left, the retreat felt very empty even though 60 new students came. Suddenly the busiest retreat of the year became a peaceful place.

Here you can see Alexander talking about the project.

 

Your contribution in the charity box of Purple Valley

With only 6 days to go before opening Purple Valley, we are definitely looking forward to our first retreat with Maria Boox, followed by Joey Miles… You can read more about the upcoming retreats here www.yogagoa.com

I felt that those who visited Purple Valley last year may wish to know that the money received for charity added up to 19 000 INR. This is approximately 190 GBP. It may not seem like much, but it amounts to 6 months’ income, and with this money we helped renovate the roof of Assagao Union High school. This also meant that 500 children in the school had a ‘leak proof’ roof during the monsoon for the first time in many years! Additionally, we prevented the roof from falling down on the kids, something that has happened in other schools in Goa: when old wood becomes waterlogged from rains, beams can no longer bear the heavy load, and everything collapses.

The head mistress of the school is extremely happy and so are the children, so a big thanks to all of you 🙂

This year we will be adding more focus on charity work. We have started to work with the  French publication ‘Le yoga journal’, www.leyogashop.com which supports key childrens’ charity.

You will be able to buy this wonderful magazine at the centre  for approximately 350 INR, and all the money will go straight to charity. Alexander Medin will also be arriving with his ‘Back into the ring’ group on 15th November. Alexander, his group and the Purple Valley staff will collectively paint the Assagao high school, (  partly 🙂 ) as well as build one of the first Bio Gas Plants in Goa, for WAG.

So I wanted all of you to know that any contribution will be extremely helpful and very welcome in the charity box. All money will be going directly to WAG and to the Assagao High school. I will frequently be updating you about the progress of work during the season.

Now about WAG :

Atul, the founder of WAG, is a very inspiring person, born in Kenya, he moved to UK as a 13 year old. After finishing law school he decided that law was the last thing he wanted to work with, instead he opened up a small garden shop in London, which became very successful. (Isn’t it wonderful when people follow their heart!)

Garden and plant lover as he was, Atul became tired of the stressful life in London, he felt more and more drawn towards nature, and animals. He decided to make the green flourishing Goa, his home.

Gopalll & Atul kiss

Atul and little Gopal in a loving hug 🙂

This was 10 years ago. Atul bought a Portuguese house, with his partner, transformed it to a small guest house, hotel Soraya  http://www.hotelsorayagoa.com/

Realising that very little was done to help the strays of Goa, 3 years ago WAG was formed, with the intention to help the animals on the Goan streets ans beaches. Today Atuls’ small guesthouse has slowly been transformed into an animal hospital, with cows, dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens – monkeys still to come. So if you decide to stay there- you had better be an animal lover. Having met Atul, we felt at Purple Valley that it would be wonderful to help them to spread out the word about WAG, the best way we can, therefore we are sharing the below information with all of you. Feel free to spread the word.

With the Bio Gas Plant, which we will be building with the help of Alex & his gang, Atul will be able to extract 2 cylinders of gas per month, only from wet waste produced in his premises. This will be a wonderful financial help, thinking of all the gas needed to prepare  food for the animals. But not only that, we also hope that this will become a pilot project for future bio gas plants in the area….hopefully even Purple Valley

The video below shows a heart warming story of little Whisky one of many small creatures,  brought to WAG …

 

The core team (Atul Sarin, Jill Killick, Dr Upendra Kumar and Stephanie Panayioyou), having many years of animal welfare experience, decided to set up the Welfare for Animals Goa (WAG) trust with an emphasis on sterilizations and adoptions. They also realised that many cows in Goa are stray cattle and face the same struggle for survival as stray dogs and cats.

WAG works with the objective of feeding and monitoring the health of stray beach dogs and cats during the monsoon season, re-homing of abandoned animals, and helping injured stray cattle.

Goa, due to its tourist industry, has a very busy tourist season from October to April, after which it is relatively very quiet during the monsoon.

For a few months, May through October, this becomes a problem for stray animals such as cows, dogs, and cats to find food with the beach shacks shut and the tourists gone. This causes starvation and a daily struggle for survival. Poor garbage disposal only adds to the problem, and unsterilised strays cause an increase in the animal population.

  The main activities of WAG 

WAG helps the stray animals of Goa through its following programmes:

  • The Beach Monitoring & Feeding Programme is designed to help those beach cats and dogs that get isolated in the monsoon. WAG’s priority is always to sterilize (neuter) the dogs in its care. Keeping the canine population in check ensures that the existing ones are healthy and happy until the next tourist season begins. 
  • The Adoption Scheme is a dedicated effort through which WAG re-homes abandoned animals, and wherever necessary, provides medical treatment, vaccinations (such as anti-rabies and 1-in-7 anti-virus), plus ongoing support to their local care-givers. This includes financial assistance for the new pet’s sterilization.
  • WAG also has a small Cow Re-homing Shelter, where it treats and cares for injured stray cattle, mostly with Ayurvedic Medicines, until they are healed. WAG then re-homes them to a farm, and ensures that they never have to undergo needless suffering on streets, and endure everyday hardship for daily survival. At the shelter, among other rescued cattle, there is a three-legged cow called Tara, for whom WAG is trying to make a prosthetic limb.
  • It is estimated, that worldwide 20 million dogs are brutally killed every year. That’s 38 per minute!!!
  • A single unsterilized dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in 6 years.
  • A single unsterilized cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in 7 years. 
  • It is estimated that there are 20 million stray cattle in India. Many have nowhere to shelter; they co-exist with heavy traffic and speeding vehicles, and are exposed to the dangers of pollution and accidents.

    atul & rajah & all.

    Atul and the doggies 🙂

How one can help

There are a number of ways in which animal lovers can help:

Donating

WAG gets no government financial aid, and relies solely on private donations to buy food, fodder, medicines, vaccines, collars, along with expenses incurred for sterilisation costs, and transporting sick animals. Any donation, big or small, is always welcome.

Details of how the money is utilised (whether it is 5, 500, or 1000 pounds) are available on the WAG website http://www.wagoa.com. All donations go towards the care for animals, which is never compromised.

Donations of new or used collars, leads and other doggie accessories, dry cat/dog food, feeding bowls, etc. are always appreciated.

Sponsoring

One can sponsor a dog for Rs 360 (approximately 4.50 pounds) a month (categorized as full care). Sponsorship is for a minimum of 1 year and includes: sterilisation, feeding during the monsoon season, vaccinations against rabies, anti-virus vaccinations (e.g. Parvo, Distemper), flea control, food supplements and general monitoring of the animal.

One can choose one’s sponsor pet from the Profiles page on the website. Progress updates will be sent to the sponsor twice a year. Visits can also be arranged when the sponsor is in Goa.

Volunteering

Volunteers who can offer the gift of their time are constantly needed at WAG to support ongoing adoptions, making sure the pets get their vaccines and sterilisation when the time comes. Also vital is the beach feeding during the monsoon. Moreover, at this time, dogs miss human affection and physical contact, as much as they miss a guaranteed meal. So ‘cuddling’ is also part of our voluntary activity! Offering to go to the beach to feed the beach packs once a week can make a big difference and the WAG team is always grateful for an extra pair of hands.  Many cats and dogs will not make it through a monsoon without the help of WAG.

Having more volunteers makes it possible to reach those areas of Goa (Northern beaches) that WAG is currently unable to address. This means participating in the feeding, vaccination, and sterilisation programmes for additional packs of dogs. Volunteers are particularly required during the monsoon months (May to October) when stray beach dogs are at risk of starvation and neglect.

Volunteers are always needed to monitor adoptions in the Semi-Care Programme. This includes visiting families and checking on their adopted animals to monitor their health and give them their anti-rabies and All-in-1 anti-virus vaccines and Sterilization when the time comes.. Practical help is provided to the new owners such as training tips, items such as bowls, collars, flea collars, toys, and leads. This means visiting each dog or cat a minimum of twice a year.

Adopting

Adopt a kitten or a pup, a cat or a dog, a rescued or abandoned animal and give it a new lease of life with a forever home.

Fostering

One can provide a temporary loving home to rescued animals until a permanent home is found for them.

Reporting dogs and cats for sterilisation

WAG also vaccinates and de-worms a number of strays who are not dependent on it for food. One can help WAG by reporting dogs and cats for sterilisation, or any of the health and well-being treatments offered by WAG.

Fundraising

Volunteers are also needed to assist with fundraising activities, networking, collecting donations, and offering administrative support.

Spreading the word

Please tell all your friends about WAG and encourage them to contribute in whatever way they can. If you or anyone you know would be willing to donate some of their time to help these strays, WAG would be most grateful. Please refer to the contact details on the website to discuss your interest.
We can come together and help our animal friends to lead a life of love, care, and dignity, free of misery, suffering and hardship.

                                                Future plans

  • With additional funding, it will soon be possible for WAG to build an enclosure for post-operated stray dogs, which is vital and urgently-needed.
  • WAG hopes to set up a ‘wet waste and cow dung’ compost model, educating and involving the local community.
  • A bio-gas plant, with guidance from an experienced team, is at a discussion stage.
  • WAG plans to acquire land to use as a cattle shelter
  • Although WAG deals mostly with dogs and cats, it has helped rescue parrot chicks, a baby owl, injured pigeons, a python, and tortoises.

Check www.wagoa.com to know more – the website has donation details, more contact details,animal profiles for sponsoring pets, happy ending stories of rescued or injured animals, and lots more.

Contact

Founder: Atul Sarin

Cell: +91 9823541603

Email: atulsarin@hotmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wag.india

Help us to help the animals in Goa….

🙂 See you soon at Purple Valley 🙂

//Karolina