I have been struggling the last week to settle on a topic for my next post. There is no lack of material; in fact, the problem is my mind is saturated with ideas, so many images, experiences, interactions… so perhaps I’ll just tell you about mornings here in India.
For those of you who might not know, I am here in Coonoor once again with my dear friend John de Kadt co-leading an Ayurvedic retreat in the Nilgiri Mountains of Tamil Nadu. The experience is built around a three-week panchakarma cleanse with twice daily Ayurvedic bodywork treatments and tridoshic meals intended to restore balance to mind, body, and spirit. We all come here with different issues and concerns, and with the guidance of our Ayurvedic physician, Dr. Mouli, the goal is to leave not only with a better understanding of ourselves, but to return home with the knowledge that food is medicine, each of us armed with recipes and Ayurvedic practices to help support each of us as we resurface after such a deep dive into our body, mind, heart, and spirit. Thus the panchakarma experience we offer is supported with daily sunrise walks, yoga, meditation, kirtan, storytelling, and Indian cooking classes (don’t get me started on the food!).
Our mornings begin at 6 am with Sunny’s gentle rap on the door. Sunny is a wonderful pharmacist who blends up herbal concoctions for each one of us to be taken five times per day, the first dose at dawn. Those of us who want to walk in the rising sun, down our herbs in the darkness and dress for the chilly mountain air. We meet at the gate and walk down the garden-lined driveway to the road. Our walks vary between vigorous up and downhill treks and meandering walks through the tea, but they always lead us through one of the numerous neighboring villages, each washed in pastel paint and lit by the rising sun.
On the morning the above picture is taken we climb the road up and up into this sweet village where women leave incense at the statue of Nandi in the town square. They circle Nandi as they pray, then kneel on the steps of the shrine where the sun sets the yellow paint aglow.
Some days it would be so easy to stay in bed just a little longer, but I don’t want to miss a single morning. The air is cool, and this is the most special time. We see children getting ready for school, women doing laundry, men returning from the local bath house, and water heating in steel pots over tiny fires.
There are barking dogs, birds in the bougainvillea, and chickens scratching in the red dirt and dusty grass along the pathways.
Already the lines are strung with laundry waiting for the sun which peeks over the hills and shines into the valleys and villages below.
And then the light turns the tea plants the most vibrant shades of green:
No matter what village we walk to in the morning, we pass through tea plantations to get back to the Ayurveda Retreat. We are literally surrounded by tea on all sides. Lining the path are wildflowers of all colors and shapes. I pick a new bouquet every couple of days; this one has a mix of ageratum, nicotiana, strawflowers, and lantana:
Back on campus, we have just a few minutes before yoga class begins. We lean into the path up to the studio, leave our shoes at the door and file into the room to roll out mats and claim sunspots or place mats near the heaters. I lead our group through slow flowing poses in the circular studio flooded with morning light.
We stretch and play our way into the day, working up an appetite for whatever goodness Chagan, Mohan, and Kalu are cooking up, always accompanied by bowls of coconut chutney and piles of papaya, pomegranates, and mangoes. And the chai! Oh, the chai, which Chagan calls “coffee coffee!” to which we all raise our little tin cups and say “yes!”
This is how we start our days, full of sweetness and joy and sunlight. And gratitude. Lots of gratitude. As I write this I am reminded of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:
Wishing you all a morning full of happiness and kindness,