Thursday, June 21, was the International Day of Yoga (and if you celebrated it, let us know what you did)! By a happy coincidence, I had left Bangalore for Coimbatore, a city in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, which is home to a number of prominent yoga centers that teach different forms of yoga. I had some pretty incredible experiences, which I’ll tell you about in this post! And, at the end, I’ll share a South Indian okra curry recipe (so you know, South Indian curries are stir-fries, not broth-based). When I return from India, I will also be sharing videos, so stay tuned!
Coimbatore is surrounded by breathtaking, lush mountains that reach far above the clouds- it is magical and full of indescribable beauty. The areas surrounding the city are home to rare wild animals (while driving through the mountains, there are signs every few miles that say, “YIELD: Elephants have right of way”), ancient cave temples, and an atmosphere that feels imbibed with the enchantments of millennia of sages and yogis.
Animals Grazing at the Isha Yoga Center, in front of the Velliangiri Mountains
As an aside, in the United States, yoga has become synonymous with stretching, twisting, and balancing in tricky ways- but this is just one form of yoga (hatha yoga). According to ancient Indian wisdom, human beings have tremendous untapped potential, and the gift of being able to experience higher states of consciousness that are free from the usual limitations of the body, mind, space, and time (for a fascinating discussion of this, check out the book, Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda). The word yoga means “union”- that is, barriers are dissolved; your body, mind, emotions, and energy are aligned; and at the highest level, you experience everything as one in your consciousness- an unsurpassable bliss. In practice, yoga can refer to a wide range of tools (not just physical exercises) that you can use to unlock this higher potential. There are a number of forms of yoga- action (karma yoga), knowledge (gnana yoga), energy (kriya yoga), meditation (dhyana yoga), physical force (hatha yoga), etc., that work synergistically to help a person to achieve the highest levels of consciousness.
I spent four days at the Isha Yoga Center, a famous establishment where guests can learn and practice these various forms of yoga. At the entrance is a 121-foot-tall bust of AdiYogi, who according to Indian lore was the first true yogi. This statue is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest bust. It’s crazy to be there!
The AdiYogi Statue: the World's Largest Bust
There’s so much to see at Isha! I spent the better part of a day in meditation (they have a dome with meditation pods built into the walls). The staff lead groups of people into and out of the meditation hall at set intervals, and in the morning, I stayed for six rounds. For the first two or three rounds, I felt nothing. And then, I started to feel ecstatic for no apparent reason. That night, my dreams were otherworldly- lucid and blissful, as though I were high. I’ve never had dreams like that before. For two days afterwards, I felt immune to negative emotions and anxiety, and everything just seemed to flow. If you ever get a chance to visit India, definitely make a visit to the Isha Yoga Center! It’s amazing.
A Beautiful Wild Flower in Coimbatore
On Tuesday, I left for another ashram higher up in the mountains called Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, where I spent three days. The drive up was one of the most beautiful routes I have ever traveled- steep mountains with clouds that start partway up. This center is much older and more traditional, is integrated with the forest, and also teaches yoga, but through different approaches (intensive study and personal development). I arrived the day after a large program had ended, so most of the visitors had left, and so it was quiet and serene. Spending time in nature was so incredible! I hiked, meditated, read, and with a fallen branch and some piñata skills, I collected a number of wild mangoes and a cherimoya (they’re ripening now)!
A Mango Tree at Arsha Vidya with the Misty Velliangiri Mountains in the Background
Among other things to see in Coimbatore, if you ever go, are amazing trekking tours, rare herbs, and a number of very old temples (some are thousands of years old). Feel free to hit me up with questions if you ever want to travel here!
A view from the heights of the Velliangiri Mountains of Coimbatore
And, as promised, here is a lovely okra curry recipe from Tamil Nadu. It’s excellent for heart health, blood sugar balance, and diabetes maintenance. And, it tastes wonderful!
You will need:
½ lb. okra, washed and sliced into thin cross-sections
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 pinch asafetida (you can pick this up at either of our stores)
1 pinch turmeric powder (also available at our stores)
10 curry leaves
½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. black gram (called Urad Dal at Indian stores)
Salt, to taste
Optional: 1-2 small green chilis, diced
Garnish: grated coconut or cilantro
In a pan, heat the oil, and add the mustard seeds and black gram. Once they crackle (this is called tempering), add the curry leaves, asafetida, turmeric, and chili (if using). Next, add in the okra and stir-fry well, seasoning with salt, as desired. The okra should be crispy on the outside, but chewy and tender. Season with coconut or cilantro.