Category Archives: Feeding the body and soul

Because we are what we eat and we are soulful beings and it’s all one great big mystery rolled into one.

I quit coffee

Towards the end of last year I was drinking two to three cups of coffee (espresso from a cafe = strong) per day. Way too much.

I cut right back on the coffee intake over Christmas and since 2014 began (three days ago) I haven’t had a single cup. I feel AMAZING. I was trying to figure out how I could keep up this new behaviour, knowing full well that relying on willpower alone would see me sink back into old habits as soon as someone said ‘Want to come for a coffee?’

I was reading Jason Fox’s great piece on rewording yourself in 2014 and the value of rewarding yourself for good work done. It struck me – to successfully keep coffee out I needed to go big with the goal and the reward.

In 2014, I will not drink a single cup of coffee. Not even decaf.

This isn’t going to be easy. Coffee is almost a religion in this town (and on this university campus). About 80% of my meetings are held in cafes. My colleagues and I bond over early-morning coffee, mid-morning coffee, sneaky afternoon coffee. I am surrounded by really good cafes serving really good coffee.

I am going to set up monthly rewards and half-yearly major rewards. All I know is that mid-year reward will probably be white and probably named after a piece of fruit.

A brief introduction to ashram life

mind your own business

Earlier this year I spent some time at an ashram in Kerala, India. I signed up for a two-week yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Kerala, India.

One of the most appealing aspects of Sivananda is that it’s open to anyone who happens past and would like to visit. You don’t need an existing relationship with a guru and don’t need to align with rigidly scheduled visitor programs. Yoga vacations are run continuously, beginning on the 1st and the 16th of each month. The closer you time your visit to one of those dates, the better. But if you can’t, you’ll be okay.

The mission at the core of the Sivanada Yoga Vedanta centres is to spread peace, health and joy through yoga. The founder of the ashram, Swami Vishnudevananda visited the West in the 1950s with the aim of spreading the teachings of yoga throughout the world.

This ashram is all about yoga (how about fours hours of yoga per day) and open to beginners and advanced yogis alike. The ashram’s language of instruction is English and therefore is very popular with foreigners.

On entering the ashram you agree to follow the rules of the ashram, which includes participating in the ashram’s daily schedule:

Basic Ashram Schedule
0520 hrs WAKE UP BELL
0600 hrs SATSANG (meditation, chanting)
0730 hrs TEA TIME (lovely warm chai)
0800 hrs ASANA CLASS (Yoga)
1000 hrs BRUNCH (typical southern Indian food, minus the meat, fish, eggs, garlic and onion)
1100 hrs KARMA YOGA (selfless service)
1230 hrs COACHING CLASS (optional)
1330 hrs TEA TIME (more lovely warm chai)
1400 hrs LECTURE (on the five points of yoga – see below)
1600 hrs ASANA CLASS (more yoga)
1800 hrs DINNER (more typical southern Indian food, eaten in silence)
2000 hrs SATSANG (more meditation and chanting)
2200 hrs LIGHTS OUT

Other rules include (from the Sivananda website):

  • Karma yoga (selfless service) is an integral part of the daily schedule and provides an opportunity for guests to participate in the upkeep of the ashram. Guests are required to offer up to one hour of karma yoga per day, this helps in tuning to the energy of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda.
  • Guests may leave the ashram on the weekly day off. Guests should return in time for evening satsang. There are no lectures and coaching classes on the day off.
  • Smoking, alcohol, drugs, meat, fish, eggs, garlic or onions are not allowed. Pets are not allowed.
  • Mobile phones are not allowed and should be handed into reception upon arrival.
  • Photography, video, audio recording during classes and ceremonies is only permitted with the permission of the ashram director.
  • To respect the local culture and the monastic tradition, kindly restrain expressions of affection such as hugging or kissing in public. Guests are advised to observe celibacy (brahmacharya) as part of the spiritual discipline.
  • Male and female dormitories are separate. Men are not allowed in the ladies’ dormitory and vice versa.
  • Couples are not allowed to share rooms during Teachers Training Courses, Advanced Teacher Training Course, and Sadhana Intensive.
  • Guests are requested to observe silence during meals and between 10.30pm and 7.30am daily. Lights out after 10.30pm daily.
  • Guests behaviour and dress code should be respectful of Indian culture and enhance the spiritual atmosphere of the ashram. Observance of the ashram dress code should be maintained at all times including during asana classes or swimming in the nearby lake, pond or river. Nudity is forbidden. Men and women should cover the shoulders, midriff and legs. Tight fitting, transparent and revealing clothing is not permitted in the ashram.

The Sivananda ashram follows the five points of yoga, as described by Swami Vishnudevananda (the founder of the ashram):

  1. Proper Exercise (Asanas),
  2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama),
  3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana),
  4. Proper Diet (vegetarian),
  5. Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana).

The days at Sivananda are long, but the schedule is full so you don’t have enough time to get bored. At the same time, the schedule is relaxed enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it. One of the great joys for me in the ashram was to wake up in the morning and step calmly into the day – turning up where I was expected to turn up (it’s time for yoga, it’s time for a meal), until it was time for bed. There was no internal dialogue about what do to next, no weighing up the merits of different food or entertainment options, no frittering away time on twitter or watching TV. I just did what the schedule said to do and after two weeks I felt calmer, happier, stronger and healthier.

Although visiting an ashram is undoubtably a spiritual experience, and therefore not for everyone, I would feel comfortable recommending it many. There is no expectation within the ashram that you will adopt Hinduism or commit to a belief system. It is only expected that you will respect the religious practices that do go on there and follow the rules of the ashram that are designed to maintain a ‘spiritual atmosphere’.

Redemption on the Via Francigena

Walking the Via Francigena from Viterbo to Rome was one of the highlights of my trip.

Less well known and less well signed than the Spanish Camino, to walk the Via Francigena is a much quieter and solitary journey. Even on a quiet pilgrimage though, you can feel the spirits of the pilgrims who have walked before you.

Their spirits are especially palpable when they leave notes for you:


I spotted this sign just outside Capranica.

…and this follow-up a kilometre later.


The Via Francigena…It changes people.


Three months and three continents later, I’m back home in wintery Melbourne. Despite the icy cold winds after three months of sunshine (with San Francisco being a notable exception) it is so good to be home!

Just a few trip highlights before the comprehensive travel reporting begins:


New friends in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India


The canals of Kolam, Kerala, India


Temple celebration, Neyyar Dam, Kerala, India


Early morning Zurich, Switzerland


The first and last time I will try natto (fermented soybeans), Frankfurt, Germany


Villa Lante, Viterbo, Italy


Lost…somewhere in Italy


Following the signs to Rome (on the Via Francigena), Italy


Statue outside a hospital in Rome, Italy


Estruscan ruin on the Via Francigena, Italy


Villa Monastero, Varenna on Lake Como, Italy


Australians represent. Clare Bowditch at World Domination Summit, Portland, USA


Reunion in Chicago!


Campfire on the beach, Lake Michigan, Michigan, USA


New York by tall ship


Walden Pond, Concord, MA, USA


Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., USA

Hiking San Francisco

Hiking San Francisco, CA, USA

What a glorious trip! Looking through the photos makes me excited all over again. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.



India – the creator’s haven

Build a bridge

My month in India was a very happy one for writing (and everything else for that matter). I spent part of the time experiencing bursts of creativity, desperately wishing for more hours in the day to write. I spent part of the time seeing new things and pondering new ideas and happily absorbing the inspiration. I spent part of the time completely switched off. Peacefully meandering through the days without, it felt, a thought in my head (this happened mostly in the ashram).

Internet was available but the speed was not great, so posting on the blog was virtually impossible. Now I’m in Europe I will try to post as much of what I was writing in India as possible (although so far the temptation of wandering Zurich’s beautiful streets has kept me away from my laptop).

I posted a few tips at Lip while I was there:

Tip 19: Tell your own story

Tip 20: Just say okay

Tip 21: Go turkey

Tip 22: Build a bridge