Space to breathe

I recently received a remarkable gift: 10 days at Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre (IVAC) at the foot of the Chamundi hills in Mysuru. This is one of India’s cleanest, greenest and coolest cities, the place of sandalwood, silk, and yoga schools.

I have long thought I suffer from eco-anxiety, now recognised as a disease: forests on fire, 200 species becoming extinct daily, politicians worldwide spouting chaos-causing inanities, economies eroding, xenophobic hatred rampaging on our streets, murder and rape regular occurrences. I needed time out.

Despite recently having dropped out of a lifetime of work trying to save lives and landscapes, I find the stress and heartache of living on this suffering planet today weigh heavily.

Warm greetings and a meal were offered on arrival and I was taken down a path of young sandalwood saplings and ensconced in a large, cool bungalow. I quickly took the gap and slipped into another rhythm.

At dawn I walked up the hill towards the temple of goddess Sri Chamundeshwari who slew the demons. I strode past many chatting middle-aged men on their morning constitutional, some praying at small local shrines, bowing to trees garlanded in flowers and pictures of the gods, stretching, saluting the sun or sitting quietly on the side of the road in meditation, or on their phones.

I sipped the sweet, fresh air and marveled at the lack of litter (unlike the piles I see on Sandton morning walks and woefully also along the Atlantic seaboard).

Some hours of treatments included a range of Ayurvedic massages with herbs, oils and warm water. I got high every day at Pranayama (breathing) meditations; having space and an hour to breathe clean air, consciously, changed my consciousness, oxygenated the body and soothed the spirit.

Resisting many bargains on offer along the streets on the town few visits, I peered into Big Bazaar, the local supermarket, to glimpse daily Mysuru life and wonder at the diversity of bananas and fresh fruit and vegetable displays without plastic packaging. I ventured down leafy avenues lined by yoga studios, organic stores and hip coffee shops. Yoga teachers are trained here and young folk from all over the world come to learn.

Hatha yoga followed in a studio next to the pool where sometimes doe-eyed calves graze. It’s easy to quiet the mind to bird songs, insect buzz, patter of monsoon rain. Delicious breakfasts as I watched birds, squirrels and butterflies were a daily delight.

Though the bad news did not get better in the ‘gap’, I could accept that I cannot stop the nightmare that scientists assure us we are heading into. But I can enjoy the moment and feel gratitude for each day on which we so not experience dire hardship and tragedy. Whilst my work defines me still, it no longer rules my time. As my daughter told me the other day, this is my fun-employment phase.

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