As the last Snowbirds return home to Hornby from southern climes of fruit filled winters, snorkeling in warm seas holding awesome sights, and soaking up the sun and the pleasures of vacationing, I depart and make my annual flight to India to hold a Yoga retreat in the Himalayan mountains. This year marks twenty years of friendship with this country and a woman I met in the very first months of arriving in 1996. A midwife at that time, my life became woven into the place and purpose of improving women’s lives in childbirth. This friend, Abha Bhaiya, a radical feminist and activist has been a constant presence as the years have unfolded, with Yoga a silent and sometimes not so silent agent of change for the both of us over these last two decades. She was somehow enthralled with the ‘style’ of Yoga which I brought from my experience in Canada and has always called it ‘women centered’ opposed to the Yoga she grew up with in India. This was a male-centric Yoga that did not honour the feminine body through theory and practice, but rather approached it through the lens of masculinity. Twenty years ago the majority of people practicing Yoga in India were men as opposed to the trend in North America where it was predominantly women. I brought my blended practice which included belly dancing and pre-natal Yoga and a feminized version of Iyengar Yoga, which I valued hugely, delivered to me by women renegades who were offshoots of this classical form.
So much has changed in twenty years. Women are flocking to Yoga classes in Delhi and men are making Yoga a good part of their lives in the west. I’ve long since left my career in midwifery and created a yoga haven on Hornby. Abha has shifted her focus from running a huge women’s institution in Delhi and created a piece of heaven on earth in the Himalayas, where community development and gender awareness are central to an exquisite, sustainable environment that is also a retreat center called TARA, for hard working international, activist women. Since 2002 I’ve been leading 10-day Yoga retreats for these women and am each year deeply touched by how extremely effective the simplest practices are in helping them find their centers amidst the storms of disparity that are a daily part of their incredible lives. Within a day or two of gathering these women begin to drop their necessary armor, unfurl their deeply held tensions, allowing their bodies to come unclenched and their minds to soften. This so called women-centered Yoga which is all I’ve ever really known is rooted in understanding the female body and psyche and for them is revolutionary. I get so much satisfaction witnessing this transformation that happens over such a short time and that many of them return annually for, when time and duty allow.
It’s 3am in Delhi, my sleeping and waking rhythm is skipping a beat and I’m hearing the first daring bird calls outside in the enclave. I’ll take an auto over to Defense Colony later on to meet Mohit at ‘Soulcentric’ where I’m scheduled to give a weekend Yoga workshop, ‘The Way of Yoga’ after the retreat in April. This is a New Age (such an old term!) center that has sprung up offering Delhi folks a potpourri of classes, workshops and studies in wellness. I’ll take the same workshop to my brothers Hornby like town outside of Melbourne in Australia following these upcoming weeks in India, and this is how I travel, with Yoga. I love it.