I recently had the pleasure of sitting with Michele Labelle, my dear friend and yoga retreat leader, to discuss one of her favourite subjects – India! Over chai, we explored the topics of spirituality, healing, love, yoga, and Michele’s upcoming Sacred South India Yoga Adventure with Sacred Earth Journeys. Here’s just a fragment of our conversation, which fittingly took place on Valentine’s Day.
AA: What does India represent to you?
ML: India is like a melting pot. Of course there is the spiritual aspect; that’s what has always attracted me. When I think of India, I think of the colours, I think of the people…and the children’s smiles. When the kids come up to you, you see their soul through their eyes. There’s a rawness there that wakes something up deep, deep inside of me.
And then you have the dichotomy of modernization. The young women in their jeans, the older women in their full traditional dress. And being able to still walk on dirt roads, with the cows and tuk-tuks everywhere. It’s starting to blend the modern with the old.
India can be a shock to the system for the first-time traveller. What words of wisdom would you give?
Coming on this journey with us, there is the opportunity to feel safe, to be in a group setting. You sleep in a comfortable bed, and you are fed well. And you know, South Indian food, with all the different coconut curries — every single bite is so delicious! So that security, and having a tour guide who speaks the language, makes the experience so much more enjoyable.
Every single person has their own experience. So wherever you are in life, whatever meditation practices you have or not, whether you have your own spiritual guru or not…India wakes something up in every person I’ve ever met who has a calling to go.
And because I love India so much, I just want to share that love. It’s an invitation, like coming to a movie. It’s a whole different movie than you’ve ever seen in your life. And you’re a player in that movie.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this journey?One of the wonderful experiences we’ll have is meeting with Chindi Varadarajulu, a chef from Vancouver, and we’ll actually go shopping! Finding the ingredients at the market, preparing the food, and sitting down to have a meal.The inspiration of this trip in particular is to go Tiruvannamalai to see where Sri Ramana Maharshi lived. When he was 16 years old, he had a near death experience, and it was then that he started looking at the meaning of life. We’re going to go to Mount Arunachala, where he become enlightened. Just after that, there’s the Karthigai Deepam festival; pilgrims walk around the mountain at midnight, and there’s a huge procession.
And the Shore temple in Mamallapuram! We’ll have a real fire ceremony with a priest, to start the trip.
We’re also going to the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, where they have a ritual to take out the Shiva lingam in the morning. It goes to sleep at night; it has its own bed and chamber. It’s the honouring of putting to sleep and waking up the Shiva/Shakti energy within us.
You know, it’s Valentine’s Day here, so a lot of people wish they could be in a relationship. But this is an opportunity to really be your own Valentine. How can we come back to that inner child, and love that inner child so that we don’t have to depend on anyone else loving us? And when we come to that place of loving ourselves, having an opportunity to meditate and experience Divine Love …there’s no human love that can come close to it.
That Divine Love within isn’t something we can think our way to.You have to come from within to feel it. The minute we become disconnected, for whatever reason, the breaking in ‘belonging-ness’…we make stuff up. And it might not be on a cognitive level, but it can be on a cellular level.So the inquiry I’m in is, How can I come to that place of love, of unconditional love, and loving myself with Divine Love? And any time I’ve gone to India – the children bring me qualities of wonder and play. As adults, we’re way too serious. And so, on a trip like this, you have to go with a playful heart, and not take things so seriously. And just be open to this whole new adventure of life.
What would you say to people who are very affected by the poverty and lack in the children of India? I know that you connect very strongly with the children.
It’s an automatic heart connection. I don’t see them as poor; I see them as children. I remember one day on a previous tour, the group was doing their banking and I saw these kids that lived in plastic tents across the street. And they had rags on and head lice and they were dirty, barefoot, hardly any clothes on. And I played hide-and-go-seek with them for half an hour. I had so much fun with these kids. And they were laughing…
Sometimes I think, in North America, we’re more poor than the kids who have nothing in India. Because even though they’re poor, they have community and family that look after each other. I think we’re more love-starved in first world countries than any third world country I’ve ever gone to. And maybe that’s why I love going…because I feel their hearts.
It doesn’t mean that it’s all good; it’s the balance of the yin and the yang, the positive and the negative. There will always be duality. There will always be war. That’s who we are as a human beings — there’s an internal war. Like the universal sign of ohm, you have your tamasic, rajasic, and sattvic qualities. We’re always looking to find that balance.
What kind of yoga will you be teaching?After my very first trip to India, in 2008, I went up to Haridwar, in the Himalayas. I stayed in a hotel that had very simple drawings of the five elements of ether, air, water, fire, and earth, and those pictures just drew me in.So on this trip, the yoga will be related to all the chakras, in relationship to the inner child and to the five elements. It will be a combination of Hatha, Kundalini, and Restorative yoga. There is nothing I love more than teaching outside, under the stars, with fireflies flying around. And the fragrances of India! The jasmine on the trees, the incense…the reverence.
This all sounds amazing. I want to go! Any final thoughts?
India has a way of accelerating what you need to learn. It might be years before you really understand how India’s made an impact on you, whether it’s mental, physical, or spiritual. Something stays inside of you long after you leave. That’s the gift of going to India.