Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Learning Bharatnatyam and Yoga

 Okay so two weeks ago I finally found a good instructor to teach me Bharatnatyam! The dance originated in South India and is the national dance of India. My studio is just two blocks down the road from my house so I will be walking there every Monday and Friday at 6pm to 7pm. I also have begun yoga which will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays 4pm to 5pm and on Saturdays at 2pm so for now on I will definitely not be bored! My yoga class is right on the beach so I will also be taking about a short bike ride there every other day.
Anyways Bharatnatyam is fun! There is a definite workout in my thighs and my heels are beginning to become bruised from hitting my heels on the floor so much which is a big part of bharatnatyam! A distinctive feature of the dance is the use of expressive hand gestures as a way of communication. Hastas refers to the varieties of hand symbols that a dancer can use. Many of these hand gestures are well known. For example, Anjali is often used as a salutation when a person greets another person. The Tamil text Koothanool contains descriptions of over 300 hastas and mudras. 
Of course there are also other types of movements used as a way to express emotions. They are :

Head Movements (Shiro bhedas)
Neck Movements (Griva bhedas)
Eye Movements (Drishti bhedas)
So far I haven't learned any of these movements since I barely even know a few out of the hundreds of hand movements there are! Hopefully by the end of this year though I will have learned a few more. Most students begin around the age of  6 for Bharatnatyam so I am in a class with 5 other 6-8 year old girls but its actually pretty fun hanging out with the little kids and the instructor is pretty layed back because of it.

My first day of yoga was absolutely AMAZING! And I still love it:) It is so relaxing and absolutely amazing for your health. Its located very close to me, about 10-15 minutes on bike. The Yoga Center is called Sivanda Yoga Vedanta Center.  I absolutely love my yoga teacher and we have some good laughs when I try to balance myself in the Tree Pose which looks like this -------------------------------------------------->

There are five points in Yoga:

Proper Exercise: acts as a lubricating routine to the joints , muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other parts of the body by increasing circulation and flexibility. These proper exercises are called Asanas. There are 13 basic Asanas. Each Asana has numerous physical, psychic, and mental benefits.

 The first one is Sirasana ( The Headstand). This one I haven't even tried yet because of its difficulty and the fact that I would undoubtedly fall and hurt myself.

The second basic pose is called Sarvangasana (The shoulder stand). This one is actually my favorite :) It is actually pretty comfortable and very fun!

The third pose is Halasana ( the Plough) You get into this one while in the shoulder stand position.

The fourth pose is Sethubandasana ( The bridge) This one I was already familiar with.

The fifth pose is Matsyasana ( The Fish) This one makes the top of my head a bit sore after a while.

The sixth pose is Paschimothanasana (The head-knee pose) This one I was also familiar with like the bridge and I was surprised to find it was a yoga pose.

The seventh pose is Bhujangasana (The cobra) This one can be slightly uncomfortable in your lower back because you have to sort of use your back to support yourself because you are not supposed to put all of the weight on your arms.

The 8th pose is Salabhasana ( The Locust) This position is extremely hard and I have barely even attempted it yet because of how flexible you have to be to be able to put your legs so far behind you. Only masters can achieve this and most just get their legs to a diagonal behind and above them.

The ninth pose is Dhanurasana ( The bow) This exercise is feels pretty good in the abdomen and in this position you can also rock back and forth on your stomach and this is called the rocking bow.

The 10th pose is Ardha Matsyendrasana (The Half Spinal Twist) This one is hard because you have to keep your shoulders level and your butt completely flat on the ground. It looks easy but with every breath you need to turn yourself farther around and keep your hand on your ankle.
The 11th pose is Kakasana ( The Crow) I haven't had the chance to practice this pose yet but it seems pretty easy.

The 12th pose is Pada Hasthsana.  This one is pretty simple

The thirteenth pose is Trikonasana ( The triangle) This one you should feel along the entire side of your body. It's a great stretch for your thighs

Now back to the 5 basic points

2. Proper Breathing: This aids the Body in connecting to its "battery", the solar plexus, where tremendous potential energy is stored. When tapped through specific Yoga breathing techniques (Pranayama) this energy is released for physical and mental rejuvenation.

3. Proper Relaxation: This cools down the system. When the body and mind are continually overworked, their efficiency diminishes. Relaxation is a way to recharge ones body. This is called Savasana and one pose is the corpse pose. It looks like this.

4. Proper Diet: This provides the correct "fuel" for the body. Optimum utilization of food, air, water, and sunlight is essential. The Yogi diet is a vegetarian diet consisting of pure natural foods that promote health. Simple meals help to aid digestion.

5. Positive Thinking and Meditation: This puts YOU in control . The intellect is purified. You are brought under conscious control through steadiness and concentration of mind. This comes from meditating in the pose Kapalabhati. This is the pose.
In this pose I usually begin my yoga class by chanting Om three times and praying. You must breath in and out through your stomach and make sure to sit on your spine with your back straight and your shoulders and face relaxed. It's quite calming and very peaceful. The pose the women is in above is the full lotus and I actually can't do that so I usually sit in half lotus with only one of my feet up. 

Well that's pretty much all I can think of at the moment. Hope you enjoyed my little Yoga and Bharatnatyam lesson :) 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Indian Wedding Reception

The day after I arrived on July 3rd we attended an Indian wedding reception which was so much fun! I got to wear a half sari and I will go into detail on that another time on how to put it on. I also wore a Bindi and lots of pretty gold bangles!:) At the wedding reception everyone was in their finest gold and many people were wearing very pretty saris. The bride had mahindi (henna tattoos) all over her arms and my sister Priya is very good at drawing so when I get it I will make sure to post it up on this blog :) When you meet any elder you must say Vanakkam with your hands together like in prayer to greet them and when you are leaving you must say Tata with your hands in  the same prayer position as the greeting. When we went to the reception,  we also brought my Ama's grandpa and in Tamil grandpa is Thatha. It was very easy for me to accidentally keep switching up these two and every time I said goodbye everyone thought I was saying grandpa! Talk about embarrassing! I couldn't figureout what they were laughing at everytime I told someone goodbye until my host sisters finally told me that they had thought I had been saying grandpa!

 At the wedding reception we ate a LOT! There must have been 200 people at this reception and at dinner we all took turns eating by sitting down and eating off a banana leaf while cooks ran around with pots of different foods. There was over 15 courses on my leaf and I only got through about 5 before I had to stop eating. I am also naturally a lefty so I had to make sure to eat with my right hand so as not to offend anyone because eating with your left is seen as "unclean". I ended up with food all over my blouse :/ I felt extremely American! After dinner we went and washed our hands and then enjoyed a light dessert of fruit and icecream.

Later I had to go to the bathroom. Now in India they have a different plumbing system and the toilet looks like a hole in the ground and you have a bucket to wash yourself with. No toilet paper and no toilet seat. I was very lucky to find though that the bathrooms in the big wedding reception hall had western toilets... but they were lacking toilet paper. Since then I always make sure to go before I leave the apartment or bring some tissues with me just in case.

Overall though, it was an amazing experience and I can't wait for the next wedding :)

The Journey, Orientations, and Meeting our Host Families

On our way to Chennai, India it was me, Cee, Tenaya, Zoe, Anastacia, and Zoe all together for 30 hours of uncomfortable and tortuously long flights. I have to say that I am so glad that we had each other for support on the way there!! :) The planes were pretty uncomfortable but luckily I had my pillow (Cee haha:) ) When we finally arrived in India we were all taken to a hotel and the next morning we were given a orientation on Indian culture and host families. That....was not so fun considering I had just spent 3 days in Washington doing orientations.It wasn't so bad though. We did some icebreakers and I met the other students who would be living in Chennai and I found another girl named Nat from Thailand who would be going to school with Zoe and I. I also met two Italians Allessandra and Eduardo and the two Austrians Teresa and Alexandra who we had met back in Frankfurt who were on the same flight as us YES abroaders to Chennai. The second we met we all had a immediate connection and it was a big comfort to know I wasn't the only one with doubts or feelings sadness for being away from family and friends.
                                                               Meeting the Family
 After the orientation, we waited for our host families to pick us up from the hotel. My family came in smiling and happy and they immediate hugged me :) it was so exciting to finally meet them at last! In orientations they told us not to expect hugs and kisses from our families but it seems like this time AFS was wrong!!:) My family was very warm and my sister Priya immediately grabbed my hand as we walked out of the hotel. It was nightime when they picked me up so I didn't get much of a glimpse of Chennai. On the car ride home Priya, Monica and I talked and talked about India and America and my flight and our own families. When we arrived at the apartment, before I entered, they did a welcoming Puja (prayer) for me where they burnt camphor ( some type of flammable phosphourous substance)and put it in a bowl and waved it in circles in front of me and behind me and then placed a flower garland around my neck. After we ate and let me tell you it is very hard to eat with your hand!! I got food all over myself and for those of you interested in a exchange in India practice eating with your hands beforehand otherwise you will feel embarrassed getting food everywhere. My family was very helpful though and taught me some techniques on eating with your hand. I was exhausted after all the flights and right after dinner I went to bed and passed out the second I hit the pillow.

Pre-Departure Washington Conference

Hi everyone! Sorry about not keeping up with my posts. I have been very busy and its hard to get Wifi here in Chennai. To start out I just wanted to let you know that I am okay and still alive and not to worry. My host family is wonderful and my Ama ( Mom in Tamil)  is very cautious to make sure that nothing happens to me. I also want to say to all of my friends back home that I miss you dearly and to my family I love all of you guys and I wish that I could see all of you and that I had been there to celebrate fourth of July with everyone. Specifically to my Mom... I am very grateful that I have you as my mother and it broke my heart to see you cry that badly at the airport and I don't want you to worry too badly about me. To Rob... you're absolutely amazing :) and I can't believe you are supporting all of this and I know it really hurts that we won't see eachother for an entire year. I don't want you to sit around missing me though. I want you to be happy and to go out and to hang with Dom, Jt, and Dashon and whoever else it is you hang with.
                                                        Washington D.C.
To begin, I left on June 28th for Washington D.C. to meet 600 other exchange students from around the world inbound and outbound. Only the 50 AFS Kennedy-Lugar Youth scholars were outbound. The rest of the people there were going back to their own countries after spending a year in the U.S.A.  As you can imagine it was pretty overwhelming meeting so many people who are as interested in exchange as I am and I made many friends from around the world. The countries that were there were Mozambique, India, Ghana, South Africa, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Germany, Thailand, Turkey, Morocco, and I think that's it but I may be missing a few.

We spent 4 days in Washington, but I had missed the first day because of a delayed flight and I didn't get into D.C. until 9pm, so I ended up going to a 2 hour workshop and then to bed .We did a lot of very loooong workshops to prepare us for going abroad. Some of them weren't too bad and the last one, where we talked with our group leader about India, was very helpful. After 13 hours of workshops though, I was extremely tired and I had had enough of the orientations. Luckily, it was only for one day.The next day we went to the Indian Embassy and visited the Illinois Senators Kirk and Durbin to speak with them about supporting more funding on exchanges and scholarships. We were put in groups according to each state that we were either from or had been hosted in and in my group there were two Phillipinos, two Indians, two Ghanians, two Malaysians and then there was me. I didn't mind being the only outbound YES abroad student there because I felt special being able to soley represent my cause.

 After meeting with the Senators, we went to the Hyatt hotel to do our cultural orientations about each country. What I have to say about the presentations was WOW! Every culture was so colorful and unique with all of their different dances and music. I absolutely LOVED the music from Mozambique. It had a great beat to dance too and all of the African countries really knew how to break dance and do this thing with there hips where they would basically do a shimmy. The philopines play was very interesting and they had very elaborate props and costumes. They even created these poles to carry the "Princess" onto the stage with 4 guys holding onto each of the long decorated poles. Germany's presentation was very funny and they had all 600 exchangees dancing and jumping up and down and holding hands with this very boppy music. One of the Germans onstage was dressed as the german flag and was wearing a blue spandex suit with the colors of germany's flag on the "wings" they had created and attached onto his arms so that he could run around flapping his arms like a bird. The Saudi Arabians were really good at shaking their hips and everyone rushed to the stage to dance with them and give it a try. I think probably most of the performances made everyone in the audience want to join. Except ours. For the American performance we did square dancing which was an epic fail! We went first and basically only practiced it for an hour at the most. We were all over the place but it was really fun and we just kept laughing at ourselves. After that we sang This Land is Our Land and the second verse only a few of us knew so it was mostly mouthed by the end. Overall the other countries completely outshowed us but it was fun nevertheless. The last day there we said our goodbyes and there were a few tears, but for those of us going to Thailand and India we were very excited to finally begin our trip to our countries:)