Cambodia Trip – November 24

Thanks for the birthday wishes. I celebrated by going to 4 ancient temples in Angkor Wat. Warning: I’m going to use this as a record of my trip, so feel free to skip stuff… I’m traveling with two dear friends, Boby and Gage. They are determined to visit every possible temple site… I’m determined to keep up with them!

Got to Siem Riep Thursday evening after 2 endless flights. Korean Air was great. Back in Dynamic Travel days, flying Korean Air was a punishment, with the worst safety record – kept crashing. Major turnaround, no crashes, service in coach included big blankets, slippers and toothbrush! I asked for the Korean dinner and it came with an instruction card.

Anyway, first day in Siem Reap (translated: Siam defeated, referring to the bitter rivalry between the Khmers and the Siamese) we walked the city, spent a few hours in the covered market, bargaining and snacking. Skipped dinner and turned in early. Took a tuk tuk before dawn to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat across the moat from the main temple. Thousands of people and their cameras recorded the dawn, including me. Our guide for the day was orphaned at 8 months during the Pol Pot Killing Fields genocide. He was taken to one of the 2 monasteries on the grounds of the ancient ruins and raised there. After the sunrise he gave a history lesson, then took us to the monastery. We entered a spacious, but dark one room hut on stilts where we met the woman who raised him, and the master Monk. Our guide’s story quickly reminded us that recent Cambodian history is as violent and votatile as the ancient history.

According to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, at least 1.7 million people — nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population — died under the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge from execution, disease, starvation and overwork. The Khmer Rouge reign ended in 1999, a year after Pol Pot’s death.

Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century (113-5BC), took about 30 years to build, and was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It is beautiful and romantic, overwhelmingly impressive and stately. Later, it became a Theravada Buddhist monument, most likely in the sixteenth century. That transition was not a peaceful one…

From Tourism Cambodia:

“Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. The central tower rises from the center of the monument symbolizing the mythical mountain, Meru, situated at the center of the universe. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall corresponds to the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat the oceans beyond.”

Here is the description of the most famous relief:

East Gallery – Churning of the Ocean of Milk

This is the most famous panel of bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat and is from the Indian epic Bagavata-Pourana. The Ocean of Milk is churned by gods and demons to generate Amrta, the elixir of life.

The scene is divided into three tiers. The lowest with various aquatic animals, real and mythical, bordered by a serpent. The middle tier has demons and gods. They work together by holding and churning the serpent. Hanuman, the monkey god, assists. Visnu, in his reincarnation as a tortoise sits on the bottom of the ocean and offers the back of his shell as a base for the mountain Mandara, and as a pivot for the churning. A huge cord in the form of the body of the serpent acts as a stirring instrument to churn the sea.

To begin the motion the gods and demons twist the serpent’s body, pulling it rhythmically back and forth causing it to rotate and churn the water.

The gods and demons are directed by three persons on the top level. Indra is above Visnu. On the extreme right, Hanuman, ally of the gods, tickles the serpent. The churning lasted more than 1,000 years and eventually provoked the serpent to vomit mortal venom, which covers the waves. Afraid the venom may destroy the gods and demons, Brahma intervenes and requests Siva to drink the venom, which will leave an indelible trace on Siva’s throat. He complies and, as a result, the elixer pours forth. The demons rush to capture it. Visnu hurries to the rescue and assumes yet another reincarnation in the form of Maya, a bewitching beauty, and is able to restore much of the coveted liquid.

FYI – This is why Siva is often portrayed as having a blue neck.

We spent the rest of the day at the 4 most visited sites, Angkor Thom, the Banyon Temple (part of Angkor Thom and the site of Tomb Raiders) Ta Prohm Temple, and the main Angkor Wat Temple. The carving of Buddhist and Hindu mythology are amazing and more meaningful thanks to doing my homework in yoga class – hooray. Forgot to mention that the climate here is a living sauna. Rewarded ourselves at Sokkak Spa, first of two trips to this most holy site. And since it was Thanksgiving, give or take a day, we got pumpkin scrubs.

Transitions

Dog pictureThis time of year, summer is ending, fall beginning, and even if it has been decades, we remember the bittersweet excitement of returning to school. Nature is transitioning, we are transitioning. Change is in the still, hot air. When we pause and deepen our awareness, we learn to feel the change of season in our bodies. In Southern California, where Easterners are fond of reminding us there are no seasons, our senses know differently. The garden is gradually changing. We are aware of a softer natural light in the yoga studio. Indian summer heat forces us to slow down, reflect, observe. The shadow of the Japanese Maple plays in a new place on the wall. Fall takes its place as the transition between Summer and Winter. How does the change in season affect the rhythms of our yoga practice?

In our yoga practice, we take our cues from the nature of the garden. We tend to think of transitions in nature as events like the changing of the seasons. Profound changes in nature affect us daily, the transition from night to dawn: We think of human transitions as life cycle events, births or that first day of school. Transitions frame our daily activities. We begin our day, mostly without a thought of what is occurring in our bodies. Looking at that transition, we notice a routine, a mindful rhythm that introduces us to the fullness of our day; a cup of tea or coffee, a moment of quiet.

Fundamentally, yoga is about union. Union between our bodies, minds and spirits; union between ourselves and our the space around us. In the most physical way, what frames our yoga practice; we take our seat on the mat, center ourselves and turn toward a deeper awareness of our breath. When we chant the sound of OM, that ritual is a graceful transition to the time we set aside for our yoga (asana) practice, in classes big or small, on line, or alone. Those of us practicing some form of Hatha Yoga, are probably moving through a combination of Sun Salutations, standing and seated poses, twists, bends, maybe inversions. It might be twenty minutes long or two hours long, practicing with the belief that we are moving our bodies in the most life-enhancing way possible. We make mistakes, we laugh, we learn and sometimes we cry. No matter what the asanas look like, before we finish, we honor our time on the mat by taking Savasana, or corpse pose. We lie on our backs, minds quiet, hearts open, vulnerable, supported by the earth. We give ourselves this gift of sweet stillness so that we can transition back to the rest of our day with grace, with the knowledge that we are an integral part of this natural world, that its rhythms are our rhythms.

So when you next step onto your mat, honor your practice by being mindful of the structure by marking the transitions. Sit comfortably before you begin to move. Complete your practice with a true Savasana. The time you set aside for your yoga practice is sacred time; the space, even if temporary, is sacred space. As you acknowledge the beginnings, endings and transitions in the world around you, you will find the parallels of beginnings, endings and transitions on your mat. Eventually, that line blurs: your yoga and your life begin to support each other, and the seasons continue to change.

What’s Important About the Olympics

This is the first year I have had second thoughts about watching the Olympics. Every other time the Games roll around, I can’t wait to curl up in front of the TV and alternately hold my breath or breathe right along with the athletes. This season, I heard too many stories about doping, or athletes that participated at the risk of their health or competed more out of obligation than burning desire.

So this year I decided to opt out of the games, until I picked up the Parade section of the Los Angeles Times this past Sunday morning. Sports columnist and author of “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Mitch Albom, wrote about past Olympic athletes. Here’s Albon’s account of one story from the Barcelona Olympic Stadium:

“A British sprinter named Derek Redmond pulled a hamstring midway through a 400-meter heat. He fell to the track as if he’d been shot. His Olympics were over. 

“But his moment had just begun.

“As Derek waved off the medics and tried to hop to the finish, his father, Jim Redmond, a heavyset machine-shop owner, burst from the stands and ran onto the track. He somehow reached his son, who buried his head in his father’s shoulder to hide his tears. Then the two of them, the father, supporting the son. inched their way to the finish line so that Derek could say he finished the race. The crowd rose for the slow-hobbling men and roared as loudly as it would for any champion.”

As I sat there, crying into my cereal bowl, I remembered why I watch the Olympics. I want to be inspired, to be reminded that I share something with these athletes, that we are a community, that we all have a story, and we all want to be reminded of our own potential.