Two Dog Tales

A Year's Journey

By Shannon McCall
Story of a milestone year from September 2012 Two Dog Newsletter


Last year was a milestone year for me: I had been teaching yoga for twenty years; my son was in college and out of the house, and I was ready for a sabbatical of sorts. At the beginning of the year I made plans to spend a month in Brazil with John of God (a spiritual healer) and in March I was about to purchase my air ticket when I received an email invitation from a former student to teach yoga to a tour group exploring the sacred cities and sites of Northern India. “Was I available to come to India and be their yoga teacher?" I sure was!

So, quick shift in direction: my trip to Brazil in spring turned into a two month trip to India in summer. I decided that if someone was going to bring me all the way to India and pay me for my time, I was going to stay on and explore as I had been wanting to do. Ienjoyed a wonderful tour of sacred cities in Northern India and went on to stay at an ashram in Rishikesh where I lived in a room on Mother Ganga (as all refer to the holy river, no one calls her the Ganges) and underwent a month-long pancha karma, which is a gentle but thorough ayurvedic detoxification. While there I enjoyed nightly ceremonies (aratis: offerings of light) on the bank of the mother with the resident Swami. Very healing.

Back up a few months: It is June, just a month before I am leaving for India, and I bring a sick friend to see the Ayurvedic teacher Dr. Vasant Lad, who is visiting Seattle to teach about the healing effects of mantra and vedic fire ceremony and offering an introductory lecture/experience of the fire Friday night. I have known of Dr. Lad since buying his little red book back in 1988, and cooking ayurvedically for years using his cookbook. I had met him a few years before when he was in Seattle giving another lecture, and I brought my tattered copy of his first book for his signature. As I rounded a corner, I almost walked right into him, and he looked at me and smiled with such warmth, as though he were meeting an old friend. Something was deeply troubling my heart at that time and I was moved to share my distress with him in a few words. I will never forget how it felt when he looked into my eyes, took my hand in his, and with great love offered his teachings. I don’t remember what he said, but I was transformed by his gentleness and kindness and after that experience with him I knew that in all healing, love is the real healer.

My friend was in need of healing so I wanted to bring her to Dr. Lad’s fire ceremony. At the event, I experienced the same gentleness and warmth from Dr. Lad that I remembered from our first meeting.  As I was watching the fire, I heard a voice in my head say, “You should go to New Mexico and study with him,” to which I thought back, “What?? I can’t go to New Mexico; I live and work in Seattle; I can’t afford to take a year off, blah, blah, blah....” 

I enjoyed the ceremony so much, that afterwards I cleared my weekend schedule and signed up for his workshop. It was during that weekend I had a very clear vision of myself working with Ayurveda. I felt my deep connection to this lineage and the call to study directly with Dr. Lad. It was a stunning experience.

Days later I was having dinner with a dharma friend and his wife, and I told them of my experiences, and said that if ever I had felt that I found my teacher, this was the time. I finished by saying, “If I could, I would come home from India and move to Albuquerque for a year to study with Dr. Lad.” 

As I drove home that night, those words reverberated in my head: “If I could, I would come home from India and move to Albuquerque for a year to study with Dr. Lad.” and then the thought, “Why can’t I?”  That single thought shifted my thinking so much that the next day I found myself on the website to find  out if there was room in the first-year program; I spoke with my son, to see how he would feel if his mother left for most of a year and I began to tell my closest friends about this idea. Unanimously, the reflection back from all those I loved, was, “Yes; go!" Everyone seemed to be feeling what I was feeling. It was a wonderful confirmation.

I left for India a few weeks later, and in the midst of that experience, I sent in my application to the Ayurvedic Institute, made arrangements for housing, financing, etc. When I returned home to Seattle in September, I closed my business, gently let my students know I would be leaving again, rented out my house, packed up my belongings, and moved to Albuquerque, a place I had never visited before. 

Ayurveda means “the science of life” and it is perhaps 5000 years old.  A science received by enlightened rishis about how to live in relationship with nature, it is considered a ‘sister science’ to yoga and deals with questions around how to stay healthy so that one can pursue one’s life purpose. Health in Ayurveda is defined as harmony in the constitution, the digestive fire, the bodily tissues, the proper movement of wastes, AND the presence of peace in the mind in one who is firmly established in the Self. By this definition, none of us would probably call ourselves truly healthy.  

Along with 32 others, folks from all over the world who had also left their homes, their jobs and their families to study with, Dr. Lad, I began my formal studies of Ayurveda in October 2011. Our class was made up of college-aged students in their 20’s, doctors and scientists, yoga teachers, and an age range from 21 - 65 years. We were a very easy group, bonded well, and shared all the ups and downs of a full time rigorous course of study, in a new environment, away from our loved ones. Our curriculum included sanskrit, anatomy and physiology, ayurvedic yoga, ayurvedic lifestyle, practitioner’s skills, ayurvedic nutrition and herbology, pulse reading, and all of these classes were in support of our main 3-hour evening lecture with Dr. Lad. It was a completely intensive immersion into the teachings in a traditional vedic learning environment which included sitting on the floor near the altar where a ghee lamp was always burning (there was a row of chairs in the back for a reprieve), reciting sanskrit prayers before and after class, and receiving the transmission of this ancient lineage from our very kind, loving and learned teacher: a great honor and responsibility both. 

We all thrived, and at the end of our studies, after our final oral exam with Dr. Lad (we had several weeks after our courses ended to prepare for this in which any question could be asked on any subject, and his preference was for answers recited in sanskrit verse!) we exhaled deeply into a celebratory graduation  My study partner, a young Indian Biology teacher, and myself, a middle-aged mother and yogini, graduated at the top of our class! I am still recovering!

I returned to Seattle mid June, 2012, and have begun teaching yoga again after a year away. I am excited to share what I have learned about ayurveda with all of you and to support your implementation of the diet and lifestyle practices that are some of the keys to finding balance in life. I will be offering a series of classes, each with a different theme, and meant to be taken together, but it is okay to take them individually if that is all your schedule allows. Each class will begin with a yoga practice, followed by the lecture. I hope to see you there. If you have questions about the classes I will be offering, please feel free to call or email: (206) 412-8784 or Namaste

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