Inspirational, Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Meeting The Dalai Lama at 36,000 Feet

His Holiness the Dalai Lama beckons me to come closer

Prepare yourself for every superlative and cliché in the book, as I try to describe the experience of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama this week; an extraordinary and outrageously special experience (you see? I’ve already started with the hyperbole).

My journal entry says, “I’m not sure if ‘holy crap!’ are appropriate words to use in the same sentence as the Dalai Lama … but holy moly (holy guacamole? Holy Gautama?), I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama on my flight to Delhi today”. Since the experience was much more profound than that, I will now try to give it due reverence.

During my advanced yoga teacher training in McLeod Ganj, India, I was optimistic that I would get a chance to see His Holiness, since his residence was on our doorstep. Over two months, like a DalaiGroupie. I checked his official itinerary online, applied through the web site for a “private audience” (although I would have been happy to be one in a cast of thousands), visited the security office in the town, asked local Buddhists, monks and nuns (who had now become my friends) if they knew of any unscheduled appearances, and when I had a chance to visit the Buddhist temple adjacent to his home, I’d stay alert, just in case he felt a spontaneous urge to venture out and have some time with his peeps.

It was not meant to be. The harder I searched, the more elusive he was.

Finally, it was the end of my stay and time for me to accept I was not going to see HHDL. There’s some irony in that acceptance, since the Buddhist and Yoga philosophy of non-attachment suggests that to avoid suffering, we should detach from our desires to the point that if they remain unfulfilled, we can still be content. Best we accept, with grace, the things we can’t change – no Dalai Lama as part of my yoga teacher training? Okay, then, I could live with that … it had still been an unforgettable seven weeks at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga.

Taking it all in.

And so, on the Dharamsala to Delhi flight, I was staring out the window, saying goodbye and thank you for my special Himalayan yoga experience, when I noticed the American couple sitting behind me were now taking selfies with two Tibetan monks in the front row. I thought, “Oh, isn’t that sweet; they’ve obviously not seen many monks yet and this is still a novelty for them”.

Half an hour later, without really knowing where the question came from, I found myself casually asking them if there was any specific reason they were taking photos of “the two monks”, and they stared at me and said, “Uh, YES. That’s the Dalai Lama”. My jaw dropped. I hadn’t even noticed them boarding the aircraft, I’d been so lost in my Goodbye-McLeod-Ganj thoughts. To Art and Amy from DC … THANK YOU!

Note how strongly I was gripping his hands 🙂

All these weeks of wishing and hoping to see him, and now here he was, two rows in front of me, within an easy yoga stretch. The next slice of time (2 minutes? 2 years? 2 seconds?) passed in a daze (cliché, but true). I found myself crouching down in the aisle, waiting shyly and not wanting to disturb him, while simultaneously also wanting to sit in his lap and ask him for All The Answers to All The Questions.

He looked up and reached out towards me, beckoning me to come forward. I knelt down, simply holding his hands and staring at him. His grip was firm and strong and when I looked at the photos afterwards, I realized I was crushing his hands in my white-knuckled grasp, not wanting to let go.


Friends have asked me what I said to him and he to me, but there was no need for words. There was nothing I wanted to say. I simply held his hands and gazed at him; his deep, brown eyes alert and filled with light and wisdom, and a mischievous smile on his face.

I drank it all in. I felt his presence as pure; his spirit kind, humble and compassionate. It felt like I was bathing in his energy, on the receiving end of unconditional love and I wanted nothing more than to return this love to him, from my heart. (Yes, I warned you about the superlatives).

At some point, I placed my palms together in “Namaste”, and stumbled back to my seat. I sat for a while, not even looking at the photos my fellow American passenger had taken of me. I sat and absorbed what had just happened, and my eyes filled with tears as I realized how blessed I was to have experienced this. As many people pointed out, it was the perfect end to an already-perfect yoga adventure in India.

Once we had landed in Delhi, I looked down to notice I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt after I had floated back to my seat. But somehow, I think our flight was in safe hands.


My Favorite Music and Books

Some of my favorite recommendations for good meditation music and yoga reads. Click to explore

Bliss Om Namah Shivaya Robert Gass






Dalai-Lama-Archbishop-Tutu-Book-of-Joy Bhagavad-Gita-Stephen-Mitchell  Bhava-Ram-Warrior-Pose-Book

Travel, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Tibetan Prayer Wheels and Temples

McLeod Ganj Prayer Wheels
Tibetan prayer wheels

Our yoga teacher training schedule is crammed, so we relish the little bit of free time for exploring the area and early one morning I enjoyed a visit to the Buddhist Kalachakra Temple (no photos allowed). There were local Tibetans making their daily circuit of the temple; praying, spinning the prayer wheels, stopping to pay their respects to the golden Buddha statue.

The prayer “Om Mani Padme Hum” is written thousands of times on a scroll of paper and placed inside the prayer wheel. The translation is “Praise to The Jewel in the Lotus” and is repeated to invoke compassion. It’s believed that each time you spin the wheel, the effect is the same as reciting the mantra as many times as it is written within the wheel.

McLeod Ganj stupa
McLeod Ganj Stupa

I have a small Tibetan prayer wheel at home, but to be able to turn the prayer wheels in a Tibetan community, within walking distance of the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was particularly special. I walked behind a group of Tibetan women, in their long skirts with striped pinafores, and I spun the prayer wheels clockwise, silently repeating the prayer. One of the ladies caught my eye and smiled at me. The temple was also the perfect place to sit and meditate; enjoying the quiet atmosphere. Even the stray dogs and monkeys seemed peaceful!

Ornate motifs inside the stupa

On the walk back up Temple Road, there is another set of prayer wheels in the street surrounding a stupa – a memorial to those Tibetans who lost their lives fighting for a free Tibet. Again, you’re welcome to join the Buddhists who spin the wheels on their way to work, as they walk past the cylinders of deep red and green and gold. There’s something very mindful about starting your day with a ritual that includes a wish for all beings to be compassionate.

Yoga in Dharamkot
Yoga in Dharamkot

My walk then took me through the quaint village of Dharamkot, with its charming higgledy-piggledy streets, laidback cafés, small shops with crystals and handmade clothing, and multiple signs for yoga. Many signs are in Hebrew, and I discovered Dharamkot is a favorite destination for Israelis visiting India. I felt a bit like I’d just walked from Little Tibet to Little Jerusalem.

Getting to know Shiva, on the menu
Getting to know Shiva, on the menu

Yummy lunch of paneer in curry sauce (don’t you love the menu, compete with introduction to Shiva?) and then I made my way to the Galu Devi T

emple. It looked like it was about a 20-minute walk on the map, but I kept hiking higher and higher up the mountain, red-faced and panting and asking locals how much further, and they all said “Ten minutes! Ten minutes!”.

Galu Devi Temple in Upper Dharamkot
Galu Devi Temple in Upper Dharamkot

It turned out to be a 4.5km walk (I noticed afterwards my map said “Not to scale”), but the fresh air and the spectacular views out over the valley were worth every step. As was my encounter with a friendly and funny goat, who grinned cheesily at the camera for me.

This is how a goat says CHEESE!

A gorgeous day out. And perhaps I walked off some of that carrot cake I can’t seem to resist at Lhamo’s Croissant, which is treacherously within metres of our yogi cottages!