As kids become adults, they often move far away from their parents, and vacations are often a respite to chill out from the hectic routine at work and home. Some women have found a way to connect, or re-connect, expand their minds — and their souls — with unforgettable experiential mother/daughter getaways.
Ellen Riojas Clark, Ph.D., is a 73-year-old University of Texas at San Antonio professor. She has been traipsing around the world, chronicling her adventures with her daughters and granddaughters since the little ones were just two years old. She says the most important benefit of these matrilineal outings is the relationship.
“…Bonding with someone you thought you knew, but now know on a different scale. The bonding is ongoing as we have all grown older. As my oldest granddaughter says, ‘I am so happy that I had you in your best years.’ Hold on, girl, not that far off now. We all have seen the changes.”
Over the years, Ellen and the younger generations of Ellens, have had a blast in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Ellen’s next trip is to Antarctica. They all, Ellen included, have gotten a lot of laughs out of strange situations with Ellen and non-domesticated animals.
“We always remember and laugh heartily, usually at my expense,” she recalls. “In the Uluru Desert in Australia, we took a five-hour camel ride to see the sunrise. All of a sudden, I let out a piercing scream that almost started a camel stampede. The camel behind me bit my bottom, for unbeknownst to me he was eating the fresh leaves from the garland I had used to fancy up my hat. That was also the trip where the dumb kangaroo came and snatched my shoe right off my foot in Brisbane, and I had to chase him down. Also, this is the trip where a flock of lorikeets found my puffy hair a perfect place to nest and had me screaming as they dug their feet into my head.”
“Oops, l forgot, this emu comes up behind me at a zoo, snaps at me just as a Tasmanian devil takes a look at me, and starts off running in laps around me as I kept on screaming.”
Ellen says that she and camels don’t seem to get along, wherever she goes.
“In India, I was swaying along on my elephant feeling rather luxurious, when a herd of camels came alongside. My elephant went berserk, screaming, waving his trunk around, and spinning around before taking off. It took three guys to get him, and almost an hour before he — and I — were calm enough to let me get down. I could go on and on.”
For another family, India was the seat of transformation last fall. Missy Balsam and her mom, Pam Krangel, choose India for its spiritual traditions. Their experience in India with the Center for Spiritual Studies was billed as, “The most transcendent spiritual pilgrimage: ecstatic kirtan, world-class Yoga, timeless temples, and Divine Saints.”
“I think it’s important to get to know what’s important to your children. Take an interest in what they’re doing, and you may learn something. Give it a try,” urges Pam.
Missy is a full-time yoga teacher and devotional kirtan musician based out of Naples, Florida. “I never exercised a day in my life,” admits Pam. “I had neck and back issues, with a double fusion at the cervical spine. I took Missy’s yoga class because I wanted to be supportive of her.”
Since their trip to India, her mom has become her biggest fan. More importantly, she now relishes the yoga and music that Missy leads and shares her appreciation for the traditions and culture of India. The closeness between them is visible to all. The bonding, in great part, is due to mother/daughter shared adventures and spiritual awakenings.
At first, Pam was a little hesitant about joining the group. A retired sales executive, born and raised in Philadelphia, she was older than the other travelers and was not entrenched in the yoga and bhakti (devotion) world.
“I was always the type of person that just followed the rules,” says Pam. “Missy had the fortitude to follow her dreams and heart, and I admire that. I think of myself as a late bloomer. Now, I’m learning to express myself and follow my heart. This has given me a wonderful sense of focus that I didn’t have before. My daughter has become my teacher.”
Together, they visited New Delhi, an Eco-village outside of Mumbai, volunteered at the children’s orphanage in Vrindavan, and had face time with several spiritual leaders including Radhanath Swami, author of The Journey Home. They spent time at a handful of ashrams and pilgrimage sites. Plus, they practiced yoga, meditation, and kirtan chanting, daily, with Saul David Raye, an internationally acclaimed teacher, healer, and spiritual activist.
“The learning experience was mine. It opened my heart to bhakti yoga and I got more and more into it. And, it only made us closer. I enjoyed the whole experience. I loved it. I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
The journey through India also rooted Missy’s involvement and leadership in the bhakti scene.
Missy was invited to lead yoga and kirtan at the recent Bhakti Fest Midwest, and Pam was there, too. In September, Missy will perform and teach at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California. Then, she’s headed back to India.
This time, Missy’s co-leading the Bhakti Yatra 2015 tour to southern India with Saul David Raye. Some of the stops they will make along this pilgrimage include Madurai, Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram, Chidambaram, and Tiruvannamalai. They will return to Vrindavan and Govardhan and walk the mountain where the great sage Ramana Maharshi lived.
Pam hopes to join Missy in Joshua Tree and/or India this year, too.
Across the ocean, Mother-daughter duo, Lauren and Michelle, found spirituality and cemented their relationships, in the Bahamas. All, look forward to repeated trips that deepen their relationship while nourishing their souls.
Michelle Witter, of Chicago, (27) and her mom, Lauren (56) plan periodic yoga getaways, following their first experience a few years ago at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas.
The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, located across the bay from Nassau, sits on 5.5 acres of lush tropical gardens. With its pristine white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, it provides the ideal environment for disconnecting from the daily work grind and searching within and focusing on the present.
“Going to the Bahamas for the Sivananda yoga vacation was definitely memorable,” Michelle says. “It was the first time I had left the country, and it was the first time my mom and I had done more than just one (yoga) class together. Doing yoga on the beach or overlooking the water–there’s no contest. It was the perfect mix of a dream vacation and actively participating in yoga or kirtan.”
Michelle says the Sivananda experience was “simply idyllic.”
Sivananda yoga vacations are not about an hour or two of yoga, and the rest of the time sipping margaritas or suntanning on the beach. Sivananda ashrams, located all over the world, offer immersions into the yogic life and philosophy. Guests eat vegetarian diets, abstain from caffeine and alcohol, and practice yoga, meditation, and kirtan, daily.
Guests at Sivananda can stay for a weekend, or several weeks. Each month there are a wide variety of special programs and guest lecturers from which to choose: Ayurvedic massage therapy, vegetarian cooking classes, positive thinking, stress reduction, Vedic astrology, even cross-denominational holiday celebrations.
The experiences at Sivananda deepened Michelle and Lauren’s relationship and clarified their understanding of each other.
Michelle explains, “When we’re away for a few days and it’s just the two of us, we are able to connect more often and get into more meaningful conversation than if we had other people to focus on. We have an understanding with each other that I don’t personally have with anyone else. She’s the only one who understands the spiritual side of yoga and how it enhances my life. I can tell people about my experiences and my beliefs, and they think it’s great, but they don’t really “get it” like she does.”
More recently, Michelle and Lauren shared a spiritual yoga weekend getaway in Madison, Wisconsin. They were together, but still able to express their individuality by choosing workshops and presentations to which they were uniquely drawn.
“It’s the best of both worlds because when we are in the same class we have that connection and understanding of what we just experienced, and we can compare and contrast what we liked and didn’t like or how we feel. When we reconnect after attending separate classes, we get to share our new experiences with each other, which is very cool.”
Lauren and Michelle are hoping to continue these spiritual yoga vacations at least once a year.
“I feel very lucky that we were able to initially find a hobby we both enjoyed, not knowing it would turn into this passion both of us individually and together could expand upon,” Michelle says.
Mom Lauren adds, “I feel that Michelle and I understand each other a little bit better than we would if we didn’t travel together. We talk about deeper subjects, we know each other a little bit better than we did before we did this. It is a wonderful experience for me.”