Day 1: The taxi took me round Fewa lake, up a seriously rocky and step road, through a small village and away from the tourists. It stopped by a path and from there I had to walk up a hill to the Sadahana Yoga Retreat, which is positioned high up looking over the Pokhara and the lake. You couldn’t see the retreat until you were more or less there.
The walk up wasn’t easy but it was worth it – the sun had come out and it was a glorious day, I was huffing and puffing and a bit pink faced but happy to be there. As the day had gone on I had become increasingly nervous about the retreat but as I arrived I could feel myself relaxing. Though I did hope I wouldn’t have to go up and down the hill too often!
I was there in time to meet the others at tea and popcorn time, a daily event each afternoon. There were only six of us at that time, though over the next few days some people would leave and others would join, but there were never more than eight at one time.
My first session was chanting meditation, a few of the teachers play instruments and everyone sings the chosen mantras. I found it incredibly beautiful. The first one was Om Guru Om, a very simple chant but within moments I could feel tears running down my face, I felt a bit silly and tried to control them. By the time we’d finished the third chant (we select three different ones for each session) I could hear one of the other ladies crying. At the end the teacher explained it was good to cry as you were releasing blockages, maybe next time I won’t try and control it.
After this it was evening yoga but as it was my first night I wasn’t meant to join in. So I sat in the silence lounge, a kind of covered balcony and listened to my iPod, watching the light fade over the lake and surrounding hills. I’m not sure if listening to music is cheating in the silent area, but I was the only one there so I got away with it. Sitting watching the lake made me think back to all the evenings last year I had camped next to lakes in Europe and Scandinavia and what an incredible 12 months I’ve had. I already felt calm and actually enjoying a little time on my own. I was even thinking that I might stay another day – but then I realised I hadn’t actually done any yoga yet and I might quickly change my mind the next day!
I was also racing ahead thinking how I would be different when I’m home, practice meditation, go to yoga classes – you know a total calm level headed person, effectively not me! I pulled myself back from my little dream work and told myself to slow down, I need to be realistic and not over pressure myself and then end up failing. Instead maybe I will try to introduce small changes that I can gradually build on which could over time become part of my life. I’ve never been very good a doing things in small steps – I’ve tended to do all or nothing – but it is worth a go!
I had thought dinner would be dal baht again, after having a few days off it I wasn’t really looking forward to going back. I was very pleased that we had a delicious vegetable soup and my favourite vegetable momo’s and tomato chutney.
Before you eat you offer a prayer, which is not something I usually do and couldn’t get my head round the strange words so kind of just mumbled along – something I was to continue to do for my whole time there – I think I may have got the words on the last day.
The last session before bed is candle meditation. It is meant to help you sleep, help memory and focus. You start with three om’s then for two minutes you focus on the bottom of the flame, the darkest point and try not to blink, followed by two minute with your eyes closed trying to visualise the candle. You do this another two times – next focusing on the brightest part and finally the smokey top part. Of course as soon as I tried not to blink it was all I wanted to do. I quite enjoyed it – the visualising part was the hardest, but I got better at it as the week went on. My knees already hurt a bit, they’d been playing up for a few days, I’ve got arthritis so sitting crossed legged wasn’t going to be easy but I hoped if I keep doing it, it will get easier.
By 8.45 I was tucked up in possibly the hardest bed I’d been in yet, but the pillow was soft so for that I was very grateful. I had warned my room mate, a young Australian girl, of the impending snoring and offered ear plugs – she said she’d be ok, but I noticed in the morning she had used them!
Day 2: I was awake over an hour before I needed to be. Trying to long on the positive I thought that should mean that I’d sleep better that night. Morning pre meditation started at 5.45 and involved light stretching, breathing and chanting. I could hear my own scratchy OM above everyone else softly rolling AUUUMMMMMM but I tried not to think about it. Thankfully the main portion of meditation is lying down, which is better on my knees. During the session thoughts floated through my mind, I tried hard to bring my focus back to my breathing, and sometimes managed it.
When we finish the sun was up, it was a bright clear day, in the far distance you could see a snow capped mountain. We had tea up on the roof so you could make the most of the views. Afterwards we went down to the garden with a peculiar plastic tea pot for – Neto kriya – which is one on of the six ways to clear toxins.
It is nasal cleaning, and is good for the eyes, ears, nose and throat. It’s very very strange you pour the warm salted water into one nostril so it pours out the other, then repeat on the other side. Followed by a few exercises to clear your throat and nose further, one which involved jumping like chicken and another giggling or growling like a tiger, all with lots of nose blowing and spitting. I did feel like being a bit sick once but only momentarily. Overall it is a very weird practice, a bit gross at times, but at the end of you you felt pretty good – with the clearest nasal passage I’ve ever had!
The first yoga session was actually easier than I had expected but still tough for me in places, not helped by my bloody knees, which were typically still playing up. I enjoyed elements of the yoga, especially the breathing excersies (I could do them!) and didn’t truly hate anything, that was as good as I could hope for. But I believed it meant to harder as the day went on, I tried not to think about that and just to take one step at a time.
Breakfast was again very tasty – no dal baht in sight – a little fresh muesli with coconut, apple and yogurt. You didn’t have it until you had been up about four hours, so I was definitely ready for it by then.
After that we had a mud bath – my new swimsuit got christened in mud! It wasn’t really a bath – we stood on an area on the roof in our cosies and covered ourselves in mud, then sat and bake in the sun until the mud was tight and dry. After that it was a seriously cold shower on the roof followed by another, thankfully, warm shower in my room. My skin did feel smooth afterwards.
Morning meditation was yogic niru, sort of but not quite sleeping, being in a yogic state, or at least I think that is what they said. There are two rules don’t move and don’t fall asleep, but if you do fall asleep it’s ok (I was relieved about that!). Sriss, the teacher for this session, talked about how happiness is being in the present also about liking us to iPhones – we don’t just need the device but energy to run – meditation helps to give you that. He went into a lot more detail and it sounded so much better but that, I think, was the gist of it.
It was a guided meditation – so we were talked through a body scan. We were meant to give this our total concentration, unfortunately I could only focus on the sensation of something in my ear, it turned out to be conditioner from washing my hair, but at the time I kept thinking it was an ant crawling in my ear, I knew it probably wasn’t, but oh I wanted to itch it soon much. Consequently, as you can imagine, it was not my most focused or enjoyable meditation! But there was always tomorrow.
It was a beautiful afternoon so a few of us just chilled in the sun, reading and watching para gliders, drift of the mountain. Maybe one day I will have the guts to try it, it looks great, but the thought of the height puts me off.
Later, after half an hour of karma yoga it was time for tea & popcorn again. Karma yoga is doing something for others with focus. In this case it was carrying wood up to the roof tea room and cleaning some of the Buddha statues around the retreat.
In chanting meditation that night, I chose Om Mani Padme Om, which is a Tibetan chant that you see on a lot of prayer wheels. Mani means ‘jewel’ or ‘bead’ and Pama means ‘the lotus flower’, the buddhist sacred flower. As on the first night I found it beautiful, as long as I ignored my own terrible voice, but I didn’t get the same wave of emotion.
I enjoyed the evening yoga even if there was a lot I couldn’t do. Normally with any exercise that I can’t do I get frustrated and want to leave, and usually do.
At the end of the first full day I felt pretty good, pretty calm (not that I had been stressed before) and I didn’t want to run away at any point, OK my knees were throbbing, but that was to be expected.
Day 3: Surprisingly, when I woke up, my knees felt a little better. It was also good to know the routine. I enjoyed the first part of the morning and evening yoga sessions, I couldn’t do it the same as everyone else but I did what I could. I particularly struggled with the sun and moon salutations – I just don’t move that quickly and I can’t do the simple pose of kneeling (knees again) but I felt I did slightly better in the evening session to the morning one – a marginal improvement.
I definitely zoned out in the morning meditation session and let a few snores out, but I think it wasn’t for long. My mind was the quietist in this session than it had been in the others, that was when I was awake as well as when I rifted off!
But I struggled in the chanting session that evening, I just couldn’t get into it and I didn’t want to hear my own gravelly voice, I wanted to hear everyone else’s beautiful voices. I faired better on the final mantra – I think because it was a simple one I could remember the words and get into the rhythm a bit better.
Mantra, which is what you chant, means liberate the mind – whilst we are chanting religious mantras it’s not, they explained, that we are practicing any religion but using these as good positive words to chant. The act of repetition and the vibrations are what helps the meditation. It helps to give a focus and stop the busy thoughts. When I could get into the rhythm it does help – that is when I stopped telling myself off for my rubbish voice and not getting the words!
Day 4: I woke up with a start, I could hear Alfie, my dog, whimpering and it sounded like he was in pain, it wasn’t until I was sitting bolt upright I realised where I was and that he wasn’t with me, but at home with my parents. I hoped he was ok and that the dog I must have heard was also ok.
My back ached that morning, it felt bruised – I expect it was a combination of the hard bed, lying on the floor meditating and yoga. The morning meditation session was a comforting gentle way to wake up after my first abrupt awakening.
I found myself strangely getting into the Neti Kriya, with the exception of the giggling tiger – clearing your throat – this had made me reach on the last two mornings. But my nose feels lovely and clear and it definitely helps in the yoga breathing practice.
Before the morning yoga sessions each day we did some reflexology on oursleves using a strange wooden rolling stick with pointy bits all over it. You roll your feet and hands around it – it does actually feel pretty good and it is great for circulation too.
Yoga was tough that day as my body was hurting. But I still didn’t hate it. I just didn’t enjoy some of it. Let’s be honest I spend a lot of the time with my head in my cleavage struggling to breathe and even if I was flexible enough to bend as others do my tummy and boobs seriously get in the way. My mountain posture is more like a quivering lump of jelly and my cobra looks more like a walrus straining. But I kept trying, and I’m with myself that I did, and that was enough.
To help my aching body I had planned a massage before lunch, but first it was steam bath time. Whatever picture you have in your mind it is most likely wrong. That is unless you are picturing a wooden closet with a stool in it and a hole for your head. In the steam bath the day before I had only lasted a few minutes and not the full seven, it was bloody hot on my neck and it felt weird being locked in a box. But that day I was the second person in it, instead of sixth person as I’d been the day before, so I managed the full seven minutes and an additional 5 minutes.
The massage was brilliant – Yam, the masseuses is very strong, he was really firm and I feel like a different woman afterwards. He even brought up a bucket of hot water to my room so I could have a hot wash / shower. The water is heated by solar power so you only get a hot shower if it has been sunny. The day before had been cloudy and that day it was raining and chilly so it was great to get the hot water.
Yam is the only one there who mention my weight, he suggested I fast once a week. Hmm I said I’d try. All the time I was there, I had been waiting for someone to say something. Years ago I had a personal yoga session when I was in Kerala and the teacher kept telling me I was greedy. That didn’t really go down to well with me, and kind of put me off yoga for awhile. To be honest I pretty much wanted to punch him and leave. I would like to add that I’ve never actually punched anyone in my life, but there have been quite a few moments when I’ve imagined doing it. Is it bad karma that I thought of it or good karma that I thought of it and didn’t do it? Anyway I digress….
Chanting that night was wonderful again. It had been pouring with rain all afternoon and it was quite chilly so the teacher said we should meet the challenge the weather presents by dancing, it would warm us up and it did.
Yoga was better that evening too. We had a different teacher, who was so much better. I didn’t have much to compare it to before, but he took us through it at a slower pace and showed me some alternatives that I could do. I was really glad after not really liking that mornings session that the evening had been better, I hoped we would get him again the next day.
I managed to internally visualise the candle in the day’s final meditation and I didn’t think my OM sounded as out of tune with everyone else’s. So I went to bed feeling pretty good.
I was meant to leave the next morning but I had decided to stay another day.
Day 5: It was still raining and chilly but I felt lucky, I was in the best place to be in that kind of weather – and I thought it wouldn’t be long before I would be on the beach in Goa (that didn’t quite go to plan but more on that later). My legs and hips ached when I got up and my back still felt bruised but after morning meditation, yoga and a steam bath I felt better.
The morning yoga felt marginally easier – I think I might have balanced for a second or two longer. And along with the normal breathing practices we roared like tigers which is apparently good for releasing anger (and clearing your through). I instantly pictured stoping the next person I saw who was angry and asking them to get on all fours and roar like a tiger and burst out laughing! That was the first of many giggles that day. The next exercise, we did my all time favourite yoga practice, one I am able to excel at. We paired up and looked at our partner and laughed – pulled faces at each other and just belly laughed at each other. Now that’s my kind of yoga!
At breakfast – porridge with coconut and banana, PK the man who run reception, said he would put out positive thoughts for sun in the afternoon – if we believed it would happen it would. The rain was torrential so we were skeptical.
Regardless of the weather the day got better and better. Meditation was totally amazing. Building on the mornings laughter yoga we did laughing meditation. The first few minutes you are perfectly still, sat in a yoga position, remembering a time you were happy, then for the next three minutes you laugh without sound – so a bit of a smile only, I found this a little hard but managed to stay quiet. Next you laugh quietly. Then you let it go, but still sitting and finally you go all out and can roll around belly laughing, we must have done this for ten to fifteen minutes. It was totally and utterly bloody brilliant – the laughing is contagious – you just can’t stop. It moves around the group in waves. I will absolutely be doing it again.
It also felt that after that session, our little group had really gelled together. We realised that we were all leaving the next morning and were making plans to meet up for dinner.
That afternoon, as PK had predicted, we have tea and popcorn sitting in the sun – his positive thinking worked. One of everyone’s favourite sayings here is ‘why not’ a good thought to keep when asking yourself if you should do something.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Sadahana Yoga retreat, it was better than I expected and I hope that I will keep up some of the practices. I left with a new interesting yoga and meditation and a few new friends to travel with, little did I know at that point that we were to be together for a while longer than planned.