I finished my retreat in Goa literally two hours ago and now I'm zooming up to Denpasar airport dressed in harem pants and long sleeved shirt to spend 5 days in an Indian ashram. Our programme begins at 5.30am tomorrow morning. Hmmm.
I'm beginning to question which part of me thought this would be a 'relaxing' way to spend a few days after three months of full power teaching but here I am, armed with the only 'covered up' clothes I own and and armful of jumpers for those early morning meditations.
Fast forward a few hours and we arrive at midnight to be directed to an enormous hallway with rows of cubicle beds. As we tiptoe down by the light of a torch looking for an empty space my companion points out that it's like something out of a scene from 'Orange Is The New Black' ... she's not wrong!
At 5.20am the first bell rings and we rise in darkness to meet at the front steps of Shivananda Ashram in Kerela. In silence we walk in procession to the banks of the lake and meditate. As the sun rises and casts a pink glow over the stillness of the water, 200 people join together to chant prayers to welcome in the day. The energy is just beautiful.
The morning asana class that follows is strong yet meditative. For the next five days we follow the same sequence twice a day in the Shivananda style, beginning with pranayama, warming up with sun salutations and then straight into head and shoulder stands with long holds. My hip is injured and there are no modifications so it is my responsibility to carry my body through practice and take care of it. In downward dog I'm told to keep my legs straight, and my heels are pulled towards the ground. Respectfully I allow the adjustments and then surreptitiously soften my knees and relax my achilles. I remember feeling happy that the students who practice me would have the awareness to do the same. To respect the teachings but also to honour their own bodies by modifying when they need to. It's a moment of real clarity for me ... I am so blessed to be able to teach a creative, intuitive style of yoga that gives you the knowledge to take responsibility for your own bodies.
At the ashram we take our meals in silence, sitting cross legged on the ground and eating with our hands. It is a multi-sensory experience sitting on the earth, touching our food and being fully present without feeling the pressure to engage in small talk. Volunteers scurry by with pot after pot of dhal, chickpeas, raita and brown rice refilling our metal thali trays and we rely on left hand gestures to tell them 'yes' or 'no'.
In the afternoons we have our karma yoga duties. Mine is serving afternoon tea and fruit and I get to chat to so many interesting people and hear their stories. Some people have been at this ashram for years to go deep into the practice, some just came for a few days for their first taste of yoga. A part of me expected everyone to be 'ultra-spiritual' but they were from all walks of life, all personalities, all backgrounds, all ages, bound by one common thing, a quest for ... something.
On some days we sneak out to take a dip in the lake. Peeling off long cotton pants to feel the warmth of the sun on our skin, I feel blessed that I am able to practice yoga wearing shorts or vests when I choose. I am also acutely aware of how unselfconscious I am with these loose baggy layers on. I let my buddha bely flop forwards after dinner and I haven't adjusted a strap or brushed my hair for days ... its liberating!
My favourite part of our day here though is the evening Satsang. Coming together by candlelight to sing mantras in the great hall, lead by swamis is an emotional experience. I find myself singing loud, uninhibited, and close my eyes to feel the vibration of hundreds of devotional voices. And here it is, the epiphany I felt would come, the experience that sums it all up ... connection, belonging, 'oneness'. No matter whether you find it through asana, through meditation, through singing your heart out or through the love you bear for your children or community, when your whole body, mind and soul integrate and for that split second you feel overwhelmed by the beauty in the world, connected to everyone, to everything, when you truly know what it means to come home to yourself... and the tears begin to roll down even though your heart is smiling ...
Wishing you only love