‘Travelling is the one thing that can both break our purse and make us richer at the same time’.
And I couldn’t agree more with this statement when I announced I would be hosting a Yoga retreat at Treehouse, Watamu in Kenya. As chance would have it my dates were available and a few months later in September, we set off for our annual retreat in a new and beautiful location. Chances are no one is ever completely sure what it involves (besides the obvious yoga and meditation). And so, it’s natural to feel apprehensions about the unknown of a yoga retreat. For this reason, I always recommend to just go with an open mind and embrace all the changes and challenges. The core of my retreat programs revolves around the authentic wisdom of yoga postures, breathing techniques, and meditation that greatly benefit body, mind, and soul. The dedicated and sometimes intense sessions help us transcend our limitations and bring out positive transformations. They also likely push us out of our comfort zone. We spend time with some unfamiliar faces who are yet somewhat like ourselves, each one trying to break away from daily life.
1: Adapt to changes
We are often encouraged during yoga practice to ‘be flexible, on and off the mat’ and that advice reflects the fact that the opportunities to practice arise everyday. Getting a group of fellow yogis from Heathrow, London to Watamu, Kenya, with stopovers in between, and for some in the group, their first trip to Africa, is a challenge in and of itself, but add in missing luggage and threat of missed connection and you’ve got enough to throw even the calmest of yogis into a frenzy. Gratefully, by the power of the hidden forces that are much larger than all of us, we were able to remain calm, laugh and trust in the process. As it turned out, the luggage was found and our host had it delivered all the way to Treehouse; and the hurdles of the mind resistance with its associated reactions only brought the yoginis closer together, showing us all that the more we adapt to changes, the calmer and happier we become and the less the events of life can bend us out of shape whether experienced through external or internal conflict.
2: Go deeper and see what’s beneath the surface
While I enjoy swimming pools and the ocean, I’d always been the type to love it more from my reclining chair with a refreshing drink rather than dare the ‘deep end’. And so, I was equally mixed with both apprehension and excitement when scheduling a snorkelling activity for the group. Because past impressions remain, but through my Meditation practice I have been taught to erase them by validating my own experience with Reality rather than the delusions of the mind. So, I was all in and curious to see what would emerge from the depth of the ocean for real. Meditation further teaches us to observe the breath with calm and quiet, to feel all the sensations without reactions, and continue to just observe. And that’s what I did. I got my snorkelling gear on and jumped in the sea. I saw ‘Nemo’ and ‘Dory’ the fish, I saw sea lions, star fishes and many more sea creatures but the monsters of my childhood refused to make an appearance!
As I watched my fellow yoginis go through their own process and attempt to connect with the Water element, a feeling of deep love and compassion swept through my entire being. And that’s the thing about life – it’s all about perspective. Sometimes those big obstacles that seem impossible to conquer can simply be overcome by taking our time, trusting ourselves, and knowing that others have gone before us seeking these wisdom truths. Even when we can’t see what’s beneath the surface, even when we’re not sure if we will emerge alive, we must focus the gaze because eventually we will accustom to the depth and that view will be amazing. After all, we never know how deep we can go, unless we are willing to dive.
3: Let Go and Flow
Just after full moon or new moon, there’s a special tidal situation at the Watamu Mida Creek where water rushes out of the Creek and on to the sea – very quickly. When this process was explained to me, I thought it couldn’t have been more perfect to explore what it means to ‘let go’ and ‘to go with the flow’ than the process of entering the water in a small channel in the mangroves and ‘float’ with the outgoing tide.
Just as we are constantly reminded to be flexible both on and off the mat, we also learn through our yoga practice that the only way to improve and progress to more challenging poses is to work with the body, not against it, to let the breathing fuel our excitement of what’s new rather than fear.
We can either choose to live in fear and watch the waves from a distance, or strive to acquire the wisdom behind the processes of the outgoing and incoming tides of life, trusting that by letting go and learning to float with the currents, they will take us to wherever it is we’re supposed to go.
4: Embrace the imperfections and failures
I should also mention that perhaps, as the teacher of the group, I was secretly expected to swim like a fish, to bring out a magic wand, spread open the waters in biblical fashion, to know it all and make everyone feel good about themselves and happy. Thus is life. We are constantly lying in wait for someone else to save us, to love us, to make us happy. We overcome these enormous obstacles and expect someone to praise us or be grateful for our effort. But that never happens. Then we wonder where to go next, what to do next. A decade ago, when I stepped in front of my first yoga class, I knew I had two choices – try to make everyone happy and hope for the best, or learn to just be myself. How many times are we faced with similar scenarios in life? We work so hard to build a life for ourselves and then put up the pretences, wearing our masks, afraid of how others will judge us. We can choose to fear the imperfections and failings, but I must say, there’s a certain freedom that comes with embracing it all. A certain power in ‘not being the strongest, the smartest or the one that knows it all’ and just ‘being’, knowing that we are all and equally the blissful and joyful manifestation of divine creation, with our flaws and weaknesses, our successes and failures. One drop in the ocean and perfect in its essence. Just as it is.
5: Trust the process
After spending 8 days and seven nights in Kenya, physically practicing yoga every morning from 4:30 am till 9am and evening from 6pm – 9:30pm, and spiritually practicing it every moment in between, I wanted to share with my group of fellow yoginis what it means to live and breathe yoga, on and off the mat. Each day at Treehouse Watamu was a new adventure filled with new challenges to overcome, new lessons to learn, and new memories to make. Without the discipline, balance, patience and perseverance we develop physically through our yoga practice, there’s no way we would have been able to mentally enjoy this experience with such openness and faith. See, that’s what yoga is all about – 1% theory, 99% practice – connecting with our mind, body and soul, validating our own experience, so much so we are confident in all it can achieve. The continuous and uninterrupted practice of Yoga gives us constructive tools for cultivating deep awareness of Self as well as others around us, and the doorways to deeper and more tranquil states of existence leading to more flexibility in adapting to changes, to go deeper and see what’s beneath the surface, to let go and flow with the tides of life, to embrace the imperfections and failures, and most importantly, to trust ourselves, every step of the way. We are our own saviour. No one else will do this for us, and what we think, we become.
Special thanks to Watamu Treehouse Team. Photographs credits to Paul Krystal and Neil Thomas. Video credits to Neil Thomas.
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