Given we were in Rishikesh, I felt we had to do some yoga at some point. After a good ol’ Google I’d discovered 3 day yoga retreats and managed to convince Gregor that it was a good idea.
The first retreat I emailed got back to me quickly and asked that I ring one of the teachers to book on. I tried. He answered and then told me he would message me… I messaged him but I got no reply. It all seemed very odd, I emailed the retreat to say there was a communication problem and they replied with ‘ok’. Only two weeks later, the night before we joined a different retreat with a much more flowing booking system did the previous guy reply to my messages wondering when we were coming!
I think we booked well in the end. Sian, a lovely woman mentioned in previous posts was telling us that she had been wondering round all the yoga places trying to decide where to go (after a week of yoga in Goa) and told us she’d found a perfect spot that seemed much quieter and professional than most in the area, she showed us a photo and we realised it was the one we had just booked onto!
8am on Sunday morning we walked out of Tapovan and up a road leading away from all the noise and bustle, up a side mud road where there were a few guest houses and cafes surrounded by birdsong and a lack of horns. At the very end of this road, nestled into the hills was our retreat. A big bamboo building for seating all the students for dinner, two concrete buildings behind housing students and yoga studios.
We filled in the forms and met a few fellow students and were taken to our rooms. We’d assumed we’d be in the big building but we were instead taken to another business and booked into private Swiss huts, the sun shining onto their balconies.
We settled into our room, the privacy was a treat after a week in dorm rooms and then wondered down to the garden for the fire ceremony.
The fire ceremony was for all students starting their courses that day. Though we were only doing a 3 day course, all the longer courses also start on the 2nd of the month, making about 30 of us in total. We all sat in a circle, chanted om, shanti shanti shanti the way all lessons were to begin and end. Then each of us was given a smear of sandalwood on our foreheads and then we were invited one by one to the centre of the circle for a red and yellow band to be tied round our wrists and a garland round our neck as the man chanted and sung in a peaceful and welcoming manner. About a quarter of the way round the circle another man entered the circle, clearly stressed at how long this ceremony was taking and began randomly going to people and murmuring under his breath as he hastily added a band before running to the next person. Two very different ceremonies seemed to be happening. Once everyone was banded he began throwing garlands over us like it was a game of hoopla and the magic of the ceremony was slightly lost. Then for the fire part of the ceremony. A fire was lit, and big plates of seeds and what seemed to just be earth were placed around and a third of us moved into the centre to chant, throw the seeds into the fire and occasionally a spoonful of ghee. The slightly more stressed bloke would say something rapidly in Hindi and the man in the centre would chant slightly faster and quickly end his ceremony and then the next group would go to the centre and do the same thing.
Once the fire ceremony was over there were some group photos – most people are doing 200, 300 or 500 hour courses, so when they look back at their class photos with fondness there will just be 5 randomers who they don’t remember.
Then to our first lesson. Sitting, breathing, chanting. We learned the crocodile position for automatic diaphragm breathing, how to breathe on our backs, how to sit (in preparation for meditation) with our knees out and feet tucked in. Then it was time for lunch.
The food was served at one end of a large hall, long tables leading away from it. The first lunch was daal, paneer mutton, rice and chapati. The chapattis were all covered in ghee, which was a tad much. But otherwise yum.
After lunch we had a philosophy lesson, a lot to take in and not much time, however we did learn that it’s yog not yoga. Pronounced yog-uh. And that there are many many levels to the practice. We start the the right in all practice to help bowel movements. Yoga is not religious, it’s spiritual. Warm showers make children go blind. It’s science.
Then our first session of yoga. The teacher was great. He worked hard with each of us, pushing us into positions and correcting us as we went. He also tried to explain why every move was being used. I liked him a lot until he made us do the plank. He had been great at checking my back after I’d mentioned my issues with it, he always corrected it so I was not injuring myself. He came over. Corrected my plank and then put a heavy blanket on my back. 😑 I gave an involuntary heave and he told me to stop breathing through mouth 😂. He did not put a blanket on anyone else. At the end of the session we were folded like a pretzel, he was correcting everyone else position, he came to me and just pushed me until my my chest was on the floor! I gave an involuntary heave, he told me to stop breathing through my mouth! 😂
After the yoga we had an hour of relaxation and meditation. The man walked in and I instantly recognised him as the guy from the other yoga retreat who did not reply to emails. He had an odd vibe. He sat down, did not introduce himself to the class, though he was next to the light switch he made us go turn the lights off and then ran through a mediation with us. We all found it rather odd, no explanation or guidence and then at the end he just left. I have to admit I’m glad that we didn’t end up at his retreat. It was an odd vibe.
Then dinner and then we were meant to see a film but the tech was failing.
I should explain who ‘we’ is. On our three day course we’re myself and Gregor. Dan, a recruitment specialist from Leeds, up here for a wedding. The an English (Essex way) but from Indian families, couple Mita and Oti I am sure that is incorrect spelling who were out to visit family. Then there were three German girls on a 7 day course who were in our classes. They had met last year in Goa on a course and had decided to come out together again. All of them were fab, Dan provided an excellent Yorkshire accent as well as being another un-supple bloke in the class (Gregor and Dan even had to do some exercises holding hands to support their lack of flexibility) Mita and Oti were fluent in Hindi and had an Indian upbringing so we’re able to explain lots of the culture and Hindu myths to us, and the German girls were our second yoga teachers when we had a spare minute, all we’re great chat and we had a ball.
The next morning was a 5:45 start, with a 6:15 chanting session. I imagine if we’d been there long enough to learn the chants it would have been quite impressive. However it was a load of Brits mumbling bad Hindi following and incredibly tone deaf teacher, with twangs of broad Yorkshire accents cutting through the song. Slightly less magical.
Then an hour of hatha yoga, and the teacher from the day before was back! We loved him but I think we also all loathed him as he pushed us and turned us into each position. The best for me was a position where you like on your back with arms spread out, then put both knees to one side stretching your back. As I’m made of rubber I can achieve this position with no bother, so I got a 10 minute nap whilst the teacher went round everyone else putting a food on one shoulder and then pushing their knees, extracting interesting noises as he went around. Eventually he found me though and put me in the advanced move. He pushed my leg out straight, I have an involuntary heave, he told me not to breathe through my mouth.
We were then meant to do an hour of Pranayama breathing, but instead the bloke from the night before did a similar thing to before, no explanation but I assume meditation. As a class we were a tad fed up of him.
Then breakfast then an excursion to a meditative cave, and onto the beach. We just sat on the rocks watching the Ganges, enjoying the peace. Every so often a group of rafters would go by screaming. And then back to the gentle sound of the river and the birds.
In the afternoon our favourite yoga teacher had gone to a wedding, the replacement guy did not live up to him unfortunately, he didn’t correct positions and left 30 minutes early which probably wasn’t his fault but we were a bit miffed. Not helped by the fact we were expecting the odd vibes meditation guy to be taking the next session. He wasn’t.
As we sat in our well practiced sitting position in walked out next teacher, smiling and genuinely radiating some kind of calm over us all. He sat is down and spent a long time explaining exactly the point of meditation, Gregor struggled with the constant reference to science, by which I think they meant ‘not religious’. He spoke about seeing your self and your thoughts clearly, about the sun radiation onto everything, good and bad, but the things that it reached don’t effect the sun. We’re the sun. He asked if we had any questions, I asked what I should do to my seating position to remove the pain in my ankle, his response? Life is suffering. So we began a guided meditation. No one knows exactly what happened but we all felt amazing. His voice, pace, and clear want to teach us was very warming and we all walked away feeling calm and content. We later discovered that he is one of the gurus.
We were very sad when our guru said see you tomorrow evening. He thought we were all doing 7 days meditation but we were leaving midday the next day.
The next morning we again had the chanting, then hatha yoga and then… The guru! He ran our Pranayama lesson and it was fantastic. He explained the different types of breathing, what we are trying to achieve, and then made us repetitively drop very quickly into a squat whilst making loud exhalations. Then we lay in the crocodile pose shouting Ka over and over and over again, and then we depend our breaths and meditated. I was happy that I was more comfortable sitting for long periods of time, but Gregor noticed a real difference in his flexibility and ability to sit completely still.
We’re really sad to leave the yoga retreat. We’ve made good friends and had both enjoyed ourselves. It was nice having everything planned out for us. We are, however, tired. The 5:45 gettups were tough. So tomorrow the plan is a day hike with a 6:00am pickup!!🤣 Both of us a slightly regretting that booking. Oh well!
We’re booked back into the live free hostel, and have just done the 30min walk to the next little town to find a working ATM. It’s free dinner at the hostel tonight and then bed!