Yoga retreat – Part 1

We recently spent a week at Swan Yoga Retreat in Goa. I learned a lot – mainly that not only am I totally non-religious, I’m completely non-spiritual as well. Here are some of the activities we threw ourselves into.

Asanas – Bernd and I have practiced “yoga” on & off for the past 5 years. We mainly do Vinyasa Flow although I’ve also dabbled in Bikram (ugh). The yogis on the retreat told us that these classes aren’t actually yoga at all – yoga is a complete way of life, of which the physical postures (asanas) are just one small part.

The retreat asanas were Hatha style which we hadn’t done before. It was very slow and required us to hold positions for much longer than we found comfortable and in some cases, possible. In the end I did enjoy the classes, but it took me almost the entire week to relax in them.

Meditation – I’ve attempted various styles of meditation in the past and all have resulted in complete failure. I even did a 3 day course in Vedic (Transcendental) meditation in London last year. My problems are twofold:

  1. Back pain. Each meditation class at the retreat started with these words “sit comfortably in a cross legged position, with your back, neck and head in a straight line”. That was impossible because sitting like that is not comfortable. It hurts. My back throbs and my legs get pins & needles. I’ve worked in desk jobs for the past 23 years so trying to sit like Gandhi all of a sudden is a big ask.
  2. Racing mind. I know that meditation is designed to combat this very thing, with practice, but man it’s hard work. I’m constantly bringing my mind back to the present, every few seconds, then off it goes again. It’s thinking all sorts of rubbish, delving back into my past for no apparent reason. After a while I start to think “why am I sitting in a darkened room with my eyes closed, dwelling on an insult I received in 1994?”

Despite these issues I do intend to try to keep it up. I think in time I will appreciate the benefits. I’ll start with 5 or 10 minutes at a time rather than 45 minutes though.

Yoga Philosophy – Our favourite session at the retreat, this was a really interesting summary of the evolution of yoga. From its origin as a mishmash of various ideas, techniques and beliefs, to its inclusion in the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, through to modern times and the recent importation of yoga to the west.

An idea which goes against all modern practices is Karma Yoga, the “yoga of action” in which good deeds are performed but not discussed or promoted. It’s in total opposition to “if it’s not on Facebook/Instagram it didn’t happen”. If it IS on social media it didn’t happen. Zero karma points for you.

Trataka – A style of meditation that involves staring at a candle flame. All I got out of this was a headache and watery eyes. At the end we were instructed to blink and roll our eyes around before the lights were turned back on. Bernd: “He didn’t need to tell me to roll my eyes”.

To be continued…

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