I was away at Kripalu in Massachusetts recently finishing my 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training and the focus with this class was integrating Ayurveda into Yoga. I know many don’t know what Ayurveda is here in the West – but it is a very old science that discusses alternative medicine. It dates back to the Vedic traditions -thousands of years ago. In some very basic terms it is a natural human study that discusses way to use techniques to remain healthy that depend on individuals qualities, life, time of day, age and environment.
It was just the place for me to go, as it turned out. I was dealing with directions to take in my life right now with my career. Without a job I wasn’t sure if going was the right thing to do but my husband told me that getting away was the right thing and what a better place to go to than this environment? Going on retreat of course is always an amazing experience and reminded me of summer camp as a kid. I grew up going away to places where even for a week you could be around nature, people who had similar views/outlooks, support, singing songs together, eating healthy food and walks out in nature. So it is no surprise that as an adult Kripalu is to me, as well as so many others, a home away from home.
Yet we don’t have to be kids or someone going through a major life change to enjoy experiences like this; there are many reasons to take retreats or vacations; to really get away from our routine and be able to clear our minds, bodies and souls. Yet, sad to say, I know so many who go on vacations only to come back more tired, exhausted and talk about needing a vacation from the vacation.
What is the difference then? The intension. Almost any place could offer us a good or bad experience but all we have control over is our awareness before, during and after it.
I say this because I live in Washington, DC and we tend to approach our lifestyles by pushing, going and exhausting. We supplement this lifestyle by doing more; pushing harder. Our intension is built around a fear that if we slow down, stop, pause – that somehow we have lost or failed. Only to find injury or pain at the end of this journey as a result. Now I’m not saying working out, exercising or even having plans on vacations is bad. I think we need balance though and if you have a life built on working long stressful days, eating fast, barely having time to listen to others, sleep deprived…etc, then maybe the solution, especially in your down time, is to do the opposite. The Guna’s or natural qualities became something I learned more about on this teacher training; more important than simply understanding the Dosha qualities (see my Health Tab in my blog for more on this). To help ourselves we need to identify the problem and the solution is the opposite. Still don’t believe me – don’t take my word for it – watch what nature does. Of course this sounds simple but it is complex. The solutions don’t have to be found just on retreats though – it may be supplementing things like this in your daily life. When we start to do this we can learn to pause and listen to ourselves more; the body has probably been communicating this desire all along – but we chose to ignore it. Our ego can be good or bad but it is our intension that we can be more aware of. For example is it my goal to show off my pose to others or to have a mindful experience with my breath, mind, body along the way.
This experience at Kripalu was different for me than the other times. Not only was I unemployed and unsure of where to go next, but on the flip side I didn’t have tasks, emails or voicemails to check while I was there. This would be a time purposely to slow down, stop and just be. Something I haven’t done in 30 years. When I arrived at Kripalu I got to my room and laid down. After a long day of traveling, I usually need to take a nap. I couldn’t nap though this time and instead laid there, looking out my open window, examining the mountains and taking in the air. In a short time I found myself getting up and going outside. I found a spot on the grass near a tree on the little hill and just sat there taking in the sun, view of the mountains, the lake in the distance, the feel of cool grass on my feet. I then tried a few different mediations but they weren’t working and to be honest felt more like a task. Then I just stopped and sat. I took a few deep breathes and started to cry. It wasn’t a sad cry though. I looked out and reminded myself that I didn’t have to be any more than be right here. The words “I am enough” came to me. With that the tears stopped and I started to explore what was here . The view, smells, sounds, feel, taste. Nothing more. With that simple focus I was feeling “Grounded”. Instead of getting caught up in the semantics or meaning of things – just be.
The training started that evening and I met many I had met a year before; we stayed in touch but still seeing them in person was far better than social media. We hugged, laughed, cried and we sat for our introduction. I looked to each side of me and around me and saw that I had people around me that I knew were loving, kind and supportive.
With that lovely evening, I got ready and went to bed around 10pm as I knew getting up at 5am would be tough. I”m not a morning person and knew there would be some adaption to this for the next 8 days. I slept almost all night without interruption. Morning Yoga practice known as Sadhana is a two hour practice, done twice a day, that is yoga movement with mindfulness, meditation, pranyama and writing. Done before and after a full day of teacher training. By 9am I had breakfast which is silent. I have learned not to jump in line for the food but to walk around, look and explore the different options. Then ask myself “what will nourish me right now”? I don’t need someone else rules – just trust and listen. I filled a bowl and ate a food called Kitchari which is am amazing rice, herb and vegetable dish, tea and water. I added some warm greens and had an egg. No fruit, coffee or milk. I waited to drink some tea after I finished my food. As I ate I thought about those who harvested the food, cleaned it, prepared it. All the effort, love and work that went into this breakfast for me. I looked around at the views of the trees, sun and those walking around the cafeteria.
Teacher training is hard though and I knew this after years of doing continued teacher training. There is a lot of sitting, listening and finding ways to be comfortable for long hours and days. Often times with long classes I find myself so drained that I take advantage our our breaks for naps where I can get them. As I learned more about the Integration of Ayurvedic Science into yoga I learned so much about food – not as a diet – but just as a human being and what is happening internally to our bodies. The cycle of when and what we should be eating our 3 meals a day. I the night before I learned that lunch should be our larger meal followed by walking and/or taking a nap but it is helpful to lie on your left side after a meal and for only 10 to 15 min to help with digestion. So I decided to give this a try. It was so different from my lifestyle back home.
Even later that evening after dinner I found myself being encouraged by friends to go walking with them, even though what I wanted to do was go back to my room, go to my computer and look for new jobs. An entire day of not knowing what was going on in the outside world – what would I do? However I took the walk to a patch of tall grass with beautiful colors of wild flowers. We all stayed silent and just walked in the twilight; a meditation in motion. Listening to the evening bugs fly around, the sun setting and the moon was visible. Great conversation as we left there and headed back to our rooms, showers and evening. I decided to get some tea and settle into bed. Then something amazing happened. I slept all night. Didn’t get up to use the restroom even once. This continued each day while I was there and I felt a sense of consistent regular energy each day, even though I was up early and long hours. I also felt clear in my thoughts and a great silence came over me. I was then learning that what I was experiencing is a sense of balancing again; listening to what my nature, body, soul and mind needs. Days of this, eating with awareness, getting good sleep, being around supportive people, even Kirtan (singing in a group) and applying oils to my skin were starting to help me.
By late week we would watch the energy change, especially as we watched those just arriving for their retreats; the hectic minds, uneasiness, confusion and longing for their computers/phones/coffee. I remember trying to eat lunch and there were a lot of new people who had just arrived. There was just so much of this crazy energy and a friend came in, took just a small bit of food that wasn’t around the craziness and even though he wanted more food he waked passed me saying “unha -hell no.” I laughed and picked up my tray agreeing that I had to be aware of what was going on and then make a choice. So I found a better place for me to eat and digest.
Just like having any great experience though it isn’t enough to have it. The memory doesn’t work that way. I see many who come to yoga classes and have an amazing experience but don’t return. It is a lot of work to keep at it and not find ourselves caught in our habits and excuses. With each new day I have to start over, remind myself of my intension and also permission to fall off of it, listen and find my center of truth again. Coming in and out of my intension is part of the practice. Once you have a taste for the nourishment that food and social environment provides, it really can surprise you. Slowly I’ve found that my skin, that is often so dry, felt better, as I explored Ayurvedic oils that had herbs in them that I applied with loving kindness to myself. Appreciating the time to do this for myself.
Many who saw me through this change during the 9 days there at Kripalu made comments that I was suddenly “glowing”. I attribute the change to many things, not just one thing and I’m not saying that it means everyone should follow my route. Again from my experience, when we are depleted, hurting or exhausted – we are dried out and we need hydration which comes from more than just drinking enough water. I was juicy! (Ojas).
This is why in returning I feel even stronger in offering ways to help those in their daily life to find healthier ways in their over-stimulated, depleted and exhausting paths of living already. I’m exploring teaching yoga full time now; Hatha Yoga, Yin, Nidra and mediation classes to help those in the Washington, DC area that need this more so they can have clearer thoughts, sleep better, be calmer and enjoy their life without the aid of outside stimulants. What I discovered along the way of my training was that it isn’t about the style of yoga, posture, or asana. It is how it is taught; to whom, time of day, season, environment etc. I can teach anyone the positions; most good exercise instructors can teach what to do. However it is HOW it is taught to that person that can be the difference. The same pose can leave the student depleted, hurt, injured or nourished, calm, restored. Which is why I’ve spent the last year, and now after this training, combining the Philosophy of Yoga with the Science of Ayurveda into my classes. I am doing so with simple, everyday terms so that even someone unaware of these two sister practices will feel them and have an experience with them.
I’m back home now and just like returning from summer camp as a kid, I realize that there is a part that doesn’t want to loose it. I want to hold onto it and not let go. But that isn’t real. There is a time for retreat and time for our regular daily life. Both have a purpose. What I can do is have my home practice; a way I live daily and let myself do things that keep my head above water till the next retreat. For me I’ve examined so many things the past few weeks; from who are my friends, how I chose to use my time, what I watch, read and listen too, how I eat, not just what I eat, and of course where I want to work. I’ve been looking at many yoga and meditation options from studios, corporate and private lessons. Taking the time to find places that I feel are right for me and have the same view, passion and outlook. They can’t just sell Yoga classes – I’m looking to work with those that live it in their life; their work and private lives. Reminds me of when I used to skydive and you have all this time to reach altitude and you finally reach 14,000 feet and the door is suddenly open. There are butterflies in the stomach and I just have to trust that once out, that there is an amazing experience ahead. Sure you have to trust but sometimes you just have to just take a deep breath and go – unsure of why you have too do this but something is calling you in that direction. For sure it won’t always be amazing but from those mistakes, disappointments and errors life ties all those moments together so when you are in the grace of a great moment – you know it beyond a doubt.
So I’m listening, trusting and it is a hard journey for sure. Easier said than done. It is so easy to fall back into habits and patterns. Doubt is always a friend by my side for sure; doubt will always be there but I no longer see the need to remove the bad from good – just become more aware of it. I know I’m not alone in my feelings but this is why I write this blog. Not to point the finger, cause harm, brag or blame – but to speak the truth about my journey and hope that if it reaches you in some way that it may help. If it bothers you or you don’t agree – ok. Simply just move on -everything passes. No need to fix, try to repress or reply to it. It is just one persons view. In the end is has helped me to write and be aware of my feelings and experiences. No matter how it helps, how many or how far away, my intension is not from my ego but from a place of truth, love and compassion. Therefore I have no regrets or doubts on what I have or will write here.
May you be happy, free and find your truth.