A Yoga Retreat for a Complete Novice
Days 39-46: Jess is a Wanderer headed to India's yoga capital - Rishikesh. In the Himalayan foothills, not far from the source of the River Ganges, this is the perfect place for meditation and relaxation.
Having booked our yoga retreat just the night before, we actually had no idea what to expect. Imagine two Brits with their gym kit and not much else! In the end, after contacting several companies in Rishikesh, we settled for Mahatma Yoga Retreat. A seven day stay will cost $350 and includes all food (three oversized delicious meals a day), twice-daily 90 minute yoga sessions and a choice activity of trekking or whitewater rafting. There's also free wifi for those who aren't ready to switch off completely from the world.
Arriving into Rishikesh we were greeted by the usual busy-ness of India - cows, people, motorbikes, market stalls and the overwhelming colours and smells of many other places we've visited. A short walk down 'monkey alley' a place we nicknamed due to their being monkeys lining the pathway (and scaring us each time we had to walk past!) led to our simple retreat which we'd be calling home for the week. Right on the bank of the Ganges with its own beach, we couldn't have asked for a better place.
There was no time to mess around and we got stuck straight in with lunch, a yoga class, meditation and dinner. The schedule allows for a lot of free time so you can practise meditating, simply relax or go for a wander around Rishikesh itself. If you're actually into the place, you can buy hippy pants, burn incense sticks and really get stuck in with the culture of the place. We were more spectators!
Sunrise was usually spent meditating or chanting. However, there was one morning where we walked along the beach to catch the sun coming up. We spent time practising our breathing, clearing our minds and relishing in the tranquility of the Ganges. Or avoiding the meditation (because your mind wanders to the back end of Argentina) in order to take photos.
Time was also spent visiting waterfalls, caves and we even did a hike on Sunday - our day off. Visiting a cave with a natural light shaft, it was a definite highlight of the week. We also met some religious figures who had committed their lives to the mountains. They were more than keen to pose for photographs, it was such a fun experience.
One thing that I wasn't so sure about was the process of Jala Neti. This is where you use a neti pot (small tub with a spout), fill it with lukewarm salt water and pour it up one nostril. With your head tilted at the right angle, the water goes through the nasal system and drains out of the other nostril. Well, no, it's not as horrific as it sounds. I mean, after you've conquered the art of drowning yourself, choking on saltwater and coping with immeasurable amounts of snot dripping down your face - it's most refreshing. And really opens your nose and ears. I genuinely felt like I was breathing for the first time! Perhaps I'll be buying myself a neti pot!
On Saturday evening, Mahatma Yoga arranged a special Poojah ceremony for us. We listened to some singers perform traditional songs and Hindu chanting, then we lit an offering to the gods on fire and sailed it down the Ganges. It was a windy evening so things didn't quite go to plan and most of our flames died out before any photos could be snapped. You can't have it all! We received a blessing from a holy man and it was the perfect finish to the week.
That was until there was 'the incident' with the spider... I'm not kidding. Like actually not kidding. The spider in question was bigger than my face. And I think my face is average sized. So therefore, the spider was enormous. The operation was well-planned over dinner. Wolvo, the great and fearless, was going to knock the spider (from the wall) onto the floor, catch it in a bowl and put it outside. The girl who slept in the bedroom where the spider was residing was adamant that it should survive... sadly one of the workers at the place overheard the commotion, came in and smacked it dead with a broom. Not quite the happy ending which was planned...
All in all, this was a fabulous way to spend a week. Had I thought about it sooner, I could easily have stayed for another. I genuinely thought I was 'getting the hang of' the yoga and starting to understand the process of meditating. Will I continue? Not sure. Would love to do more yoga though. We will see what happens.