Years ago, when Tim and I started planning our two years of travel and his epic hike along the Nepal Himalayas, I decided I wanted to attend a yoga retreat. Yoga is something I have enjoyed since high school and as Nepal also borders India, the ‘home’ of yoga I thought this might be what finally gets me past beginner level!
When I finished my longest and final trek in the lakeside town of Pokhara, my aching calf muscles and I were extremely happy to arrive at the popular tourist destination. The final steep descent and weeks of basic food and lodging had left me feeling pretty sore and tired. Also, as a coeliac eating in a country that seems to have never heard of the disease or gluten, my stomach and bowels had taken a real hit. Therefore, it was a fairly grey-faced Jess with circles under her eyes and a sore belly that walked up the small hill at the end of town to check in to Purna Yoga Retreat.
Right away I was excited to be spending a week at this place. The lovely building is surrounded by small, yet beautiful gardens and is full of windows facing the incredible lake view. My orientation / tour introduced me to the property, the daily schedule and Purna’s friendly staff. I also got to meet my roommate as all rooms are twin share with ensuite. I could not have asked for a better roomie. Alexandra from Mexico is a truly awesome person who had spent her pre-yoga time in Nepal trekking, teaching at a monastery school and more. She is also laid back, kind, has a great sense of humour and immediately I knew we would get along.
Purna provides a high value daily schedule of activities that are varied and interesting. The mix of healthy food, yoga, meditation and wellness activities means every day is filled with goodness. There is also lots of free time and quiet moments to enjoy the large library, talk with fellow attendees or just enjoy your own company. During my stay, I took this time to read four books from the library, get back into my normal exercise routine and have the most inspiring and interesting conversations with a fantastic group of people.
Each day begins with a gentle 6am wakeup call. One of the staff members walks around ringing a singing bowl and I truly think this should be added to all smart phones as an alarm clock option. It’s that good a way to wake up. Morning meditation and movement was from the Pawanmuktasana Series. I had never heard of this before and it has become one of my favourites. Moving separate joints in time with your breath is fantastic for those of us with arthritis and was the perfect warm up to get the group ready for the day.
After a fruity morning tea, those who wish to participate go to the garden for Jala Neti nasal cleansing. Using a special shaped pot, you pour warm salty water through one nostril and it flows out the other. It might sound strange but breathing deeply is key to yoga and I was excited to give my nose some attention after a string of colds and sores inflicted by the extreme temperatures during my time in Nepal.
There are two long yoga classes each day lasting at least one hour. One in the morning and then again in the afternoon. These incorporated a few different styles of yoga with an emphasis on (Dynamic) Hatha Yoga. Turns out this is the proper name for the style of briefly holding postures before transitioning to another that I often practised in Australia. Both classes had an extended shavasana (‘relaxation pose’) to finish. In the morning classes I learnt some good meditation techniques during that time and tried a chakra meditation for the first time too. Unfortunately, the half hour Yoga Nidra following the evening class proved too much for me and my lacking energy levels and I was never able to stay awake.
Breakfast was always followed by time for wellness activities. Each day you chose from steam bath, aromatherapy steam inhalation, foot bath and mud bath. This simple pampering was always so nice and left me feeling wonderfully relaxed. I also thought about how easy some of these could be done at home in some way. It would definitely be something worth making the time for.
Other new experiences were Nada Yoga and Bhakti Yoga which also took place each day. The former is sound immersion where we laid on our backs while singing bowls and gongs were played along with the sounds of water being poured and a ‘rainmaker’ that sounded exactly like waves crashing on a stone beach. Obviously, this was also incredibly relaxing and it took some effort not to nod off. The latter is chanting yoga where we would choose mantras from the ‘song book’ to sing. The tempo, accordion and drums would go faster and by this time no one is shy anymore and everyone is smiling from the music and joy of singing. At least that’s my theory as a former member of the school choir!
I also need to tell you about the food as this was another real highlight for me. It was delicious. Everything was healthy without being too ‘over the top’ or restrictive and helped me immensely in getting back to normal portion sizes and off the chocolate bars after trekking where I seemed to demolish anything in sight. They are also used to cooking for food intolerances including gluten free and the relief of having a week of safe food was wonderful.
When my week was complete, I couldn’t feel too sad because I left with lots of new friends, a definite improvement in flexibility and more yoga knowledge, as well as how to better perform some postures I already knew. While I’m still no expert, my ability to quieten my busy mind and meditate a little, received a huge improvement and it was invaluable to have the time and space to think and reflect while reading informative books and chatting with like-minded and positive individuals. It was everything I had hoped for when I first decided on the idea more than a year ago back in Australia.