When Russell asked me to choose what I would like for my 40th birthday my initial thought was a Yoga Retreat. As chance would have it Polly was travelling to Bali in June for an 8 day retreat – perfect! I said I’d love to go without really even thinking about it. Russell also decided he would come and arranged for his parents look after our two boys. It was as if all the stars aligned to enable us to experience this fabulous opportunity together.
As the time drew closer the excitement of going was slowing being overtaken by fear – “What was thinking leaving our children for 9 days”, “What am I doing going on a Yoga retreat when I have only been practicing for 12 months”, “What if something happens to both us”, and my ultimate favourite “What if someone plants drugs in our bags and I end up in jail”. These thoughts became so strong I very nearly pulled out of the trip.
Time to put into practice one of my favourite quotes “Let go of the fear of WHAT IF and experience the joy of WHAT IS.” And for most of the trip that’s exactly what I did.
We land at the airport and of all the people guess who gets their bag checked! Stay calm, breathe, I tell myself – I’ve packed my bag it just contains my yoga gear. When I opened my bag I think he was surprised to see so many blankets, blocks, straps and couldn’t quite work out how you would use these for Yoga. It was quite funny trying to explain how we use them and I think his only concern was that we were bringing them into Bali to sell them. Fear 1 – faced and conquered!
What a surreal feeling, Day 1 it’s International Yoga Day and I am in Bali with Russell, Polly, Nat and Caroline Coggins on a Yoga Retreat! I was instantly drawn to Caroline’s warmth and compassion that she showed everyone, taking into consideration we were in a foreign country, tired from travelling, experiencing different sounds, tastes and smells.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first few days – touching asana we’d never heard of let alone knowing how to do them, being surrounded by such a fabulous group of people and to be experiencing the wonderful Balinese cuisine and culture. I was so taken by their spiritual beliefs and the simplicity of their way of life. A night walk to the rice paddies seeing the glow-worms and fireflies sparked joy in me that I have not felt since I was a child.
There were times during the retreat I actually felt my inexperience added to my practice – it was as if my body was on autopilot applying what Caroline was saying without my mind interfering. It was truly inspiring to share the space with people who practice with such light and grace and who were happy to share their wisdom. Not once did I feel inadequate just in awe that this is where my yoga journey is leading. It was also humbling to hear that even these experienced Yogis still have days when they find it difficult to meditate!
On day 4 the meditation stirred up some emotions for me – I snuck away after the meditation, had a cry and for a brief moment played with the idea of going next door for a Banana Pancake and skipping the morning class. It was great to have that moment, to look at my behaviour and see first hand how I sabotage myself. I skipped the pancake and returned to class.
By day 6, I was missing the boys terribly. I was tired and my muscles were aching. I struggled with the morning session and it was interesting to see how these emotions played out on the mat. As the day went on in crept the feeling there was no way I could attempt headstand today. I had worked myself up so much that I actually wanted to get on a plane and go home. I was so frustrated with myself because I thought surely by immersing myself in yoga I would not be feeling like this. During my meltdown I recall Russell saying “You always have a choice”. And he was right. I went to the afternoon session, told Caroline how I was feeling and to my surprise she didn’t make me do Headstand, instead gave me the gift of the most supportive and nurturing asana.
Reflecting on what it is that this trip and ultimately yoga is unravelling for me, was staring me in the face on a bookmark I purchased in Ubud:
Courage - Not the absence of fear or despair but the strength to conquer them.
Yoga is the lay persons neuroscience - Yogis have known for centuries that there are layers of mental activity that can be harnessed and directed. When attention becomes concentration and concentration establishes a pause between the rise and fall of thoughts, we arrive into a state known as meditation. The interconnections between the layers of consciousness create the conditions for wisdom.. it arises in the pause, in the interruption of habitual thought.
“As soon as there is stopping, there is happiness. There is peace. When we stop like that, it looks as if nothing is happening, but in fact everything is happening. You are deeply established in the present moment, and you touch your cosmic body. You touch eternity. There is no more restlessness, no more seeking.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Yoga provides a context in which teens, living in a sea of peer pressure, performance stress and emotional change, learn restraint and self reflective awareness. This course for teenagers aged between 12 and 15 years of age, will both challenge and nourish them.