OK, I’ll admit: I’m a bit of a yoga novice. For the longest time, I thought yoga was just light stretching. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered how much I enjoy yoga, and the positive effect it has on my body and mind.
So when my friend found a Groupon deal for a weekend yoga retreat just out of Sydney, I signed up immediately. Sure, I was slightly tentative about the whole thing and not at all sure what to expect. Would it be full of yogi masters taking themselves way too seriously? Would I hate the meditation sessions? Could I go an entire weekend without alcohol?
As it turns out, none of my fears came true. The weekend completely surprised me. Here’s why – five things I found most surprising at my first ever yoga retreat.
1. Yoga is not about tying yourself into knots
This is the first thing Sanjay, son of the original Swami Sarasvati of Swami’s Yoga Retreat, told us on arrival. And it’s lucky, because I can’t bend my body into any sort of shape that differs greatly from a straight line. (Tree pose, where you stand on one foot and reach your arms straight up, I’m a big fan of that one).
Instead, our yoga classes focussed on connecting the breath with the body and mind. I sort of expected the retreat to be full of all-star yogis, but it was mostly regular people who had come to relax and restore. No headstands or pretzels in sight.
2. Meditation is enjoyable, even for a wired brain like mine
I’m the sort of person who struggles to turn their brain off. So it came as a big surprise to me that I could slow my mind down during meditation.
This was especially true in scenarios where I could focus on one thing – omming, turning beads over in my hand – but not so true in one meditation “game” where we had to stand in a circle and throw six different balls around (which I thought was a relatively high-stress situation for a yoga retreat).
As a newcomer to meditation, I wasn’t always perfect, and I did have a couple of interrupting thoughts, such as:
- “All the guests are here humming with our eyes closed… This would be a great time to rob us all.”
- “Man, breakfast was good.”
- “Is that car coming up this road we’re doing standing meditation on? What if we’re all too deep in the meditation to move? Will Sanjay let it run us over?”
- “I wonder what’s for lunch.”
- “I wonder if Oprah meditates. I should google that later.”
- “I could eat…”
3. Vegetarian meals are not boring
Ok, having been a vegetarian for most of the past year, I should know this one. I love vegetarian food. But when I read that the retreat would serve home-cooked vegetarian meals, I anticipated eating nothing but cereal and curry for three days straight.
Instead, we ate my favourite type of meal – a wholesome spread of salads and vegetables and stews (muesli and fruit and toast in the morning), served family style at a long table. It was impossible – even for the meat eaters in the group – to not feel completely satisfied. Most of the group made the chefs promise to email us the recipes (I would actually kill for the homemade rhubarb jam recipe. Wait, that’s not a very yoga thing to say. But it’s true).
4. You don’t have to be a yogi to enjoy yourself
Again, I had expected the retreat to be full of serious (aka pretentious) yogis, and I could not have been more wrong. Instead, it was a random, eclectic mix of singles, best friends and even whole family groups who had all come to Swami’s for different reasons.
And because we spent our days doing yoga, lazing by the pool and eating our meals together, we got to know everyone in the group. No one took themselves too seriously, and my abs got a secondary workout from all the laughter.
The staff were great, too. Everyone was so friendly and down to earth, and they really did make sure we had the best time. They were all very serene, too. I guess that’s what life at Swami’s does for you.
5. Yoga three times a day is no joke
Light stretching? Think again. Although some of the class styles we did were more gentle, there were plenty of vinyasa flows to keep my body thoroughly exhausted. In a good way, though. There’s something about waking up in the morning and knowing exactly where all the muscles in your body are, because you can feel all of them screaming at you. Gently. It was a retreat, after all.
So, the big question: would I go on another yoga retreat? Absolutely! It was an incredible escape from city life, I learned a whole lot, and my work friends said I really did look annoyingly rejuvenated on Monday morning.