As soon as 2016 came about, I made myself a deep and powerful promise - I was going to prioritize my health, my wellbeing & my recovery. I’ve had severe mental health issues ever since I can remember that had never properly been resolved.
On top of that, I had also always been a go-go-go type of person. Never one to rest and never one to ask for help. One to always surge ahead, despite the heavy burdens I might be carrying. So when I inevitably crashed & burned at the end of 2015, I realized that I needed to switch gears.
I had been at home for 7 months already. 7 months of therapy, stability, recovery and familiarity since the epic and catastrophic fail of my attempt to travel long-term. And as a result, I was a little bit stronger.
I began dreaming of faraway places again and of immersing myself in different cultures. Wishing to embark on a journey of self-discovery as I journeyed the outside world. I longed for the new sights, sounds, and epiphanies again. As I began to feel a bit stronger, a bit more stable and a bit more myself, my wanderlust had returned. This was a very good sign.
But as opposed to the other times I was about to satisfy my wanderlust, this time I was very afraid. I very much wanted to be abroad again, but I definitely didn't want a repetition of my failed last experience. And I wanted for whatever experience that I'd have, to be aligned with my new goals & values and a step that's conducive to my personal healing journey.
My very first yoga retreat
As always, my gut provided me with the answer. Which in this case was... a yoga retreat. "A yoga retreat?", said I. "A yoga retreat", said gut. The more that I thought about it, the more that I really liked the idea.
I'd get to enjoy a short break from my regular life, in a secure environment, where my sole focus could be about my personal development. I'd get to spend time with like-minded people who are on the same journey as me and share with them my interests and questions. And I'd get to create a strong foundation for yoga & meditation, full of knowledge and techniques, that I could take home and use to help further me in my healing journey.
I started researching and it didn't take long for me to find and decide on Yoga Sutra Shala. They were exactly what I was looking for.
The views were so stunning, it was like looking at a masterpiece.
The retreat would last 6 days - an amount of time that I was comfortable with; were in the hills of Andalusia, Spain - relatively close to home; already had an organized schedule - providing a relieving sense of certainty; and they even took care of airport pickups & drop offs - one of the biggest stressors for me when travel planning. Not to mention that every review I found was a glowing 5 star review!
As soon as I started conversing with the yoga retreat owner, Namit, I knew that I was going to be in safe hands.
Of course, there were people who were gob-smacked at the idea of me going on a yoga retreat. "Do you even do yoga?", they asked. A justifiable question since until deciding that I wanted to participate in a retreat, I hadn't. But I knew that I could trust my gut, so I followed its guidance and had faith in where it was taking me.
The journey to Spain was smooth and my mind was free from anxiety. A rare occurrence and something that I took as a sign of confirmation. Every part of me knew that I had made the right decision to come.
The retreat can accommodate 10 people and has a small swimming pool to cool off in.
A group of us were escorted by the retreat's taxi driver from Malaga Airport, through the winding narrow roads of Andalusia to our destination.
When we arrived at Yoga Sutra Shala, it felt like I was arriving home. A home that I had never physically set in before, but that my soul nevertheless recognized as home. We were greeted by Namit and the retreat's volunteers upon arrival and were immediately made to feel like cherished members of the family. Man, I thought to myself, I'm gonna love it here.
And love it, I did!
I gained so much knowledge about the yoga philosophy and found new interests in Tibetan Buddhism & chakras. I got a chance to learn from two amazing yoga teachers, Namit & Maru, and acquired substantial amounts of knowledge on yoga, meditation, mindfulness & nutrition. I ate the most delicious, organic & nutritious food that not only excited my taste buds, but left me feeling wholly satisfied and nourished. I embarked on a rich inner journey through introspection and relaxation & felt extremely safe and well cared for. And, last but certainly not least, I developed my meditation & yoga skills to the point where I feel confident in doing my own practice alone.
Each meal wasn’t only delicious and nutritious, but also very visually pleasing.
I definitely gained a lot from this experience. But the number one thing it gave me was this - a sense of hope for the future.
Living with a couple of lifelong, debilitating mental illnesses means that a moment of inner calm & stability is very rare, let alone the norm. The concept of feeling inner peace on a somewhat regular basis is basically foreign to me and at times, it can feel like there is no hope that I will achieve this. But, as I discovered at Yoga Sutra Shala, there is hope even for me.
I remember one particular moment when we were all lying on our backs in the middle of a meditation session. My mind's focus had wandered off from Namit's meditation topic and instead I just observed what was happening inside of me.
Wow, this is how it feels like. I thought to myself. This is how it feels like to be calm and blissful inside. No racing thoughts, no choked tears, no self-hatred... just inner calm.
I spent 2 hours in this hammock one day, just enjoying the sun & serenity.
It was a revelation to me that I, miss human tornado, was capable of experiencing this inner, joyous peace, perhaps consistently. That perhaps I'm not doomed to have a psychologically painful and effed up existence for the rest of my days. That maybe I could experience light inside of me and possess my own inner sun.
Naturally, to achieve this state on a mostly consistent basis is going to take a lot more work and dedicated effort on my part. We have to work for our happiness, after all.
But my experience at Yoga Sutra Shala showed me that inner peace was possible and not just an intangible fantasy. It gave me a little taste of how great it feels and it gave me a reference as to what I'm working towards. And trust me, now that I know how amazing it feels, I'm even more motivated to achieve and cultivate it in my regular life.
Despite never having done yoga before, going to a yoga retreat was exactly what I needed to continue my healing journey. It’s amazing what can happen when you follow your gut.