Sivananda Meditation Retreat

Well, I’m back from my exotic yoga holiday to sunny Putney. 🙂

Might seem a bit weird going to stay for a week somewhere half an hour away from your own front door, but then again why not? You go where the teaching is, and when the day starts at 5:45am – with the ringing of a bell and an enthusiastic “Om namah Shivaya!” – what else can you do but pack your bags and go residential.

sivananda yoga vedanta centre, putney

I’d been looking forward to this. I was in dire need of a break from ‘real life’ (details of which I ain’t going into right now). A week stretching, chanting, meditating and everything else was just what the doctor ordered, and the Sivananda Yoga Centre is just the place to do it. They themselves call it “an oasis of calm in the centre of London” and they’re not wrong.

an oasis of calm

I’d not done their kind of meditation before, so I figured this course with Swami Kailasanada was just what I needed to get me started. Turned out to be quite different to the Vipassana Meditation I’ve been practicing up to now. For one thing there was more chanting than I’d expected.

shrine room

Now you know me, I’m not big on the whole chanting thing (though it kind of grows on you) but I gave it a go anyway. And I was doing alright ’til this weird head cold thing started kicking it. I spend several days with a nasty scratchy throat, occasional headaches (I gave up caffeine two days early just so I wouldn’t have withdrawal headaches while I was there, so they were doubly annoying) and so my chanting was a bit sub-par a lot of the time. Thankfully there were plenty of others there to drown me out, though not the two times I had to lead the chant myself (eek!).

shiva mural

The evening workshops themselves were excellent, and so full of information. I took copious amounts of notes and heard a lot of new and interesting stuff to think about. Often after a class I was so invigorated I couldn’t sleep. That’s where washing dishes helped. A little something to burn off excess energy works wonders sometimes.

We learnt about mantras and their use in meditation, and I was even fortunate enough to go through a mantra initiation at the end of it. Check me out in my white initiation outfit.

waiting for mantra initiation

Lookin’ good huh? And, I got given a spiritual name too: Keshava, which means one who is full inside apparently (among other things). Thankfully, I like it. I mean it’s short, it sounds nice, it begins with a K, and it’s not utterly unpronounceable which is always a bonus (some of them can be a right mouthful). But I digress…

sun salutation

The course was well run, as you would expect. Everyone at the centre was lovely, as were all my fellow residents. The food was great, and I was very grateful to everyone for the allowances they made for my veganism. Care and consideration for their students is something of a trademark for the Sivananda organisation I find. Just look at all the smiling faces;

a yogi breakfast

And that was at 8am on day seven! After seven early morning calls, seven full days, and thirteen (you heard me, thirteen) yoga classes. Just goes to show, they must be doing something right eh?

om

Highlight for me though had to be the lunch time where Swami Krishnadevananda decided to nick everybody’s cake. It was masterful the way he pointed out the pictures on the wall behind people, only to swipe their banana bread when their backs were turned (not once, but twice!). And they didn’t even realise he’d done it, or why everyone else was laughing. Priceless. 🙂

So if you do decide to go on a course there get ready for a full day, some great food, good company, but most of all keep your eye on your pudding coz Swamiji’s about! You have been warned.

Sivananda Yoga Retreat

Well, I’m back from my yoga retreat. Quite a weekend, let me tell you. Hard work sometimes (getting up at 5:30am for example) but certainly worth it. And I don’t feel half as tired/achey as I thought I would. Maybe I’m getting better, lol.

gaunts house

It was at Gaunt’s House, which is this big old former country house (now retreat centre) in Dorset. The place is massive, with lots of grounds, a big garden, and good sized rooms. I paid extra for a single and got a room that’s bigger than my flat (seriously, though I do have a very small flat!) with a double bed. Oh the luxury of a double bed! So nice to just spread out like that. I miss having a double bed.

enjoying the view

The grounds were made for chilling out, but there wasn’t much time for that. The schedule kept us quite busy. Check this out:

5:30 – Wake
6:00 – Satsang (meditation and chanting)
8:00 – Yoga
10:00 – Breakfast/Brunch
12:00 – Nature walk
14:00 – Demo/talk
16:00 – Yoga
18:00 – Supper
20:00 – Satsang
21:30 – Finish
21:31 – Bed 😉

Quite a lot to do huh? I tell you, took a little getting used to. You just had to relax and go with it (probably part of the ethos I reckon). And I’m not kidding about the last one. Soon as you were finished it was straight to bed (for me anyway). If I’m getting up that early I needs me beauty sleep.

The whole thing was run very well, which is no surprise from the Sivananda lot. I even helped out with some of it, getting to the centre early to load up my car with stuff (I had pictures of the swamis and deities on my back seat, and every time someone cut me up in traffic, and I swore without thinking, I found myself apologising to ‘the boys’ for my bad language, lol), helping set up when we got there, and finally fiddling with the sound system during the satsangs, swapping wires between mikes and twiddling knobs to get the levels right.

All the yoga-ey stuff was excellent. My ability to do it though, varied from day to day. Funny how some days you can get your toes on the floor when doing the plough, and other days you find yourself completely scrunched up, feet flailing, unable to catch your breath.

nature walk vs fence

The nature walks were nice, though ‘walk’ is a bit of a misnomer. March, stomp or trudge might a better way of describing it. With Swamiji and his long legs up front, striding off into the distance, it was sometimes a task just to keep up. I know for a fact we lost most the group on the first day (and the second day for that matter) and it was just some good guesswork (or the sound of our post-meditative omming) that brought them back to the rest of the group unscathed, lol. 🙂

As for all the chanting, I can’t say I’m entirely sold on that. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Om as much as the next man, but after 30-40 minutes of it… well, you get the idea. Maybe I’ll get into it one day, maybe I won’t (the Swami himself admitted he had some difficulty getting his head around it in the beginning), I just know for now it’s not the thing for me; and so mote it be.

thai yoga massage

On the last night, instead of a long satsang, we had a talent show. People told stories, played the piano, sang, did demos, and I even got roped into doing a bit of Tai Chi for them. Got to admit, I was a bit nervous doing it. It was a big crowd (about 70 odd) but it went ok in the end. I got plenty of compliments afterwards, which was nice, and maybe some people might feel motivated to give it a try; which would be great, as yoga and Tai Chi are very much sister disciplines.

(more pics here)

stonehenge

On the way back we stopped off at Stonehenge to go check that out. Was nice to see the stones close up, though not as close as I’d have liked, as you’re not allowed near them for some reason; and you have to pay £7:50 for the privilege, which seems a bit steep to me.

And, everyone was walking round with these little recorders listening to a commentary on the stones, which made for an odd sight. Made me think of the Victorians, who would go out into the countryside and, since they only ever saw landscapes in paintings, had to use a little framing devices to look around, otherwise they couldn’t ‘see’ the beautiful views around them.

Still, it was worth a visit, and I’m glad I went. And it was fun to spend some time with Swami Krishnadevananda and the gang not doing yoga or anything like that, just monkeying about a bit.

swami and the stones

He’s such a cheery fella! 🙂

kiki and the henge

Still rockin’ the new do’. 😉

All told a very good weekend, and one I would recommend to anyone who fancies a bit of a yoga retreat some time. They have them twice a year in the UK, and at other times at other centres around the world. Check out their website for the what’s going on.

Give ’em a go! You’ll meet some lovely people, learn some new stuff, get a bit fitter, and have a right laugh whilst doing it. What more could you need? 🙂