Life at a yoga ashram in Nepal

I’m nearly a week into a stay at the Sadhana Yoga and Meditation Center.  It’s a four-story retreat tucked into the hills just outside of Pokhara, Nepal.

Many people who know about my stop here believe that it’s part of some epic “Eat Pray Love” journey.  It’s not.  But I’ve stopped correcting them.  Nevertheless, let me set the record straight on this blog: I am not in Nepal (and next month, India) to “find” myself.  I don’t feel like I’ve “lost” myself.  I’m here to experience and discover new things.  Things that will enhance the essence that is me.  My spirit.  My dharma.  My connection to those around me.  My connection to the universe.

It’s really that simple.

The ashram building that houses our accommodations, yoga studio, steam bath and dining hall is painted brilliant blue, orange and white.  It overlooks Lake Fewa, a serene body of water framed by towering hills and punctuated by acrobatic para-gliders and graceful hawks floating in the sky.  Street traffic is a very distant hum.  The chirping birds, the bells swaying in the wind and the soft playing of mantra chanting provide the soundtrack to life here.

The center came recommended to me by a friend in the Chicago yoga community.  She had never stayed here herself — she just heard through word of mouth that this place was pretty special.

I seized her lead and contacted the center’s yogi master in September for a spot in December.  He said yes.  I was elated.

However, had I done a little more research on the center’s daily itinerary, I might have had second thoughts about confirming my spot.  Take a look at this schedule:

But I’m glad that I followed my friend’s lead rather blindly.  It’s an unusual thing for me, as I tend to over-think and over-plan.  Following the instinct can be an adventure unto itself.

My stay here has certainly been an adventure thus far.  It’s not the swashbuckling, bungee-jumping, safari-going kind to which I’m so accustomed.  It’s been an adventure in how to stay present, really present, and how to be more mindful of people and situations out of my control.

The simplicity of this place, the set schedule and the massive amount of meditation — it all fosters this focus.

I wake up to a chiming bell at 5:30 a.m.  Another bell signals the start of morning meditation.  Another bell signals morning tea.  Another bell singals nasal cleansing.  Another bell signals yoga practice.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  We all retire at 9 p.m. after a final evening meditation.  Then we wake up the next morning and start the process again.

I’m finally starting to sink into the routine and rhythm here.  The first day, however, was a little rough.  I cursed the bell that woke us up at 5:30 a.m.  I got confused with some terminology during the first physical yoga practice.  (For instance, downward facing dog was referred to as “mountain” and upward facing dog was referred to as “cobra.”)  I was upset that I didn’t have a room with an attached bathroom and shower.  I was weary of participating in the neti cleansing with a public neti pot — no matter how thoroughly it was cleaned the day prior.  I really wanted a warm shower, but there was none to be found.  I couldn’t focus during meditation.

Grr.  Grrr.  Grrrr.

Just as I found challenges trekking in the Himalayan mountains, I was encountering challenges at this ashram.  These challenges, however, are completely self-designed.  I recognize this now.  Hell, I recognize it in the moment, too.  That can make it all the more frustrating.

Surrendering to the routine — riding it like a wave on the ocean — is helping to free me from this desire to control, criticize and critique.  The daily structure, ironically, is freeing.  I especially like karma yoga time, when I can focus on cleaning statues of Ganesh, scrubbing dirty yoga mats or plucking old incense from the center’s numerous flower pots.  Those simple tasks really tether me to the moment.  Sure, I still internally cross my arms in a huff at times when things don’t “go my way” or someone is “irritating” me.  But I am more aware of it here.  And I will question it.  Is my judgment of X, Y or Z serving me?  Is it serving others?  What is the source?

While I am doing my best to remain in the present moment, it’s hard not to think about the future or the past.  They waft in and out.  It’s especially hard now, around Christmas, to escape the memories of holidays past.  I also think about what I could be doing with friends and family if I were still in Chicago, versus being halfway around the world.  I expressed this sadness to some people at dinner the other night.  After the next yoga class, I emerged into the courtyard to hear Christmas carols being piped over the speakers (instead of the usual mantra chanting).  I figured it was for me — a sweet gesture meant to help me overcome my homesickness and feel loved here.  But it made me cry and miss home all the more.

I find my mind wafting back to Chicago, to friends, to family, to things left undone, words left unsaid — especially during the meditation practices.  And that’s OK.  I accept it.  I’m not some perfect yogini who can meditate on a candle without emotions, desires, to-do lists, etc. emerging.  I’m human.

As are all of the others who found their way to this place.  My ashram peers are a rotating mix of people from Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, China, Canada and Colombia.  Some stay for a day or two, others for much longer.  I’ve so far met an eclectic (read: interesting!) group of soul-searchers, yoga teachers, twenty-something students and nomadic travelers.  One of my favorite people here is a spunky woman named Sam from Melbourne, Australia.  The people at the ashram call her “Samadhi.”  Sam always wears a smile, and is always ready for a colorful chat — laced with profanity in an Aussie accent.  (The girl swears like a truck driver and has gotten reprimanded for it by the teachers here on a few occasions.)  Sam is a traveling free spirit currently with $200 to her name.  She is headed to India in a few days.  When I asked her where she was going, she said she hadn’t decided yet.  Then she smiled, threw her head back and laughed.  I had to laugh, too.

I look forward to completing my stay here and emerging back into the world laughing a little more.  As Bipin, the center’s meditation teacher, likes to say at the start of each morning meditation practice: “I hope that you are all feeling very good in this moment.  And why not?  It is a brand new day, full of opportunities.  We can choose to live it beautifully.”

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