Part 5: Ashtanga Nirvṛta
Sunrise on the first day of the retreat was upon us and Mahesh's father appeared in a dazzling white dhoti, to offer puja to our magnificent hand-carved stone Ganesha statue. We laid down beautiful jamkhana rugs in the yoga shala and the aroma of sandalwood incense infused the air. After several hours of chanting soothing Sanskrit mantras and thoughtfully offering flowers and puja to our idol, Ashtanga Nirvṛta was ready for the arrival of our guests.
One of the things that I am most proud of as an Ashtanga yoga teacher, is the students who choose to study with me. So far I have been blessed with wonderful, easy-going, receptive, fun, intelligent, hard working and unassuming adults, who are a joy to work with. The guests at our launch retreat were no exception. We had delightful visitors from North and South India, Europe, North Africa and North America, all of whom Saroja happily welcomed with a garland of flowers.
The concept of a homestay yoga retreat is quite different from the big commercial retreats, where heaps of practitioners receive little personal attention. Guests stay in our home and treat it as their home. I like to teach small groups and give students as much individual guidance as possible (similar to how Guruji worked with us, at the old Laxmipuram Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute). Being in stunning nature means that guests can feel truly connected and free themselves from the clutches of urban living. It is an idyllic way to practise yoga.
Every morning Saroja would create rangoli patterns outside the main doors and put colourful flowers on the Ganesha statue in the yoga shala. The group would leisurely arrive (often with fresh coffee in hand), ready for asana class. Afternoon workshops would afford us the opportunity to indulge in asana technique and enjoy long walks when we would discuss yoga philosophy, history and have 'conference'. Following Guruji's tradition of taking Saturday (the day of Saturn) as a holiday, we embarked on a spot of sight-seeing. The 12th Century Hoysala stone temples of Belur and Halebid, are not only enthralling but demonstrate a feat of architectural and sculptural magnificence. Exquisite and intricate carvings of Hindu gods, entwined bodies, emblems, creatures and symbols, cover every inch of the temples which took over one hundred years to complete. Our journey back to the retreat was rather memorable too. One of the guests wasn't quite ready to leave the restaurant where we were devouring delicious chats, so we didn't depart until dark. A huge storm blew up and the howling winds, rain and thunder bolts caused a tree to fall across the main road back to Sakleshpur. Traffic was diverted via a small country lane (which had no street lighting) and of course a tree had fallen there too. We would have been stuck for hours, had the driver of our jeep not known about a farmland short cut. We arrived back at Nirvṛta Estate later than expected and ravenous.
One of the reasons that I was so upset that the cook from Mysore couldn't come, was that I thought the guests would want Western food (which he could create). I couldn't have been more wrong. "You're a homestay retreat. We want to eat what you eat" the guests told me. This was music to my ears as we feasted on mangoes, papayas, bananas, pomelos, melons, pineapples and granola after practice each morning and delved into a spectacular offering of South Indian breakfasts every lunchtime. Avi charmed the ladies who prepared food for us, into creating delectable treats reminiscent of his mother's cooking. After dark we indulged in South Indian vegetarian thali-style dishes such as local vegetable curries, thoran, salads, red rice, akki rotis, dal, channa, rajma, sambar and papad. I can't pretend that our secret stash of beer wasn't discovered by our razor-sharp guests and enjoyed by all, with roasted ground nuts and banana chips on Friday evenings!
I have come to expect the unexpected in India and have surrendered to the fact that yes usually means no, nothing is as it seems and if there is a complicated way of doing something, it will be embraced (often with no outcome at all). I do not claim to understand Incredible India, or the logic which determines many people's actions, but the light, the colours, the exotic aromas, the smiles, the delicious fruit, cuisine, stunning nature and constant assault on the senses, perpetually captivate me and make the Magical Motherland a place to behold.
India is extraordinary and is the perfect place for our Ashtanga yoga homestay retreat. England is my home and it is important for me to connect with my family, friends and English culture. I miss all that is familiar, the way people speak, our humour, rhyming slang, banter, irony, English newspapers, Sunday lunch, country pubs, walks on Hampstead Heath, the architecture in the City of London, the Thames, the café culture, stately homes, art galleries, museums, theatre, concerts, gigs, cinema, the variety of shops, selection of products, customer service, church bells and satirical British television and radio. Coming home every summer to teach in Europe, not only keeps me clear-headed, but has also paid for our living expenses in India these last five years. The yoga practice is about feeling connected, having a balanced life and being happy, healthy and peaceful. Spending half my time teaching Ashtanga yoga at our joyful retreat in the hills of South India and the rest of the year sharing the practice in England and Europe, not only allows me to stay connected to my roots, but (when the nights draw in and the sky turns grey) enables me to keep going back to the motherland of yoga, where everything is exotic, vibrant and mysterious. www.nirvrta.com