Ashram Yoga

Ashram Yoga–where do I even begin? After spending two and a half months at this place (one learning and one and a half wwoofing) I feel overwhelmed when I think of writing about it. It was quite a time. I really liked being at this yoga retreat. Sure, I found thawing placenta in the fridge one day and was asked multiple times why I didn’t make a habit of Amroli, the practice of drinking your own urine, but I also learned a ton, got a bit more flexible and strong, and met some great people.

Nestled in the small Coromandel Peninsula town of Ohui is Opoutere Beach–a long, golden-sanded and nearly always deserted stretch of paradise. And about a two-minute walk from the beach is Ashram Yoga Ohui Retreat, where I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training one-month intensive in May. I didn’t even want to be a yoga teacher but I’d always been curious to learn more about yoga and this seemed like a good time and place to do it. New Zealand? The beach? Sign me up! I’m glad I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into because if I had known, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have signed up. If I’d known I’d have to Neti pot (pouring salt water in one nostril and out the other) every morning, do ancient Hatha yoga intestinal cleansing practices called Lagoo and Kunjal, which involve drinking a lot of lukewarm salt water then forcing it out both ends, I definitely would’ve gone running and screaming in the opposite direction.

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In fact, I did just that numerous days during the course. I’d run down to the beach at lunchtime and rant about all the things that were terrible (which, in the grand scheme of things, really wasn’t very many), but mercy be on the person who ever tells me again that I have to wake up at 5am to chug something gross and immediately make myself puke it back up. Been there, done that, people, and let me tell you–once was enough.

Before I get to the things I liked (because I did like a lot about it!), I just have a few more bones to pick. Maybe it’s because I left the property fewer than five times in two and a half months, but I reached a point where the screaming children, large proportion of what I like to call Gross Chewers (anyone who smacks loudly, slurps incessantly, and licks their fingers after every bite), sleeping in a leaky tin box called a caravan, finding rats in my backpack, and being woken up well before the sun by people “aum ram ram ram”ing in their personal practice really pushed me over the edge.

After the course, most days were spent cleaning. Most things were already clean before the daily cleaning began. I never knew walls could be scrubbed so much. One day, after my FOURTH time sweeping the floor, I followed behind someone and picked up the trail of clementine peels they were mindlessly throwing on the floor as they walked and thought I might lose it. But then a feline-phobic friend provided unintentional entertainment when she repeatedly stomped her foot at the Ashram cat and told it to “get away from my pants!” A good laugh was generally all I needed to relieve my irritation, although chocolate and liquorice allsorts helped a great deal as well.

Despite all this, I have made some positive changes as a result of my time at Ashram Yoga. Now I voluntarily do Neti pot most mornings (yes, someone has already called me Neti Lettie so you’ll have to come up with something better) and have come around to the fact that it’s probably never going to be as terrible as the time I watched a friend with a bad cold do it. From that, I will never recover.

I received a yoga name and a personal mantra. I think I’ll stick with Lettie and not switch to Divyaratna, but if I ever need a now not-so-secret alias, I’m covered. Now when someone asks me if I want to wake up at 4am to do 27 rounds of sun salutes, I say yes, without a doubt. I’ve also been known to say, “hey, do you want to do a little aum chanting before bed?” I really got into chanting aum–the sound within every sound; the blending of energy and consciousness. It’s incredibly grounding and quickly dissolves emotional tension. Doing it with a group of people is especially exhilarating. I was a skeptic at first but now it’s one of my favorite parts of yoga.

I also enjoyed the good jobs, like honing my wood chopping skills and designing posters for Ashram events. I got to take a free yoga and sexuality course and do some photography for the marketing team. I participated in group Kirtan (repetitive singing of Sanskrit phrases accompanied by a harmonium and other instruments) nearly every night and discovered that I’m decent at playing the African drum. Who knew!

But the most valuable thing I’ve taken away is my own sadhana–a personal practice I can do every day; something that’s just for me; something that makes me feel good. It’s amazing how fresh the day feels after an early morning practice of postures, breathing, and meditation. I still have some work to do in the self discipline department, but progress is being made and that’s what counts.

So I have a lot of things to thank Ashram Yoga for. A free t-shirt being one of them. There are a lot of things I certainly don’t miss, but the place was a home away from home for a while and challenged me in many good ways. And now I’m a yoga teacher! Sometimes the unplanned adventures turn out to be the best ones–or at least the ones with the most stories to tell at the end.

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