What did you do this Bank Holiday weekend? something different like visit a yoga retreat? Well, The Women's Room reader Lindsay Howell, Interior decorator and yoga enthusiast did just that. She tells us how she got on….
"Yoga has been a constant in my life but more as a quick salute to the sun, into the lotus position without the knees complaining too much and a few chanted oms. I always knew there was more to the discipline so headed off to the Mandala Ashram in Llandeilo, Wales equipped with bedding (this was no luxurious spa holiday.) and my friend Deb to learn more on a two day weekend retreat.
The journey to the ashram on a glorious spring day through the valley was absolutely stunning, rolling fields and scattered farms with an occasional castle. On arrival we were ushered to a soup and bread supper eaten in silence. Having rushed excitedly to get to there, eating in silence was a bit of a shock and felt silly, we tried hard not to giggle.
There was a mixed bunch of ages and types at the retreat, not all vegan tree hugging hippies as we had jokingly guessed and many were yoga novices. Our accommodation was basic but fine; I was in a dormitory with 2 others although there was room for 8, with a communal bathroom and the veggie food was delicious.
Yoga started at 7.30pm, we had an introductory talk about the Ashram some chanting and meditation and then off to our beds in silence at 9p.m. I couldn’t resist sneaking off to the car park to check for messages and felt really naughty, especially after a very funny message from my husband – must try harder. The course was an introduction to Ashram life and is recommended if you have never been to an Ashram before, it’s quite disciplined and not for everyone, one person left the next morning.
We were up at 6a.m. in silence and our introduction to the different paths of Yoga began. These included Hatha Yoga (body based practice), Mantra Yoga (using sound), Karma Yoga (the practice of acting in the present moment with awareness), Satsung (questions and answers), and Dhyana Yoga (meditation). After our fantastic Hatha Yoga session with Jyoti and then chanting we had breakfast (a bowl of porridge) then we could talk but we felt so relaxed we didn’t feel the need to chat too much. At 9a.m the most controversial part of our yoga experience was timetabled, this was Karma yoga, which meant doing chores with the belief that working selflessly frees the mind.
At first I grumbled to myself, this is what I do at home! But I tried to “be present in the moment with awareness”, instead of my usual approach of getting the work over with as quickly as possible. Some people felt it was cheap labour, but if it means that the Ashram can run these courses at reasonable prices (our weekend was £145.00 all inclusive) this must be a positive reason for doing it, another person left at this stage. Cleaning the toilets proved too much.
All the Yoga we experienced was challenging but well taught by people who were obviously passionate about their subject. I was perplexed by the chanting, but when the Swami explained that it was all about the resonance of the sounds we were making and not the words which we were saying, it seemed to make much more sense. We had a break in the afternoon to do whatever we wanted, I went for a walk along the ridge which was breathtaking, apparently the film Stardust was filmed around this area. A Red Kite flew up the ridge and was so close I felt I could touch it, I was very ‘present in the moment with awareness’(…ommmm).
I was really inspired by the place and left feeling as if I had been taking mind altering drugs. When I got into the car to leave I did the usual thing of turning the radio on but had to turn it off immediately, it seemed so invasive. When I got home my children thought I was far tooooo relaxed and even now 3 weeks later I feel the benefit of its tranquility (I'm smiling a lot). I don’t think the Ashram is for everyone, roughing it and the slighty cult feel was not for Deb, who said she felt a bit of a fraud, but I am glad I gave it a try and will definitely return!"
The Mandala Yoga Ashram can be found in the wonderfully named village of Pantypistyll, Camarthanshire, Wales.
Lindsey Howell interiors.