“Sometimes, life gets in the way.”
It’s one of my old Tai Chi instructor’s favourite sayings, and I tell you what, he wasn’t wrong about that. Despite your best intentions, sometimes your sadhana has to take a back seat to so called ‘real life’.
That’s the position I found myself in recently when it was all change in terms of pretty much every aspect of my life. I’ve had a lot to deal with over the past few weeks, many of which is ongoing, and so my spiritual practice had to take a back seat to the basic practicalities of life.
I found I had to do something to get things back on track, which is why I decided to do the five day Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales. If a steady diet of double yoga, double satsang, lectures and meditative walks didn’t do the trick, nothing would.
The location for the retreat was a new one for me; the Snowdonia Mountain Lodge. It’s a little further than Gaunt’s House, the place I’ve been to previously with the Sivanadas, but I found the drive up fairly straight forward. Motorways and main roads most of the way in fact. From London it was a good four or five hour drive, but with the first yoga class on day one being at 4pm, that gives you plenty of time to get up there.
I actually had an unusual journey, in that I went up the day before – after having picked up a load of stuff from the yoga centre for transportation – and stayed nearby with a friend. It just broke things up nicely for me, and I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to dive into my sadhana.
Actually, my first bit of spiritual practice was, of course, karma yoga, lol. I helped set up the stuff I’d brought up from London, which turned out to be everything for the altar and things for the boutique.
Our set up was actually in the corner of a much larger boutique that they have at the Mountain Lodge. The lodge itself has strong connections with the Dru Yoga organisation, so any visiting yogis will find their needs well catered for (check out those snacks!).
Karma yoga over with (for now) I got to have a wee scout about before everyone else turned up. I scoped out the Peace Flame,
and the Peace Bridge,
not to mention the Peaceful Views of the surrounding valley (anybody spotting a theme yet?).
We’d chosen a lovely day to arrive, and everyone kept telling us it wouldn’t last, but I’m glad to say the sunny weather lasted nearly the whole retreat long, with just the odd shower to liven things up now and then.
The program for the course ran the same as it does for the TTC:
6am – Morning Satsang (medtiation, chanting and short lecture)
8am – First Yoga Class
10am – Brunch
11:30-3:30pm(ish) – Lecture & Meditative Walk, alternating depending on weather, and of varying lengths and start times, with a break in between
4pm – Second Yoga Class
6pm – Evening Meal
8pm – Evening Satsang
9:30pm – Finish/Bed
Apart from meals, every event lasts about an hour and a half (except the lecture which is about an hour) so there’s time in between to relax a little bit, but not too much. The program is pretty full on, but such practice has great benefits, as it really brings you out of your daily life and makes you concentrate on your sadhana. And that, after all, was the main reason I was there.
Two full yoga classes a day really improves your asana practice quite quickly. I’m not saying I could touch my head to my knees within the five days, but I did end up being able to do a very rudimentary Pigeon which, whilst not pretty, is at least fully realised (and I’ll let you figure out what I mean by that for yourselves, lol).
There were two levels of class on offer, a beginners/intermediate class and an intermediate/advanced class. Tempted though I was to give myself a break now and then, I stuck with the more advanced class. I know I’m lazy, and I need to be pushed, and so it was the perfect one for me. The teaching was provided by Narada and Sundari, two of the staff members, and was excellent as always. Though I often went into a class a bit tired, I pretty much always came out more energised (and generally quite hungry, lol).
Food was provided by the staff at the Mountain Lodge, but cooked using Sivananda recipes and under guidance from the staff, and I must say they did an excellent job. Everything we had was tasty, and I had to literally restrain myself from having thirds (seconds was a foregone conclusion) a lot of the time.
And so many nice puddings too! Never had so much sweet stuff on a Sivananda retreat. Not only at the meals, but after the walks as well. From chocolate mousse to rice pud to crumble and custard, I dare say everybody’s sweet tooth was more than satisfied.
Thank goodness was had the walks to burn off those extra calories, lol. The region around the Lodge had lots of great walks we could go on. A couple we could do right from the front door, and a couple we had to jump in the cars to go do.
The first walk was to a nearby hillside lake (what I would call a Tarn, being from Oop Norf as I am).
A five minute drive up the valley and a short walk brought us to the lake. NB: The walks are done in silence so that you can concentrate on calming the mind, linking your breathing to your walking, or just enjoying the energy of the beautiful surroundings.
Here we had a short meditative contemplation before carrying on around the lake to the other side.
From here we could see back down the valley to where we were staying. Our accommodation is one of the white dots near the road in the first picture, but I honestly can’t say which one anymore, lol.
As Swami Jyotimayananda said, it’s amazing how invigorating being in nature can be. You forget the stuff you do day to day, but walks and scenery like that stay with you for a long time.
The other big walk we did was to Newborough Beach on Anglesey. This was a new one for everybody so Swamiji asked me to drive out there in the morning to check out the route and see what was what. It meant missing the lecture, but since it was on Positive Thinking and I’d done the Positive Thinking Course at the London Centre with Swami Jyotimayananda, I really didn’t mind.
I felt the responsibility of getting everyone to the beach. We were a convoy of about seven cars all in all, and I had to pull over a couple of times to allow everyone to catch up. We lost two cars along the way, but thanks to sat nav, and making sure everyone had a nearby postcode, those two cars actually got there before the rest of us, lol.
The beach was gorgeous, and we walked the full length of it before heading out onto a spit of land for our meditation (and a bit of a lie down).
As I said, and as you can see, we got really lucky with the weather. Lovely sunshine and gorgeous views; what more could you want?
I thoroughly enjoyed the summer retreat. I won’t lie to you, it was tough at times. You know me, I likes my sleep. But I persevered, and I certainly felt the benefits afterwards.
I was invigorated by my time in Wales, and that carried through into the following weeks. I keep getting up early and doing things, which is crazy for me. Getting everything you want to do done and then looking at your watch and finding out it’s still morning just blows my mind, lol. I mean it’s great, but with so much time in the day what do you do with yourself? ;-)
I’d recommend giving the retreat a go if you haven’t been on one before. It’s not as far as it seems, and once you’re there the benefits you gain far outweigh the effort required in getting there (much like yoga itself, lol).