Adventures at a Yoga Retreat–Part II

26 Jun

A view of the lake from Kripalu

In an effort to start my trip out on the right foot, I set my alarm for 6:10, figuring that that would give me enough time to wake up before the 6:30am yoga class. I was going to do this retreat up right! But my body, restless from the stuffy room and my poor night’s sleep, jolted awake at 5:45. 5:45! Unheard of in my country. But the light was streaming through the windows, and a few of my bunkmates were up early. Where they were off to, I wasn’t sure, but yogis are big on moving with the rhythms of the day–early to bed, early to rise. So by 6am I figured I might as well start the day, and climbed down, changed into my yoga clothes, and headed outside to get the lay of the land.

The morning weather in the Berkshires is absolutely gorgeous. The air is crisp and cool, and there’s dew on the grassy hill behind the Center. I saw a woman on her cell phone at 6am, which made me laugh. Who was she talking to? And wasn’t she here to get away from that? I decided to spend a few minutes before class walking down the long road toward the lake, realizing I wouldn’t get far but wanting to take the time to explore. Off to the south on an adjacent hill there was a lovely a lovely gazebo with two The herb gardenbenches in front of a large garden. I took my shoes off and trekked through the damp grass, cold and dirty on my feet. I walked around the circular garden, but class was starting soon, so I headed back. I was surprisingly awake at 6:30! That’s me, early morning earth mama. The moderate-level yoga class was held in a large room on the first floor–about 80 yogis joined me in this wonderful morning yoga experience. In front of me was a man in a full length scoop-necked aquamarine nylon body suit. (…) It didn’t look particularly comfortable, but apparently he thought so since I saw him in a black version the evening before. Let me tell you, the bodysuit was a little distracting as I was going through my poses. But to each their own, love.

What I find remarkable (but not surprising) about Kripalu (and I’m sure other yoga centers across the country) is the lack of judgment from its attendees. There’s very little you can do/wear/look that will raise eyebrows, including Mr. Bodysuit. Even running naked through the halls would probably prompt yoga teachers to say “Oh look! She’s one with the universe and expressing her joy with her heavenly body!” And frankly, it’s lovely. You can let it all hang out naked in the sauna or doing some strange yoga pose in a class and the judgment just disappears. No one cares. And how often do we judge ourselves, our bodies, and each other (look at me with Mr. Bodysuit!)? Constantly. It’s refreshing that the level of acceptance is so high, and the general energy of the place is joyful, often serene, and positive. It’s a little cocoon of happiness.

The other refreshing thing is that you can be as quiet or chatty as you like. When I travel for work to a conference, I have to put on the face of “Outgoing Erin.” I ask questions, network, start conversations, do small talk, and generally try to entertain my friends/colleagues/strangers (and usually I’m pretty dang good at it!) But it can be exhausting. Here, there is no expectation to do…ANYTHING. I take my food and can sit at a table with strangers, and participate, or not. I can sit by myself and enjoy the nature alone. I could be silent all day. I can spend time with the other Digestive Health students, or not. I don’t have to talk to anyone, and no one knows me. It’s quite freeing.

Also freeing, a random note on sweat: I sweat a lot here. Between the heat and the exercise I’m in a constant state of dewiness, but it’s a good clean sweat because I’m drinking so much water (50-60 oz usually). But as someone who rarely sweats, it’s kind of a foreign experience for me, but not necessarily a negative one. And I know we all spend WAY too much time indoors in air conditioning, so it’s a welcome change. I feel very toxin-free! And let me tell you, my skin looks and feels awesome.

Anyway, back to yoga–90 minutes later and 100% looser, I climbed firmly aboard the morning yoga train. If I could just stick to it at home! When my comfy bed isn’t calling me! Maybe if I turned the heat up to 80…I just might be miserable enough to get up at 6am. You think?

I headed up to breakfast. Kripalu deems that breakfast be silent (or if you want to talk, you can go to the cafe, or outside). It’s eerie, but in a positive way, to be in a cafeteria with 200 other people eating, and no one says a word. Just the clink of plates and cutlery, the scrape of chairs as people get seated. In Thursday night’s program session, we talked about being mindful when eating, and not shoveling our food in and chewing 3 times, then swallowing. Think about how often you do this, or how often you put another forkful in your mouth when you’re not done with that previous mouthful. I do it quite a bit. The purpose is to enjoy the food and really pay attention to what you’re eating. So that morning I counted my chews (I got up to about 15 per mouthful…that’s…a lot of chewing) and savored the food, and was surprised how much more I enjoyed it (and i’ve found that the food here is so terrific, so FRESH, that even when you’re not being mindful, it yells PAY ATTENTION TO ME! LOVE, YOUR DELICIOUS FISH DISH! It’s much easier here than when I’m munching mindlessly on boring chips or crackers at home).

A shower later (man, it feels good to be clean!) I head downstairs to my second session, where another nutritionist talks about the path of food through our body. Interesting stuff. Then 2 hours later, we have another yoga class, although much more basic. It seems like the majority of my colleagues have not practiced yoga as long as I have, which means they’re missing out on the gloriousness of yoga! But the teacher is terrific and funny, and walks through some basic breathing exercises and postures. I was not planning on doing two sets of hip openers, and I know I’m going to pay for it Saturday. But I’m game, and my hips–they are open.

Toward the end of class, a girl with colitis comes up to me, Elizabeth, and wants to talk about our condition. And funnily enough, it turns out we’re in the same room! I’m not surprised we didn’t notice each other–I don’t spend much time in my room, and when I do, I don’t spend time chatting with (or really even noticing) the other women. It’s a nice quiet haven. So we started sharing stories (she’s about my age and has had the disease almost as long as i have) and we headed to lunch and saw some of our other ladies, who invited us to sit with them. It was fun to catch up with people on a personal level, to hear their stories and see where they come from. Post-lunch, we had a wonderful session with an MD who talked about stress and digestive health (Surprise! Stress makes your digestive system unhappy!) But she had a wonderful conversational style and was the perfect mix of Western and Eastern medicines (it’s hard to find MDs like that).

That was our final session of the day, so I had some free time and decided to spend it on a hike to the lake, 10 minutes away (short hike, that). I brought my suit but wasn’t really in the mood to swim (though I heard the water was delightful) and headed over there. There are plenty of trails around, but I’m out of shape in general, and thought the lake jaunt was quite enough. When I got there, a variety of people were hanging out, swimming, chatting, and generally looking quite relaxed. I brought my book and read until I got a call from my friend Julia, who lives near Denver, and we made tentative plans to see each other over Labor Day and also plan on a trip next year back either here or some other retreat. Kripalu with a buddy! I walked back, fully realizing just HOW out of shape I am (flexible, yes–good cardiovascular health, no) when I started to hike up the grassy hill to Kripalu and had to stop and catch my breath. I was tempted to just sit there and call it a day, but I marshaled my energy and kept moving. And I made it, thank goodness, without completely collapsing from exhaustion. I know you’re impressed.

I headed to dinner, determined to eat outside in that gorgeous 70-degree weather and grabbed a nice quiet table near two friends talking about their kids. There’s a much different energy with two people who came to the retreat together (closed off, talking only to each other) and women who don’t know each other and are willing to chat with whoever is sitting there (very open, very friendly.) I honestly don’t mind one over the other, it’s just interesting to see the differences.

After dinner I snagged a comfy chair by the windows and got a fantastic cross breeze (honestly, I chose it because it was the only place I could find a plug for Lola [my Mac] and my phone…but it was lovely regardless!) I read some more, finished typing Kripalu Blog Part I, and headed to the cafe to post it (the cafe is the only place to get wireless reception, which is pretty smart, otherwise people would be on their laptops all the damn time). The cafe was abuzz with budding Kripalu teachers preparing for quizzes on Indian terminology (I’ve heard the words so many times, but I couldn’t tell you how to spell them or which is which, but…Om and Namaste.) and preparing their sample class flows, all steps to becoming Kripalu-certified (you need either 200 hours or 500 hours, depending on your level). Lots of energy and excitement, which was great to see. But around 10pm I’d hit my wall, and heading back to the quiet of my room. This time…no book in bed! I learned my lesson!

Next in Adventures at a Yoga Retreat, Part III (in which we find yogis YOGA DANCING (!) led by Ani DiFranco’s look-alike, drum circles, the return of Mr. Bodysuit, yoga comedy, and Erin debating the merits of going au natural in the Women’s Sauna/Whirlpool…will she or won’t she? Stay tuned!)

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