Escaping the Bubble
Recently I realised I was living in a bubble. I was offended by my own self-realisation when I discovered this, as I’d gotten so used to proudly defining my identity as one who had seen and been with global extremes but that was ultimately an exercise of conceited self delusion. My daily life, narrative and reflections were for the most part, alongside people with very similar backgrounds no matter our nationalities, ethnicities and belief system. Whether you hail from a first world supermodel-state, or one emerging from either cutting poverty or the devastation of war, the fact that you are drawn to this line of work usually means your education, special interests, political preferences, aspirations for the self and the world ran along similar shades. That’s not to denigrate this section of society in any way of course, quite the opposite – these are people who have fed me more than I can describe or even understand. But let’s face it – in order to grow we need to sometimes simply step out of our quite often, highly contradictory social hashtags (#saynototorture #shoporganic #justiceforall #expatadventures) which carries with it at its worst, patronising righteousness and at its best, well meaning ignorance.
Yoga retreat at KARE
Having begun this whole post ever so grandly, I am embarrassed to announce that my recent experience of ‘escaping the bubble’ was going for a yoga retreat alone in India. Now to say that I do anything ‘alone’ in India post 2013 is also a little bit disingenuous given my husband’s origins, who pretty much arranged the whole sanctuary which made it less daunting. So not only is the whole concept itself a little bit self-indulgent-pseudo-bohemian but I also had way more support in arranging it than an ordinary foreigner traveling to India with no roots or contacts whatsoever. So not that heroic, not that adventurous.
When I initially planned this adventure, I was knee deep in work stress. I thought my antidote to that kind of freneticism was resting languidly in an Indian hill station while receiving stimulating Ayurvedic messages all day, detoxing my body and soul from sins of the metropolis. I had this totally misplaced Hollywood fantasy that I would discover myself in a Forrest Essential type resort as I connected to my inner dreams and emerged internally replenished, sylph-like in form and exude glowing ethereal skin.
As is always the case with these romanticisations of mine, reality didn’t quite transpire in such a way. I’ll break down the ugly and beautiful of my two week truth in an Ayurvedic retreat set on top of the serene Lake Mulshi of Maharashta in 6 main points. To give it a ‘rise to the occasion’ spin, let’s start with the ugly and conclude with the beautiful.
First Day Drama
Prior to coming for the retreat, the last time a yoga mat and I had been acquainted was about four years ago in Turkey. Back then I did an hour of yoga twice a week religiously for one year. Since leaving Ankara for Asia, life got more sedentary and the yoga mat was buried under old dusty boxes in the store room. I wasn’t sure why I assumed I could launch into 2 hours of Iyengar yoga at the break of dawn without having done a semi ‘dry-run’ of a faintly normal healthy lifestyle in the built up to the retreat. I leapt from unhealthy, inactive, irregular eating of take-aways or microwaveable food every night to a health and wellness Ayurvedic diet regime overnight. In the first morning, after about 10 surinamaskars and a few further warrior poses, I could feel my throat drying up, the room slowly slipping upside down, and a black curtain went over my eyes before the voices of yoga instructors, helpers, and Ayurvedic doctors discussing of my condition played out faintly in the background.
There was also the distinctive voice of a fellow participant who first alerted the instructors of my impending collapse – she was animatedly detailing what she had seen of me in my last moments to the doctors. I remembered murmuring my apologetic regret to her in my semi-conscious state for having interrupted her yoga class and her whispering back ‘It’s OK, I wanted to get out of it anyway!’ and I was immediately disarmed by both her compassion and mischief. She became one of the most memorable people I befriended in the retreat and it was only a few nights later did we (the non-Indians) find out that she is a legendary Bollywood choreographer (more on that in the People and Bollywood Dance Night below).
On that same first night, after dinner we were mingling around the campfire working on the ‘getting to know each other’ small talk when I realised a dark long worm had climbed up my knee. Cue bloodcurdling shrieks as I hopped around the lobby in what probably seemed like an eccentric tribal dance to the unknowing. A Boy Scout type fellow participant saved the day by managing to first distract me from my hysteria and then deftly removing the offending animal with a newspaper. Both the Boy Scout and Bollywood Goddess were pretty much my saviours on that first day where I think neither I nor the yoga facilitators were initially impressed with each other. As I prepared to retire in my bedroom that evening, my Forrest Essential Ayurveda fantasy was completely obliterated and I wondered if I had the stomach to carry on for another 14 days of this. I felt differently on the last day of course.
Gloom of Ghee
It’s possible that this is the most atrocious liquid I have stuffed down my throat and till today, the memory brings back not just a mental picture but one that attacks my tongue, throat and gag reflex. The idea was that the ghee has amino acids that capture your fat cells and mobilise it to burn for energy. Every morning after two hours of yoga, we were expected to drink this before being called for our Ayurvedic massage treatments. The amount of ghee required increases by a small shot glass each day. By the seventh day you literally need to drink a mason jar of it. There was a healthy dose of drama queens in our ghee batch in that week (myself very much included) so reactions to this ordeal ranged from crying, gagging, retching and throwing up, to the cool-as-a-cucumber sipping it like fine wine antics. Those not involved with the ghee party pretty much sat a safe distance from us, some bemused by our low threshold for (voluntary) discomfort and others horrified by our self inflicted torment.
Even this photo has the capacity to make my heart sink…
2 hours Iyengar yoga at sunrise
Despite the first day dramas, I was almost euphoric with the power of yoga by the 14th day. I think part of why I love this form of movement so much is the mental work at play. What I try to achieve with each yoga session simulates what I am trying to reach with my life on a daily basis. The patience to endure a momentary discomfort in order to achieve a bigger long-term goal, the conscious effort to grow in strength from one day to the next and to exercise control of the mind over matter. As each morning’s class reached a close, there was often a flicker of contentment bathing within some small corner of me. A confluence of chirping birds, of crisp fresh morning air married with the satisfaction of having attempted to pursue a better version of myself. Until, of course, I’d catch the eye of other ghee masochists and the dread of having to drink that cup of hell on earth overtakes you, tossing all manner of internal serenities into the dustbin. Still, I would categorise these yoga classes in an ugly-but-became-beautiful experience.
The fairest way to express how beautiful it was up there is by sharing these visuals. We were often hit by these sublime images of nature in our daily life…
Essentially, the eclectic assortment of the other fellow participants was what enriched me the very most. A natural group chemistry formed together almost immediately between some of us. Bollywood Goddess and Boy Scout led the pack with their inherent charisma. Some people just have this powerful ability to enrol others into their orbit. Bollywood Goddess, in particular, was a fascinating personality given her incredible fame and success in a glamorous billion dollar industry which seemed so incompatible to her warm, down to earth accessibility with total strangers like most of us. She was also hysterically and inimitably funny in a way that was not just about the actual joke but also about her deadpan deliveries. There were times in the morning yoga class when we would be in fits of giggles because of some of her wise-ass retort to the formidable yoga instructor, probably ruining the moment for others seeking to find meditative transcendence. She was a wonderful example of how it was possible to be a raging success in your professional industry, but not let that define who you are as a person. Her legendary Bollywood Dance Night deserves another discussion all together. Boy Scout was basically the guy everyone will want in their team – he embodied reliability, positive competitiveness, and compassion for others -hence the name.
My first friend was the Elegant Beautician, a gentle soul with tender doe eyes from a beautifully complex culture I had become a distant admirer of. She had one of those tranquil energies that I usually sought refuge from – still, calm, a little on the melancholic side but full of inner strength and loyalty. On the other spectrum we had the endearing Party Queen (Bollywood Goddess’s bestie) a quintessential socialite with her gregarious energy and addiction to fun. She seemed to own the party culture of South Bombay and once back in the city, opened the doors of her life and social circle to us with a heartwarming generosity. She teamed up well with the Thoughtful Flower. Named after a fragrant one, the Thoughtful Flower was part of the Indian diaspora thriving in North American life and exuded that wonderful fusion of being both flamboyant and contemplative at the same time. As a group we often took long walks post yoga in the morning and pre-sunset in the evening as we gave each other glimpses of our inner lives that was interspersed with endless selfies. Apart from this central circle, I was also heartened by The Diplomat – a North American envoy to one of the Middle East’s main players who so impressed me with her astute empathy and incredible kindness – it is an unusual treat to meet people whose intuitive reaction to others is to embrace, understand and be of positive service to them and if I had to choose one character trait I saw and wanted to emulate the most in that fortnight, then this is the hands down winner.
Bollywood Dance Night
Courtesy to non-other but our Bollywood Goddess of course, the ultimate highlight of the retreat was experiencing an evening full of iconic dances from celebrated movies of her genre. For me it was a jaw-dropping spectacle of seeing a national stereotype coming to life in front of my eyes, by the nation’s greatest dance choreographer. It was not only that she was so sensational (is it possible to have every inch of one’s body to rhythmically vibrate?) but that she was also capable of electrifying the sensational passions of this country – a love of dance and song. It never ceases to amaze me how it is so embedded in the Indian DNA to perform to music. From Ayurvedic doctors, facilitators, assistants, drivers and retreat participants, everyone was capable of spontaneously combusting into vibrant and tangled coordinations of head, limbs, abdomen, toes, fingers once a song begins… in fact it is unclear to me which part of their physical form has not been affected to the beat of the music. It is uplifting to be amongst a people with a zest for two of art’s most potent expression of celebrations. It just leaves you tingly about being alive. If I must refer to my most defining bubble-escaping memory, then hitting the floor with a Bollywood Goddess amongst throngs of dance lovers has got to be it.
All I have to say about this whole experience is that once in awhile, we need to escape our bubble. Even if that just means taking a different route to the office, or listening and reflecting on a point of view you may not agree with. The only thing constant in life is change, after all. So why not keep those change-adjusting muscles active…..
Featured image to this post (the bubble) sourced from pexels.