Well, I’m back from a week at the incredible Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. I’m not sure how to sum up my experience, except to say that it was surprising, enriching, relaxing, and life-changing. I honestly had no idea that it was possible to learn so much about myself in a week, and I wanted to share some of my revelations with you all.
1. Adapt, adjust, accommodate
Those three words form part of what could be described as the Sivananda creed, and could probably serve as the theme for my week at the ashram. are the core teachings of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams.
See, a lot of meditation and chanting happens at the ashram…like a loooot of meditation and chanting. Positive thinking and meditation is one of the Five Points of Yoga that governs the Sivananda ashrams. I am neither a meditator, nor a chanter; in fact, I’m pretty much the disembodiment of team spirit. In spin class when the instructor attempts to solicit “Woo!!”s from the crowd, I am stone-faced in the back row. In yoga, when the instructor invites the group to ‘Om’ together, I might emit a low ‘hmmmmmm’ just so I’m not that girl destroying any sort of mystical energy floating around the room.
On day 1 at the ashram, I suppressed laughter as a patchouli-scented room full of people dressed in flowy white linen sang call-and-response songs in Sanskrit and sat in silent meditation for a half an hour. Day two, I chuckled when my yoga teachers opened and closed our classes with three “oms” and a Sanskrit prayer. By Day 3, I was mouthing along to the songs and “om’ing” with the best of them. I got over my fear of looking/sounding silly and realized that by not participating, not only was I in the minority, but I was also wasting a cultural experience. Essentially, I surrendered to my environment…and it felt kind of nice to just go with the flow and just not think for a while. This can be applied to just about every area of my experience at the ashram, from the food to general flow of life. Adapt, adjust, accommodate.
2. Food Is Not Scary
Meals at the ashram are 100% vegetarian and served twice daily – once at 10am and once at 6pm. Before leaving, I had some anxiety about the fact that the food was described to be very carb/starch based and that I would only be able to eat twice a day. I contemplated buying snacks in the airport on the way, but decided that I as going to embrace the experience and trust the yogis that they knew what they were doing with the whole food thing.
The first few days, my meals were massive and left me feeling incredibly bloated. Not the food’s fault…I was consuming WAY too much food out of fear that I’d be hungry an hour later. Here at home, my macronutrients tend to be evenly split between carbs, protein, and fat. Soon, I had a revelation: since I was moving less (gentle yoga twice a day and walking a couple miles each day), I was never hungry between my meals. That’s EIGHT HOURS without starving, people!
By day three, I learned what my favourite items were (homemade bread and kefir, mmm) and focused my meals on those items. I didn’t feel stuffed, nor did I explode from eating too many carbs. On top of all that, I was no longer finishing my meals and wondering what was for dessert. I wasn’t even thinking about food between my meals! I’m sure part of this phenomenon was due to being away from work and filling my days with things I truly loved (the beach, walking, exploring, and yoga). Nevertheless, I can’t explain the deep feeling of freedom I felt in relation to food and exercise – something I’ve virtually never felt before.
3. More Is Not Always Better
I’ve been having some issues with my lower back for the last few months. I haven’t really mentioned it here because I was in denial about it being anything significant and I’m too stubborn to accept defeat. Thus, despite my back pain, I kept hammering out my 2 hour spin sessions and lower body strength training workouts and just kept paying to see my chiropractor even though I knew in the back of my mind that I was undoing all of his work every time I hunched over a spin bike. When I booked my trip to the ashram, my initial reaction was fear and anxiety about the possibility of not being able to exercise at the intensity to which I’m accustomed while there. In the week before, when my back was really giving me grief due to a few activities that were NOT in my spine’s best interest, I came around to the idea that a week of forced rest could do me some good.
Suffice it to say that my back pain is almost gone now. If I had just taken a week off 2 months ago instead of suffering and forcing my body beyond its limits, who knows how much farther ahead I would be today. Note to self: learn from this lesson!!!
4. I’m Not Crazy
I’ll be honest and tell you that the months of January, February and March were really excruciating for me as far as just being me. I was doubting my capabilities in every single area of my life – fitness (due to my back), food (due to some really sweet-filled weekends), friendships, and work. I was wondering if I even possessed the skills/strengths that I had prided myself on previously.
In the week that I was away, I had the amazing opportunity to reaffirm what I had previously known, and to discover new things about myself. I learned that I’m still a strong and assertive communicator, still possess an entrepreneurial spirit, and am still a goofy light-hearted person who is good at making friends and at talking to people in general. I learned that somewhere within me is a ‘normal’ eater and someone who is not the compulsive exerciser that I’d become in the last few months to try and compensate for my weekend feeding frenzies.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel myself receding back to pre-trip me with every day back at work, but I’m refusing to give in.
In the Bahamas, and at the ashram, I learned that time constraints are loosely interpreted. Call a cab, and it might be there in 10 minutes, or it might be there in 30. Ask for a lamp to replace the one that’s missing from your tent, and you might have to ask five more times before it shows up. If your yoga class starts at 8, it really starts at 8:15. If you eat breakfast at 10am, you won’t eat again until 6pm. Sometimes the sand is packed and easy to walk on, and sometimes every step you take it like walking in quicksand. One day you will be able to touch your toes, and the next your body might resist. One evening your mind might slip into meditation seamlessly, and the next it may keep wandering.
There is nothing to do in these instances but to be patient. Not an easy lesson for a Type-A personality with a suspected mild case of OCD, but there is no choice. It is what it is.
Until next time,