Yoga is: A) the only form of exercise I enjoy and B) the only exercise I am any good at. I hate running. I tried joining the track team in high school and I quit after a week. I tried taking Capoeria, a Brazilian martial art, but I was too uncoordinated to learn the dance-like moves. Yoga is much more my jam. I love everything about yoga, from the physical aspect of twisting myself into different positions to the spiritual aspect of focusing my breath and having a mantra. When I lived in Shanghai, the opportunity to do a yoga retreat at a temple in Suzhou, a water town about an hour outside Shanghai, came up. Since I was feeling like I was in a funk I thought a yoga retreat sounded like the perfect thing to get me back on track. Here’s what I learned about what a yoga retreat is really like.
I am not a morning person. I envy those people who love waking up at the crack of dawn to be productive and awesome, but I’d rather sleep in thank you very much. I was in for a rude awakening when I got to Yunquan Temple, the location of our retreat. Tina, our lovely coordinator, informed us that our first yoga session would start every day at 4:30AM. 4:30AM?! The only time I ever willingly get up at 4:30AM is when I have to catch a flight.
Every morning we found ourselves being woken up by Tina, as she rang a bell at 4:30AM which announced to us it was time to get our yoga mat and begin our first session. The first day was the toughest as we all went in bleary eyed and without coffee. As we started moving through the session I noticed how nice it was to be doing sun salutations while the sun was actually rising. Around 5:30AM we could also hear the monks chanting their morning prayer.
By the end of the retreat I had stumbled into my old ways as I slept in till 5:00AM and arrived 30 minutes late to yoga class. When another girl and I stumbled into class late and tried to hide in the back Laksmhi, one of our yoga instructors, made us go to the front of class and gently scolded us in front of everyone, “When students come in late I always make sure they come to the front of the class so they know they can’t hide.”
While I doubt you will enjoy austere meals if you’re doing a yoga retreat at one of those fancy retreats in Tulum or Thailand, if you’re doing a retreat at a temple be prepared to eat simple vegetarian meals. Breakfast at the temple was usually pickled veggies, plain congee (rice porridge), and steam rolls. Lunch was usually rice, veggies, and noodles. Tina, noting the lack of flavor in the noodles, asked the temple’s cook if they could add some chili sauce to it. There was also no tea or coffee at the temple, just hot water (no option for cold water).
While no one was awarding Michelin stars to the temple canteen, it was still quite an experience to eat among monks. During breakfast one of the monks was having a discussion with Tina, our guide, in Chinese.
Tina looked at the rest of us at the long table and translated for us. “The monk said, that nothing in this world belongs to us, not our lovers and not our families. So I asked him, ‘then what is the meaning of life?” Tina laughed.
During our yoga retreat we not only did yoga but also made time to share thoughts and discuss everything from philosophy to soul mates.
We got on the topic of soul mates when a woman named Julia asked Akhil, one of our other yoga instructors, what he thought about soul mates.
What could be more important than love and the search for a soul mate?
“What do you believe about soul mates?” Akhil asked all of us, his eyes widening in excitement.
“I believe we can have several soul mates in one lifetime. Soulmates are those we are on the same vibrational frequency with. Sometimes one partner grows and their vibration changes, and then they move to someone who fits their new vibration. I believe this happens to a lot of married couples who after being married for a few years don’t think they’re soul mates anymore,” Julia said.
“I think you only have one soulmate but you can find them in different lifetimes.” Cecelia, a Belgian, chimed in.
“Oh yes?” Akhil motioned for Cecelia to share her story.
“Yes, we have a saying in Belgium, that when you meet your soulmate it’s like being in labor, you know when you’re in labor. It’s the same with a soulmate. If you feel half-hearted about it then it’s not your soul mate. That’s how you know. I am very lucky, I met my soul mate and I told him that he was my soul mate on our first date,” Cecelia said in her throaty Belgian accent.
“You didn’t scare him away?” Johnny, an American asked jokingly.
“Nope, I just knew. We went to a Chinese doctor who said that we have very similar energy. When you know, you know.” Cecelia said.
By the end of the retreat I found myself feeling much more grounded. While the yoga retreat didn’t erase all my worries and concerns, it left me in a better place than when I started. I also found another perk of the yoga retreat – I found I slept much better at night which I attribute to being grateful that I didn’t have to wake up at 4:30AM anymore.