By Aparna Talaulicar October 2011 Waking up at 5.30 am, giving the body, mind and spirit a daily work-out, having two satvic meals a day while breathing in the pure Himalayan air gave Aparna Talaulicar the holiday of a lifetime C K Gandhi did not have an inkling. Sixty years old, and a veteran in most things, including early retirement, he had arrived at the Sivananda yoga retreat at Dol Ashram, Almora, to relax, meditate and realise, much like Gautama Buddha before him. Set in the lap of the Himalayas and surrounded by everything peaceful, the ashram did not communicate a physical transformation to Mr Gandhi. His joint pain, he was sure, would not allow him to sit comfortably on the floor. He did not expect to join any of the asana classes because he had always been told that he was fit to do only meditation and pranayama sitting on a chair. To add to his disabilities were pains in all areas of the back and shoulders (because of which he took early retirement), diabetes, and rapidly advancing old age. He had made his way all the way from Baroda. Obesity had been bogging down Devashish Sharma and he found it difficult to launch himself in any direction, vertically or horizontally. It was difficult for him to even lift his legs alternately, lying down on the floor. The idea of the surya namaskar or the headstand was not even a dream. A Britisher (who wished not to be named), found in this retreat a focussed way of advancing her practice of yoga and an opportunity to lose some more weight. “I did the weight loss programme at the Sivananda Centre in Gurgaon. That was a great experience. I lost six kilos in five weeks and then four more after the programme ended. I also knew I wanted a chance to get yoga into my system, so when this retreat was announced, I put my name down right away.” A spiritual break All the participants came with their own set of expectations and issues, but most of us had one thing in common. We had come to this yoga retreat for a holiday that promised solitude, leaving behind reluctant family and loved ones. I have two little children and my husband is away on work. Luckily, I have the support of my in-laws, but my kids were not exactly thrilled to be without dad and mom for a week (they are below 10, so the thrills of being home alone have not yet dawned on them !). Sivananda yoga retreat, nestled in the lap of the Himalayas Though I had misgivings and took time making up my mind to sign up for the retreat, deep inside I knew that I needed this spiritual break and that it was important for me to disconnect myself from the family for sometime and connect only with myself instead. And I believed then, as I do even more now, that there is no better way to do this than to practice yoga. Mostly holidays are about going to bed late, waking up late, eating vast amounts of food and drinking oneself silly. By the time you are back home, your body is protesting and begging for a break again. In stark contrast, the yoga holiday turned every common notion of a holiday on its head. Participating in each activity was compulsory and the programme began at 5.30 am. Yes, the time an average bloke goes to bed, when in holiday mode! Yoga chores We woke in time to be ready for the first meditation and chanting session of the day, led by Swami Govindananda. A beautiful beginning to the day. This was followed by a yoga asana class. At 9.30 am we had brunch, the first of the two daily meals. This was an enormous and healthy meal, practically oil-free but full of love. Then it was time for seva – where each of us had certain duties assigned to us. The most coveted was to assist in the boutique or the health hut. The yogis manning these really knew how to enjoy themselves. While some did the real work setting up the yoga books and other things on sale, cutting up fruit salad for a healthy snack, or serving apple pie, two of the musically inclined men sat outside and played the guitar, and everybody sang along. It attracted a lot of the regular ashram visitors and there were many lively chats with the locals and with some colourful sadhus. Everyone trooped back in for the daily talk where we tried to grapple with what yoga is and how it can bring each of us closer to our true selves. “Why do we have a need to get the headstand or touch our The healthy sense of letting go was one huge gift to me, the harried woman toes? Adults have a need to get everything right. But why can’t I just be myself? Why do I want to be the person on the next mat?” asks Arun Pandala, explaining to the group that it’s ok to be happy being who you are and that the daily practice of yoga helps you to do this. The afternoon asana class helped the concepts sink in as we inhaled and exhaled slowly, deeply and began to understand why it’s ok to allow ourselves to simply be wherever we are in a posture. We were also getting that this philosophy works for every other part of our lives too. Along with deep realisations, came deeply transformational, healing experiences for many in the group. “I was stressed about a couple of things, some baggage from the past that I couldn’t deal with on my own. I also had a shoulder pain that had been bothering me a lot. On day two itself, I noticed that the pain was gone. And I’ve come back happier and lighter. I think I’ve shed the baggage,” says Sahil Grover, one of the youngest participants in the group, who gave up a river rafting holiday with his friends to come to this yoga holiday instead. Back home now, Sahil continues his yoga practice every morning and manages to find time after work to connect with himself through meditation, chanting or reading a yoga book. Big shifts It isn’t only the younger people who experienced big shifts. C K Gandhi (with whom we began this story) found the teachers encouraging him to do everything that the group was doing, including suryanamaskar, shoulderstand and the headstand. “On the third day, the neck pain I had for four years vanished. I found I was feeling good sitting on the floor. Best of all, wahan jaakar apni umar ko bhool gaya mein…(I went there and forgot my age). I didn’t feel like a retired person. When I got home, my wife remarked that I was looking energetic and young.” Gandhi also found upon his return that his diabetes was under control and he has reduced his medication. For me and the many other women in the group, those seven days were about briefly letting go of all the various roles we juggle in our lives – of mother, wife, employee, homemaker and so on. “I had never taken a holiday on my own because I thought my house couldn’t run without me,” says Anita Bahl, a Sivananda yoga teacher, adding, “But my family managed well without me. They even had a party while I was away, and according to reliable reports, played perfect hosts. My husband, who always leaves the organisation of parties to me, actually shopped for groceries and my sons decided the menu.” Aparna Talaulicar practises Sivanandayoga and has recently trainedas a Sivananda yoga teacher.She ispart of Parenting magazine’s editorialteam. For details visit yogashowstheway.com The healthy sense of letting go was one huge gift to me, the harried woman. The second one was learning to fully relax and leading from there was the ability to breathe properly – something many of us have not done since we were babies! This is no fault of ours, since leading stressful lives in polluted cities very naturally gives rise to a shallow breathing style. Only slow, deep breaths truly nourish our body and while it’s unrealistic to only take deep breaths all the time, it makes a big difference if one gets some deep breathing into the system during a daily yoga practice. If this can take place in a pure atmosphere, such as at the ashram in the hills, it’s like a cherry on top of a delicious dessert. Throughout the week as we practised, chanted, relaxed, breathed, meditated, worked and ate together, we were learning that all we needed to really learn and to do was simply be ourselves. I learnt that if I could just allow myself to be, then everything else would follow perfectly. On day seven, with about a dozen yoga sessions, meditations, satsangs, some mountain walks, many enlightening discussions and so much more under our skins, we headed homewards, each of us feeling lighter, happier and humming the yoga song that had become the retreat theme song, “I love my yoga, oh yes I do, and my yoga, it loves me too. I stretch my arms up, breathe in deep, I love my yoga, it gives me peace.”
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