||TAMARA DINELLE, Contributor
The resurgence of yoga is one of the biggest marketing success stories of the past 15 years. For decades it was considered outside of the mainstream, practiced mainly by granola-loving hippies still hanging onto their 1960’s lifestyle.
Photo Credit: iStock
Then some brilliant MBA. graduate gave yoga a sexy, gorgeous makeover and overnight it became the exercise for the masses — spawning a multi-billion-dollar subculture marketing everything from pretty little tops to lifestyle to, of course, yoga travel.
I have admittedly succumbed to this frenzy: I own the tops and multiple mats and have practiced on and off for the past decade with the hope of obtaining those amazing yoga arms. And given my level of personal vanity and my love of travel, it was inevitable that I would eventually graduate to participating in a yoga retreat.
My first foray into yoga travel came a few years ago when I was traveling in India with my friend Tara and contemplated a stint in the famous “Hugging Mama” ashram in Kerala, where its proprietor Amma uses hugs, as a well as yoga, as a therapeutic release. It was located only two hours from where we were staying and therefore could have been integrated nicely into our travels.
“Absolutely NOT!” insisted Tara, who had visions of the ashram being overrun by middle-aged divorced women, following the publication of a hugely successful book where an American divorcee visits an ashram in India to heal her aching heart.
A few days after this argument we met up with a fellow traveler who happened to be staying in the Hugging Mama facility. “You would love it!” she exclaimed, confirming it was not only full of the divorcee demographic — as suspected by Tara — but also many eligible bachelors helping them rebound from their failed relationships.
According to our new friend, the ashram had become so popular that Amma actually had to employ handlers to help her manage those visitors who demanded multiple hugs. Not exactly the way I pictured it, but I was still intrigued. But since I was leaving India two days later, this was apparently going to be a missed opportunity.
Photo Credit: iStock
A year later and back on home soil, I was still trying to scratch that yoga retreat itch. I was now practicing on a regular basis and, while I still didn’t have those arms, I wanted an intensive period of practicing yoga where I could improve my form and leave a vacation healthier and more rested than when I left — for once. But I wasn’t interested in paying for one of those premium North American retreats being offered at spas or resorts.
“I want something more ‘authentic’, something like the ashrams in India,” I said to my friend Madelaine, who had agreed this should be our next adventure together.
A few Google searches later and we had found the destination of our choice — an ashram founded by a real yogi providing classes in Hatha, meditation and a full vegan diet, located about 200 miles from Washington D.C. Two days of clean living and chaturanga perfection await.
I wasn’t quite sure what my expectations were prior to my arrival. Given some of the literature I had read, I was prepared for basic accommodations. My hope was it would also be quiet and healthy and … healing. I had had a busy couple of months and was ready for a few days of exercise combined with chill time — and no booze.
So when we arrived at the retreat on Friday evening, I was somewhat taken aback by the scene before us. A packed parking lot filled with expensive cars and lots of people rushing about, it resembled more of a shopping centre than a place of Zen.
We found our way to the check-in and were greeted by a frenzied group of volunteers trying to sort out the details of the accommodation.
“Are you Julie?” one of the volunteers asked us frantically. “Do you know where Julie is?”
When I finally convinced her that we weren’t associated with Julie in any way, we were given the directions to our room, which had four beds without a bath, despite the fact we had booked a room with two beds and bath.
We soon discovered the ashram was full of rules. No alcohol or tobacco (illicit drugs would result in arrest) — and no meat, eggs or dairy products. Caffeine was to be limited to the products in the mess hall (none). Appropriate clothing was mandatory, and men and women were to sleep in separate accommodations. As explained by the yogi who founded the facility, observing this set of rules would allow guests to optimize their ashram experience and maximize their yoga practice.
Photo Credit: iStock
Interestingly enough, there were few rules regarding noise; I learned why later that night. After a long day of travel Madeline and I decided to call it an early night with the hope of being well rested for the 6 a.m. sunrise Hatha class. As I fell off into a deep, delicious sleep, I dreamed about a group of ashram guests circling the property in a van full of people singing, chanting, clapping and playing the bongos.
When I awoke at 12:30 a.m. I discovered I wasn’t dreaming — a van packed full of people playing music had been driving around the property, passing by the sleeping quarters every 10 minutes. They continued to do so for the next three hours, cancelling out any chances of a 6 a.m. class. Apparently, sleep didn’t matter when it came to maximizing one’s yoga practice.
The next morning I rose just in time to make the cut-off for breakfast and went down to the mess hall to meet up with Madeline. I walked in to see her sitting alone — completely out of character for her. Smart, approachable with a fantastic sense of humour, Madeline easily meets new people.
“No friends?” I asked. She looked at me, smiled and indicated toward the table next to us. “No, I’m feeling a little out of my element.”
I looked around the mess hall and observed a motley crew of individuals. There were some older couples sitting away from the other guests who, given their physique, looked quite serious about their practice; and, as anticipated, there were several groups of women sitting together in cliques.
At the table next to us sat a group of individuals uniformly dressed in white. They were all very, very fit and given their posture looked like they practiced yoga on a regular basis. Some had ashes on their foreheads, some had dreadlocks and some carried bongos and other musical instruments.
Ah, I had this group to thank for being kept up half the night. A few of the volunteers from the check-in counter were sitting among them, chatting away, clearly on familiar terms. If there was an in-crowd on the yoga campus, they were it.
“In addition to weekend retreats, there’s an intensive 30-day course at this ashram,” said Madeline. “All of these students are graduating tonight. Last night was the dress rehearsal for the ceremony taking place after dinner.” Fantastic. Apparently I would be blessed with bongos for two nights in a row.
Click here to read My yoga holiday from hell (Part 2).
Tamara Dinelle is a marketing communications professional based in Toronto. When she can find the time and the means, she is a passionate adventurer and explorer. Her favourite destinations to date include Saigon, Barcelona, Melbourne, Kyoto and New York City.
Date Added: May 16, 2012 | Comments (0)
No comments yet.