Since I was just living a 25-minute plane ride away, I recently decided to travel to the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in Nassau. My friend Charlie (who had been volunteering there for a three-month stint) was leaving soon, so I took the opportunity to visit her and check the place out. I had never been to an ashram, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I figured I’d take some yoga classes, hang out on the beach and chill.
I had no idea!
If, like me, you didn’t really know, ashrams are basically like monasteries for yogis. The Sivananda retreat in the Bahamas is a highly spiritual, serious place that attracts
those who are ready for a major transformational shift (whether they know it or not!). There are swamis, or monks, walking around in orange robes, while senior staff wore yellow shirts and white pants. There were also a bunch of Yoga teachers-in-training, carrying stacks of books and scurrying from class to class, who wore slightly different yellow shirts and white pants. Then there were the Karma Yogis – like my pal Charlie – and folks like me, who wore anything they wanted. There were about 300 people at the six-acre facility. No one was wearing the crazy, colorful yoga pants that you see on skinny girls showing off their handstands on Instagram.
The accommodations were simple. I booked a “tent hut,” which was one of 12 tents per floor set up in a wooden structure. There was a cot, fan, lamp, dresser, a bottle of water and some bug spray in my tent. It was not luxurious, but it was really all I needed. It was a minute’s walk to the beach and just about every place in the ashram. There were rooms as well as tent spots, too. Charlie was living in a tent. After nearly three months, she was ready for a good night in a real bed, she confided.
The daily schedule was long and structured, providing extensive opportunity to
challenge yourself in a supportive, loving environment. I attended the “Yoga Vacation Program,” and the time there is designed to be very different from everyday life. It sure was. With the ringing of a loud bell in the middle of the ashram, wake up was 5:30 a.m. every day. I brushed my teeth and grabbed a scarf to cover my shoulders before heading to the temple, where everyone gathered by 6 a.m. for a 25-minute silent meditation, followed by the chanting of morning prayers. There were pictures of the founding swami fathers of the ashram on the wall of the temple, along with portraits of Sri Krishna and Hanuman, two Hindu gods. The chanting was in Sanskrit, and I followed along as best I could with a hymnal. Then there was a talk or a presentation. Yoga class was at 8 a.m. Then brunch at 9:45 a.m. Workshops took place at noon and 2 p.m. (One day I went snorkeling instead – I saw a king conch eating a sea biscuit! Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, bisc-ey.) At 4 p.m. they had another Yoga class, followed by dinner at 5:45 p.m. Then there was another satsang (the meditation, chanting and lecture) at 8 p.m. I was fast asleep in my little tent by 10:30 p.m. every night.
Attached to coffee as a means of waking? You’re out of luck. There was no coffee (and no sympathy) for anyone who “needed” it there. They served lots of hot herbal tea – cinnamon tea, lemon ginger tea – that was really quite satisfying. The delicious and huge portions of food served at brunch and dinner were all vegetarian, of course. I was never hungry. Even though I enjoy a cup of French press coffee every day at home, I never had a problem waking up in the morning. There was, surprisingly, plenty of treats. Every day I was there, they had a birthday celebration complete with cake. Once I happened upon a woman handing out still-warm, homemade lemon-glazed doughnuts. Karma is pretty good sometimes too!
The week I visited, they had a Bhakti Yoga retreat. Talk about a treat! Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of devotion and love. Basically, the Bhakti message is encouraging unconditional love and service to all living things, as everything is an embodiment of
the highest Self, or God. Other kinds of Yoga include Jnana Yoga, where yogis connect with God through learning; Karma Yoga, where yogis connect with God through selfless service; and Raja Yoga, where yogis connect with God through meditation. The type of Yoga you probably think of – the kind with stretchy pants (Hey Nikki! Love your pants!) where you work yourself into a pretzel – falls under Raja Yoga. The whole idea of doing all those poses is simply to relax the body so you can meditate in a comfortable, steady posture. So success in yoga class actually has nothing to do with touching your toes, but how you react and feel when you’re reaching down but not yet touching your toes.
The backbone to Bhakti Yoga is kirtan, or devotional chants and music. I LOVE live music, so I was pretty excited when the musicians (Guara Vani and As Kindred Spirits, along with their guru, Ramandath Swami) came on stage and starting jamming. They were awesome! Big smiles were everywhere as we were encouraged to sing along (thankfully they broke down all the Sanskrit lyrics). I got that same amazing high that I get in the front row of concerts at music festivals. In the afternoon sessions, we danced and flowed to the music. I felt so happy and filled with love.
I even made up a joke: You know how you’re supposed to sing “Happy Birthday” when you wash your hands? Well, Yogis are so clean because instead of singing “Happy Birthday,” they sing “Hare Krishna.” Wow, that song doesn’t end!
Toward the end of my visit, my friend Charlie presented me with a special gift: a spiritual journal. She knows I love to journal and also make lists. This journal broke down all the activities one can do to live a more spiritually fulfilling life. Although I did not realize it when I booked the trip, this was exactly what I needed to do. I had grown jaded. I had developed a harden heart because of all the challenges I had faced over the last year. I knew that my shiny self was veiled, but I didn’t know how to shake it free. The trip did just that. I left resolved to bring in more compassion for others and myself, to show and feel more love, find gratitude and be of better service for all the beautiful beings around me everyday. In other words – and I hope you do this too – let my love light shine brightly!