After India I was keen to repeat the ashram experience, especially as I had been practising yoga on my own for over 6 months and was really feeling the need for some input, both from other yoga enthusiasts and yoga teachers. However, I had neither the time nor the money for India, so I started searching for yoga retreats I could do closer to home. One early-summer afternoon, while flicking through ‘Spectrum’, the British Wheel of Yoga magazine, I came across an advert for an ashram in Wales. I couldn’t quite believe it, an ashram, in Wales?! I went straight to their website and amongst an array of interesting courses I found the perfect one for me: ‘Summer at the Ashram’. It was a week-long course, which was to take place at the end of August – perfect!
Arriving at the ashram
After a day of travelling by train from my parents’ home in the North East of England, I arrived at a very small train station, tucked away in the hills and valleys of South Wales. I already felt far from the modern world. A taxi took me along winding country lanes and we crept higher and higher until we reached a gravelly drive-way and a sign for the ashram. The taxi drove me through the entrance gates and to the inner-sanctum – a cluster of stone buildings surrounded by greenhouses, poly-tunnels and gardens. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the greens of the surrounding countryside vivid and varied – a truly stunning setting for a haven of peace. It was also warmer than I had expected, the stereotypical wet and grey Wales was nowhere to be seen.
The daily routine began with a 5.30 wake-up bell, leaving just enough time for a quick shower before the 6am asana class. There were quite a lot of people on the course, so we were split into two classes. I was in the smaller group and our lessons took place in the dining area, a large carpeted room with cushions around the edges for seating. In the group we were all female and I was the youngest. The teacher was about my age and her way of teaching was calming and her voice soothing as she talked us through the positions in an informed way. The sessions were gentle, perhaps to suit all the levels of ability present in the group. Unfortunately, these sessions were sometimes a little too gentle: I really enjoy the sun salutation sequence and missed this during my stay and even got up a little earlier some days to get in a little pre-practice practice. It helped me to understand how difficult it must be at times to create classes which appeal to all and I certainly think I’m a tricky customer; one day I’ll crave a lively-paced session, the next, a few simple stretches on the mat will suffice.
However, I was left feeling a little disappointed, not just with the class but primarily with myself; I knew that my disatisfaction wasn’t very yogic and I didn’t know how to interpret or deal with this emotion and still don’t.
I was surprised when I read the list telling us all what our duties were – This time I wasn’t cleaning bathrooms! I was on gardening duties! I had never really gardened in my life before and so I knew this wasn’t going to be so easy. However, I was keen to give it a go and was also motivated by the fact that I might learn some new skills in the process – I don’t have a garden at the moment, but who knows what the future holds. I have always liked the idea of growing my own vegetables, even though I’m the complete opposite of ‘green-fingered’.
Despite feeling a bit useless at times – as I didn’t really know what I was doing and was worried about killing plants – I enjoyed the tasks and really enjoyed being outdoors.
An abundant and delicious vegetarian lunch was followed daily by some free-time. Lots of the ashramites (myself included), used this as an opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside, stretch the legs and fill the lungs with the wonderfully clean and fresh Welsh air’, (weather permitting – I was really glad I had bought and brought a pair of wellies!)
The afternoon’s activities kicked off with a relaxing yoga nidra session, followed by tea and then some further asana work and pranayama/mudra practice. We worked a lot on the humming bee breath, which I really enjoyed as it’s one of my favourite pranayamas and one I don’t often practise at home due to the noise!
Following a second karma yoga session and a bit of free-time was the final activity of the day – the evening satsang. This was the part of the day I enjoyed the most, gathering together in the sadhana hall to chant and sometimes ask our questions to Swami Krishnapremananda and Swami Nishchalananda. Chanting wasn’t easy for me at first and I am still very aware of how out of tune I am, but when the percussion instruments are playing and the chant is loud and lively there is nothing more infectious and good for the soul.
Despite the disappointment with the asana classes, I really enjoyed my second ashram experience, possibly even more than the first; perhaps as it’s more intimate, being far smaller than the Sivananda ashram in India; perhaps due to its stunning location, nestled in the middle of nowhere; perhaps due to the other ashramites (all serious yoga practitioners, possessing all those associated positive qualities), or perhaps due to the quality of its teachings and teachers.
My week at the ashram provided me with great inspiration and motivation. It deepened my awareness of and appreciation for Satyananda yoga, which in turn has enriched and shaped my personal practice, helping it become more balanced with an increase focus on pranayama and meditation. I feel that my approach to my asana practice has also grown. I know I still have a long way to go on my yoga path and I expect that this ashram will certainly be a part of it.
The Mandala Yoga Ashram seems to be a very authentic representation of what yoga traditionally is and to have this, relatively speaking, on our doorstep is a true blessing. You don’t need to go to India to discover the “real” yoga, this place will bring it to you.