Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: Andalucia

12 Things To Do At Suryalila

Things to do at SuryalilaWhether you visit Suryalila Retreat Centre as a guest, a yoga teacher trainee or a volunteer, this is the definitive list of things to do at Suryalila…

  1. Gorge yourself on the delicious food and tell yourself it’s fine because it’s all so damned healthy. Vow to eat more lightly the next meal, then go back for seconds. And thirds.
  2. Do yoga at 8am and feel virtuous and smug all day. Make sure everyone knows about it.
  3. Conversely, miss one early morning yoga class to lie in. Even hardcore yogis deserve a day off. And it’s cool to be a yoga rebel. Fact.
  4. Borrow a deeply spiritual book from the bookshelf in the hall and convince yourself that it will change your life.
  5. Laze by the pool pretending to read said deeply spiritual book, then doze and hope it enters your consciousness via some miracle of osmotic transference instead.
  6. Take photos of yourself doing the fanciest looking yoga postures you can think of in the Om Dome then immediately post them on Instagram. #Suryalila. It’d be a waste not to.
  7. Walk to the ruins wearing inappropriate footwear. Who brings hiking boots to a yoga retreat anyway?
  8. Tear yourself away from Suryalila for the day to visit Prado Del Rey and enjoy the ridiculously cheap vino and tapas at Carmen’s.
  9. Speak Spanish, even just a little. You are in Spain after all. Practise on the donkey if you’re too nervous to try the staff.
  10. Eat the vegan rice milk ice cream. Just trust me on this one.
  11. Promise to transform your lifestyle when you go home. Daily yoga, meditation, reading and clean, fresh organic vegetarian food cooked from scratch can’t be so hard to keep up, right?
  12. Book a return trip before you even leave so you know it’s not goodbye forever.

Fellow Suryalila fans, let me know what I’ve missed!

To be alive is to be vulnerable

Be Vulnerable“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Madeleine L’Engle

I’d like to know whether other people find their experiences on their yoga mats echo their experiences in life as often as mine seem to? This morning, in yoga class, I was practising wide-legged standing forward fold. This is a posture I am used to, and when the teacher gave us the option to lift up into tripod headstand, I moved my hands to lift up in the way I always do. She came over to me.

“No, keep your hands where they were.” She then held my hips clearly expecting me to lift into headstand from this strange position.

I panicked. Is she crazy? I can’t lift from here. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never even seen someone do a headstand like this. What if I fall? And so on.

But somehow, my body ignored my mind’s agitation, and I felt my legs lift into the strangest, most exhilarating headstand I’ve ever done. My teacher stayed with me the whole time, letting me find my balance, and the more I surrendered and trusted her, the safer I felt. When my feet made it back safely to the ground, I was buzzing. I felt like I could take on the world.

It reminded me of a similar experience earlier this week. I rode on the back of a friend’s motorbike for the first time. I hadn’t expected to find this scary – I’ve been on the back of scooters lots of times. It turns out I’d slightly underestimated the difference between motorbikes and scooters. As the speed picked up, I went from casually holding on to clinging on as if my life depended on it. Which to be fair, it did. I felt terrifyingly vulnerable. In that moment I hated my friend for their confidence and speed.

But then I remembered something. I remembered that people love this. That they get a thrill from it. I was on the most beautiful road, with nothing separating me from the view, going so fast it felt like I was flying. I didn’t even have to worry about riding. I could literally relax and enjoy it, if I chose to. All I had to do was surrender my need to be in control and trust my friend.

And so I did. I mentally (not physically – I’m not stupid) let go and surrendered control. I chose to enjoy the experience instead of fighting it. I realised how rarely I do this. How hard I find it to put my trust in someone else and hand over control to them.

Because it means being vulnerable. To trust someone is to give them the power to hurt you. But I know that by refusing to let myself be vulnerable I hold myself back. I miss out on beautiful new experiences that I can’t have on my own.

Just as importantly, I’m not giving others the trust and credit they deserve. My yoga teacher would not encourage me to try something unless she knew she could stop me from falling. Similarly my friend would not risk my life for the sake of a motorbike ride.

Just because someone can hurt you doesn’t mean they will. In fact, it’s most likely they won’t. And I think life is considerably better – richer, more beautiful, more exciting and fulfilling when you let yourself to be vulnerable. I just need to keep remembering that.  I’ll take it one headstand at a time…

Love, Jade

P.S. For more on how to be vulnerable, and why it’s worth it, check out this fantastic TED talk from Brene Brown.

Why it’s great to come back…

DSC_0350-2When I started travelling, I had this idea that I’d be roaming all over the place, seeing as much of the world as I possibly could. I never thought I’d come back to somewhere I’d already been. There’s too much of the world to see.  In fact, when I arranged for my second Workaway placement to come to Suryalila Retreat Centre, I thought one month (their minimum stay) might be a bit long. But I liked the look of the yoga here, so I told myself I’d make the best of it.

However, within days of arriving here in March, I knew one month was nowhere near enough. Before I even left I made arrangements to return.

So here I am, one week into my return visit to Suryalila Retreat Centre. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth going back to a place you love…

  1. It feels comfortable. Travelling is great. The constant movement, the new experiences, the lack of a routine, and the (barely) organised chaos. But when you travel, your whole environment is constantly shifting and changing, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up. Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock a little bit. During my tougher moments in Thailand, the thought that I would be coming back in the summer to somewhere I felt as comfortable as Suryalila kept me going.
  2. You already know the ropes.  You don’t need to learn a whole new set of systems or ask a million questions. Aside from a few inevitable but unsettling changes (the place the muesli is stored has changed – did not see that one coming!) it’s probably quite easy to slip back into a routine.  This allows you to focus right from the start on being fully present and making the most of each day.
  3. Same same, but different. You’ll always find plenty of new in amongst the familiar – not least new people. Getting to know plenty of new, interesting people and catching up with those I knew from my previous visit has been the ideal combination for me.
  4. You appreciate it more. It’s so true that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. Sometime you have to go away in order to appreciate all that is great about the place you started. It’s like going back to your parent’s house after moving out and appreciating fully for the first time the joy of a fully stocked fridge and showers that actually work. Except this time I fully appreciate having beautiful vegan food, a space to escape to during downtime, and a schedule that is prepared in advance and fair.

There is still a lot more of the world I want to see and experience, but it’s really good to know I’ll be here for a couple of months. It’s even better to think that I don’t have to re-pack my backpack for a whole two months! I’m borrowing my final thoughts on this from the brilliant Terry Pratchett:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Teaching my first ever yoga class

The Om Dome. SuryalilaWhile at Suryalila, I had the opportunity to teach my first ever yoga class. I say opportunity, but to be honest I had to be coaxed, bribed and coerced into taking the class. I was terrified. Because the thing about teaching yoga in a yoga retreat is, people know what you’re doing. And therefore they know when you don’t know what you’re doing.

But they’re very persuasive people these yogis, so I found myself at 7am in the beautiful Om Dome with my lesson plan, laying out mats, blankets and blocks. Despite the vast differences in my surroundings, the nerves were very similar to my feelings six years ago when I taught my first English class in a Teach First school in Derby. They were Year 7, and lovely, and lulled me into a false sense of security. The Year 10 class I taught second lesson were not quite so compliant, but that’s another story…

At least my class size this time was small, with just four lovely students. Except that three of the four were qualified yoga teachers themselves. I couldn’t blag this. They were all very encouraging though, and as they all managed to come in without shouting “blow job” or attempting to forcibly remove their mate’s nose ring, I decided I was onto a winner.

In fact, the atmosphere was incredibly calm (I realise given that this was a yoga class, it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me.) In guiding the class to relax and let go, I couldn’t help but do it myself, and I let myself be completely present in the space I was holding for the class. I realised how much I had missed this aspect of teaching. While I don’t claim that my English lessons were ever as calm as a yoga class (although some weren’t that far off), I always found that teaching had a way of making bringing me into the present moment. The world outside my classroom, and beyond my students’ immediate actions would drop away, and I would be absolutely in the zone with whatever was happening right there. It was mindfulness practice in action.

The rest of the class ran smoothly. I gave some odd instructions at times (“Take your foot between your front two hands” As opposed to the back two, of course.) and I did miss out a few postures, but I’m hoping no one noticed. I also discovered that guiding to class to centre themselves between postures, and focus on their breath gave me the time and headspace to think about what I needed to do next. I wondered how often I’ve been in a yoga class, dutifully checking in with my breath and taking a moment to be present, while the teacher remembers what to do next…

After the class was finished, my students were lovely, and I got some useful feedback from them too – teaching teachers does have its advantages! What’s more, I was able to tidy the room and walk out without a single book to mark, guilt-free. Teaching without hours of marking – I don’t think the novelty of this will wear off for quite some time.

Facing my fears at Suryalila Retreat Centre

TSuryalilahey say you should do something every day that scares you. I feel like I’ve been living by that mantra both on and off my yoga mat in my first week as a Workaway volunteer at Suryalila Retreat Centre.

When I arrived here last week, I was assigned the task of looking after the resident chickens. In the sunshine, as I was shown how to feed the chickens and collect their eggs, this seemed lovely. The next day, when it was freezing, and the rain had turned the field into a mud bath, it was less delightful. Fighting my way past hissing geese, I made it to the chicken coop, where most of the chickens were huddled out of the rain. I glanced to the side and saw one chicken on top of another. Oh look, I thought, 2 chickens having sex, how cute. Then I realised that the one on the bottom was dead. Horrified, I forgot all about collecting the eggs, and ran straight back to the centre, where my host told me that this was no big deal – lots of the chickens are very old and may well die soon. He calmly explained the “chicken disposal process” (essentially bag it, and bin it).

The walk back to the chicken coop, bin bag in hand, tears rolling down my face, was not a pleasant one. I tried to tell myself that this was nothing – it’s perfectly natural for old chickens to die, and really not a big deal to get rid of a chicken corpse. This didn’t help. I’m still not sure what I found so terrifying about getting a dead chicken into a bag, but I suppose fears aren’t always rational. It took a very long time to get the body bagged for removal. It was such a relief when I was finally able to leave the coop and know I didn’t have to return for another 24 hours. Surely I would not be unlucky enough for this to happen again anytime soon.

Unfortunately, luck was not on my side. The next day brought another dead chicken. I don’t know statistically how improbable 2 deaths in 2 days is for a relatively small brood of chickens, but this did not seem like very fair odds to me. At least this time I was slightly more prepared. I had bin bags with me, and although disposing of the body still left me retching, at least I didn’t cry this time. Which I am considering huge progress.

I have also been making considerable progress in my yoga practice at Suryalila. The daily vinyasa yoga classes here are brilliant. Except on my teacher training, I have never practised yoga so intensively, and I am loving it. The yoga teachers have been great at helping me to overcome some of my non-chicken-related fears. For the first time this week I have managed to kick up into a handstand properly, rather than jumping into it, and I have finally moved away from the wall and attempted a headstand in the middle of the room, under the watchful eye of my lovely teacher. Admittedly when I tried this again on my own, I fell over, but as she pointed out, once you’ve fallen, the fear isn’t so bad. And she’s right.

So I’m really excited and slightly terrified about the other challenges Suryalila has in store for me over the next three weeks. I feel like I’m learning a lot and being pushed out of my comfort zone, which was the whole point of this trip in a lot of ways. As long as there are no more dead chickens, I think I’ll be fine…

Gloss paint, mouldy fridges and burnt brownies

View from my windowThe title of this blog doesn’t sound particularly yogic, which is because there isn’t going to be a lot of yoga in this one I’m afraid. In fact, my first ten days in Spain have been so bizarre and unexpected, I wasn’t even sure I should write about them on my blog. But, in the words of Swami Kripalu “To perform every action artfully is yoga.” I’ll leave you to judge just how “artfully” I’ve been performing my actions this week…

I’m currently using Workaway to allow me travel and do yoga while volunteering in exchange for accommodation and food. Great, in theory. For my first placement I stayed with a writer in Andalucia. He told me he wanted help with managing his social media and looking after his villas. Great, I thought. The place looks beautiful (I wasn’t wrong there!), I love social media, and maybe I can learn a bit about writing from him too. The reality was somewhat different.

After a few days to settle in, I was put to work painting the bathroom, while my host went on a trip. This didn’t sound too bad, except the bathroom in question was dark red, and my host wanted it painting ivory. With gloss paint. This was possibly the worst idea in the history of decorating. Three coats of gloss later and the dark red was still showing through. My best attempts to protect the floor tiles from the interminable drips of ivory paint had failed, and everything I touched became a painty, tacky mess. As for me, after three days of being stuck on my own in the tiny bathroom, I was high on paint fumes, covered in gloss paint that no amount of showering with turps was removing, and going borderline crazy.

Things did not improve on my host’s return. Clearly (and rightly) judging me unfit to decorate any other rooms, I was given less responsible tasks, such as bleaching a mouldy fridge, and scrubbing a rusty barbeque. The fridge I did a decent job of, the barbeque less so. Have you ever tried cleaning a barbeque with a wire brush? It didn’t go well for me. I cut my hand on the brush, and covered myself in soot. Coupled with the paint spatters, it was an attractive look. Eventually, sick of trying to swill said barbeque in a tiny bucket of water, I gave up, and rinsed it in the swimming pool. Not good, I know, but determined to stick to my yogic principles of truthfulness, I confessed immediately afterwards. I don’t think my host was actually listening, but at least I tried, right?!

Just as I thought I had done as much damage as it was possible to do, my host invited a large group of friends for lunch. He asked me what cake I would bake for dessert. I tried to tell him that baking isn’t really my thing, but this fell on deaf ears. So after googling a recipe that promised “best ever brownies” I got stuck in. The recipe told me to check the brownies after 25 minutes. What the recipe did not take into account was the volcanic heat of the ancient gas oven in the villa. After 16 minutes I caught unmistakeable whiffs of burnt cake. I rescued the brownies before they were entirely inedible, but the edges and bottom were undeniably blackened. It’s fine, I thought, hopefully by the time they’re served everyone will have had so much wine that they won’t notice. As my host watched me hack off the worst of the burnt bits, he informed me that his guests included a former chef of Mick Jagger and Michelin-starred restaurant owner. Brilliant.

Thankfully, everyone – chef included – was very gracious about my overdone offering. And all in all it wasn’t a bad week – the place was absolutely stunning (see picture!), the weather was beautiful, and I was able to do yoga every day by the pool, which let’s face it I wouldn’t have been doing back in the UK. But I have learnt that I need to select my Workaway placements carefully and perhaps stick to those with a clearer focus on yoga. And no, I still haven’t got all the gloss paint off myself!

Planning, preparation and borderline panic

SuitcaseReflections on my last week in the UK…

One of the reasons I started yoga was for the feeling of calm it left me with. And since I began practising every day, I have been noticeably more relaxed. Except last week. Last week there were more relaxed chickens in slaughterhouses.

It didn’t help that I left all planning and preparation to the last minute. I had a house to move out of, a car to sell, all my worldy goods to store, vaccinations to arrange, flights to book and that was all before I even thought about packing. I needed to do lists to keep track of my to do lists. Given that I am not the most naturally well-organised person in the world, this sent me slightly mad.

I found myself frantically multitasking, and doing it badly. At any one time I would be emailing a Workaway host, checking travel insurance details, dividing clothes into “take”, “leave” and “maybe” piles, and trying to get a last minute appointment at the travel clinic.  All this really meant is that completing these jobs took ten times longer than it should have.

Unfortunately during this time when I probably needed yoga more than ever, it became just another task to tick off the list. Determined not to let my daily practice slide, I made sure I did it, but in retrospect this may not have been the best decision. I found myself in forward bends, with my mobile between my feet, texting people about selling my car. It wasn’t until I cut my ankle falling out of a headstand because I was trying to grab my sunglasses case from under the table that I knew I’d taken multitasking too far. Quite aside from the mental benefits of being mindful during yoga practice, it turns out it’s downright dangerous not to be…

It was a huge relief to find myself on the plane at last, knowing that although I still wasn’t Montecorto bedroom100% organised, I was on my way anyway. And doing my yoga practice this morning in a beautiful room that looks out over the Andalucian countryside was a very different experience. I even managed to turn my phone off, which I consider real progress!

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