Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: Volunteer

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!

You’re a human being, not a human doing

I heard this expression recently, and it made me laugh. Because I am definitely a human doing. And I like that. I like being busy.

I have things that I do every day in addition to volunteering, linked to my goals in life, which I never take a day off from. Currently my daily resolutions are to:

  • Write 750 words of my journal
  • Write something purposeful – a blog or article or idea
  • Pursue some writing work
  • Research future yoga and travel ideas
  • Attend or teach a yoga class
  • Do my own self practice of yoga
  • Do core strengthening and flexibility exercises
  • Meditate
  • Practise my Spanish using the apps on my phone

They’re all things I like doing. But as I’ve tried to become more mindful, I’ve noticed that they’ve started to feel very checklist-y. Someone asked me:

“What are you so scared of that you have to distract yourself by being busy all the time? Can’t you just be with yourself?”

This threw me. Why couldn’t I take a day off these activities? What would happen if I did? How would I make sure I was “making progress”? And then I told myself to get a grip – it was only one day. Let’s face it, if achieving my dreams was delayed by one day, would it really matter?

So I challenged myself to let go of the checklist for a day.

I didn’t get off to the best start. I initially thought I could still do things that were on my list, as long as I was doing them because I wanted to, not because I felt like I should. I got up for yoga class at 7.30am as usual. I found myself in the class thinking – maybe could do my core exercises after this. I realised that this wouldn’t work. I was going to have to ban the activities on my list altogether, otherwise I would just talk myself into doing them all anyway.

So after my morning dishwashing duties, rather than picking up my laptop to start writing, or my phone to begin language practice, I stopped, paralysed by indecision. What did I actually want to do? I realised that one of the reasons I have a list is because I hate wasting time and it can take me ages to work out what I want. But I stayed with this feeling of indecision, until it came to me. I wanted to read a book in the sunshine.

Later, two friends invited me to join them to practise some yoga teaching assists. I realised I could just say yes, without hesitating because I “should” be doing something else. It felt good. On another day I would have still said yes, but I  would have worried about when I would find the time later to get “back on track” with my list.

In the afternoon, I got ready to go for a walk, then realised I didn’t really want to go, and decided to read some more instead. I reminded myself there was no need to feel guilty about the time I wasted getting ready for a walk. It didn’t matter. I let go of the need for every moment to be productive.

I noticed at the end of the day how relaxed I felt, and how nice it was to not be mentally grading my day according to how productive I’d been.

The day off my activities also helped me to discover which of them I genuinely enjoy. I missed my own yoga practice. When I started to go for a walk in the afternoon, what I really wanted to do was some yoga. And I wanted to write, not because I had to, but just because I had ideas in my head that I wanted to get down on paper. I felt excited to be able to do them again the next day. The ones I didn’t miss I decided to rethink – maybe I can achieve the same outcomes in more enjoyable ways.

Am I a convert to becoming a full-time human being-not-doing? Not exactly. I’m still quite attached to my activities, because they’re all linked to goals I want to achieve. But I have learned that it’s good for me to take the pressure off and it’s helped me to be more present too.

If this sounds familiar to anyone else, I challenge you to let the checklist go for a day too. Let me know how you get on…

Jade xxx

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.”

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!

How I learnt not to take yoga too seriously

Prayer flags Nepal

In 2007 I volunteered in Nepal with the charity TravelAid. Bhola Yogi, the principal of the children’s home where we worked offered to teach us yoga in return for our volunteering.  He didn’t have to ask twice. There was no way we were going to miss out on the opportunity to tell people we’d been taught yoga at 6am every morning on a rooftop in Nepal, by a man whose actual surname was “Yogi”.

6am yoga classes sound pretty hardcore, and in retelling the stories since, I’ve made them sound that way. But actually  in true Nepali style, Bhola-ji’s approach was laid back.  We would practise one posture, maybe two, and then Bhola would instruct us to, “Take rest.” Every minute of effort was followed by one of rest.  We loved it.  Yoga became an excuse to lie on our mats and gaze up at the sky as the sun rose each morning.

He had a similarly undemanding approach to postures that we found challenging. “If you can’t do the yoga, just think about doing the yoga. Same thing,” he would say with a dismissive wave of his hand. I’ve often wondered since whether this principle applies to other activities. When I can’t get out of bed on a bitterly cold January morning for my 6.45am spinning class, will just thinking about it have the same effect? I really hope so.

Bhola-ji did not shy away from directing us about the more personal details of our yoga practice. “Long toilet before yoga, so the stomach is free.  Short toilet after,” was his euphemistic instruction.  And he practised what he preached.  Many a morning we sat shivering on the rooftop at 6am waiting for Bhola to finish his “long toilet” before he would come to teach us.

Our yoga practices like most aspects of our lives in Nepal were seemed hilarious. Perhaps we were giddy from the shortage of oxygen at altitude, or maybe from the sugar in all the mangoes we were eating, but most postures had us collapsed in fits of giggles. Bhola positively encouraged this – one of his all-time favourite postures was Happy Baby, which he urged us to laugh our way through.  This wasn’t something I found difficult given that I was holding a position that made me feel ready for a gynaecological exam. It wasn’t elegant. When you add to that the fact that Bhola’s favourite instruction was to tell us all to “Relaaaaax,” you have a recipe for hysteria.

He had the last laugh. We’d been diligently practising our sun salutations for 4 weeks when Bhola admitted that the “Lion’s Roar” – an open-mouthed, claw-fisted posture that he’d encourage us to hold then loudly roar to release – was just something he included as a joke when he taught children. He never expected us to fall for it.

Being surrounded by such happy people with such an amazingly positive approach to life taught me not to

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