So, it’s 1 week later as we’re sitting at the Chiangmai airport that I finally whip out the mac to detail our experience at Xhale Yoga Retreat in Pai. It’s not that we have no time in the last week but being surrounded by fresh air, lush greenery, beautiful flowers and peaceful quiet just does not do ourselves and the natural surroundings any justice to spend much time on the laptop. I did try to watch one video but quickly lost interest. I find it much more fulfilling to read by the benches while occasionally lifting my head to take in the mountains and clouds in the distance and listen to the low drum of insects and barks of the wild dogs.
The last week flew past, albeit on hindsight as our aching bodies and the afternoon heat did make us count down to the end at times. However, it was a glorious 1-week that we spent with Bhud, the lady of Xhale. She’s the yogi, advisor, nutritionist, teacher all-in-one. She shared the stories of her life, using them as examples of how we can overcome certain hurdles, detach ourselves, find contentment and show compassion, of how we can be aware, mindful and share our love. Yet she revealed that there are sides of her that are just like us, a human, who has tendencies of indulgence, and who sometimes need to just slip from being an all-good person. From her, I found hope. Hope that I may one day be able to achieve some of what she has taught. I learned that nothing is forever. I learned that emotions are flitting. We may be happy one minute, miserable the next; seek to see beyond the current and the suffering will pass. This is of course, very easy to say but hard to do. It is a state that I do not think I will ever be able to achieve; I’m not thaaat zen. However, this is a reminder I should tell myself from time to time.
Being a yoga retreat (I would really call this a Yoga Boot Camp!), apart from the philosophies, there are the daily yoga asana sessions. The typical day starts like this:730am : A cup of warm lime water and hot herbal tea to start the day, followed by nasal cleaning. When we first saw the pot that we are to use for the cleaning, most of us went euks! I totally could not see how that should be used. Bhud showed us and it was interestingly easy. Fill the pot with warm Himalayan sea salt water, put it up into 1 nostril, tilt your head and let the water channel itself, dribbling out from the other nostril. Took a little practice and some choking but get the hang of it and the nose will be very clean, preparing our bodies for the upcoming cleansing breathe session.
Pranayama time : We will do a few types of breathing exercises which are meant to train our bodies to breathe in different ways and to open up the spaces inside us to hold more air.
845am : Breakfast, usually a small glass of juice and a really modest portion of soup. This is to allow our stomach to be energized yet not overly full for the following physical practice.
1000am: Hatha yoga. Bhud is fantastic with the teaching. The first day was spent teaching the basic moves so it’s good for all levels. Most of us are beginners with some not having done any yoga before. She set the foundation and showed and guided us through. On a daily basis, we always start the asana session with Sun Salutations and lunge/warrior poses. Each day, she will then focus on different areas of the body which is a good strategy as our body parts of the day (at least mine did) will totally ache the next day!
Every session is 2 hours where Bhud will show how to get into each move correctly and this helped us to get into the poses, some of which I’ve never been able to do before. My hub who has only done 1 yoga session previously also found it easy to get into the poses with the clear instructions. As she strongly advocate, you don’t have to possess great strength to be able to hold yourself up; it’s all about techniques. Having said that, there are of course still some moves that I cannot achieve and need to build up. The headstand continues to be elusive; homework for me!
12noon: Lunch! Fantastic food with every meal carefully crafted to provide a wholesome meal of many vegetable types, some protein like tofu/nuts, and a little carb. Herbal tea is provided all day and I simply love the lemongrass/ginger/berry/chrysanthemum teas. Fruits are also on the table all day long and the number of bananas/mangosteens we go through is unbelievable. Bananas as we need the extra energy and mangosteens because they are so sweet!
Break for us to rest, chill and digest the food. This is when we usually take the time to do some reading or simply nap and laze away the really hot afternoons.
3pm : Start the afternoon with a daily shake. Another daily dose of goodness, this is usually a mix of fruits/veggie/herbs and usually thickened to help fill our stomachs again to tide through to dinner.
Yoga Philosophy and Q&A : This is the time for sharing where Bhud generously shared her life experiences and teaches about the Eight Limbs of yoga. It’s also the time where we ask any questions at all, not just pertaining to yoga but just really anything.
445pm : Another session of yoga begins, this time of the day is dedicated to yin yoga where we practiced stretching in poses for 5 minutes each time. This is a session of much groaning and mental endurance as even simple stretches can become a strain as the time goes past slowly. Furthermore, the poses are usually more difficult than easy for me as I am extremely inflexible! However, I find these sessions necessary; they really helped in stretching muscles that you never would think to do in your daily life. It also got easier with time, I observed that by day 5, some of the poses were less difficult already. It is a journey I tell myself that I have to trudge on when back in SG.
645pm: Vegetables, smoothies and fruits with up to 4 hours of yoga make for hungry stomachs by this time. Fantastic food every night again! In the 5 days, we had vegetables in various curries with brown rice (my fav!), roasted vegetables with pasta in pesto/tomato, or paired with bread and avocado. We even had a vegetable dish in lasagna style sans cheese and pasta though, never knew kalian, eggplants, beetroot, carrots, and potato could pair with freshly roasted tomato sauce so deliciously. The chef, Peach, and Bhud have endless imagination when it comes to tasty vegetarian cuisine!
715pm : Meditation / Chanting. This is a first for me, both in meditation and chanting. Not sure if this part of yoga is for me, ha ha. The first meditation exercise was really difficult as the body struggled to stay upright and still and time passed really slowly. It did get better as we practiced more. Chanting was more fun, as we sat in a big circle and kind of sing/chant together. Interesting.
Then it’s off to shower and sleep!
That, is a typical day for the 5 days we were there. Yet, Bhud managed to keep things interesting and the experiences varied. Every night was a different type of meditation or chanting and 1 of the nights was a visit to a hot spring pool that soothed our tired muscles.
The 5 days came to an end and while our bodies feel a relief from the physical exercise and the hot air circulating from the fans; our minds and hearts don’t really wish to leave the peace, the slow trot of life and the wondrous air in Pai.