Shreyas – A Journey of Self-Discovery
The Home of Yoga Retreats - India
I love exploring new things, tasting different foods, visiting places I’ve not been to before. And when I stumble across something really great, I just want to get as much of it as possible. Shreyas Yoga Retreat is one of those things.
I’d been there last year off the back of an intense trip up, down and across India with 50 other delegates from around the world to celebrate International Yoga Day. It was a smorgasbord-style taste of India and my senses were in hyper mode. Arriving at Shreyas was like mum kissing it better after a fall as a child. Everything slowed down. Every sense that was stimulated beyond what I thought possible had begun to relax. It was the first time I felt, smelt, tasted and even heard calm – real calm – in a long time.
Now I must confess, I’m not someone who practices yoga regularly. I’m a huge fan, a big liker. I respect the principles and applaud the longevity. I love that it’s for all people of all walks of life. I even have my own yoga mat! But I don’t practice regularly. So for me to do a yoga retreat was like zigging instead of zagging. But hey, sometimes you just need to zig!
Soon after arriving, I met with one of the resident Ayurvedic doctors who helps you devise a program for your stay. It’s a combination of classes, treatments and sessions with various experts so you get the most out of your time at Shreyas. People don’t necessarily come to Shreyas for the yoga. They mostly come for some time out, to detox, to recuperate from a loss or illness, or to create new and healthier habits. Yoga is basically one of the therapies, forming a springboard for everything else.
For me, this turned out to be one of the most nurturing experiences I’ve had. It was one of those incredible things that you wish you had someone to share it with, which is probably why you bond so well with other guests. There are usually only 12 to 18 guests staying at the same time, so when you eat, meditate and Downward Facing Dog together, you bond, but it’s not the same as having someone close to you to enjoy the same journey.
It was such an incredible journey. As they say in their marketing brochure, a journey of self-discovery. You find yourself wanting everyone you know and love to take their own journey too. To find themselves. And actually feel it for themselves, because words alone can’t describe the growth you achieve. As I said goodbye to the wonderful team at Shreyas, I promised I’d be back. And I couldn’t wait to go back.
Earlier this year my eldest daughter Isabel and I went to India together and enjoyed a three-day stay at Shreyas. She is much more dedicated to yoga than I am, and also vegan. I knew she was going to love Shreyas. Sure enough, by lunchtime on the first day, she was already making plans to return and deciding who to bring with her who would most benefit.
Isabel is a thinker, and really feels the impact of stress. She finds it tough at times to turn off her mind. A large part of your program at Shreyas is learning to quieten your thoughts and just breathe.
I was doing a private Pranayama session with Ramakant, the guru of all things body and mind. Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath; prana is our breath, or vital life force. After explaining the importance of both deep breathing and nasal breathing, I was instructed to simply breath in deep, right down to the pit of my abdominal, which should fill up like a balloon as I inhaled, then deflate as I exhaled. Ramakant wanted me to exaggerate this movement of my stomach so he could clearly see it round out, then suck in. But do you think I could coordinate my breath and my abdomen movement? At what point in my life did the art of breathing escape me? If you ever watch a baby sleeping, they have it down pat. Breath in, stomach bulges out. Breath out, stomach deflates. Easy! After we had a good laugh at my inability to breath, Ramakant explained that as we get older, we don’t focus on our breath. We let other things consume our thoughts. But nothing is more important than the breath. And the more time we focus on breath, the less time we have to fill our brain with negative thoughts, so the ultimate result is a calm mind.
So with persistence and practice, I mastered the art of breathing. And this improved my yoga, as well as my sleep. While I learned to breathe, Isabel needed to learn to relax her mind by meditating to take the focus off her thoughts and just let her mind open.
Shreyas offer a variety of different meditative practises depending on what you need and prefer. At a conference I attended in India some years ago, the Dalai Lama explained that he learned the art of meditating by watching a frog. If you watch a frog breathing, you’re watching an expert at Pranayama. He began this practise at two years of age. Both Isabel and I were in touch with ourselves enough to know that we needed a focus (like a frog) to help us ease into mediation and stop our mind wandering. Trataka was what was prescribed.
Trataka is a gentle meditation where you look intently with an unwavering gaze at a candle until tears are shed. You gaze at the candle long enough to be able to visualise the candle clearly with your eyes closed - as an inner image at the eyebrow centre. Trataka has several benefits:
- It is believed to have a helpful effect in treating and even resolving several eye disorders such as weak eyesight. It improves the internal and external optic function.
- It improves concentration and mental resolve.
- It helps in disconnecting with the noise and distractions of the external world, which is deeply relaxing.
In yoga, it is said to also develop the ‘third eye’ - the seat of intuition or that associated with psychic powers. It’s a great way to begin your meditation and also a great little exercise to do with children to get them to focus and relax from a young age. We all know how relaxing it is to sit by an open fire and watch the flames dance, which is not far removed from Trataka.
The food is a standout, one of the best features of this place. Not just what you eat, but the way it’s prepared, the ritual around each meal, and the love that goes into Every. Single. Dish. Plus it’s organic, fresh, seasonal, super-healthy and flavoured with Indian spices and healing herbs straight from the Shreyas garden. You can choose to eat vegan if you want to avoid dairy and egg – the only animal products used in the food. In fact, they are happy to cater for any special dietary requirement. As we learned, the chefs embrace the challenge.
The majority of the food comes from the organic farm on the property. It’s really worthwhile taking a walk through the farm with a guide. You find out about the traditional foods of India, the healing benefits of a lot of the herbs and spices, and their strongly-held (and accurate) belief that food is thy medicine. You also learn that a lot of what the Indians eat has had a huge impact on their culture and history. Sponge fruit is also used as a sponge for washing. Drum fruit, once the flesh has been scraped out, is dried and used as drum at festivals and ceremonies. This is eaten to improve eyesight, that’s rubbed on aching joints to soothe, and would you believe that over there is a cooling plant so added to a lot of dishes (I think he was pointing toward the Curry Leaf Trees)!
Plants not only have significance, added to rice, roti or naan bread, make up the Southern Indian diet. Certain plants feature prominently in the villages. Each village has at least one Banyan tree, the national tree of India. Neem trees are also grown throughout Indian cities and villages. Emperor Ashoka planted neem, mango and tamarind trees along highways all over India so that tired travellers could rest in their shade. Neem trees actually give out more oxygen than any other tree. Important meetings would be held under the Neem tree, as the additional oxygen would clarify the mind and heighten focus.
Breakfast is served in the dinning room after morning yoga. There is usually three or four tables set, and you are seated at a table that will become your dining table for the duration of your stay. You sit with the same two or three other guests, so you become more acquainted. Talk is often about the day ahead, what’s planned and comparing treatment notes. You must try this. Have you done that? How amazing was the…? Then it becomes a deeper, more meaningful conversation as your journeys are shared.
Breakfast is a combination of fruit - this insanely delicious seed and nut mix, porridge, fresh juice, then a warm traditional Indian dish. You can finish with fresh brewed coffee or herbal tea of your choice made with fresh herbs and fennel seeds. Fennel aids digestion and is on the table at every meal.
Lunch is also in the dining room and a beautifully printed menu sits on the table so you know what four courses you’re about to enjoy. Over both of my visits, I never had the same dish twice.
Dinner is a highlight. In the nicer months, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, you eat either in the garden with a lovely bonfire providing both warmth and just the right amount of light, or by the pool lit up with fairy lights. There is a real touch of romance. Waiters come and serve the courses and constantly refill your plate. Even though we were eating three large meals a day, we actually felt energised, not heavy, and we both lost weight. The food is clean, balanced, easily digestible and complements your yoga practice.
Although yoga is on offer twice a day every day, it is not compulsory, just encouraged. I encourage it too. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are as you’re in the hands of good guides. The yoga pavilion is a large open space with high vaulted ceilings. Breezes waft by and lush gardens and palm trees form the backdrop. Instant calm.
Ashtanga and Hatha are the main forms of yoga practiced, however you can try variations in your private yoga sessions. Isabel and I played on cables and had a taste of aerial yoga. It’s amazing how much the yogis were able to get out of us. Knowing just how hard to push us, to find that sweet spot of slight pain and much pleasure. After day one, I felt taller, freer, even lighter.
One thing I did discover – my body responds well to yoga and I really need to do more of it!
This is a stunning, state-of-the-art new addition to Shreyas Retreat. Although a very modern building with 15 treatment rooms, a lovely retail space and all the mod cons, it offers a wide range of traditional Ayurvedic treatments. I subscribe to the ‘When in Rome’ philosophy, so I chose to have more of the Ayruvedic (traditional Indian) treatments.
Shirodhara is hard to beat, but my favourite is the Synchronised Abhyanga massage. Abhyanga is a unique form of massage with tremendous benefits for the mind, body, skin and immune system. It involves copious amounts of a specially blended oil (depending on your needs) and a unique two-therapist sequence that relaxes and softens the tissues. The synchronisation of the therapists brings about harmony and balance. Imagine four hands working in perfect unison up and down your body. It was like a perfectly choreographed performance and my body was the stage. Incredible. Standing ovation from me!
‘Athithi devo bhava’ is the defining philosophy at Shreyas. It literally means a Guest is to be served as God. The staff at Shreyas practise this philosophy, believing that ‘all are essentially divine’. You form a special bond with the staff. A special mention to the wonderful yogi and legend Ramakant and the divine Rucha. Time with them is serious soul food.
One of the biggest things about the staff is that they’re gentle and have a serene presence about them. All of them. And they’re all on the same page. They’re passionate about yoga, breathing and being mindful. They all practise yoga together each day. A staff member will also often participate in one of your yoga classes. They all walk the talk – with love and light, as they say! They don’t quite understand why we stress and strive for material objects and become so disconnected. To them, richness comes from within. Health, happiness and being present are the assets. They don’t tell you this, they simply live it and show you with their actions. And as you unfold, open up and melt into the Shreyas way, that’s when your journey truly begins.
Some time soon, I’ll be back for more discoveries...
6.30am yoga (90 minutes)
9.00am guided meditation
5.00pm yoga (60 minutes)
* Your time to relax, enjoy a treatment at the spa, have a private session of yoga or meditation, walk the property, lay by the pool, do a cooking class, go to the gym, use the sauna and steam, chat with other guests, participate in some of the community events on offer… whatever your heart desires.
Shreyas Retreat is situated in the rural outskirts of Bengalura, Southern India (which enjoys a much nicer climate than the north).
Bengaluru International Airport is less than an hour away from Shreyas and is a beautiful drive through the countryside.