It’s 6.30am, the sun gently emerges from the horizon beginning to engulf the vibrant landscape of the big island of Hawaii, as I, along with fellow students of the Yogacara 200Hr Teacher Training course, sink deeper into our first downward dog of the morning.
Now, having returned from a life changing 3 weeks in Hawaii, I am left to reflect on this incredible experience. I left the UK to take a leap into the unknown (and out of my comfort zone) by enrolling in a 16 day, fully immersive yoga teacher training course.
I began practising yoga as a tool for physical gain using it to recover my body from the strains of professional sport and had never taken much interest in the philosophical side of it. However, over the course of the training, I became fascinated with the history and philosophy that I had previously been all too ready to dismiss.
I was attracted to the course in part for it’s location - I mean, who would pass up Hawaii? I had the amazing opportunity to escape my usual surroundings at home in England and earn a certification at the same time. Having felt the physical benefits of yoga, I knew I had a passion for it, but I naïvely underestimated what the 16 days would become, cliché alert, a life-changing experience.
I arrived on the Big Island, Hawaii, at our retreat centre, Kalani. A fantastic non-profit organisation presenting nature, culture, and wellness within sustainable, educational programs that honour Hawaii's native and diverse heritage. Run by a mixture of volunteers and staff, it provides an atmosphere that promotes nothing but an overwhelming sense of family (Ohana) and love.
Thrown into our group living quarters (Hale) with 10 other fresh-faced yogi’s and yogini’s from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, most of whom were Canadian or American (myself the sole European). Little did I know that the next 16 days would see this group of incredible individuals end up becoming life-long friends, bonding so strongly through this transformational experience.
The Yogacara schedule, on paper, looked rigorous, and they weren’t lying!
A quick run-down of the day’s itinerary:
6.15 - 7.45am - Yoga practice
7.45 - 8.30am - Silent Breakfast
8.30 - 12pm - Class (15 minute break at 10.30am)
12 - 1.30pm - Lunch
1.30 - 6pm - Class (15 minute break at 3.30pm)
6 - 7.15pm - Dinner
7.15 - 9pm - Class
Our morning yoga practice would be led by one of our course teachers each day different from the last and gave us an opportunity to learn by watching/experiencing them in action.
Concluding practice, it was time for silent breakfast (my first mental challenge of the course). As someone who is very much a morning person and enjoys interaction over breakfast, this was initially quite difficult. However, being able to sit in silence and enjoy Kalani’s amazing breakfast was my first step out of my comfort zone.
The silent meals brought my first learning of the course. Being able to just sit outside in nature, listening to the sounds of the outdoors and others around you, suddenly brought the flavours and textures of the food to life that little bit more. It’s also amazing how much communication can be achieved through eyesight alone!
It is here where I feel it is worth mentioning the impressive food operation at Kalani. Breakfast was a range of oats, grains, eggs, fruit and salad bar along with local coffee and drinks. The lunch menu, options of meat, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free as well as the salad bar. Dinner, much like lunch, although each menu different from the last and dinner included a homemade dessert (usually gluten free, but they would have fooled me every time!)
Each menu prepared, cooked and served by both staff and volunteers, greeting you with a warming smile and thanked with a traditional “Mahalo”. In keeping with Kalani’s mission to sustain the local ecosystem, all food waste was added to a compost bin, everything recycled, ready to be used again in some way.
Following breakfast, we were up into our first class of the day. Either Yoga philosophy or Asanas (physical postures), taught by either of our superb Yogacara teachers, Juan and Ally. In class we would dive into the yoga world, whether it was the philosophy, history and morals or the anatomical and psychological benefits, postures, sequencing, adjustments; we were in a constant state of learning.
Our hour and thirty lunches gave us the opportunity to perhaps walk around the centre, or down to the seafront location known as “The Point” or even a quick dip in the pool, clothing optional (yes, clothing optional!).
Back into class before dinner being served. Finally finishing the days curriculum at 9pm, leaving us with a little free time for the evening. For the majority, it meant relaxing in bed. For others, we would choose to relax in the pool and hot tub under the mesmerising starry sky. A chance to unwind from a packed day and recoup before we woke up and did it all again.
Kalani, Hawaii, and especially my course-mates, now have a special place in my heart. Having not only fed my body so well, but my mind and soul too. It’s incredible to see the change I have witnessed in myself.
Over the duration of the course, I was able to be the person I wanted to be, not adapting my personality to my environment or being someone else just to ‘fit in’. I was just me.
From being fairly closed off about my emotions, and not sharing some of my deepest thoughts with people, especially those I had just met. To opening up and participating in hug breaks and dance parties that became an everyday occurrence (I highly recommend it!).
This is just the beginning of my new personal growth and this experience (and environment) was far from anything I had ever been through before. Very far from the cricket field!
Not only have I learnt more about the world of yoga, but I learnt even more about myself and how I can help others.
Something I am looking forward to doing more of in the future.