Yoga? Check. Meditation? Check. Organic Gastro-intestinal Cleanse? Um, check. Yup, we did it all during our 6 day/6 night stay at a yoga ashram and we’re still standing with a few good stories to tell, too. My in-laws are going to get the biggest kick out of this one, that’s for sure. So, Rick and Deb, this one’s for you…
Thanks to generous wedding gifts, Erin and I were able to “check in” to Sadhana Yoga Ashram in Pokhara, Nepal. Perched on the side of a mountain, the 5-story orange, purple and white behemoth is pretty hard to miss, even from town center. With killer views of Phewa Lake below and delicious organic vegetarian cuisine, it felt like we were at a serious health retreat. After the good, healthy living with loads of exercise we had during the Annapurna Circuit trek, we had slipped into some well-deserved indulgences. Comfort food, room service, beer o’clocks and whiskey combined with a steady diet of loafing around and getting caught up on internet became part of the daily repertoire in Pokhara. It was time to clean up our act again and we intended to do just one thing while at Sadhana — get healthy.
The Daily Schedule
5:30 – Wake Up to Gong (so cool)
6:00 – Pre-meditation Practices
6:15 – Morning Meditation
7:00 – Tea Time
7:20 – Yogic Cleansing (Neti Pot)
7:30 – Morning Yoga
8:30 – Morning Walk
9:45 – Breakfast
10:00 – Steam or Mud Bath
12:00 – Pre-meditation Practices
12:15 – Afternoon Meditation
1:00 – Lunch
3:30 – Karma Yoga (Chores)
4:00 – Tea
4:30 – Chanting
5:30 – Evening Yoga
6:45 – Dinner
8:00 – Bedtime
Day 1 is the Toughest and Our Experience
Anyone that knows Erin and I knows we’re not the biggest fans of the morning and in fact sometimes we’re not even the biggest fans of the afternoon! Eight hours of sleep is healthy? Well, we’ll take ten then, thank you very much! 5:30 came early, real early. But the sound of a gong “gonging” three times was just the punch we needed to get outta bed and climb up the stairs to pre-meditation practices.
Pre-meditation was basically just a series of stretches from toes to head to get your mind awake, but more importantly, to get your legs ready for being crossed and perfectly still for 30 minutes-plus during the subsequent meditation. From flexing your toes and cranking your ankles to butterfly groin stretches and toe touches, it was all there.
Meditation was difficult for us both and Sadhana practices the recitation of repeating mantra’s to help your mind from not-wandering. The idea is to sit perfectly still for 30 minutes and focus on nothing. It may sound easy because after all, 30 minutes isn’t that much time. But we soon learned how often we shift in our seats at every little discomfort. “The Louder and Longer Repetition of Mantra ‘Om'” was the first 10 minutes of meditation and it was pretty amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Imagine 15 people in a room and at first everyone’s “Om” is kind of weak and soft, and not very long. After 50 Om’s, you’re geared up and practically screaming, your lungs now able to inhale and exhale much more deeply. The effect is mesmerizing and we found it to be highly effective; our minds rarely strayed. The next 20 minutes were hard though and were also broken into 10-minute sections. The first was the recitation, quietly on your lips, of mantra “So Hum.” So Hum loosely translates to “I am That” and it’s intention is to have your mind focus on yourself, observing the observer. We could usually get through this section without shifting to a more comfortable pose but some days the pain was too much and we’d have to bend our knees (or even lie down and take a nap!) The third section was the recitation of So Hum only in your mind. Here’s where things got really tough. My mind wandered all over the place and though we were instructed that this would be the norm, it was difficult to control. I felt like my mind was a bouncy ball on a rocky path; here, there and everywhere and only occasionally at a complete rest. Though we realize the powerfulness of meditation, neither of us were truly fond of it and will probably not incorporate it into our yoga practice.
Yogic Cleansing was by and far the funniest part of each day. If you’ve never used a neti pot, I highly recommend one, especially if you are an allergy sufferer (like me.) Essentially, it’s pouring warm, salted water through one nostril, into your sinus cavity, and out the other nostril, repeating to the next side afterward. You would think this is something to be done in the privacy of your own bathroom, but Sadhana had a different idea. In the garden, everyone would squat in a circle and perform the ritual together, all laughing at how ridiculous it was to watch each other with snot pouring everywhere. Kinda gross, but a great bonding experience if there ever was one. That’s not all. To finish, we’d do breathing exercises, forcefully exhaling out of our noses with one side blocked, then the other, then neither, followed by toe touches with forceful nasal exhalations and the real crowd pleaser, flapping our arms like chickens while exhaling rapidly. Yogic cleansing should undoubtedly be renamed to Snotfest 2011.
Yogatime! The style they practice here is Hatha Yoga, Ha- meaning sun and –Tha meaning moon, the ying and yang attempt at finding balance. It’s a combination of Pranayamas, breathing techniques, and Asanas, postures. For us, the best parts were the Asanas though Hatha here focuses much more on the Pranayamas, which we found repetitive, boring, and at times laughable. Our yoga practice has centered more on Vinyasa-style, the flowing, asana-heavy practice most common in Westernized countries. Talking to other Westerners at the ashram we soon realized we were not alone in our preference and theorized it’s due to the emphasis and purpose of yoga for us. We look at yoga as a means to mental/physical balance with a focus on fitness. Here it seemed the focus was mental/spiritual with a focus on breathing. While not necessarily our favorite style, it was still enjoyable and you can always learn something if you try.
Morning Walks were a fun way to socialize and enjoy the majestic views below. Soon, we convinced Bipin, the resident meditation instructor and ultimate maitre d’ of Sadhana, that while walking we might as well be picking up the trash we see and Morning Walks became part of Karma Yogajust like that. Bag after bag was filled and any time a local was present we were sure to really emphasize placing litter in one place. It’s the same thing throughout this part of the world; litter is evident everywhere you go and as Westerners, you hear plenty of “It was really nice, but…” from other travelers when it comes to the amount of litter at tourist spots or getaways. We doubt this will fix the problem, but at least it is a start and hopefully it catches on. Like everything, education is the only answer.
Chanting was actually really fun. It was an hour of singing and making music. Drums, tambourines, cymbals and sometimes and organ were handed around and everyone would repeat after the lead singer to get the melody. Though we were essentially “praying” to some Hindu gods, we participated for the sake of tradition, obviously not believing the message and decided to observe the powerfulness of group song instead. It was like bible class for Hindus and they really got into it. I recorded one of the sessions but my iPhone broke and needed restoring and the track was lost. This is the closest thing I could find so you could have an idea of what it sounded like, though ours was certainly less studio-quality.
Let’s Take it to Another Level – The Cleanse
As if this new daily routine wasn’t shocking enough to our systems, we decided to “upgrade” and complete a 3.5 day Organic Gastrointestinal Cleanse. Essentially, it’s a 3-day fast and on the 4th morning you drink loads of salted water in between exercises until you begin the cleanse of everything between mouth and well — y’know. It was surprisingly easy, especially the fast. Erin and I really appreciate food and thought the fast would be impossible but for all but one occasion did we ever feel hungry. Thank you, Honeybees! This is one of the oldest cleanses in written history and is also one of the gentlest and safest. Think of your intestines as 28-feet of copper piping that have been turned on and off 10’s of thousands of times in your life. There is build-up in the walls, kind of like plaque on your teeth or plaque in your arteries. This cleans you out like a visit to the dentist.
HOW TO COMPLETE AN ORGANIC GASTROINTESTINAL CLEANSE
(Read this in its entirety before beginning!)
9 Large Apples or equivalent
2 jars of honey
Ghee (Clarified Butter)
Extra Toilet Paper
Day 1 – Eat
Unlimited Lemon Honey Tea
Day 2 – Eat
Unlimited Lemon Honey Tea
Day 3 – drink
Unlimited Lemon Honey Tea
Recipe for Lemon Honey Tea (for 1 glass, best to make a pitcher’s worth)
Squeeze of 1/2 lemon
Honey to taste
Day 4 – Eat
No Apples or Honey Lemon Tea before cleanse.
Once cleanse is complete, begin (over)cooking the following:
Rice and Lentil Soup:
Cook rice according to package with extra water, overcook to really soften the rice
Cook lentils according to package with extra water, overcook to really soften the lentils
Combine both into one pot and add ghee and salt to taste.
*Do not eat until at least 1-hour after cleanse is complete
*Eat as much as you’d like and eat only this for the remainder of Day 4
*Continue to eat softer foods for the following 3 days. Try to avoid meat and high-glycemic foods like bread and pasta
Day 4 – The Cleanse
What you need:
Prepare 8 liters (2 gallons) salted water (to saturation) and keep in a stock pot, cool until warm as you will be chugging
8 oz (1 cup) handled mug
20 dried beans or peas, pennies, or any other counting device in one bowl
How it works:
1. Dipping the mug into the salted water, chug two cups (16oz) at a time. Think of it as mushroom soup — it makes it easier.
2. After every 2 mugs, place one penny into the empty bowl.
3. Begin the following exercises in sequence: **Each side is 1 rep**
- The Sun Salute – Inhale arms up overhead to tiptoe, exhale arms down to side and flat feet – 15 times
- Side Bends – Inhale arms up overhead, exhale both arms to one side, inhale center, exhale other side – 30 times
- Arm Swings – Exhale, swinging arms to one side, Inhale arms center, Exhale other side – 30 times
- Squatting Windshield Wiper – Squat down, press right knee down towards left toe turning head right, repeat opposite side – 30 times
- Knee Twists – On back, hands interlocked behind head, knees together, legs up and bent at 90-degree angle, twist knees together to one side, twist head opposite. Repeat other side – 30 times.
- Cobra – Lie on belly, hands placed down near armpits. Inhale, lifting your head by flexing your lower back, exhale down – 15 times
- Belly Roll – Standing, knees slightly bent, hands on knees. Exhale completely and hold breath. Suck in belly and roll it like the ocean – 3 times
- Jumping – Jump up and down – 30 times
4. Repeat this process over and over. Once you begin using the toilet (typically after the 5th penny is placed) resume exactly where you left off be it chugging salted water or wiping windshields with your knees.
5. Do this drink/exercise routine until a minimum of 10 pennies are in the empty bowl. Do not go over 20 pennies.
6. Stay close to home for the remainder of the day. You will continue to have loose bowels for possibly the next 24 hours.
Big ‘ol Thanks! goes out to the following people for their generous gifts to our Yoga Ashram experience: Paul Kelly, Jim and Rachel Becker, Katie Meyer and Tim Savoca, Andrew Hartman, Chris Piro and Claire Fabricante, Rob and Mary van den Brand, and Ryan van den Brand. Thank you again!