The past 28 days have come and gone with the blink of an eye. I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows throughout my past month in Nepal; laughing so hard I’ve cried one moment and soaking my bedsheets with heavy tears the next. The 15 hour days of yoga teacher training, the sleep deprivation, the physical pain of pushing my body to the absolute limit somehow seems completely worth it though when I think of all that I’ve gained from this experience; seventeen new strangers that are now my yoga family. People who inspire me with their every story and, without even knowing it, encourage me to love (or at least really like) who I am in this moment. I will never be able to express the heart-bursting love connection I have for these humans in words, it’s a feeling I will never forget though. It was tough, it was rewarding, it was hilarious, it was sweaty, it was raw, it was real, it was truly life changing. There’s one thing for certain; I’m definitely not the same girl I was when I arrived in Pokhara four weeks ago. Here’s a few things I’ve learned in the land of never ending peace and love.
Simplicity is good for the soul. From the four walls, a runway, and dozens of monkeys that greeted me at the Kathmandu airport to the friendly passport control officer who just wanted to chat my ear off about his love for Canadians, immediately I could tell I was going to be happy here.
Life is simple in Nepal; things happen when they happen without stress or rushing. It’s really no surprise that the people here are constantly smiling. It’s as though I left the 21st century and warped back hundreds of years where farm animals walk in the streets (cows are considered sacred in Hindu culture and they run the show), bikes outnumber cars, cucumbers are farmed from power lines and tin rooftops collect buckets of rain water to be heated by the sun.
The tea consists of freshly grown herbs steeped in hot water, the produce picked from the garden and cooked to order, and over consumption simply isn’t in existence.
Pencils are sold individually (because who needs a dozen at once, anyways?), soap bars are for sale in tiny single packs and stamps are only available on Saturdays when the mail goes out. The more you live and experience it, the more it all makes sense.
A beautiful place is often enough to clear your head. I practiced meditation for one hour every single day for a month; something that didn’t come easy to me but I am incredibly inspired to get better at. There were evenings on the yoga studio roof I’d lay down after mediation (attempts) and take in the plethora of visible constellations above my head. Without fail, after a matter of minutes I would be making wishes on the multiple shooting stars that gracefully glided by.
Other nights our group ventured to the lake for silent meditation; the only noise from water buffalo in search of food and the only light from hundreds of tiny fireflies illuminating the grassy marsh. I had so many magical moments just being completely immersed in nature; I meditated to the full blood moon from Sarangkot lookout high in the hills, I saw dramatic rainbows after storms as I practiced yoga on grassy terraces, I did sun salutations at sunrise on the side of a mountain, and I mudded then bathed in natural hot springs. Even reciting these special moments brings tears of joy to my eyes and I never had to take my credit card out once. It’s so true, the little things really are the big things. . . and I’ll be holding thousands of them in my heart forever.
Surround yourself with positive people and your world will dramatically change for the better. Of course, the wonderful souls I met throughout my month of the yoga training program are the most important part of my shinier, happier outlook. All of them bringing some unique piece of them-self to the table for me to take with me throughout the rest of my journey.
The truth is, I couldn’t have imagined completing this course anywhere as special as Pokhara though. The town is so peaceful; just the right size and the landscape is out of this world beautiful. A large lake filled with bright lilies and colourful canoes glistens between lush, rolling hills (it actually reminds me a lot of Kelowna).
The Nepalese people are so kind-hearted you can feel their warm energy everywhere you go. Everyone you meet greets you with a smile and bows down to say namaste (I salute the divine in you). One day while out shopping, I bartered with a sweet woman for a used book to do some reading on the Annapurna circuit trek. We agreed on a price and I left happy. About half a block later I see her running down the street after me; I had left my change ($2) and she was desperately trying to find me to return it. My mind was blown, and my heart so full. It really restores one’s faith in humanity when you meet people who have so little but continue to do so much good in the world.
Start each day with a positive thought and again, life simply gets better. Deepa, my infectiously happy laughter yoga teacher has taught me more about myself than anyone since I began my training. She likely doesn’t even know it, but she’s a true inspiration. During the first week of the course she instructed each person to write down ten things they love about themselves. For me, this was surprisingly difficult. I thought for hours that night in my room and came up with eight points (one of which was that my nails grow fast! Ridiculous, I know). The next day we shared our lists with each other; another challenge in feeling somewhat vulnerable in front of a room full of strangers. She focussed the class around self love, and encouraged each of us to remind ourselves of all the things that make us uniquely special every single day for 21 days straight (promising it will change our lives). That night I stuck the list on my bathroom mirror and accepted the challenge. Fast forward four weeks; I’ve added another ten points and, the truth is, I barely recognize myself. I look and feel like a different (more glittery) person. Everyone reading needs to try this! So simple and so so empowering.
You’re never too old to dance in the rain. And by rain I mean torrential downpours in which the heavens open up and dump enough water to flood the streets within minutes (I finally understand what the term ‘monsoon season’ actually means). The evening thunderstorms in Pokhara are so intense they light up the entire sky like it’s the middle of the day, and then vibrate your body with a heart-stopping crash of thunder. I would occasionally lie in bed and recall being terrified of this active weather as a child, now, years later I find it oddly comforting. I’ve never been so happy to walk around town soaking wet and I can’t think of the last time in my adult life that I’ve jumped in so many puddles. All this rain made for the most amazing landscape photographs; rushing waterfalls, lush tropical forests, and lime green rice patties decorate the hills.
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s always time to admire Mother Nature. I was in no way excited about the 30 minute flight to Pokhara from Kathmandu on that tiny eighteen-seater prop plane. The anxiety built and it almost felt as if I was being tested as Ash and I sat in the airport and waited for hours our flight to be announced (2 hour delay for a 20 minute journey). It seemed the pilot wanted to make up time, and the plane wheels were in motion well before our bums even touched the seat (no safety demo on this aircraft!). The attendant handed us a candy and wad of cotton (for earplugs) and I closed my eyes to try and ignore the flip flop of my tummy as we took off. When I opened them, I was presented with the most beautiful (indescribable) aerial view of the snow-covered Himalayan mountain range poking through soft, fluffy white clouds.
It was love at first sight, and from this moment on I became slightly obsessed with staring at them. Pokhara (and specifically Hotel Tulsi’s outdoor breakfast terrace) has fabulous views of the stunning Annapurna mountain range. If we were really lucky, we’d see the sunrise turn the icy peaks bright pink/orange during our 5am Hatha yoga class. I’m sure our teachers were slightly annoyed, but it didn’t stop the entire class to break postures just to indulge the view.
I made a conscious effort to take time to smell the beautiful flowers throughout my days in Nepal. Being an employee at a garden centre for years (and a girl who just loves receiving bouquets for no good reason all) I could definitely appreciate these beauties.
If it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you. Of course the program was not all sunshine and snow-peaked mountains, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever endured (both mentally and physically). My days started at 4:30am and ended at 9pm; I practiced intense physical asanas for four hours each day, my diet changed to become strictly vegetarian, I cut out alcohol completely, there was lots of time to self-reflect and (the truth is) some days I wanted to curl up and die.
Throughout week one I was riding the adrenaline of the new experience, by week two and three I was exhausted. But with every dark night comes a brighter next day, and as I look back and think how far I came, I wouldn’t change a single thing. My body is so much stronger, my mind is more flexible and I think I can definitely roll with this vegetarian thing for a while. It’s true what they say, “the struggle you are feeling today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow”. I’m without a doubt the strongest version of myself that I’ve ever been.
You don’t need a reason to help people. My favourite day off from training was spent with the little people of Saraswati Secondary School. It was an experience that I’ll never forget; teaching those sweet youngsters yoga and seeing their smiley faces light up as we brought out colourful balloon animals!
The children and their families came to school on our their day off just to meet us and greet the seventeen of us the warmest reception imaginable. A long line of tiny faces welcomed the group with hand-made flower necklaces, offerings of leaves and stems, and tea.
I found it so incredible to watch the older children taking care of the younger ones; ensuring they kept quiet when others were speaking and helping them with yoga postures.
We presented the students with new uniforms and school supplies and, in return, we each received the most overwhelming sense of completeness. I had tears in my eyes as I turned to watch a group of children running behind the bus waving goodbye as we drove back to town.
I left with the overall sense that these children were happier than those in the west. Without question they possess less material objects than kids in Canada, but they were so imaginative and curious. I was so inspired by the idea that they were constantly smiling and fiercely content for no reason at all. These little angels gave me so much more in an afternoon than I could have ever thought possible.
Yoga, coffee and naps are three of my favourite things. The yoga is a given; and something I intend to practice as long and as far as I can. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to immerse myself so completely in something I love so much.
Daily naps atop my yoga mat on the grassy Hotel Tulsi’s third floor terrace overlooking the lake were not only necessary with the intense schedule, but very grounding. Coffee dates with my yoga family at Himalayan Java possibly saved my life on multiple occasions. The rich, creamy slow-poured house brew, the homemade walnut brownies and the beautiful view made this place our home away from home throughout the month of September. This gem became so comfortable that, in the days before I taught my first yoga class, I found myself on the coffee shop balcony practicing my sequencing with the ‘regulars’ I’d met while sipping on expresso.
‘Fun’ nights don’t have to end at 3am with loud music and my stomach spilling onto the floor. My idea of entertainment has taken on a whole new meaning over the course of the past month. Days off from my program were few and far between but I found the best people to surround myself with and made the absolute most of the time. My most memorable days were spent lounging alongside the Temple Tree Resort pool (day pass for $6CAD gives access to the large pool, hot tub and fresh towels), enjoying fresh apple walnut beet salad at Moondance, and being serenaded by Sam (a local with a guitar and a great voice) while indulging in veggie burgers at Rest Pointe Cafe.
My favourite nights were spent drinking masala tea (a delicious Nepali version of chai tea), having meaningful conversations with great company and singing along to the 90’s rock covers that Busy Bee was dishing out. Pokhara is so special in the evenings; live music fills the streets from the plethora of relaxed, candle-lit bars, Nepali woman perform ethnic dance during dinner service and Karaoke is all the rage. I just love the vibe, I think could stay forever and be completely satisfied.
I took the ‘yoga drugs’ and I’m completely awakened from my sleep. I have glitter in my veins and sparkles on my cheeks. I look in the mirror and am in like with what I see back – this was without question the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, YOGA saved my life.
** some of these photos were taken by the incredibly talented and eternally beautiful Sarah Shu. Check her website for prints and an amazing line of handmade, organic products.