I wasn’t sure I could do it (and at times I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it) but for 10 days I got up at 5.30am, did four hours of yoga a day and consumed no meat, no eggs, no garlic, no onion, no alcohol and no caffeine.
I had enrolled in the Sivananda Yoga Camp, held at an ashram in the Laurentian mountains an hour north of Montreal.
The ashram had a strict routine, each day the same.
5.30am – Wake-up call (loud, tolling bells)
6.00am – Satsang (Sanskrit chanting, half-hour silent meditation, spiritual readings)
8.00am – Yoga class
10.00am – Brunch (mostly vegan dishes)
11.00am – “Karma yoga” (helping out around the ashram)
12.00pm – Free time (I normally napped!)
4.00pm – Yoga class
6.00pm – Dinner
8.00pm – Satsang
9.30pm – Bed
If you’re wondering why anyone would voluntarily participate in this, let me explain.
I’m not one of those die-hard yogis (or even a little bit yogi) but I do the odd yoga class and had been dabbling in meditation for a couple of years. I figured this yoga camp was a good way to learn a bit more about both disciplines in a place where I would be forced to practice. (They actually kick you out if you consistently miss classes and satsang.)
After seeing the daily schedule, my first thought was “how am I going to make it to 10am without eating?!” This was quickly followed by “how can I last from 10am to 6pm without lunch?!”
On the first day, my body seemed to be ok with the morning fasting but I was starving by 4pm, and still had to get through a two-hour yoga class. But within three days, my body had adjusted to the routine. They give you so much food and it’s all vegetarian, local and organic. I guess if your body is fed in a nourishing way then you don’t crave junk food or feel hungry.
I had the same concerns about going without caffeine, especially with the 5.30am starts. But again, my body adapted and it wasn’t as hard as I thought to get up so early. (It helped that satsang was compulsory so I couldn’t make excuses and stay in bed.)
The third psychological hurdle for me was the thought of doing four hours yoga a day. I normally do one-hour classes at the gym and they cram so much in that it’s a pretty intense 60 minutes. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do double that amount of time, and then a repeat class.
But the great thing about the Sivananda practice is the emphasis on rest! The first 20 minutes of the class is just relaxation and breathing. This is followed by Sun Salutations and then 12 asanas (poses). There is a generous Savasena (lying on back, relaxing – otherwise known as corpse pose) between each asana and at the end of the class. This was definitely my style of yoga!
In saying that, the repetition did get to me at times as it’s always the same class. But I definitely got a lot stronger and improved my yoga technique by sticking with it.
The thing I struggled most with was the meditation. Not only is it really hard to concentrate for half an hour at a time, the floor is also hard! Without fail, I would start squirming and fidgeting by the 15 minute mark and was amazed that no one else felt the need to move. (Although there was definitely a collective sigh of relief once the half hour was done!). Obviously I still have a long way to go.
By the end of the 10 days, I was feeling waaaaaay more relaxed and calm. But I did boomerang a bit with my diet when I got back to “civilisation.” While I didn’t need it physically, I must admit I did feel a bit of a psychological void without caffeine, alcohol, meat, eggs, garlic and onion. But after the initial backfire subsided, I did feel like I was left with a much healthier respect for my mind and body.
Footnote: Some pics from around the beautiful grounds of the ashram