Divine Play: A Yoga Teacher in Training.
Surya = sun / Lila = divine play / Sanskrit: ‘divine play of the sun’ /
On the 28th May I left London and flew to Suryalila retreat centre in Andalucía to begin a 21-day intensive 200-hour yoga teacher training course. Of course I had preconceptions of what it would be like, the people I would meet, hopes for spiritual growth even, but though it met all of my expectations and more, life has a funny way, sometimes, of panning things out in a way that you don’t expect.
I never expected to feel raw and cut open, like I was destroying myself rather than the romantic notion of completeness one might expect from a journey like this. Going to a retreat centre to learn to be a yoga teacher doesn’t scream ‘I’m a mess’, you’re supposed to be somewhat of a put together character. Granted, there is the bodily strain of learning an intense physical practice, the mental exhaustion of working the mind long hours each day, but there was also, for me, an emotional revolution; a new way of understanding my own feelings that I’d never encountered before.
“A dreamlike world… a strange limbo paradise where both everything and nothing made any sense”
To feel this way in paradise, it’s confusing. I was living in a retreat centre cut into the backdrop of the most stunning landscape of hills, mountains and fields, with sunsets that even the most colourful painter in my mind couldn’t have imagined. A dreamlike world: complete with majestic white horses, wonderful food, constant sunshine and yoga gurus. And yet my overwhelming feelings were of fragmentation. It is only afterwards that I can begin to recognise that perhaps this is a prerequisite for healing; that you have to peel yourself away in order to understand and be able to stitch the pieces back together again.
The retreat centre was called Suryalila, which translates in Sanskrit as ‘divine play of the sun’. And it really was an experience that was divine, playful and sunny – but it was the opposite of all of those things too. It was a strange limbo paradise where both everything and nothing made any sense. Waking up at 6am every morning as the sun rose, meditating in a dome full of such beautifully giving and fantastic souls, was above all a wonderfully collective experience – and yet at the same time intensely individual. It was and is soul-bearing in a way that doesn’t let you run from yourself and forces you to face your own feelings.
This communal consciousness, teamed with the wonder of each person’s unique experience is why I wanted this piece not just to be about me. Suryalila and our time there, though short-lived, was about the journey that every single teacher in training experienced. So I wanted to share insights, to share words that give a glimpse of others’ experiences, above and beyond my personal journey.
-Sukkha Sweet Suryalila-
We began as forty-three strangers from across the world, some travelling further than others, all drawn by a common love for yoga and each with our own motives for taking on the intense training to be guides.
By the end of the first day, I had made good friends with good people. By the end of the second day I had formed connections with these strangers, knowing next to nothing about them except that they had a spark inside them that my own recognised. By the end of the third day I found kindred souls that I loved and who loved me unconditionally, without label and without expectation.
Such is the power of Suryalila; the tranquil stone walls and beautiful landscape, combined with a perfect schedule of yoga, meditation, hands-on learning, plenty of downtime and an epic vegetarian menu, created a mecca for souls to release the physical and social barriers that we have been conditioned to hide behind wherever we go.
Over the subsequent weeks our teachers became lighthouses for our small boats to orient out of the storm and towards home, towards a family as diverse as it was close. These teachers; Vidya, Jennilee and Alicia were our matriarchs without the sense of superiority but with all the love of mothers guiding their children. Their support and wisdom are the pillars on which the Suryalila experience rests. The lessons I’ve learned from these people – all the people that were there – have allowed me to shed layers and grow in the greatest way, I will always cherish what I cultivated from them.
As I write this I think back to the lifetime I spent in the company of forty-three beautiful brothers and sisters. I think back to a time when I just wanted to complete a qualification and go back to the place I left.
As I write this I think of right now; of sitting in a cafe in the south of France, passing through on my way to the rest of the world. I think of being in love with the most wonderful soul I’ve met; a light I’ve known for an eternity yet who has lived her life on the other side of the planet. I think of what I have gained and the path I am on due to my time at Suryalila, and can easily decide it was the greatest experience in my life…
Hidden in the rolling hills among the sunflower fields, Suryalila is heaven on earth. A beautiful sanctuary where vulnerability is not viewed as weakness, but celebrated and embraced. For me, the best part of the experience was all the new friends I have made. Never before have I felt so accepted and free to express who I really am around such a large and diverse group of people. I will never forget the love and kindness of my yogi family.
I have struggled to find words to fit this experience, perhaps because I have never experienced anything like this before and although I do hope to again, I think that the three weeks at Suryalila may have been too special to ever recreate. The endless laughs and occasional cries along the way; delirium, pure happiness and the kind of yoga highs that even a junkie would struggle to understand. Us 43 people created a lot of love in a small space and I’m incredibly grateful to say that I am still riding that wave.
I’m still floating after my three-week training in Suryalila. It surpassed all my expectations by miles. The setting is just magical, like something from a fairytale. Fields of sunflowers, cloudless blue skies, blazing sunsets and beauty everywhere. Such an inspiring and nourishing place to be. The course is intelligently structured keeping the student engrossed and enthused and not overwhelmed. The strategically placed free time interspersed throughout insures the information is digested at just the right tempo. The teachers skills complement each others perfectly. They are all so knowledgable, professional, warm and generous. We were blessed to have such a lovely group also, everyone gave it their all. An unforgettable experience, Suryalila will always have a special place in my heart.
When I decided to train as a yoga teacher, I thought about doing my training in India or Sri Lanka, as at the end of the day, we’re talking about an Eastern discipline. However, in the end, Andalusia – the region in the south of Spain where I come from – won my heart.
I came to train with Vidya Jacqueline Heisel and her spectacular team of co-teachers, in Suryalila, Vidya’s home and Yoga Retreat Centre in Andalusia.
Vidya comes with over 40 years experience teaching yoga, in India, South East Asia, USA and in her current home in Andalusia. Her deep knowledge in Eastern Philosophy, her passion for yoga and the almost half a century she has now spent training yoga teachers all over the world, made her training one of a kind.
The yoga style we practice is Frog Lotus Yoga, a branch of Vinyasa Flow Yoga, which can be practised at a fast or slow pace, making it an invigorating or soothing class, depending on the session. This type of yoga focuses massively in alignment, offering the practitioner very descriptive cues to get safely and accurately into the poses. Music is also massively present in the classes, and moreover in my personal case, being a huge music lover, you’ll get to listen go some real nice tunes while on the yoga mat.
Frog Lotus Yoga and our training was incredible. And the journey and the knowledge that we learnt there continues to deepen all of our understanding.
Within the first few hours of arriving at Suryalila I felt a deep sense of knowing that whatever obstacles I was about to face would be manageable – and having spent quite some time anticipating this journey, it was empowering to think I had arrived, and I could do this. Two memories or sounds really resonate with me; walking to the Om Dome every morning to the chorus of birdsong, and hearing the chant of 40 something fellow students and teachers engaging in a heartfelt ‘OM’. Overall it was a comprehensive and transformational training and an experience I will never forget.
A shot of positive energy that made my spirits rise high could summarise my feeling intake of the yoga teacher’s formation at Suryalila. I felt like in a bubble floating away from modern society: competitiveness replaced by being allowed to share one’s own vulnerabilities, rush by calm and self-study, concrete buildings by a heavenly ecofriendly place with glorious expressions of nature in amazing organic food, landscapes and infinite red and blue sunset skies. Surrounding positiveness, fun and great classes, learning so much in such a short period of time were the essence of what nourished me in this incredible encounter of a beautiful group of people bound by the same passion for yoga. Namaste!
A Final Note
The beauty that can be shared through listening to others, through storytelling, and through sharing an experience like this makes me realise how essential harmony is. Our entire world is based on harmony and unity. A beautiful world where it is okay to be separate, okay to be fragmented, okay to feel raw, as long as we can come back to appreciate how unified our individual selves are. I leave you now with the conscious stream of thought from another fellow teacher in training and soul searcher, about the journey within that was unleashed, or perhaps merely realised along the way.
04/07/2016, TGV Seat 23
Returning from your journey within
Made me dive straight in.
Regardless of the chill in the breeze
Of the prickling waves
Of the menacing clouds
Fearless I went, boosted by the knowledge
That the moment doesn’t last.
Living like a Hawaiian,
Wrapped, naked in folkloric shall.
Living a dream where awakening means Diving
In the sea to swim
In the current, by the fish
In the unseen, unheard, unweighed.
Twirling like a dolphin: light, lithe, Life.
Looking up to the Kaleidoscope Sky
Stroking the Crystal Sea
A drop in the Ocean.
Flashback: Country of valleys and fields
Of Olives and Sun.
Voluptuous Nature’s green gown
Resting in the spacious blue.
Resting, abiding under wind and sweltering heat.
Azure above. Space. Light.
Waves licking algae covered rocks.
A community of sun-bathing stones.
Backs tickled by Summer’s toes.
Pause. Needless to feel, sense it.
It envelops you. Embraces you.
Pines, vines, cotton Earth and Silky Water
Serenely welcome you inside-out.
Breathe in Space
Let go of Time
Flowing Space. Ebbing Time.
Washing with it Mind and Me.
Melt into it: ruby brick sand.
Rendering mellow to shooting star sky.
Awaken to dream, drifting consciousness
That my Channel of Being
But a pine on the path.
Walk, stroll, run; skip, race, fly
Salty summer curls bow to turquoise eyes.
Better close them, release.
Life is here, now.
Present, wonder, space, sensing
Smoothly gliding through.
The path is there, presence wanders.
It’s the step, the padding
The willing awareness.
What triggers your Mind?
Hence why passion is Fire:
It brings you to Light,
Solar-like you ignite.
You are, you burn, you consume your
Here to Live, here to be.
That’s the journey I’m on
Moment of Present: One step.
Neither fear, nor doubt.
Clouds blown from the sky
I’ve in its vastness
Made its majesty mine.
Sea & sky; Wind & Wood.
Partner to unite, together makes one
The secret of balance
Ambivalence of Being
We arrive as One, imperfect, distraught
Inconceivable day without the darkness of night
Appearing separately, only surviving when One.
No play without work, no rest without effort,
No music without silence;
No connection without loss, no pleasure without pain.
Only awareness is itself integer.
So that’s my journey: Being with myself.
First step: stillness
First bend: unrest
Orchestra of sensation
Landscapes of realisation.
Being ungrateful and craggy
Muddy and vile.
Staying with the stench of my aversions and fears.
Like the trek, I feel tricky
Rocky edges, ravines.
Putrid waters, cruel bugs.
A step more: a lotus.
Through the pines the sun glistens
Sparkles freshness and cool.
Without reason spiky bushes free bittersweet waft.
Anemone hug my finger
Algae pad my toes
Shell lead the way
And jellyfish glide.
Leaving pretense aside
Venture fearless and nude.
My journey is sweet, I’ve made it hard.
I need the challenge, the rocks to climb.
I’ve spiced it to feel the Truth of Being.
Now my key is Awareness, Willingness
To hear, Be with
Reflecting light to those lost.
That’s how the path is kept
Compassion’s light house
Holding, being held
Trust in the Divine River’s Flow
Unique waves dance the surface
Changing light, moving ridges
Stained glass waters
The marvel, treasure in Difference, Roughness
The Genius of Disharmony
That’s my journey: Curiosity
How crafty can my Mind be?
How brightly can it transform my Reality?
Journey of Observation, Realization, Grace
Befriending Truth as the Prince his red fox
Token of burning embers in a field of gold and Blue.
Vanilla Blue à la Belle Etoile
Star Gazing in Howling Gales
Mediterranean bats flutter
As we escape clear reality: I’m an inconsequent micro-dust.
Just Keep Swimming.
I am born with awareness
One mission: fulfill it.
So there’s my first étape
At the snowy mountain peak
Forgive the burning thighs, crying lungs.
Make peace with dull dissatisfaction.
Go with wonder,
Vital travel partner.
Symphony, explosion. Senseless Diversity.
Overwhelming detail, spiky trees
Electric poles & concrete roads.
That’s my journey
Peace with the Mundane;
Peace with Vulgar Modernity
Praise of my Difficulty
Soothing my struggle of Recognition.
Still. Dive. Feel.
Kick, soar, smoothly glide.
Look up: the sun through the water
Safe, silent, break surface.
Breathe in, and swim.
Keep swimming: you float.
Keep swimming the Sea’s Mystery.
All photos supplied by Charo Merida, the fabulous author of Sunsets and Bubbles; a yoga and lifestyle blog.