Reflections from Hinterland Village Yoga Retreat

Although I haven’t finished posting about Rajasthan, I am home now, and would like to post about the retreat.

The yoga shala (studio)

I am not sure how to even begin this post describing my 6 blissful days at Hinterland Village. As I sit here in the airport, waiting for my flight back to Delhi to start my endless journey home, I feel as if I am in a dream-like state. Perhaps I imagined this whole trip; it seems just too good to be true.

My sister-in-law, Cat, described this place as akin to returning to the womb for a week. All is comfortable, all of our needs are met, our desires anticipated before we even have a chance to ask. We are fed healthy food, our laundry and cleaning is taken care of, we are given a suggested itinerary everyday, everything is optional, we have no responsibilities other than to just…be. Unni (the owner) was like a father to all of us, meeting with each of us individually every day to touch base and let us know what our schedule would be. He has such a gentle, beautiful aura about him. 

One day I had a raw, scratchy throat. He presented me with this thick dark brown paste in a recycled jar and a spoon with instructions: “take a quarter of this spoon 3 or 4, even 5, 6, or 7 times a day.” I shrugged, obediently followed, and by the next day, I was feeling completely back to normal. Natausha and I affectionately called the remedy “poop in a jar” because of the colour. I laughed that at home, I would never take any medication without doing a bit of research; yet here I was, blindly following Unni’s direction. We decided we are grateful Unni uses his powers for the forces of good. We wondered what would happen if this was all a ruse, and in reality, he was an evil genius who would use all of us sheep to help him achieve world domination. The way he anticipated our every need was uncanny, almost like he had spies everywhere, even in my own brain.

Being in an environment with relatively no distractions, where no decisions have to be made about anything, can be therapeutic. We have a lot of time to think, to meditate, to gain perspective. An average day looked something like this:

6am wake-up

6:30 – 8:30 yoga

8:30 Breakfast

9:30 – 10:30 Philosophy

10:30 – 11:30 Guided Meditation

1pm Lunch

3:30 tea/snack

4:00 – 6:00 yoga

6:00 juice/snack

8:00 dinner

In the free blocks of time in the schedule, there were many options. Unni would book us for ayurvedic massages every second day, as well as organized excursions for those who are interested. I had three massages, all different, and went on three excursions. One day we went on a boat trip over lunch on the backwaters, another day we just went into the nearest village, and yesterday we went into Fort Kochi to do a little bit of shopping and check out the vibe.  Unni also scheduled in some special programming, including an art class, cooking demonstration, and a session about chanting. I also used the free time to do a lot of journalling, catching up on the blogposts, and even doing a bit of songwriting. I also managed to go swimming every day in their pool. The wifi signal was very patchy, so I gave up trying to do anything meaningful online, which was better in my opinion, because I wasn’t worrying about my electronic devices as much. I could just focus on being present in the moment.

Unni and his family run Hinterland as a self-sufficient, fully sustainable homestay. They do not waste even a drop of water.  They collect all of it, filter it, and reuse it to water their large organic crops. Ninety-five per cent of the food served at the retreat is grown onsite on their organic farm, even the rice. They use solar power to heat the water and to power the electricity. They also have a small store onsite where you can buy resource books, essential oils, and have clothing hand-made to order.

There is a menagerie here: dogs, cats, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, silky chickens, turkeys, even an emu, that run free all over the property during the day, but then go back to sleep in their fenced-in area at night. Their antics, and the cacophony of sounds was definitely amusing. There is, of course, a large population of both indigenous and migratory birds that make their home here as well.

Emma the Emu

While we were visiting Hinterland Village, the local temple was holding a four day festival, which resulted in loud music, sermons, praying, drumming, and chanting over the loudspeakers at all times of the day and night, sometimes even at four in the morning. There seemed to be a constant stream of people coming and going to the temple to join in the colourful celebrations. Generally it added to the varied sound landscape in a good way, and helped challenge me during meditation class, when I had to work hard to block out the sound and focus inward. Under the gentle guidance of Jayesh, our meditation facilitator, I was able to make breakthroughs in my meditation sessions I had never been able to achieve before. It will be interesting to see if I can continue with my progress when I am back to real life at home.

This place attracts fascinating people from all over the world. The week I was there, I met people from England, Belgium, Denmark, Israel, France, Australia, Germany, Thailand, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the US. Everyone has an interesting story of what brought them here, and these stories add to the flavour of the experience. I also particularly enjoyed observing how the energy shifted every day, as new guests arrived and others departed. Somehow, everyone was instantly accepted into the community, made their contribution, and then continued their journey. I especially loved bonding with Cat, and my roommate, Natausha, from Alameda, California. We spent a lot of time laughing together, and that added another amazing layer to my experience.  We were able to connect in meaningful ways, yet still gave each other the space to have time on our own.

Also noteworthy was sharing Shabbat with two women from Israel, Cheryl and Ruth. We requested a few candles to bless, some homemade grape juice for me to say kiddush over, and chapatis instead of Challahs for Hamotsi. We sang some songs from the Kabbalat Shabbat Service together, and it was beautiful. 

Last but not least, I cannot forget to mention the yoga and meditation component of the retreat.  Doing yoga in a natural setting, using a real tree as a focal point for my “tree pose”, listening to the nature sounds all around me was magical. We were exposed to several different teachers, each with their own style and sometimes, coming from completely different backgrounds. Yoga here is taught very differently than it is in the West. It took some adjustment at first, but I really appreciated the learning, and am looking forward to incorporating some of my new experiences into my classes and my personal practice.

At home, if I am lucky, I might do one hour of yoga most days, and try to fit in a bit of meditation at least once a day. Practicing the postures a minimum four hours every day and guided meditation for at least an hour, (if you don’t count the meditation component of our yoga classes) had an astounding effect on my body, my mind, and my soul. At first, the amount of activity left me exhausted, but surprisingly, my body adjusted, and I instead started to feel energized by the practice, even when I was tired, even when it was very warm. I came away with many insights about myself and goals for when I return home.

The morning view from the yoga studio

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