Retreat Yourself

This month has been one of  transition, of challenge, of merrymaking, and of ants.

I will start strong and tell you all of my recent nightmare involving an army of ants, my sleeping body, and the eeriness of a full moon.

I recently moved into a new home, away from my sweet but small and noisy hut on the other side of the retreat. I had to farewell my pet gecko Fred – we had developed a strong relationship based on him pooping in the corner, and me pretending to ignore it. Now I live in a comparable mansion, which is perhaps one metre larger, with solid floors, walls that turn into windows, a door that shuts fully and completely, and more places to put things! I also have replaced Fred with a pet frog who waits for me on my light switch every night. A slimy suprise. Needless to say, I was the happiest girl when I moved in at the beginning of this week. I was pumped for a big, good sleep in my awesome bed with the full moon streaming in my open window, a gentle breeze tickling at my feet.

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I awoke at 3am, feeling itchy. Things were crawling upon me. I was sure I was dreaming and kept swatting at the irritation, until I was fully awake, then realized it is not normal to have things crawling on you in your sleep.

I turned on my torch and gasped murderously as a stream of bolshy ants paraded  up and down my exposed arm, infiltrating my clothing, delving into the depths of my bosom crevice. I leapt out of bed, getting all tangled in my mosquito net (which, I will say, has NO POWER against the wrath of ants), and placed my feet on the floor, instantly realizing that I was standing in a SEA of ants, they began to climb my legs, clinging to my feet as I fled the room.. The entire floor had become one big ant.

I returned in desperation, trying to spray them and get them out of my bed , also pouring half a bottle of insect repellent onto the floor – they seemed to enjoy the challenge of the liquid, and began to build rafts using eachothers bodies, all the while advancing on me with menace in their eyes. I went to sleep in another accommodation, and returned in the morning to find they had nest’led into my clothes, my bedsheets, and my soul. I put on my yoga pants and instantly regretted it, feeling a tingling, itchy sensation all up in my legs that would last for days. Fun fact – apparently ants do not bite – they PEE on you, and that is what stings.

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The retreat staff came to exterminate the ants who had infiltrated my home, spraying toxic stuff all around the outside, and hopefully this will ensure they never return. The girls did point out to me that ants like coconut oil, and I had a big old jar sitting on my bench. I had also covered my entire body in the stuff before sleeping that night, so they probably smelt me and came running.

I have never written the word ant this many times and it is beginning to look and sound strange, so I will stop talking about that now.

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I am learning the ways of Siem Reap, some life hacks, so that on my days off I maximize my time and minimize expenditure.

I have stayed in the same $12 guesthouse for the past couple of weeks, where they greet me with a smile and rent me a bicycle for my time there. I love riding my bicycle – the tuk tuk drivers don’t hassle me, I simply cruise past with a look of superiority and independence on my face. On my day off, I like to venture to a nearby luxury hotel, where they charge 10dollars to spend  the day by the pool, with access to the spa, sauna, hot showers, Jacuzzi and ginger tea! Or, if you’re like me and many of my Siem Reap acquaintances, you just glide in as if you belong, wearing your least hobo clothes and with a posture of dignity and tremendous wealth.

I spend a good 70% of my time off  immersed  in some type of water. I always feel quite dirty here – even when I shower I am instantly sweaty again, and my hair is comparable to a frizzy hedgehog. It is the humidity I suppose, and the fact that washing in cold water all week long hinders cleanliness.

Last week, however, was very cold indeed! A cold front came through from somewhere that experiences an actual winter, and we all shivered and huddled over our tea for several days, (it was like 19 degrees Celsius, but its all relative). I secretly loved being able to light the firepit in the yoga hall every morning, and put on another layer of clothing. At night, I pulled my blanket over my shoulders, which is a miracle in itself.

I am now adjusted to the 6am starts, sometimes 5.30am on a good day, and I have to ensure I am tucked up in bed by 10pm. I often take a daily nap in the late morning or early afternoon, but I can’t nap for too long because then I wake up all sweaty and disoriented. The only clothing I wear these days are yoga clothes, and some may say this is the best job in the world, because yoga pants are the most comfortable pants ever. I haven’t worn jeans in 3 months – I didn’t even bring any with me.

Highlights from this week were teaching outdoor yoga at a nearby temple, next to a lotus pond, and also teaching a partner yoga class. Nobody can get through this class without exploding into giggles – especially when men partner up with each other and I get them to make love hearts with their bodies and “breathe with each other”….

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Every week I seem to say something hilarious when I’m teaching – something that is NOT acceptable and people tend to laugh and fall over a little bit. For example, in a water themed class this week, we were rolling around in the ground in a “happy baby”pose (legs up in the air, on your back, rocking side to side), and I called out “have a little fun with your body….. it’s always available to you”……. Needless to say there were some stifled giggles.

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Our guests are from all walks of life – high season at the moment means there are around 30 people on each retreat, young people, old people, couples, boys, girls, beginners and people that have been practicing for 30 years. It is a challenge and a joy to create classes that suit all levels, and the feedback I get from people tells me that I am definitely in the right place.

So I will be here a while longer… What began as a 2 month internship has expanded into a 6 month role, learning all aspects of the retreat environment – teaching, administration, guest relations, and learning to live in a community in a bamboo shack, surrounded by nature, eating vegan food, and meeting people from all walks of life.

I’m writing from a riverside cafe in Siem Reap on my day off, soaking up the sun, and the caffeine which is contraband throughout the week. The good thing about limiting yourself to a coffee every 7 days is that IT REALLY HITS YOU  and you GET SHIT DONE.

On that note, I’m off to cruise on my bicycle, head held high, in search of a pool with free wifi and cool asian hats.

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Visit me for a 6 day integral yoga and meditation retreat at Hariharalaya

 

 

 

Cambodian Village Life

After a month of Rugby World Cup shenanigans and family time in England, my travels took an unexpected turn and I jumped on a plane bound for Siem Reap, Cambodia. Definitely did not foresee such action, but it turns out it was an excellent decision. 

Whilst in Spain, I was also applying for various yoga jobs in Europe, just throwing my CV out there and hoping the universe would provide. Old universe came through, but as usual, it was in a highly unexpected way. 

So now I’m in Cambodia, working in the traditional Khmer village of Bakong, near the temples of Angkor Wat, surround by rice paddies, an overwhelmingly stinky marketplace, curious-looking cows, tiny children dressed proudly in school uniforms riding bicycles far too large, dusty brown roads and dense green jungle. The villagers throw wild, loud parties that begin at 4am and finish at 3am. They celebrate life, death, weddings, anniversaries, getting a new cow, their neighbour getting a new cow, the anniversary of 100 days since their neighbour got a new cow…. Anything is a reason to party, and I respect that. I also respect and relish my one hour of silence between 3am and 4am, when the wailing and chanting ends and the frogs begin.

   
   
I’m teaching yoga at Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat, quite possibly the best yoga retreat in Cambodia, but maybe I’m biased… I live in a little thatched hut, with a mosquito net that I keep throughly tucked into my mattress, and a broom to sweep out the fresh gecko poop. My pet gecko is called Fred, and sometimes I burst into my room to find him squatting hurriedly in the corner, an alarmed look in his beady eyes as he is caught doing his thrice daily ablutions! One of Hariharalaya’s pure intentions is to get people back in touch with nature, and there’s no doubt it has done that for me…  A frog squad lingers outside my hut at dawn and dusk, exchanging tales from pond life, leaping over each other and avoiding my huge human tread. Once, on a sleepy midnight trip to the bathroom, I stepped firmly on something very soft and squishy, which turned out to be a tiny frog, fresh from tadpole life, and I felt so sad and mournful. 

  
There are also giant worms, and I mean so so large. As long as my leg (which in fact is not very long but long if you’re a worm). The first few weeks I was here, there were still remnants of the rainy season, and after the rain the giant worms would come out to play. At first I thought they were snakes. And then the first time I saw a snake, I thought it was a giant worm, so I peered at it curiously, considered prodding it, until one of the Cambodian girls came sprinting out of the house, broomstick in hand, and started bashing at it furiously with all her might. She turned to me, eyes bright, and cried “ees small, but ees baaaaaad!”.  Poisonous worm, otherwise known as snake. I should not be left alone in the jungle.

  
My first week was a challenge. Up at 5.30am every morning, sometimes earlier, learning the ropes, planning classes for groups of 20-30 people of mixed yoga experience, from all different backgrounds and languages, and trying to balance doing a good job with socialising with guests. Plus I was dealing with the culture shock, the temperature and humidity, jet lag, a cold turkey vegan diet (pun intended) and caffeine withdrawals. 5.30am is rough WITH a nice cup of English breakfast tea or strong coffee, but without… I truly felt like a zombie going through the motions. Jasmine tea and meditation is what I have to work with. Days off though…

  
My first two weeks of morning and night meditation was a STRUGGLE. I’ve tried to meditate regularly over the past couple of years, but never really got into the rhythm. Here I have no choice, which as it turns out, is exactly what I needed. I could not sit comfortably for half an hour without fidgeting, worrying about bugs in my hair, scratching mosquito bites, adjusting my shawl, rearranging my sitting position from cross legged to kneeling to cross legged to kneeling.. I soon realised that I am obsessed with being comfortable (which anyone could guess from my collection of chunky jumpers and yoga pants) and that maybe it is quite good for me to sit with the discomfort for a while. And that’s when my meditation improved. Amazing! I mean obviously, it’s still bloody awkward sometimes, especially when a moist slimy gecko lands on your leg in the darkness of evening meditation, and you can’t see what it is, so you let out a wisp of a scream and jump from the ground, fumbling for the light of your phone then realising you don’t have it because it’s a digital detox and all phones are contraband, so you scamper to the bathroom and sit on the toilet until the meditation bell rings to signal dinner time, and you emerge, pale and shamefaced, admitting defeat by a wayward gecko.

  
There are many humorous moments, and many meaningful ones too. At the end of each retreat we do a closing circle where everyone shares something of their experience. Sometimes people start crying which generally makes me cry and then the sight of me crying makes other people cry because it’s not very pretty, in fact it’s a bit scary. It’s a healing place though and I’m so grateful that I’m a part of it.

   
   
 The next retreat is over Christmas, so that’ll be weird. Vegan, wine-free Christmas? If I was Santa I’d stay at home. But maybe it’s a good opportunity to give Christmas a different meaning. My family dinner this year will be with my lovely workmates and retreat-goers, passion fruit smoothies will be my prosecco, and the treehouse will be my Christmas tree, the sunset will be my Christmas lights… These are the things that people who live on yoga retreats begin to say. Village life is going to my head. 

  
I’m currently enjoying a luxurious three nights off,  recovering from some kind of savage bird flu (maybe just normal flu but I like to be dramatic), partaking in hot showers, green juices, mineral water, jacuzzis and vast swimming pools. All the different types of water please. I recently had a very bad, very boyish haircut from a lady in the marketplace (in hindsight, not a good idea) so I don’t particularly want to go out where lots of people can point and laugh. “It’s not so bad!”, my friends cry, but they’re not the ones with a frizzy mullet. 

  

I will be back soon with more tales of Cambodian village life. This post was mainly about insects and creepy crawlies, but this stuff is important to cover. In the meantime, if you’re in Southeast Asia….. book yourself in for a retreat here

  
   

  
  

  

  

  


…. And please bring me some Christmas dinner.