The Mystical Yoga Course. School Yoga Institute, Sacred Valley, Peru, 5-25 February 2020.
The old saying that the teacher only appears once the student is ready has rung true – the offer of personal transformation came at exactly the right time for me. My husband had died fourteen months before and I admit that sometimes I was struggling with it. I’d met Garth, a School Yoga Institute alumni, on Christmas day in La Paz through a mutual friend, and as Facebook algorithms go, the SYI advert kept popping up on my phone for weeks afterwards and I was intrigued enough to look into it. At the time, I was in the far north of Bolivia, in Riberalta, the Bolivian capital of the Amazon but it wasn’t a good place for me. I was very isolated and I had hit rock bottom emotionally. If I’d been drinking, I’d have drunk a whole bottle of wine, gone up to the roof and looked for the quickest way down. What stopped me was I knew that I didn’t want to die there.
Sobriety brings insights and I knew then and there I needed some radical change. What appealed to me was the fact that It promises more than just yoga. It weaves in shamanism, using a schedule based on the Andean medicine wheel, with four directions represented by four different animals – serpent, jaguar, hummingbird and condor- all with their own qualities and teachings.
Since the New Year I’d already given up drinking and smoking and I had been getting up early and meditating and doing yoga in the morning. Six months ago, to be in this position would be inconceivable but for the first time in my life, I was primed and half way there.
As soon as I’d committed to the course, I felt some of that grey heaviness slide away and I was excited to find myself in Cusco a fortnight later, being picked up by a minibus, along with nine others, and driven through the Peruvian countryside to the retreat.
Around the firepit for the opening ceremony, we chose an instrument, a drum or rattle, got sage smudged and picked a tarot card. Mine was ‘medicine woman’ which represented the healing found within and trusting inner intuition – it resonated with me deeply. When we had to introduce ourselves, everyone was vague, just describing their reasons for being there as a generalized ‘trauma’. My turn to speak and I was emotional, I could barely talk, everyone was quiet as I squeaked that my husband died, it was incredibly real- I’m grieving and it was very obvious.
As the course began, we were up at 5.30 am every day, even without coffee I felt bright as a button. Straight on the mat in the temple, half an hour meditation flew by, then an hour and a half yoga class. The schedule was intense but compelling – pose analysis, spiritual lessons, Ayurveda, ceremonies. Four days on, following the timeline of the four qualities, then one day off. The setting is wonderful, in the Sacred Valley in a flower strewn site tucked between the green mist-shrouded hills of the Peruvian Andes. The teachers are knowledgeable, approachable and supportive and there was also a lot of love in the room from my fellow students.
I began to feel nourished on all levels, from the delicious and copious food, to the morning birdsong, to the fragrant jasmine climbing up the walls of the pretty buildings. Bit by bit, my grief was slowly but surely being transformed. In the powerful shamanic journies we shared, my husband greeted me lovingly- I woke tearful but grateful, it felt so profound and real. My special cat, Little Bear, who died six months before my husband, appeared as my spirit animal- which confirmed what I always knew. We embraced in the trance and it also felt as vivid and nurturing as if he were physically there. Before, he was black, but this time he had turned white- he’s become an angel, one of the facilitators explained. He followed me everywhere, just like he used to in real life.
This was deep, powerful work which resonated on many levels and slowly nudged the shadows from my dark corners. At night there were songs around the campfire and specific ceremonies, new moon, cacao, and gratitude. These were heartfelt rituals – special and memorable moments, full of meaning which felt empowering and connected us altogether as a group.
There were also copious opportunities throughout the course to have readings, massages, healing sessions and plant medicines, all infused with a strong sense of spirituality and a change of perception.
By the end of the three weeks, people were commenting that there was a noticeable difference in my face and eyes. I felt lighter and cleaner in my mind and body and it is obvious that there had been a profound shift in my personal understanding of death and the meaning of life. Besides having deepened my practice of yoga, meditation and pranayama and strengthened my spiritual resolve, I feel confident the course has given me the tools and the knowledge to be a capable and growth-orientated teacher. However, there has also been a recognition and acceptance of the most important lesson of this past twenty-one days – to truly live in the present moment, as it’s the only one that really counts.