SWAN: 9 days in the clouds
So I’ve just came off the back of 9 unforgettable days living in an Indian ashram.
One of the reasons I chose to travel through India was to develop my spiritual knowledge. After extensively researching where might be best for me to fulfill this desire to learn, I found SWAN Retreat.
Set on an exuberantly lush hillside in the jungles of North Goa, SWAN is a Yogic eco-village where students from around the world come to rejuvenate their bodies and reset their souls.
The retreat is ran by a group of Indians who’re comprehensively schooled in the ancient science and philosophy of Yoga. Founder Gyanmitra and his fellow teachers, Om & Shivendra, radiated a positive and calming energy from day one thus allowing me to completely relax and engage with their teachings.
The insight I gained was profound and my gratitude for the wisdom I’ve been provided runs deep. There is a definite new-found sense of awareness flowing through me and I’ve been inspired to act more often out of love, out of joy and out of service. So today, whilst they’re still fresh in my mind, I’d like to share some of my experiences in the ashram with you.
The daily program started at 6am at the temple where myself and a group of fellow devotees would participate in the sacred Havan ritual. This involved sitting and making offerings into a consecrated fire whilst chanting the Gayatri mantra.
Gyanmitra & the Gayatri Mantra
The vibrations created when reciting this particular mantra are known to bestow wisdom and enlightenment upon those partaking.
Directly following Havan, we’d enter into a 30 minute meditation under Gyanmitra’s guidance. This typically involved a series of visualitions and breathing techniques, with the ultimate aim of silencing all thoughts.
To begin with this was extremely difficult for me. My mind was wandering all over the place – brooding over past events or planning future ones. But after persevering I gradually came to uncover a world beyond thoughts – a consciousness beyond the mind – not dependent on it.
For me it was hard to stay in this state of awarness for very long during Gyan’s meditation sessions, but whilst there it was a blissful, joyous place to be. When the mind becomes naturally quiet, you find out who you really are. You discover your source. With the mind transcended, the spiritual consciousness shines.
After meditation, our group would reflect together in the dining area. Here we’d drink herbal tea and eat organic fruit that was often grown on-site, usually consisting of papaya, pineapple, mango and pomegrante. At 8am we’d practice Yoga Asanas (postures) with Om at the Yoga shala. Located at the top of the hill, the Yoga shala is a spacious open air build, bound by mosquito nets and perfectly suited to practice whilst being immersed in the jungle.
The Yoga Shala
Asanas are acknowledged to be techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, and concentration. Combined with Pranayama (breath control techniques that Om also taught us), Asanas are sceintifically proven to open energy channels and psychic centers; we used them to attain higher awareness, enabling the exploration of the body, mind and subtle states.
As somebody who’s always suffered with stiff joints and muscles, particularly around my hips and lower back, I struggled with many of the Asanas. My body simply wouldn’t allow me to get into some of the postures Om prescribed for us.
However, after practicing Asanas & Pranayama every morning and evening of my stay at SWAN, I detected a tangible improvement in the range of movement throughout my body. As my tension released and stiff joints unlocked, I invariably left Asana sessions with a gratifying sense of openness and serene energy.
At 10am and 5.30pm we’d meet at the dining area to eat. The food at Swan was a delight and far exceeded my expectations – the best cuisine I’ve experienced anywhere in India so far, and that’s no mean feat!
Food is regarded as medicine within the ashram. Using only fresh seasonal herbs and organic vegetables from regional farmers or their own garden, SWAN’s Ayurvedic meals are designed to support the healing of the body and enhance the Yogic purification processes. Personally I found the food to be extremely clean, full of natural flavour and wonderfully nourishing.
In the mid-afternoon we’d normally attend an hourly ‘Yoga philosophy’ class where one of the teachers would give a lecture on any number of wide ranging topics relating to the five thousand year old science that is Yoga. This was always a great opportunity for us to engage in open discussions to further deepen our understanding of the spiritual approach being taught.
One lesson that I really took on board was the relationship between religion and spirituality; although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they really indicate two different aspects of the human experience. The teachers at SWAN illuminated this beautifully for us.
Different religions can look quite unlike one another. Some participants bow to colourful statues of deities, others listen to inspired sermons while dressed in their Sunday best, and yet others set out their prayer rugs five times a day to bow their heads to the ground. Regardless of these different outer manifestations of worship, the essence of religion is spirituality, and the essence of spirituality is God or the Supreme Being.
Spirituality is beyond all religions yet containing all religions. As we move along the path towards the Truth, we begin to realise that every image of divinity – whether it be Shiva, Krishna, Jesus or Buddha – is just one more face of our own, eternally ever-present God.
For anybody wishing to discover more about the Yogic lifestyle: I can’t recommend SWAN highly enough. The team have created an accepting, trusting and relaxing environment; they all live within the ashram as a family and are waiting to welcome you with open arms, provided you come with an open heart and willingness to learn.
If you’d like to know more about the ashram you can find more information here.
Thanks for reading; feel free to comment below and share your own experiences 🙂
Hari Om Tat Sat.