How amazing it is to be back in Nepal, feeding that pang in my soul, that yearn to return. It is always good to follow your heart, listen to your inner voice; self care. Hard to think it’s been a little over two years since I was here last, since I entered the temple and felt that calm and stillness that pointed out how glaringly turmoil-filled my life had become, since I discovered a need to put myself first or face burning out and fading away, since I started this blog. It was the beginning of my own vision, exploration of the divine wisdom, of trusting in the abundance of the Universe and in synchronicity.  It is also a little over two years since my heart was broken hearing of the devastation caused by the earthquake that happened days after my return to Ireland. It quickly put my problems into perspective. How and why did that happen these beautiful people, the closest thing I have come across to angels on Earth? The resilience and spirit of the people of Nepal is admirable, humbling and bittersweet. All anyone can do is carry on.

The peace and beauty here in the hills of Annapurna is incredible. Himalayan mountains ensconcing us are a steadfast and mighty entity, emanating their own majestic energy. Serenity and levity in the air penetrates your soul. The simple pleasures and wonders here are joys to behold and remind you of just how big the little things can be – fireflies dancing at night, twinkling lights of Pokhara town reflected on the placid and still Fewa lake, the ferocious roar of thunder and crack of blinding lightning leaving the air electric, that smell of the earth after a rainstorm. Placed proudly atop a hill, the World Peace Pagoda, brilliant white against the blue sky, watches over us all. Flowers in the garden display their colourful pretty heads due to the delicate care shown by an elderly gardener in tending to them. Constant sounds surround, such as bees buzzing, crickets chirping, sweet birdsong, noisy cicadas at night. On a sunny day,  paragliders taking off from Sarangkot cast beautiful colours against the clouds, floating carefree and happily. Butterflies flutter past delicately, in a similar manner, and may rest lazily upon you,  utterly unafraid. In the mornings a thick mist has descended that completely disguises the mountains and leaves you feeling as though you have left the Earth far, far below. It is so easy to appreciate the tranquility, and recognise the simple miracles of the Universe in a sanctuary like this.

I love the infectious, musical sunshine of the people who work here; the melodious laughter, the cooks singing traditional Nepali songs in the kitchen as they prepare our delicious and nutritious meals, the house keepers giggling, gossiping and singing along to pop music on their phones. The staff and yogis here emit a serene aura and purity that is rare, and have beautiful, gentle souls. Always wiling to help, their patience, warmth and encouragement makes them a pleasure to be around. I picked up many nuggets of wisdom, and thoughts on Western yoga such as,

“There is no such thing as advanced or beginner yoga. Yoga is not about flexibility, it is a state of mind. If you are stretching, but not mindfully, it is exercise. You can be more flexible than I, but that makes you a gymnast, not a yogi.”

Or an anecdote after satsang (enlightened discussion/ Q & A) about modern preoccupation with instayoga-ism, photo ops and yogic fashion statements; overly complex poses that look great on camera but simplified versions have the same effect. Viewing the practice as a type of exercise for developing a taut stomach, only practicing one branch; hatha (the “asanas” or Iyengar postures) and labelling it “yoga”  (then selling which is essentially a single type of yoga under various fad names e.g Yin, bikram, ashtanga, vinyasa, flow, dynamic, power…) and rarely offering more depth or explaining the meditative side (or seven other limbs of yoga),

“If a frog is in shallow water, and kicking kicking kicking it will never get higher, it needs water to raise to the next level.”

Indeed, much white-washing, cultural appropriation and “a-la-carte”-ism of this ancient lifestyle takes place in the West. I was also unknowingly guilty of this, sucked in and misinformed. The instructors, however view this with grace, acceptance and good humour.

Yoga classes here are glorious, such as the either challenging or restorative hatha classes with the satisfying stretching of my tight muscles and feeling of accomplishment seeing my asanas improve. Nada yoga, soothing vibrational sound baths take you on relaxing, trippy cosmic journeys and raise your chakras, through the magic of singing bowls & gongs. During the evenings, yoga nidra (body scan) gets me closer and closer to thinking that I may actually be physically levitating, my spirit on another plane entirely, hovering deliciously between awake and asleep in a state of conscious “yogic sleep”. In the 6 a.m. meditation classes I am taught about the “eight limbs of yoga” and gently reminded that when my mind inevitably wanders to, “bring it back, pull it back”. I love the collective “Om” when our voices vibrate at the same frequency, and its corresponding note on the harmonium which resonates like the mysterious almost inaudible “hum” I often hear from the Earth itself.  I believe I have reached the famous “bliss” or samadhi, or some level of it, where all my senses are heightened, yet I am detached, and in slow motion. A feeling of chills comes over me as I realise I have stilled my mind, like the last flakes softly falling in a snow globe. I adore that quiet both inside and surrounding me. How wonderfully addictive it is to have a feeling of truth and clarity, a feeling of being connected, a direct hotline with the Universe.

I especially love daily bhakti yoga, chanting and kirtan (reciting). It is my favourite meditation, and having always had the ability to get lost in a song, and feel at one with it, it is the easiest way for me to achieve unity of mind, body & spirit. My first experience involved Agni (a young instructor with the reverent, mystical aura, and appearance, of a Saadhu, or Holy man as often found in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square) throwing himself completely into the chants, drumming, beautifully singing without a trace of self consciousness (“Do not hide your light” he advises us) or playing harmonium creating a heartfelt, trance inducing atmosphere with his passion. The power of chanting is palpable. The sheer joy, peace and feeling of being uplifted is contagious. There’s a submission, unity and innate understanding that comes from being together,  a collective consciousness, in reciting these ancient mantras.  With their deep and ancient resonating truth, wisdom and familiarity they have the power to draw me inward, almost hypnotically. I was left really emotional, shaken even, after an intense mantra performed by Agni, his ability to capture attention and invoke emotions is awe inspiring.  Afterwards he gently patted my arm as a comfort, all knowing, as though it happens him all the time. A memory I want to hold forever came when Suzetta, the housekeeper’s charismatic nine year old daughter, who had been playing a shaker and singing, decided to stand up and dance. She demonstrated the traditional hip shaking, foot tapping, spin filled dancing complete with all of the graceful hand movements and was absolutely delighted with herself. It was so impossibly joyous to witness. I wasn’t even sure of what I was feeling, but my heart was so full, I couldn’t help smiling, and hoping that the beautiful messages that we sent outward were having the same positive, healing effect on humankind and the planet as they had on me.

Here at Purna Yoga Retreat I easily reflect. In many ways I have come full circle, and beyond, having soul-deep peace and a hard-won self mastery. Confident that as long as I trust my instincts and follow the signs, I will be fine, always protected, always able to carry on no matter what life throws at me. To be here now, knowingly on the right path, healing and self-caring, a content, fulfilled (and far wiser) person who has achieved a dream of travel,  and continually working towards growth, spirituality and independence is something to be so thankful for. I am filled with a contentedness, peace and joy in my heart that can only be found in Nepal. A place special to me always.