My second stop after NYC was Nassau, Bahamas, specifically to the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island. My experiences of Sivananda are limited to the centre in South West London, and the incredibly beautiful ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala. I had never been to the Bahamas before, so the entire experience was one that I was very much looking forward to.
I was coming to restore the balance that a crazy few weeks in London challenged, and to meet two beautiful souls that I met during a yoga teacher training on my second trip to India. Frida from Stockholm, Sara from Stuttgart (the three of us becoming known as ‘Blonde Yogi Tours’) and I all arrived separately, all intending to come together for connection and shared sense of peace.
My flight from NYC was at times bumpy, the path of the flight challenged by the tail end of seasonal bad weather. Considering the devastation that September and October’s hurricanes brought, Nassau was very lucky. To avoid the decimation experienced by the British and American Virgin Islands was a miracle. The short boat ride from Nassau to Paradise Island I imagined to be ordinarily quite pleasant, however on my arrival the rain felt like bullets hitting me in the face. Not quite why I decided to go to Bahamas! Boohoo, first world problems in my mind again – GRATITUDE…please?
Sivananda was for me where I felt a real release from an otherwise manic life for the first time. Back in 2015 I visited Neyyar Dam for the first time, and the environment was already ten out of ten in terms of what I needed at that time. Arrival onto the jetty at Sivananda Bahamas was energetically wonderful. I was met by a lady with an umbrella and chaperoned in, with smiles and fast walking to get out of the rain and checked in to my garden room.
The following thirteen days were spent practicing yoga, meditating, chanting or attending the lectures and workshops that are provided as an alternative to lounging on the beach. The last activity was spent on a beach that brought back very specific memories, imprinted so deep that only in this peaceful state was I able to appreciate fully. The two-year-old me (probably tearing up a holiday home with way-too-much-energy) saw a bucket and spade being put into the beach bag. For the first time I connected the joys of the beach (the freedom of open water, the texture of sand, and infinitely blue skies) with the bucket and spade in front of me. The reaction provoked by the site of a bucket and spade as a two year old was almost identical to the unabashed joy that the thirty-five year old self found on Paradise Island.
Each time I saw the palm trees against the turquoise waters, and my feet touched the soft white sand, I smiled and often laughed, as if from nowhere, happiness. The surroundings were almost hyper-real, somewhat unacceptable, as I looked on in disbelief for a few days.
Every day, the hours passed incredibly quickly. From the 5:30AM wake up bell that rang to tell us morning mediation was about to start, to lights out around 10PM, we somehow found a peaceful flow in our busy-ness. One hugely important thing to note is how, after just a few days spent opening my body and calming down my mind, I started to see things differently. A calm lens starts to become the thing through which I saw the world. Where frustration’s ugly grip weakened, patience took more prominence. Nature, always in my peripheral vision, suddenly became my full view. I was more aware of my words and their impact on those around me and I began to enjoy the most simple of moments.
The land upon which the ashram is built was donated by a disciple of the ashram on her passing, a hugely generous gift for the propagation of yoga. The phrase ‘unity in diversity’ is one of the first mottos that I read on a sign, and the one that stuck with me the most during my stay. People of every religion, colour, ethnicity and background were all congregating for the improvement of self, and therefore of each other. The energy is unavoidably grounding and true, the surroundings even better than a computer’s auto-screensaver – you know – the one that shows a perfect beach with perfect colours.
From time to time we would hear a distant song that we knew, a reminder of the ‘real-life’ resort next door. Atlantis, a sort of all-inclusive luxury getaway had acres of land to the East of the ashram. Morning beach walks for meditation took us to see sunrise to the side of the gigantic estate, I couldn’t estimate how many thousand people it would hold.
There were booze-cruise trips that went along the bayside of the island, along the front of the yoga platforms where beginners and intermediate/advance practice took place. With music blaring out (the kind of music that in a video has girls doing that ass-drop against big American luxury cars – coining the phrase ‘get on the bonnet) the boats would pass, usually whilst we were holding compromising poses or deep in mediation. The ironic humour of this quite brilliant juxtaposition was made even more funny by the voice of the DJ on the tannoy: “If you’d all like to look to the right, you will see the yoga ashram, where they don’t have music, or ALCOHOL”: Queue the passengers cheering and waving in disbelief. The feeling of being in some sort of yogic zoo was received with full acceptance by the knowledge of that type of cruise. More or less everyone in the ashram knows what that cruise is about, knows the consumption of alcohol, and for whatever reason just aren’t in that place at this moment, or indeed any longer.
These moments made me smile from my heart. It was so much fun to be reminded of where I had come from, the journey I had taken so far. There was no judgment, simply acceptance for where I was, and where they were, onlookers into a space and theme that they perhaps didn’t or weren’t ready to understand. The distance between us reminded me of the need for coexistence, the need for acceptance of others with no judgment. There was a time in my life when I would probably have looked at the ashram and judged it, purely because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know the profound and powerful joy I would find in sobriety, in sharing good vibrations with likeminded people that all respect the need for space and peace. I also didn’t know how just how far clean living and thinking would bring me.
I can say that I was guilty of judgement, ironic considering I am a 6’6”, blond, gay man who also happens to be vegan and into yoga. I often think I couldn’t be more of a square peg in a round hole. So truly I ask myself the question, ‘who the hell am I to judge?’ On the flipside of that, who the hell is anyone else?
Unity in diversity… Amen.