Date: 17 May
Location: Fat Camp. Ok, actually yoga camp in the Neydo Monastry in the Kathmandu hills — but it really should be fat camp given how much I've been eating of late.
Notable sightings: so many monks.
Coming from a life so well-planned – 6.15am yoga Tuesday and Friday; work 9am to God-Knows-When pm each weekday; dinner at work with whosoever else is lucky enough to be there still; Friday drinks on Collins Street, breakfast with miscellaneous friend on Saturday morning; drinks with miscellaneous friends Saturday night followed by market; washing and grocery shopping Sunday — having a rogue empty week to fill is a wonderfully unusual prospect. There are too many choices! Explore Kathmandu using Thamel as a base? Fly to Tibet for a few days? Bus it to Pohkara and find a short trek in the Annapurnas? Hike around Nagarkot with 270 degree Himalaya views? I was pinballing around from wonderful option to wonderful option.
Then, by chance, I saw the pamphlet pinned upon the Kathmandu Guest House bulletin board, partially obscured by 'Sex With Children Is Illegal' poster and a notice advertising cheap Hindi lessons. The pamphlet was for a yoga studio and, in particular, their 'Weekend In The Hills'. Which started at 7am the following day. I was signed up in minutes. The email confirmation included a packing list. First items? 'Your hopes and dreams; your fears and weaknesses.' What the holy hell kind of weekend had I signed up for?!
Turns out, a pretty perfect one.
The setting is the dramatic hilltop Neydo Monastry, a working Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastry about an hour from Kathmandu. The room we're using as a studio is part of the temple — right behind the three storey high gold Buddha — and looks out over Kathmandu. You can see eagles circle outside as you tree pose. It's only permitted to walk around the temple in a clockwise direction so if you forget your water bottle and have to go back to your room it's laps for you.
The schedule intimidates me. There's a lot of thinking time.
My fellow yogis seem a nice enough flock (what is the plural for a group of yogis? An 'ohm'? A 'studio'? A 'lycra'?). Actually, visually, they're not different to what you'd find in a cozy South Yarra yoga class at One Hot — that is, healthy-looking, well-groomed twenty and thirty something females with a smattering of males. It's the UN of yoga and in the mix are a Finnish forrestation worker who's so blonde and pale she must be albino, a Dutch girl who's just spent a month volunteering Afghanistan at a circus therapy school for traumatised children (!), a Washington human rights lawyer with Strident Feminist written all over her, a trio of Nepali uni boys, a Peruvian-born Yemeni (!), a German-born Cambodian-resident humanitarian guy, mother and daughter Spaniards and a bottle-blonde London-based cashmere importer who's going to show me where to get top notch cashmere in Thamel for USD$50 when we get back. (I'd be a terrible Buddhist.) Annie, organiser, is English-Zimbabwean and our teacher for the weekend is a Ukrainian girl who pronounces 'mouth' as 'mouse'. She's wonderful and kept even my gnat-like attention engaged throughout a 2.5 hour pranayama (yogic breathing) and asana (yoga poses) session this morning but every time she says 'breathe out your mouse' my zen cracks just a little and I want to laugh.
Over lunch, Strident Feminist proved that she is well suited to the moniker I'd pre-emptively assigned to her. She quizzed the Bottle Blonde about the balance of sexes employed by her cashmere suppliers; she was outraged that this monastry doesn't have a sister nunnery; she's against Buddhism as the scriptures feature all men and no women and she visibly cringed at my use of the word 'craftsman' ('craftsperson' being the optimal choice). I am not having the best run with Americans this trip. Other than that lunch was pleasantly mellow save for the fact that it seemed designed to highlight for me that while I, the unemployed corporate lawyer, wander around the planet self indulgently working myself out, my companions are all actively saving the world. It also reminded me that it's possible to love what you do.
Tonight should be interesting. After dinner is scheduled meditation, following which it's recommended you observe mouna, or yogic silence, all the way through until the end of tomorrow morning's yoga sessions – around 10am. We'll see who cracks first.
“I am not having the best run with Americans this trip.”
And this is why whenever I travel and am asked if I’m American, I have to say, “Yeah, sorry.”
One of the Chicago girls I met introduces herself as Canadian (total accent fail though).