Preparing for a chanting circle at the Sadhana Yoga Retreat (Photo: Erica Bray)
My style of travel typically involves adrenaline-inducing adventures. Safaris, scuba diving, spelunking. That sort of thing. So when I signed up for a few weeks at an ashram-like complex in Nepal, I knew that it would be a different sort of adventure. It would be an “inner” adventure.
Instead of relying on diversions in the world around me, I would be penetrating the world within myself.
Silently. Mindfully. Humbly. And holy sh—, that sort of journey can be scary. Scarier than swimming with sharks or flying a plane for the first time — both things I’ve done.
But, what better place to chart an inner adventure than the birthplace of Buddha? Surely, his legacy is so much a part of Nepal’s landscape that it would cradle such an intimate odyssey.
Overlooking Lake Fewa (Photo: Erica Bray)
The Sadhana Yoga Retreat’s swing (Photo: Erica Bray)
My sanctuary was the Sadhana Yoga Retreat. Tucked into the foothills of the Himalayas, the ashram-style compound is perched on a hill overlooking the lakeside community of Pokhara. Getting there required a flight to Kathmandu, a seven-hour bus ride, a very bumpy taxi ride, and then a steep climb on foot to the top of a hill. It’s a sweaty, arduous trek with immense reward.
The complex overlooks Fewa Lake, a serene body of water framed by rolling hills and punctuated with acrobatic paragliders and hawks floating in the sky. The chirping birds, the bells swaying in the wind, and the soft playing of mantra music provided the soundtrack to ashram life. It was an ideal setting to foster meditation. The fact that there were no televisions and spotty Wi-Fi also severed attachment to outside diversions — tough at first for this tech-dependent city girl.
Simple, spartan — yet colorful — accommodation at the Sadhana Yoga Retreat (Photo: Erica Bray)
A three-day stay starts at $132 per person; a week starts at $264 per person. This includes a shared room, all meals, and all program activities. It amounts to as little as $38 per day — slightly more if you include a master detox cleanse as part of your program. (I did not do this.)
Accordingly, accommodations are very basic, and hot water is often a gamble. In the end, you get from the experience only as much as you put in. For me, that meant setting aside any spa resort expectations. I was at a rustic spiritual retreat, not the Ritz-Carlton.
Outdoor yoga classes (Photo: Sadhana Yoga Retreat/Facebook)
Days move according to a ringing bell. It woke us at 5:30 a.m. for morning meditation. And it rang for each session start throughout the day, which ended with bedtime at 9 p.m. Then we’d start the same process again the next morning. That damned bell frustrated me for the first few days.
Every single hour of the day was filled with something: meditation, yoga, chanting, etc. There was no opportunity to think about how to fill your day. That worry was removed. This daily structure, ironically, became freeing. I paid more attention to what I was feeling and experiencing, rather than obsessively planning for the future or rehashing the past. I was plugging inward — recognizing the good, the bad, and the ugly. After a few days, I sank into the rhythm of the place and began to love that bell.
Time is a clanging bell at the Sadhana Yoga Retreat. (Photo: Erica Bray)
A packed daily schedule is the key to being present. (Photo: Erica Bray)
Along with lots of meditation and yoga led by the Sadhana’s teachers (at a pace appropriate for beginners), there were some activities that might be more “unique” to the average Western traveler, such as neti pot nasal cleansing and steam baths inside a white wooden cabinet.
My favorite time, however, was Karma Yoga. We were each assigned a task every day to help maintain the grounds and spent 30 minutes dedicated to it. As someone who hates chores, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed sweeping stairwells, cleaning statues, plucking old incense out of flowerpots, and chipping old candle wax off of candlestick holders. It became my favorite part of the day, perhaps because the slow focus on a single, simple task truly tethered me to the present moment.
One of the yoga and meditation rooms at Sadhana (Photo: Erica Bray)
Dal bhat with brown rice and veggies — delicious (Photo: Erica Bray)
The home-cooked meals always began with a group prayer, which was optional to recite. The food was simple but delicious. I ate a lot of dal bhat (lentil soup, Nepal’s most famous dish) and drank a lot of tea. I never felt hungry at Sadhana, but I also never felt full. Just don’t expect dessert. I anticipated this and packed a bag of Snickers bars, which I ate secretly in my room.
Lakeside view of Pokhara (Photo: Sadhana Yoga Retreat/Facebook)
My inner adventuring peers were a rotating mix of people from around the globe. Some stayed for a few days, others for much longer. I met an eclectic group of soul-searchers, working professionals, students, and nomadic travelers. On days when we weren’t practicing a vow of silence, the mealtime conversations were among the most thoughtful I’ve ever had.
Sadhana is not for everyone. I witnessed a few people leave early after just one day. The relatively strict schedule of meditation, yoga, and chanting likely bewildered those who thought they were coming for a more mainstream “yoga spa holiday.” You have to enter the experience with an open mind.
The author takes a steam bath in an old wooden cabinet. (Photo: Erica Bray)
Group neti pot cleanings are a daily occurrence. (Photo: Erica Bray)
The Inner Journey
During my time at Sadhana, I was confronted with repressed fears, concerns, and desires — things I didn’t know were lingering because I was so caught up in the rush-rush of my life in Chicago. That part was scary at first. But I had space to process it all, to get curious, to question the necessity of this stress without being in the midst of it.
Sweeping views of the lake (Photo: Sadhana Yoga Retreat/Facebook)
It became an adventure in how to stay present, really present, and how to be more mindful of the little details in life. The simplicity of the setting, the set schedule, and the massive amount of meditation all foster this special focus. This was a beautiful gift — worth the journey halfway around the world — and is perspective I work to integrate into my life back in Chicago.
Erica Bray is a digital content strategist, writer, and yoga teacher based in Chicago who took a self-imposed travel sabbatical that spanned Asia, Canada, and the United States. Contrary to popular assumption, her journey was not inspired by “Eat Pray Love.”