In 2012, I typed the words “Bahamas Yoga Retreat” into my Google search bar. What I found surprised me. Unlike the plethora of bouji, over-priced fitness retreats scattered around the Caribbean, the Bahamas is home to something very special. On the tip of Paradise Island sits a spiritual ashram known as ‘Sivananda‘.
Without an ounce of hesitation, I booked a flight and the rest is history.
When I landed in Nassau on a sweltering May morning, I asked the woman at the tourism desk how to get to the ashram. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “you will need to take a boat there.” Clearly I hadn’t done my homework.
I quickly learned that the ashram is not accessible by road – guests must take a taxi to a boat terminal on Bay Street where a small boat, run by the ashram, makes hourly runs to pick up guests.
While some tourists may find this a nuisance, most agree that it undeniably adds to the ashram’s secluded charm.
I shared my first ride over with a fellow traveler from Toronto. Well-dressed and toting a matching fleet of Rimowa luggage, I wondered if he was instead bound for Lyford Cay. Assuming that he was also a first timer, I naively asked him how he had heard of the place. He said he couldn’t remember – he had been coming for twenty years.
As I disembarked the tiny boat, I became keenly aware of how secluded it felt. Unlike Nassau, there were no tour groups or party-goers.
“Om Namah Shivaya,” a staff member said, welcoming me to the island. She took my luggage and guided me down the ashram path and into the jungle. We chit-chatted while passing under towering palm trees that lined the path.
She wore yellow. They all wore yellow. Yellow symbolizes the quest for truth on a spiritual path.
Daily Ashram Schedule
‘Gita’ introduced herself and explained the daily ashram schedule:
|5:30 am||Wake up|
|6:00 am||Satsang (or Silent Walk)|
|8:00 am||Yoga class|
|10:45 am||Karma Yoga (selfless service)|
|12:00 pm||Workshop/Lecture 1|
|2:00 pm||Workshop/Lecture 2|
|4:00 pm||Yoga class|
|7:30 pm||Satsang (8:00 pm in summer)|
|10:00 pm||Lights off|
Gita reassured me that, while the schedule seemed daunting to guests at first, most grew to cherish it by the time they left.
She also explained that guests on the Yoga Vacation Program should attend both yoga and satsang, but are free to skip the afternoon workshops to spend time at the beach. There were certain rules, though, that must be followed by yogis or vacationers alike, “There is to be no consumption of alcohol, coffee, garlic, onions or meat on the property.”
Just as I started to ask her why no onions, we rounded the corner to my beach bungalow and I was momentarily silenced by the view. On the ocean side of the island, waves roared onto a pearly white beach. The turquoise sea blended into a lilac-coloured sky. I could hardly believe this would be my home for the next seven days.
Absence of coffee, or onions for that matter, no longer seemed concerning.
I settled into my modest bungalow and then b-lined it to the beach. Time drifted away, and I found myself rushing to my inaugural yoga class on the beach platform, overlooking the ocean.
At Sivananda, all classes begin with Pranayama, a series of breathing exercises designed to maximize lung capacity and control the breath. Once the body is energized with fresh oxygen, class moves into a slow-paced, meditative form of yoga.
Sivananda yoga consists of twelve asanas designed to open the energy channels of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine. This rigorous series, comprised of back bends, spinal twists and balance postures made me feel like a broken rag doll. After two hours of pure transformative yoga, I wanted to lay in final Shavasana forever. That was, of course, until the dinner bell rang and I remembered I hadn’t eaten all day.
As the dinner bell rang, guests eagerly made their way to the kitchen. We congregated, held hands and chanted before proceeding down a buffet of fresh, vegetarian food. I was delighted to find turmeric baked tofu, spinach ginger soup, roasted sweet potatoes, warm baked bread and so much more. Everything was fresh, vibrant, appetizing and absent of animal products.
I knew very little of the yogic diet until I came to the ashram. Consisting of simple, natural ingredients, these vegetarian foods are easily digested and promote health. The yogic diet is designed to help yogis keep to a higher standard of health while instilling serenity in the mind. Ingredients such as onion and garlic are omitted because they are considered tamasic, and prone to cause mental or physical dullness.
After a satisfying meal, the day concluded at evening satsang which consisted of thirty minutes of silent meditation followed by chanting and a talk. Exhausted from a long day of travel, I snuck out and off to the most peaceful sleep I’ve had in years.
Each day passed with the predictable rhythm of ashram life. The bell sounded as we were summoned from one event to the next. Sleep was peaceful, save for the roaring waves crashing on the shore. And as they days passed, I was lulled deeper and deeper into a trance-like state of bliss. It seemed, for the first time in my adult life, I was immune to the monotonous irritants of everyday life.
Casual conversations with fellow guests revealed a multitude of reasons for coming to this holy place. For some, it was a break from grieving the loss of a loved one, for others it was simply a getaway. One women told me about her battle with cancer, and how all through it she longed to be enveloped by the sea.
Hearts were open, the gloves were down, and we shared and laughed over vegetarian meals under the clatter of palm trees swaying in the wind.
On my last day, I walked down the beach in search of the elusive (and contraband) Starbucks at the Atlantis. I glided through the resort, watching vacation goers gorge on conch fritters and Banks beer, barking at their children to lather on more sunscreen. It dawned on me that this had no appeal anymore. Life at the ashram was more than enough.
Guests all agree that the boat ride back to Nassau is very different from the boat over. The sun shines brighter, the air seems softer. Worries that hung heavy just a week prior have transformed into irrelevant details in the backdrop of life. A newly cultivated sense of peace presides over all else.
At that moment, I committed to returning to Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat Bahamas once a year. Since then I’ve been over ten times. 2020 is a different story, but I’ll be back on that boat the first moment I can.
Photos – many thanks to the talented Melissa Alcena