Yoga moments at Sandele Eco-Retreat
There’s something about doing yoga outside, closer to nature
and the elements. At Sandele Eco-retreat in The Gambia the opportunity
beckons you with two gorgeous outdoor yoga shalas – one on the beach and one in
a clearing amongst the palm trees in the dunes.
Both locations have a tranquil and serene energy unlike anything an
indoor yoga studio can ever achieve.
Sandele hosts yoga circles regularly with a variety of teachers and when there isn’t a retreat happening there will most likely be a session going on either in the morning or the evening, run by either Geri, one part of the dynamic duo couple who run Sandele, or one of the two members of staff from the local community preparing to go to India for yoga teacher training.
I arrived at Sandele half way through a yoga retreat run by Sherina Russell and I was welcomed with open arms into their group. Eager, keen and unused to the laid back pace of Sandele, I arrived at the shala in the dunes the first afternoon a few minutes earlier than the agreed time. No one was there. I soon decided I must be in the wrong place, striding off with my mat to try and locate the group who I by now was sure had started their practice on the beach.
Getting well and truly lost in the dunes, I ended up back at the palm tree shala, warmed up, or more to the point covered in sweat brought on my determined march in the sinking, yet still hot sun! By now a few members of the group were there, recently emerged from what looked like the cocoon of an afternoon nap. I took note to slow down my pace a notch (or five!).
As we started our practice, the creaking of the palms accompanied our shifting from position to position and as I looked up I saw a magnificent creature, a huge vulture swooping through the palms, presumably on the look out for dinner. Geri calls them “clean-up eagles” which I think is a superb way of describing them. Somehow the word “vulture” has been burdened with negativity over time, although these animals play a vital role in our eco-system.
As we lay in relaxation after the practice, a tiny crescent moon against the pale blue evening sky was just visible between the palm fronds and a sense of supreme comfort and a feeling of being in exactly the right place coursed through my body.
The next morning’s session was more energetic and took place at the beach shala to the soundtrack of the waves of the Atlantic ocean crashing onto the deserted beach. It took me a little while to shake off sleep, mornings not being one of my strengths, but once I got going it was wonderful. There was an energizing breeze coming in from the sea and when I closed my eyes I could see a rainbow of colours from the rising sun. As I opened them again, I was again met by the sight of clean up eagles, this time three of them circling above the beach.
Apart from the spectacular setting of Sandele and the joy of practicing yoga outside, it is telling that the moment when I felt the furthest out of my comfort zone is one of the most memorable. Sherina, the teacher, is from a drama background and we did an exercise I had never encountered before called “active listening”. The challenge was to pair up and take turns to talk, uninterrupted, out of the blue for an extended period of time to your partner, a person I hardly knew. Had you asked me before the event, I might have said that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m a writer, I describe stuff all the time - right?
The reality was very different and going first was enough to send me into ostrich-mode, mentally searching for the nearest hole to stick my mind in. My partner was instructed to show no signs of acknowledgement and to keep talking was so much harder than I could have imagined. My innermost fears of the blank sheet came flooding out, virtual writers/speakers block making me cringe to my core. Why was I so uncomfortable with this? Am I really that self-censoring and worried about people’s approval. Probably more than I thought – not a bad thing to be aware of!
After a few days the retreat finished and the rest of the group left. At first I felt in a complete void, the silence almost noisy. Rather than going to the yoga shala alone, I ventured up on my roof terrace at sunset for a few gentle stretches, nothing to strenuous, to segue myself into this new, quieter space. As the sun set, my mind slowly adjusted after days of having a symphony of voices around me.
The best time to visit The Gambia is October-April and Sherina is running another yoga retreat at Sandele in November. There are also many other retreats planned for the upcoming season - contact Sandele for more details.