Located in the Blue Mountains, the Yoga in Daily Life retreat in Dungog, NSW offers people an escape from the struggles of everyday life. It allows guest to get in touch with nature, spend time away from technology, eat right and just be. But this tranquility takes a bit of work. In early stages of development, the property requires a lot of building and development. On top of that, spending time on your own focusing on spirituality, among other things you don’t usually think about, can be a bit of a struggle, mentally.
For some this retreat is an instant wonder. For others it may be a bit of a challenge. But people who embrace it may just leave with a little peace of mind and enthusiasm to continue practicing a yogi lifestyle.
As soon as I arrived on the 640-hectare property, I was introduced to numerous things I had never heard of before. First, was compost toilets. These are dry toilets. People release on a seat, which is the same as usual toilets and waste goes into a hole in the ground, but instead of flushing, people throw some saw dust into the hole. It may not smell so great, but it preserves water and is a daily reminder that no one’s shit smells of roses.
A bucket of sawdust from inside a compost toilet at the retreat. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Preserving water is a big part of the property. It has numerous metal tanks that collect rain water. The collected rain water is used for everything as there are no other sources of available for use there. The only drawback to using rain water is it lacks the minerals of water from the ground or streams. This makes the water softer, which is harder to wash with and is also not as nutritious as water with minerals. However, in a world of dwindling water sources, it’s a great option.
Water tanks connected to the kitchen at the retreat. Photo by Bobbi lee Hitchon
Since the faucets are hooked up to outdoor tanks, the water comes out at whatever temperature it is in those tanks. On hot days, it’s a bit warmer, but most of the time it’s cool. People need to bring a bucket of water to shower, so if they want a hot shower, they have to boil water on the stove. The same is true for washing clothes, which is obviously by hand.
None of these things bothered me. I figured it was just a lifestyle I needed a few days to get used to and it would be second-nature. I was most nervous about lack of electricity. There was some, but it was powered by generators, which were only to be run for a short amount of time at night. Further, there was no internet available for public use. Spending so much time online, I thought I would really struggle not being able to check my emails and what not, but I actually didn’t even think about it much. Between the work we were given, cooking, reading and learning about the other people there, there was plenty to do. In fact, the one time I retreated to my caravan to do some things on my computer I felt like I was missing out on happenings in the kitchen.
Living in a caravan was nothing out of the usual. The beds and other things were the same as what most would expect at most homes. The only thing I didn’t like was having to walk outside to the toilets at night, because there were leaches on the ground among other wild life, plus it was cold. But even that I got used to and actually enjoyed after awhile because the sky at night was like nothing I had ever seen before. One night a bright moon was out surrounded by clouds, allowing the stars to shine extremely bright as well. It’s hard to keep your head down.
Lise and my caravan at the retreat. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
In fact, it’s hard to stay focused on wherever you’re going all the time, because the views from the retreat are so incredible. Sometimes the sky would be blue and we’d have a clear view of endless mountain ranges, which indeed looked blue. Hence the name I suppose. Other times it be a little cloudy/rainy and there would be a mist over the closest mountain to us. The rain sessions always ended with rainbows, which were the largest I have ever seen. Finally, there were two times when it was so foggy on the top of the mountain, I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me. It looked like the whole retreat had been swallowed by a cloud.
I saw several rainbows at the retreat. They made all the rain worthwhile. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
It was unusually cool while I stayed there and it rained a lot. It really felt like Autumn in Northeast America without foliage. My favorite thing to do was sit on the kitchen balcony, which of course had a brilliant view of the Blue Mountains, feet dangling and a warm, large porcelain cup of tea in hand, which I held with my sweater-wrapped hands. I’d sit out there before dinner and would come in when the aroma from the kitchen smelled too good to avoid.
Great food, no meat
Only vegetarian cooking is allowed on the property. Lakshmana, a yoga monk living at the retreat, explained that in yoga not eating meat is important, because it helped people form compassion.
I’m currently not a vegetarian. I’ve tried in the past, but failed. I wasn’t at all upset about having to eat vegetarian while staying at the retreat. I just didn’t really know how to cook for a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians must consider adding things to their diet to replace the protein lost by not eating meat. This basically means replacing pork, beef and fish with lentils, beans and chickpeas, so it’s not that hard.
Anyone who is thinking, “Yuck, vegetables,” or “I just can’t live without meat,” should think again. I like eating meat. I love cheesesteaks and gyros, but the food at the retreat was some of the best I’ve ever had. Almost everything involved turmeric. Plus there was a lot of experimenting with other spices by people from various cultures.
WWOOFing at the retreat were Veronica, who is from Italy, Lise, who is from France and myself. Unfortunately, I’m hooked to cookbooks at this point, so I didn’t really contribute much. But Veronica and Lise, who act like it’s nothing, are wonderful cooks. Maybe it’s just part of their cultures to know about spices, what goes well together and what not. None of us were chefs, yet they knew so much about it and I had absolutely know idea.
Further, since yoga is based in India, there were a lot of Indian influences. Lakshmana has been to India several times and had recipes to share, such as bhati. Suphduvmuni, another yogi that used to live on the retreat and now lives close by, shared chapati-making with us. Veronica, who also WWOOFed at Yoga in Daily Life in Brisbane, shared some recipes she picked from people along the way. Finally, Lise made this pumpkin soup, which tasted a little Indian-influenced, but came from a New Zealand, vegetarian cook book.
Lakshmana made curry to go with the chapatis. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Pumpkin is very popular on this side of the world. The vegetable, which I only really used to make jack-o-lanterns up until about a year ago, is used in heaps of dishes here. We ate quite a bit while I was at the retreat as well as yams. I said almost every night there, “I feel like it’s Thanksgiving!”
Lantana in Daily Life
All the great views and food came with a price though. WWOOF is an exchange. WWOOFers exchange many things with their hosts, but first and foremost is work for food and accommodation. I guess since the food was so great, the work had to match it.
Our job at the retreat was to weed lantana. Like many things in Australia, this is a weed brought by the English, that flourished beyond expectations. It’s everywhere in the bush. There’s even more lantana then there are blackberry bushes.
The amount only adds to an already frustrating plant to weed. If you’re picturing a few girls walking around pulling out flowered weeds with their hands, think again. These weeds are actually trees. Their roots can stretch meters. So instead, picture three girls with axes and poison, cursing in three different languages.
Lise, in the driver's seat and I, on top of the ute, unloading the last of the lantana. Photo provided.
Further, this weed is deceptive. It has thorns. Unlike blackberry bushes, they’re very small, but just as destructive. In fact, the three of us looked like we got into a fight with a pack of wild cats after just a day of weeding. Scratches all over our arms, some on our necks, faces and so on.
Finally, there really was no rhyme or reason to where or what we weeded. We were weeding the sides of the 1.5 km road up to the retreat. This needs to be done to coincide with fire regulations for fear of bush fires. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say we weeded the bush.
Before I came to Australia, I read a lot about venomous snakes and poisonous spiders. What I found is that these things are usually in the bush, so I thought, “Pshh, I just won’t go there.” I recalled this thought when my head was in a lantana tree, a spider was on my back and any number of snakes had the perfect opportunity to hunt human. Somehow, someway, I didn’t see any snakes. I saw heaps of spiders, but none were poisonous, I think. The only thing that really bothered me were leaches, which live in the grass and come out especially in the rain. These were tiny leaches with stripes.
Luckily there were heaps of kangaroos to make up for all the creep critters. I loved riding in the back of the ute to work in the morning and watching them bounce in front of or beside the truck. With my thick wellington boots on, an ax close by and long gloves, I felt like I was on a safari in Africa rather than bush-weeding down under.
Yoga and spirituality
The food and lifestyle at Yoga in Daily Life is all part of yoga. I’m only going to explain what I learned there, because I am obviously not knowledgeable enough about yoga to give a full explanation, so take this section as you did the rest. If you want to learn more, please look into other sources and form your own opinion.
Obviously yoga is the most important thing at the retreat, but “yoga” may be different from how others practice and perceive it. The only view and experience I had with yoga before coming to the retreat was through classes at my gym and centers. I saw it as a great stretch and sometimes even good workout. I heard the instructors talking about the poses and sometimes spirituality, but kind of avoided it.
So when I came to the retreat and saw how earth and animal conscience they were, it kind of made me feel like all these practices I had done only brushed the top of what yoga is and almost a lie. People in the classes I went to would relax from their hectic lives, sometimes even wearing the stereotypical clothing, to take part in this ancient practice that is really just one part of the whole thing, only to hop in their SUVs, destroying the earth with gas emissions and stop at Starbucks on their five-minute drive home. It really got to me, because that was me (except with a Honda).
I learned at the retreat that the “exercise/stretching” aspect is an important, but small part of the overall practice.
The first morning at the retreat, Lakshmana asked Lise and I if we were interested or had any experience with yoga. I told him mine. Lise had none. We were both open to listening and learning about it. Then he asked us if we believed in an after life (Do you believe you die or just your body). We answered and he said, “There’s no point in committing to it if you don’t.”
The goal of yoga is self-realization. Through meditation, a lifestyle that’s courteous to the land and other species and education people spend their lives achieving wisdom about more than just tangible things. It’s not the unknown, because they say things really happen in meditation, etc. but it is things most people don’t see. I say, “They say” not to demean, but because I have never experienced it myself.
All this is to be not rewarded but wiser in the after life. I assumed this meant reincarnation, but Lakshmana said it’s any form of after life. With that in mind, yoga opens up to more religions then Hindu.
There are other organizations led by other gurus, but Yoga in Daily Life is led by Paramhans Swami Maheshwaranda. One of the things the organization and he is well-known for is spreading the practice to the West. Originally from India, Swami is based in Vienna and visited the Eastern Block a lot during communism and still.
Yoga, the way I knew it, is for good health, but is also a supplement to meditation, which seems to be most important.
In the beginning, when I felt like I was living a lie, I kind of wanted to stop the practices until I learned more about it and whether it was what I believed. I told Veronica about it and she said, “It’s not so black and white.” For some reason that really stuck with me. Yoga is proven to be really good for the body and if the relaxation can give people at least some peace of mind, isn’t that part of the overall goal?
I am going to continue practicing yoga but be more mindful of my place in the world and how everything in it corresponds.
As for religion and spirituality, it’s hard for me to give a definitive answer right now. I was raised Christian and I am definitely not an atheist or agnostic, but my relationship with religion is shaky. I’m not really sure what I believe, but up until the retreat I made every attempt to avoid thinking about it.
Discussing it with Lakshmana and the other girls so openly, made me feel safer to start investigating my beliefs. I think this is because for the first time in my life, religion/spirituality was discussed without any kind of pressure. Lakshmana answered my questions and told me his beliefs, but that was it. It was there for me to take it how I may.
Throughout my stay at Yoga in Daily Life I kept thinking how I wanted to share it with others. I’m extremely happy I went, lantana and all.