Sometimes I find myself looking back over the past 18 months and can’t help but wonder, ‘what was I thinking??’ I’ve found myself in a few odd situations – from hardcore yoga retreats to awkward Workaways – and although at the time I accepted them as acceptable (if a little challenging), I hope to never repeat such experiences.
One in particular – my month at the yoga retreat – strikes me as stranger and stranger, the more time passes.
At the time, having had very little prior exposure to yoga, I was completely naïve and soaked up the information presented to me like a thirsty sponge. When I wrote about it I breezed over the cleansing techniques because some of them are, frankly, a little gross. However, all the vomiting and poop involved makes me chuckle now, so let’s get into it, shall we?
I won’t go into detail about the philosophy of this branch of yoga, other than to say that it follows a tantric approach, is very chakra focused and has a large emphasis on the Kriyas (cleansing practices).
It was only myself and two men taking the course, and we shared a dorm and bathrooms with Workaway volunteers and guests at the hostel connected to the school. This made for an interesting dynamic because while three of us were on a demanding physical and mental journey, everyone else was just there to enjoy themselves. I confess we used to get very grumpy when Workawayers woke us up late at night, and I’m sure they found our early morning activities very irritating.
Speaking of early mornings, our morning ablutions were pretty epic.
After being presented with a Neti pot each at the start of the course, we were instructed on how to use them (in combination with warm salt water) to thoroughly flush our sinuses. My yoga teacher was a very enthusiastic user of the Neti pot and the memory of his ferocious snorts still haunt me.
After a week or two of Neti pot-ing we learned a more extreme technique for our morning routines: Vamana Dhauti. Performed on an empty stomach, this method cleans the stomach and intestinal tract. In short, you must down one liter of lightly salted water (which tastes vile, by the way) and stick your fingers down your throat until you vomit all the water back up again. Charming. After the second or third time, you will be such a skilled vomiter that it will no longer be necessary to add salt.
So, every morning before meditation we would trot off with our warm water and Neti pots to snort clear our sinuses and expertly vomit. And I honestly thought this was completely fab? It shows how skewed your perspective can be when you’re immersed in a certain type of environment. In any case, I pity any guest and volunteer who wandered near the bathrooms in the early mornings. They would have been greeted by some very odd noises.
Another suggested practice (but one I could never bring myself to do) was urine therapy. Apparently your own, first-thing-in-the-morning wee is fabulous for your immune system. One of my fellow students was a real trooper and gave it a bash, but I doubt I’ll ever convince myself.
The worst Kriya was on our final Sunday, when we set out to cleanse our intestines. We boiled liter upon liter of water, salted it heavily and equipped ourselves with a glass each. The method was simple: we would down a glass of salty water, perform a set of gut-stimulating exercises and repeat the process until the need to go to the bathroom arose. This drinking – exercising – pooping activity was supposed to continue until eventually we were pooping clear water – a signal that our intestines had been suitably scrubbed.
Have you ever chugged salty water? You will certainly want to vomit – especially if you have recently taught yourself Vamana Dhauti and are an expert vomiter – which sucks because it means you must start the whole drinking/weird exercises process again. By the end of the intestinal cleanse we were supposed to feel light and refreshed but I just wanted to crawl into a ball and sob. Salty water and intestines are not friends and places that never see the light of day were BURNING. Anyway, I’ll stop now, but basically it was not a good day.
And that was my month of hardcore yoga cleanses. In comparison to the yoga courses I’ve done since then, it was very hectic, but I have a sneaking suspicion some of the cleansing practices will resurface in my life next year in India. On the plus side, at least I know what to expect!