Shrouded in mist, the yoga pavilion sighs with guests working their way through the Sun Salutation routine. Despite the obscene hour and chilly morning, I’m in a state of bliss. Who am I? I don’t normally “do” early mornings, or even yoga for that matter, and yet I’m happily performing my poses in a dreamlike state.
We unravel our bodies into horizontal positions beneath our blankets with the intention of emptying our minds as our bendy instructor guides us through a meditation session. White robes seemingly appear from nowhere billowing a trail of incense in their wake. Truth be told, I’m a bit distracted by my stomach grumbling in anticipation of a bowl of steaming hot porridge, rice and lentil balls with coconut chutney, fresh fruit and freshly ground coffee; praise the Lord, or Ganesh, caffeine is on the menu.
You’d never believe that just an hour away the wonderful madness of Bangalore thrives with opulent palaces and Lamborghini showrooms. This isn’t the India many visitors expect to find and Shreyas Yoga Retreat isn’t like any health retreat I’ve ever encountered. Understated luxury is an understatement especially if your definition of a retreat is to leave your own reality and delve entirely into yourself; mind, body and soul.
Shreyas sleeps up to 28, yet for now there’s just 13 of us lucky guests from all walks of life; including my 11-year-old daughter who with some gentle coaxing approaches the vegetarian menu, yoga and chanting with mild amusement. Families are more than welcome and in fact one of the guests commends me on exposing my cherub to such a wonderful experience and plans on doing the same when her own daughter is of a similar age. Seventy-two staff members tend to our every whim without us even releasing it most of the time; someone always seems to be on hand to answer the questions which haven’t even popped into our heads yet. My favourite act of kindness however is the shoe turning: whenever I enter a building and remove my sandals they are magically facing in the right direction for me to slip my feet into when I leave. This isn’t a deed of subservience but instead a belief that no-one is superior or inferior and is only performed if someone happens to walk by and notices the shoes are facing the wrong direction. The exact balance of discretion and service is an art very few retreats have mastered as seamlessly as Shreyas.
Hundreds upon hundreds of freshly cut marigolds and roses from local nurseries adorn the grounds as playful squirrels flit across paths for secret tree meetings. Inspired by the Rajasthan style, the private tented garden cottages embrace the natural surroundings with open bathrooms and patios designed to while away the day in between sessions. The rooms are aptly awarded Sanskrit names like shanti meaning peace or vairagya meaning detachment. The three bedroom cottage is perfect for groups or families while the poolside cottages inspire midnight swims. As the General Manager Balaji (name) says, “It’s a home away from home.” When can I move in?
Despite the daily schedule, nothing ever feels rushed and there is never any obligation to participate if you don’t feel like it. One of the few decisions to make is whether to enjoy the company of the kingfishers or parrots, find a secret place to flop like the private pavilion overlooking the community garden or round up the troupes for game of cricket; of course there’s a cricket pitch, this is India after all. If I could bare to leave the grounds, I might also take an excursion to one of the local villages, temples, markets or visit the nearby orphanage with food sourced from the property. A synchronised abhyanga Ayurveda massage performed by two therapists working in unison is suggested; I surrender and grateful another decision is made for me especially considering the number of treatments on the day spa menu.
Shreyas is deemed as one of the finest yoga retreats around and fellow guest Annemaree Rowley of yoga tour company Cool Calm Collected agrees, “Imagine a stunningly beautiful, rustic, peaceful yogic oasis amidst 25 acres of natural surrounds. The yoga takes me back to my original training, classical and gently presented. The service is impeccable, so attentive and considerate. The delightful cuisine is vegetarian at its best. But what sets Shreyas apart from anywhere I have been? It’s cosy! Comfort, no matter where I sit, lie down or curl up. I feel as though I am a guest in someone’s home alight with not only candles but with love.”
Even the staff participate in daily yoga and chanting sessions. A wonderful perk of the job given guests reign from all over the world for the yoga and approximately 40% are repeat customers with many returning annually on a quest to indulge in limitless yoga, lose weight, un-wind from their busy lives or to work through relationship or emotional issues. One such practice is Yoga Nidra which builds on pratyahara, referring to the withdrawal of the senses, and is likened to a conscious deep sleep designed for spiritual exploration. It’s one of the deepest kinds of relaxation and reduces tension and other ailments and after just one session I was enlightened; regardless of whether you’re experiencing pleasure or pain, you’re always going to be left yearning, whether that be for more pleasure or less pain. Indeed, as months later I crave even just one more day at Shreyas.
On our final night, a candlelit dinner awaits in the garden by a warming bonfire. The nights and early mornings are crisp during a southern Indian winter, but many a fair skin will suffer beneath the sun’s intensity during the day. Tonight’s delicious menu begins with a soup of tomato and mint shorba and a beetroot, cucumber and dill salad, followed by okra with baby onion, saute ridge gourd, pink lentils with multi grain roti and brown rice with yoghurt and pappadum with a grand finale of grilled pineapple with orange sauce and fresh fruits. Most of the ingredients are sourced from the onsite organic garden and before the food is prepared, the staff chant a prayer. The menu is customised based on the initial consultation with an Ayurveda doctor depending your personal health requirements and tastes.
Every aspect of Shreya’s is dedicated to embracing the holistic philosophy of yoga to cleanse the body, calm the mind and energise the soul. I suspect few guests miss the absence of room service and instead enjoy a gentle stroll through the lush gardens to the restaurant, or a TV in their room as there’s a luxurious theatre room, or meat or alcohol on the menu. Especially when you have the luxury to indulge entirely to your wellbeing within the exotic embrace of Indian hospitality.
Getting there: Fly into Bangalore from most major Asian capitals and Shreyas will greet you at the airport.
Rates: Nightly rates start at US$280 single share but few guests stay for one night. Packages include Silent Retreats, Ayurveda Rejuvenation, Yoga Retreats, The Joy of Giving, Wellness for the Soul, Weight Management and Culinary Experiences. Prices include accommodation, meals, group yoga sessions and use of all the facilities.