Yoga in Sri Lanka

On my way back to the Motherland in February, I popped by Sri Lanka (with the boy) and spent two weeks in stunning locations lazing by the pool / beach and eating delicious food (ah, what a life!) I also managed to get some blissful yoga practices in and met two wonderful teachers who I would like to share with you.

The first is Marta. The reason I went to Marta’s class at the Palm Villa hotel in Mirissa, a popular beach resort with a fairly chilled backpacker vibe on the western coast of Sri Lanka, was that my good friend who’d visited the area a few weeks earlier pretty much ordered that I do so. I wasn’t disappointed.

Marta teaches Kundalini Yoga. This is the practice of awakening and channeling Kundalini (life-force energy) through the body via the chakras (our energy centres, or Meridians in Chinese medicine). This style of yoga involves a lot of breathing techniques (pranayamas), deep meditations and asanas (postures) held for long periods of time to focus energy in a particular area of the energy body. I had practised Kundalini kriyas (purification methods) and asanas before going to Marta’s class, in particular with the amaaaaazing Trish Whelan … (but that’s for another post) but I was a relative novice.

I was surprised at how challenging it was. Although we spent about an hour of the hour-and-a-half practice sitting cross-legged on the floor in ‘easy pose’, I felt like I had done a full-body workout when I stood up to leave. I wasn’t tired though. I left buzzing, feeling so alive that I had a spring in my step, my feet firmly rooted to the earth yet my head held high, extending me up into the sky. There was a slight ringing in my ears and I wondered what it was. Having not had a thought for what seemed like a long time, I realized that noise was the alarmingly beautiful sound of silence. Nothingness. Just Being.

Marta is a beautiful soul – sweet and pure. (And I mean that as the words are intended – not in any way implying she is not also, strong and powerful.) She has a fully awakened Shakti energy. You can see it in her huge shining eyes if you don’t first sense it in her presence. When I arrived to the beautiful rooftop shala, having walked barefoot down the long stretch of beach from my guesthouse in the not-yet-risen early morning Sun, I was moved by the space I was entering. The stone floor of the small open rooftop terrace was covered with brightly coloured silk throws, pastel shaded yoga mats, meditation cushions and a laminated double sided piece of paper for all of us with Kundalini mantras printed on for us to follow. At the front was an alter, adorned with gods and goddesses, flowers, candles, malas, crystals and delicious burning incense. All senses had been covered by Marta in building this space for us to go deep into ourselves and connect us with our Divine energy.

Marta herself is a spectacle. She doesn’t seem fully human. With Heidi style double-plaited-pigtales, huge eyes framed with mascara-covered enormous eyelashes, candy pink lips (but not garishly so), dressed all in white, with feet and hands adorned with jewels, you could at first glance be forgiven for thinking she was a cartoon character. In fact she wears those external signs of beauty with the playfulness and joy of a child playing dress-up, and with grace, which I soon saw comes from a wise and knowing soul.

The practice transcended me to a clearer space. I felt my heart open, forcefully so, awakening the spirit inside me which had recoiled in fear for the few months before. I stayed with the pain. I let it burn, that which no longer serves me, and I focused just on my breath. I felt the power of the prana entering my physical and energy body, filling me with lifeforce, and then leaving me again to go back into the Universe, the place from where I was born, and to where I will go again one day when my body breathes its final breath.

I left a lot of emotional baggage on that rooftop, along with some sweat and quite a few tears. And I have met an incredible Healer to add to my network – another blessing.

When I left Marta gave me a beautiful flower which I put in my hair and we hugged. I hope to see her again in Dharamsala, where I am now, as she too was planning to go to northern India once the season in Mirissa finished to deepen her own practice. Marta is a true yogini – a healer and a seeker – always open and willing to go back to Source to reconnect and strengthen her Dharma – allowing her to live and breathe Yoga in every waking moment.

Find Marta at Palm Villa Hotel in Mirissa Beach. The shala is right above the ocean. You can hear the sound of the waves, and little else, except maybe birdsong and the sound of your own breath.

After Mirissa we headed around the southern peninsular of Sri Lanka and up the eastern coast by train to a near-deserted beach resort, Talalla. Being our last few days of the holiday (after which I’d fly to Rishikesh to study Yoga and my boyfriend would go to Varkala in the south to chill on the beach) we decided to treat ourselves and stay in a gorgeous eco-lux vibey yoga and surf retreat called, appropriately, Talalla Retreat.

So. Lush. I’m dying to go back!

Not only does this place have high-spec stilted wooden huts with huge double beds, outside hot shower bathrooms and plushly decorated open decked living areas facing out over the gorgeous green gardens, Olympic sized swimming pool, and restaurant serving fresh organic vegan made-with-love food, it ALSO has a beautiful outdoor yoga shala, where morning and afternoon two lovely women (mother and daughter) teach. How I end up in these Heaven on Earth places I don’t know! But I am grateful.

Saffron and her mother (whose name I regret I don’t know but imagine her as a Maria) have been teaching yoga at Talalla Retreat for a few seasons. Born in Sydney, Australia but with French roots (I think I have that right), Saffron lives the rest of the year in Bali. The first class I attended with Saffron (her mother was ill while I was staying and so sadly I didn’t experience her teaching) was slightly unusual. We were asked to work in pairs rather than practice alone. I had never done this before and wasn’t sure it was what I was in the mood for at the time really, but I was comfortable in Saffron’s presence and keen to get on my mat. So I stayed.

I quickly saw that Saffron is a very experienced, knowledgeable and attentive practitioner. To begin the partner work at first I was paired with a petite girl who was five-months pregnant. This soon proved difficult when going back-to-back and into other interwoven positions – more so because of the height difference than the bump. Saffron soon noticed us struggling and swapped me to a more suitable partner, a nice English woman in her fifties who I enjoyed getting to know during the class. I was impressed by Saffron’s intuition and swift action in redirecting the flow of the class. By now – five minutes in – I fully trusted and respected her as a teacher.

Saffron is not only an intuitive and skillful flow sequencer (I imagine she has been a dancer), she is also beautiful and fit (her body’s amazing!) Like Marta though, she wears her beauty with grace and I soon realize it comes from deep within. Without makeup her skill glows and her eyes shine, while her tight bun, pen and notebook show she means business.

Saffron is always at class before her first pupil arrives. She’ll be found kneeling on her yoga mat, writing notes in her notebook. She knows every student’s name by heart, and given that in some classes there were up to thirty, I was impressed! She also remembers their stories and personal histories and pays special attention to the pregnant girl, clearly cueing her adjustments at various points throughout the class and checking she is feeling ok. She asks if anyone has any injuries. Saffron knows as much about anatomy and physiology as she does about the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita.

After the initial partner class I attended two more with Saffron, this time regular group lessons. I learnt a lot, and I worked a lot! Saffron’s energized flow is powerful and creative. I felt my body get warm and I stretched muscles in new ways. I discovered new methods of coming in and out of postures and found subtle alignments I hadn’t thought of before. Saffron armed me with knowledge that I’ll take forward both as a student and one day I hope as a teacher, and that is a rare feat.

At first glance Saffron might be mistaken for an Californian or Aussie ‘Vinyassa type’ (if you know what I mean!), but that is just the fit body, notebook, and organized approach that give that first impression. It’s soon clear there is huge depth to Saffron’s yogic knowledge and experience which goes beyond the physical. By connecting us with our breath and sprinkling her instructions with spiritual and philosophical anecdotes, she gave the practice depth and meaning, while always keeping us grounded in our bodies.

You can find Saffron on YogaTrail, Marta on Facebook, and if you ever happen to visit Sri Lanka, I hope you’ll drop by and meet them both. Better still, take their classes!

Namaste x

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