The bedroom was heavenly. The brilliant emerald rice paddies, oozing humidity, gave way to the air-conditioned, minimalist decadence of white walls, twin beds, and a spacious, organic shower. A bright green painting of rice-paddies hung over our beds, the only pop of color in the room, a miniature world reflecting the vast chlorophyll of the exterior landscape.

My roommate stepped in as I was plucking my eyebrows, always a good start to any relationship. I quickly walked her through my background, an opening act so practiced that it’s like the nervous habit I have of running my fingers through my hair. American, born in Kenya, etcetera etcetera. 

Lucy smiled mysteriously, and all thoughts gave way to intrigue. “I’m British, but I grew up in Accra, Ghana. My parents are expats,” she said, and, just like that, we instantly connected.

At around four, we made our way down to the yoga shala. It was beautiful, with wooden floors falling off into a jungle ravine. The light filtered in over rice paddies and bursts of flowers, gently illuminating an open plunge into green on one side.

I surveyed the other students with a wary eye. It was our three-hundred hour training, and no time for games. Most of these people were already established yoga teachers, and the rest of us had all made it through the preliminary two-hundred hours of yoga, anatomy, and philosophy. I felt a little like Katniss in the second Hunger Games.

The teachers greeted us, and I immediately pointed my mental spear at them. Keep in mind, I had just come down from my time in India, and it was one of the most life-changing and spiritual periods of my life. In a strict tone, the rules of the training were laid out before us:

  • No alcohol, drugs, or sexual activity of any kind (fair enough)
  • Without 100% attendance to every class, training will not be complete
  • Silence is to be observed every morning; from bedtime, to about 10, you are not allowed to speak, read, write, do art of any sort, or touch technology
  • No fasting (you can imagine the sneaky, pro-eating disorder part of my brain sending off alarm signals)
  • No practice, physical or spiritual, other than the one outlined in this training
  • Keep an open mind and try your best to follow everything we tell you

With a sinking feeling, I wondered if these teachers would try to undo the lessons I learnt at Shri Kali, the complete antithesis to this environment that I now found myself in. Goa was difficult and grimy, yet authentic, and this retreat center seemed a little sterilized with luxury. I wasn’t sure how to react.

As we introduced ourselves, I laid my cards out on the table in a sudden show of vulnerability. I spoke a bit about my eating disorder and how I was proud to be recovering. A little voice in my head brought up the fact that I had intentionally under-eaten the past week, but I chose to ignore it.

Everyone was moved, and people looked at me with a different expression in their eyes. I envisioned myself transcending their initial impressions of an eighteen-year old trying her luck in a teacher training meant for professionals. I felt a little warmer as I ate a hearty dinner, and then went to bed. I woke to a pounding alarm.

It was five o’clock in the morning, and still dark. Where am I? Panicked, disoriented and very jet lag, I only remembered that were weren’t allowed to talk. Somehow I scrambled to get dressed, and then, uncertain, stumbled over to the outdoor lounge. Most of the other students were already there, quiet, sitting far apart. The singsong wooden chimes tumbled around, stirred by a gust of wind.

A bell went off, and we made our way down to the yoga shala. It was eerily quiet, with only the faintest hint of a sunrise in the distance. We filed down the wet white stairs, fear springing to life with each of my steps.

I acclimated to the beginning of class, feeling a sigh of relief. I’ll be okay, I thought, just before the intensity picked up. At that point, everything fell apart mentally. I used to be good at this! I screamed on the inside. The careful stitches over an obsessive relationship with exercise were being pulled out, one by one. Fearfully I set my jaw and pushed onwards, becoming a whirlwind of anxiety separate from the world progressing so beautifully around me.

Practice finally ended, leaving me weak, putting out all the radiance I had kindled from India. Limbs shivering and shaking with sweat, I marched back up the white stairs in silence. All around the explosive green humidity weighed in over me, but I only felt cold, and empty, and, once again, not good enough.

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