The gift of coming home

The notion of “home” was a challenging one for much of my life. My family moved house when I was 18, so the place that I had spent most of my childhood was no longer our family home. I only lived in our new home for four months before going to university and thereafter it became a place where I stayed in the holidays. I stayed in the guest room, used by family friends during my long absences and it never really felt like mine. I am grateful that my parents always gave me a place to stay during holidays, after university and between relationships, though I never really felt a sense that it was my home.

In my adult life I have lived in 7 other places that mostly did not feel like home either. I found that filling a building with possessions and sleeping there every night did not automatically make somewhere feel like home. Through my yoga therapy training, I have come to realise that one challenge to feeling at home externally stemmed from the fact that I did not previously feel at home in myself. My body, frequently stressed, overwhelmed, or numb, did not feel like a safe place to come home to. My mind, frequently judgemental, critical or feeling like a battlefield, also did not feel welcoming and safe. And for a long time in my life, I didn’t know there was anywhere else within me that I could reside.

My first experience of feeling “at home” came in December 2019. This was when I first met Navid, a guest meditation teacher on my yoga teacher training course. In a 2-hour workshop, Navid guided me to the place within me that felt more like home than anywhere I had ever found in the world outside. Almost 5 years later, I am surer than ever that his methods of Self-Enquiry and Direct Experience are a tremendous gift that can offer guidance to anyone who is sincerely interested in exploring who they truly are. I have just returned from co-leading 2 retreats with Navid and Kris with precisely this focus… exploring who you are, directly experiencing who you are and ultimately coming home to your true Self.

The retreats took place at the beautiful Narumi Centre in the forest of northern Uppland in Sweden. Narumi Centre is built close to Navid’s family home, sharing its lush gardens and wood-fired hot-tub and surrounded by forest and nature in every direction. It feels like a really special place, and I felt a wash of peace flow through me as I came through the white picket fence and up the drive. It was wonderful to see this experience mirrored by many of the students joining us for the retreats. There is something quite magical in arriving at this place for the first time and something profound and beautiful about returning to it. It is a place that draws me back and welcomes me each time, in a way that few places ever had.

Each Santosha Rose Retreat at Narumi begins with an optional “yoga for grounding”, designed to help people to fully land and arrive, often after long journeys on trains, planes and automobiles! The session aims to stretch out tired and tight bodies after lots of sitting, whilst also facilitating a welcoming back in of all the parts of us that can feel pulled in a million different directions from travel. It helps us to arrive in a new place with intention and let the body and mind settle. I love leading this session and helping people to come back into their bodies, tap into their wisdom about what their body needs and take that all important sighing exhale on recognising “there is nowhere else to be, there is nothing else to do, you are here.”

The formal aspect of the retreat begins later with an Opening Ceremony and the introductory Simran Meditation session with Navid. This is a profound session and I have seen many times how transformational it can be for students attending the retreat. Navid offers a practice called “Self-Enquiry” which seeks to point people to the truth of who they are, beyond the ideas our mind has about who we are. What Navid points to is what all spiritual traditions have been pointing to throughout time. For many people, this can be a lifelong quest. Some people may spend their whole life trying to find this. Knowing the illusiveness of this for so many people makes what happens next all the more astounding. Seeing Navid guide people to this realisation in under 1 hour never ceases to amaze me. I know from my own life that this can be a tremendous turning point in a person’s life. So, you may be wondering… if we reach this spiritual epoch in the opening ceremony, what do we do for the next four days?!

The next four days are an opportunity to explore this realisation and to test if it feels true in an enduring way. Having recognised that our Self/essence/truth exists and is available to us whenever we look for it, we begin to play with it as it interacts with the world. In yoga and qigong, we offer practices that balance the mind, body and energies and make it easier to drop into the place of recognition. We visit a beautiful lake with clear blue-green waters surrounded by forest and edged by a white sand beach and explore what we have discovered and how this is affected by immersing the body in cold water. We deepen our realisations in conscious community, with regular sessions with Navid to ask any questions that arise and be guided back to the place within us where wisdom lives.

The retreat offers a profound spiritual recognition but does it in a way that is also inherently practical. On retreat we live simply, with all our physical needs are provided for, yet without the luxuries and modern conveniences we become so used to. The retreat offers home-cooked nourishing food, opportunities to relax in the garden, soak in the hot tub and listen to the sounds of the birds and the rustle of the trees. There are places to walk and be immersed in nature and opportunities to connect with others as well as seek out time for solitude and silence. Other practices support us energetically with private reiki sessions, wonderful sound sessions with Kris using Tibetan bowls, gongs and chimes and a Kirtan and mantra exploration, which for both retreats ended in spontaneous joy-filled dancing and singing.

Co-leading these retreats feels like a huge privilege and fills me with a joy that is hard to describe. It is wonderful to walk alongside people who are integrating and embedding this recognition and realisation. To see how tapping into the spiritual dimension can make the everyday world even more vibrant, more beautiful and more alive. To hear how the universe dances for each person in new and creative ways. I have also really enjoyed watching how this experience can turn strangers into friends and enable people to put down burdens they may have been carrying for years. It has been heartening to hear how people have arrived back to work and life with new perspectives that have supported them to feel less jostled by the inevitable challenges that we all face in our human experiences.  

The idea of awakening to our inherent wisdom and connecting to a truer and more beautiful part of ourselves is something that has felt fundamental to my work since I trained as a yoga teacher in 2019. Yet sometimes, I have moved this more into the background of my work, centring things that have a more secular appeal… stress relief, nervous system regulation, wellbeing, resilience. These are all important skills and incredibly valuable things to learn and teach. However, time and time again, I have found that people are thirsty for more than this. As Western yoga teachers and yoga therapists, we can be tempted to focus more on the research-based mind-body benefits of yoga, which fit more seamlessly into western medicine and a more secular culture. It can feel more challenging to talk about the spiritual benefits, especially where modern research methods have not yet developed to adequately measure these. However, this experience has again brought home to me how important this element is for me as a person and a teacher and I’m excited to explore new and creative ways I can centre this within the tapestry of my work.