We never in a million years expected to end up living at a yoga retreat center. Let alone at one of the best retreat centers in the world!
Suryalila Retreat Center is located in the province on Andalusia in sunny southern Spain not far from the cities of Seville, Cadiz, Malaga and nestled amongst some spectacular Spanish white villages and towns like Ronda, Jerez de la Frontera all in the Sierra de Grazalema National park. Vidya is the Director and CEO of Suryalila and there is a team of staff here from Spain and other parts of Europe. The center welcomes yoga retreat groups big and small from all over the world, on site teachers hold their own retreats here too, there are teacher trainings as well as Vidyas own school; Frog Lotus Yoga. You can also simply book in as an individual guest and take part in the daily yoga classes, chill by the pool, take a sauna, explore the grounds, eat the organic vegetarian food which is served up three times every day, have a juice or glass of organic wine straight from the on site cafe. There are all kinds of accommodation to choose from too from luxury rooms and casas to moroccon yurts and teepees. The property is set on 50 acres in total and has 800 olive trees which are harvested every year to provide olive oil and olives for the kitchen and guests and this is where the Danyadara permaculture project is located and is currently doing some great magic in regenerating the land here in this dry region and they have a volunteer programme. Volunteers come from all over to learn from Jacob, the farm manager and permaculture wizard of Danyadara. They get to live on site, work on the land, take our yoga classes, eat the freshly prepared organic food and become part of our community. We’ve met lots of lovely people coming through, people from all over the world, so many stories, people who travel and volunteer full time, people who are taking a year out.
Our own journey began at Suryalila retreat center back in January 2019 when I studied and trained here to be a yoga teacher. Previously I was working as a personal trainer in Ireland and through my own training discovered yoga and aside from the physical and mental benefits, I found it to be the best tool for warming up and cooling down from exercise. I must confess I hadn’t even been to an actual yoga class. Living in rural Ireland, it’s not so easy to find or make time to travel to faraway yoga studios so I practised at home via YouTube and other online yoga subscriptions. Back then, about three to four years ago now, I was competing at a national level in Olympic weightlifting. I also used to crossfit a lot and even competed in Irelands Strongest Woman. I’m convinced yoga helped me to improve my game immensely, keeping my muscles supple and flexible, my mind level and preventing me from getting injured.
In early 2018, I decided to quit it all and together with my husband and two children we packed up all our stuff to move into a campervan and travel around Europe. So naturally with little equipment to train with on the road, Liam & I gravitated towards sticking with yoga and keeping up our strength with bodyweight workouts. As we drove across Europe, we would always have our eyes peeled for somewhere to practise; we can’t really do it in the van so we have to do it outdoors, often it would be at beaches, carparks, campsites and playgrounds. Sometimes people would stop and stare, sometimes they would come and ask for a class and that’s when I had the lightbulb moment to look into teacher training so I could teach yoga as we travelled.
I discovered Suryalila on Google and got in touch to book onto the January 2019 teacher training course. I was a little anxious about bringing the children along to a yoga retreat center so I got in touch with Vidya and it as it happened we were relatively nearby she invited us along to take a look around which we did. We were absolutely blown away by the beauty of the place. Lidiya, one of the yoga teachers and PA to Vidya showed us around the grounds, the fabulous Eco buildings, Moroccan yurts, Dining Hall, the magnificent Om Dome, Moon Shala and Ganesha Shala where the yoga classes are held and the incredible lands all around full of olive trees, flowers, herbs, vegetables, birds, vultures circling overhead, animals grazing, it was just magical. We got chatting and Liam mentioned his experience in building and immediately was offered an Eco building project to work on and we couldn’t wait to get started.
The evening we arrived at Suryalila, we met some of the other trainees who I was about to spend the following three weeks with and we were treated to a magical class in the Om Dome with the beautiful Lidiya and that was my first ever real life yoga class…set a high standard eh! Liam began to get involved in Eco building here the week after we arrived and he spent those months working on building a massage center called the Lotus lounge where there are two rooms in which the on site masseuses offer Thai massage, deep tissue, acupuncture, cupping, etc. The kids tagged along with Liam while I was studying and practising on the teacher training course. They loved it, they kept themselves busy by building their own little houses out of cob and off cuts. They loved their new routine and would head off with the garden team to help plant seeds, collect eggs, feed the animals.
Meanwhile by the end of January, we were invited to stay on for a while so Liam could continue working on the eco buildings and I volunteered some time by helping out wherever I was needed on site so we said goodbye to the rest of the newly qualified yoga teachers and carried on. In all our time being here at Suryalila I’ve seen several more yoga teacher training groups coming and going and I can relate to them so much. Anyone who has done a yoga teacher training course will know how intense it is, you learn so much, practice yoga intensely, studying the postures, philosophy, anatomy, teaching and being critiqued for it. It is so intense, there are lots of tears, lots of laughs and when you spend that time with a group of people you become very close. I made some really great friends in that time who I still keep in touch with.
By now, I was a fully qualified yoga teacher and in the Frog Lotus style I had to teach 10 free classes to complete my training and seal the deal so I managed to round up some on site staff and volunteers and taught my 10 classes all within two weeks after the course. At the same time I attended the Suryalila classes every day in the Om Dome learning as much as I could from the amazing Frog Lotus teachers. One morning though I was sitting in class with over 30 other people waiting for one of the teachers to arrive to teach class but no one came, it seemed there was a mistake in the schedule so I took it upon myself to get up and teach the large group of people. I was bricking it for sure wondering if I should or shouldn’t but as soon as I started the class my nerves fell away and I loved every minute of it, so did they. From then on Vidya put me on teaching schedule and I joined the other world class teachers here to take turns each day and teach yoga to the guests, staff and volunteers of Suryalila. Liam sometimes taught breath work and cold exposure as in swims in the on site pool or for the very brave…ice baths.
We left Suryalila that May after four months in total to continue our travels around Europe. We headed for Portugal, France, Belgium and Holland before going back to Ireland for six weeks to catch up and prepare for the next leg of our trip. We had a great time in Ireland and Liam & I taught yoga and breathwork on the beaches at home which was a fantastic experience and we hope to do again. We got back on the road in September for three months solid, we were on the road and on the move almost every day travelling through parts of France we hadn’t seen yet, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, all through Italy. We had hoped to take the ferry to Greece and work our way up through Eastern Europe but something held us back. We changed our minds last minute and decided to head for Spain via Sicily and Sardinia to Barcelona. Somehow it felt like going home, it was familiar to us and we were actually very exhausted from travelling so much that we just felt like we could breathe again. We headed straight to some familiar beaches to chill and decide what to do next and Suryalila called us. We decided to come back again last January and jumped straight back into our old familiar roles, me teaching yoga and Liam Eco building.
Vidya asked Liam to become one of the three teachers on the Danyadara permaculture and eco building course which runs for three months, three times per year. This course was to begin this April but of course due to Covid-19 it had to be cancelled but there is a lot of interest and bookings for the next course which runs from September 12th to December 5th 2020 so hopefully as restrictions begin to ease we will be able to welcome a whole new group of students interested in learning how to create an Eco house, study the science of soil and how to create and care for an organic vegetable garden from scratch while living in our yoga community here at Suryalila in sunny Andalusia. Learn more about Danyadara here, the non profit sister project of Suryalila Retreat Center and the courses coming up this year and next.
We’ve been on Covid-19 lockdown here at the center since mid March. Amazingly upon lockdown there were six yoga teachers on site and together we were able to offer an online cyber retreat for the duration of the lockdown. Visit cyber.suryalila.com if you would like to check it out. With some light at the end of the tunnel, the team here are beginning to prepare to open the gates once again to welcome guests from the region and as lockdown restrictions lift can begin to welcome guests from other regions of Spain and hopefully soon from the rest of world. It’s one thing to read about it but to be in it is a very special thing and we have learned so much here, having made some incredible memories and lifelong friends along the way and we absolutely love it.