Sivananda Yoga Retreat, Paradise Island Trip Report

Amcan Travel visits Sivananda Yoga Retreat, Paradise Island, Bahamas, May 2004.

We took a long overnight night flight from Seattle to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we endured a layover from 6am to 10am. Luckily, we were able to relax at the US Airways Club in Charlotte International. Barbara even got in a short nap. We arrived into the warm and humid air of Nassau, The Bahamas, at noon. Processing through Immigration and Customs was very simple and friendly, and included free rum drinks. We took a taxi through downtown Nassau to the ashram's private dock. The boat ride from Nassau to Paradise Island is only 5 minutes long, but the atmosphere changes completely. Sivananda Ashram (photo, arrival at the ashram) is next to Club Med, and on the other side of Club Med, the famous Atlantis Resort.

We were booked into a deluxe cabin right on the white sand beach (photo, sandy beach), about 50 feet from the mild Atlantic Ocean (photo, cabin window view). The room is simple, no TV, no telephone, no air conditioning. With the mild weather of, 69-80 degrees F between night and day, the ceiling fan seems to be sufficient. There is no private bathroom in the unit either.

Life at the ashram runs on a rigid schedule. Every day we are expected in the Temple first thing in the morning (6am) and last thing at night (8pm) for a half hour of silent mediation followed by 90 minutes of chanting and spiritual teaching. Two yoga classes are conducted each day 8am-10am and again 4pm-6pm. The yoga instruction is held on one of three lovely outdoor platforms, two of which are on the bay side of the island, facing Nassau, the other facing the ocean on the beach side (photo, Oceanside Yoga platform). Two daily meals are included in the package price, mainly Hindu Vegetarian cuisine with no garlic, onion or eggs. The end of May marks the beginning of the low season at the ashram, since it often starts to become rainy and hurricane season runs from June through October. The ashram's peak season sees 300 people but we were among just a select dozen or so guests and some work-study folks. The work-study participants work a few hours a day helping the kitchen or housekeeping and receive a reduced rate of accommodation.

We met everybody at the dinner table and enjoyed our first evening meal with a lot of green salad and lots of carrots. Later that night we attended our first meditation and chanting session. It was interesting, though the mosquitoes were numerous and quite aggressive, which made it hard to concentrate and focus.

Wednesday morning we rose before 6am for a meditative silent walk down the beach with the group. We walked past the front of the Club Med and came to a small bay facing the sunrise. We sat on the beach meditating and watching the sunrise. Back at the ashram, our first yoga class was something of a challenge for both of us. The result is a pair of nicely stretched if slightly sore bodies, and big appetite for the morning meal. One of our fellow diners was an artist and sometime guitar player called Saambashiva, who was visiting and teaching yoga at the ashram. Richard and Saambashiva decided to play some music later after dinner. We also met Mr. Kendall Flowers, who does grounds maintenance around the ashram and runs snorkeling trips on the side with his power boat. The weather was unusually nice for the season, so we joined a few other guests for a two-hour snorkeling trip -- very fun. Mr. Flowers knows where the fish can be found. He threw a few bread crumbs in the water so the fish would swarm near where we were swimming and sometimes hit our bodies. There are so many fish in all different shapes, colors and groups. We made a second stop is at the site of a sunken ship. The top deck of the ship is about 5 feet under the surface of the water, so we could see clearly the schools of tiny fish hiding in the holds. Some of them just hang around the sail pool and barely move, as if they are having a big conference meeting. Back from snorkeling, we attended another yoga session for two hours and then enjoyed dinner. Afterwards, Richard took his flutes out and met with Saambashiva for an hour or so to play some music together. The sound of the music goes beautifully with the lazy Caribbean sunset (photo, Bahaman Sunrise). At temple time, we went to the meditation and chanting armed with repellent covering our bodies. That was effective.

Thursday and Friday had about the same schedule, and we got quite used to the chanting and meditation. The yoga seemed to be easier though we were still sore all over. It is hard to believe what the teachers and some of the veteran students can do with their bodies. Once or twice during the class we were not able to hold our chuckles. After stretching our legs out on the mat, the instructor said in a gentle sing-song voice, "Now without straining or hurting yourself in any way, place your leg behind the back of your head." Of course we both could only hold our leg up atd chest height and already feel the pain. After morning meal on Friday, Richard went to the talk about the five points of Yoga. Saturday afternoon he performed a short activity of Karma Yoga by volunteering to look at a small computer problem. During those afternoon times, Barbara just took a nice relaxing nap, passed out all the way till the afternoon yoga. We both felt our body clock slowing down, muscles more relaxed and calm.

Saturday morning we were up again before 6am. The wake-up bell at 5:30am does not seem to be as annoying as the first few days. After morning activities and meal, we walked on the beach passing Club Med (photo, Club Med beach) to Atlantis (photo, Atlantis Resort). The resort occupies more than half of Paradise Island and the hotel is like a city of its own. There are three towers and a bridge between two of them supports a suite (photo, Bridge Suite)) that costs $5600 a night. The hotel lobby is grand as a palace with 17 restaurants, a giant casino, countless bars, its own lagoon and marina, and five six-story-tall water slides (photo, "Mayan" water slide). It all seemed quite alien to us after three days of the back-to-nature simple life. However, the giant Atlantis themed outdoor aquarium is a must-see regardless. It is an underwater lost city populated with every sort of amazing fish (photo, manta ray) and other marine life (photo, cleaner shrimp). This megaresort with more than 5000 employees is the second largest employer in the Bahamas next to the national government.

Sunday we did the normal schedule except during mid-day we ferried over to Nassau to stroll the waterfront. The area is something of a tourist trap due to the daily cruise ship visits (photo, cruise ships docked at Nassau). Nevertheless, the straw market is interesting and you can actually interact with the local population. The rest of the waterfront is lined with shops geared toward cruise passengers. We were successful resisting all the lures of the advanced "civilization" except Richard had to get his Sunday New York Time for the weekly puzzle.

Monday, our last day at the ashram, we took a morning walk toward the lovely lighthouse at the western tip of the island. We had our last yoga class. By now, our bodies were stretched pretty well. Especially Barbara can now do most of the yoga poses at ease, except the head stand and the "feet behind your head" pose. She is proud of her achievement over 6 days and documented them (photo, yoga on the bay platform). We learned a few things spiritually, physically and most important, relaxed completely in the utopia of this paradise. We can only hope this experience has long lasting effect after we are back to our daily life, til our next visit to the ashram.