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Yoga Retreat with Dr. Shrikrishna, August 23rd - 29th 2009

written by Deborah J. Hopkinson

I have just returned from the most profound and inspirational experience in my lifetime's yoga journey; a retreat week with Dr. Shrikrishna, organised by The Yoga Biomedical Trust. It was my first retreat with Dr. Shrikrishna and my first visit to St. Katherine's, Parmoor, Freith, Near Henley on Thames, and it has left me with a much deeper and more fundamental understanding of yoga, with Dr. Shrikrishna's gentle, sensitive and understanding teaching taking me to a place within myself that I have never known or reached before.

Dr. Shrikrishna has a unique approach to yoga, derived from his extensive medical understanding (he is a qualified medical Doctor and has a PhD in the physiological effects of pranayama) and his own experience of yoga (his father was a close colleague of Swami Kuvalayananda, one of the foremost pioneers of modern yoga, enabling him to be brought up in an atmosphere saturated with yogic culture; up until recently he was Director of the Kaivalyadhama Institute of Yogic Health, providing training for yoga teachers and therapists as well as yoga classes for people with health problems). His approach to yoga is gentle and experiential while maintaining a strong sense of discipline.

The theme for the retreat was Pranayama; The Door of Inner Silence. The aim of the retreat was to enable participants to cultivate and deepen their awareness and inner silence. For me, it enabled me to reach an inner space that I had never experienced before, which was a truly life changing experience. It was reached through quietness, stillness and gentleness and for me was the embodiment of one of my favourite readings in The Upanishads:

"OM. In the centre of the castle of Brahman, our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower, and within can be found a small space. We should find who dwells there, and we should want to know him.
And if anyone asks, 'Who is he who dwells in a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower in the centre of the castle of Brahman? Whom should we want to find and to know?' we can answer:
'The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe. The heavens and earth are there, and the sun, and the moon and the stars; fire and lightning and winds are there; all that is now and all that is not: for the whole universe is in Him and He dwells in our heart.'
And if they should say, 'If all things are in the castle of Brahman, all beings and all desires, what remains when old age overcomes the castle or when the life of the body is gone?' we can answer:
'The spirit who is in the body does not grow old and does not die, and no one can ever kill the Spirit who is everlasting. This is the real castle of Brahman wherein dwells all the love of the universe. It is Atman, pure Spirit, beyond sorrow, old age and death; beyond evil and hunger and thirst. It is Atman whose love is Truth, whose thoughts are Truth.'"
(Chandogya Upanishad, 8.1)

We started at 4pm on Sunday 23rd August with introductions and setting the scene; we had a programme of yoga to follow and we would not be talking during meals on Monday and Tuesday. We would not be talking at all on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Although this seemed a bit daunting at first and I did wonder if Dr. Shrikrishna was right in saying that we would get to know each other better through the silence than through talking. By Saturday 29th August, when we all made our farewells, I knew that he was right! I felt much more bonded to everyone in the group than I ever have done on any other yoga residential that I have been on. The silence had been very special for me and definitely contributed hugely to the overall experience.

St. Katherine's was a super venue for the retreat, not dissimilar to the now closed Ickwell Bury. It was nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside, with everything we would need for a quite, contemplative yoga retreat, including delicious home made vegetarian and vegan food. The staff were very helpful and quiet, respecting our retreat silence wholeheartedly.

Every day started with our own asana practice, prior to daily prayers (Shanti Path - The Peace Invocation) followed by a session of pranayama until breakfast time. The morning sessions started at 10.15 and included the most calming and centring OM chanting I have ever experienced, followed by Dr. Shrikrishna's excellent, well thought out, clear and descriptive teachings about yoga. Before lunch, Dr. Shrikrishna read to us from Krishnamurti's Diaries, followed by a mediditative walk through the grounds of St. Katherine's and into the local environment. After lunch we had time to ourselves until 4pm when we had a 2 hour session of pranayama. Every evening we chanted The Gayatri Mantra and Tryambaka Mantra together, followed by a period of silence before we all headed off for bed.

The week was totally experiential, and it was this element that was so fundamental for me. Through the daily practice, which Dr. Shrikrishna built on gradually each day, I learned more about yoga, about myself and about the ancient scriptures than I ever have done. The thought that kept coming in to my mind was from a hymn I learnt at school, 'that still small voice of calm', which was the place within myself that I reached. The whole experience was truly inspirational, and left me hungry for more as well as with a much deeper and fuller understanding of The Upanishads. When I got home and reread parts of The Upanishads, the meaning shone out of the page at me as if a bright light had been lit within the text.

Dr. Shrikrishna's teaching was gentle and positive, focusing on letting things happen rather than being a 'doer', and on what was being experienced, and who was experiencing it. As a former Head teacher of a busy Primary School, it was just what I needed to help me to stop striving to make things happen, and to 'get it right', and to let things happen in their own good time. On many occasions, I felt as though Dr. Shrikrishna knew what I was thinking, because what he said was just what I needed at that time. This seemed to be true for some of the other participants too. Dr. Shrikrishna's teaching was very reassuring because of this.

The silence during the retreat was very calming and helped me to focus more clearly. I was able to read a fabulous book, 'Life Lessons' by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, which was one of those books that I had had for a long time, but never got round to reading. I am sure that we all have some of those, collecting dust on the bookshelf! Through the silence I was able to concentrate fully on the lessons in the book, many of the messages of which echoed what Dr. Shrikrishna was talking about.

The retreat with Dr. Shrikrishna was an amazing, life changing experience for me; words are not adequate to express my heartfelt and sincere thanks to Dr. Shrikrishna for his outstanding teaching, sensitivity, understanding and kindness and to Robin Monro, Natasha Mason and Sue Parsons from the Yoga Biomedical Trust for organising the retreat. The retreat was not for the fainthearted - it was not a 'fun' week of yoga, but a serious exploration of the depths which we can reach through the daily, disciplined practice of pranayama. I would highly recommend it for all yoga teachers and serious students of yoga.

Deborah J Hopkinson, 25/09/2009
Chair YHET - Yoga for Health and Education Trust
18, Haymarket, Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire FY8 3LW, UK.
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