I arrived less than a week ago straight from Sydney after 27 hours of travel!
So how do I describe this place and my experience to date? Well, here goes...
The cliff note history:
Swami is from India, which is probably obvious from her name. In the day, when the eldest sister married, the youngest sister was sent along to make sure all went well. Swami became part of the new family. When it became time for Swami to spread her wings, she was offered a dowry or a plane ticket to Australia. As her son says, “She chose adventure and fell in love with an Aussie.”
The story goes that Swami was doing yoga on a beautiful beach in Sydney and a photographer snapped a shot which found its way to the local paper with a caption that read, “This Indian woman is so powerful that she leaves the water dry.” It went viral - whatever that looked like in the late 60’s! A local TV station approached her about doing a TV show and her stardom was born. Swami became known as the mother of modern day yoga in Australia and founded Swami’s Yoga Retreat in 1983 on 60 acres/24 hectares (I’m trying to grow accustomed to the metric system!).
Fast forward 30+ years and Swami is still alive, though with Alzheimer’s. She still lives at the center, and I will write about her in another blog as helping with Swami is a volunteer responsibility.....
The Yoga Retreat is now run by her son and an ever changing cadre of volunteers. You read that right. Volunteers run the retreat center. True Karma yoga.
It is the wildest business model I’ve ever seen let alone participated in! But as I am experiencing, it really isn’t about the money, but I digress.
My fellow volunteers are a cast of characters from around the world - literally.
3 Italians (2 women, 1 men)
2 French women
2 English women
1 Hungarian male chef
1 Polish woman
1 Thai couple and their 4 month old baby
1 Aussie male masseuse
3 American women
Each of these people are travelers and volunteering is their career and they take their work seriously and perform it with pride and attention to detail. And the compensation we receive is food and lodging for a pretty serious days work. Morning meetings are held to share info on the work load and remind each other to enjoy the tasks and breath into the stressful moments. Yes, it can be stressful running a retreat center - LOL!
An “average” day:
I haven’t been here a week and yet have fallen into the rhythm, though the rhythm is different every day depending on the guest count. Today I was up at 6am (it’s awesome waking up naturally and totally unaware of the date or the day of the week!) and I threw in a load of laundry in 4 washers as we had 10 rooms that were to be turned and pulled the wet towels from the pool (it was 104 yesterday and 68 tonight!). I dropped into the yoga room and did a few asanas to wake up my body and then moved to the kitchen to clean up the cups and plates from the guests from their late evening snack. I was on kitchen duty and at 7:30am was joined by Claudia from the UK as we were responsible for preparing breakfast for the 23 guests. It is interesting being on this side.... The guests are kind, but there is an obvious aloofness towards “the help.” I’m pretty sure I will from now forward thank and acknowledge those that are serving me differently...
As the guests eat the volunteers are hovering in the kitchen and preparing their own meals. What a creative bunch of foodies they are! I had my first taste of spinach cake this week that looked atrocious and tasted amazing. Oh, and the food is all organic and vegetarian. I’m in heaven!!
After the guests finish breakfast it’s all hands on deck and the clean up commences to music and dance. There is an order to both preparing food and clean up, though the clean up is a bit less stressful! I’ve never worked in a professional kitchen before, so it has been a learning experience that I value and will probably use again in my travels. And the knowledge is somehow transferred from volunteer to volunteer as the average stay is probably a month. Amazing.
The balance of the day consisted of cleaning 10 rooms with Anka from Germany and literally 20+ loads of sheets and towels and folding and folding and more folding with the help from Laura from the UK. Whew... I taught a yoga class, took a yoga class, helped with clean up for both lunch and dinner and talked to a friend for an hour.
What a wild social experiment this is...
I’ll sleep well tonight.