Spanda Yoga School (Photography by Rachael Hartley)
I was first introduced to Cacao in Cusco, Peru. My friend and I attended an afternoon course grinding cacao nibs and learning about the medicinal properties of cacao. It was the first time I’d been properly introduced to chocolate in its natural form and it established a whole new appreciation for me. Needless to say when I saw the Cacao and Yin Yoga day retreat advertised at Spanda I signed up straight away!
Spanda Yoga School is located on South Terrace, South Fremantle. As it’s website states, its much more than a yoga school; they help seekers reveal wisdom and peace inside themselves through philosophy, yoga and meditation.This is the third time I’ve attended a retreat at Spanda and each time it has been a deep journey of self discovery and love.
The space itself is fresh and light, small enough to be comforting and cosy but large enough to house 18 adults in a circular formation- each with the space to journey comfortably through the yoga movement and independent philosophical thought. As you enter, you find yourself a mat, gather any meditation pillows, blocks and bolsters you may need and make yourself comfortable. The Cacao course was run by Lani Noble, a delightful energy who welcomed us with warmth and eased us in to the much slower pace that exists at Spanda. Encouraging us to close our eyes or keep them lowered for the majority of the day and really immerse ourselves in the nourishment of what the ceremony was going to provide for us.
As we sat on our mats, a steamy cup of cacao was placed at the top of our mat. We were reminded to resist the temptation to gulp it down. But rather enjoy its presence for now and set our intentions together. Lani spoke about the playfulness and beauty of Mama Cacao. That it was nourishing and gentle. She explained the health benefits of this ancient plant medicine, which has its origins in Ancient Aztec and Myan cultures. This humble bean is full of magnesium for a healthy heart, brain & relaxation of muscles, high in antioxidants, has the highest plant based source of iron and is a natural mood elevator – containing phenylethylamine (PEA) – nature’s own anti-depressant!
We began the ceremony being very mindful of the cacao. Something I’ve been trying to remember each time I eat- to say thank you to the food for nourishing me and to be grateful for everything it brings. So I held the mug, closing my eyes. Feeling its warmth. Breathing in the smell of cloves and spice. We then sipped the chocolate. The taste was lovely, rich in notes of clove and cinnamon. We then entered gentle movement. My body seemed to be moving on it its own, in a circular motion- it was quite surreal! We were also gifted with the voice of Bhavani Naea. A singer with the most soothing voice who also made use of crystal and Tibetan bowls, a shruti box and guitar to compliment her voice. It was spine tingling stuff! I felt pure joy from my heart space. I was fully present and open. It was like being in a different universe!
Bhavani Naea (Photography by Rachael Hartley)
We experienced the joy of yin yoga over the next few hours. Personally Yin is my favourite yoga practise. I do gym workouts which are always contracting the muscles and yin compliments it so well. I’ve been a huge advocate of Yin after it helped to heal a bulging disc extremely quickly. Yin is a very nourishing practise. It is about ‘allowing’; letting the weight of your body and gravity fold your body in to position to achieve a deep stretch that is held for 4-5 minutes- it is not about forcing or discomfort. It is about breathing in to the space that is tense, loving that body part, as well as awareness of self. You’ll notice over the duration of each position your body will naturally go deeper in to the stretch. The deep connective tissue and fascia is targeted throughout the body, which improves circulation to your joints, as well as flexibility. Each time I practise Yin, I’m grateful for a different position. Today’s favourite was when we laid on our backs on the floor, with a block under our sacrum. Without any muscles tensed, allowing our bodies to relax in to the ground. With the flat bone of our lower back being supported by the block. It was such a rewarding, pleasurable stretch!
The most powerful experience of the day was the eye gazing exercise. After a morning of delving inwards in silence, we were invited to turn to the person next to us, (Still cross legged on the floor) and get as close as we felt comfortable. Guided by Lani, we were then encouraged to open our eyes and gaze in to the beauty of the person facing us. Bhavani sung ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon with the acoustics of guitar. Without speaking any verbal words I wanted this stranger to know how much I loved her. My eyes welled up. Hers did as well. We smiled and embraced in a heartfelt hug. We were then asked to honour the stillness within, gently reminded that often words say less or interfere with what we want to say. We were asked to write down on a post it note what we felt after this intense eye gazing. I felt immense love. I wrote the word ‘love‘. Everybody placed their words in a space one the floor. I noticed the person I shared my eye gaze with wrote the words, “Open, Grateful, Loved“. How beautiful- she’d received my message! What a powerful and unforgettable moment.
Lani Noble. (Photography by Rachael Hartley)
We then broke for a lovely vegan lunch in the park soaking up the spring sun. With a full belly, a heart full of love and feeling so at peace we entered in to an afternoon of yoga Nidra. followed by another eye gazing experience and an opportunity to share any thoughts or words with the group. One person raised something that my eye gazing partner and I had just shared, imagine if everybody in the world shared from this place of the heart everyday. What a world it would be! Overall it was a magic day of intention, connection, vulnerability, slowing down and courage, all nourished with the lovely soundscapes of Bhavani.
Each time I’ve been in the Spanda space I’ve felt a great sense of community and support. Even though the journeys are primarily focused around solo meditation and movement, there is an energy and awareness of togetherness. I feel so open and I heal each time. I feel the comfort of being myself in a space shared by strangers. I’d like to finish with the words I read written on one of the notes;
“I am you
You are me
In loving me
I love you”
If you would like any more information on the magic that is Spanda head to their website at http://spandaschool.com. If you’d love to experience the nourishment of cacao and yin, contact the lovely Lani and check out the offerings at https://heartofrest.com.au. Bhavani Naea is a unique force, her business is Radiance Vocal Expression and you can find out more at https://www.facebook.com/Radiance-Vocal-Expression-Therapy. Photography by the talented Rachael Hartley.