Day 1: 26th July 2013
Before the Retreat
We started with breakfast and a health talk at Surya Yoga’s studio in Aman Suria. Breakfast of fruits was served at Surya Yoga, although I missed it because I was trying to hail a cab to the studio. Although the health talk was scheduled to start at 11am, it started earlier at 10am. I arrived about 10.20am after breakfast, in time to catch the remainder of Jo’s talk.
The health talk conducted by Jo was an introduction to the concept of detoxification that would be implemented during the retreat, which is the juice fast. This meant no solids or any other drinks allowed except the juice provided, and water. As mentioned above, we had to slow our diet down prior to the retreat. Jo had emailed each of us the itinerary and diet advice (suggesting that we slow our diet down two days before the retreat), but also told us that if we had not slowed our diet down, and in her own words, “had a buffet the night before”, we can still carry on with the juice fast at this retreat although we “would really suffer tonight and tomorrow”.
We then helped ourselves to the salad buffet. I didn’t take very much though, because I don’t like salads or vegetables very much.
We also took turns taking our body measurements using Jo’s body analysis weighing machine, which showed us our weight, water percentage, body fat percentage, muscle mass percentage and bony mass index. We were to compare our results before and after the retreat.
We then got into our cars and drove convoy-style to Janda Baik. Well… not my car. I hopped into Jo’s car.
Arrival at the Retreat
We were to stay at D’Ark Resort, which was a chalet-style resort with its own private fenced grounds. The river Sungai Benus which ran just outside of the resort, is very shallow and very clean.
I was assigned to stay in room Melati with two other participants, but I had problems finding the room. That was my own fault, really. The two girls had waited for me at reception, but Jo had suggested that they go to the room first. There were two sections of chalets; one set faced the main lawn of the resort, while the other set led away from the centre, facing the main buildings of the resort. Because the rooms were not numbered, I had to look up the map to check where Melati was, but not being sure where to go, I followed everyone else as they headed to their rooms, only to find that their rooms were in the back section while my room was actually in the front. With my luggage in hand, I was already “exercising” when I wouldn’t be eating at all throughout this trip!
I eventually found my room, and it was the upper room on the farthest chalet facing the main lawn, which meant that it was at the edge of the grounds. It had a beautiful view of greenery, and we could even see the river from our room. The room had two balconies; one balcony facing the main lawn, and the other on the right side facing part of the village outside the resort. Being on the upper floor gave us a clearer view, and there was a little table with two chairs on the balcony.
We were quite fortunate that we had such a lovely view from our room. Plus, most of the rooms were quad-sharing, but in our room there were only three of us. The room was equipped with a television and an air-conditioner, and also had complimentary Milo, tea and coffee (which were forbidden on this juice detox!).
My roommates were two young (well… younger than I am) ladies Claudia and Cassandra, who were friends from university. They were yoga enthusiasts, and have been doing yoga regularly at the gym for the past few years, but were not members at Surya Yoga.
There were about fifty participants at the retreat, all of whom were women. Most of us were members of Surya Yoga; some were students of James’ Wong (one of the instructors on this retreat), and some like Claudia and Cassandra had found out about this detox retreat through one of Surya Yoga’s detox workshops.
Starting the Detox
We had our first juice of the trip shortly after our arrival. We gathered at the dining area which was under one of the main buildings. Jo had prepared several tubs, with each tub filled with the right proportions of fruits and vegetables, which included dragonfruit, beetroot, spinach, apples, oranges, purple cabbage. grapes, carrots, tomatoes, pineapple, sunflower seeds and ginger slices.
Jo was quite kind on us during the retreat, actually. During a typical juice fast, we should only have three cups of juice a day. However, she scheduled three cups on the first day itself (after lunch), and six cups on the second day.
Needless to say, I was pretty hungry because I didn’t eat much during the salad lunch, which was something I regretted because from this point on, all we had were juices.
Guided Meditation by James’ Wong
Our first group session was a guided meditation session by James’ in a hall just off the dining area. It looked like a place where seminars and concerts could be held as there was a raised stage at the front of the building. The tiled floors were sticky and didn’t seem to have been cleaned prior to our arrival.
Fortunately we had brought our own mats, so we laid them out on the floor side by side. Most of us sat on our mats, while some opted to sit on the seminar chairs at the back of the room. James sat in the front facing us, and started by giving us an introduction to the concept of meditation. We could sit any way we like as long as we were comfortable – cross legged, half-lotus or full lotus, but those sitting on the chairs had to sit with their soles of their feet on the ground, to stay in contact with the ground.
James’ explained to us the existence of the seven chakras in our bodies, which were:
Root chakra – at the tailbone. Visualized as red in colour, the root chakra represents the relationship of father and daughter.
Sacral chakra – at the womb and uterus area. Visualized as orange in colour, the sacrum chakra is the area where fears are kept.
Solar plexus chakra – at the stomach area. Visualized as yellow in colour, the solar plexus represents empowerment.
Heart chakra – at the heart. Visualized as pink or green in colour (depending on your own visualization), the heart chakra represents self-love.
Throat chakra – at the throat. Visualized as blue in colour, it represents the ability to speak the truth or to speak good words.
Third eye chakra – at the area between the eyes. Visualized as indigo in colour, it represents wisdom.
Crown chakra – on the top of the head. Visualized as white in colour, it represents the ability to connect spirituality.
James’ then led us through the guided meditation. Seated comfortably on the floor or on the chair, we closed our eyes as we allowed James to talk us through the meditation. It was a non-spiritual meditation, so anyone of any religion could take part; it was about connecting with ourselves, to focus on our breathing, and to learn to let go of fears and worries. Of course, this was voluntary, so anyone who was not comfortable participating was free to excuse herself.
I had never really meditated before, so this was sort of my first full guided meditation session. I have had small guided meditation sessions before in some yoga classes, but those meditations usually lasted only ten minutes at most.
This session took about an hour, and I have to admit I personally wasn’t good at it. James had told us that if there were any flies or any fur brushing against us (there was a cat that was curious enough to walk between us), we can acknowledge the feeling but to prevent it from bothering us; if we had any pains or numbness, we had to learn to let go to a degree where we did not feel it. For me, all I could think of was the lack of feeling in my legs, as I kept switching their positions in a vain attempt to keep blood flowing.
James’ did tell us that meditation was not something that everyone could pick up immediately, and for some it would take several sessions before they could get the hang of it. Meditation was also advised to be done under guidance of an experienced practitioner.
We had a cup of juice each after the guided meditation, before we went back to the hall to learn about agnihotra.
Agnihotra – Healing Fire
What is agnihotra? I have never heard of it until tonight.
Datuk Allan Yong, with his assistants, started with a video presentation. The hall wasn’t well suited for electronic presentations; the stage area did not have working power sockets, and they had to project it at the back of the hall, but there were no screens at the back that were large enough, so they had to project it onto the curtains. Unfortunately the curtains could not be pulled straight so there were creases in the video presentation. This was not the fault of any of the organisers; this was something D’Ark failed to provide in spite of early notification.
The video presentation was of a psychic talking to the camera. To be very honest, the woman came across as … well, to put it nicely, rather delusional. She was rambling a little bit on the video which was recorded on her webcam. I personally didn’t think the video was effective, because she wasn’t really getting her message across. But if you listened to what she was trying to say, the point she was trying to make was valid – she was talking about the importance of saving the planet (although she didn’t talk about how; she only talked about the must).
Datuk Allan then went on to explain what agnihotra is. You can see that he is a generous, caring man, who has deep concerns for the environment, and has no interest in monetary gains through agnihotra. He willingly shared his knowledge of agnihotra with us, and sold agnihotra sets at cost. He believes that trying to make money through agnihotra would make it ineffective. The only problem I had with the presentation was that he was not quite an effective presenter, because I still had no idea what agnihotra was until midway through the presentation, someone pointedly asked, “WHAT IS AGNIHOTRA?”
So… what is agnihotra?
Agnihotra is healing fire. The agnihotra set is made by burning dried cow dung covered in cow ghee in a copper pyramid. But you cannot burn this set at any time you like – you can only burn this set at sunrise, when the energy from the sun first reaches the ground; and at sunset, when the energy is withdrawn from the land by the sun. A simple chant accompanies the burning, while brown rice is offered to the fire. Agnihotra should be chanted twice a day during these two times every day.
The ash after burning can be used to fertilize the ground – Datuk Allan showed us statistics that proved that land fertilized by agnihotra ash is far more effective compared to land that used traditional or modern fertilizer. He has a jackfruit farm that he uses agnihotra to make fertile, and he showed us proof of its effectiveness.
The ash could also be used for humans. Datuk Allan said a solution of the ash and water can be wiped on the skin to cure skin ailments, and can also be drunk to heal the body.
Even the smoke could be used. Just place hands over the fire, and then rub the smoke-covered hands over parts of the body that need attention, for example the face, back, stomach, and arms.
For more information, check out www.homa1.com. Datuk Allan also conducts free agnihotra sessions in Petaling Jaya on weekends, and if you wish for more information, please contact him.
The theoretical session with Datuk Allan Yong was cut short because of the time. He wanted to give us a live demonstration of agnihotra, and sunset was quickly approaching as it was already close to 7pm.
We gathered outside on a bricked area just outside the hall. Datuk Allan had a number of assistants with him to help with the agnihotra. We formed a circle with the agnihotra leaders at the circumference, facing the inside of the circle, while the retreat participants sat within the circle facing the agnihotra fires. Datuk Allan said those who needed the most healing could sit in the centre of the circle, where the smoke would be the most concentrated. Me, being the kiasu type, decided to test if this was true, and I took one of the centre seats. As respect, all footwear must be kept out of the circle.
Datuk Allan watched the time on his phone, and when it was time, we recited the sunset chant, and sat in silence to absorb the healing smoke. When the fire burned the offering down to ash, we placed our hands over the dying fire and rubbed our smoked hands over our body parts as advised.
I didn’t personally feel any immediate healing, but then I wasn’t suffering from any particular ailment. Perhaps I needed more than one session.
The ash was then gathered, and many of the retreat participants took some of the ash back in plastic bags.
Datuk Allan offered to come back the next morning to do a sunrise session, and several of us took him up on his offer.
First Sound Healing Session with James’
After a cup of juice, we went back to the hall for another session with James’, this time for sound healing.
What is sound healing? It is an alternative therapy, which, like the name implies, uses sound for healing. There are several ways to use sound; in the first session with James’, he used his voice and his crystal singing bowl. As a trained sound healer, he knew how to strike the right frequency just by singing. He wasn’t even singing anything special – he just sung the vowels “a e i o u” in the right frequency. As for his “singing bowl”, it was a crystal bowl which he reverberated with a wand.
How do we get “healed”? By striking the right frequency, each chakra would resonate with the matching sound frequency.
We had a choice to lie on our mats or sit upright on the chairs; most of us opted to lie stretched out. We shut our eyes and listened as James’ used his voice and his crystal bowl to create the sound frequencies.
Unfortunately, because it was in the evening, the sound healing session was interrupted by prayers that were being from the speakers in a nearby mosque.
After the session, James’ asked if any of us felt anything. Many of the participants felt warmth especially at the sacral chakra; some even felt pain. Those were indications that the healing effects were being felt.
Me? I didn’t feel anything.
I did manage to speak to James’ the next day about sound healing. He assured me that even though I didn’t feel anything, my chakras would still have resonated with the frequencies. I did feel something in his second session, which you can read about on Day 2.
We finished the night with a half-full cup of oats porridge cooked with molasses. Thank goodness for the oats, because many of us were pretty hungry by nightfall! I don’t even like oats (and still don’t), but when you’re hungry, you’ll take what you can get. And honestly though, the way it was cooked didn’t make the oats taste that bad… or maybe it was just because I was hungry.
My roommates and I were the last to leave the dining hall, which was fortunate for me, because there was one extra cup of oats left over and I got to consume that.
A Mouse for a Roommate
Well… the night did not end uneventfully for my roommates and me. With only one bathroom, we took turns taking a shower. As I was waiting my turn, from my single bed in the corner, I suddenly spotted a mouse running along the top of the wall, where there was a slight gap below the roof. I was trying to decide whether to say something, but I thought I should just in case the mouse suddenly decided to drop down and join us for the night. If anything, I did NOT want the mouse to fall on any of our faces in the middle of our sleep! So we pushed our beds into the middle of the room away from the walls. In doing so, we found a box of rat poison under my bed, which I nudged back into the corner away from our beds.
It was hard to sleep at night though, not because of the mouse (I wasn’t really afraid of the mouse, I just didn’t want it on my face); there were a lot of firecracker explosions in the village where the kids were playing. And our chalet being at the edge of the grounds meant we were closer to the village than the rest of the rooms.
That was end of Day 1. I survived the day on a little salad, three cups of juice and oats. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, although I would have to admit I was dreaming of a peanut butter sandwich. I wasn’t that hungry, and I wasn’t grumpy or irritable.