Yoga instructor Saba Rana of Soul Space has her yoga practice in Lahore. She also specializes in yoga retreats in Northern Pakistan. Having recently organized two yoga retreats in Skardu, in a two-part series, here is an in-depth look at the first one that comprised of a group of seven women. The second one is featured as a picture essay accompanying this story.
Located at an altitude of over 8000 feet, at the confluence of the Indus and Shigar Rivers, the valley serves as a gateway to the eight-thousanders of the nearby Karakoram Mountain Range and is famed for its picturesque vistas and panoramic views. The diverse set of participants from both groups welcomed these breaks and enjoyed the brief getaways, while finding peace and enlightenment on a higher plain.
“A lawyer, a banker, a fashion designer, an entrepreneur, a writer, a mindfulness motivator and an architect. Different cities, different walks of life, different ages, all set out for a yoga retreat in the mountains. Seven beautiful and powerful souls. Each one brought a unique set of strengths and energy to the group; each one so authentic, pure and open-hearted.
To the universe and to each one of you who accompanied me, I thank you for helping me learn, grow and connect with our inner selves. Mariam Shebaz, Zarmina Masud Khan, Saira Ahsan, Ambereen Israr, Rishm Saifullah, Uzma Ramzan, Shandana Gulzar Khan – may the light be with you.” – Saba Rana
What is a yoga retreat?
As a yoga teacher leading a retreat, I get all kinds of questions like ‘can I bring my blow dryer?’ to whispered concerns about whether they will be able to have a piece of meat. Across the globe one can find endless varieties of yoga retreats and crazy combinations like ‘Foodie & Yoga Retreats’, ‘Bikini Boot Camp & Yoga Retreats’, ‘Chocolate Tasting & Yoga’, ‘Surfing & Yoga’ as well as those replete with Vipassana (silence) and/or fasting, chanting and other forms of abstinence out there. So there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to what an ideal yoga retreat is and what it should entail. However, if you think we sit cross-legged for a week and then go home, you’re mistaken.
Typically, the day starts with a one-hour yoga practice (sun salutations, asanas, meditation) early morning either at sunrise or shortly after and then perhaps another 30-minute session of breath work (pranayama) at sunset. Ideally yoga practices are done on an empty or very light stomach. The idea is to relax and have a laidback schedule for the day and be flexible. We have most of the day to go out for sightseeing, picnics, walks, swimming in lakes etc. Each group is different as well and depending on group synergy, the pace is set.
There is plenty of adventure and holiday type fun but what mostly happens on a retreat is a special bond, both inside the yoga room and out. We gather from different parts of the world or country with our varied travel and yoga backgrounds or at times totally new to yoga and renew our spirits together. The practice of yoga in all its forms grounds us and gives us a platform through which we connect at a deep level. As we make our way through our retreat week, I can see the transformation infiltrate each of us. Sure, someone might learn how to do a great warrior pose or find balance in the swan pose but it’s the collective experience of the journey that regenerates and inspires from skin to soul. There’s nothing self- conscious about this shift. It’s an organic immersion that lends itself to the universal ‘oneness’ most spiritual practices and regions espouse. When we slow down we allow ourselves to see the beauty around us and within us.
Whether you are an adventure seeker or a laidback writer/philosopher or have a high flying corporate career and are looking for time out to unwind, our yoga mats become magic carpets, to see both the world around us and the infinity within us.
How many days did it cover?
It was a 6 nights and 7 days retreat.
How many people went?
There were 7 females in the group.
Why did you choose Skardu?
I chose Skardu for its legendary beauty and magic.
Where did you stay and practice yoga in Skardu?
We stayed at the Serena Shigar Fort Resort. We practiced in various gardens and terraces and beautiful historic pavilions with breathtaking views of the mountains and a soothing sound of gushing stream water.
We also practiced by lakes and inside the lakes (water yoga), in apple orchards, as we set out to picnics and adventures in nearby and surrounding locations.
What all did you eat?
The food was great, a lot of it organically and locally grown. Fresh peach jam and blackberry compotes, a healthy vegetarian selection, fresh fish grilled, a variety of barbecue. For those wanting a complete vegetarian meal, the choices were endless. We stayed flexible to accommodate the meat-eaters too.
What arrangements did you have to make in terms of logistics, room and board?
Everything was organized by TACTACK a company I partnered up with. They took care of logistics, transport, and it was professional and smooth sailing.
When is the best time to go? (Season/month?)
The best time to visit is summer, but those months are also the busiest. Both April and October are also nice because the weather is turning and the foliage is coloured. Another plus, it’s quieter and more peaceful.
When do you plan to do it again?
I’m planning my next retreat in April 2018.
Creating a space, a group, a vibe, a flow, is an art form of the highest order. I credit the unbelievably inspiring, supremely talented Saba Rana for this experience.
Our teacher, Saba, had this magical, calming spell on us. She created a space which was a fusion of yoga and singing and writing and sharing, with laughter and tears mixed in!
ZARMINA MASUD KHAN
In light of this retreat, Shigar Fort and Upper Kachura Lake hold special meaning for me now. I associate them as places where I connected with my true self and the Divine One – with nature and the universe.
I witnessed the sand dunes of the highest altitude desert between the tallest peaks in the world. I saw the mirage like the verdant Shigar Valley surrounded by only sand dunes and rocky peaks. And I saw myself in everything that my eyes could see and now it all resides in me even though I’m back in the city, Lahore. All I need to do is close my eyes and breath – and I become that mirage because its all within me.
It was an unforgettable week. This retreat, with the extremely talented, encouraging and motivated yoga teacher Saba Rana; a group of wonderful women; against the magical setting of the Fort, with grand views all around; and a soothing, real-life soundtrack of a stream rushing down through the the rocks next to us, has instilled in me a sense of true peace and tranquility.
The wondrous setting of Shigar and it’s majestic landscape perfectly complimented the feeling of wellbeing. In short, the whole trip was like a beautiful dream, one I didn’t want to wake up from.