Making Friends While Practicing Yoga in Nepal
A pressing but sensitive consideration when uprooting your life from one continent to another is making friends–as an adult. Those who have lived in one place for a long time, perhaps their whole lives, and have been through various levels of education in a place rarely have to consider this. But when I moved to Nepal, I knew nobody.
I’d been practicing yoga for a couple of years in Australia, so I was keen to pick this up in Kathmandu. Near my house is a nice studio, largely frequented by expats—which makes it rather pricey by Nepali standards, but also provides the familiar yogic environment that most Westerners are used to. Indeed, my guidebook recommended Pranamaya Studio, stating that it was set up because the founders were looking for a place to practice yoga that didn’t involve hairy men in very brief briefs demonstrating contortionate poses to the room…
Pranamaya Studio regularly runs yoga retreats to various places around Kathmandu. Having never been to a yoga retreat before, and being rather scared of the idea (would I have to stay silent?), I jumped right in and attended one at Pharping Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, about an hour’s drive from Kathmandu, on my second weekend in the country. I thought it might also be a good way to meet people, to find out what goes on socially in Kathmandu. This was advertised as a monsoon retreat because it was in the middle of Nepal’s three-month-long wet season during which it rains every day.
The retreat, which had about 30 participants, a combination of expat residents and tourists in Nepal, was very well structured and kept us very busy. We had four yoga sessions over two days, instruction in meditation, two informative talks from the head lama of the monastery on Tibetan Buddhism (watched over by a magnificent coloured and gold Buddha), and a short hike over rice fields (leeches!) to the small town of Pharping to see the Buddhist meditation cave.
I had only been in Nepal a couple of weeks at this point, and it was a revelation to get out of the then-muddy (now dusty), traffic-choked Kathmandu into the hills to see a different side of Nepali life. And it did help me make friends—I shared a room with a young German woman working with a German development agency in Kathmandu for a few months, and in the following weeks she invited me to parties where I was able to expand the circle of people I knew.
At a bit of a loose end right before Christmas, and with the temperatures in Kathmandu steadily dropping, I signed up for another yoga retreat in December. This one was to the Namo Buddha Resort at Namo Buddha, which was a two-hour drive from Kathmandu. This time of year, when the pollution from Kathmandu is not too all-enveloping, stunning mountain views can be had, and from the Namo Buddha resort we were treated to perfect views of the Himalayas. From the room in which we practiced yoga, if I twisted my head a certain way in downward dog, I could see the mountains while contorting, which was pretty inspiring.
This retreat was advertised as an Ayurveda and yoga weekend, and we spent a few hours learning about yoga’s dietary companion. We seemed to spend as much time this weekend eating as we did exercising (which I guess balances things out!?) as the resort prepares amazing vegetarian food from its organic garden.
The group attending this time was much smaller, and mostly residents of Kathmandu (the place doesn’t yet as many tourists in the winter) so again, it was easy to make friends. One of the best things about being a friendless new resident in Kathmandu is that so many other people in their twenties and thirties are in the same position: posted here for a short time (many are only here on one-year contracts), well-educated, interested in Nepal and South Asia. Therefore, it’s easy to find like-minded people keen to make new friends, and I’ve found yoga to be one of the best ways to find them.