I recently returned from a Yantra Yoga retreat with John Renshaw at Kunselling retreat house, which is nestled between the Black mountains and the Brecon Beacons in the Welsh countryside. It was a five day retreat and for several of those days we were graced with some beautiful weather. Clematis and other spring flowers were in bloom for the complete effect.

There were about nine of us, a mixture of longtime and new practitioners. We were indulged with delicious meals, prepared by Thomas Beaver, which included home baked breads and granola, a variety of grains and pulses, tagines, puddings and well… we needed to practice presence and awareness in order for our pleasure not to interfere with our practice of yoga!

John Renshaw at Kunselling, May 2018

John Renshaw, Kunselling, May 2018

John is a very thorough and skilled teacher. He is a clear communicator who integrates many examples from everyday life to help us understand the physical and theoretical aspects of Yantra. He included a slide presentation that illustrated the profound effects yoga has on health by engaging the parasympathetic (restful) nervous system. In our normally hectic lives, our tendency is towards sympathetic nervous system (SNS) hyper-arousal and reactive thinking, which in turn can bath our bodies and minds in a continuous flow of stress hormones. Research in neuroscience shows how yoga can alter the neurotransmitters in our brain chemistry decreasing anxiety, depression, chronic and degenerative diseases. Its great to learn how our Western system is beginning to observe what the Eastern system has known all along about healing, but the primary focus of Yantra yoga is the attainment of Rigpa. To this end, Yantra includes calming aspects of energy, but its emphasis is the movement of a range of energies.

Some of the Course Participants

Yantra is an advanced practice and can be challenging for Westerners and new practitioners to access properly without months or years of practice. John demonstrated some preliminary practices that can help work towards doing Yantra in a way to get benefit sooner, rather than later. This is true on the physical level, for example getting into the correct posture and opening stiff hips, as well as for working with our minds. Also, using the metaphor of the “The Wild Horse: Prana and the Lame Rider”, was tremendously helpful in approaching all of the movements from the Tsigjongs through to the Yantras and Pranayamas. And finally, I felt that John’s emphasis on the integration of body, voice and mind helped me to avoid mistakes of mindless movement, or conversely, overthinking without feeling and presence in my body.

Practising Khumbaka in Kunselling sunshine, May 2018

Practising Khumbaka in the Kunselling sun, May 2018

One of the highlights of this wonderful retreat happened on a sunny afternoon when we were practicing Kumbhakas and Parloongs outdoors on the mandala deck.  We were able to use large patches of the Welsh sky as the “luminous blue of empty space” while we focused on Clarity, Emptiness and “expanding our Presence beyond the boundaries of both outer and inner space”… I think we all had special experiences that day. Simultaneously, the natural world around us was vividly alive.  Vigilantly checking us out, a pair of blackbirds made many rounds bringing worms to their chicks nesting in the Gompa window behind us. The sheep and their lambs were raucous, bleating with great comedic “Intention”. As human animals, we identified and had a good laugh. The sensations of sunshine, scent of grass, and wafting aromas from Thomas’s cooking made for a very special time.

I want to thank John, Thomas, Cindy (for organizing) and everyone who participated in this retreat for what you each gave of yourselves. Sangha means so much more than just a group of people getting together around a common interest. I have been enriched by your company, Thank-you!

— Colette Campbell-Jones, June 2018 —