It was a castle in the sky. It felt that way at least, way up high, nestled at the edge of the jungle up the mountains. I hugged a cup of black tea to my chest and stared out over the Himalayas. I had come to Nepal to become an internationally certified yoga teacher and complete a 200 hours training program at Nepal Yoga Home under the direction of yoga guru Prakash Acharya. My decision to come to Nepal, rather than doing the training course in America, was predicated on the fact that I had no interest in a westernized yoga experience. I was here for the real deal.
I had hours of instruction and practice every day: yoga, pranayama, Ayurveda, anatomy, Ashtanga, philosophy and meditation. It was a 21-day intensive program and I was surrounded by 16 other students, all here for different reasons, but ultimately hoping to deepen their practice and their connection with themselves. Steam curled around my neck as I leaned over the balcony and saw Stina walking up the steps to the yoga home. Stina was my roommate from Stockholm. My closest friends in the program were from Paris and Cairo, and the guy who practiced on the mat across from mine was Nic, a sailor from Denmark. I burst out laughing mid-class on a particularly hot morning, when we were all sweating profusely as I realized that never in my life did I think I’d smell the pheromones of a Danish sailor. Life was too good. Life was too unexpectedly good.
People use the phrase “melting pot” to describe America, and I suppose that is true, but we’re talking about one ginormous millions-of-people melting pot. I found Nepal Yoga Home’s melting pot microcosm completely and wholeheartedly exhilarating. Speaking Spanish with my acro-yoga partner, saying good morning in French, exclaiming “nice hair cut!” on accident in Arabic when you meant to say congratulations, learning colloquialisms in Czech for a laugh — what’s better than that?
I loved learning Nepali as well. The yoga home was run by a kind and generous Nepali family and everyone spoke varied levels of English, ranging from zero to blessedly near-perfect. So if I didn’t know how to say “poogeo” they sometimes would keep serving me scoop after scoop of curried rice and vegetables until I’d pull my plate away in terror of the mountain of food I was expected to consume. Let’s just say it wasn’t the same case on samosa day, when I became the resident samosa record holder for the number I excitedly wolfed down.
The sun had warmed my shoulders, and the tea had warmed my hands. I looked up and saw a monkey perched on top of the roof. He’d taken a liking to snacking on pasta and bananas from our kitchen. I smiled. Nepal was nothing like I’d expected. Every day was the most beautiful day, the most precious day. I’d let go of all my ridiculous American stress around trivial, banal, non-consequential things — OK, some things may be consequential, but still shouldn’t be constantly and frantically fretted over. Thanks to the soothing and simple life here, I’d been able to sink into my inner stillness. Nepal gave me many gifts: a YTTC200hr certificate, lifelong friends, enlightening spiritual and philosophical instruction, but perhaps the biggest gift was clarity. By taking away the frills of my life, I could see my life.
The clouds had shifted over the mountain range. Tendrils of varied languages traveled down from the hall above. It’s not exactly hot-off-the-press news to anyone, but Nepal is magic.
After returning to my job in Iowa, I soon realized that I was called to dedicate my life to yoga and to follow that passion wherever it may lead me. Turns out that path was pointing me to Cambodia. Serendipity led me to a job as a yoga instructor at an island resort on Koh Rong Samloem. There I’ll be teaching sunrise and sunset yoga until the universe nudges me elsewhere.
Lily Allen-Duenas is a traveling yogini who is currently working at an island resort in Cambodia. When not teaching, she’s seeking out masters and mentors across Asia to deepen her own practice. Grow alongside her and follow her journey at wildyogatribe.com or on Facebook and Instagram at @wildyogatribe. This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Winter 2018 issue.