Thai Travelogue. Q: When is a Yoga Retreat not a Yoga Retreat?

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A: When it’s a gathering of business professionals in a yoga-based industry, who have come together from both fitness and entertainment fields to offer you, the quiet couple from Canada who just wanted a weekend getaway in the mountains, this amazing one-time offer complete with free yoga classes, the pained general camaraderie that comes with being a sales professional and surely guarantees a slow and painful death due to diabetes or heart failure, AND a chance to test our products AT NO COST TO YOU and OH MY GOD- this is going on Facebook the moment my three day “internet cleanse” is over.

Teaching English in Chiang Mai was not difficult, but it was exhausting. Maintaining the socially prescribed “keep it light or everybody’s gonna lose some face” countenance while wrangling a bunch of unruly kids who only really listen to things people say to them in Thai. Getting them to sit through lessons and bake things your grandmother would call tricky: “Okay, Plim, knead the pastry dough, but only a little, just until the moment the butter kind of crumbles, or else the dough will… Oh, okay then, you just go ahead and knead the shit out of it, because you’re eight, and that’s what eight-year-olds do.”

Seriously, pastry dough? That’s what Pillsbury is for. And don’t get me started on deep fry day. Hello, lawsuit! Sorry Mrs. Boonliang, we deep-fried little Pun’s hand. He’s over here, soaking it in a sweet chili sauce, and I’ve got some sesame seeds here if you need them.My respect for teachers, already sky-high, increased exponentially. Next jerk to begrudge teachers their right to job action gets a kick in the junk.

So when we were done with teaching, we decided to treat ourselves to a few days at a nice resort out of town. Tharnthong Lodges is on a huge property with gardens, a river, nice-looking cabins, and most importantly: bunnies.

They appeared to be everywhere, running free on the grounds. SOLD. The reviews on TripAdvisor were mostly positive, and the price was right. Reportedly, the internet reception was terrible, which would give me the chance for a bit of an internet detox. Prim—the proprietress—told us they were hosting a Yoga retreat for the days we had requested, but she had one room available for us. “How lovely!” I thought. An entire resort full of happy, bendy people cruising around a magical, bunny-filled garden. And us, riding the coattails of their Zen. “Maybe we’ll even get to do some Yoga!”

Well.

Prim is there to greet us the moment we step out of the cab. She’s one of these super-swanky older ladies who has had everything nipped and tucked and micro-dermabraised, but still manages to look down-to-earth. She probably drinks spirulina and virgin blood smoothies while working out in the sauna. All smiles, and really very lovely, but she makes me uncomfortable. I decide to try and give her a wide berth, which shouldn’t be a problem, since the grounds are expansive and our cabin is pretty secluded. She hustles us in with promises of mushroom and bacon omelettes, but not before introducing us to Christopher, a handsome and very friendly (Everyone’s so friendly!) American man who exclaims “OOO! The most beautiful city in the world!” When we tell him we’re from Vancouver. Well, it is. So, Okay. But we’re still not sure who Christopher is, and why we’ve been introduced. I assume he’s one of the Yogi’s or something. Then he mentions a Yoga class at 2 that afternoon.

“You should come!” he gushes, giving Zander the eye, but maintaining a slightly flirty bearing toward me as well. “It’s going to be great!”

“Okay. Maybe,” I reply, in a way that I hope sounds as non-committal as I feel. No offence, Christopher, but we’re a little bit hung over and maybe not ready to get bendy with your swishy, charismatic self just yet. He reminds us once more before we’re finished breakfast.

At 2pm, there’s a knock on the door. We’ve been dozing; Zander rushes around to find pants and opens the door to a young Thai guy with a nervous smile. “Hello! You go Yoka?” This takes us a moment to decode. “Oh! No, thanks” Zander replies, unable to keep the edge out of his voice. What is this, camp?

I’m not sure, but I think I hear Christopher’s voice right outside our cabin seconds later. “Oh no? Okay.” Maybe it wasn’t him. I imagine the class standing outside the door, waiting for us. No no no. Right? What do they care if we go?

At dinner, Sgt. Prim asks us why we didn’t attend class. “We fell asleep?” I offer, wondering why I’m feeling so guilty. It’s not like we signed up. She smiles and nods, a vein pulsing lightly in her forehead. Christopher and his entourage are gathered around a table eating tofu steaks and steamed greens, locked in venomous conversation about how terrible it is when people don’t show up for Yoga class. I am not shitting you. Zander and I–the only other people in the dining hall–sit as far away from them as possible and tell ourselves that this is all a hilarious misunderstanding. They couldn’t possibly be talking about us! When the topic switches to a venomous discussion on how disgusting super-size McDonald’s meals are, I relax a little. We have no choice but to pass them on the way out. Christopher, all nonchalant, tells us there will be a class tomorrow at eleven. Prim reminds us of the class as we leave and the next morning at breakfast.

The only other person in the dining hall at 7am is a big, affable-looking guy, who greets me enthusiastically as I come around the corner with my muesli. “How did you sleep?” he bellows, and I almost look behind me to see who he’s addressing. I assume he’s mistaken me for one of the retreat’s official participants, but I answer him back with as much gusto as I can muster. He and several other members of the group don’t really look like Yoga retreat people. These are not hippies, or even the flowy-but-urban Namaste types that Vancouver is full of. They don’t really seem to be relaxing. Everyone is brandishing an Iphone, Ipad, Iwhatever, and bitching about the reception.

“Just wait until I get back on Facebook,” I tell Zander. “This is getting a full-on blog post for sure.” The choice to write about it makes the situation suddenly seem more fun. I decide to gather some material.

“So, uh, you’re here for the Yoga thing then?” I say, articulately. “Yes!” he roars. “My wife and I are actually the representatives for the entire Saskatoon area!” Not: We’re really enjoying the peace of mind and increased flexibility Yoga provides.

“The Yoga representatives?” I stutter. Carleigh Baker, ace reporter.

“For Anti-Gravity Yoga,” he replies proudly.

Then I remember the pamphlet in our cabin. People in these Cirque De Soleil stretchy hammocks, doing yoga moves, upside down. Terrifying. And there, on the back of the pamphlet, looking like a handsome gay swan wrapped in a microfiber sausage casing, was a man named Christopher. THE Christopher, who apparently works with Broadway stars and Madonna and probably the Pope, too. Who wants everyone to try out this revolutionary new path to flexibility, enlightenment, and FUN!

So. This is the king of Anti-Gravity Yoga, and these are his sales minions. Not that this necessarily makes the gathering some kind of evil, Jonestown DRINK THE KOOL-AID hostage situation, but let’s be honest. Sales people—good ones at least—don’t usually know when to turn off the sell. So even if Zander and I are being given the opportunity for some free Yoga, we’re also going to get a free cup of coffee and the opportunity to purchase an amazing, newly-renovated timeshare condo on the pristine banks of the Anti-Gravity River. But we still have two nights left at the resort, a resort populated entirely by anti-gravity sales people, and owned by an obvious disciple. “See you in class!” Prim waves as we leave the dining hall. “Eleven o’clock!” The Muesli is already cramping in my stomach.

Back in the safety of our front porch, I broach the subject with Zander. “How much could they really be trying to sell us, really? A fancy hammock? I’ll just say I don’t have anywhere to set it up.”

“That’s the thing with these people though, they’ve got an answer for everything.” Zander shudders. He’d been sucked into a multi-level marketing seminar once, and spent an inordinate amount of time extracting himself. “I just don’t think hanging upside down for an hour and then being given a sales pitch is very relaxing.” He’s right of course, but my curiosity gets the better of me. Tell myself (stupidly) that going once will satisfy everyone. I suit up in my most yoga-friendly attire and head for the pagoda. I’m shaking a little. Maybe it’s the cappuccino.

Well, I’d love to tell you that there is some kind of baby eating ceremony or that I break my neck while swinging upside-down and am getting a massive settlement or something equally exciting, but the class is…okay! The acrobatic style certainly doesn’t provide much relaxation. And as I learn, this is also a teacher training seminar, so the girl who is leading the class has NEVER TAUGHT BEFORE. “How is your body?” She asks me, deer-in-the-headlights.

“Not good, very tight hips, and I have menstrual cramps,” I answer. I see the panic register, and she mumbles something about periods not being the best time to do Yoga. Great! Now let’s get in that harness! But there is an unsmiling older man there who seems to know what is going on, and he keeps an eye on me. The loud guy and his wife are there too, and they spot me through some of the more challenging poses. While getting into the positions is a bit of a bitch, some of the hanging and flying poses are actually fun. Really! The adrenaline kind of fun though. And doing the post-class guided meditation wrapped in a sausage casing is not as relaxing as lying on the floor with a folded blanket under your head, arms spread wide. Traditional Yoga’s got you beat there, Christopher.

After the class is over, the older man  is suddenly all smiles and asks us to sit in a circle “for just a minute.” Here it comes, the pitch. But there are at least fifteen other eager-looking Thai women in the class who look like they have baht, so I tell myself I might get off without too much hassle. But all he talks about is hormone levels and stress and the benefits of relaxation. Total soft-sell. It appears that getting people to attend the class is paramount, but the follow-up is mellow. It was pretty fun. They probably don’t have much trouble selling those bendy hammocks. People love to buy things.

I do get a bit of a follow-up high-five from Christopher later on. He wasn’t in the class, but says he heard I was a “superstar.” If only these people understood how creepy it is to hear they’ve been talking about me at all. He throws “Alexander” some shade for not going, which Z shrugs off easily. We are now resigned to the never-ending pitch that is going to be our vacation.  It’s annoyingly earnest, but that’s all. “See you in class tomorrow?” Christopher asks. A resort bunny in his lap, luxuriating in the attention.

“We’ll give you a definite maybe.”

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