Interest: Vipassana Silent Retreat – Can Vital

“Your body is always present.” This is what our teacher Christiane Wolf suggests in her Dharma talk at the retreat. Vipassana means “seeing clearly” or “insight meditation” , or  “التأمل الواعي” in Arabic. It concentrates on bringing awareness to our body and its sensations. Observing our thoughts and emotions without judgment, observing them just as they come and go. This mindfulness technique helps reduce stress and anxiety according to research, and from personal experience, it backs up this claim. It is a secular method of meditation with roots from Buddhist teachings.  Anyone from any religion or background can practice it. The schedule for the day at the retreat starts at 7 a.m. with an hour of stretching and a body scan meditation, followed by breakfast at 8 am, then back to the meditation hall for a silent meditation lasting 30 to 45 mins.  Then comes the walking meditation (30 mins), which consists of slow and mindful short walks, back and forth between sitting and walking meditation until lunch at 12:30 p.m.  A resting break follows until 3 p.m. where we do yoga outdoors on the deck, then we head back to the meditation hall with a talk about mindfulness techniques with a “loving kindness” meditation, which consists of sending love and compassion to people of your choosing; people you may like or dislike, to yourself or generally to all humankind. Dinner is at 6 p.m., and the final meditation of the day is in silence before bedtime at 9 p.m.

This repeats for:

One week 

Outskirts of Barcelona

Mountains of Mediona Catalonia 

We sit, alone

Twenty other meditators

Middle of nowhere

Fourteen nationalities 

All over the world

In a circle

Eyes closed

Breathing together

Into our minds

Understanding, curious, open

What our next thought will be 

Here and now

Alone, with others 

We listen to our brains

Our bodies 

Talk to us in silence

Yet so much chatter 


Here and now

Silence in our hearts

All to come to one understanding

Everything we do is in our heads. 

We were sitting, walking, eating, breathing, and sleeping in silence.

I struggled the first few days.  Leaving my kids, husband, family and friends behind as if I am now dead, with no trace of me, and all communication stands still for one week. Awaiting my awakening, or better yet, my understanding of the human brain. I didn’t see how much I was naturally distracted when I first realized that I couldn’t sit still by simply doing nothing.  I couldn’t read a book, listen to music or check my phone, which are things you do when you are alone right? Not in a silent retreat. You just sit down and watch your crazy brain go, just observing, until you are reminded by yourself to come back to either your breath, or sensations in your body.  Our body, which is always present.

This was my first retreat, a silent one! I was full of love and frustration at the same time.  I wanted to learn and get out of my comfort zone and I did, but I didn’t know how to be fully there, as my mind kept pulling me to moments and thoughts in the past or the future.  Every time I tried to be in the present I set a goal for the future.  For example, during a seated meditation, I was thinking about lunch time, or when I will go on my next hike, my mind racing and always wanting to do something, unable to be still.  This was my biggest challenge, more so than not talking which I was okay with.  My challenge was to find a way to just be there without thinking of the future or the past. I had a few glimpses of myself in the present moment but if you added them all up, they would barely make up a full day out of the seven days at the retreat! Sitting in silence doing nothing may create a different experience for each one of us, but in my opinion might result in the same outcome. We all come out of it better humans. Less angry or frustrated and more kind to ourselves and others. More compassionate and understanding of ourselves and others. I always say that everyone has a story, and we may all be suffering in our own way.  When I say suffering I mean, the stress and worry we carry in our heads, the inner voice that talks to us all the time through the good, the bad and the ugly.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned from the talks were: The 5 Mental Hindrances for being in the moment are:

1- Sleepiness. 

2- Restlessness and anxiousness. 

3- Wanting mind through the five senses.

4- Not wanting mind and ill will.

5- Doubt.

And Tara Brach R.A.I.N method to practice radical compassion, which stands for:

  • Recognize what is happening;
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate with interest and care;
  • Nurture with self-compassion.

Other topics included the differences between empathy and compassion which was a huge light bulb moment for me. Empathy is important to feel someone else’s experience, but sometimes it can have a bad effect on us especially if we take the pain of others as ours. Compassion on the other hand, is being kind and understanding of someone else’s suffering without embodying the pain.  You let it go through you without clinging or identifying with the suffering and pain. This way you can help people or help yourself without the emotional burnout. Of course, too much compassion and empathy can be harmful in both instances, especially with a selfish approach to be compassionate and empathetic.  That is why wise compassion is more balanced. Knowing when to help and when to be there can make a huge difference. 

I have learnt so much and it was totally worth the mental suffering.  I had to get out of my comfort zone to grow and be more mature about life. It was also good to slow down, especially in a world where everything moves so fast and so much is demanding our attention. I think I might do this once a year. Can Vital is such a beautiful property owned by a Danish architect and his Spanish wife. They rent it to all kinds of retreats. It has around 13 rooms, a beautiful kitchen garden, where our Chef, Cissi got most of the vegetables from.  She fed our souls impeccable vegan/vegetarian home cooked food while we meditated and sat in silence. The place has a sauna room, swimming pool, outdoor deck for yoga, indoor meditation hall, gym and dining /tea room.

The place was surrounded by beautiful views and trails, so its nature alone can heal, let alone the silence and meditation. Atmajyoti, which is a yoga center based in Sweden run by Vivika, was in charge of all our needs and demands and organized the whole retreat. I recommend any kind of retreat like the one I did once a year for mental and physical health. 


Interest: My Interview With Bazaar Magazine

Read the full article here 

Interest: The Yoga Center Kuwait

Two of my sisters and I  have been planning a project over the past year to open a yoga center in Kuwait.  Catering strictly to women, June 1st 2013 was our first official day of operation after a long year of planning, construction and interviewing for instructors.  Still awestruck by the fact that we are now open for service, my initial impulse was that yesterday was a hell of a day, a mixture of sheer joy and excitement, especially in seeing women of all ages and backgrounds coming to support us and showing their interest in this ancient practice of yoga.  To me, it was sensational.

The Yoga Center Kuwait is located in Kuwait City offering several kinds of yoga for women. Unfortunately, Kuwait law imposes segregation between genders in all businesses that involve a form of exercise, unless the business itself belongs to or is adjacent to a hotel.  In this case, a license for a mixed gym can be granted.  Without getting into the hypocrisy of such a law, this is an element of Kuwait we either have to adapt to or change (requiring a time and effort by many, amongst other things.)  If step one is to introduce the lifestyle of yoga one gender at a time, then so be it, as we understood that there were already patches of exposure to the practice sporadically throughout Kuwait, mainly through individual interests and personal sessions.  Combining the chance to work with my sisters and for us to consolidate our mutual admiration for the discipline we all had a history with, the idea was to create an inviting environment and service for all things yoga.  Yoga has many benefits, whether in the mind or the body, but it also comes with many misconceptions and preconceived generalizations.  Some may think that you have to be a Buddhist to be a yogi, but that is not true, as yoga has evolved from ancient traditional practices in India to the shores of the western world where it is now a popular and hip lifestyle.  To me, what we want to offer is the simplification of yoga, in the novice’s application of it, in the understanding we may have of it, in the vitality of its construct, in that feeling, in that achievement, in that relaxation, in that reflection.  Yoga may have a certain foundation and a history, but for each one of us it should have no rules.  In a purely scientific view we can look at it to better understanding the human brain, the effects of actually breathing, the mechanics of anatomy and the counter mechanisms of the human body in states of balance, muscle memory and focus.  Other views may skew towards meditation, destressing, or an actual momentary awakening of the senses when we force ourselves to actually reconnect with what is truly ours and put the static noise to sleep albeit for a little while.  The noise from the street, the noise in our heads, the constant noise of today’s speedy global world, slowly fading as it becomes the sound of breathing, the sound of silence.  The message is that whatever it is, it’s ok.  Whatever yoga may be to you, whatever the belief, it is ok.  The overarching fact is that yoga is about loving and accepting our differences as humans and coming together to relax and unwind from everyday life, and what better way to do so than by starting with thinking clearly and feeling great yourself.  Yoga takes time and patience, and the results (mind and body) are usually secondary to the fact that by yoga we are really changing the way we live.

I took this picture below in my home studio with a friend who volunteers to model for our center.  She sits on my late father’s vintage book trunk reading my favorite book of Richard Feynman.  She also wears specialized yoga clothes available at the store at The Yoga Center Kuwait.