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A Traveler’s Mantra

Escaping from a yoga retreat in Morocco.

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By Kate Kingston

Travel Writer

15 Sep 2019 - 5 Minute Read

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"OMMMMMMMMMMMM."

The shala vibrated to the chant of 20 aspiring yogis. A French man with a concave back and a pot belly sat at the front of the room. His legs were crossed and his hands rested in prayer as he spoke.

“In the practice of yoga, we use the mantra OM to reach a heightened state of enlightenment.”

I picked at the seams of my lycra tights, shifting weight from my numb sitting bones. The French man was an acclaimed guru, famous throughout the yoga world. He noticed my fidgeting and proceeded to hover a vibrating bowl over my head, instructing me to activate my pelvic chakra and concentrate harder.

“A mantra is a spiritually empowered sound,” he continued. “It may be a syllable, a word, or a phrase.”

Incense swirled in a thick fog and made me gag.

“You must find your own personal mantra to guide your practice, both on and off the mat. A mantra to live your life by.”

The F-word sprang to mind, followed by a host of other indecencies. Quite unsuitable for a yoga retreat, quite unhealthy to adopt as my life mantra.

“As you chant your inner mantra, you open gateways into subconscious spaces.” His voice droned into abstract constructs and I gazed towards the Atlantic Ocean, through the tinted glass, watching two birds flicker in flight.

Six hours of chanting mantras in a hot room was enough for me. I excused myself from the shala and stepped out into the Moroccan sun.

The salty breeze was heavenly. I laced up my trainers and jogged out the iron gate, making tracks for the ocean. I ran along the sand, then over the headland. Past the local market, pyramids of colored vegetables, squares of spices, rows of carpets. Past a man selling fresh mint tea from an etched silver pot. 

Getty Images / Jordi Santacana

I sipped a cup of his sweet liquid and watched two hollering boys on horses gallop past. The sunset turned a dusted pink and the ocean quivered into liquid silver. My heart soared. I did a cartwheel of pure joy. Then another, just for good measure. I dusted my sandy hands and hummed as I traced my footsteps back to the villa.

It was nearing 8pm by the time I reached the iron gate, and nearing 8:01pm when I realized it was padlocked.

I rattled the gate. Knocked, banged, called. I circled the tiled walls of the villa. No phone, no wallet, no keys. The first night of my first yoga retreat, and I was locked out.

I was busting to use the toilet – the mint tea was moving swiftly. I activated my pelvic chakra and realized that time was of the essence. I had seen movies where teenagers scaled balconies and snuck back to bed, unbeknownst to slumbering parents. I wished I had been more rebellious in my youth so as to prepare for this moment. Never mind – now was my time.

Down below, a candlelit dinner was underway in the courtyard. I peered into the scene. A second of serenity, before my foot slipped from a loose stone.

I found a section of the wall with minimal barbed wire. The blue and white Moroccan mosaics were beautiful, but made climbing precarious. I began to inch myself up. Tile by tile, I scaled the wall. I twisted sideways through the barbed wire and couldn't help but smile at the inner super woman I was channelling.

Down below, a candlelit dinner was underway in the courtyard. I peered into the scene. A second of serenity, before my foot slipped from a loose stone.

I tumbled down that wall and landed with a thud, overturning a table of ginger-infused water. The crunching of carrot abruptly silenced. Nineteen vegans and a French guru stared at my dusty, torn tights.

There was a long silence before the guru spoke.

“What is the meaning of this strange leap?”

I closed my eyes. Images flashed of crashing waves, thundering hooves, heavenly breezes. My footsteps, the beating of my own drum.

A new F-word came to me, a personal mantra, one might call it. I crossed my legs, held my hands to prayer, suppressed my shakes of laughter, and bowed my head in a flash of enlightenment.

“FREEDOMMMMMMMMMMMMM.”


This story was a shortlisted finalist in the 2019 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.

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Kate is a 26-year-old Australian physiotherapist living abroad in the UK. She likes a healthy dose of spontaneity and unplanned adventure.

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