Female Power Workshop at Osho Leela

Therapy Review -‘Female Power’ Workshop at Osho Leela, UK

Having spent a week on the Community Experience Program at Osho Leela and having previously met Sanjula, I knew that the Female Power Workshop was one that I wanted to try out. Before I even met Sanjula, I’d heard her reputation as a very intuitive bodywork therapist and I had been advised to see her for a bodywork session to help me look into some of the post-traumatic stress that I’d been dealing with. To say the least, I was very inspired by the strength of this woman and when I returned home, I booked straight onto this workshop.

As usual, my review is set into three parts – description of the workshop, how I felt directly before and after, and my overall review.

The workshop

I arrived on Friday evening, before dinner – as requested in the booking email which allowed me some time to settle into the accommodation and get to know some of the other women in the workshop. After dinner, we went straight into the workshop, which gave me the impression that we were being prepped for some hard work throughout the weekend. There were 7 participants in total and two therapists running the workshop – Sanjula, and her assistant Amrita – I liked that there were two women running the workshop, kind of like a leader and a backstop to support the all-female tribe. We started off with sitting in a circle and sharing: why we’re here, how we feel and generally where we’re at in life, which was a great starting point because it built a sense of connection within the group straight away that was built on honesty and authenticity from the word go. Sanjula started off with the sharing and opened up the space with her own very vulnerable sharing, really overcoming the shame that could have potentially lurked in many areas. By setting the bar at this level, it left a totally open platform for each of us to be truly authentic with the group about exactly how we felt at the same depth. An honesty that we sometimes don’t even share with ourselves, so to openly vent it in front of the group, for me, was actually a little scary, so when it got to my turn I shared that, that this felt scary.

Scared and numb, to be exact. They are the two most prominent feelings that frequent me these days and that’s how I felt at the sharing, combined with an air of resistance which I was battling with. There wasn’t much of a response from anyone during the sharing, everything was just listened to and accepted which, in essence, created a sealed area of emotional safety. With this, Sanjula explained that everything shared within the room will be treated with confidentiality and that she would like us to respect that between ourselves. That request is respected in this review and thus, it is a factual account of only my experience which I obviously give consent for (The dark inner workings of my soul are openly shared on this blog, so, of course, I’m keeping up that openness, even if it does feel a little cringeworthy at times). Following this, a general explanation of how the workshop would unfold was given and then we did an active meditation (possibly a dance one… I can’t quite remember exactly but I remember lots of good music and opportunities to dance). Then we heading off to bed.

Reflecting on Saturday and Sunday with the individual tasks is difficult because there are so many things that happen that it’s almost impossible to remember them in order so instead, I’ll give a general description. Firstly we didn’t start the sessions until after breakfast which meant that we didn’t need to get out of bed until 8ish, allowing plenty of time to sleep off any exhaustion from the activities. This was hugely beneficial for me because I know that processing these traumas can still be exhausting for me sometimes, and if I overdo it then it can result in a physical illness which my body takes the time out to recover and process.

Saturday started with openly sharing and sense checking with our emotions, and although we had done this the previous night it was interesting to see that many reflections and considerations had been made in such a short time, the work has already begun I thought to myself. The main part of Saturday was spent exploring hard emotions through expression, particularly anger, which is one that I feel I’m not always allowed to express is our ‘stiff upper-lip’ Western society, in fear of someone pointing out that I’m crazy because of this. The fact is that yes, sometimes I am angry, and it’s valid because of all the pain I’ve been through so as long as I’m not taking it out on anyone else, why shouldn’t I be allowed to express this emotion?

What this workshop further clarified for me is that, us humans are emotional beings, women especially, and by not expressing these emotions we risk destroying ourselves from the inside. The workshop focused on letting out these emotions in a healthy, constructive and controlled manner by using the body’s movements. One exercise that I found quite powerful was one that caused us to regress back into our early childhood and think about moments which caused us pain, to do this we got dressed up (Osho Leela has an awesome theatre cupboard) into clothes that we would’ve when we were aged around 12 – to really set the mood. Then we had individual sharings in pairs to talk about these experiences (between the ages of 6-12 are influential times in the development of our personality and sometimes we can find that it’s where we learnt to suppress pain). We swapped around so that we talked about four different experiences and equally listened to four different experiences. We were asked to listen mindfully and to try and not react, comfort or advice – this in itself is a useful skill when practising compassion and is especially valuable when someone is upset about a situation that cannot be fixed. I remember this from when my Dad passed away, getting agitated with people who wanted to tell me that everything would be ok or not to worry when all I wanted was for someone to be present and listen.

Personally, I found it difficult to think of painful memories pre 12 years old, mainly because I didn’t really experience anything that was particularly hard on me at that age. The most painful memories that I did manage to tap into ranged from the age of 14 – 17 where I first experienced heartbreak, bullying and a few other painful things that I’m not going to divulge into in this review. After the sharing, these memories and feelings were pretty raw so it was easy to go into the next stage – expressing the emotion, anger. For this, we did part of the Osho dynamic meditation where we listened to quite aggressive loud music, and we encouraged to use our body to bring the anger up and out by hitting a mattress, thumping a pillow, using our voice to scream and shout, and generally just allow anything that needed to come up to come up. Spit buckets were provided if any of us needed to spit or vomit, which I can imagine sounds a bit farfetched to read, but when something is deeply painful the body’s natural reaction is to physically try and get rid of the pain, as it would do if there was a physical poison. I know this from my personal account from all my traumas, the pain of some of them ran so deep that I physically almost vomited on a number of occasions, but because I’m so used to suppressing this reaction I didn’t allow myself to. By just acknowledging the judgement that I initially had to this physiological response, it demonstrates the shame that is so prevalent in our society to expressing our emotions. The shame that stops me expressing, understanding and validating many of my own emotions in their full depth.

After this expression, we did another active meditation of shaking and dancing and my body felt a lot more fluid in movement than it had done the night before. As though I’d broken through some judgement and shame barriers which had physically locked me in some sort of invisible body cage. I guess after screaming obscenities, and spitting to a bucket whilst on all fours meant that I wasn’t so bothered about other people’s judgements anymore, I mean that in itself breaks through a few shame barriers with quite a force that the space created after is vast, vast and fresh.

Later that day we explored boundaries and this exercise was particularly intense. To do this we all had to stand in a ‘power stance’ – with our feet are wide apart, knees bent, back straight with hips slightly forward, with our fists clenched and raised. It’s the same stance used for the anger stage of the AUM meditation and it’s a very powerful position to own as it really allows you to fill a space and hold your ground. It’s actually the same stance used in a lot of self-defence teachings such as Krav Maga too. For this exercise, one member of the group would shout “NO I WON’T” (or various versions of) and the rest of us lined up to scream “YES YOU WILL” at that person, one by one. The ones who were waiting in the queue were encouraged to shout at the individual shouting “NO I WON’T” to push them to scream louder and fiercer. After every person in the ‘Yes crowd’ had had a go at the ‘No person’ we’d swap around and a different person would be in the ‘No’ role. This meant that when you were in the ‘No’ position that, although there was only one person screaming in your face at any one time, they had a whole army behind them that you were competing with. To be in the No position was extremely intense as there was a lot of energy coming your way.

I ended up being in the ‘No’ position last, by at which point my voice was already starting to fail for having egged on the ‘Yes crowd’ for so long and the exercise was taking its toll on my momentum as well as my throat, but I figured that this would only encourage me to find that inner strength which I knew I had because it came out and protected me on the night I got attacked. At first it was difficult and I felt fatigue which I knew was my subconscious being resistant, probably because of fear of going back to such a scary place, but I pushed deep into this feeling because I knew, intellectually, that by going into this place in a safe environment would help eradicate the fear of going there altogether. At some point, I remember a voice coming from the bottom of my stomach, like a deep roar that burns from the pit of your belly, all the way up the throat. The last time I had really heard this was the night of the attack when my own voice woke up me up out of a blackout with the words ‘HELP ME’. I carried on screaming until the last of the screaming Yes women had had their go, then I went and hugged one of the girls, simply because I just needed to flop into the arms of someone else. I was exhausted.

After this, we stood in a circle and shouted “No one has the right to hurt me” a few times and at that moment I burst into tears and I realised that I was shaking quite intensely. For a minute I was right back in the moments straight after the attack; sitting on a stranger’s sofa trying to catch my breath whilst trying to explain in broken Spanish that a man had tried to rape me. Then the shame of having to tell people in the crew house and their wide-eyed faces of discomfort, then the same people avoiding me etc, all those horrible vulnerable and disgusting feelings that I’d locked away and forgotten about had burst out of me and streams of tears flooded down my face. All the feelings seemed entangled up together and it was as though they were rushing out of me all at once, really fast, spilling out in the tears. At the same moment, I felt a sudden release of tightness in my back, like a metal rod had broken off it was so weird, but refreshing all at the same time. As with any Osho Leela experience, there was a lot of hugging, sharing and comforting afterwards and I think that having the opportunity to relive the aftermath feelings of the attack and then receive the comforting that I deeply craved was hugely therapeutic because in reality, the morning after the attack hardly anyone comforted me and I had to deal with everything on my own which only added to the pain. Whereas now it felt like although the wound had been opened again, it had been tended to properly so it could heal now.

In the evening there was more dancing, sharing and a visit to one of the trees on the property which is said to be a very calming and nurturing place. Believe what you will about spirituality but who doesn’t find sitting at the base of towering oak tree nurturing? Just stopping there and appreciating the perspective of where I am at in my life, the oak tree’s life and the lives of the beetles that were ferreting around my feet helped me appreciate my place in the World. A moment of gratitude that we often forget in our busy lives. The last session was a massage exchange that we did in pairs, just to practice vocalising what we like, what we don’t and how we would like to feel. I think this is a skill that women have been shamed not to exercise but it’s another valuable tool to take into the outside World.

The Sunday felt a lot calmer and needless to say, I slept very well the night before. We started off with a Samasati Meditation, a humanaversity meditation which is about letting go of grief (grief of a person, a relationship or whatever feels right to the person). The meditation itself moves through a few different stages that actually explores dying and some part of it felt very heavy, mainly because it took me to that moment when I had to kiss my Dad goodbye. It left different women with different perspectives because it put us all in a reflection of ‘are you really living your life totally?’ Personally, I feel like I started living this question the minute I quit my corporate job back in 2010 and I haven’t looked back since but it’s important to be reminded of because for me it pressed me deeper towards what I want to accomplish in this life… stay tuned for that one.

There was more sense checking and sharing, which I feel I personally took to a deeper level than I had done before and I noticeably built on a deeper sense of empathy and compassion. I’ve noticed this since getting attacked that I feel things where I wouldn’t have before, nausea when someone tells a gruesome story, or upset when someone else gets upset about something around me, but after Saturdays session, this went to a deeper level and at first I felt extremely overwhelmed by it. As I write this I’m becoming more comfortable feeling the compassion and empathy without letting the feelings engulf me, especially when the event isn’t mine to be upset about. On Sunday however, the magnitude of this was strong, and I felt like I needed to let out all that emotion, to make up for times when I’ve bottled it up in the past. The release of it felt like a heavy sludge being sucked out of my blood, leaving a light fresh flow behind.

We spent some time on Sunday in the Tipi with one of the community members who holds it as her place of sanction – don’t we all need one of those in our lives? It’s a beautifully set out circular space with a fire in the middle and cushions, pillows, and blankets to lie on. We sang a few songs to a lightly strummed guitar and drum whilst an aromatic incense filled the air. It took me back to my days of camping with the scouts, apart from instead of smelly immature boys, I was surrounded by strong beautiful women who I had witnessed grow in so many ways in such a short space of time.

The workshop ended with coffee and cake (it was one of the lady’s birthday) and a ‘positive hot seat’ exercise – this is where one person volunteers and everyone in the group has an opportunity to tell them what they love or appreciate most about them. I’ve done this before when I ended a volunteer project in Ecuador and the power of it has stayed with me since. It’s not often that we explicitly say what we love about someone to their face, but it’s so important to do so and to also recognise and say thank you when we receive such positive comments. I thoroughly enjoyed telling each woman what I liked most about them and it was fascinating to see how each person offered and took different things away from this session. It prompted me to reach out to the special women in my life who have walked me down the most difficult path of my life so far, held me together as I broke down and offered me a sense of normality when my head just kept on spinning throughout the traumas. These types of connections are unfortunately rare but they don’t need to be, it just takes a little bit of courage to open up and share.

Overall

In a word – powerful. I knew that I would get something out of the session because Sanjula is the kind of woman who thrives in seeing people become the best version of themselves. It’s a kind of tough love that pushes you beyond your boundaries that we might have only ever experienced with explorative and supportive parents, which I was lucky to have. There was a lot of talk about sisterhood and how the general thread in society encourages us to turn against each other through jealousy when in reality we should be sticking together and building compassion in the World. The workshop also took me back to some conversations that I had in Bali with my two amazing ‘Bali sisters’ and female friends as we’ve delved deeper into our friendships and it’s an important lesson to keep visiting as women. We are all here to support each other, through the times when we think we’re ‘failing’, or when we feel like we’re ‘not enough’ or when we’re scared of being branded as ‘crazy’ because we’re rightly pissed off (we’re emotional beings remember)!

What was really noticeable was how each woman physically changed throughout the session. I noticed this when one of the women told me how my face looked completely different after I had broken down in tears, it was as though there was a real tension that went from my face (as high as my left cheekbone to be exact), down my back that had literally melted and others could actually see it – wow. When I thought of this comment and looked around the group I knew exactly what she was talking about, some of the women’s eyes had opened wider and brightened up. Smiles were fuller and spanned wider and the general tone of body language was more open in a confident yet whole-hearted way. Witnessing that and being part of it was really powerful.

I really feel like I broke through some barriers during the female power workshop, or uncovered some layers, whichever way you want to see it, at the end of the weekend I felt happier and more open. Obviously, some of the exercises were difficult, vulnerable and sometimes felt emotionally uncomfortable but having the support of sisterhood bond allowed me to feel nourished and supported throughout all of it. I know that there are many other layers to uncover and that is the journey that we call life, but the intensity of this weekend really pushed me to delve deep, hard and fast which I appreciated. I will also take away some very valuable tools back into the real world, including knowing where my boundaries are, and how to vocalise them. How to and having the right to express my needs and also what empathy and compassion feel like to a greater depth – a tool that keeps growing.

The thing is with any workshop is that you will only get out what you put in because it is no one else’s responsibility other than your own to delve deep into your psyche but if you’re willing to do the work then doing it in a place like Osho Leela is immensely therapeutic. Even with an amazing group of therapist friends who can hold my space, doing such a large amount of work in one weekend really opened my eyes to how beneficial personal growth workshops can be. A theme that I see in Osho Leela throughout is the acknowledgement that personal development is ongoing. There is never a ‘fix’ or a ‘solution’. It’s just a constantly evolving and working through of the psyche, practising new tools and realising new lessons. The point of it all is just to enjoy the journey as you travel through it.

Sense check – before, 24 June 5pm

Physical – The standard niggling pain in my back from my neck, down to my left arm. It still comes and goes but since having acupuncture, the intensity is much less – as I feel better emotionally it dissipates more and more. I feel a little tired from the drive down, especially in my calves but that’s nothing that a sit-down and a cup of tea won’t fix, so generally I’m all good.

Emotional – Anxious again! I remember this feeling from last time that I made the drive down to Osho Leela and my mind was coming out with all sorts of excuses as to why I should turn back, even stronger than the last time I drove down – probably because I know that I will be doing some things that quite frankly will make me squirm in discomfort. Apart from the anxiety I’m happy, I feel more solid in myself these days and I know deep down that I want to grow more in the area of female power so I keep on driving.

Sense check – after, 27th June 6pm

Physical – Throughout the workshop I physically felt a release in the pain that comes from the back of my neck, down the left side of my back. It was as though a tight strand broke off and my back muscles started to relax, the exact moment when it happened was sensational. There is still the tightness on the front which comes from the neck muscles near my jaw and they still feel a little tight but there is literally just half the pain that was there before which is amazing. Generally, my muscles are tired, from the dancing, the tensing and from releasing emotion. I’m looking forward to a bath tonight.

Emotional – This time I was ready to leave, maybe because I have a sense that I’ll be back so instead of a farewell it was more of a ‘catch you later’ to Osho Leela and all the great people there. I left feeling a little more whole and certain of myself. I’m not sure if this is a feeling that will last for long but I definitely feel like a firm foundation has been laid which is reassuring because I have, at times felt very uncertain and up in the air about myself in the last year. It’s left me feeling grounded, not so much that I feel like both feet are solidly on the ground but at least the balls of my feet are firmly planted, which for me is huge. For that, I am immensely grateful.