Breathing trust and truth in the desert on a Sea Inside retreat with Discover Your Depths in Egypt
Niki Natarajan reviews Discover Your Depths’ Sea Inside retreat in Dahab, Egypt where with the discipline of learning to freedive and surrendering to Kundalini mantras at sunset with inspirational freediver and yoga teacher Sara Campbell she reconnects to her teacher within.
Bamboo windchimes woke me up on my birthday. With the excitement of a six-year old anticipating a long desired present, I leapt out of my mosquito-net-draped four-poster bed, tripping over my half-unpacked rucksack as the stiff and travel-weary 51-year old I really am made a beeline for the blue Bialetti-style coffee pot.
Exhausted by our 14-hour trip to Egypt, my friend Davina Mackail, dubbed ‘The World’s Most Unlikely Shaman’ by The Express, was still asleep while I sipped what turned out to be my last coffee of the week under the crisscross shade of the pergola over Villa Prana’s courtyard. I opened my birthday cards, occasionally looking up at the cloudless blue September sky and, smiling at the cheeky pink bougainvillea spying on me over the neighbouring wall, I reflected on the last three decades.
Dahab had been the destination of my first ever backpacking adventure exactly 30 years previously, then a university student processing a disastrous first year by blaming others. These days I take a more karmic view through the lens of numerological nine-year cycles. This birthday is a personal year four, which is all about discipline, consolidation and finding peace within.
Having accepted where I am now—post menopause, childless, single, almost loving the vagaries of my clients and even embracing the insecurities of freelancing—I’m still struggling with clarity of purpose.
“What’s the point of what I’m doing?” is the voice that interjects with increasing regularity, stirring an internal panic that it turns out is not too dissimilar to one that arises when the body thinks it is running out of oxygen.
Hoping to find an answer, I seized the opportunity to return to the Bedouin village, a divers’ haven on the edge of the Blue Hole in the Red Sea, for the Sea Inside Retreat, a holistic freediving beginner’s course that also includes yoga, meditation, coaching and a desert safari.
In the past, my insights have come from soul-rebooting adventures to energetically significant places, but all that ‘knowing’ soon dissipates. Fifteen years ago, my back-packing ‘victim’ archetype was replaced by a more studious ‘seeker’. Now, weary of the tell-not-show spiritual capitalists that pervade Instagram with textbook knowledge dolled up in Sanskrit or Quechua and masquerading as wisdom, it was time to dive deeper into me. So, I figured that upside down, out of my depth and holding my breath underwater should reignite my inner spirit. As Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God, says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.
Who better to exemplify this than Sara Campbell, founder of Discover Your Depths? The ocean is a mirror, a teacher reflecting our fears and showing us what holds us back in life, says Sara, a petite, softly-spoken English woman, with dancing eyes and an infectious smile, whose back story is almost more inspiring to me than her impressive achievements.
From a chronically ill and depressed London-based PR consultant that had never heard of freediving 15 years ago, to four-times world record-holder, three of which she claimed with just nine months of training, as well as being the first woman to attempt to freedive to 100m on one breath, and being unofficially the deepest woman in the world for six years. Just the sort of inspiration I was after.
Sara’s secret is simple. As a kundalini teacher, she was already an experienced meditator. Her almost overnight success was down to instinctively being able to access a state of pure surrender and not worry about the numbers.
Her beginner’s freediving course aims to shift our perception of our true selves by helping us observe and understand the fears that hold us back in life and liberate ourselves from them. Sara uses a range of techniques, from discourse, breath awareness, Kundalini yoga and meditation to the science of freediving physiology (the mammalian dive response) and plenty of deep relaxation techniques. As a city-living sedentary adult, and my friend’s life-long fear of deep water, this is easier said than done.
Yet in the safe of the shallows around Lighthouse reef, which team with silvery tiny fish, Sara and Jean Philippe patiently and gently supported us in our pre-dive floating relaxation. The words “Take your time, don’t rush,” still linger hopefully in my easily excitable mind.
In fact, over fresh mango juice at Fresh Fish, where we decamped in the afternoons, we realised that my inability to equalise my ears was an extension of a life-long habit of rushing. By not giving myself time to explore why I was not equalising, ‘failing to get there’ was triggering that familiar feeling of ‘not good enough’. In real life, this often means despite working hard, I give up before I achieve mastery.
Discourse and theory mornings at Coral Coast Hotel; afternoon dives among the purple tang and sergeant major fish; free time invested in revitalising massages; leisurely alfresco breakfasts at our villa savouring the mouth-watering flavours of ‘normal’ foods like tomatoes, eggs and cucumbers; and conversations distracted by the reactions to the taste of ripe mangos, meant time flew by.
As we trekked silently in the Sinai—known as the Land of Turquoise and said to be the throat chakra of the world—climbing to the top of Mount Matamir to meditate in the bronze light of the setting sun, it dawned on me that in my desperation to find purpose, I was blocking its journey to me.
In the silence of the desert night I lay staring at the Milky Way, mesmerised by the pulsating Andromeda galaxy among billions of other stars, the kundalini Saa Taa Naa Maa mantra still vibrating through me. As I released a few tears, I felt an unfamiliar inner stillness. My teacher within had woken: breathe trust and truth, it said. And in real life? For now, I am happy coddiwompling – travelling in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.