I woke up with my heart pounding and my throat burning. I reached for the light switch instinctively. Was someone actually in my room or had it just been a very vivid nightmare? My eyes scanned my surroundings. Nothing. Just me. I checked the time. 12:17 a.m. My alarm would sound in five hours. I knew I should go back to sleep, but my mind was racing.

I’ve been struggling to find words to describe the experience I’ve been living since arriving in Goa, it’s all been very… intense. Although I am attempting to share this process with you all, please understand that no words can truly give it justice…

After a terrifying plane ride, I was hoping for a month of smooth sailing by the beach. From January 9th to February 3rd, I will be studying in Goa. This city is known for being the party capital of India, but I came looking for something a bit more enlightening. I received my Yoga Teacher Training certification in Seattle the summer of 2015 in Iyengar Yoga, but like any good student, I wanted to continue my education. Because India is the birthplace of yoga, I felt compelled to come to the root.

I spent a good bit of time researching schools and ashrams in order to find the best fit for me, and ultimately something pulled me to Abhinam Yoga. I liked the idea of going somewhere near the beach, and also the fact that it was Yoga Alliance certified, but there was something in the eyes of the man who runs the school that convinced me. Have you ever looked at someone and seen a glimpse of the universe?

The drive from the airport to the school took an hour and a half, but it went by fast. The sun was shining brightly and the roads were chaotic as per Indian standard. When we arrived to the building, I asked the driver if I was in the right place because it looked different than what I had expected. He smiled, said yes, and pulled my bags out of the trunk.

One of the few staff members showed me to my room, and much to my surprise, it was actually quite nice and spacious with a very comfortable bed and AC. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that for the next few weeks I’d have a great place to sleep in. From my balcony I could see the ocean and palm trees. Later I would learn that I had luckily been assigned the biggest room with the best view.

I took a much-needed shower, headed to the beach, and walked directly into the sea. The water felt warm and soothing. To the left I saw small mountains and to the right I saw nothing but ocean. I walked about a mile until I found a small shack with comfortable looking chairs. I settled down facing the water and ordered food.

I couldn’t believe it, after everything that had happened in 2016, I had actually made it all the way to India. As I looked at the waves coming back and forth on the coast, I allowed my mind to wander freely, knowing that I didn’t have to do absolutely anything for the rest of the day. I watched the sun set as techno music played in the background, and I knew that I was exactly where I should be, a thought I would have frequently throughout this journey.

I walked back to my room after the sunset and unpacked. By 8:00 p.m. I was ready to call it a day, so I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and went to sleep happily. When I woke up, I felt giddy; it was the first day of school, and I was about to meet all of my classmates. I walked upstairs to the yoga shala and set up my mat at the front next to another petite girl who looked as excited as me. Her name was Charlotte, and I instantly liked her. I know it’s a bit cliché to say this, but when we introduced ourselves to each other, I felt like I had known her for lifetimes. It’s a bit bizarre to say out loud, but I felt an overwhelming sense of love for this stranger I had just met.

The instructor walked in. Namito, a tall, Indian man with long dark hair, dark eyes, and a smile that radiated love. Although part of me knew this man would change my life, at that moment I had no idea how deep that change would be.

We began our morning with pranayama exercises, breath work, and for the next hour and a half did a mix of gentle asanas, poses, and more advances movements, like inversions. The class was not easy, but it felt good. I did my first headstand of 2017 on my mat in a classroom full of people radiating good vibes. It felt like life couldn’t get much better than this. After yoga, I went on a walk on the beach with other students and we had breakfast. Everyone seemed so genuinely nice and excited to be on this path.

At 11:30 a.m. we met up for orientation. We sat in a circle with a candle in the middle. We shared our names and a brief summary of what brought us here. Namito gave a beautiful speech welcoming us into this journey. “Comparison is a subtle form of violence,” he explained, reminding us to avoid comparing ourselves and others in the future, but especially during this month. We are all unique creatures having our own unique experience.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were jam packed with intense physical practice, yogic philosophy, very healthy food, and a lot of meditation.

The word meditation brings to mind an image of someone sitting cross-legged, perfectly still with their eyes closed and an expression of peace on their face. This is not how we meditated. All of our meditations involved movement and dancing, laughing and crying. I found myself sobbing more in three days than the average person does in three months. So many emotions I had pushed away were coming to the surface. I felt overwhelmed in every way, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Wednesday night I went to sleep around 10:00 p.m. and woke up screaming. I had one of those terrifying dreams that felt very real. I remember being able to see the outline of everything in my room and a man standing above my bed with his hands moving towards my neck. I yelled out terrified and woke up sweating, but when I turned on the light there was no one there. My throat burned as I if had actually yelled, but since no one came knocking on my door, I assumed the scream had only been part of my nightmare. It was just a little past midnight. I felt exhausted, but my mind was spinning and I wasn’t able to fall back asleep until after 3:00 a.m.

The next morning I told Namito about my experience, and he reassuringly told me that these kind of dreams are common when you’re living an emotionally jarring cycle. In many ways, this yoga teacher training course wasn’t just about learning how to teach yoga, but a life changing course that serves to detoxify your system and alter your consciousness. After our morning meditation I once again sobbed. My instructor walked over, said “My little daughter,” and hugged me as my tears flowed like rivers down my cheeks. Many other students were also crying and embracing each other. Our lives were being changed.

That night I had another very peculiar experience. I was in bed journaling about the nightmare and as soon as I put the words in my notebook, “But I still feel uneasy,” the power went out. This time I actually screamed out. Power outages were common, but the timing was what terrified me. The Universe was trying to tell me something. I went downstairs and knocked on Charlotte’s door seeking comfort. “A lot of people believe that every seven years we have a highly spiritual experience,” she said. I’m on the edge of 21. “Listen love, don’t be afraid. Embrace whatever is happening and face your fears. I’m here if you need me.”

I spent the past six months getting lost in the gritty corners of clubs and delving into the underground music scene. I loved being a creature of the night. I hadn’t been afraid of the dark in years, but here I was six years old again and terrified. I sent my mom a message and she told me to embrace my light and let go of anything I was holding on to that might be brining me pain. Easier said than done, no?

I laid in my bed reminding myself that I loved the darkness, that I was strong, that I was light. I even began to laugh at myself, “Sofia, you were a skeleton for Halloween, what are you scared of?” As I had that thought, I heard “Blue Monday,” playing outside. “How does it feel / To treat me like you do / When you’ve laid your hands upon me / And told me who you are.” I began laughing hysterically. Somebody was out on the beach blasting one of my favorite songs while I was laying in bed afraid. “You’re going to be okay,” I told myself, and at that exact moment, the power came back on.

Since then, I’ve slept peacefully every night. However every day has brought another catharsis. I wish I could share with you every powerful moment and lesson my teacher has blessed me with, but I find it difficult to formulate them all into coherent sentences. The program isn’t even half way through, and I feel like a very changed version of myself. I FaceTime’d with my mom on Sunday and she said, “You look different, more mature. I don’t know, I can’t place my finger on it.” And she’s right – I am different.

My day’s begin at 6:00 a.m. and end at 9:00 p.m. I miss my friends, my old home, my old life. My meals are annoyingly healthy and bland. The wifi is awful. There are moments I am ready to pack my bags and leave. Everything we do here is intense and draining, but I know I am exactly where I should be.

We talk a lot about enlightenment in this course, and although I don’t feel I’ve quite yet reached that level, nor do I think it’ll come any time soon, I am having glimpses of a world unknown to me. I look forward to continuing to share my journey with you all.

Namaste.