A Day in the Life of a Volunteer at Govinda Valley

Are you thinking of volunteering with us and wondering what to expect? Here’s a first-hand account of what life is like here...

It’s 6am and the waking sun trickles in through your bedroom windows, filtering through the leaves of the surrounding trees as you slowly begin to open your eyes. Here your alarm clock will not be the insistent screech of your smartphone but the chorus of the host of colourful birds who call Govinda Valley home. It makes a sharp contrast to waking up in the city, where tearing yourself from the warm folds of your sheets can seem an impossible challenge. The natural light and sounds of nature make it all the more easy to lift yourself from bed gracefully and face the day with a smile.

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You make your way through the beautiful grounds to yoga class at 6.15am, where you are greeted by the warm smile of our resident yoga teacher Ally and the reminder to grab a blanket and pillow to keep you comfy in your practice. Our yoga hall is lined with floor to ceiling windows that look out across the valley and fill the room with shades of gold light and green foliage. Ally’s class is always an uplifting and supportive environment for you to progress in your study of yoga and also to have some fun and feel energised for the coming day.

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Having woken up your body, you now also have the chance to exercise your mind with a philosophy class. These cover a range of engaging topics, from yoga teachings to other more general topics like stress management, breathing techniques or abstract concepts like honesty and forgiveness. The teachers change on a rotating basis, so you get to experience different perspectives and viewpoints and take home something different from each of them.

By this point you’re probably starting to feel a rumbling in your stomach, so it’s a good thing that a delicious and healthy breakfast is on its way. You can expect fresh fruits, yoghurt, porridge filled with dates and our friendly chef Vijay’s famous muesli which always proves popular. Mealtimes at Govinda Valley are a very social affair, and the pleasant sound of chatter fills the tearoom as you talk to your new family about anything and everything from philosophy to how you slept last night. It’s a great chance to connect with each other and you’ll find it to be an accepting and open environment where you can really be yourself.

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With a full stomach, you’re ready to start the day’s work. Work is extremely varied here, and you can find a job to suit your skills, whether this be gardening, construction, cleaning, cooking or even things like marketing, photography and blog writing. Perhaps you’ll be on kitchen duty, which means a whole lot chopping vegetables, stirring curries, chatting and joking with your fellow volunteers and Vijay, as well as learning some valuable cooking skills. Here at Govinda Valley we follow a ayurvedic diet, meaning that everything is vegetarian, there are no eggs and even some vegetables like garlic and onion are omitted. You’ll soon discover that you don’t need these things to make a mouthwatering feast. From potato and eggplant curry to pad thai, there’s something to suit all taste buds. The pace starts to pick up in the last half hour as steam fills the kitchen and trays of food are laid out to be blessed before being served up to our guests and volunteers.

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After enjoying the lunch you just helped to create, you’re back in the kitchen for a while to help tidy up before you’re free for the afternoon. On days where you’re not in the kitchen, you’ll generally be back to what you were doing in the morning or perhaps helping out with some other odd jobs. Feeling satisfied after a good day’s work, you have a chance to unwind or explore the area. There’s so much to do nearby, like hiking along the dramatic coastal path where sheer cliff faces jut out into vast pacific blue (also a great spot for sunrise yoga, by the way) or taking a dip in the pools at the foot of the idyllic Kelly’s Waterfall. Not to be missed are the abandoned train tunnels in Helensburgh, where thousands of tiny glowworms illuminate the darkness like constellations in the night sky. On top of all this nature, you’re just an hour away from the hustle, bustle and vibrance of Sydney, so it’s easy enough to pop in on one of your days off for a concert, to see a museum or just to have a wander around one of Australia’s most exciting cities.

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In the evening you make your way back home, where everyone congregates once again for dinner and to share stories of their day. After everyone has finished eating, people make a move for board games, or maybe head to the yoga hall for a group meditation. Sometimes retreats will invite us to participate in their activities, for example last week we were lucky enough to take part in a drum workshop. There are also festivals and celebrations; a few weeks ago we celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights, with storytelling, singing, dancing and a host of sweet treats. There are also weekly kirtans, a ceremony involving call and response chanting of ancient Sanskrit mantras. It’s a fascinating insight into the spiritual life of Govinda Valley and a simple yet powerful tool for meditation for people of all backgrounds, faiths and beliefs.

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After a long yet rewarding day, you’re more than ready to tuck into bed around 9.30pm. If this doesn’t sound like you, just wait til you get here! With early starts and such busy days, it’s so important to get a full night’s sleep, and your head hitting the pillow never felt so good.

Written by: Tim Halliday 

Govinda Valley

Govinda Valley retreat, 51 Lady Carrington Road, Otford, NSW, 2508