"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." Rumi
The idea of a yoga retreat usually polarises people – they either love or hate the idea. Those who love it tend to like the idea of a weekend away, pampering and being kind to your body. Those who don’t talk of groups of people dancing around a fire naked, chanting and having deep discussions about realigning their chakras and finding their zen centre. Indeed, you can find the latter, and I’m not knocking it, but many yoga retreats are nothing like that. For my first yoga retreat I wanted a fairly relaxed version, and that’s just what I found.
Advancing in years and weight just as quickly as I was receding in fitness I wanted to turn that around, and I wanted a healthy environment away from home to kick start it. It’s unfair to expect a 48 hour retreat to hit a reset button, but that’s exactly what I achieved.
The retreat was in a huge converted barn in Arundel, a historic town on the south coast of England. Included was 2 night’s accommodation, food, yoga, meditation (not my favourite bit), an indoor pool (very handy for an English autumn) plus optional walks, massages and cooking classes. All for £300, a bargain compared to the £1200 some were charging.
Arriving on Friday night, I was pleased to see a group of mixed gender, rather normal looking people chatting and laughing in the lounge. I helped myself to a mint tea (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) and took possession of the oversized comfy chair right next to the fire. After casual introductions we sat down for our first meal. Dinner was a vegan (stay with me) Thai red curry and one of the best Thai curries I’ve had.
After more tea and fireplace chats with my delightfully friendly, diverse fellow retreaters I headed to bed. I was in a huge shared room with gorgeous comfy beds, loads of storage, delightful decor and a more than adequate en-suite. My room-mate was a lovely older lady who, as I found out, could hold her own amongst the best of us on a yoga mat.
Saturday was the main day – our only full day. We started with wheatgrass shots (not that nice, but they’re good for you so why not) and freshly juiced fruit (gorgeous). We then had a 90 minute pre-breakfast yoga session. My favourite yogi is Shiva Rea, an American lady who has the most lovely voice and manner, I have several of her DVDs. So when I heard our retreat yoga teacher had an American accent all felt right with the world for me.
The class was a mix of hatha and vinyasa flow yoga designed for all abilities, so despite being so hopelessly unfit I managed to complete all of it and felt victorious.
Breakfast afterwards consisted of cooked eggs, a selection of breads, fruits and yoghurt, so simple but so tasty. Lunch was a selection of salads and this was when I realised the chef was a priceless gem. There are salads, there are good salads and then there are Lucie’s salads. The table was groaning with a selection of dishes, clearly healthy and full of colour. The food was so tasty I went back for seconds and would have gone back for thirds if no-one was watching.
Saturday afternoon was free time, with an optional cooking class or walk into town. The cooking class was sushi – not my favourite so I opted for the walk. On arrival in Arundel the group headed for a pub serving traditional English Cream Tea (tea and a scone with jam and cream). I loved their indulgence, but I was feeling healthier already and I knew my body needed a break from the rubbish I’d been putting in it for far too long so I opted for a cloudy apple juice instead.
Later that afternoon I went along for my optional extra reflexology massage – something I’d never tried before and was sceptical about, but I’ll try anything once. After a few minutes of pleasant foot massage Natalie, the retreat owner and reflexologist, hit a spot that hurt. Apparently there was a lot of tension there and it was related to my lungs. I hadn’t told anyone that I had quit smoking the day before. I confessed and Natalie asked me to breathe deeply and slowly. It worked, the pain went away. I’m still a bit of a sceptic about these things, but I can’t argue with the results.
By Saturday evening I felt very much at home with the group and the retreat as a whole, so I went into the evening yoga class with optimum enthusiasm. After yoga was meditation. I’ve heard wonderful things about meditation but I’ve never been able to master it. I like the candlelight, tinkling bells and soothing voice, but I just can’t switch off. My mind runs through a list of “oh I forgot to get toilet paper at the supermarket. I wonder if Lucie will give me her salad recipes? Have I got enough petrol to get home?” So I lay on my mat and enjoyed the ambience.
Dessert that night was so beautiful I gawped at it for ages. Pineapple slices, pomegranate seeds and truffles made with dates, cranberries, cacao, nuts and who-knows-what else that made the little balls of deliciousness, all of it vegan. Dessert is usually a guilty and excessive end to a meal but this was yet another health boost, and I left the table without feeling uncomfortably stuffed.
After Sunday morning yoga and breakfast I felt like a new person. I took a dip in the indoor swimming pool, which I had all to myself. In the changing room I caught a glimpse of myself bursting out of my substantial bikini and wondered how I’d ever let myself go to that extent. But I knew that weekend was a turning point and as I drove away from the lovely barn, I knew I’d turned a corner. It was the last time I looked like that or felt that way about myself.
After the weekend I found new motivation, followed a healthier diet incorporating more home-made food and throwing in the odd vegan and/or raw meal. I started doing more Shiva Rea yoga DVDs at home, plus some Jillian Michaels (I swear by Ripped in 30). The weight fell off, my hair got shinier, my skin clearer, energy levels greater and when I hit a milestone birthday eight months later I felt good about myself.
Two years on, I’ve slipped back into some unhealthy habits and it shows, so I will go back for another retreat, swapping the money I’ve started spending again on junk food for a healthy tune-up to keep me on the straight and narrow. Ultimately, you get out of a retreat what you put in. Find the right retreat for you, go with an open mind and give it 100%.
My retreat was with Chillout Retreats, I booked last minute receiving a £50 discount on the usual £350 price. Wherever you are in the world and whatever style of retreat works for you, I can only urge you to go ahead and do it – be kind to yourself and your body and your body will love you back!