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On this unique retreat, you will look how you can use mind, body, and breath to communicate with horses. It involves four hours of yoga and mindfulness practice every day, as well as a lot of time spent outdoors with the horses, and for this reason, a good level of physical fitness is recommended. Experience how to communicate and connect with horses while enjoying the wind of a unique Island!
During the retreat, you will be accommodated at Macalla Farm. The accommodation at Macalla Farm is comfortable and relaxing with beautiful views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick. Two buildings make up for accommodation. One an ecologically renovated cottage built at the turn of the last century and a renovated outbuilding known as the extension.
Both of those houses are strictly non-smoking and do not have a Wi-Fi, television, microwave, or hair dryer. All bed linen is provided except for towels, which you will need to bring with you. You will be staying in one of the shared rooms. A limited number of single rooms are available on a first come first serve basis. If no single room is available at the farm, it is generally possible for the organizers to book a room at a local bread and breakfast (BnB) which is about a 10 minutes’ walk from the center.
On your arrival day, the retreat starts with dinner followed by an introductory talk and a short meditation. Each day of your stay will start with a two-hour yoga class focusing on mindful movement and breath awareness. In the afternoons, you will do some practical work with the farm’s horses. You will look at how horses communicate with one another and how you can use posture, movement, breath, and eye contact to communicate with them effectively.
In the late afternoon, you will have another yoga session which will focus on mindful breathing and meditation techniques, with a focus on using these techniques in your work with horses. Macalla Farm’s retreats are small and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, one in which you can explore and deepen your experience of yoga, rather than strive or compete.
The unique island setting, with nature so close at hand supports this developing awareness of your connection to your bodies, to your breath, and to the earth. At Macalla Farm, their horses play a significant role in your lives and the life of the farm. The six horses and two ponies are their friends and companions and they care for them as naturally as possible.
Over the years, Macalla Farm's style has evolved from the Ashtanga-Vinyasa they were teaching in the early days to a slow, strong, and balanced practice integrating pranayama, meditation, and ethics with asanas, which they call Sati yoga.
Macala Farm's work with horses has developed with their yoga practices, fostering a deeper interaction between human and horse while the importance of sustainable eating has become a keystone to their lives as they produce more of the food they eat. Finally, their meditation practice and teaching of mindfulness have emerged as a unifying principle for all their endeavors.
The horses live as a herd and are free to roam the large upland expanse of the farm all year round. Macalla Farm ride and work their horses without shoes or bits and use herbal wormers rather than chemical ones to keep them worm free.
Macalla Farm’s yoga and horse courses are unique in Ireland, combining the holistic mind-body practice of Sati yoga with the tools of natural horsemanship. There are many yoga postures which through practice will benefit riders. But, these courses are not just for riders and people with considerable horse experience. Yoga assists you in creating more refined body awareness in general, which in turn improves communication with the horse.
On another, more subtle level, through the practice of pranayama (yogic breathing), you become more aware of your breathing and are able to release parts of your bodies which hold tension, something which the horses definitely notice! Macalla Farm has found that when using breathing techniques, the horses are also able to relax and trust you better. Yogic breathing increases your concentration, and with better focus, communication with the horses becomes clearer and easier.
Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, you learn to develop a non-reactive mind. Horses are acutely aware of the emotional state of their handler, whether the handler is or not. The confidence, calm, and emotional balance developed through yoga and mindfulness practice makes all the difference, especially in dealing with new or stressful situations, as well as competitions.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present and open to experience, without judgment, and with an attitude of discernment and kindness. While the instructions may be simple, following them is not easy. You begin to understand that the nature of your minds is to wander, to be often distracted, jumping from the past to future, anywhere but here. But as you practice, a newly spacious relationship to your thoughts brings both peace and freedom.
At Macalla Farm, in addition to mindfulness and yoga, they offer unique courses combining mindfulness with food and horses. The unique setting of the island, with its contrasts of sea and sky, vast space, and intimate quiet, enables you to be more aware of what surrounds you as well as what is within.
Combining the practice of mindfulness and yoga is a natural extension of these two practices, which share the same roots. Mindfulness meditation is as much a practice of the body as yoga is a practice of the mind. Sati yoga, the approach Macalla Farm has been developing weaves together the mindfulness teachings of the Buddha with the teachings of classical yoga as well as 20th-century yoga masters such as Krishnamacharya, Sivananda, and their students.
It is a transformative practice which aims at developing mindfulness of body and breath through asanas (postures), systematic relaxation, pranayama (breath training), kriyas (cleansing practices), and various meditation techniques.
During a Sati yoga retreat, you begin with developing awareness of the breath, through guided meditation, simple pranayama exercises, and basic asanas. You learn to notice how mindfulness of breath affects the quality of your physical practice. Using various simple “tools” which allow for the integration of meditative awareness with the physical postures, you mindfully approach more challenging postures from various hatha yoga traditions with the qualities of ease and stability.
Because horses have evolved in an environment where being fully aware of their surroundings was a matter of life and death, they live entirely in the present. They are also very skilled communicators, using movement and breath to connect with each other in a peaceful and authentic manner.
As such, horses make excellent mindfulness teachers. In order to learn to communicate effectively with them, it is necessary to be fully present, to develop an awareness that matches theirs. Combining mindfulness and yoga with horses, you will put into practice mindfulness skills in an innovative setting.
Christophe was originally trained as an Iyengar teacher in the late 1990s, but his practice and teaching have since been influenced by a number of other yoga styles, particularly Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and the Atma Vikasa style of Acharaya Venkatesh (from Mysore, India), his main teacher for a number of years. He also teaches pranayama and has been practicing various styles of Buddhist meditation for many years.
This retreat takes place at Macalla Farm, Clare Island, Ireland. Macalla Farm is a small, family run retreat center, and working organic farm situated on Clare Island off the West coast of Ireland at the entrance to Clew Bay.
The island setting is wild and beautiful and Macalla Farm includes dramatic sea cliffs, upland and bog, vegetable gardens and polytunnels, and a native woodland. Macalla Farm offers an abundance of space and quiet, as well as that special sense that comes from being on an island. Your taste buds will be awakened and your body will be nourished by their creative and delicious seasonal vegetarian fare, using the freshest of ingredients grown there on the farm.
The largest of the off-shore Mayo islands, it has a varied terrain made up of spectacular cliffs with large numbers of nesting sea birds and a rich inland topography of hills, bogs, and small pockets of woodland making it ideal for hill walking.
The island’s complex history can be read through its landscape that ranges from archaeological remains of the Neolithic and Bronze age, to rare medieval wall-paintings in the 14th century abbey, to the pirate queen Grace O’Malley’s (Grainneuaile) castle, and burial place.
The island has been much studied, with the R.L. Praeger’s The Clare Island Survey perhaps the most well-known. The island has a number of bed and breakfast, a hostel with a bar and restaurant, a community center, pub, and one shop which is also the post office.
In this retreat, you will be served daily organic vegetarian meals. All product is organic, sourced from the resident farm or homegrown. With so much conflicting advice given in the media about food, Macalla Farm believes that eating healthy food should never be a burden nor a matter of following a complex chemical formula. First and foremost, the food must be delicious, easy to prepare, real, and not processed.
Macalla Farm has its own garden growing over 30 different types of vegetables, often heritage varieties. In addition to the usual vegetables, they grow different types of kales, many different types of beans, eaten fresh or dried for winter meals as well as an abundance of pumpkins for soups, curries, roasted, or in pumpkin pie.
They also grow oca (and sell as seed) a South American tuber which is delicious when roasted. From the orchard, blackcurrants provide the makings of kilos of jam and steam-pressed juice and they also have more than a dozen varieties of apples in the orchard.
The polytunnels allow them to grow delicate fruits and vegetables: in addition to tomatoes, they produce abundant harvests of aubergines, chilies, peppers, sometimes melons, and of course grapes. From middle August through September, you will feast on the most deliciously sweet white seedless grapes ever!
Macalla Farm's open plan kitchen and dining room with its wonderful views over Croagh Patrick is a key feature of their retreats and courses. All meals are prepared and eaten here. At different times of the year, the kitchen becomes a hive of activity as they transform their surplus fruits and vegetables into jams and chutneys, fermented pickles, and kimchis.
Macalla Farm makes elderflower champagne, various cordials, and mead from the honey. At all times of the year, they make their famous sourdough bread and are keen to pass on the skill (and starters), to those interested.
The island offers some excellent hill walking and bird watching as well as archaeological and historic sites. You are welcome to borrow books from Macalla Farm's extensive library. There are also skill session options in the kitchen such as vegetarian cooking, bread making, food preserving. You are always welcome to help in the garden or in the kitchen
Please book your flight to arrive at Dublin Airport (DUB) or Ireland West Airport Knock (NOC).
There are good bus and train connections to Westport. There are direct buses from Dublin Airport (DUB) to Dublin Heuston train station (called Airlink, route 747 - this journey takes about an hour). There are also bus connections from Dublin, Galway, Sligo, and Ireland West Airport Knock (NOC).
If coming by bus or train, you need to be in Westport by 4:00 p.m. For scheduled retreats and courses, Macalla Farm will try to put you in touch with another course participant who can give you a lift from Westport, or if numbers warrant, they will organize a shared minibus (expect to pay between 10 to 15 EUR depending on numbers).
When the organizers confirm your booking onto one of the retreats or residential courses, they will let you know which ferry you should take on the first day of the course. As long as you take the designated ferry, the boat fare is included in the course fee and they will organize your transfer to the farm from the harbor on the island.
If you take another ferry, please let them know by text or phone. Also, make sure that you are on the right boat, the ferry for Inishturk also leaves from Roonagh quay, and may be at the same time. Note that if for whatever reason you arrive on the island with an earlier or later ferry, you will have to make your own arrangements for travel and (if need be) accommodation.
Roonagh Pier is the harbor serving Clare Island. If you are bringing your car, there is a large car park where you will leave your car (as it is not practical to take it to the island on the ferry). The car park is safe, with two CCTV cameras, and is used by islanders.
Ferries are great for a slower journey and the costs are about the same - though the stress and environmental impacts are much lower! Ferries to Dublin or Dun Laoghaire (a few miles south of Dublin) can be taken from Holyhead (UK).
For those coming from the UK who do not wish to fly, a Sail Rail ticket is a great deal. There are also ferry services from Scotland to Belfast, from South Wales to Rosslare, and from France to Rosslare or Cork.
The train from Dublin to Westport leaves from Dublin Heuston station and takes around three and a half hours. To arrive in Westport in time, you will need to take the lunch time train. Ireland’s train travel website is IrishRail. If you are planning to travel by train, it is usually far cheaper to book your journey online at IrishRail in advance, rather than buying your ticket at the station on the day.
If you need your own taxi, expect to pay around 35 EUR for the run from Westport to Roonagh Pier.
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