I flicked on the kettle and waited for the water to boil. Sunlight filled my kitchen and I looked around me as if looking at my apartment for the very first time. I felt content to wait. My mind was clear, my heart full, and my limbs stretched. I felt fitter and more stress-free than I could remember in my adult life.
I heard the ping of my mobile phone as a work email vied for my attention. It could wait until tomorrow. I had just returned from a 10-day yoga retreat in a cozy beachside villa and chalets; my first yoga retreat ever.
I had a few more hours of bliss. I wanted to hold on to that post-yoga retreat feeling of health and happiness, to make it stretch out into all my tomorrows.
Let me share with you what this first retreat was like for me:
I booked this retreat on a whim, without much knowledge or experience in yoga. My stressful job and fast-paced city lifestyle had gotten too much for me. I wanted to go on holiday but to also find a way to establish more healthy lifestyle patterns through it to benefit me upon return. A friend recommended a Vinyasa retreat near the beach. Desperate and rushed, I booked it within a few minutes.
I arrived hot, irritated by the lengthy journey, and fatigued. I attempted to ignore the anxiety I felt as I greeted the yoga instructor and hosts. They appeared annoyingly cheerful and healthy. Silently, at dinner, I sipped on an orange juice and mentally prepared myself for the 10 days of twice daily yoga classes to come, as well as walking excursions on the beach, meditations at sunset and a ‘kirtan’ (traditional Indian music) concert on the last night.
The first morning, and every morning, I awoke to the chime of a Tibetan bell as the yoga teacher softly walked through our beach chalets. I opened my window and was greeted by the warm glow of sunrise over a placid sea. A small pot of fresh ginger and lemongrass tea had been placed for me on my veranda. I sipped at it gratefully and watched the other yoga students begin to make their way to our yoga ‘shala’ (studio).
The shala was a smooth flat wooden deck situated on bamboo stilts nearby. Long streams of colorful cloth billowed over the edge of the deck, beyond it was nothing but the open ocean.
The yoga sessions
I would be lying to you if I said that I thrived in the early morning Vinyasa yoga sessions from day one. Vinyasa is a fluid type of yoga, where you move from one yoga posture to the next, trying to maintain a sense of balance, focus, and ease. Being a novice, I kept my mat near the back of the shala and followed the confident movements of the students near the front. At first, I was self-conscious and my body creaked and complained at moving so early in the morning. But as the days wore on I relaxed, the yoga teacher was never pushy. She encouraged me but gave me space to rest, or just watch the others when I needed to. With the long nights of restful sleep, healthy meals and slow, meditative Yin Yoga classes in the evenings, I soon progressed and my body began to enjoy - even look forward to - the morning sweat and flow.
Schedule, meals, and interaction with other guests
In conversation with other students over a healthy breakfast of seasonal fruit, yogurt, muesli, freshly made coconut pancakes, coffee, and tea, I learned that the beauty of the natural setting for our yoga retreat was an important part of it. Remote nature inspires in you a sense of rejuvenation and enjoyment - what’s not to love about a magnificent tropical beach? Being in beautiful and untouched nature fills you with energy! The yoga way to describe this is ‘prana’ (vital energy) and nature is bursting with it.
After our breakfast, we had time to swim, get a massage, read or just chill with new found friends. Lunch was always a selection of salads, brown rice, and coconut water. I loved that all meals were had around large tables, with our food placed in serving dishes amongst us. A conventional ‘western’ restaurant or dining experience entails that everyone gets their own plate of food and focuses on that only.
I discovered that yoga retreat organizers often create situations of sharing, conversation, and connection over meal times intentionally. I guess this resonates with the universal concept of ‘breaking bread’ together, and therefore being encouraged to appreciate the goodness around you.
The afternoons on my first yoga retreat were filled with sunshine and wind! We went walking or cycling to nearby coves, forests, and beaches. There was always time for a bit of sunbathing and swimming. Once we had returned to our chalets it was about time to change and then join all the students and teachers for a relaxing class (my favorite!) and meditation at sunset.
Before this retreat, I honestly did not get the point of meditation (why sit still in silence?), but in that shala overlooking the turquoise sparkling ocean, the yoga teacher’s calm voice prompted me into thinking clear, positive and soothing thoughts.
On some nights, the villa staff moved our dining table out onto the beach and we dined under the stars. It felt magical to sit out there with the waves lapping at our feet whilst we ate a delicious and healthy meal of curry, soups, fresh fish, and salad. My body always felt exercised and fatigued in a contented and satisfying way as the day came to a close.
Farewell (or the day you wish never arrived)
On our very last night, we moved from the beach back to the shala and were gifted a beautiful ‘kirtan’ concert. I surprised myself by joining in with the clapping and singing. We shared one or two drinks together and then danced. I felt light and happier than I can remember, swaying my hips amongst new found friends and feeling the ocean breeze on my sun-kissed cheeks. Take me back there, please!
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Find out about Nina’s incredible yoga and travel adventures at ninabutler.net