2015 has been the year that me and the Yoga Retreat have fallen in love.
I’m a new devotee to these beautiful breaks, undertaking short pilgrimages across Europe to roll out my mat; enjoy plenty of sunshine; meet new people; and take a break from everyday life. I’ve become the person that talks about them constantly – convincing you how amazing they are, how they will provide you with perspective on things and how they are, potentially, the answer to world peace.
(More than that, as I race towards my 30th birthday and nearly every friend of mine becomes engaged, Yoga retreats are also the perfect place to take a holiday, alone, without finding yourself in a lonely resort, crying into Tinder).
So, following my successful trip to Silver Island earlier this year, I lasted an entire fortnight before booking my second retreat to the heavenly Finca Paradiso in southern Spain. After glimpsing a few photographs of beautiful Moorish looking architecture, a large swimming pool and a hammock, I hit book. Say no more Finca Paradiso, say no more.
August came around quickly and before I knew it, I was on a bus with my 16 new friends, heading towards the Spanish countryside. Following a bumpy journey south, we stepped off our bus and into Finca Paradiso: an eco-retreat spanning 4 acres and sitting peacefully under a canopy of fruit trees, flowers and hidden hammocks.
As we walked off the bus, we were immediately hit by the warm, Spanish evening air. The sound of cicadas vibrated around us, palm trees swayed in the breeze and the beautiful smell of flowers, lemons and limes hung in the air. I was happy and smug to be there.
The retreat is split into various types of accommodation, ranging from the large family house where I would be staying, to individual apartments scattered throughout the grounds. The house itself was beautiful: full of bright art work, Moroccan inspired tiling and comfy areas to relax and talk.
I was sharing the ‘Citrus Room’ with my roommate Margo (I seem to get lucky with roommates and only ever get the best human beings), which had views over the pool and was filled with the pink hues of sunrise every morning. Our hallway was much like university halls: full of girls sharing one bathroom and a lot of talking.
The days on the retreat were very similar to Silver Island. We began with an 8 – 10am yoga class, followed by breakfast (fresh figs, fruits, yogurts and berries). After a few hours of lounging in the sunshine and worrying about tan lines, it was time for lunch. I’d then manage to fit in a siesta or massage, before another yoga class 5-6.30pm. The evenings were largely based around food and talking, as we sat at our fairy-light lit table in the beautiful grounds of the Finca. Hard going. I have no idea how I managed.
I was lucky enough to be on a retreat led by Zephyr Wildman. For anyone based in London, Zephyr teaches regularly at The Life Centre in both Islington and Notting Hill. I couldn’t recommend her classes more. Alongside our regular Asana practice (that’s moving around on your mat to you and me), Zephyr also took us through a dazzling amount of theory and philosophy. From Doshas to Kleshas, Meditation to Anatomy, we had a whirlwind insight into the eight limbs of yoga. I found it all genuinely fascinating and really helpful – who knew my Dosha type was Vatta and that I constantly hyper-extend in my right leg?
Zephyr was also fantastic in helping with my meditation – something I’ve always struggled with. Aspects of meditation scared me and I’d rather do anything other than sit alone with my memories and thoughts. But Zephyr helped me get past those stumbling blocks and by the end, I was finally enjoying sitting quietly for 15 minutes, in my own bubble of mindfulness.
The grounds of Finca Paradiso were much like a mini oasis. You could walk freely around the 4 acres, discovering art work; sculptures; hammocks; fig trees; lemon and lime trees; streams; waterfalls; yurts (you can stay in these colourful little tents, if you like!); and flowers, all whilst enjoying amazing views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Guests had access to the kitchen at all times for fruit, tea and leftovers (carrot cake), and you could laze around the two pools together, or find somewhere a little quieter to retreat. Massages and facials were also available and I had an incredibly painful (yet enjoyable) 90 minute Thai massage.
We had one ‘day trip’ whilst on the retreat, which after days of laying around in isolation, was a big deal. We got back on our bus and headed out to Mojácar, for some wandering around and a big lunch. Due to the heat, the wandering lasted 10 minutes, but the eating and drinking lasted a few hours. We then headed to the beach on the local bus, before taking up most of the sun loungers. The braver people of the group were straight in the sea, diving through waves, whilst the contact lense wearing crowd (me included), stood blindly on the beach and bravely cheered them on. The rest of the day was spent sunbathing, drinking beers and attempting a few aborted handstands.
Writing about experiences such as yoga retreats is difficult. Explaining where we went, what we did and what it looked like is easy, but anything past that gets harder to articulate. These retreats are less about the sights you saw, the activities you did and the nights out you had, and more about how you felt when you arrived and how you felt when you left – completely different.
Maybe it’s all that yoga and meditation, maybe it’s the healthy food and long days filled with sunshine, or perhaps it’s just being with a group of people you’ve never met, but who would give you some of the best advice you’ve had all year. But either way, my trip to Spain and my time with Zephyr and the group was special. Regardless of whether you can touch your toes or can sit and meditate for hours on end, these retreats are something I’d recommend to anyone and everyone. Get a little bit of ‘omm’ in your life and you’ll feel a whole lot better. I promise.