Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!
Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.
So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!
Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!
I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.
After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.
A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.
At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.
Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake! Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!
Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.
I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.
For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.