Flying Solo At A Yoga Retreat…

Until last month I’d never been on a Yoga Retreat before. I’d worked at one – Soul & Surf, Kerala in southern India – but I hadn’t been a guest fully immersing myself in the zen.

Nor had I ever been to Ibiza. – So when my first & favourite Yoga Teacher, Steffy White, announced her 2017 summer retreat, I jumped on in.

I say ‘jumped on in’, but was probably a little more hesitant that that.

Not because I was unsure about Steffy’s yoga (I go to 2 or 3 classes with her most weeks so I know how much I love the Yang and Yin she offers). And I need zero persuasion to be get to the beach. The hesitation was the idea of going on holiday on my own…

Steffy was totally encouraging when I asked her about going at it alone and sharing a room with strangers-who-inevitably-turned-friends; reassuring that lots of people fly solo on a retreat – and that I’d be spending a week with like-minded souls, all there for a similar reason.

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So with that I booked my first ever solo holiday.

It was a totally liberating moment, knowing that I’d worked hard enough over the year to be able to treat myself to a trip that was all my own. A chance to spend hours practicing what I love doing most, delving deeper into my practice, relaxing and re-energising – and all with a teacher that I admire and really resonate with…

And of course knowing that I’d be heading off to Ibiza was pretty amazing as well!

Down to the details…

The Retreat was through Steffy’s company White Light Yoga

The theme, Journeying Through The Chakras...

Sharing Steff’s fascination with the subtle energy system of the body and the way in which we can use yoga (yin and yang) breathing and meditation to unblock and rebalance ourselves – the theme of her Ibiza retreat more than resonated with what I am (and my teaching) is about.

I recently furthered my teacher training with a 20-hour course in Mandala Flow & The Elements with The Yoga People. (I will be going on to take the full 100-hour Mandala & Shamanism Course in Goa next March). But thanks to my 20-hour introduction to Jamie and Dulce’s Mandala training, I have some understanding, and come to feel the benefit, of creating yoga and meditation practices and classes centered around the connection between each Element and its corresponding Chakra.

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My key learning from the training, and what I most looked forward to (and subsequently, absolutely loved about Steffy’s retreat) was delving into Chakra and Elemental focused yoga practice and understanding how this offers up an intention to bring healing to our first four energy centres (the lower four Chakras / the lower parts of the physical body), of which each is connected to an element (Earth, Water, Fire, Air).

I knew we would be working deeply (both physically and spiritually), to connect the breath with a still mind and the subtle energies of the body, via creatively sequenced, inspiring dynamic and soothing practices. – With a teacher I couldn’t trust and love to learn from more.

So, what was included?…

Where we stayed

We were so lucky with our villa. Steffy found the most perfect home at the stunning Casa Lakshmi Luz. Casa Lakshmi Luz is a true oasis, a heavenly space that holds the group energy, amidst the peace and tranquility of the beautiful Ibizan countryside.

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The interior is bright, spacious, welcoming and tranquil. A home from home where you can fully relax, unwind and breathe into your retreat.

Step outside onto the pool terraces and chill-out gardens and outdoor yoga deck, with Moroccan influences, there are many spaces to rest your head, siesta, relax and dream – choose from sun or shade, comfy sun lounger or colourful hammock.

Casa Lakshmi Luz is located ten minutes from the golden sands and turquoise waters of Cala Nova and only a 15 minute drive from (now) one of my most favourite beaches in the world, Benirras.

The yoga

We woke up around 7am each morning an honoured a silent hour (Vipasana) – it’s amazing. Spending the first hour of your day with yourself, in silence. Perhaps meditating, perhaps writing your journal by the pool; perhaps making yourself a giant Quinoa Milk Latte and sitting in the hazy early morning sun smiling – rather than sleepily and mindlessly chatting – to your fellow retreaters.

It’s beautiful. Peaceful smiles and morning nods of the head to acknowledge each other, while you’re with yourself and a slow morning mind as you pick up your mat, bolsters and blocks to make your way over to the stunning Shala for 2 hours of insanely amazing dynamic flow.

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I’ve tried at home to keep the Vipasana up with Jamie – just 10-15 minutes of silent acknowledgement in the mornings to meditate, set intentions for the day – and enjoy coffee in bed in peace – sometimes we manage…

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Every morning with the exception of a rest-day mid week, we practiced a two-hour dynamic, creative Vinyasa and Mandala Flow; focused on a particular chakra (moving from root to crown) connected to its corresponding element.

The classes were amazing, inspiring and pushed you (in a kind way) to try the things the mind will often tell you you can’t do – but when in the breath and an open space – the body might just take you.

We played with inversions, closed with Yin and enjoyed a long, sweaty savasana before an amazing breakfast buffet feast of plant based goodness was served.

In the evening we luxuriated into long-hold Yin practices, working with the same chakra. It was intense, soothing and hazy – quieting the mind and surrounding to a deep restorative pose for minutes at a time is the perfect balance to the morning’s yang – leaving you feeling pretty stoned.

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Steffy’s practices are creative, soulful, well prepared, fun, functional and spiritual.

The food

The food was off the chain! Staying with us was Sarah of Bondi Kitchen – who when she isn’t feeding grateful retreaters her homemade Lifechanging Loaf (a vegan, gluten free loaf using seeds), clean, raw peanut butter cups, baked granola, falafel and watermelon gazpacho; is the on-set chef for the likes of Wonder Woman – giving her that paleo power, or cooking at home for Will Smith.

We were utterly spoiled with nourishing, vegan, seasonal, plant-based, locally sourced, heavenly brunches, lunches, snacks and dinners.

The Bondi Kitchen is launching in Wholefoods soon with resealable protein balls – def worth checking out!

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Typical Schedule

  • 7.30am: Teas, coffees and juices
  • 8-10am: Dynamic Elemental flow
  • 10am: Breakfast
  • Free time: beach/nap/sunbathe/pool/journal/explore/book in for massages and therapies/ do whatever your heart desires!
  • On some of the afternoons there were optional inversion workshops, a workshop on creating your own self-practice at home, Reiki massages and a Gong bath.
  • 6-7.30pm Yin yoga
  • 7.30pm: Dinner

During the days we either chilled by the pool, visited the old town or headed to beaches to sunbath (we hired a couple of cars between us to get around). On the last night we watched the sun set with cocktails at Experimental Beach Club.

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I honestly had the best time. In the middle of the week I took myself off to Benirras beach and spent a solid 10 hours moving from sand to sea. (I had aggravated an old injury in my back so wasn’t allowed to yoga for a day).

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I think it was the first day of the entire year that I didn’t have something to do or somewhere to be and while floating around in the sea a whole lot of everything was dropped. It was my favourite day of the year. Utter bliss.

The week was amazing. I’d recommend booking onto one of Steffy’s retreats, either with friends, your lover, yourself – dropping any expectation and being open to everything you delve into on the way.

2018 Retreats will be listed here soon

 

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Attracting some of the country’s most sought after yoga instructors, S O U L  C I R C U S Festival, in its first year, is the perfect countryside escape to let your body dance and your soul run free, whether you’re brand new to yoga or an experienced practitioner.

Having just about got a night’s sleep in after putting on our own festival (Varkala Festival) two weekends ago; attending Soul Circus last weekend – a Yoga and Wellbeing festival in the heart of the Cotswolds, with an emphasis on feeling great and ‘putting yourself back together’ – was just what the guru ordered….and a dream weekend for any yogini.

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Offering everything from restorative Y I N classes, uplifting Rocket sessions, G O N G baths, dynamic V I N Y A S A flow practice and soulful Jivamutki; through to Aerial, Acro and D I S C O flow; from sunrise to sunset, Soul Circus privided an extensive program offering something for everyone.

Dreamt up by Broga U.K’s Matt Miller, the yoga-loving California-born former American football and his Co Founders Roman and Ella of Ella and Fleur Hot Yoga, truly succeeded in offering a weekend of tranquillity; giving his guests the chance to re-calibrate with twenty yoga classes taught each day across Friday to Sunday, in three difference ‘experience tipis’ in this lakeside outdoor venue.

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It wasn’t all about the yoga though…

True to their name, Soul Circus fed the soul with a collection of different sounds and experiences including Meditation Classes, bubbling Hot Tubs to ease the muscles, a Gin Bar, a Rude Health breakfast bar, Supper Clubs, Chocolate Masterclasses, as well as having some of Gloucestershire’s finest local and sustainable vendors pitch up to offer interactive dining experience, including plenty by The Core Cheltenham.

And once the yoga was done there was plenty of time to relax with the best in local ales, ciders, wines and special Soul Circus cocktails – a favourite new discovery of mine being Asparagasm, serving beautiful raw cakes, insanely delicious unique Vegan Cheeses, creamy Nut Mylks and their own range of vegan organic beer and wines.

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Whether you swear by a plant-based, vegetarian, gluten|dairy free or cold pressed diet – or are simply a good old fashioned lover of meat – Soul Circus catered for it!.. A refreshing take on the old idea that you have to sup on green juices and avoid meat if you practice yoga, making for a well-balanced wellness festival serving delicuously shameless Chicken Tandoori Wraps and glasses of Prosecco.

As well as food vendors within the festival sites, Soul Circus also host two lunchtime interacting workshops run by Chef Jay Halford on how to live and cook healthy.

And on the Friday night and Saturday night, festival goers had the option of bookings one of two amazing dinning experiences.

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There was also a VIP Tipi hosted by Canadian apparel brand, Kit & Ace, satisfying the senses on a number of different levels including, a Kit and Ace pop up shop, VIP Supper clubs, a Rude Health Breakfast Bar, Evening Cocktail Bar and Outdoor Beanbags for lounging and watching music performances – the best seats in the house…

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Having spent the day, Namaste-ing in the hay, perfecting downward dogs and cultivating Zen; revellers returned to their accommodation with luxury loos and shower facilities.

In the dedicated glamping village, guests found fully furnished bell tents with matting and bedding set up with either two single beds, one double or three single beds.

Thanks so much and N A M A S T E to Soul Circus for having us…

The’ Monkey Mind’ is a Buddhist term which describes the persistent churn of thoughts in the undisciplined mind; and learning to slow down this distracting internal chatter to find stillness has been my biggest challenge when practicing Yoga.

Photo by Jamie Bowkett

In Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ means ‘union,’ harmonising the mind with the body. Yoga has been in my routine for the last two years and I have always loved its variations from Bikram and Rocket Yoga though to Yin practices; however as my focus has only ever been on the physical benefits, Yoga’s more meditative side has always been totally lost on me.

….Until I started working at Soul & Surf, India, and more significantly met and practiced Yoga every day for two months with Hayley Mia; a hands-on, holistic and encouraging Yogi who has completely changed the way in which I think about Yoga, inspiring me to find my own path with it.

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Despite being the teacher to show me how to breath, slow down, ‘stay on the mat,’ and be still with my thoughts; Hayley offers a fast-paced, dynamic Vinyasa Flow class. Challenging. But with variations for all levels.

With her I have sweated hard through challenging, Rocket Yoga-style flowing sequences, concentrating on the traditional fundamentals to Ashtanga, culminating in a well-deserved savasana leaving you feeling energized and uplifted; all over-looking the stunning pinks and blues of a Keralan coastal sunset.

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IMG_3533 copy 2Somewhere along my way with enjoying Hayley’s physically demanding Vinyasa classes, she really struck a chord with me that has finally helped me to absorb myself in the more thoughtful benefits of Yoga – and that was when she told the class to ‘calm their monkey minds; and to observe, but let go of, the mindless dialogue running through our heads.’

It was the knowing that everyone struggles with emptying their heads and staying in the moment during Yoga that made me feel so much better about it; And from talking to Hayley more and reading around it, I’ve realised that there are lots of simple ways to help find inner peace during and outside of your Yoga.

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It’s amazing how simple it can be to manage your mind once you simply think of it as ‘monkeying around;’ and rather than letting it stress you out when you can’t keep it quiet, just observe your thoughts, remove the worry and let your yoga go deeper.

TIPS TO CALM THE MONKEY MIND

  • Let the thoughts float by like clouds without attaching to them. It’s not a crime to experience a thought when meditating; just continue to work on your breath and usher the thought through as though a child attempting to interrupt a conversation for attention.
  • Sync breath to movement and remember to breath in and out through your nose. When you breathe through your mouth, it stimulates the body’s “fight or flight” nervous system. This send a message to your brain that your body is in a state of panic and sends your mind into a whirlwind of thought. Our brains can be aware of many things at once, but by only focusing on one thing at a time – breathing in and out of your nose – you are sure to calm that Monkey Mind.
  • Be still and resist the urge to fidget and fuss during the stillness between postures. This stillness is your Savasana and by resisting the urge to fidget or fix your hair, you gain mental strength, and get closer toward a deep meditation.

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  •  Observe and humble your mental perspective. Be really humble with your expectations and don’t try to compete with the person next to you, in achieving the perfect pose. Observing while actively trying to refrain from judgment is important. Observe your balance; observe the feeling of your body in your asana, but don’t judge how much deeper you should be going – or what someone else in the class is doing. Observe that you can and will go deeper with practice – and let it be.
  • Tame the monkey eyes. The part of the brain responsible for visual creativity is the same part responsible for both visual attention and eye movement. In other words, when the eyes are still, so is the attention. Focus your eyes on one spot in the mirror, or the ceiling because when the eyes wander, the mind begins to wander. Better still is to close your eyes and feel your practice
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A Monkey Mind is a playful mind that easily and frequently gets distracted at any moment in your practice, or in your daily life. Some people may experience it more than others but I think through yoga and meditation, we can teach people how to quiet the mind at any given moment. We learn to put the monkey aside and give ourselves the zenned out inner peace our bodies and minds deserve.
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