This is the one about the yoga retreat. About how a middle aged overweight woman who has never done yoga before went off to the South of France for a four day yoga retreat.
I don’t actually know where to start with this one if I am honest. To such an extent that I haven’t been able to get my head around the angle I want to come at this post and have, therefore, sat on it for ten days. I should probably just start at the beginning shouldn’t I?
The beginning, as with all life changing things in my life, started with a Tweet. Not seen by me, but by Mr B. A tweet from Nathalie at Value Your Mind saying she had some spaces on her next retreat to her family home near St Tropez for a four day yoga and meditation weekend. The conversation between Mr B and I went something like this:
<Mr B shows T his phone. There is a tweet on it> You should do that
Don’t be ridiculous
Why is it ridiculous?
I don’t do yoga, other than badly with a crappy app in the spare bedroom, with a cat who is pissed off I have woken her up
You could learn to do it properly
I don’t have any yoga clothes
You could buy some
I don’t have time
There is always time for stuff like this
I would have to travel on my own
This went on for about twenty minutes until eventually (I think Masterchef was about to start and I wanted him to shut up) I agreed to look at the price of flights and then go for it. Deep down he had me at “You should do that” but I didn’t know if I was brave enough to do it. Mr B knows me better than I know me.
Regular readers will know that this year has been “a challenge”. I won’t lie, I have found it really hard. My ever increasing headaches and lack of enthusiasm for life in general have been debilitating, and I am sure not just for me. With Caity and Dan’s wedding the main focus of amazingness the week before I suspect Mr B knew I would be on a massive downer and need something to perk me up.
He wasn’t wrong.
From the minute I stepped in through the front door of La Gargoulette I felt at home. In fact before that. Nathalie had put all of us in touch via email and a Facebook group beforehand so we could chat and organise to meet up at Nice Airport and share the cost of a hire car and the journey together. My fellow yogis (see I now have all the lingo) had arrived a couple of days before so had explored the area but meeting up at the “Kiss and Fly” (sounds much more romantic than Heathrow’s Drop and Go) was the first time we had all properly met. Instantly it was like we had all known each other for years. It soon became apparent that anybody who enjoys yoga and meditation is a certain kind of calm, gentle soul, and exactly the type of person my generally hyper being needed. So far from being an awkward hour and a half journey we all chatted happily and before we knew it we had arrived. And nobody minded that I hadn’t done a yoga retreat before, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed.
It felt very special to be welcomed somewhere that Nathalie clearly has such a connection with. This was no hired hall or rented property, it was her family’s home and in an area where they had spend many many happy holidays. That peaceful vibe really gave the whole weekend a laid back, authentic feel. Family photos dotted about. Beautiful hand made lamps made by Nathalie’s dad out of old vines. The house had a soul that made us all feel relaxed from the outset.
At the bottom of the garden was a gentle stream that could be crossed in order to explore the other side, and where once upon a time a hammock had hung, offering cool shade in the hot French summers. I found it so peaceful I went there just to video the water and sound of birds to playback and be reminded of how relaxed I felt that weekend. It was these little things that I found myself taking the most from.
Bags dropped into rooms (you can share with a friend by booking a twin or double or Nathalie will pair you with somebody else to share a twin room) it was time to have some lunch. All the food is included over the weekend, and Nathalie had asked her friend Steph to come along to do all the catering. All vegetarian, with much of it gluten and dairy free too everything we had was delicious. And plentiful. Rest assured this is no starvation diet. Gorgeous bircher muesli, plenty of fruit, stunning desserts I wanted the recipes for all of it. Or to move closer to Steph in the hope she might drop things on the doorstep for us on a daily basis.
Whilst the weekend was timetabled it was relaxed and completely flexible. There was a guided walk every day, exploring the local scenery but I chose to use this time for an extra nap, catch up on reading or to just lie by the pool. There were two yoga sessions each day, an afternoon to relax by the pool, and a deep sleep mediation after dinner.
A word to the wise though, clean your teeth and put your pyjamas on before you do that evening meditation because afterwards you will be fit for nothing other than walking, zombie like, to bed to curl up for the best sleep you have had in years.
Each of us had been given a journal when we arrived and every evening there was a personal reflection time. Nathalie posed a question or two and asked us to write down our responses. No sharing. No judgement but just a space for us to reflect on our thoughts, or intentions, to acknowledge gratitude, focus on what we need to let go of (boy could I write a massive blog post on the baggage I am dragging around but really need to let go of) and how to be compassionate, especially to ourselves. I found it a deeply moving exercise and something I would love to keep up. I find the art of physically writing, cathartic. My letter to myself on the final night went to four pages. There were a lot of things I had to get off my chest and it felt good to finally be able to do it in a safe space. A space where there would be no judgement.
But what of the main event? The yoga. Well it was fabulous. The morning session before breakfast, done beside the pool, the evening session done inside, each one with a slightly different mission. One was energising, another “yin” which was more gentle. It taught us about flow, about the yin and yang and it really felt like everything was beginning to fall into place with how our mind and bodies work.
Clearly I am no expert, alot of the practice I couldn’t do, especially anything that involved putting weight on my arms (downward dog I am looking at you) but lying on the floor stretching I was in my element. Nathalie was incredibly encouraging and not once was I made to feel I was letting the side down, slowing things down, or out of place. In fact, I couldn’t have been more welcomed.
To the extent that Nathalie helped me do that just 36 hours after arriving. I had said I would sit it out “I can’t do a headstand, don’t be ridiculous”, to which all the other ladies said “yes you can, come on”. I felt like I could conquer the world afterwards, I felt amazing.
Generally speaking I am a mass of self doubt, at times even self loathing but this weekend really showed me that change comes from within, from valuing your mind, thinking about how focusing on the internal stuff really does then make an outward difference.
This paragraph on Nathalie’s website pretty much sums up why these weekends are about more than just the yoga and why they are so inspiring:
Running our emotional wellbeing retreats is our founder, Nathalie Kealy. As well as being an advanced therapeutic yoga instructor, Nathalie has several years worth of experience and expertise in mental wellbeing as a qualified mental health practitioner and inner calm and compassion coach. She has written many articles on stress-reduction, mental wellbeing and how to use yoga to improve your mental health.
There are other retreats planned, some of them in the UK if that is easier for you. All the info is here: Value Your Mind Retreats
Honestly, you will come home feeling energised, invigorated, recharged and ready to tackle the world.
And do headstands at 8am on a Saturday morning