Summer is just around the corner, and thoughts of holiday planning are at the forefront. But sometimes the thought of going on holiday with our family can cause us more stress and anxiety. What we really need is a holiday from the everyday arguments, cleaning and caring for others- especially in our midlife.
I re-discovered the bliss of holidaying by myself when I went on my first ever Yoga Retreat in 2015 to Spain. I was working full-time as a teacher, I had 2 young children, and I was burnt-out! It had been a very stressful school year. I didn’t feel supported; a parent had tried to hit me; I had a colleague who wasn’t a team-player and subversive...I was at the end of my tether and had actually handed in my notice.
So I jetted off to Spain on that very last day of school. I had never been on a yoga retreat before and didn’t know what to expect. It was also over a decade since I had last travelled on my own, so I was a bit nervous.
I had discovered the retreat through a website, and all the photos and description made it look all fabulous- but I was still apprehensive. The retreat had pre-arranged a car transfer for me from the airport, as I had missed the group transfer which was earlier in the day. It was a nervous 90-minute transfer from the airport to the venue, particularly as it got darker and we turned off the highway onto the side desert roads. My imagination went into overdrive really and I had nothing to worry about.
My wonderful host, Lucy, welcomed me at the gate upon my arrival, introducing me to the rest of the group, and getting me a plate of supper. I was further reassured when I met my ‘roomie’ for the week. She was a producer for the BBC and a mum to a young boy herself.
Each morning we would wake up to tea, coffee, water and fruit before practising meditation and yoga in the outdoor anfiteatre. Evening sessions were gentle yin yoga in the dojo. It was also where I experienced my first ever Yoga Nidra (and fell in love). In between yoga sessions, we would lounge by the pool reading or sleeping. Some days, we would head to the local beach or nearby village for a few hours. There was no set time-table, except for the meals. Like me, a majority of the guests were there because they were burnt out from their regular lives back home. The retreat afforded us plenty of time to relax and reset.
Now I run my own retreats, and always keep in mind my first amazing experience in Spain. My goal for my guests is that they leave my retreat completely relaxed, rejuvenated and free of stress. I do plan my sessions so that they are different from my regular offerings. I put a lot of thought and effort into what we do on retreat, but don’t over-plan at the same time. Mornings with me are filled with gentle yoga and meditations, whilst evenings I switch it up a bit. We usually have a circle of sorts, yoga nidra, restorative or yin yoga, as well as a fire-pit event, and this last time we did a bit of dancing. No two retreats are the same with me.
A lot of research goes into finding the perfect venue. Questions that I ask are:
Is there a dedicated studio space? Is there equipment available to use?
This is important, especially if you are travelling a distance. I don’t want to bring yoga equipment on a flight as that means I have to pay extra. I also am a prop-heavy yoga teacher because I offer restorative yoga sessions, which require bolsters and blocks- bulky and heavy items.
Is there a chef on-site?
I do know how to cook, but that is an added element to a retreat, and added stress. I need to focus on my guests. As well, if the guests don’t like something, then I’m not personally offended. It also means I don’t have to worry about cleaning up. Meal-time on a retreat is part of the experience. It’s nice to lounge around the table chatting to everyone. The chef will go over the meal options with me to ensure that there are no food allergies, and that all the items are delicious. I always opt for vegetarian, and think it’s important for a professional to serve up vegetarian meals, especially if your guests normally aren’t. After Spain, I became vegetarian for a few years because of how delicious the food was and the fact that I didn’t miss eating meat at all.
Are there activities to do off-site?
Or can the venue bring someone on-site to offer extra options? Again, a retreat, even if it’s just a weekend one, is a holiday. So people don’t want to feel stuck in the venue. I personally like to explore, even if that means leaving to go for a walk to the nearby village, go paddle-boarding, or go to the beach. I like a bit of variety, and I assume so do my guests. When I went to Italy, my friend and I walked to the nearby village a few times that week to go for gelato or to visit the market (where I bought the best dried lemons!), and our host organised a mini-coach to take us to the ancient hill-top town of Orvieto for a day out.
On my last retreat, our attempt to go wild-swimming ended up with us exploring the local Kent country-side and drinking in a pub! But it was still nice to get out!
What does the venue look like?
If I can’t personally visit the venue, then I do have a very close look at the website. I’ve learned that it’s not what you see in the pictures, but rather what’s missing from the photos to be weary of. It’s kind of like house-hunting!
I also look to see if the venue has either a hot tub or swimming pool (depending on the country and season). I mentioned in my recent interview on Instagram, that I try to avoid Swedish hot tubs now. If it’s too rainy, the hot tub won’t work as the rain will dampen the fire, and the ash that the fire creates makes the water look dirty all the time. A hot tub is lovely in all types of weather, and it was wonderful after our morning of paddle-boarding in Cornwall!
What is the initial communication like?
I’ve turned down venues because they didn’t reply to me in a timely manner- and I’m talking more than 3 days! If they take too long to reply to my questions even though I have stated I’m quite clearly interested in hiring the venue, then I worry they will be that lazy in communicating with me whilst I’m there and I might not get problems resolved. Communication is key on all sides of the retreat organisation. I set up a WhatsApp group for my guests as soon as they book on. This way they can meet one another before-hand, we can discuss travel arrangements (flights or car-share), and we share photos after and keep in touch. For me as the host, I’m the person that guests relate any problems to, and I need to feel comfortable relaying these requests and problems to the venue to be resolved. Even if it’s just explaining to the chef that a comment someone made about the dinner was that they absolutely loved the cooking and had licked their plate clean.
My next retreat is this August, and we’re returning to the venue of my first magical yoga experience in Spain- La Finca Paradiso. It was a no-brainer really. I had already scouted the venue, I know the local area, I’ve sampled the food, and I love the atmosphere. I want my guests to come back from this retreat just as changed as I was- relaxed and a new person! I also need to state that I don’t run detox retreats. I do allow drinking, even though I remain sober. After all, it’s YOUR holiday.
There’s still a couple of places left on my retreat this summer, so if you want to learn more, just click the link below.