Like many people I started the new year resolving to get fitter and most importantly, healthier so when the opportunity to attend a three-day yoga retreat in Oxfordshire came up I jumped at it with two Lululemon clad legs! Ok, I’ll admit it now. I’m not exactly a seasoned yogi but the promise of three days at the beautiful Queen Anne style country house with twice daily yoga and meditation practice and yummy food by trendy London health food eatery The Detox Kitchen pretty much had me at Hello!
I arrived at Poundon House on Friday lunch-time to be greeted by the friendly and welcoming Roscoe sisters Alicia and Natalie who would be our hosts for the weekend. Poundon is the girl’s family home and they have been holding weddings and retreats here for some time now. It’s clear from the start that they have a real passion for their work and their beautiful family estate and they couldn’t be more hospitable. Alicia shows me to my home for the next few days, the aptly named “Romantic room”. If only I had a certain Ballroom dancer to share it with! My room was spacious and beautifully decorated in soothing hues with a super comfy canopied bed and a view of the gardens and rolling hills beyond. After changing into my yoga gear (mostly Manuka and Calmia since you ask!) I head downstairs to the “Yoga Shala” where all our practice is to take place. Here I meet Saskia who is to be our resident yogi and teacher for the weekend. Saskia has a soft voice and an instantly calming effect. She, like me, used to be a fashion model and it turns out we were both on the scene at the same time and share a few mutual friends. We also share the impression that modelling is perhaps not the most healthy and confidence inspiring of careers!
We begin our practise and Saskia asks those with most yoga experience to come to the front row so that those with less experience can get an idea of how it’s done. I hide in the back by the door! I’ve been practising Iyengar once a week, on and off for the last year but definitely more off than on lately! Here’s the thing… I never look forward to my yoga class. I always feel better having done it but actually I find yoga really hard. I have incredibly tight hips and so I find that they don’t want to hold me up in lots of the positions. Also it kind of hurts and I don’t have much patience for holding the poses or “Asanas”. We are a mixed bunch in terms of ability but I would say I was definitely one of the less experienced participants. In fact it turned out we had several yoga teachers moonlighting amongst the group! The class was undoubtably hard however I didn’t feel any pressure to compete as quite clearly a lot of these people had been practicing yoga for years. Rome wasn’t built in a day! The session finished with a short “savasana” or meditation which is always my favourite part!
Meals certainly didn’t disappoint on this retreat. Thankfully it wasn’t one of those places where you want to sneak out for Maccy D’s as you’re so hungry and deprived. The goal is not weight loss but filling your body with “clean” food. The Detox Kitchen meals are all meat free (due to Yoga principles of not causing harm to any living being rather than for health benefits) and wheat, gluten, dairy and refined-sugar free. For those to whom this seems like a scary concept, fear not. The food was all incredibly tasty and filling. My absolute fave was the sweet potato and coconut soup, followed by a veggie quinoa dish with the most delicious pesto on top. Lunches were served around the huge farmhouse table in the kitchen and dinners in the more formal yellow dining room.
Our evening yoga session was by candlelight and one I was most looking forward to. A little gentler than our morning session, I found this one both uplifting and calming. Saskia uses the most incredible music for her sessions which seems to somehow infuse your entire body with an incredible energy. The main purpose of this session was to “set your intent”. During a short meditation we were asked to think of two intentions. One thing you wanted to bring into your life this year and one you wanted to leave behind. Remaining in meditation we wrapped up and went out into the gardens to think about our intentions for twenty minutes and with the mission to collect two small sticks. To begin with the walk was a little “Midsommer Murders” as I wandered around the grounds on my own in the dark but very quickly I found a real peace and enjoyed the meditative feeling of the frosty gravel crunching under my feet. We then came inside to write our “keep” and “get rid of” intents down on a piece of paper. We rolled our papers around our sticks and tied them with string. We then left them on the table in the Yoga Shala to refer to during our practice and meditations over the weekend.
The next day I woke with soreness in muscles I didn’t even know existed! When I’d retired to bed the previous night I was exhausted and left wondering how on earth I was going to find the strength to complete four more yoga sessions before the end of the weekend! However as soon as I entered the Yoga Shala for my morning meditation session I was actually really looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to learn more! I found that although many muscles were sore I was actually able to push myself a little more and stretch myself a little more into the poses. Who knew that standing and sitting still could make you so hot and sweaty! After lunch we had a few hours free time with the option of a guided country walk. I was fully intending to fall asleep on my comfy bed again as I had done the previous day but suddenly I felt energised and as though I wanted to be in the company of my new yoga buddies. We walked and talked for two hours, appreciating the beautiful countryside, having great conversations and at times sharing a companionable silence. By the time we got back for lunch I could barely walk another step but was feeling happy and fulfilled. Although the schedule of yoga was punishing for me I somehow found myself having more and more strength and energy for it. I always left my practise with a huge sense of achievement and I was learning and getting stronger. Instead of crashing out between sessions I was enjoying sitting around the open fire in the beautiful drawing-room with a book or finding someone for a good old chat over a cup of tea. Speaking of tea, we were also kept sustained by what I came to refer to as the “table of life” which was stationed just outside the Yoga Shala and constantly stocked with every imaginable flavour of my favourite Pukka Teas, Chi coconut water which was the best I’ve ever tasted and daily baked Detox Kitchen gluten and refined sugar-free cakes! I literally couldn’t walk past this table without making myself a cuppa!
One of my favourite things about my weekend retreat was being in the company of so many like-minded people. We were a mix of ages and from different walks of life but shared an unspoken respect for each other and a desire to improve our lives and wellbeing through yoga and meditation. It was wonderful to be with so many people who shared an interest in holistic living and at times to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with others and hear their thoughts. Every conversation I had over the weekend (and there were many) was interesting, inspiring or fulfilling and left me with lots to think about.
On our last afternoon, after another hearty and warming lunch and a dreamy and much-needed massage we gathered in the Yoga Shala for our final session, a gentle and restorative one to send us on our way with clear minds and supple limbs. At the end of the session we wrapped up warm and headed outside one last time for our closing ceremony. We huddled together around the warmth of a glowing fire pit, the snow on the ground making the whole scene even more picture perfect and powerful. One by one we took it in turns to share, firstly our intent we wished to leave behind and secondly our intents that we wished to keep and manifest for the year/life! We tossed our intent sticks into the fire and watched them slowly burn away taking with them things we wished to leave in the past and sealing our intention to carry forward what we wished to bring into our lives. I must admit, if you had mentioned this to me at the start of the weekend I would have probably thought it all a bit weird and “woo woo” but now with our minds totally focussed within I found this very liberating and empowering. I can only imagine it’s close to some form of self-hypnosis, NLP or emotional freedom technique but I suddenly found my thoughts were manifesting in to my everyday feelings. The negative things I wished to leave behind were gone with alarming speed and I immediately and in the days following my retreat found myself feeling almost ecstatically happy and positive!
Reflecting back now on my weekend at Poundon House with the wonderful Saskia I can honestly tell you I found this retreat to be totally transformative. There is scientific evidence to suggest that both yoga and meditation can change neural pathways in the brain and I have to say I can fully feel the effects. Trust me when I say I genuinely feel better than I have done in years! I wake with more energy and ready to hit the ground running most days whereas previously I was always pretty sluggish in the mornings. I also feel generally calmer and more positive on a daily basis. The hip pain that I have suffered from on and off for years is barely there and I relish the thought of getting back to my weekly Iyengar class! I can honestly say I think I’ve found my inner yogi!
You can join the upcoming Spring yoga retreat with Saskia! Fri 18th – Sun 20th March. Prices from £360pp. Visit www.retreats.poundonhouse.com
The retreat was kindly gifted to me by Poundon House for review purposes.
Additional photos courtesy of Eneka Stewart www.enekastewart.com