The essence of any retreat is how it captures our imaginative remembering. When we put down and step aside from the confabulation of the mundane everyday and escape to a space that inspires us to honestly reflect, we gain focus and clarity and a chance to recapture all that might feel like it's been evading us.
One week on from hosting an Autumn Yoga Retreat in the Somerset countryside with 11 beautiful humans, I'm reflecting, with a large degree of awe, on the quintessence of co-creation and connective bliss that arose from our shared weekend.
Those initials greetings as people arrive at a retreat are varied and uniquely special. Some guests are regular class attendees, others, for the moment, complete strangers. Then there are past acquaintances whose story you are keen to catch up on. All arrive with tales of journeys, some long and fraught, others surprised at how easily they found the place!
One or two pitch up with enough luggage for a 2 week adventure, this always makes me smile.
Friendships form quickly at retreats. There is both curiosity about the people with whom you will be sharing the weekend, practising yoga and eating with, people who have made the same choice as you and a shared desire to collectively embrace the intention to make the weekend as enjoyable as possible. It's incredibly rare that anyone is not included in this.
This was the second weekend retreat at this particular venue. It's always good to revisit a space you've hosted at before. Despite the inevitable unknown elements or unavoidable hiccups, the familiarity is a confidence boost and gives you much needed time and energy to devote all your energy to the offering itself and be fully present with all the guests who've entrusted you with their precious time and money.
Our evening yoga practice offered a gradual introduction to the Autumnal theme which was to be unravelled over the weekend. I see Autumn and Spring as transitional seasons, spaces that prepare us for Winter and Summer. Autumn heralds a gradual fading. Initially there is an inevitable sense of loss when we notice the dwindling daylight and the cooler morning air but the vibrance of altering colour with which nature sheds her Summer skin, like a fading tan is actually a delight to witness. Often when we mourn the loss of something it causes us to seek out its existence in other places, to relocate what we can sense isn't lost. Simply noticing how a low sun illuminates each leaf with a backlit glow reminds us that nature has her own mesmerising capacity to endlessly play with light and shade and to merge their meeting paths.
It goes without saying that the yoga is a large part of a yoga retreat - but being able to offer options to experience different types of classes not only makes the experience fuller but also encourages us not to deny ourselves a full spectrum involvement in life and an opportunity to be again playful and inquisitive. We are far less fixed and plastic than we believe ourselves to be, nature reminds us that everything, including us, is in constant flux.
Yoga nidra, or yogic sleep is a lovely way to draw down the first evening. After a delicious vegan offering from our returning caterer the incredible Alice from Thoughtful Forks, it allowed a quiet escape and at the end an invitation for those ready to slumber to slink away and sink into sleep. Some retreats are very structured and clearly defined and it depends on the intention the organiser has when they create the offering. This particular retreat offered a timetable of scheduled events but encouraged participants to do as much or as little as they wanted to, whilst being respectful of each other and adhering to certain conditions such as not arriving late for classes. It seems to work well. Letting go of FOMO (fear of missing out) means we can truly embrace what we need in the moment without the tugging of regret.
On the Saturday, an early morning Vinyasa class was blessed with the brightest of the morning sun's shimmering rays cascading into the panelled hall captured under its echoing vaulted arches. Kundalini kriyas and sacred mantras punctuated our moderately invigorating sadhana and the 'heart of gold kriya' was a timely reminder that the light is always within us -we just need to remember how to find it.
There are many things that make for a successful retreat: timing, space and place, food, the yoga of course but most important is the energy people bring and share. Sound is energy and in this acoustically enhancing space our chanting spiralled in protective embrace. The offering of mantras and an opportunity to learn simple ones and sing them together is another gift of going on a retreat. It provides a chance to enjoy that co-creative sound and the awakening chain of vibration it sets up in the subtle body - the resonance lasts beyond the last note which issues forth. It often takes courage to join in with a mantra so simple call and response means everyone can enjoy and let go of worrying about how they sound or whether they've pronounced the unfamiliar sanskrit sounds correctly and simply enjoy the experience.
Autumn's chicanery of oscillating weather smiled her flirtatiousness upon us, after she'd darkened and drenched the morning and we were able to go ahead with the planned and much anticipated forest bathing session. For many this was one of the highlights of the weekend. Slowing down each step, touching the earth with awareness of how the pressurised ground beneath welcomed and held the weight of human tread we sunk into the forest atmosphere. With intervals of pause along the trails invitations were made to open each of the senses in turn, this recalls our instinctive nature and awakens us more deeply to present experience. An invitation to deepen our connection with those inherently ancient threads which we all naturally have to the forest environment (biophilia) - an ancient remembering that nature and the forest was once the source of life, protection and connection. Oh and then the joy, after 2 hours of embracing the highly oxygenated, transformative treelixation, we got to play in the carpet of golden leaves. On a scale of 1 to 10, this must surely rank as a 12!
Returning laden with replacement logs for the fire, everyone gathered for a nourishing smoothie and snacks and timeless fireside chats. These are the times I love and slightly wish I could hide in a cupboard and unseen enjoy the sounds of laughter intermingled with momentary silence and truly notice the cadence of different tones of voice without seeing the speaker. But, hiding in a cupboard would be a bit weird so I didn't.
Supper provided another nutritious and tasty offering from Alice who by now we have all decided is magical and there was even some talk of the possibility of kidnapping her! However realising that would not be good publicity we instead honoured her wonderful catering by simply returning very clean plates!
Our Saturday evening closed on the yinside. Settling into postures without striving towards a goal enables the lustration of yin time benefits to fall in. Yin is a deciduous process of unravelling. As a practice, if you give it time, it can assimilate itself into every crevice and seep inside. Yin creates balance in our often very yang paced lives. This style of yoga offers appropriate stresses to the deeper tissues whilst also inviting awareness of how the mind's constant chatter distracts us from our intention which is: to find an edge, become still and navigate the time here as a form of grace and magic and pause-itivity. As each moment becomes the next we realise how the storyline goes, often on repeat and can creatively decipher the chapters which might be rewritten anew.
And so the last day arrives and after a more mythical vinyasa flow which culminates in partner yoga, coffee is required en masse! Breakfast is fluid with discussion of the weekend and plans for the future and requests for another retreat date set up a chain of enthusiastic affirmation. There are beaming faces and laughter and reminders that an ending is also a new beginning. The few captures of our weekend are shared in a group chat and will serve as a reminder of the wonderful co-creative bliss we made and the support and joy that flowed as a current and may inspire those who came to make use of the journals included in their gift bags.
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In response to polite and enthusiastic requests next year's Autumn Yoga Retreat is now available to book on the website - click on the link here to have a look if the above retreat reflections or photographs have inspired you to join us next year.
Here are just a few of the reviews I've received from happy guests who co-created this retreat experience:
I just wanted to say thank you to Emma for lovely weekend, great to meet you all and thank you for making me welcome. The practices where very high level as always from Emma. Vegan food from Alice was very very good she needs an extra thank you. Really enjoyed the forest bathing was lovely seeing how peaceful everybody became. Emma's chanting in hall had a great Resonance. All in all a great weekend and lovely to meet you all 😉 (George)
It was the most amazing weekend. I can honestly say it’s the best weekend I’ve had in years!! Everyone keeps saying I’m glowing…..must be your energy and the special space you created Emma. Have a lovely weekend all, whatever you are doing. Nicola x
I feel so revitalised by the weekend. Such fun and a wonderful group. Thank you everyone Xxxx (Jenny)