I have talked a lot in passing about the retreat that marked the beginning of my “spiritual awakening” and subsequent introductions to fantastic people and places. Here’s the full story.
I had never been on a yoga retreat before. I had practiced a bit here and there but never really gotten into it. Full transparency I wasn’t really into exercise, I had always been slim and relatively healthy/active and it just wasn’t something that was a part of my life. What a mistake! More on that later.
So in 2015 I was going through a rough time in my personal and professional life and I was desperate for change, but didn’t even know where to begin. Cue the wonderful Melina Gale, one of my closest friends and newly graduated yoga teacher. Mel had organised her first yoga retreat with Lizaan Jacobs as visiting teacher on the island of Paros. It was local, it was familiar (and of course I roped in my mother and my buddy Rebecca as I was way too anxious to go alone with strangers) so really, it couldn’t have been a more perfectly timed escape.
Arriving on Paros in May felt like an early Summer vacation. There’s something about island life that just lifts your spirits as soon as you set foot on land after crossing open water. The place we were staying was cute and traditional and the practice space (the first shala I had ever seen in person) was something out of a fantasy. You walked down a long path to the beach from the hotel, along the sea and through sand dunes until you reached a beautiful green field, then through a bamboo entrance into the shala space. It was deep in nature, organic and created all from repurposed wood and recycled materials. With the sunlight pouring in, the breeze flowing through the open space and the smells, sounds and sights of nature all around, I was literally in heaven. Check out a (somewhat shaky) timelapse video of the route down to the shala.
At the beginning of the retreat, to be honest, I was really not feeling the large amount of strangers and personal interactions. I’m quite a private person and while I very much enjoy meeting new people and experiencing new things, I need this in small doses or I find myself overwhelmed. The group that Lizaan had brought with her was an eclectic mix of people from different walks of life. Most of them already knew each other as they were students of Lizaan, so this made it a lot easier to segregate on the first day or two into our comfortable and familiar groups.
After that first day though, something started changing. I don’t know if it was within me or in the group dynamic itself but on the second morning when I woke at dawn for morning practice suddenly things didn’t seem so intrusive. The constant interaction that I originally thought would have to be suffered through in order to have the full retreat experience became one of my favourite parts. Every morning before practice over a delicious herbal tea (thanks Positivitea London) I would talk to a different member of our little group. Alice, my badass baby bear, Lisa, the Irish belle with the greatest laugh, Britney the Cali ray of sunshine, Lai the turquoise travel queen, Cristina and Eva the Spanish mamas, Elizabeth the kindest heart to name just a few…each one different and wonderful and so interesting. When you are in a group where there is one common thread, one reason for you all to be there, suddenly all of those differences and preconceived notions melt away and you are stripped down to your basic human form…does it matter if we wouldn’t hang out in “real life”? Does it matter if we never speak again after this experience? Not really. Why would I share so much of myself, things I wouldn’t dream of telling people in my every day life? When you’re there, none of these things matter. We laughed together, we cried together, and we shared our lives with each other. Truth be told, the group retreat experience is therapy in itself…even if you don’t want it!
My personal practice grew, my confidence and ability transformed and suddenly I saw and more importantly, actually felt, the spirituality and energy that draws people to yoga. It’s not about making yourself believe in something that you don’t believe in, but rather a greater understanding of yourself, your breath, your physical and mental abilities. Incredibly interesting if you give it a chance sans judgement.
Our morning two hour sessions were Rocket Ashtanga Yoga – this is no joke! Forget the slow and dreamy yoga you’re imagining. We are talking 40 sun salutations and constant movement to keep your body warm and activated, sweat dripping, music pumping and high energy. Check out the timelapse video above – just a small part of the practice. Two hours of that every morning was the best wake up I’ve ever had. And let me tell you, you really see your progress when you’re practising every day. Literally from one day to the next, incredible changes. I haven’t been able to put that into my daily life outside the retreats yet, but I hope someday.
The rest of our days were spent eating, swimming, SUPing and visiting the most beautiful beaches on the island. Afternoon was Yin time…my favourite. Quiet group meditation with the sunset and long, slow positions, breathing through the discomfort and unblocking chakras. Lots of unexpected emotions, spontaneous tears and laughter all around and undoubtedly some magic in the air.
And suddenly I was able to breathe for what felt like the first time in ages. My relationship, my job, my living situation it all seemed irrelevant in relation to what I was feeling. My path ahead seemed clear cut and I knew that what I needed in life more than anything was to get back to being me. Not the society approved version, or the boyfriend approved version, or the parent approved version…just me. I knew that I needed something of my own, that was only mine, that would allow me to explore what I really wanted to do, to be, without external input.
So I returned home, lighter, happier and with a direction for the first time in a long time. Two months later, Boards and Babes was born 🙂 The rest, as they say, is history.