On the last weekend in June, I went on my first ever yoga retreat (restorative yoga) with a girlfriend.  A whole weekend of blissful child-free pampering at the Mana Retreat Centre… what could possibly be nicer?  Arriving in the dark/wet was quite stressful (and we were late, of course).  But all that tension and concentration melted away once we arrived.  The welcome was warm as was the delicious vegetarian food… simple yet
presented with care.

We read the schedule in front of the fire, had our first taste of restorative yoga and got an early night, in anticipation of a full Saturday and Sunday.

For our accommodation, I had chosen the option of being further away from the main centre building, but this had the benefit of more privacy.  Our 2-bed sleepout (with separate bathroom a few steps away) was further up the mountain, either a 10-minute walk or a short drive back to the main building.  Waking
up somewhere new when you’ve arrived after dark is always exciting – the weather was clear and still and we felt a sense of expansiveness watching the sunrise over the Firth of Thames…

The course leaders, Karla and Neil had suggested a silent space prior to the first class.  I was a bit peeved at first, no chatting to my girlfriend, but after that first morning, I began to see the benefits of no talking – my mind cleared, leaving behind all the mind chatter, and I felt calm and relaxed.  Listening to the gentle clinking of breakfast dishes and the cries of kaka (rare native parrots) that routinely circle the Centre building, I appreciated this composition of sounds so different from my normal weekday rush.

The restorative yoga concentrated on reconnecting us to our breathing as we worked through a number of very relaxing postures or asanas (with the aim of giving ourselves an impeccable level of comfort).  The sessions were just the right balance of serious enquiry and playful relaxation.

To do this we used props; by the end of the session the floor was a sea of blankets/bolsters/cushions, and I was making a mental inventory of my blankets etc. at home.

I spent some of my spare time at Mana exploring the many walking tracks.  Even in mid-Winter we were blessed with sun, so it really was a pleasure to get outside and enjoy the lush and varied environment.  Having enjoyed the morning silence, I had to escape the dining room from time to time, finding even occasional small talk a bit much.  I really felt that I connected to a quiet space inside myself, that rarely gets a look in, in normal life.

As well as the pleasure of just walking, I was very happy to try watsu for the first time.  This is a night-time candle-lit massage in blood-temperature water in a special outside pool, and really the most amazing thing.  I really encourage you to try it if you haven’t.  Another woman there described it as like being a child on a swing with your father pushing you, and I felt it was the closest thing I will ever experience to returning to feeling like a really small child, feeling safe and nutured.  That sounds such a cliché, and I have always had a healthy skepticism for ‘rebirthing’ experiences, but this was something else… so relaxing and enjoyable; a truly unique experience.

(Not my photo. I found it here.)

After the watsu I wasn’t sure how I would feel, but actually I felt great and energetic so I decided to walk alone up to the Sanctuary, which is a private non-denominational chapel.  Some of the others had walked up before to listen to the bells and do some singing.  I had a lovely sense of anticipation before going inside – seeing the lights shining out into the darkness.

After a very good deep sleep and more delicious food, I realised it was nearly time to go home. I was looking forward to seeing my family again, but wow, what a great weekend…
(If you like the sound of this, the same teachers are doing more restorative courses. You can find information out about it here.)

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