A friendly detox at Amchara Health Retreat in Somerset
‘I felt I was in safe hands with a warm, friendly, close-knit team who knew their stuff’
All was quiet at Bindon House when I arrived for my week-long Amchara Health Retreat in Somerset. I let myself in through the back door with its homely collection of wellies outside, and into the tiled reception area, complete with piano, a big vase of lilies and an impressive wooden staircase, wondering if I was in the right place. A table covered in colourful Pukka teas, jugs of fresh juices and jars of psyllium husks, digestive enzymes and bentonite clay (the traditional detox meal replacements) told me I was – and very shortly afterwards, I was welcomed cheerfully by the core team of three who would be looking after me.
Before I got there, I’d been well briefed on how to prepare and what to bring with me and, on the first evening, we had a group session that took us through the programme and explained the supplements we would be taking four times a day, at three-hour intervals. The next morning, I also had an hour-long session with Carolyne Ratund, a nutritional therapist, to discuss my lifestyle, requirements from the retreat and the programme itself. A longer, one-to-one health mentoring session, which includes a Skype follow-up or a detailed report depending on requirements was also available for £130.
When I arrived, there were three other people staying, two women and a man, all under 40. There’s a constant flow of guests in and out, arriving on different days of the week – although the standard arrival day is Friday and the carefully structured programme, which ends in a raw food feast, is geared to that. However, they’re flexible enough to accommodate different start dates, lengths of stay and dietary requirements, from hard-core water fasts to healthy eating programmes.
The twice-daily yoga classes with Lesley Cabral, the teacher during my stay, were tailored to match our energy levels – we were asked at the start of each session how we were feeling and what we wanted to do. Lesley, who is also a healer, trained originally in Ashtanga, but offered a much slower, more meditative practice. She suggested that tensions and inflexibilities in the body are the result of emotional blockages – and that the body would release when it was ready to. As a result, she encouraged us to work gently and mindfully, and the powerful stretches gave my muscles a wonderful workout. She also introduced us to QiGong, which gave me an amazing introduction to the tangible presence of my own life-force energy – or chi – that I’d never experienced before.
Having been on a number of detoxes before, I knew the impact could be emotional as well as physical, but, from the get-go, I felt I was in safe hands with a warm, friendly, close-knit team who knew their stuff. Over the course of the week and plenty of chats, they felt like new friends, which was great when I did have the odd wobble.
I had a hot stone massage with Carolyne Ratund in a beautiful wooden panelled room with a fire crackling in the grate. She made the observation afterwards that, in the time allocated, she found it more difficult to flow with a massage that she normally took 90 minutes to do – and that’s exactly what I felt. She approached it tenderly and carefully, but between the pauses to sort out the stones, there wasn’t time to go deeper into the muscles and it felt a little perfunctory in places. With that in mind, during the deep tissue massage I had a few days later, I asked the therapist to focus just on my back and shoulders she did a get job relaxing and loosening the muscles.
When you’re trying not to think about food, listening to a talk or two is a great distraction, as well as educational. These include subjects such as the benefits of fasting, the effects of acid and alkali on the body, blood sugars and how to manage them, emotional eating and traditional Chinese medicine. Although there was a very clear programme of activities to follow – I actually felt quite busy – it’s all optional. For a couple of days, I stayed mainly in my room, alternating between reading, watching TV and sleeping.
The colonics are also optional and self administered. Having had a briefing on how to set up the bucket, the hose, the standard American-style Colima board and the chair that it all rested on, my first attempt was not successful. A fair amount of swearing, spilt water and annoyance ensued and I have to say that I much prefer someone doing this part for me so I can just lie back and think of England (or roast chicken). My relaxing iPod playlist set to play in the background broke suddenly into unexpected guitar riffs and I broke the end off the hose before I’d even started so the whole thing had to be aborted. I tried again the next day and ultimately established a routine with it, but opted out of the suggested two a day and did one instead.
Bindon House is made up of quiet shared spaces and bedrooms of all shapes and sizes. Looking around, you wonder how the array of colours, patterns, fabrics and textures can really work together as well as they do – but, magically, the rooms look fantastic, complete with moulded cornicing, large mirrors, marble fireplaces, oil paintings of 19th-century war heroes, dark panelling and a designed busy-ness that makes the generous proportions cosy rather than austere. The beds are wonderfully comfortable too – cosy nests of fresh white sheets and squishy, hotel-style pillows and duvets. My spacious suite boasted a king-size four-poster and, in the adjoining bathroom, the biggest bath I’ve ever been in – my feet didn’t reach the end!
One of the other good things about this retreat is the way it approaches healthy eating: small positive steps, focusing on what you can add to your diet when you get home – supplements, juices, superfood smoothies and raw food – rather than taking anything away from you. It removes all the pressure to ‘be good’ and, since I got back, I’ve noticed that the more I eat of the healthy stuff, the less I feel tempted by the less healthy options. Or if I do indulge in a guilty pleasure or two or three, I feel more empowered, knowledgeable and confident to be able to redress the balance.
© Queen of Retreats