A weekend of Jivamukti yoga with Stewart Gilchrist
‘It was refreshing to hear a teacher use Sanskrit for each of the postures, to get into a good flow, and to be challenged’
Caroline Sylger Jones experiences an intensive weekend of Jivamukti yoga with Stewart Gilchrist
Stewart Gilchrist is a London-based, down-to-earth Scotsman who teaches Jivamukti Yoga with precision and energy, and I experienced his yoga on a weekend at the delectable Yeotown in Devon when they used to run yoga retreats hosted by other teachers. A challenging style of yoga created in the 1980s by David Life and Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti reintegrates the physical, philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga and certainly wasn’t what my Iyengar yoga teacher Glenn Ceresoli calls ‘airy fairy yoga’.
I sweated throughout each of Stewart’s intensive classes, found the pace quite annoyingly fast and painful in places, and felt my ‘buggy wrists’ from pushing and picking up my baby hurt quite a bit from the constant up-dog/down-dog sequences. Quite soon, however, I really got into it – it was refreshing to hear a teacher use Sanskrit for each of the postures again, to get into a good flow, and to be challenged – the following week I felt newly toned and full of energy.
I learned new things – that drishti is a Sanskrit term used in yoga to refer to the gaze, for example – and I was reminded that the breath carries you through a practice – ‘treat it all as a breathing exercise’, said Stewart, ‘no matter how challenging the postures’. I did – and I loved it.
Stewart’s an inspiring character who changed his own life and found yoga after a severe back injury – he’s studied with Sri K Patthabi Jois in Mysore, no less, and has been teaching Jivamukti since 2003. He’s also got a cracking sense of humour, and of life – he sites Bob Marley as one of his teachers as well as yogic gurus.
Being at Yeotown – as opposed to a more basic retreat centre – certainly helped me through the initial pain of his classes. Sociable owner Simon Sieff and his partner Mercedes Ngoh, a Canadian Vinyasa Flow yoga teacher, have created rather a special place in North Devon from a little enclave of converted farm buildings. Set down a driveway off a quiet road, Yeotown is thoughtfully laid out, beautifully decorated, classy and calming all at the same time. It’s not cheap, but you’re paying for quality.
I was able to escape on my own to walk – fields lead down to a river along which you can amble, though it was a little muddy and overgrown on my visit, so do bring wellies or ask to borrow some. The beach is a good 20 minutes drive away, £20 in a taxi – if you don’t have a car, you can ask Simon nicely if he’ll give you a lift, which is what we did.
I also loved my treatments – a deep tissue massage with Lisa, and a calming Chavutti with Jules, an Indian massage done with organic sesame oil and the therapist’s feet. Both took place in a glorious large, wood-panelled room used for treatments and meditation sessions called The Sanctuary, which always had uplifting-smelling incense burning outside it whenever I walked past.
My room was set apart in a converted barn, with its own little entrance way leading to a spacious, carpeted bedroom with white-painted wood panels lining the walls, a huge, beamed ceiling, a large, firm bed with decent linens and a piece of contemporary art above an unusual, grey-painted chest of drawers. There was underfloor heating throughout, including in my bathroom, which was lovely and spacious, with a huge walk-in power shower, though sadly no bath. Here little ayurvedic treats awaited me, and in the shower, large tubs of organic toiletries especially made for Yeotown by aromatherapist Alexandra Soveral – the shower gel was particularly fragrant.
My fellow guests were two French girls on a break from their high stress jobs in a bank, a lovely nurse from London, and a witty therapist who was also a mum. I felt comfortable being sociable or taking myself off alone. I loved it here – budget permitting, I’d happily return regularly.
As for Jivamukti yoga, I left knowing that it’s not for the faint-hearted – it’s truly body and mind changing, and if I had a teacher local to me in Devon, it’s probably the style I’d choose if I needed a kick – of energy, or something a whole lot deeper.
© Queen of Retreats
Stewart Gilchrist teaches in London – find out more at indabayoga.com.
Yeotown no longer hosts yoga weekends, but they do run fabulous health and fitness breaks every week – read more about Yeotown.