Loving it at Yoga Rocks in Southern Crete
‘The teacher’s approach came as close as I have ever experienced to bringing meditative awareness into the physical postures’
Lucia Cockcroft kicks back at Yoga Rocks retreat in Southern Crete
I arrived at Yoga Rocks in southern Crete with high expectations for some time kicking back, practising (rather than teaching) yoga, and spending prized time in the sunshine on my own. Bliss.
My four-hour Easyjet flight from Gatwick landed late in the evening, and by the time I had hopped in a pre-arranged taxi for the almost two-hour transfer time to Yoga Rocks, the night was velvet black. Be aware that the taxi fare from Chania or Iraklion is 120 euros one way (though Phil and Helen do their best to match travellers together). After a slightly stomach-churning ride that became more precipitous and windier by the minute, we drove down a small, bumpy dirt track with a just-discernible stone archway, signalling the start of the retreat centre, at the end.
Despite the late hour – after 11 – Phil, who co-runs Yoga Rocks with his partner Helen, was on hand to greet me, and after dropping off my luggage, I followed him gingerly down some uneven steps, to a large, open terrace. The presence of the sea – its hissing and rolling and the salty smells – all around was striking, even though everything lay under cover of the dark night. I chatted to Phil whilst he whipped up a late dinner of chickpeas and salad, remaining from that day’s lunch. I slept well, though for only a few hours, that first night; I was keen not to miss the yoga class scheduled for 8-10am. Blinds pulled back, the sea – of which its restless presence I was so aware the night before – revealed itself in a vast, dazzling-blue panorama, against which the sky, a similar cornflower colour, seem to merge.
Out to sea, I could make out the three striking rock formations after which the retreat centre is named. Best of all, I had a little terrace, with two chairs, from which to observe all this. It was a breathtaking vista, and one that, for me, represents the essence of the Yoga Rocks experience: a larger-than-life sea and sky landscape that simultaneously led me to feel insignificant, nourished and awe-struck.
I was on a Scaravelli retreat week, led by experienced, Brighton-based teacher Liz Warrington. What I knew of Scaravelli and had practised before fascinated me, especially its fluid, intuitive approach, and I relished the chance to spend a whole seven days experimenting. The yoga didn’t disappoint. Liz is a delight, her warm, compassionate, inclusive approach and passion for yoga meaning that everyone – yoga beginners through to experienced students – felt encouraged and nurtured.
Yoga Rocks’ studio is reached by a flight of stairs, above some bedrooms. Although not the highlight of the experience, it’s a large, light room, with clear sea views and just enough space for a large group (there were 17 of us). The absence of music during the classes allowed the sea-sounds to provide a lovely, quiet, reflective atmosphere.
In my experience attending yoga classes around the world, Liz’s emphasis on the student listening to his or her own individual felt experience is often missing, lost in a rather regimented routine – and way of doing things – imposed by the teacher. It was wonderful to come away from the constrains of the teacher’s ideas of how a pose should look, and instead to tune into my own body’s visceral experience of the movement.
In this way, and despite only a couple of periods of formal sitting practices, Liz’s approach came as close as I have ever experienced to bringing meditative awareness into the physical postures.
Yoga Rocks’ Helen adds: ‘We look for teachers that really ‘have’ yoga inside. That live and feel the yoga they teach – this tends to come from years of practice, experience and a degree of integrity. The style is not so important – we like to look to the similarities in the styles rather than the differences. Teachers that bring out what we like to call the ‘sparkling essence of yoga’.’
Unlike most retreat weeks, where the morning class is notably more strenuous than the second class of the day, the evening session followed on from the morning practice, with each class running for two hours. As there was so much emphasis on allowing the asana (physical postures) to grow organically from the student’s awareness and experimentation, this two hours was well timed. Aside from the yoga at 8am and 4.30pm daily, the hours passed surprisingly quickly in a haze of doing little other than walking down to one of the three nearby beaches, devouring some books and perhaps popping back to my room for the odd snooze. There was always to the option to plod down to the beach with another guest, or small group of guests, but I was here partly for some alone-time, and equally it was fine to take oneself off, coming together for meal-times.
I visited Yoga Rocks in early October, and was expecting mild weather, but nothing like the-hot sunshine that beat down on us every day, and completely cloudless skies. Despite plenty of closer lounging opportunities – in the form of hammocks or sun loungers by the retreat centre’s pool – the lure of the wonderful sandy beaches nearby was strong, and this is where I headed in-between classes and meal-times. Lunch was at 1.30 each day, leaving us a clear two hours either side – after morning yoga, and before the evening practice – to laze around, or indulge in a massage. I did this once, and loved the approach of one of Yoga Rocks’ therapists, Radka who worked on my body using a combination of acupressure, deep tissue and Reiki. Her approach was highly intuitive and deeply calming.
When it was time to leave Yoga Rocks, I did so with sadness, but also – mostly – with thanks for the opportunity to rest, practice yoga, take stock, and leave with a spring in my step.
© Queen of Retreats