Inner Guidance retreat review
Yoga retreats and peaceful mini breaks in Suffolk
The Quick Read: Inner Guidance offers quiet time and headspace in a relaxed, non-judgmental environment at a beautiful old retreat house in the heart of the peaceful Suffolk countryside. They host mid-week mini retreats, dedicated weekend yoga retreats (led by owner Jo de Rosa and other teachers) and a few other surprises (chocolate yoga anyone?) The 15th century house is surrounded by open fields and farmland, yet within easy reach of London: an ideal away-from-it-all location. Hosts Jo and Dominic are warm and welcoming, and cook Dominic rustles up a delicious menu based on clean cooking principles: wheat, dairy and refined sugar-free. Daily schedules are refreshingly relaxed, with as much ‘alone time’ as desired. Somewhere special to breathe and ‘be’.
Who it’s best for: Inner Guidance has created an unpretentious, welcoming retreat that would appeal to anyone seeking downtime and who is keen to smarten up their diet with a no-alcohol, wheat or dairy ‘clean cooking’ mini detox. It tends to attract professionals in their 20s upwards and is an ideal place for stopping and chilling out. However the mini retreats won’t suit those seeking morning-to-dusk activity and, if you want more than one yoga class a day, choose the full yoga breaks.
What you can do: We attended one of the mini retreats – reasonably priced two or three-night mid-week breaks, usually starting on a Monday. The aim is to provide a basic schedule, with the option of adding on extra activities if you choose. Marvellously, the timetable is kept deliberately light for guests to enjoy simple pleasures and a rare opportunity to slow down.
Daily morning meditation takes place in the airy practice room, at the civilised time of 9am. Juices are then served in the lounge, followed by an optional paid-for activity such as belly dancing. Or you can simply spend the day reading, walking, resting.
Owner and teacher Jo teaches yoga – she trained in Iyengar and Sivananda yoga, and now teaches alignment yoga (focusing on grounding, breathing, and strengthening the postural muscles). Her classes are inclusive, unpressurised and accessible. An evening yoga class may be bolted on for £10, while the full yoga retreats have a more formal structure with two yoga sessions per day.
Whilst there is no spa as such, a large, quiet basement room is used as a treatment room. You can book treatments with local wellbeing company, Earth Angels, who offer a good range of massages: Swedish holistic; Indian head; Hot Stone; Thai foot and hand; and back, neck and shoulder. There’s also reflexology, Reiki, Hopi ear candling, and the wondrous-sounding Zen Tibetan Acu-Sound Therapy. Facials are definitely of the alternative variety with a choice of Zen Tibetan Acu-Sound Therapy (as a facial this time) or an Eastern Natural Face Lift. In addition they can arrange biodynamic psychotherapy and nutritional therapy.
Inner Guidance also hosts regular Yoga for Addiction programmes; owner Jo has made this her life’s work, after decades of her own struggle with addiction. They also offer gentle detox retreats (no colonics or juice-only regimes here) and unusual retreats such as Chocolate Yoga (a mix of yoga, meditation and raw chocolate making – and eating!). In addition, the centre hosts retreats by external yoga and meditation teachers.
Where you stay: Hill Farm nestles in open fields just outside Lavenham, Suffolk. The downward-sloping garden melts into farmland and is dotted by mature trees. Horses graze the surrounding fields. There are a few small businesses working from the farm buildings but, apart from the occasional low-level rumble of the odd car, you would hardly notice. Inside, the original beams and massive fire-places blend well with neutral carpets and walls. Big, embracing sofas in the light-filled main guest sitting room are hugely inviting.
There’s a small kitchen area for guests to make teas (herbal and normal) and snack on raw energy bars, while the large dining room has an open fire and is filled with candles. The other main communal space is the bright and airy yoga room with lovely views of the gardens.
Guest bedrooms and suites are also a well-woven blend of modern comfort and ancient character, with open countryside views and local artwork (for sale) displayed on the walls. All are different in feel but share the same simple white with splashes of red colour scheme. Two sizable single beds can be pushed together to make one huge, inviting bed, sprinkled with cushions.
Although the rooms aren’t massive, they’re certainly generous; plenty big enough for two people. The ground floor room is the cheapest – just off the kitchen area, so probably not for light sleepers. The room we stayed in, The Gandhi Suite, was super-comfortable, with a large, sink-into sofa and a deep bath in the en-suite bathroom. There’s also a generous supply of luxury, eco-friendly cosmetics from Arbonne.
How was it for us? Inner Guidance retreat’s sweeping private driveway leading up to the Elizabethan retreat house wowed me, yet it didn’t feel overly grand and off-putting. The countryside sounds and smells wrapped around me, and the two resident cats gave their own welcome, winding around my legs. I only had to take the short walk from my car to the house to feel the retreat effect starting to take effect.
Owner Jo gave me a warm welcome and I spent my first few hours strolling around the gardens and surrounding fields, followed by a restful evening yoga class. The tension softened and I felt a deep sense of relief at just being there.
I was happy to be rather unsociable and spend time by myself, yet the opportunity to meet and chat to other guests is always there. At dinner time I found myself in the company of a small, friendly group of fellow retreaters. I was relieved to find that the retreat experience at Inner Guidance is designed to be as relaxed as possible too: no 7am sessions, no days jam-packed with activity after activity.
The daily meditation sessions with Jo in the lovely yoga space were what I especially enjoyed. Her practice was well taught, thoughtful and simple to follow; half an hour was the perfect time to sink into the feel of the practice.
After meditation and post-practice smoothie, I opted out of the optional belly dancing, preferring instead the quieter pursuit of walking in the glorious countryside stretching far and wide, and enjoying the absence of deadlines or demands; literally taking longer breaths and drinking in views of big Suffolk skies.
After two nights at Inner Guidance, I feel rested and content; my mind and body lighter.
What we took home: The value of carving out alone-time to stop, ‘be’ and breathe.
Would we go back: Yes. I would relish the opportunity to return, perhaps for three nights rather than two.
People watch: Owner Jo leads the daily meditation and most of the yoga sessions. She’s an experienced teacher, and this comes across in her teaching, with useful attention to detail in the alignment-based yoga classes, and a varied repertoire of meditations for the morning sessions.
Food watch: Food is a huge part of the Inner Guidance retreat experience: it is organic where possible, inventive, sometimes raw and always delicious. However, while it’s strictly gluten, wheat, dairy, processed sugar and alcohol-free, it is not vegetarian by default – good quality fish is served as standard. However there is always a vegetarian option.
Brunch, served at 10am is hearty – the ‘full yogi-breakfast’ includes steamed spinach, sugar snap peas and asparagus with a choice of smoked salmon, smoked mackerel or tofu and either scrambled or poached eggs. There’s plenty to keep you going until dinner at 7.45pm but, if you’re feeling peckish you can always add a ‘healthy cream tea’ for an extra fiver.
For dinner you might be served raw (warmed) carrot soup with raw veggie crackers, followed by ‘healthy fish and chips’ – wild salmon fillet, sweet potato baked in coconut oil with three steamed veg: perhaps sweetcorn, purple sprouting broccoli and baby courgettes. Veggie options could include healthy pizza or veggie pie. Pudding might be raw chocolate fudge (made from Guatemalan ceremonial grade cacao, dates, walnuts, pure vanilla essence and coconut oil) and raw chocolate ice cream (bananas, pine nut cream, vanilla essence, Guatemalan cacao) – covered in raw but warm chocolate sauce. Heaven.
What’s lowly: The option of more yoga classes on the weekday mini-retreats would be ideal.
Insider tip: No need to pack bath products if you’re pushed for time or space – the paraben-free, botanical toiletries by Arbonne are yummy.
Price with a companion: From £227 for two people sharing a room on a two-night mid-week mini retreat including accommodation, brunch, dinner, refreshments (other than the cream tea) and meditation.
Price going solo: From £187 per person for a two-night mid-week mini retreat including accommodation, brunch, dinner, refreshments (other than the cream tea) and meditation
Value for money: Plush rooms, small groups, a stunning environment and intelligent teaching make the mini retreat very good value. Obviously if you add in yoga and treatments the bill will rise.
Reviewed by Lucia Cockcroft
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