Julian Calder reviews this midweek yoga and wellbeing retreat in Sussex after sustaining a foot injury and finds professional staff, authentic yoga and cleansing meals cooked by a pro
I arrive at Bardown Farm near Stonegate in East Sussex feeling unusually agitated and apprehensive. A boat-load of admin issues, a painful foot injury sustained that morning and a subsequent trip to A&E had left me uncharacteristically tense. I’m here for AdventureYogi’s 3 day /2 night Mid-week Retreat which is billed as a wellbeing and yoga retreat where I am to be ‘nourished, cleansed, rested and rejuvenated’. At this point, I can’t think of anything I need more!
I drive through an electric wooden gate to a cluster of beautiful cottages and historic farm buildings and wonder briefly in which direction I should hobble to make myself known. I don’t need to decide as, within seconds, a top floor window flies open and out bursts the colourfully irrepressible Rebecca Keenaghan, (who was to be our yoga teacher and host). “Hey, you must be Julian, I’m Rebecca, stay there, I’ll come and show you your room”. I relax immediately, sensing I am going to be in great hands.
Rebecca led me towards a sensitively converted Georgian barn with the most enormous open plan kitchen and living room. I found the combination of old wooden beams and solid oak flooring to be both grounding and comforting. The huge bath and wet room promised plenty of personal time in a state of extreme relaxation. This feeling was reinforced by the suite of enormous pillows, cloud-like duvet and the most sumptuous of dressing gowns. Having ransacked a wondrous goody bag (Bounce protein balls, Pure “A-grade” incense, Whittard Detox Teas, Green People anti-aging cream, Ape Coconut curls and Urban Fruit dried pineapple since you ask!) and managing to avoid slumping down into the inviting bed (highly unlikely I would have made it up again), I made my way to the main house to meet the other guests and enjoy a cup of calming home-made chai.
The venue was at full capacity, with 14 of us. Some people had come alone, some with friends, others with mothers/daughters. We all wanted timeout and to improve our wellbeing. While the age range was full spectrum, from 18 to 60 plus, and professionally varied, from doctors and army engineers to marketing execs and communication consultants, there was a decided gender imbalance – that is, 13 women and me, a 45 year old dad of two and husband.
There was a lot of yoga on the programme and I was curious to see how this would work for me as I was currently operating with just the one good foot. One of my reasons for booking was to rejuvenate my practice which had got a bit stale over the last year. How was this going to work!?
At 5pm my fellow yogis and I made our way across the courtyard into the shala, which was simple but perfectly functional, and began to explore a mix of styles including restorative, vini and yin yoga, and just a taste of modified kundalini over the next two hours. We were seated or inverted for most of this practice, and I almost forgot about my current one-footedness.
‘I was among the last to leave both evenings, keen to maximise sleep time but reluctant to drag myself away from some super stimulating conversations, despite the total lack of alcohol’
The unhurried pace meant that the beautifully “Black Milk” clad Rebecca, was able to share her deep knowledge of the philosophy and heritage of yoga, gained during nearly a decade of teaching and training under such masters as Shiva Rea, Seane Corn and David Swenson. This hugely improved my understanding of the various traditions and ancient wisdom of yoga. Much of the instruction on poses was accompanied by a quiet exposition on why we were doing it and how it was connected. We started the session with a physical body scan and finished with a subtle body scan, working from our root chakra through to our crown. I felt as deeply relaxed and meditative as I have ever done during a yoga session, but 10 minutes later while devouring dinner, I felt completely energised too. Most guests drifted away to their beds around 9.30pm. I was among the last to leave both evenings, keen to maximise sleep time, but reluctant to drag myself away from some super stimulating conversations, despite the total lack of alcohol, which is sensibly absent!
I was rather nervous about the food, having been a carnivorously orientated foodie for as long as I can remember, but it hit the spot exactly. The lovely chef Lien had an infectious passion for food and we were soon all sharing our thoughts and opinions on veganism, the paleo diet, bio-dynamics, ayurvedic food and macrobiotic menus. Lien sees some value in all of these and clearly has a non-denominational approach to food which I found refreshing in an increasingly food-fundamentalist world.
AdventureYogi holidays are strictly vegetarian, in line with the traditional yogic tenets of non-violence. Meals were served buffet-style, and consisted of simple but incredibly tasty vegetarian food three times a day. I particularly loved the sprouted mung bean dahl, curried sweet potato and butternut squash, with brown short grain rice and tsatsiki. In fact, I am making it tonight after I write this piece! In common with half of the group, I was keen to take home some of the wonderful dishes Lien prepared and she kindly allowed us to take photos of the recipes in her ancient, loose-leaf, hand written recipe book.
The next morning my foot injury unfortunately precludes me from joining my fellow yogis on a silent walk deep into the Sussex countryside. Instead I spend half an hour reading before slipping in to the shala for a welcome personal meditation prior to the morning yoga session. I find the morning practice more in keeping with my normal practice of vinyasa flow / power yoga, but with more focus on breath and precision. The modifications and variations on transitions and sequences offered by Rebecca reminded me of the infinite possibilities offered by yoga and were just what I needed to develop my practice.
The second day passes much as the first and we all find we have settled into a relaxing rhythm. I meditate while the others walk, and then we do yoga. Between classes, there’s plenty of personal time for rest and reflection, as well communal time to share thoughts, views and experiences. Despite not being able to fully explore the wider natural environment around me, being at the centre of a working farm with two adorable dogs gives me the requisite nature fix, and Liens cooking ensures that my body feels as though it has had a mini detox. There is even time to enjoy a thoroughly relaxing massage in the suitably dimmed yoga shala, even more enjoyable as it is included in the price! Bliss!
The days are perfectly paced and I forget why I was so stressed about my personal admin and become much more sanguine about my injury, which seems to be healing fast. I can’t help but think that the retreat must be at least partially responsible for this. I return home feeling pretty relaxed and with many more tricks up my wellness sleeve to keep me feeling this way.