Sharon Walker goes on her first ever yoga holiday – with AdventureYogi on Santorini – and finds relaxation, dancing and a whole heap of fun
When I signed up for my first ever yoga holiday I knew exactly what to expect: mountains of mung beans, matcha tea and plenty of strenuous naval gazing. So not a barrel of laughs exactly, but hey, it would do me good. I might come home with a body like Gisele and have learnt to breathe through crises. So I packed my favourite hair-shirt, my best boho kaftan and got ready for some pre-dawn chanting.
The AdventureYogi Santorini retreat is held at the Pelagos Hotel, which is one of those rare gems: a friendly, family-run hotel, simple but pretty with its cluster of white Greek-style house and lovely big pool. I’d arrived late (steel yourself for delays at the tiny, over-burdened airport) in a 40-degree heatwave. Feeling my pain, manager Antonis offered me a drink (the first surprise of the holiday) and I’d downed the ice-cold beer quickly, before the pious yoginis could catch me.
Fortunately, the morning class started at a civilised 8 am – were they easing us in gently, I wondered. We were 20, mostly Brits and a handful of Norwegians, not a single shamanic healer amongst us, nor a henna tattoo in sight. Some took regular classes at home, others had come to dust off their practice. One brave soul, the only man, who had come with his wife, was about to do his first class (we all agreed she owed him big time).
Me? I’d dabbled in yoga, but never really got hooked. Even when I could feel it was doing me good, I’d still catch myself watching the clock, aching for it to finish. It was the location in Santorini, an island I’ve always longed to visit, that had tempted me to join the trip.
Our AdventureYogi teacher Wenche – pronounced Venka – a nut-brown Norwegian, looked like she has stepped straight out of a Heidi Klein catalogue, with her curtain of waist-length blond hair and lithe, bendy limbs (‘Is she even real?, one of the group gasped). Despite this she had a lovely, friendly manner (I’ve experienced some yoga teachers who’d be better suited to teaching at Sandhurst) and I was relieved to learn that we would not immediately be throwing ourselves into frightening yogic power moves, but working through the postures at a manageable pace, before building them into a graceful, flowing sequence.
‘Before this trip, I’d had an image of a yoga holiday as somewhere you’d drink nothing but organic juices, whilst having earnest conversations about the cycles of the moon; one thing I hadn’t expected was to laugh quite so much’
‘Bring your ‘stuff’ to the mat and a magic alchemy will happen’, Wenche promised as we practised pranyana breathing and worked our way through the chakras. She had a wonderfully poetic way of explaining things: we were painting a canvas with our foot; stirring honey with our hips; slow dancing with our breath. I could feel my muscles lengthening, my spine straightening, my head clearing. The classes flew past. Could it be that I was actually enjoying myself?
On day three we headed up to the little blue domed white church on the hill for our morning practice, walking in a contemplative silence, past the donkey and the cacti, to the shaded terrace, where the wind whipped through the leaves and we were closer to the elements. With the evening class at either 5 or 6pm, there was time to go the beach or hop in a taxi to the local town of Oia, one of Santorini’s most photogenic spots, with its white cliff-hanging houses and chi chi shops. We walked down the 300 or so steps to Amoudi Bay, a gorgeous spot where we swam off the rocks and ate delicious grilled prawns in the tavernas right on the water front.
One evening we walked to a nearby vineyard to try the local wines (I know: wine.). Another, we hiked the 16 km along the caldera cliff-top from Oia to the chic village of Imerovigli, to meditate on the famous Skaros Rock, as the sun sank into the sea (some of the group, quite sensibly, chose to view the sunset from a bar instead).
Before this trip, I’d had an image of a yoga holiday as somewhere you’d drink nothing but organic juices, whilst having earnest conversations about the cycles of the moon; one thing I hadn’t expected was to laugh quite so much. Whatever preconceptions I may have had were firmly laid to rest on the catamaran trip with Santorini Yachting Club, where, after jumping into the midnight blue waters of the caldera, there was an impromptu music video (Kanye would have been impressed, I think). There was dancing and gyrating, there may have been some wine…. A man with tattoos in a neighbouring boat squared up for a dance-off, but didn’t stand a chance, his hips lacked a certain yogic life force. We, on the other hand, had totally found our flow.
At the final class, all around me faces were glowing in a way that couldn’t solely be explained by the Santorini sunshine. I’d begun the week a rusty hinge and ended with a new spring in my step. So it seems yoga can be good for you and fun – seriously fun. You just need the right mix of ingredients.