True time out by a wild Atlantic coast at the Cliffs of Moher yoga retreat in Ireland

Catherine O’Rawe reviews a Residential Yoga Weekend at the Cliffs of Moher Retreat on the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland and finds an inspiring mix of yoga, meditation, relaxation, good company, surfing and rugged coastal walks.

I arrived for a Residential Yoga Weekend at the Cliffs of Moher Retreat in County Clare keen to recharge and find some inspiration for the research project I was working on. Despite being born and raised in Northern Ireland, to my shame I had never visited the beautiful west of Ireland. The warm welcome and hospitality of the staff and the well-planned mixture of yoga, meditation and walks in the local area left me feeling reinvigorated and reconnected with myself.

The dedication and energy of yoga teacher and retreat owner Michelle Moroney fuelled the whole weekend. Our group was (unusually) all Irish, and all female too, with a mix of ages between early 30s and early 50s, though one girl had brought her mum who was in her 70s. There were a few university lecturers, a charity worker, an accountant, and others who were working part-time while raising their kids. We all bonded over meals and walks with Michelle and her dog Moher, who faithfully guards the yoga studio.

Although I have been doing yoga for some years, I am very far from being an expert, and I really appreciated the way in which Michelle was able to devise classes that catered for everyone (one of our group was a qualified yoga teacher while another was a near-beginner), with more dynamic classes in the mornings, and floor-based, restorative sessions in the evenings.

Michelle teaches a lot of Yin yoga, which involves holding longer poses: it seems deceptively simple, but requires paying a lot of attention to your breath. She also brings humour into the practice, and her exhortation that this was the year we would ‘reclaim our butts’ was particularly welcomed by all. The yoga studio is wondrous, looking out onto the Atlantic, with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing for a particularly beautiful experience during evening practices, as the sun sinks in the west and Michelle lights the candles to create a poetic and inspiring atmosphere, with the wind blowing outside, and a cosiness indoors helped by the underfloor heating. The studio is open all the time, so you can go in between classes and do your own practice, or simply lie on a mat and gaze out at the sea.

Michelle and her team create a relaxed atmosphere: although the schedule is quite packed, beginning on Saturday and Sunday morning with meditation at 7.30am, there is no obligation to do everything. Saturday afternoon was free for exploring the area or relaxing, and Michelle knows the area inside out, and is full of tips. While some guests opted for massages on-site (which they all agreed were fabulous), myself and another guest took the plunge, literally, and booked in for a surfing lesson at nearby Lahinch beach, which is famous for its waves. We spent most of our time falling off, though we agreed that the plank poses we had been doing that morning had helped us push up off the surfboard! A coffee afterwards in a local pub also allowed us to savour Ireland’s Six Nations rugby victory with convivial locals.

That evening the outdoor wood-fired hot tub was lit, and we had the opportunity to enjoy the clear starry skies of Clare. Having travelled to the centre on my own, I had been slightly apprehensive about the enforced sociability of a place like this, but right from the start people engaged with each other openly. There is wifi only in the reception area and studio, and it was interesting that none of us had our phones out at meals. I felt like I had finally disconnected from the ongoing business of the world, and rather than retire to my room and read Twitter, opted to sit in front of the roaring fire of the lounge of my house and chat with another guest.

‘The combination of place, atmosphere and the quality of the human interaction means that yoga is only one part of the mosaic that is a retreat here’.

The centre is ‘dry’ – a deliberate choice – but again, nobody noticed the lack of alcohol. There are some great local pubs nearby if you want a pint of Guinness and some traditional Irish music, but after the amazing meals nobody wanted to rush off into the night. The food is exquisite: everything is vegetarian, and I particularly loved the bread and goat’s cheese for breakfast, and the beetroot and feta burgers for lunch on our final day. Nothing was excessively heavy, even though there were always fresh and imaginative desserts, and I was relieved to find that there was plenty of good coffee available!

When we left on Sunday, after a long walk up to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, and another yoga practice, the consensus was that we would all come back. The combination of place, atmosphere, and the quality of the human interaction, means that the yoga is only one part in the mosaic that is a retreat here. My favourite Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, writes of driving through County Clare in his poem ‘Postscript’: ‘You are neither here nor there./A hurry through which known and strange things pass/As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways/And catch the heart off guard and blow it open’. Catching the heart off guard and blowing it open is exactly what happens at the Cliffs of Moher retreat, and it leaves you feeling changed, through the yoga, and so much else.