Mimi Spencer reviews this wondrous ayurvedic retreat in deepest Lincolnshire and finds the effect of just a few days here to be unexpected, rich and life-affirming
I arrive typically late at Essential Ayurveda for my 3-day retreat. In truth, I’m a bit lost – it’s a long way from anywhere and the M11 was the usual mix of traffic jams, jagged rain showers and anonymous, strip-lit petrol stations. The place is in deepest Lincolnshire and quite tricky to find – a quiet farmhouse surrounded by fields in the dark – but the welcome is immediate. Andy emerges from the house to greet me, a bright-eyed blonde man, full of bouncing energy and warmth. I’m here because, like everyone I know, I’m tired and flat and I want a break, and because I’m interested to discover more about the ancient healing practices of Ayurveda, a Sanskrit word which means ‘the wisdom of life’.
Andy leads me through the house to my room in the courtyard studio – it’s a lovely space with fresh flowers, herbal teas and a country-style counterpane on the huge bed. Like the rest of the house, it is gently lit by rock quartz lights and feels like an embrace. But, ahem (everyone’s first question, I fear), is there Wifi? Yes, says Andy with a smile. Even here, removed from the world, it’s good to know that you can stay just connected enough, should you wish.
The next day starts at 8am, with a green smoothie of pear, spinach, date and ginger root. I meet Andy for my introductory consultation, and find that far from ‘therapy’, it feels like a warm chat with an old friend. Instead of Ayurvedic doshas, we talk about life, the universe and everything, occasionally homing in on personal issues, relationships, health niggles, but always with an air-light touch. Andy allows me to lead the conversation in the meandering directions I choose, sometimes offering ideas for visualisation. What feels like a gentle chat turns out to be revealing and transformative.
‘This, I soon discover, is a place for deep relaxation, for books and thoughts, for sunning yourself like a cat on the swing seat. But there’s some work to be done too’
Lunch is Laura’s kitchari – soft lentils, rice, soothing spices – served at the courtyard table where I meet my fellow retreater, a woman in her forties who is here alone too. The conversation is low key, accompanied by the coo of wood pigeons and the lazy drone of bees. We sit among the raised beds of cavolo nero and tall dahlias of the cottage garden; later, through the apple orchard, I visit Laura’s four horses in the paddock.
This, I soon discover, is a place for deep relaxation, for books and thoughts, for sunning yourself like a cat on the swing seat. But there’s work to be done too… The afternoon is devoted to ayurvedic massage in the restful treatment room in the main house. Laura is an artist of massage – her approach is very different from deep-tissue Swedish massage many of us are familiar with; this is more rhythmic and deliciously, exceedingly oily, quietly governed by the nuances of the body rather than the usual off-the-peg ‘tick-box’ approach. Accompanied by gentle chant music, she gives a comprehensive top-to-toe treatment, using specialist oils imported from India, homing in on areas that demand particular attention – for me, tense shoulders and sore neck. Then it’s into the steam tent – a contraption placed over the massage table and infused with warm, fragrant steam, allowing the ayurvedic oils to penetrate and develop.
Afterwards, I feel wonderfully relaxed and time is oozing along. Soon, it’s supper – veg curry with cashews, whipped up by Laura in the farmhouse kitchen while we chat about this and that. An early night.
On Day 2, life seems sweet. There’s more talk therapy with Andy – always gentle, chatty and fun in the light-filled room. Andy notices my slightly crooked body alignment (including different leg lengths!) and we talk about long-standing issues with my shoulder, hip and knees – which he suggests would benefit from pranic healing and the Dorn-Breuss method. The former involves Andy standing over me, armed with a crystal, in full Harry Potter spell mode. After fifteen minutes, he uses gentle pressure to manipulate my joints and spine, encouraging natural realignment; he gives me physio-style exercises to do at home, and a mantra to use when life, as it inevitably will, lobs a grenade my way.
Later, it’s time for a dual massage from Laura and her colleague – a beautiful, synchronicity of movement. I zone in and out, emerging to discover that the effect of even a few days here is unexpected, rich and life-affirming. The place is truly nurturing, nourishing for the body and the soul. The personalised nature of Essential Ayurveda means that you leave feeling special – with the unparalleled gift of being allowed to think about yourself, if only for a short time. What sounds like an indulgence feels to me like a necessity as I cruise back down the M11 into the inevitable traffic jams – but lighter now, and calm.