Feeling light and free with The Zest Life

Yoga teacher Gina Hayes and her husband Ben cleanse and nourish on a Spring Detox Retreat with The Zest Life at their sensational 21-acre estate on Anglesey in Wales

We arrived at Zest Life rather bedraggled after a much longer (traffic-afflicted)  journey than anticipated from South Devon to North Wales. My husband Ben – a wellness enthusiast who runs a legal and consulting agency – had just returned from the USA, and both of us were feeling far from ‘springy’ after too long in the car.

We were starving, mortified at being far too late for dinner, and a little apprehensive at walking in just as the retreat group were relaxing around the fireplace and chatting away. We needn’t have been. We were warmly welcomed by our lovely host Kate – one of those people who immediately offers you their heart and soul – and presented with an equally warming (organic) vegetable curry. Sarah, the retreat chef, was every bit as convivial, setting the tone for every meal, where she would talk about her plant-based philosophy and the nutritional value of the food we were eating (recipes are also shared).

Sated and more relaxed, we join the rest of the group of around 15 people. It dawns on Ben that he is the only male present and he gives me a trademark WTF eyebrow-raise. For the record it’s not a women-only retreat, but it is generally more popular with women. Luckily Ben is very much at ease with the female power, though less well-adjusted males of the species have nothing to fear.

On the contrary. Let’s be honest at this point: no group of strangers much likes a getting-to-know-each-other exercise. This one, however, spoke volumes about the Zest Life Retreat and Kate’s relaxed and comforting way with people. We were a really diverse bunch, from seasoned retreaters, including those who’d been to Zest Life before and come back for more (obviously a good sign), to a local first timer who’d come alone to build her confidence about holidaying solo. We were a mother and (grown-up) daughter enjoying a rare weekend together, a group of friends from Liverpool, some Shoreditch tech types (a world I know and left behind), and a yoga-loving corporate lawyer who’d been gifted the retreat from her partner – so someone for everyone. By the end of the first evening we were all at ease and laughing together. By the end of the weekend it felt like we’d known some of the people much longer. Not because we were forced to hang out as a group, just through the shared experience of eating, practising yoga, meditating and walking together.

The “detox” was nourishing and rewarding without being strict or relentless. On the first night Kate had advised us all to digitally detox, and we happily switched-off social media and the outside world.  We were also invited to omit caffeine, though it was available to those concerned they would crumble without it. The food was magical: delicious, cleansing fruit and vegetable-based meals interspaced with smoothies and treats from the super-talented Sarah. Kate also challenged us to drink as much water and as little of anything else as possible to reap the benefits of an H2O cleanse. We would later hear squeals of delight from some of the group as they experienced their wee turning clear!

‘All the yoga sessions were gentle and full of love, accessible to beginners and more established practices alike, and Kate seamlessly wove the themes of the detox into each class’

I was mostly there for the yoga and it didn’t disappoint. All the sessions were gentle and full of love, accessible to beginners and more established practices alike. Kate seamlessly wove the themes of the detox into each yoga class and it was lovely to feel everyone letting go and trust in the process as they began to feel lighter and clearer. The yoga, music, breathwork left us feeling spacious, grounded and calm. The highlight for me was the Yin Yoga session followed by a beautiful Yoga Nidra on the second night. The scent of lavender essence rolled on our wrists mixed with the longer held yoga postures let all our tensions dissolve. Ben was so relaxed he fell asleep about two sentences into the Nidra, let out the odd snore and needed a few prods to bring him around afterwards. He felt held enough within the group for us all to laugh about this.

Ben did in fact do a lot of sleeping over the weekend, napping at every opportunity provided by the ample free time in the schedule. He grounded himself in the four-poster bed while I rolled out my yoga mat and allowed the teachings and surroundings to sink in. As the classes were necessarily gentle, I did need to get a bit more of my own practice in.

The two of us spent the rest of the time walking, which we tend to do a lot of at home. We enjoyed losing time and heavier thoughts in the immaculate Plas Cadnant gardens and parklands. We found secret streams, fountains and expansive views. As a couple with young children and “busy lives”, we found the stillness and perspective that nature and time away always brings.

We also went on two guided walks with Kate and the Zest life team, a local one that looped from the shores of the Menai Strait back up to the Estate, and another along the rugged coastline of the Snowdonia National Park. We had hoped to walk the hills and at least see the famous peak, but the changeable weather meant this wasn’t possible. We loved walking along the deserted beaches as the wind and rain whipped all around us (it actually reminded us of home), but it’s fair to say that it wasn’t universally appreciated by the group! We wondered what people expected from Wales in March?

At the start of the weekend Kate had challenged us all to set a Salkalpha (an intention for positive change), suggesting that if we were to make just one simple, enduring change for the better then the retreat would have done its job. As we packed our bags we both felt light, free and inspired to make positive changes to our lives at home.