From uptight to uplifted on a Harmonise wellbeing retreat with Ibiza Retreats
Sally Brown reviews a week long Harmonise yoga and wellbeing retreat with longstanding Ibiza Retreats on Ibiza and finds a gorgeous boho villa, exceptional teaching, and the safe, professional hands of experts.
Sometimes, you don’t realise how wound up you are until you finally relax. On day two of my Harmonise retreat with Ibiza Retreats, I woke up feeling so different it was almost like I had a new personality. I felt optimistic, hopeful and calm, but also super-focussed. Even the colours seemed brighter as I stepped out onto the terrace in the brilliant sunshine to find a spot to mindfully enjoy my morning chia pot and soak up the hilltop views over the Morna valley to the sea.
I wasn’t expecting such a transformation. Harmonise retreats specialise in creating shifts in people who feel stuck or burned out. I was looking forward to some time out and yoga, but I was under the illusion that nothing really needed fixing (I’m a keen yogi and work as a psychotherapist so should know about wellbeing). Looking back, I arrived at the retreat in a state that had somehow become my default – a bit scratchy and tense, with fragmented thinking and low-level anxiety.
On arrival, I was greeted with warm smiles from retreat co-directors Larah Davis and Susie Howells, retreat host Marrejan Oepkes, and client manager Sarah Hockley, walking examples of optimum wellbeing with glowing skin and toned physiques. With a glass of freshly pressed juice, I was lead to a shady spot on the terrace for a welcome coaching session with the super-intuitive Larah. She gently and skilfully diffused my prickliness and encouraged me to reflect on what I wanted to get out of my stay at Can Luminosa, the sprawling villa that was to be home for the next six nights. She soon lasered in on a core issue, that by not having a way of discharging the emotions I absorb during my work as a therapist or making time to re-centre myself when I get home at the end of the day, I was edging towards burn out.
It’s not always easy to step out of a busy, urban life into the slow pace of a yoga retreat, and I’m a bit of a planner, so I appreciated the printed itinerary we received on arrival and the daily blackboard with any extra details. I also don’t like roughing it, so the super-luxe venue ticked all my boxes – infinity pool, modern, minimum décor, super comfortable beds and fabulous bathrooms. The villa has a boho-chic vibe, furnished with just the right mix of sleek designer and quirky pieces.
From the word go, I felt like I was in safe hands with Larah and her team, and as the week went on, their years of experience of running retreats shone through in their professionalism. The atmosphere was super-chilled, but it all ran like clockwork. I appreciated the careful pace and flow to the yoga and workshops that helped us acclimatise gently, then go deeper as the week progressed.
The transformation from uptight to uplifted started with the very first gentle yoga practice on our first day. My mind was still putting up barriers, chipping in with ‘I don’t want to do this’ and ‘it’s all a bit woo-woo’ as we sat on sheepskin rugs and joined in a series of omms lead by Larah, sat cross-legged behind her shruti box. But after an hour of careful, slow poses, held with attention to our breath, followed by a blissful savasana that included an expert massage of the head and neck before being covered with a blanket and a lavender eye pillow, we were invited to share one word to sum up how we were now feeling – mine was ‘hopeful’. A bowl of green soup topped with toasted seeds was waiting for each of us on a table set for dinner on the terrace, and as we sat wrapped up in blankets in the cool spring air, watching the sunset over the valley, being brought two more courses of nourishing, beautifully presented food, I felt deeply nurtured and taken care of.
Perhaps it was this feeling of being safe that encouraged a spirit of openness right from the start in our all-female group, ranging in age from 27 to 60, and hailing from the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands. Six out of the group of eight had come as solo travellers. We quickly found common ground – like me, many were working in the wellness industry; our group included a yoga teacher, a fellow psychotherapist, and a massage therapist. We shared a working knowledge of how to take care of ourselves, but not enough time to apply it in practice.
I wondered about the yoga before I came, whether it would be the frenetic style of power yoga that’s more like a workout than a practice. I needn’t have worried – the daily yoga sessions methodically took us back to basics, and were true to the real meaning of yoga, with careful attention to form and breathing. As the week went on, I found that I was easing deeper into poses. Several classes were taught by Larah, a trully gifted teacher who shared insights into the psychology, philosophy and meaning behind the practises. But I also enjoyed the sessions with guest teachers, such as Vivenne Lallot, who brought a rocking soundtrack and a session which focussed on the psoas muscle that runs from outer thigh, around the hip and up to the waist, which can get tight if you spend their working life sitting down. I floated out feeling like I’d grown an inch. Yoga on the beach at Cala Nova taught by Marrejan was another highlight, finishing with an optional swim (I confess I wimped out as the early-season sea was too cold). Visiting practitioners often joined us for brunch or dinner and it was great to hear about their journeys and get a snapshot of what life is like living and working on Ibiza.
We soon got into the daily rhythm of the retreat – early morning yoga and meditation, a leisurely brunch, free time in the afternoon for treatments and relaxing, followed by an evening wellness workshop and then dinner. I had planned to spend my free afternoons taking a walk, but the most accessible walking route was the steep single track road down the hill to the nearest village, which my knees did not enjoy. There was nothing for it for the head for a sunlounger with a pile of books, which turned out to be just what I need. Time took on an elastic quality and I finally got the solitude I’d been craving but rarely get at home. Mid-afternoon, we’d gather around the shaded outdoor table to share a snack, such as sweet potato humous with toasted gluten free bread. After our evening workshop and dinner on the first night, we headed for bed early but as the week went on, and we had caught up on sleep, we lingered around the table, sharing stories and laughter.
Evening workshops were designed to take us out of our comfort zone, and none more so than Voice Essence, a singing-based session by Israeli performance artist and healer Laor, aimed at shaking outdated limiting self-beliefs about the voice and free inhibitions. My worst nightmares were confirmed – it did involve making strange noises, improvisation and solo singing in front of a group, but somehow, Laor erased the embarrassment factor, made it feel perfectly Ok and fun and got us all going for it. I walked out musing about booking singing lessons when I got home. Gentler sessions included an introduction to MET Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as tapping) lead by bodyworker and psychotherapist Shambala, who taught us a simple tapping routine to boost self-belief. Another highlight was a blissful yoga nidra session with Morris Monroe (aka The Afro Yogi) who also co-hosted and brought some welcome male energy to the retreat. He was generous with his time throughout the week, sharing insights from his years living in Ashrams. We were lucky to catch him on his final week on Ibiza before moving on.
Alongside the yoga and workshops, there’s a programme of treatments and therapies. On day one, we all had a complimentary 60-minute massage, although it turned out to be more of a healing treatment, with energy healer Georgina Withers gently manipulating my body and helping me breathe into areas of tension while adding Reiki and healing to supercharge the effect. Other treatments could be booked throughout the week at extra cost. I tried a one-on-one Somatic Healing session with Taya, a dead-ringer for Sarah Jessica Parker, who asked me to lay down on a couch, and gently held my feet while expertly enquiring about what I needed to let go of. She followed this by moving to a deep to the point of pain-body manipulation along with guided breathing to encourage emotional release. I’d always put my tight shoulders and neck down to poor posture and too much time at a laptop, but Taya opened my eyes to the visceral connection, that my thinking changes how I feel physically, reducing my energy levels, and cranking up muscle tension. The process of releasing all this pent-up emotion and unprocessed stress continued the next day, at a group session of Transformative Breathwork lead by Laila Palaudares, a powerful rebirthing session of guided circle breathing that had us all sobbing and then laughing with joy.
On our final evening, we left the retreat in two cars and parked up for an evening hike along the clifftop at Xarraca. We all chose stones to represent what we wanted to leave behind and hurled them over the cliff. We then sat in silent meditation, before joining in a circle, holding hands, jumping up and down and yelling – the kind of thing that would normally make me cringe, but which with my new, super-chilled persona I joined in with gusto. We then headed for La Paloma, a delightful light and airy local restaurant, filled with trailing indoor greenery, that offered a chalked blackboard menu of Mediterrean-style pasta, rice and vegetable dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients. After six days of sugar detoxing, I was expecting to pounce upon the dessert menu, but there wasn’t even the slightest desire to order the Valrhona Chocolate Mousse.
Detoxing from sugar had been effortless, thanks to chef and nutritional therapist Mar Talavera’s daily, delectable sugar-free desserts. Giving up caffeine involved three days of headaches, but was helped as an urn full of soothing lemon balm, or energising ginger, lemon and turmeric tea was always on tap. I ate huge platefuls of Mar’s beautifully presented delights – such as rainbow coloured salads, beetroot felafels, cauliflower ‘steaks’ – at every meal, yet arrived home two pounds lighter with a flat stomach.
As I long-time meditator, I was already sold on the benefits of mindfulness practise before I arrived, but I didn’t always make time for it. But what I took home with me was that something fundamental shifts when you meditate regularly, and it goes deeper than just feeling calm – it was like my whole outlook on life changed. In my ‘back-to-life’ coaching session with Larah, I made a commitment to carve out time every day for yoga and to sit, no matter how hectic I got. On the plane home, a small child loudly protesting about being confined in a small space for the whole journey didn’t irritate me – instead, I just felt huge admiration for his supremely patient mother. And anyway, I was distracted – busy working out the next time I could come back and do the retreat all over again.