Chilling out and eating consciously with Jiva Healing in Wiltshire

Ruth Rosselson reviews a creative cooking, conscious eating and yoga retreat weekend at Littleton Mill in Wiltshire and finds a stylish house, nourishing yoga and fact-packed healthy cooking demos

‘Will we get the recipe?’ chime the group, as we sit down to eat the first meal of the weekend, a delicious soup made from spinach and potatoes and served with spicy chermoula beans and healthy gluten free seeded crackers. Rebecca, Jiva Healing’s host, nutritionist and chef, has a knack for cooking delicious healthy meals, which she promises don’t take too much expertise or time to recreate at home. This is good, because I’m here for some inspiration in the kitchen, wanting ideas for dishes that don’t take too much energy to make at the end of my working day.

I’d thought that the cooking and conscious eating aspect of the retreat would be a hands-on workshop but instead we are given two cookery demonstrations plus a nutrition talk on Saturday evening after dinner. Rather than just imparting facts or instructions, Rebecca peppers her talks with tales of her fascinating life and her travels and is an entertaining orator. This is lucky, because watching someone else cook is not my idea of fun. I know many people love TV cookery shows, but I’ve never understood the appeal. Happily, at least I know we’re going to be enjoying the end product.

For the nutrition talk Rebecca distils the longer talks she gives on her week-long retreats into a handy top ten. She’s engaging to listen to and I take notes as – although she states the obvious to someone who already knows about healthy eating (cut out processed food, eat more fruit and veg) I still find something new and interesting inside her advice. I’m particularly interested in the psychology of eating that she touches on. I teach belly breathing as part of my work, but had not considered how important it is to employ before each meal, to aid digestion and ensure you get all the nutritional benefits from your food.

I’m not just here for the food, though it was a major draw. My work is very people-orientated, so by the time it gets to the weekend, I need to take time to properly wind down and relax. Littleton Mill was a great location for this. The mill is home to Melissa Kendall, co-founder of Jiva Healing, who normally lives here with her family. During the retreats, they all clear out, leaving the mill and retreat guests in the care of Rebecca. The fact that the mill is someone’s full time home means that the house is stylish and homely, with a lovely vibe, rather than feeling sterile as some locations can do. Yet I never feel as though I am intruding, and I am able to fully switch off from work, enjoying time catching up on podcasts in my bedroom overlooking the river.

‘Rather than just imparting facts or instructions, Rebecca peppers her talks with tales of her fascinating life and her travels and is an entertaining orator’

We’re blessed with some sunshine over the weekend, so as well as spending a little time out in the lush garden I venture further afield on Saturday afternoon. It’s a short walk to the canal and I amble around the adjacent small woods, listening to the birdsong and enjoying some precious time to myself with no social interaction required.

The nutrition talks and cookery demonstrations weren’t the only scheduled activities. There were also four yoga classes led by Amy McFarling who specialises in Scaravelli-inspired yoga, a slow, mindful practice with a strong emphasis on the breath, using gravity to aid the body into the poses. Friday’s post-dinner session included some asanas to aid digestion and a lengthy relaxation. Her mellifluous voice immediately put me at ease. By the time I got to bed on Friday, work felt a world away, and there was still another full day and a half to go.

Having a regular yoga practice means that I can be picky when it comes to yoga teachers, but Amy exceeds my high standards. Within our group of 12, there were some people who had never tried yoga before and who had no idea what to expect. Amy made sure the classes were accessible to us all. Despite being a seasoned yogi myself, some extra alignment and postural instruction never goes amiss, and the emphasis on checking in and listening to the body and breath aligned with my own practice. I particularly liked that Amy incorporated pranayama (different types of breathing) into each session, and did not skimp on the final savasana, ensuring that my body and mind got the full benefits from the sessions.

Saturday’s holistic massage – also with Amy – was the icing on the cake, and really helped my body let go of the tension built up from a difficult work week. By Sunday lunch, cauliflower steak, dips and kale chips, followed by a decadent chocolate and raspberry raw tart – I’m relaxed and content. It might have only been a weekend retreat, but in allowing me to slow down, check in and take time to listen to and honour my body, it felt like longer. I left with the kitchen inspiration I was after, boosted by an email from Rebecca two days later with an abundance of recipes and resources to follow up.