Enchanted and energised at Samsara

Imogen O’Rorke spends an enchanting wellbeing weekend at a rural cottage in Kent with husband and wife team Dipu and Lori and finds her bliss with excellent ashtanga-based yoga and pranayama, holistic massage, gong baths, delicious food and a superbly comfy home from home environment.

My Samsara experience began a few weeks before it actually started in the form of a ‘Samsara Family’ WhatsApp group to introduce the retreat guests to each other and share the ‘excitement’ as well as any questions (e.g. whether wine or cacao rituals were allowed). I was to attend a weekend retreat in West Peckham, Kent with husband and wife team Dipu and Lori, who have lovingly converted their 700-year-old home and garden into an intimate guest house for yoga and nurture retreats. As they live on the property (in a garden tent when they are at capacity), the invitation is for guests to become part of an extended family, brought together by similar goals and the desire to get away from it all.

I was one of a dozen guests who arrived on Friday evening, ready to flop. The atmosphere that envelops you is one of calm, comfort and nurturing. The hostess, Lori, has a warm and ebullient personality and is genuinely passionate about bringing people together and sharing her love for yoga and healing. The couple have spent the past year lovingly restoring the property to make it as relaxing and welcoming as possible. There are candles everywhere and subtle low lighting, fresh flowers from the garden, essential oil aromas, house plants and decorative touches such as bowers of greenery, paper lotuses and attractive mirrors.

Supper was a nutritious Thai green curry with garden chard and salads, followed by apple crumble and custard. Sitting around a large dining table or lounging around the fire in the 13th Century living room was the perfect way to get to know people: one or two were regulars to Dipu’s classes but the majority were professionals mainly in their thirties who had come away to get space or clarity on life decisions. There was a recovering new mum and a couple on a mind-body romantic break. After the meal, Dipu conducted an opening ceremony in the yoga shala, which involved setting our intentions and casting away what didn’t serve us (in the form of petals) as he invoked the various Hindu gods to help.

Yoga began at a reasonable hour (8.30am) on Saturday with a cleansing pranayama (yogic breathing) practice. Dipu is a traditional hatha yoga teacher (who has also trained with leading Western practitioners like David Garrigues in the ashtanga style) who spent many years teaching in an ashram in India. I loved the breathwork, which was rigorous. After 50 rounds of Anuloma Piloma (alternative nostril breathing) and 60 of Kapalapathi (breath of fire), I felt invigorated and was able to retain the breath for a minute without strain. We segued into sun salutations in the traditional Sivananda hatha style. After the long warm-up, everyone was ready for a large mid-morning brunch with a wholesome salad and spicy scrambled egg-based veggie goodness. Second portions were tempting but not advisable, as yoga started again an hour later.

‘Lori has a warm and ebullient personality and is genuinely passionate about bringing people together and sharing her love for yoga and healing, while yoga teacher Dipu is an excellent hands-on teacher who provides options for everyone. His classes are not for slackers – everyone has to apply themselves with tapas (‘right effort’)’

The midday class focused on back bending and inversions. As there were one or two relative newcomers to yoga, Dipu was good at providing options for everyone, while offering variations for the more experienced. His classes are not for slackers – everyone had to apply themselves with tapas (‘right effort’). I found his adjustments strong and helpful – the influence of his Mysore style ashtanga training was coming through. I missed the later afternoon class for an hour’s healing massage with Michael, which is offered as part of the package. Michael trained as a sports masseur 20 years ago but was increasingly drawn to the esoteric side of healing and recently became a shaman. The treatment he has developed called Muscle Fascia Integration Therapy (MFIT) is diagnostic: first he will identify what is out of balance – in my case, having had two caesareans, I was over-using my psoas (stomach) muscles at the expense of my gluteus (buttock) muscles. He helped to reintegrate by lengthening and stretching the psoas. After half-an-hour of deep muscular manipulation (not exactly relaxing), the muscles in my backside were reengaging. I felt the healing process well into the next day.

On Saturday night, we were treated to a gong bath with Mark Swan, who asked us to lie down and make ourselves comfortable as he washed us with sound vibrations for an hour. Having first consulted the aspect of the stars, he had brought three large gongs (from his collection of 35): Saturn (representing time), Gaia (Earth, providing healing vibes) and Moon (etheric, spiritual energy). Gongs are thought to recreate the sound frequencies of the planets and provide the healing energies that we need right now, astrologically speaking. It was awesome and at times I felt like I was being transported to one of the moons of Pluto. I didn’t get the physical sensations which some of the others reported, however, except for a numb bum.

Supper that evening was a generous spread of Indian thali (three veg curries) with poppadum and naan bread and trimmings. To close the evening, Dipu lead us in singing some devotional mantra around the fire and explained the importance of ‘Bhakti yoga’ which is the yogic path of ritual and worship. While I loved this, several guests took this opportunity to slink off to bed after a full-on day. Once in bed myself, I had a good night’s rest on my very comfy TEMPUR mattress in my room, which had charming original half-timbers. As it is an old building, however, creaky stairs and strange rumblings in the night were par for the course, especially if you were under the bathroom (as I was).

The retreat finished at 3pm on Sunday, but we still had two sessions of yoga, beginning with pranayama and classical hatha in the morning, and finishing, after brunch, with a more intensive ashtanga session. Here Dipu explained jump-throughs and helped us all get into headstand (even those who had never managed it before). We were all sent away with a daily pranayama and sun salutation practice lasting half-an-hour.

As with most good retreats, my weekend with Samsara was over all too soon. I thoroughly enjoyed my short stay and definitely felt that my practice had acquired a new flexibility and lightness as a result.