Cossetted and cared for in the countryside with Value Your Mind retreat, Dorset

Hannah Macinnes reviews a nourishing 3 day Value Your Mind retreat in Dorset and finds a winning mix of yoga, mindfulness, journalling, roaring fires, good company and nourishing food overseen all overseen by a brilliant host Nathalie Kealy

I find a retreat can often serve you best when you least feel in need of it. At the end of a week of deadlines and the chaos of freelance life, I was far from prepared for my weekend with Value Your Mind. Late, stressed and dishevelled, I leapt into my mini and – not having adequately planned the route – sat in miles of endless, unmoving traffic. Arriving at Atrim Gore on the Dorset coast five hours later, I was exhausted and on the verge of tears. Sometimes the small things make you realise just how run down you really are. In “normal” life though, you just put it all ‘on hold’. Opening the door into the cottage, I was hit by the wonderful smell of spices from a curry bubbling on the stove. It was warm and cosy and retreat host Nathalie Kealy was calling my phone to check I was okay. I immediately felt this was going to be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Nathalie is the lynchpin of the weekend and the most brilliant host: kind, helpful, giving everyone their space, but there to listen to all and anything should you need it. And as a qualified mental health nurse and therapist in the NHS, she is a fantastic listener and adviser who really knows her stuff. What is so special and unique is the way in which she combines this training with more Eastern approaches to wellbeing including ayurveda, mindfulness and of course, yoga.

Natalie is also a fantastic yoga teacher. It’s a real skill being able to bring a whole class with you from those who are entirely new to the practice, older or struggle with the poses to those who are experienced and want to work through more advanced postures. Nathalie undoubtedly achieves this. I found the sessions fulfilling and varied with a good mixture of vinyasa flow and yin. With four sessions over the weekend, as well as a yoga nidra for twenty minutes before bed, you certainly feel you get your money’s worth.

Yoga sessions were an hour and a half long and took place first thing in the morning at 7.30/8am and in the evening at around 6pm before dinner. The other set times in the day were for meals: delicious wholesome vegetarian fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with brunch on the Sunday before leaving.

There were holistic massages on request from the delightful Kim Watson, a qualified masseuse who co-owns massage parlour and wellness business, House of Palms, in Leytonstone, East London. Her exquisite massages (either an hour or half an hour long) included an individual consultation and then deep and soft tissue techniques including warm bamboo sticks. They were raved about by everyone, all weekend.

‘Nathalie is the lynchpin of the weekend and the most brilliant host: kind, helpful, giving everyone their space, but there to listen to all and anything should you need it. As a qualified mental health nurse and therapist in the NHS, she is also a fantastic listener and adviser who really knows her stuff’

On Saturday there is free time to take yourself off for a walk, it’s not an obligatory group activity but I highly recommend doing it. You can walk straight from the house but if you want to get to the beach or nearby Market Town of Bridport, it’s down to you to get yourself there. (On our retreat everyone had come in a car or as a passenger in someone else’s). I adored wandering the wild rainy coast at Burton Bradstock. It was the best of all possible ways to blow away the cobwebs and some of the most pure, unadulterated thinking time and headspace I’ve had in a very long while.

The food was consistently wonderful: colourful, imaginative, warming, just the right kind of filling and nourishing in the truest sense of the word. Chef Ritu did not appear to ever sit down, but laboured in the kitchen all day over her pots of bubbling curries and beautiful salads.

I think for me the most welcome aspect of the weekend was the casual and relaxed vibe. It felt like a chilled countryside weekend away with friends, complete with all the perfect ingredients: good company, delicious meals, reading with tea and flapjacks by a roaring log fire, walks, movie nights and then the added bonus of lots of deep sleep induced by the combination of no alcohol, no caffeine and wonderful yoga.
And I was in great company on this retreat: we were 10 in total – all of us women – from a wide and fascinating variety of professions and of all ages ranging from around 30 to about 65. Two lots of two came together as friends and the rest were travelling solo, though some had met at Nathalie’s yoga classes in the New Forest.

I found the shared bathrooms the only hard part ( one of the double rooms downstairs has an ensuite – everyone else on the upper floor shares two between them.) I would have liked to have languished in a bath without worrying that someone else wanted to come in and to have my own loo. But it is a small price to pay given the very good value for money on this retreat.

As someone who loves journaling and the process of writing by hand, it was great to see this actively encouraged on the retreat and to be reminded of how therapeutic putting pen to paper can be. The individual journals on our beds on arrival was a delightful touch – as was having specific group time set aside to write in it, from pouring out heart and mind onto the page in what is known as stream of consciousness journaling, to listing future intentions and identifying times for pressing pause more in daily life after leaving the retreat.

I kept my phone off the whole time, which felt a significant relief, enabling me to sleep better than I had done in weeks. As it’s under 48 hours the retreat does whizz by in the blink of an eye. But it is amazing how little time you need to feel that you really have managed to do precisely what it says on the box: press pause and switch off, all overseen by the eternally calm, sweet natured Nathalie.