Scheduling in Nothing with Wholehearted Retreats

Megan Lambert reviews an intimate, rural yoga retreat in the rolling farmland of Aveyron in the South of France and blissfully learns to do absolutely nothing.

I’d just moved back to London, after spending almost six years, the larger part of my twenties, living in India, when I signed up for Whole Hearted Retreats: a stone-built petit maison, ensconced by 12 acres of rolling hills and forest, in the heart of ‘The Deep France’. It wasn’t such a big move, I’d told myself, I was just “coming home”, wasn’t I?

On the first day, sat on our mats, cross-legged under a canopy of oaks, we were asked to create an intention for the week. Draw it, write it, sing it if we really wanted to – outline an intent, and then release all attachment to the outcome.

It’s not often, going through the motions of daily life, we’re asked these sort of questions, and I probably take these sorts of things more seriously and with more weight than they demand. I try and squeeze everything out of these experiences (how often is it that you’re able to dedicate an entire week just to yourself?). Be more of ‘this’, less of ‘that’, I scanned my way through a Rolodex of my own shortcomings, but what I really needed? Stillness. Space. To schedule in Nothing.

Lucy and Ollie have created a nurturing space to achieve just this. The routine is flexible, with plenty of hours in the afternoon to do as much, or as little as you choose. From mandala making to baking, a trip to the local village for almond croissants or practising some karma yoga by tending to their expansive vegetable plot. Dive into their library of yogic texts or if you fancy, the nearby lake. Pay a visit to your horse neighbours or take the Wholehearted Retreat dogs, Douglas and Otis, out for a stroll in the French countryside. Or, as I did on several occasions, nap.

My fellow guests and I (ranging from our late 20s to 50s, British and French) revelled in the opportunity to relax. There were just 3 of us – a teacher, a mother, and myself, a writer, all unfamiliar with dedicating such levels of time to themselves. A profound experience for all was the singing bowl therapy. Ollie talks you through each bowl, and the chakra that it correlates to, inviting you to play them yourselves. I won’t reveal the rest (you’ll have to experience it for yourself!) but an hour later, I had almost lost my power of speech, mumbling an attempted “thank you” I floated back into my room, and journaled the entire experience so as not to forget a moment.

Chalk and cheese in many ways, Ollie and Lucy have opened their home to their guests, in an authentic and welcoming way. It’s not just their vegetable plot that is organically grown, their retreats are a testament to starting small, and developing a thriving business out of a passion. They live the life they laud. The retreat equivalent to a homestay, it’s a place where you make new friends along your journey whether you like it or not. They only accept four guests at one time, so it’s a very intimate experience.

‘Lucy’s kitchen is packed full of vegetarian cookbooks and she uses the best in seasonal and home-grown vegetables to whip up tasty meals for five around a large, canopied dining table – in between classes, with exceptional levels of domesticity for a vocal feminist’

The style of yoga is traditional Hatha. It’s gentle, yet they ensure that everyone tries and learns something new. A particularly nifty piece of equipment, FeetUp, ensures that anyone, regardless of their practice, can have a go at a headstand, and get the heady benefits of a juicy inversion. On my visit I’d been practicing 10 years and recently completed a yoga teacher training, but I learnt a lot from the pair.

One thing that really made Whole Hearted retreats stand out for me was the food. Health focused, but not prescriptive. Lucy’s kitchen is packed full of vegetarian cookbooks and she uses the best in seasonal and home-grown vegetables to whip up (in between classes, with exceptional levels of domesticity for a vocal feminist) tasty meals for five around a large, canopied dining table, made for lingering over long lunches and dinners. I am yeast intolerant and, as a real treat on the last night, Lucy made yeast-free pizza dough – a first for me! Topped blue sheep’s cheese, caramelised onions, and toasted walnuts. An indulgent end to a wholesome week.

My room was simple, but very comfortable, with exposed beams and stone walls, and natural wooden floorboards, plus two single beds (just for me!) and en-suite loo. The pièce de résistance? An in-room roll-top bath, which I enjoyed a couple of afternoons soaking in. We did yoga in several yoga spaces, depending on the weather, or where the sun was. One looked out across a neighbouring field and horses, and the valley beyond, another, surrounded by trees and a couple of hammocks, felt like we were practising up in a treehouse, and, hidden in the woods, was a cosy cabin to retreat to in case of rain.

I try to learn something or take something home of every retreat I stay on. On this week, I learnt an excellent tip for holding my pincha mayurasana (forearm stand) and that, in my opinion, singing bowl therapy is infinitely more relaxing than reiki. I learnt that I am quite terrible at art, but it’s about the process, not the product. And that, contrary to a belief I had held up until now, I do like chicory. But most importantly, I learnt to do nothing. I learnt to just be and let go.