Mixing fitness and festival vibes with Wildfitness on Obonjan Island, Croatia

Rosie Walford reviews a Wildfitness experience during a festival on Obonjan Island in Croatia, where she finds that a ‘No’ is something to work through, not surrender to.

The step in front of me was shallow, but when I came to jump up, I got an absolute ‘NO”. Like a horse refusing a jump, my body claimed it could not possibly jump safely. Helplessly, I stuck to the ground.

Though I’m gutsy in most aspects of life, I was that girl who was chosen last in school teams, and ever since, I have surrendered myself to feebleness in matters sporting.  But this moment on Wildfitness ended a lifetime’s defeatism. I was encouraged to do a little horizontal jump, then repeat that movement onto the step. It was ridiculously easy!

Wildfitness believes that regular exposure to physical challenge is a necessary thing on the pathway from desk-bound stiffness to an athletic and capable body. There were moments, bunnyhopping uncomfortably across a yoga deck at sunrise, when I questioned the wisdom of mimicking the movements of hunter gatherers. But when I said ‘this hurts my quads,’ the instructors didn’t pander to my age or weakness but replied calmly ‘Yes, you’re waking up parts you haven’t used in a while”.

Reframing pangs of discomfort as pointers to the parts I need to open was the start of a real revolution.

Soon we’d be out swinging like monkeys among the pines, or creeping like stalkers across cliffs above a true blue sea. Now the ‘low gait’ exercises seemed purposeful. Playfulness, variety and the beauty of nature made our efforts enjoyable. Learning to carry one another in firemans’ lift felt seriously useful. It got me filthy though, acting as a deadweight for my partner to scoop from the ground. And left me in a self-conscious mess for breakfast,  amongst clean, fresh holidaymakers in normal clothes. Unusually for Wildfitness, on this retreat, we don’t have our own controlled catering, and instead eat pre-ordered spreads at the various restaurants which feed everyone on Obonjan.

Of course, I would never choose a retreat that was about fitness alone. The festival aspect had lured me. Here on Obonjan, the Wildfitness activities paused through the hot Croatian afternoons,  leaving us free to revel in the island activities on offer to all.

To dive from an old fishing jetty into a clear warm sea was divine. To be greeted with mellow electronica each time my head popped out for air, was actually paradise.  I found shady spots where I could read and watch the water with a symphony of cicadas overhead.  Wildfitness consider rest and recovery a key ingredient in successful training, and these sunsoaked hours felt like a very fine holiday indeed.

‘I would never choose a retreat that was about fitness alone. The festival aspect had lured me. Here on Obonjan, the Wildfitness activities paused through the hot Croatian afternoons, leaving us free to revel in the island activities on offer to all’

But happy island lounging was balanced with my appetite for the workshops on offer in Obonjan’s programme. The Wild Swimming Brothers spoke of adventures in epic whirlpools. A progressive sustainability consultancy called ‘6heads’ took us on a walk using nature to inspire our own problem solving. And best of all, I went to two phenomenal workshops with Shauna Cummins, a hypnotist to the artists of New York. I was so impressed that I booked a private session with Shauna, and glimpsed subconscious visions of my future in as astoundingly visual way.

By mid afternoon, we’d return to fitness. We never did one activity for long, and I could never have predicted the fun of rediscovering roughhousing, nor the invulnerable, alert feeling that came over me when I put on boxing gloves. The rudiments of parkour were taught on some beautiful stone walls terracing a hill. Though achieved little more than thigh-strain, the repetitions reminded me how to build confidence and improve, and I was surprised how much fun it was. Even the sporty among us were stretched by the unfamiliar range of activities we were trying.

Some of our classes and the glorious inter-island swim were open to Obonjan holidaymakers; we in the Wildfitness group missed the close attention of our instructors once strangers joined the fun. But still we learned lots. Our class on barefoot running was life-changing for a flatfooted creature like me. We squatted and jumped to loosen the muscles needed for proper running.  At first I couldn’t squat, but with technique, was thrilled to discover I could.  Then we trotted,  toes first, following a light, quick rhythm that is the runner’s not the jogger’s, and learned to tilt our hips to alter speed.  It was so well taught that I was sorry not to have the famous Wildfitness video critique of my style, which takes place on their full length retreats.

A few weeks on, overstretched muscles have mended with the exercises one guide showed me. I’m squatting proudly and using low gait techniques to cross slippery ground. I love knowing that a No is something to work through, not surrender to, that my range of movement is increasing, not withering, as I grow older.

We may not have had the structure and close tuition on the island that Wildfitness is reknowned for, but the visions from my hypnosis are miraculously unfolding, and it turns out that the mix of retreat and island festival gave me, serendipitously, exactly what I needed.