Loving the ease on a Zest Life yoga and relaxation weekend in The Lake District

Zoe Ross reviews a yoga and relaxation weekend retreat in Cumbria with The Zest Life and finds inspiring natural surroundings, nourishing yoga and vibrant vegetarian food

I was feeling positively frazzled by the time I arrived at Silverholme Manor in unaccustomed darkness (no light pollution up here) late on a Friday afternoon. The voyage by train had felt long and stuffy, and it was a relief finally to be shown to my room and informed briskly but warmly of the presence of cake and chai in the dining room. Those first awkward moments gathered with strangers were tempered by soothing chocolate and cardamom, and by the time we had taken our first yoga class and then at dinner started sharing around the platters of pumpkin and spinach curries, rice and salad, the ice was broken.

Laura Bell, who runs the retreat, and her Auntie Sarah, who helps to keep things running smoothly, eat lunch and dinner with the group, which creates a feeling of relaxed inclusivity. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie and positivity amongst the fifteen-strong group – mealtimes were lively, and over the course of the weekend I learnt about an architect’s project building a school in Ethiopia, the work of a computer games programmer, life in London for a newlywed Israeli couple, and the ambitions and plans of a 22-year-old recent graduate. There was a balance of couples, pairs of friends, a mother and a daughter, and two others on their own. The majority of guests were in their late 40s, I’d say, with one or two outliers in both directions.

Admittedly, I’d felt some trepidation at the prospect of sharing a bedroom with a stranger, and it would take a moment to adjust to the fact of my less than luxuriantly sized bed. So, in that first Friday night yoga class, I’d struggled to still my mind – there was an almost physical sensation of jittery resistance I very much doubted I’d be able to shake in the space of just a weekend. However, I reflected the same time the next day, after an intense session of yin yoga, and had to admit I was feeling radically calmer. The centering morning meditation, the oxygen blast of an invigorating walk, a deliciously sustaining lunch and the mellow luxury of an afternoon nap had brought on a feeling of deep relaxation. Despite sharing a bedroom, I felt there was a good balance of time alone and time in company, enough to be energised by others and to feel at peace. And as it happened, though my feet dangled slightly, the bed was really rather comfy.

‘I loved the ease and comfort of the retreat, trusting that everything was in hand, without feeling babied or ordered from A to B’

During downtime, other guests were either reading quietly by the fire, or in their rooms, and so between mealtimes there was a pervasive calm in the air. The food, cooked by Chef Raul, brought pep and brightness to every meal. Fragrant spice and punchy flavour, and the generous sharing style of dishes, meant that everyone had much to discuss within the first two or three mouthfuls.

The activities at the retreat are accessible, but Laura certainly makes you work in her yoga sessions. After the first class on Friday, I’d wondered whether the practice might remain fairly gentle, but I was disabused of that view by the time we’d reached our fifth round of Navasana (boat pose) on Sunday morning.

The setting is a remarkable asset, and walks on both mornings brought huge pleasure – if anything, I’d have liked there to have been the option for longer hikes. There’s nothing more satisfying than filling your lungs with cool, crisp air, and I was just getting into my stride on Saturday when we circled back on the car park. But I think this reflects the fact that Laura doesn’t run her retreats like a boot camp – they’re not designed to shred and tone, but to nourish and restore. The yoga and the walking together gave me the satisfying feeling that a good meal was merited, but by no means did I feel physically pushed to my limits (except perhaps during the Navasana!).

I loved the ease and comfort of the retreat, trusting that everything was in hand, without feeling babied or ordered from A to B. Laura has a range of bespoke products for sale in a pretty basket in the hallway, including grapefruit & lemongrass soap bars and lip balms, but doesn’t push them – this is a good reflection of her style. She’s inviting, unfussy and discreet, and injects moments of contemplation in a natural and accessible way.

There’s a limit to how transformative a weekend can be, of course, but there’s no doubt that the weekend did me palpable good. Getting out of the city and breathing bracing fresh air, in inspiring natural surroundings, with yoga to open and close each day, and plentiful, vibrant vegetarian food, brought me a sense of wellbeing that may just stretch halfway into next week.