Mindfulness Journeys, Greece
Relaxed mindfulness meditation and yoga holidays at splendid clifftop villas on Lefkada
Best for: Gaining clarity and head space
Not for: A high amount of activity
Takes up to 15 guests
Mindfulness Journeys is run by mindfulness expert Brian Hilliard and his partner Shannon van Staden, a former fashion stylist turned yoga teacher and meditation instructor. Aimed at anyone interested in meditation from any walk of life, their holidays seek to make meditation and mindfulness more accessible by removing the jargon and approaching it in a lighthearted way. You can expect morning yoga and early evening sessions dedicated to meditation, with afternoons generally free for swimming, sunbathing, reading, walking or perhaps a cheeky nap. Evenings tend to be sociable, with founders Shannon and Brians relaxed approach setting the tone.
These holidays make a challenging meditation practice accessible to everyone. Brian and Shannon create a real feeling of lightness and fun.
The incredibly beautiful private beach is at the bottom of a steep long goat track which takes the average person 60 minutes in a round trip. Great for those who want to be active, not so great for those looking for an easy sea swim each day.
This is not a retreat where you are expected give up pleasure in the name of enlightenment. Rather you are encouraged to embrace life with all its abundance, look at it from different perspectives and explore how to experience it more deeply.
Brian leads the self-guided meditation sessions and talks, giving detailed instruction at the beginning and throughout the daily two hour session. The technique is the simple yet powerful principle of paying attention to each element of the breath with the support of a good meditation posture. You sit cross legged in silence for 15 mins at a time, and then walk in circles for 10 minutes, before settling back for 5 mins further guidance. And this is repeated 3 or 4 times.
Brian inspires you to look into yourself and observe what you find in a non-judgmental way. Whatever is there, it’s truly ok, and through meditation practice you can learn to be with both the positive and negative aspects and discover an unconditional sense of well being. He instructs you to meditate with your eyes open, and focused on the ground just in front of you, to incorporate your environment in your practice.
The ratio of actual practice to instruction and discussion is quite high, so come with an open mind, prepared to make friends with yourself and be willing to surrender to the practice, whatever it might bring.
You will have a Hatha and Yin Yoga class every morning, lasting around an hour and a half before brunch. This is taught by Mindfulness Journey co-host, owner and yoga teacher Shannon van Staden. Shannon’s unique approach to yoga is closely aligned with meditation practice. Meticulous attention to correct yoga postures combines with the view of meditation. This is an approach for total health of mind and body.
You will focus on connecting body and mind through breath awareness, practice daily hatha flow, yin or restorative yogas, integrate yoga with meditation practice, get hands-on personal adjustments and alternate between dynamic and slower paced yoga.
There’s free time between midday and 5pm for you to do as you please, whether that be a 60 minute round-trip hike down to the villa’s private pebbled beach or a swim and a nap at your pool.
Nearby Vassiliki is famous for water sports; diving, snorkelling, windsurfing and sailing. The snorkelling is exceptional – on our snorkel safari from Vasiliki we had a brilliant snorkel on a site called The Wall and saw bonito tuna feeding on the bait fish. There are also little cobbled streets filled with boutiques and port side cafés and restaurants and a little further away you can visit Porto Katsiki where dramatic cliffs meet sand, pebbles and the sea.
One day of the retreat is set aside for exploring the local area and taking a break from the meditation schedule. This model works well, as by the middle of the week a change of scenery is welcome and the return to meditation the day after feels fresh and revived – however, on our visit the group loved the meditation so much that we had another session on that day too.
Persevere with the meditation – you may find it initially uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding. There’s a recommended reading list that’s sent to you before the retreat should you be interested – inspirational titles include Work, Sex, Money by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi. Pack loose layered clothing for yoga and meditation. Evenings can be breezy so bring a wrap or similar snuggly cover up. Look out for dolphins and seals as you will be in their (protected) natural habitat.
When to Go
Retreats are held at either end of the peak season in Greece, when the weather is sunny and the island is not too busy. This is a lovely time to see wild flowers as you are out exploring on foot.
The food is tasty and macrobiotic, cooked by Chef Kostas Tzallilas. Meals are all vegan and sugar free and designed to maximise the cleansing of your system and strengthen the effects of the yoga practice and the meditation. Ingredients are mostly organic with plenty of grains, vegetables and beans, plus seaweed, fermented products, nuts, seeds and fruits.
Sample dishes include kale garden salad with millet; buckwheat burgers with roasted vegetables, and brown rice with barley and stewed vegetables in a miso sauce. Vegan cheesecake and raw avocado chocolate mousse are among the yummy puddings offered. There is no alcohol or caffeine during the week, though you might get a cheeky glass of bubbly on the last evening. During the day there is unlimited water and at meals the water is flavoured with different fruits and herbs if you so desire.
Mindfulness Journeys are looking into how they can donate funds to the local village for local yoga classes, but this is not formalised yet. The food is mostly organic and as local and seasonally sourced as possible. The company uses a Greek macrobiotic chef and assistant for the week, and invites the villa owner and staff to join the yoga and meditation when they have free time. In their own life in Brussels, Brian and Shannon have adopted a Zero Waste policy and are working on how to bring that to their retreats.