Before I jump into 2016 and the new directions I have planned for this blog, I want to tie up a few loose ends. Namely, review the gorgeous yoga retreat that I went to in Portugal last year, and highlight the abundance of benefits I experienced.
I went to http://yogaevolutionretreats.com/ at the end of September 2015, which was 6 months after my traumatic brain injury. I had a shaky summer, where I struggled to move forward and decided that I had to take myself away somewhere to heal physically and mentally. I found Peter and Sue’s website after doing a bit of google investigation around my budget and where I wanted to travel. I was really drawn to the reviews and the retreat descriptions because they emphasised being taught in a way that would allow inexperienced, young or old people to access yoga within their own abilities. I chose the ashtanga and yin yoga retreat, which was served with a morning session of mindfulness meditation.
The day started at 8am after a quick cup of tea and we began the morning ashtanga session after Pete lead us through meditation and mindfulness exercises. My favourite mindfulness exercise was called ‘The Guesthouse’. Pete described the mind as a guesthouse, where feelings and memories come knocking at the door. Joy, depression, sorrow, anger. We were asked to focus on what had recently been knocking and allow it to come in and make it welcome in our guesthouse. We were asked to focus on what we allowed in, and see how it made our bodies feel. Following that, the point I took from the guesthouse (I think) was that we could observe these feelings and memories, but not identify with them. They are just passing through and these feelings don’t define who we are. I didn’t have any profound enlightenment from it, but I did find it very refreshing to take the time to let my mind work through its guests, however unwelcome they were. It was nice to think that they would eventually leave, and I guess acknowledging them was a step in the direction of letting them go.
After the meditation, we jumped (I slowly stepped) into the ashtanga class, which is the fast paced yoga style with a focus on the breath. We were taught the primary series which is something I have done before, but not for a while. Ashtanga was the first style of yoga I learnt when I started out, but being the weakling and uncommitted yoga person that I am, I found the classes quite challenging. I realised that I had picked up some bad habits from my irregularly attended yoga practice in London, which follows a Sivandanda style. I found the energy of the class infectious and it really encouraged me to try my best and push a little bit harder. Pete was a brilliant teacher with just the right balance of insight, humour and support.
Yin yoga as taught by Sue was very restorative. There were bolsters, cushions and blankets to aid the postures and her classes focused on alignment and surrender. Interestingly Sue explained that yin yoga is related to Chinese meridian theory and the meridian lines are what acupuncture work on. I’ve never had acupuncture before, but since I have lasting issues from my head injury, alongside a lifetime of being overly anxious- I’m definitely going to check it out this year.
I took a lot away from the yin yoga sessions. I gained a good insight into my body and alignment that I just hadn’t looked at before. I guess in my busy London classes the teachers don’t have the time to focus on each student, so areas that I was struggling with were just not properly looked at. The area I need to work on is my hips and doing hip opening exercises. Sue suggested folding up a blanket and placing it under the tip of my coccyx to help me lean forward in seated positions and I have really noticed a difference doing this. My favourite position was one to recharge your batteries by adapting a cobra pose with your hands clasped together in front of you and resting on your forearms.
Looking back on the yoga retreat I feel soo pleased with myself for going. At 29 I’d never actually been to a foreign country alone before, which I think is something I desperately needed to do. I was looked after incredibly well, from the gorgeous room I had with stylish textiles and furniture, to the delicious food and on sight massage therapist (who gave me one of the best massages I’ve ever had). The people it attracted were all very down to earth, easy to talk to and respectful. There were no ‘out there’ or loud personalities and everyone was quite content to chill by the pool……..
or explore the surrounding area. So I guess I wasn’t actually alone at all. On my way home I summed up my experience by writing in my diary:
I felt totally restored and revived. I came back to London with a noticeable sparkle to my skin and a sense of lightness in my limbs. Reviewing this retreat has got me day dreaming about warmer days and new adventures, a direction I’d love to explore in future blog posts.
Thank you for reading and if you have any experience doing yoga for healing- be it physical body issues or mental ones, I would love to hear from you.