‘This is far too left field for me,’ exclaimed a friend when she saw the programme for my planned yoga weekend retreat. ‘And it’s all that chanting and meditation stuff that could just be too much,’ another friend added. No doubt, these reactions reflect the unease that many experience about yoga weekends. Most people don’t mind the exercises (àsanas), but when it goes beyond that, comfort zones are disturbed.
But the programme was inviting and the highlights were marketed as (coincidentally exactly what I needed):
- Vibrant Workshops on Optimal Health & Lifestyle Changes
- One-Day Fresh Juice & Broth Fast
- Mud Pack Treatments
- Gentle Yoga Exercise Classes and
- Guided Group Meditation/ De-stress & relaxation sessions
The marketing worked on me – I was sold. I needed a weekend break and recharge time!
By the way, sceptics may be comforted by the fact that yoga retreats and yoga holidays are fast increasing in popularity, both world-wide and in South Africa. They fall into a category called ‘wellness travel’ – just using that phrase is enough to impress; not to mention that it has been referred to as ‘a major tourism trend in 2013’. There are several yoga centres in South Africa, and retreats are held regularly in places such as countryside towns of the Cape (Tulbagh, Swellendam), Durban (Ixopo), the Drakensberg, and the Magaliesburg. More and more people are opting to do a holiday that is uplifting and rejuvenating for body and mind.
A key objective of a yoga retreat is for personal and spiritual development through yoga and meditation techniques that are taught in an energising location close to nature. My planned retreat was held at the awe-inspiring Melody Hill locale in the Magaliesburg, a venue set in a secluded and peaceful pecan-nut orchard. It offers the perfect, tranquil setting to get away from our frenetic urban lifestyles. Thus, a fundamental reason to take a yoga retreat is because it will allow you to escape, see and experience something new, and enable focussed time on personal growth.
At a yoga weekend, yoga classes are usually offered in the morning and evening, with other activities in between. We were exposed to the Ananda Marga form of yoga which I had not previously heard of but the poses turned out to be relatively simple (and highly effective!). We learnt five asanas – a manageable yoga platter that became our ‘take home’ package. In addition, yogis following Ananda Marga believe that it is important that àsanas be followed by massage since àsanas stimulate the sebaceous glands under the skin; and these beneficial secretions are to be returned into the skin through self massage. This light self massage of the entire body was one of the powerful tools offered to us at the retreat.
Extra activities at a yoga retreat could include hiking, native dancing, or even cooking classes. We went on two walks on the mountain; the first one being a silent walk. That was new to me but I found that it was rather enjoyable to have people around and yet, not need to converse with them. There is something quite therapeutic about simply trudging on the mountain, surrounded by vistas of the distant valley and getting lost in one’s thoughts. Well, we did a little more than get lost in our minds, and got lost on the mountain – at which point the silence was broken! The second walk was on a private property close to the centre, where we ambled along the river to reach the yoga deck built amidst the bushy trees. It was a good time to reconstitute and do a 10-minute group meditation in the freshness of the natural surroundings.
Health and nutrition were central foci, and we found ourselves in workshops on the topic, being immersed in sound yogic approaches and inspired towards new commitments. Initially I was horrified at the thought of a detox fast for an entire day. But it is remarkable how the body adjusts and one comes to understand the thinking behind the practices and the methods applied, and how they could be used in one’s life.
Meditation is something that is quite difficult to develop into a disciplined practice so it was valuable that we were guided in the meditation sessions. These were a little long for the average person, but one can always view them as an exercise in stilling the mind. In contrast, the mud pack therapy was light-hearted and fun, and was an opportunity to promote detoxification through the skin. The therapeutic use of mud and clay to eliminate toxins from the body has been practiced since ancient times. Retreat participants were glowing after having scrubbed the mud from their bodies.
 Left field = American slang for a position or circumstance that is remote from an ordinary or general trend.