Finding bliss is a tall order. And whether finding it for eternity or just a brief moment, it’s worth the effort.
Recently I started feeling anxiety, doubt and worry for a few different personal reasons. And somewhere along the line the idea of getting away on my own and disconnecting sounded perfect. Exactly what I needed.
Now, I’m not a huge yogi but will occasionally hop into a class or two. Since I started Crossfit I’ve come to realize the benefits of stretching and flexibility and yoga is a good complimentary practice. By all standards, I was a beginner with no real consistent practice.
I began researching yoga retreats in Europe and Les Passeroses was one of them. They had both availability for the week I wanted to travel and great reviews. So earlier this month, I became one of 11 people on Kirsty Gallagher’s French Yoga retreat.
About the Retreat Centre
Les Passeroses is a restored farmhouse set in the countryside, just 30 km from Angouleme, France. Alex and Adrian run the centre which welcomes a variety of yoga teachers each week to run retreat. In all respects, it lived up to its accolades. The centre’s facilities and surrounding is what is imagine a retreat to feel like. Uninterrupted vistas and not a single sound from the civilization you left behind. I opted for the most cost effective option and shared a comfortable and spacious room with two other women.
There was a Moroccan inspired common room with leather chairs, blankets, a fireplace and constantly burning incense. It was my refuge for hours as I wrote and read. If the weather had been better, I would have used the bikini I brought to jump in the pool. But rain and overcast skies kept me out. Instead with the free time I had, I went for runs along the country road. The retreat centre was truly in the middle of nowhere and the perfect place to find bliss.
The dining area is where we all gathered for the delicious vegetarian meals. When the weather is good, there is an option to eat outside. At first, I was hesitant about that since I’m a carnivore and eat some form of protein at each meal. But the varying flavours, textures and filling meals essentially made me forget that meat-eating habit for the week. Breakfast was a self-serve mix of museli, fruit, toast and yogurt. Lunch always consisted of an appetizer and main, and dinner kept us full with three courses. Each day, the meals were inspired by different countries or regions of the world: France, Spain, Italy, North Africa, Egypt, Asia, India. And at around 4pm, tiffin and chai tea was served. I had to Google what tiffin was because I didn’t know it was the British word for a mid-afternoon snack. My favourite was their raw nutty Vitality balls which I’ve already recreated at home.
They also have a local massage therapist and holistic practitioner. The two massages I had were absolutely divine. A great compliment to the healthy eating, the yoga and mental relaxation.
About the Yoga
The day typically went like this:
8:30am: meet in the yoga room for meditation practice
9am: 90 min of Vinyasa flow
5:30pm: 90 min Yin yoga
And by 9pm, most of us were already heading for bed. It was surprisingly more exhausting than expected. But perhaps it was just our bodies taking the opportunity to really relax and rejuvenate.
On alternating days, Kirsty had us meet a half hour early before the evening practice so she could answer questions about yoga or anything else we wanted to learn. She told us her life story and how she became a yoga teacher. She shared stories from the yoga mythology and explained the different practices.
I had never done 90 min of yoga in one sitting and I was surprised how quickly the time went. And how I looked forward to it everyday. I always walked out of the room feeling amazing.
I’ve never had a yoga teacher before, and I left the retreat wishing I lived in London and could see her regularly. Her style is engaging, encouraging and gentle. She focused on making sure we listen to our bodies. Teaching us to trust that our body will eventually invite us deeper into a stretch or a position you thought would never be possible. By the end of the week, she was letting us do whatever we liked for the last 15 min of practice. And with just a few minutes a day, I eventually succeeded in doing my first headstand and crow.
For those who might go and feel a little bit of cabin fever, on Wednesday evening, Alex and Adrian take a night off. So we went into Angouleme for dinner and a stroll around town. It was a mid-week change of pace and a chance to explore a pretty little French town.
My personal reflections
Of course going away to a retreat isn’t going to fix all your problems. But it allowed me the chance to disconnect and focus on myself. That meant no Facebook, Instagram or even email. I’d allow myself the daily text or phone call to my husband. But the rest of world was as far away as possible.
I might have seemed a little anti-social and perhaps I was. I was there for myself and wasn’t looking to socialize or make new friends. I kept to myself using the free time to write, read and go for runs. I loved having the week to work on my physical and mental health. I’m an introvert by nature and was completely comfortable spending hours in silence by myself.
Sometimes the world has a way of speaking to you and you just have to be open and receptive to it. That was my attitude for the week. I wanted some personal answers from the universe. And some of the tidbits of knowledge and encouragement that Kirsty shared throughout the week were the exact things I needed to hear.
At some moments, I feel like I did find bliss. I was happy, feeling good and positive. And those sentiments have carried on once I came back to Paris.
I would go back in a heart beat. And I’ve tried to convince David to come with me next time. I can see myself getting away for a yoga retreat at least once per year. And I would absolutely seek our another one of Kirsty’s retreats. She travels all over the world doing this so perhaps, a retreat with a little more sunshine is in order. Although I would love to say I’ve continued with the yoga and healthy eating habits ever since, the reality is life gets in the way. But I’ve learned that its okay. Habits manifest in different ways and one way isn’t wrong or worse than another. Even if I just stay on the mat for 15 min to listen to how my body wants to move, that is already better than doing nothing and I don’t have to force myself to a 1 hr yoga class each day.
Going into this week long yoga retreat was a risk. Being in a house with 12 other people, eating foods I wasn’t used to, adjusting to a new schedule, practicing yoga more than I ever did before were all things out of my comfort zone. But that’s usually where you find the greatest amount of joy and purpose.
Overall it was such a positive experience and one I would highly recommend.
Have you ever been on a retreat like this? What was your experience like?