I’ve recently come back from a yoga retreat in Umbria, Northern Italy. I love getting away from everything and giving my attention to my body and spirit. In fact, I think the world would be a much better place if it was obligatory for everyone to do a retreat every year (practicalities and cost aside). So here’s a mini summary of my experience in an attempt to get more people seizing the opportunity to retreat from their daily lives and get their OM on.

DO go chasin’ waterfalls on your retreat

Muscling up

People think yoga is all about flexibility. It’s not.  That’s because yoga works your muscles. It works them hard. Not just the major ones but all those little lazy ones that you don’t even know you have and never get used at the gym. In fact, it is through working the right muscles that you find your true flexibility. We were lucky to have anatomical oracle and yoga teacher extraordinaire Dr Elena Voyce running half of our classes. She can spy a lazy hamstring a mile off so there was no chance of bending without feeling the burn. From practising intensively for seven days, (five hours a day plus teacher training) I saw real progress in my strength and core development. Welcome to my own personal gun show(!)

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Cross core engagement on the wall: not as easy as it looks

Meeting the master

Ah, Master Wong. This Kung Fu, kick-ass yoga guru has been missing from my life for too long. Duncan’s background is martial arts, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga and Thai massage. He combines these disciplines in his own Yogic Arts system. Trust me, you would not mess with this guy. At the same time he teaches with compassion and understanding of individual students and their limits so were in safe hands. He also has excellent taste in yogic tunes. We did much of our practice to tunes from Portishead, Linkin Park and soul sensation Maxwell. His Spotify playlist is here and below is a video I took of his teaching in action:

Making friends

Every time I’ve gone on a retreat I’ve met people who I will remember for the rest of my life. This year, the crew included an IT guy, a business coach, an Austrian doctor, an Australian online retailer, a nutritionist, a nurse and a pixie (yes, really). We ate, practiced, shared stories and ached together until we all felt we’d known each other a lot longer than a week. What an amazing, inspiring bunch of people!

“Pixie” Rebecca Hannah in action

Mesmorising scenery

I won’t wax lyrical about the importance of re-connecting with nature on a retreat, but the glorious Umbrian countryside certainly contributed to the ambiance and enjoyment of this one. We were staying at Locanda del Gallo, near Perugia, which boasts rolling hills, blossoming bougainvilleas, an infinity pool and some incredibly energizing waterfalls (see GIF above). It really is a special place, where the owners and the staff care deeply about the guests’ experience.

Yogis escape the mat to enjoy the infinity pool at Locanda del Gallo

 Marvellous dining

If this isn’t selling the whole retreat thing to you so far here’s a plus point: you get 3 meals a day all laid out on a plate for you, all delicious and all super healthy (gluten free and vegan available on request). Oh, and they don’t ban alcohol so you can get stuck into the Chianti too, should you wish.

Five star veggie dining at Locanda del Gallo

Massaging; the truth

For the optimum retreat experience I recommend complementing your time on the mat with some time on the massage table. Not only does this catalyse the bliss factor on your retreat, a good massage can release deep tension, instantly improving your yoga practice. Our retreat had access to a healing crystal massage therapist as well as a Thai masseuse, who I think were the most popular people on-site.

Meditation and mindfulness

Whether you’re following a path that’s right for you, what’s holding you back from making your dreams a reality and many other questions, big and small, bubble up to the surface when you’re removed from everyday life. A retreat gives you the time and space you need to contemplate these questions, rather than pushing them to the back of your  mind. And who knows what exciting developments you’ll be open to when you return to the real world. For instance, when I was on my retreat I realised I wanted to teach more yoga. Just two weeks after my return and I now have two more weekly classes lined up. The retreat gave me the extra drive and confidence I needed to just go for it.

So that’s my 2016 retreat experience in a vegan-friendly nutshell. For more information about Dr Elena and Master Wong’s retreat visit: http://www.teachyoga.com/retreats.