Next November my good friend and fellow teacher Sarah Vaughan and I are hosting a yoga retreat at Vikasa on the fabulous Thai island of Koh Samui! It’s open to complete beginners and advanced practitioners alike, and we’ve had lots of interest from both experienced yogis and newcomers, which is wonderful. But what actually happens on a yoga retreat? How does it differ from a holiday, and why is it such a fantastic way to spend a week? (Tropical sun, white sandy beaches and fabulous food aside….)
Retreats, as the name suggests, are a time-out from ordinary life. A yoga retreat is an opportunity for deep rest and personal growth. It’s a chance to develop and deepen your yoga practice and to explore the benefits of regular meditation with the guidance of experienced teachers; to nourish your body with the kind of fabulous healthy food which you can feel doing you good with every mouthful; and to recharge your batteries in a wonderfully peaceful environment. It’s not unusual for profound personal insights to arise on retreat – the environment often brings a clarity to our thoughts and a connection to our intuition which can inspire lightbulb moments and new perspectives. If you like to write or draw, it’s a great idea to bring a journal and record your private musings or sketches for reflection. Or you might simply find your time profoundly restful and rejuvenating – you may not find personal revelation, but you’ll certainly feel like a very healthy, shiny, well-rested version of you!
Retreats are all different – some are very strict detox regimes with required attendance to all classes, and some are more like a holiday with a daily yoga class thrown in. Our retreat is somewhere in between. Each day will begin with a half-hour dawn meditation, followed by a 2 hour morning Astanga practice. Then a wonderful brunch buffet, after which the day is free for you to enjoy as you wish. You might walk to nearby Silver Beach and have incredible (and incredibly cheap!) massages to the sounds of the ocean, enjoy the resort infinity pool, indulge in spa treatments, go sailing, explore the island’s waterfalls and jungles, visit markets – there’s a wealth of things to do, and many fabulous places to do nothing at all! In the late afternoon we come back together for a slower-paced, therapeutic yoga practice which concludes with lying down for a half hour guided relaxation. After that there’s a delicious buffet dinner, then you spend the evening exactly as you wish. I highly recommend a visit to Fisherman’s Village at Bophut (a 10-15 minute drive – take a taxi or jump on one of the colourful open-sided mini-buses that the locals use) for the weekly night-market, where you can pick up all kinds of interesting things like coconut shell lamps, wooden carvings, and gorgeous loose cotton Thai trousers.
All of our yoga will take place in a lovely, open-sided wooden shala, of which we have exclusive use. Morning meditation will be largely silent, although Sarah or I will lead you into it and offer occasional gentle guidance as we sit. That will be followed by Sarah’s wonderful, wise teaching of Astanga – she will talk us through our first and last practices of the week to bond us all as a group, and the intervening days will be traditional Mysore style, with Sarah using her wealth of dedicated Astanga experience to work individually with each person to develop their own practice. This time and place will offer the quiet space where deep awareness and real change can happen. I will be on hand to assist Sarah and to support anyone who is newer to Astanga or has particular concerns. The afternoon yoga will be slower in pace, with a restorative focus drawing on my experience as a yoga therapist, to balance the dynamic energy of the morning practice. That will conclude with a delicious extended Savasana and guided relaxation or Yoga Nidra.
All of the classes are optional – if you want to have a lie-in rather than join the morning practices, or stay on the beach rather than indulge yourself with restorative yoga, that’s entirely up to you. My feeling is that a retreat is a rare opportunity to try things that you don’t do back home, so I’d encourage you to dive in to all of the offered classes – it’s only a week, and you’ve come all this way, so why not experiment? How often do you get to meditate amongst the palm trees as the sun rises over the Gulf of Thailand? But there’s no judgement whatsoever if you want to opt out sometimes – it’s YOUR retreat. My suggestion would be that you do try everything at least once, because you might just stumble on something that greatly enhances your life!
Likewise the attitude to alcohol is one of relaxed moderation. The cocktails at Vikasa are basically fresh juices and smoothies with a little added oomph, and a tropical treat after dinner can be a nice way to round off the day. It goes without saying that having a skinful isn’t really part of the yoga vibe – again, it’s your choice, but this is an opportunity to feel great, so why rob yourself of that? It’s a nice way to put the yogic principle of brahmacharya, or moderation, into practice.
The food at Vikasa is some of the best I’ve ever eaten, with their incredibly healthy and innovative takes on both Thai and international dishes. If you’re vegetarian or vegan you’ll be spoilt for choice; if you eat seafood then you won’t find fresher; and if meat is part of your diet, that is available too.
As Koh Samui rises steeply out of the ocean, and Vikasa is set into the hillside, there are a fair few open-air steps to tackle each day – but even that, you feel, is doing you good, and it’s amazing how much easier they get as the week goes on!
Joining Sarah and I to oversee organisation on this retreat is my husband Chris Pyne. Chris, like me, is in the music business, and has tour-managed many a rock band, as well as having visited Thailand and Koh Samui numerous times. He will be your contact for all things booking-related, and if you have questions about excursions, car/moped hire, want recommendations of where to go, or need help with any non-yoga practicalities, he’s your man.
If you’d like a private session during the week, Sarah and I are both here for you. I am a qualified yoga therapist should you have something you’d like to address one-to-one.
We are incredible excited about this trip – all that remains to say is that we hope you will join us, and find out for yourself exactly why it’s so very good to take time to retreat!
To request booking information and make a reservation, contact me.