Yoga in flow: A retreat to Byron Yoga Centre
We retreat to the Byron Yoga Centre for five days to realign the body, breath and mind. There, we discover there is more waiting to come alive.
As the cool breeze sends soft ripples over the pool’s surface, I find myself openly sharing certain thoughts and feelings that I often lock away from the world.
On a recent five-day retreat at the Byron Yoga Centre, I was reminded that yoga is so much more than completing physical postures on a yoga mat. Yoga is the amalgamation of the body, breath, mind and spirit. Somewhere towards the end of the year, among the chaos of life and print deadlines, I had let the practices that connect my body to my breath, mind and spirit dissolve. In doing so, I was feeling disconnected and as though my “being” was strewn all over the place.
As I check in to my room, impressed by the comfortable king bed and spacious private bathroom, I admire the organic garden flourishing from my front verandah. I can see big bunches of green bananas, strings of beans and herbs of all varieties. I stroll past a very inviting 20-metre mineral salt pool and towards the communal dining area.
Located in beautiful Byron Bay in New South Wales, Byron Yoga Centre is set on 12 hectares and surrounded by trees. The founder, John Ogilvie, developed and teaches a style of yoga he calls “purna yoga”. Purna yoga is the integration of classic hatha yoga asana with pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and philosophy.
Opening the space
We meet for the first time in the Shakti Shala, a dedicated women’s space nestled in bushland. Myself and 14 other women sit cross-legged in a circle on yoga bolsters and mats. In the middle sits Elise, one of our retreat hosts, who meets our shy smiles with kindness and ease.
Elise introduces herself then asks us to do the same. One by one, we all reveal our motives for being there: a mother and daughter getaway, a time to grieve, relaxation, de-stress and meditation are some of the reasons shared.
Afterwards we move into our first class for the week: restorative yoga. As I lie over my bolster, I notice my breath deepens and my shoulders relax for what feels like the first time in months. I breath in, then breath out.
The delicious smell of dinner wakes me from a deep savasana and the guests and I follow our noses to the kitchen. The shared outdoor dining room makes for deep conversations and I enjoy getting to know the other women. As the cool breeze sends soft ripples over the pool’s surface, I find myself openly sharing certain thoughts and feelings that I often lock away from the world. My words are received with kindness and the women not only share smiles and nods of understanding, they also share stories in the same vein. I think to myself, “Is the healing already happening?”
Day two begins with a 6.45am morning flow class led by Aurora, another one of our wonderful hosts. The class quickly shakes me from my slumber and leaves me in a sweat. Aurora’s unique yoga sequencing has me holding poses for a very long time. My legs shake, my hips wobble and my arms quiver with the feeling of aliveness. Moving my body into challenging yoga poses, aligning my posture with Aurora’s considered cues and breathing down into my belly leave me feeling energised and ready for my day.
Afterwards, I hungrily — yet mindfully — tuck into an interesting yellowy-brown breakfast dish: kitchari. Kitchari is an Ayurvedic one-pot meal made from lentils, rice and spices. The dish is delicious and, as Elise finishes teaching the group about Ayurveda — a system of medicine that was developed by ancient Indian sages and focuses on diet, exercise and lifestyle — I go back for a second serve and a big dollop of ghee.
Finding the flow
Each morning follows a similar routine: yoga, nourishing kitchari for breakfast, various workshops on alignment and Ayurveda, a garden tour, a sattvic cooking class, then a fresh juice and more yoga. Lunch is served at 12 noon sharp every day and did not disappoint. With meals like Elise’s vegetarian bolognese and vegan pad thai, the food is certainly a highlight of the Byron Yoga Centre experience.
We have free time for a few hours every afternoon, which I spend lazing by the pool, napping or enjoying a treatment. My first treatment is an Ayurvedic-style foot massage with Tracey who, with wisdom and softness, eases pressure points on my feet. My treatment on day four is an intense yet exceptional deep tissue massage from Jeremey which, after almost a week of yoga, my body welcomes wholeheartedly.
Then, in the evenings after a yin or restorative yoga class, we discover yoga philosophy and meditation. Afterwards, as I drift off to sleep — unsure if I was counting mala beads or sheep — I feel my body, breath, mind and spirit merge peacefully together.
Many forms of yoga
It’s the last day of retreat, but I’ve decided not to go to the early yoga flow. My muscles are tender from five days of yoga practice and I feel they need the healing touch of the ocean, so I’m skipping class and going surfing.
I head to Wategos, a beautiful surf beach just east of the town centre. The sun is shining, there are dolphins in the water, and the waves are glistening like magic. I paddle out. When I’m out the back, I hear my name. Elise comes paddling up next to me, having already been in the water for an hour. I tell her sheepishly that I skipped yoga this morning to go surfing. Elise reminds me that “yoga comes in many forms”.
I sit and think about her passing comment: yoga comes in many forms. I start paddling, focusing on long and strong strokes and enjoying the new-found freedom in my shoulders. I push up to the yoga pose upward-facing dog and, in the back of my mind, I can hear Aurora and her on point alignment cues.
I jump up into a squat, another yoga pose, then slowly stand. My arms go out by my side and my legs are planted firmly on the board. I notice that, with my left foot forward, I’m in the yoga pose warrior three. I find balance and ease more quickly than usual and I begin trimming along the wave. I take a few wobbly steps forward and back on my board to test out my ankle stability.
As I catch the wave to shore, I feel centred and still. The teachings of purna yoga, along with five days of physical practice, meditation, deep restoration, new connections and breath work, have brought myself and my yoga practice — in all its many forms — into alignment.
Kate Duncan, the editor of WellBeing, was a guest of Byron Yoga Centre. For more information, visit byronyoga.com