Discover how to move fiercely and gracefully through rites of passage
These questions are on the spiral rune card I have just drawn from a tarot deck. It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in a circle with 12 other women. I can hear the rain falling softly on the metal roof and I’m mesmerised by the sunlight dancing across the curtains. I take a deep breath in, noticing a subtle smoky aroma join the top of the breath. I smile and look around, feeling a profound sense of connection to the women around me, who, just three days ago, were complete strangers. Turning inwards, I close my eyes and begin to reflect on the journey I’ve been on.
I arrive at Byron Yoga Centre on Friday afternoon. Aurora Knight, one of the facilitators for the women’s wellness retreat, leads me to my room. Tucked away near the garden, my front porch is surrounded by gigantic sunflowers and banana trees. My room is spacious and cosy, and the bathroom has a clean compostable toilet and solar-heated shower.
The retreat starts with an opening circle and Tabata Ogilvie, the wife of founder John Ogilvie, invites us to share why we’re here. I listen as a mother and daughter reveal they’re here to reconnect with each other; a few ladies are experiencing severe stress and anxiety and need time away from kids, work and life commitments; some are eager to get back into yoga and meditation and others need some clarity and “me time”. I share that I’ve recently moved to Byron Bay and was looking for ways to transition into my new life here. I want to shift any sticky, stagnant stress that might have calcified in my body after nine years of living in Sydney. I know … A lot to get through in just three days!
As I drift into sleep, I see that my entire life experience is a process of initiation.
As Tabata shares her intentions for the retreat, I am instantly drawn to her; she’s soft and honest, yet zealous and wise. She assures me I’ll be safe and supported throughout the entire retreat experience and I trust her immediately.
Afterwards, I flow through a gentle restorative yoga practice focusing on twisting poses, before filling my tummy with a scrumptious vegetarian curry. At 7pm, we meet back at the yoga shala wearing the clothes that make us feel the “most feminine”. Admiring all the beautiful textures, colours, florals and prints, I patiently wait for my turn to enter the surprise Tabata and Aurora have created.
I walk through a layer of palo santo and sage smoke and take a deep breath in. The whole room is lit with a beautiful deep ruby-red colour and it becomes obvious that I’m in a “red tent” — my first red tent experience. Tabata explains that red tents were set up all over the world as sacred places for women to retreat to and honour their bodies through menstruation and childbirth.
Leading us through a meditation for the womb, my mind drifts towards the idea of rites of passage and I explore how they mark transitions from one point to another on a continuous unfolding spiral of time.
After yoga nidra, I float back to my room with newfound respect and love for my body. I feel empowered to acknowledge and initiate the significant transitions in my life still to come, such as motherhood, menopause and everything else in between. As I drift into sleep, I see that my entire life experience is a process of initiation; a sequence of unique moments marking myself as a woman of this world.
I wake up early for the optional 6.45am yoga class with Aurora. I notice a deep kindness and compassion streaming from her eyes and I enjoy the way she guides me through a slow flow. With a warm bowl of kitchiri for breakfast and an extra dollop of ghee, I settle in for a day of activities: a women’s health workshop run by Tabata, a chakra-balancing yoga class, a yin yoga class and an Ayurvedic massage.
After another flavoursome vegetarian dinner, Tabata leads the group through a sacred sound journey. With the beat of her drum, singing bowls and other sonic delights, I dive deep into the delicious vibrational qualities of sound and energy healing.
On Sunday, I miss the morning yoga practice, opting for a sleep-in instead. After breakfast, Tabata asks us to write all the things we want to let go of on a piece of paper. My list is long and intentional. As I write, I feel my physical, emotional and mental sheath begin to unravel until they’re just words on a page, no longer connected to me.
One by one, we walk in a spiral motion towards a centre point that contains a rose. My eyes begin to well up with tears and a feeling of solidarity beams from my heart. Recognising the significance of the moment and knowing that I must hold space, I follow the women outside. The rhythm of the beating drum leads me to the fire and, once I’m there, I burn my piece of paper with the fiercest of intention; the words no longer belong to my story. Instantaneously, I feel the need to celebrate this moment of initiation and intense cellular release.
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We sit down with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre, based in Byron Bay, New South Wales.