Words by Kate Duncan.
Ayurveda, a Sanskrit term loosely translated as the “Science of Life”, can often be an intricate concept to grasp. After a retreat at the Byron Yoga Centre, not only did we understand Ayurveda on a deeper level, we lived it for five days.
Every time I visit the Byron Yoga Centre, I discover something new. This time, during my five-day stay in Byron’s stunning hinterland, it was Ayurveda. Ayurveda isn’t “new” by any means; in fact, it’s said to be one of the oldest healing systems in the world. Nor is it new to me; over the years, I’ve read a few books on Ayurveda, experienced an Ayurvedic oil treatment and even had a consultation. But my experience of Ayurveda at Byron Yoga Centre was very different; it was as though the practice, despite its complexity, finally landed solid in my mind.
Mariana, one of the retreat hosts, held a workshop on Ayurveda in the Garden Shala, a bright and breezy space overlooking the beautiful organic gardens of Byron Yoga Centre. Her clear explanation, along with her warmth and kindness, really helped me to understand Ayurveda, known as the “Science of Life” by the yogis. With English her second language, Brazilian-born Mariana clarified the three gunas — sattva, rajas and tamas — and the doshas — pitta, vata and kapha — along with their differing elements. At the end of the workshop, we completed an Ayurvedic test to determine our doshas, which are considered the forces that create the physical body. Mariana’s explanation of Ayurveda made sense, and finally the puzzle pieces fitted together in my mind. Little did I know that from day one, I was about to truly “live” out the practice of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is peppered throughout the entire retreat experience at Byron Yoga Centre, as I was soon to find out. Dinner that night was nourishing and also sattvic, which loosely translates to balanced, calm and light, and included fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and spices. I enjoyed an early night and fell asleep quickly in the kingsized bed in my private ensuite room.
The next day, I woke with the birds, and although the 6.45am yoga class was on offer — a stronger style — I decided to sleep for an hour or so more. That’s the beauty of the three-, five- and eight-day retreats at Byron Yoga Centre — your time is your own. There’s no pressure or expectation to attend the yoga classes, workshops or meditation. The wonderful team of retreat hosts and yoga teachers encourage you to do as little or as much as you need. For me, given that this was mid-December 2020, I was eager to rest and relax.
It was the scrumptious smell of breakfast that woke me soon after 8am. I threw on some yoga clothes and took a stroll through the vibrant gardens, following my nose. On offer every morning is the centre’s famous kitchari, an Ayurvedic dish made from basmati rice, mung dal and healing spices, which is delicious served with ghee and grated ginger. Granola, yoghurt and stewed fruits are also available, along with coffee served with a silky house-made cashew almond nut milk.
On day three, I had an Ayurvedic massage treatment with Flavia, an experienced Ayurvedic masseuse who has also trained in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. As I lay on my back on the massage table, Flavia checked my pulse and inspected my tongue, both of which are Ayurvedic methods of diagnosis. Then, using a neutral oil, she massaged the tension from my shoulders, neck, hips and hamstrings. Ayurvedic massage, she explained, improves the circulation of the blood, helps to remove toxins and can enhance the breathing system. It was heavenly and I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Around 4 pm, I enjoyed an hour-and-a-half yin practice led by the lovely Melissa, who beautifully wove the concept of joy throughout the practice. At the end, she led us through pranayama (breathwork) and meditation. Admittedly, I was so relaxed from the yin practice that I remained lying in savasana and simply focused on some deep belly breathing to further extend the healing qualities of the Ayurvedic massage treatment.
On day four, after attending the slower-paced yoga class at 10.30 am, I decided to work up an appetite so I could have a big, delicious lunch. So I swam some laps in the saltwater pool. Focusing on my breath and strokes, I quickly and easily dropped into a mediative practice for the second time that day. Afterwards, I filled up on delicious pad thai noodles, creamy sauce, tempeh and a fresh garden salad.
On our final morning, after a gorgeous lighthouse walk and some dolphin spotting, we sat in a circle to share our experiences, set goals and bring the retreat to a close. I was sad to leave and lingered as long as I could chatting to the retreat manager, Elise. We swapped stories of surfing, yoga and laughter. It was a beautiful way to finish up the five days of connection and discovery.
With workshops on philosophy, keratin, cooking, meditation, Ayurveda and more, as well as profound dinner conversations, there’s so much on offer at Byron Yoga Centre. The people who are drawn to the retreat, learn yoga or teach are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s those people that make Byron Yoga Centre so special — and so addictive. I will continue to return to the centre, fill my heart with connection, my body with movement and my mind with the wisdom of Ayurveda.
The writer was a guest of Byron Yoga Centre.
For more, visit byronyoga.com.