health

Three days is all it takes to change your tune. Details here.

Last week, Nat experienced her first yoga retreat.

By NATALIA HAWK

Last week, I spent three days on a yoga retreat in the bush lands of NSW.

I know, I know. Lots of people laughed at me when I said I was going away. “A yoga retreat!” they said. “Don’t you live a good life!” They were envisioning me sitting by a pool for three days in loose yoga clothing, served cocktails by my own personal butler, occasionally popping off to do some yoga on a beach somewhere.

I admit I had my doubts. I like yoga – I do it once a week at my local gym and find it to be a generally relaxing and pleasant activity. But I wasn’t convinced that three days’ worth of yoga on a yoga retreat would be life changing, or even particularly enjoyable. After all, I usually prefer holidays that involve more adventure sports and less warrior poses.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by Billabong Retreat. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100% authentic and written in their own words.

I arrived on day one at around lunchtime, having had an incredibly nutritious breakfast of chocolate frosted pop-tarts (a gift from a friend who had recently visited America). I had consumed a few glasses of wine the night before, which really capped off the week I’d been having in general (think: many assignments, lots of work, little sleep). And I was stressed. More work and more assignments were weighing on my brain and driving me to distraction.

But just driving into Billabong yoga retreat saw the springs from my shoulders unwind and my breathing settle down a little. The yoga retreat is only 45 minutes from the Harbour Bridge, and just over an hour from my house in Sydney, but turning off the freeway and into bush land was enough to make me feel like I was much further away. I saw farm houses, alpacas, horses and sheep along the road, turned into a winding gravel driveway lined with trees, and then finally turned into the car park, which overlooks a large gorge filled with trees. At the bottom of the gorge is a billabong – the yoga retreat’s namesake.

‘Stepping out onto the balcony means you’re looking out straight into the natural beauty of the Australian bush.’

It was dry. It was hot. And the silence – as the saying goes – was deafening.

My accommodation at Billabong Retreat was one of their treehouses. Appropriately named, as stepping out onto the balcony means you’re looking out straight into the natural beauty of the Australian bush. There’s a range of accommodation to suit all budgets, all of which takes great advantage of the stunning scenery by which it’s surrounded. And while it’s an eco-resort, you have all your creature comforts: powerpoints, warm doonas, biodegradable shampoo and conditioner in the shower.

But the best thing was the combined yoga room/lounge area/dining room. Set high up in the yoga retreat, there’s a circular yoga room with huge windows that overlook the entire property. Just outside, there’s an enormous area with the comfiest couch I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, a fireplace, chairs and blankets and books and newspapers. And on the other side, a beautiful kitchen/dining room with more couches, a tea-making station, a selection of iPods (to listen to meditation podcasts) and a lovely bowl of fruit.

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I put my bags away in my room, abandoned my phone and headed straight up to the dining room to sample the retreat’s Bliss Balls – delicious little treats made of dates, cacao powder, coconut and almond meal – and meet some of the other women on the yoga retreat.

There wasn’t a lot of us – 18 is the maximum number the yoga retreat can have at any time. Some were mothers, some were not. Some were visiting for the second time, others were complete newbies. No one was particularly proficient at yoga – one lady had never even tried it before.

But we were all there to get away, to restore ourselves, to get back in touch with our bodies and our minds. And hopefully not just fall asleep during too many meditations.

We had several yoga sessions over the days. One was a bit of a general introduction; one was a yoga flow class; one was a breathing workshop; one was a workshop to develop our own yoga routine to take home with us.

Nat enjoying one of the yoga sessions.

In between the sessions, we meditated. We ate beautiful, all-organic food (including desserts). We didn’t have any alcohol, any caffeine or any refined sugar. We got massages and facials down by the billabong. We slept long hours at night. We napped. We read books, or listened to podcasts, or went on bushwalks and bike rides, or just sat and enjoyed the surrounding scenery.

And I came to understand a lot about myself that I’d never previously taken the time to understand.

Paul – the owner of the yoga retreat and a former marketing executive – explained to us that when we are stressed, our brains do not function properly and nor do our digestive systems. Our immune system shuts down completely – walks off with a pina colada and says, “see you when you’re healthy, mate”.

This was all very well and good when we were caveman. The most stressed we got was when we were chasing mammoths for dinner once a week. But nowadays, so many of us live our lives in a state of complete stress, in our chase for life perfection. It ebbs and flows, and some moments are calmer than others, but the essential principle is there – our lives are making us sick and they are making us unhappy.

I thought I was healthy. I exercise a lot, I sleep as much as I can, I don’t eat completely terribly, I don’t drink to excess, I don’t smoke. And yet I wonder why I get sick every few months. I wonder why I’m always tired. I wonder why I’m always running around like the very picture of a headless chook, forgetting the most basic of things and never quite appreciating what I have at the current point in time.

The answer? Like so many other women, I don’t take the time to really look after myself. I’m too busy to meditate regularly, to do yoga every day, to source and plan and eat healthy food all the time. I am a martyr for the sake of working and studying and getting ahead. So many other women are also martyrs – for their families, their partners, their jobs, their lives.

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One of Billabong Retreat’s amazing chill-out areas.

For three days, I was in a state of ultimate relaxation – and also a state of realisation about how precious life is. How lucky we are to have everything that we have. How easily we tend to dismiss it in search of things that are bigger, better, faster, more expensive.

At the end of my time at Billabong, I was sad to leave the circular yoga room which I’d grown to enjoy and appreciate so much. I was sad to go back to the draining nature of city life; my head was already whirling with how much I needed to get done once home.

But at the same time, I was excited to take the elements of what I’d learned back home with me.

I do yoga every day now. I’ve got a seven-minute routine, taught to me by the people at Billabong, that I quickly do in the morning before starting the rest of my day. It reminds me to relax, to go about my day with a sense of calm rather than being constantly stressed. It leaves me mindful of my own health and happiness; it reassures me that it’s not selfish to want the very best for yourself, and it’s not at all a waste to take the time to look after your wellbeing to the very best extent possible.

I told all my girlfriends, my colleagues and my mum to attend a yoga retreat too. Everyone has an element of self-discovery they really need to do – and this kind of environment is really the best place in which to do it.

The best thing about Billabong is that it’s not at all pretentious, evangelical or uppity. They’re affordable, they’re based really close to Sydney, and they’re really easy-going. You can choose to participate in everything, or you can choose to participate in nothing. Come to a yoga class. Come to an inspirational movie. Or don’t come to anything at all and just sit on your balcony and read a book – it’s entirely up to you.

Paul and Tory, the couple who own and run the resort, are a beautiful couple who are truly passionate about health and the neurological impacts of yoga and meditation on the brain. They will not try to convince you to run away to an ashram in India and give up everything in your life to be a yogi. They’re just there to open your mind up to some of the benefits, give you the tools for your own exploration of yoga and meditation, and let you figure out the rest.

Go along and see if your life changes in three days. Mine did.

Nat travelled as a guest of Billabong Retreat.

 

If you’d like to escape, relax, and unwind, visit Billabong Retreat. It’s a new eighteen-bed boutique retreat offering affordable escapes with amazing organic spa cuisine, an incredible nature setting and relaxation, yoga, mindfulness and meditation programs. Enjoy the best food, best location, best water views and best wellness program. All this incredibly only 45 minutes from Sydney.

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