The concept of being rather than doing, it seems, remains to be known to me only on a theoretical level; I am fully aware of how important this balance is, yet I always seem to struggle with it in my daily life. I really wish I could get to the stage where my active lifestyle is well complimented by having enough relaxation in a passive state of mind. It's a harder task than it sounds, so until then I'm determined to learn from the masters of this forgotten art (it helps to know that I'm not the only one). And could there be a better place to start than a weekend Art of Relaxation retreat in rural England with an experienced yoga teacher?
"Relaxation is increasingly becoming a lost Art; an essential skill that many people have lost, through habitual busyness", says the organiser of the retreat Lucia Cockroft. "The consequences are plain to see: stress is the second most common reason to see a GP". "But all is not lost" - she adds. "We are all born with an innate ability to relax - it's just that, somewhere along our way, we unlearn this skill".
The Art of Relaxation retreat was designed to tackle this ubiquitous challenge of modern life and create the space where people can re-discover their inherent ability to relax and let go, both physically and mentally, within the short space of time, and not too far from their homes.
Good news is that you don't actually need anything extraordinary to go deep into the relaxation mode. A combination of natural surroundings away from the city; quiet, peaceful and nurturing space; healthy fresh food; some gentle yoga and relaxing massages is all that's required to make up the jigsaw puzzle called "Me, relaxed".
The key to success, however, is our intention to let go and set ourselves free from worries and over-thinking for at least a couple of days. The role of the retreat leader is that of holding the space for us and guiding us to our own inner state of calm.
The Art of Relaxation retreat offered it all. The chosen place - Potash Barns in rural Suffolk - is a small retreat centre, a collection of beautifully restored, listed wooden barns in tranquil countryside.
Our dining area featured a fire place, and we all took turns to light the wood (a very calming exercise). My bedroom had windows on the angled ceiling, and I was peacefully falling asleep every night counting the stars in the sky.
An on-site yoga studio with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the fields was one of my personal highlights - I loved holding my tree pose watching the horses eating grass.
Our meals were freshly prepared with love and care by Lucia's partner, Darren. We were indulging in home-made vegetarian moussaka, Moroccan stew, yummy soups and other delicious and nourishing veggie foods.
The twice daily sessions with Lucia were a mix of relaxation, gentle yin yoga and mindfulness. I must admit that as a seasoned yoga practitioner and a regular attendant of various yoga retreats, I was expecting to do a stronger practice. It wasn't until the day two that I have realised that simple and very gentle yoga practice with only a few postures per session is actually harder but possibly, more beneficial for me if deep relaxation is my aim.
Lucia was guiding us through the session, encouraging us to stay mindful every step of the way and to calm the mind as we were opening up our body in various restorative and relaxing poses. "Less is more" is definitely true for relaxing yoga sessions. You end up staying in a near-meditative state throughout the whole session. Each class would close with a simple yet powerful mindfulness meditation.
Every now and then Lucia would give us some information about stress, relaxation and mindfulness, provoking our thinking in that direction. We went deeper into the exploration of stress and its causes during a dedicated interactive session on the Saturday afternoon. By dinner time I forgot what stress is like - it usually takes me very little to relax (yet as little to go back into the opposite mode!).
The next day started with a silence walk along the local fields led by Lucia. I really wish I could start every morning like that! Nature is my best source of energy. Another one is relaxing massages - and I was lucky to get one that afternoon from a local therapist, Fiona. An hour of full body massage is something I also wish I could have every day. Life would be so much more relaxed then!
Throughout the retreat Lucia held the space for us in a skilful, gentle and non-invasive way, guiding us on our way to relaxation. It always helps when your teacher is the embodiment of what they teach: Lucia herself is a perfectly calm, steady, centred and relaxed person.
The weekend retreat did the trick - I felt rejuvenated, refreshed, more centred and definitely calmer when I was leaving. The trip home on a Sunday afternoon, with usual train issues, did interfere with my inner calm, yet despite that, I noticed that when I finally got home I was back into my still and more open state of mind and body, a very enjoying and pleasurable state. The one I should do my best to try and maintain.
The next Art of Relaxation weekend with Lucia Cockroft is over the first May Bank Holiday weekend next year - May 3-6.
Until then: yin/yang yoga retreats at the seaside in Morocco in November 2012, February 2013 and April 2013.
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