Published: 00:01, 27 December 2017
It's commonly known as the most wonderful time of the year... but for many of us, we're left feeling exhausted from all the present wrapping (and ripping)... not to mention the 57 mince pies we've consumed. So what do we do? We set New Year's resolutions, of course!
If you're anything like me, 'be kinder to yourself' and 'try a new hobby' will probably feature in there somewhere. So that's exactly what I've tried and tested - a retreat with yoga classes to retrain our brains on how to properly relax...
We're fortunate in Kent to be surrounded by beautiful green spaces and buildings rich with history, which makes Chilston Park the ideal setting to unwind. From the minute you park up, you can see nothing but fields around you.
It made me want to switch my phone off straight away, and just embrace everything the next three days was about to throw at me.
This the first time Chilston Park has hosted a retreat, but the team behind it have years of experience, and for the duration of my stay I felt in very safe hands. It was aptly named the autumn reconnect and restore ‘hygge’ retreat – Danish for the feeling of being comfortable and cosy. And while the retreat focused on yoga, there was so much more to it than practicing ‘downwards dog’… so let me set the scene.
We arrived on the Sunday to a host of friendly faces welcoming us in from the cold and were shown straight away to our rooms. Our group were located in the Mews rooms in the former cottage, coach house and stables looking out onto a central courtyard. Each room is distinctly unique – but cosy enough to make you feel like you had absolutely everything needed to relax.
When I go away, a big plus for me is feeling like you’re being cared for… and it’s definitely the little things that count. The staff went above and beyond to make our rooms a home away from home by dimming the lights and setting out our dressing gowns for the evening ahead while we were out to dinner.
The focus on wellbeing wasn’t just on the mind and muscles, but in the stomach too. The menu was entirely vegetarian, and mostly gluten and dairy free too. This plant based diet opened my eyes to how healthy food can lift your mood, and just how tasty it can be, with curries, stews and a mix of salads and dressings. It's was designed entirely to complement our activities...
Fortunately I'm not a yoga rookie - but I also don't claim to be an expert. Most others in my group were in the same boat, meaning no one was made to feel inexperienced at any point.
Teachers from Liberty Wellbeing ran the classes, which is a yoga and mindfulness company based in Ashford. Our first session called 'yoga for sleep' was a softer session, helping with digestion and elongated stretches to help prepare for a more intense session the next morning.
Each class was held in the former coach house, and the candlelight and blankets helped add to the feeling of total comfort. I slept like a log.
As well as the typical yoga session, there were classes looking at other ways of us reaching peak relaxation. Each morning involved us getting up bright and early for guided mindfulness meditation at 6.30am to think positively for the day ahead.
We were invited to lie down on our matts or drop our heads to our chest to reflect on anything weighing us down, even if it was as simple as Christmas stress. By opening our minds up so early in the morning, it helped keep that mindset for the rest of the day.
But the most exciting elements of the retreat for me were the slighter quirkier sessions helping our breathing and focusing energy into different parts of your body. I had heard of ‘chakras’ before my trip, but never knew what it was… it’s the idea that our bodies have different waves of energy travelling through the spine to different regions and can increase physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing when they are fully awakened.
We practised long and short breaths, inhaling into different parts of our torso, leaving many of us feeling light headed but wide awake. It was fascinating to see just how much of a positive effect fresh air can have on our bodies.
This was followed by a ‘yoga nidra’ - otherwise known as a yoga sleep, focusing on the state of consciousness all of us experience when we are about to drift off to sleep. I found it incredibly soothing, but difficult not to give into my own body. We followed instructions to make certain parts of our body feel lighter and heavier while remaining completely still for 50 minutes… definitely easier said than done!
While the programme may sound intense, there was also plenty of free time for us to walk around the grounds, snuggle up in the sitting room with blankets and adult colouring, or just head back to the room for a nap.
What amazed me most about my retreat was just how daunting it can be when we’re told to do absolutely nothing, and just switch off. We’re all so glued to our phones that we’ve forgotten other ways of entertaining ourselves, such as socialising with total strangers with three days and having a whale of a time.
So maybe make a retreat your 2018 new year’s resolution? You might completely surprise yourself - even if you think it’s not your cup of tea - and love it as much as I did.
The next two-night retreat begins on New Year’s Day, with several others planned at the beginning of 2018.
Chilston Park retreats start at £375 per person for double/twin occupancy and £450 per person for single occupancy rooms. To book, call 01622 859803 or visit www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/chilstonpark
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