This time last year I was really feeling in need of a break and time to myself. Having worked in HR for a number of years I’d attended plenty of personal development workshops and felt like this was the kind of thing I was craving. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to turn down a traditional holiday. But I really felt I needed productive time away that would allow me to think and reflect as well as rest, rather than just lazing on a beach somewhere.
I started doing some research for all sorts of wellbeing retreats both home and away. I didn’t want to spend vast amounts and quickly discounted a lot of the further flung destinations, forgoing some January sunshine! I decided the UK would suit me just fine and searched for somewhere cosy with a good range of wellbeing options (keeping my fingers crossed for a spa and log fire combo). After a Google search I stumbled across Raw Horizons, based in North Yorkshire, and booked on to their women’s only Happily Healthy 5-night retreat within the hour!
A few weeks later, I was rather apprehensive boarding the train, having never done this sort of thing on my own or outside of a work environment. But I was also really looking forward to the break and hoped I would come away feeling more ready to tackle the new year ahead. So, here’s a run down of the different elements of the retreat and how I found the experience as a whole.
Split Farthing Hall
Raw Horizons Retreats is set in the beautiful Split Farthing Hall in a small village a short drive from Thirsk, Yorkshire. Just two and a half hours by train from London it wasn’t too far to travel. They even arrange transfers from the local train stations, so I arrived already feeling pretty relaxed. The beautiful house has gorgeous en-suite bedrooms which can be either shared or single occupancy (for a supplement). My room looked out over the rolling fields to the back of the house and was a perfect vantage point for the spectacular sunsets.
From the moment I arrived everything was sorted for me; a timetable was always available in the dining room so I could find out what was happening when and there was always someone on hand to answers questions or guide me in the right direction. My retreat had just two other women booked in so we were a small group. This gave us the chance to really get to know each other, sharing all our meals and a lot of our downtime together.
Yoga and Meditation
The yoga practiced at Raw Horizons is of the Kundalini variety. Being a yoga novice I didn’t have much appreciation for the different variations of the exercise. I soon learnt that Kundalini is a form of energy that sits at the base of the spine. Kundalini yoga aims to awaken that energy and elevate it through the body.
Group yoga sessions took place on each day of the retreat, usually for an hour and a half before breakfast. I found it a relaxing way to ease into the day and was so focused my mind didn’t even wander to my empty stomach! The sessions involved a lot of breath work and chanting, working through different kriyas (combinations of postures, breaths and sounds) for a variety of specific outcomes, such as energy balance, removal of stress and the strengthening of self worth. The movements were, in the main, different from what I was used to but our teacher was patient and talked us through everything. Plus, a lot of it was done with eyes closed which made me feel far less self conscious!
A couple of the sessions also introduced meditation, focusing our minds on aims such as opening our hearts to love or removing addiction from our lives. My retreat coincided with a Blue Moon so the addition of a full moon meditation was the perfect accompaniment! It may sound corny but it really did bring calm to my mind. I believe this attributed to me having the capacity to take on board some of the other teachings of the retreat as well as process my own thoughts with more clarity. My favourite activity by far was the gong bath. Lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket with the sounds and vibrations of the gong rolling over me was one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever experienced (outside of a good back massage that is).
The retreat also included a number of different group sessions led by a dedicated wellness coach. We explored everything from identity to problem solving through open and honest conversations, being guided by thought provoking questions and storytelling. The atmosphere was welcoming and supportive and we soon found ourselves sharing our stories and experiences as a group.
Some of the other sessions were less classroom based (we were actually cosied up on plush sofas) and got us to channel our creativity! We made mood boards for example, with images of things we liked or wanted to have more of in our lives. The most unusual activity for me was a chakra dance. It involved moving around to music and chanting, focusing on the different chakras (centres of spiritual power) through the body, from my root to my crown. Much like with some of the yoga poses, I felt a little silly at first. But I wanted to embrace the experience in its entirety and so threw myself into the swing of it, quite literally! It was surreal and I actually ended up bursting into tears at the end, completely overwhelmed by emotion. I can’t explain it but it certainly opened me up to wanting to explore more about spirituality.
The group sessions culminated in a symbolic ceremony of us letting go of things that were holding us back, allowing us to focus more on the positives in life moving forward.
I’d never heard of raw food before this retreat and hadn’t done much research before arriving. As much as I love my fruit and veg I was a little amused to discover I would be following a vegan diet for the duration of the retreat. Not only that, nothing I ate would have been cooked above 48 degrees, being served either fully raw or warm from a dehydrator. I was intrigued and ready to give it a go with an open mind. Having been told it would be a good detox and promised I wouldn’t go hungry, I was ready to put the concept to the test.
The care and creativity that went into each and every one of the meals and snacks served was applaudable. Breakfast consisted of Bircher muesli or chia pudding with a drizzle of honey (no refined sugars allowed), smoothie and selection of fresh fruit. Lunch was rather salad focused but always with a twist of tasty flavour combinations like kale and pear or the addition of a hearty dip. One lunch I was shocked to be dished up a ‘BLT’ sandwich, discovering that, if treated the right way, aubergine can indeed pass for bacon! Snacks were also served each day. Whether a raw flapjack or brownie or raw chocolate truffles we made ourselves, they were always a treat! By the time dinner rolled around I was just about ready to eat but not starving hungry. I enjoyed dishes like ‘no-meatballs’ with courgetti, mushroom stroganoff and beetroot chilli. The added bonus of dinner was that it was always followed by pudding! Who knew non-dairy apple crumble could taste so good?!
Whilst at the retreat we were given the chance to book in for optional activities. There was a long list to choose from, including more traditional massage treatments, cord cutting meditations and private 1:1 coaching. I decided to treat myself to a full body scrub and massage (£55 for an hour). I aim to have a massage treatment each month anyway and so thought this was the perfect setting to start off my 2018 routine! The library was turned into a candle lit treatment room with me in complete zen by the warmth of the fire.
I also opted to give reiki a try for the first time (£55 for an hour). Again, I didn’t know much about it but thought it was very much in keeping with the retreat. I’ll admit I was sceptical but as ever looked to keep an open mind. The session lasted about an hour with me lying comfortably whilst the reiki master did her thing. I felt like I was in a bit of a trance and at a couple of points found myself involuntarily moving my hands or calling out. Afterwards, I was given a run through of how the treatment had gone and was rather surprised by some of the things that came out. It brought me comfort and I certainly wouldn’t say no to giving it another go.
There was more free time than I was originally expecting during the course of the retreat. At first I was a little miffed, given what I had paid, thinking I would be busy doing guided activities throughout each day. However, I quickly came to realise that the pockets of down time were vital for reflecting on what I had taken away from each of the sessions and generally resting and resetting.
I’d made the decision to have a digital detox during the retreat, only using my phone to take the odd photo. This meant I used my free time more productively than scrolling through countless social media apps! The house had both a hot tub (outdoors) and infrared sauna (inside the yoga studio) which were welcome getaways from the January cold. If I wasn’t in one of those I could be found in the cosy lounge or library curled up with a wellbeing magazine or good book. During the evenings, we laughed over games of Scrabble and watched feel good films.
There were also some activities arranged for us which was a nice touch. Alongside the truffle making we also made our own aromatherapy oils, selecting from a wide range of different scents, to take home with us. One morning we ventured out for a walk in the woods, taking in the beautiful scenery and fresh air. En route back to the house we stopped off at the Mouseman visitor centre and marvelled at the hand carved pieces of furniture, each with their very own little mouse. The retreat certainly offered a little something for everyone!
The retreat genuinely ticked every box I was looking for it to, and more! I came away feeling relaxed and refreshed with a greater understanding of my current self and things I wanted to achieve in the coming year. I’d kept a journal of my experience too so I had little reminders of things I’d heard that resonated and a list of action points to keep me on track.
I can’t say I’ve had everything I learnt in the front of my mind every day since. But I have definitely found myself thinking differently, being kinder to myself and ensuring I give myself the time and space to reflect and take time out for me when I’ve felt in need of it. I even attempted to recreate a few of the raw dinners and made a batch of the raw brownies! Whilst I’m not sure I would do exactly the same retreat again, I would certainly be up for trying out a different one. It is a great way to stop and take stock away from the business of daily routines. And more importantly, take some time to look after you. Go on, treat yourself!