Megan Arkinstall has some serious down-time in a yoga retreat for the not-so-serious yogis among us.
An hour of bliss on the occasional Saturday morning is the extent of my yoga training.
So the thought of a retreat where the main game is meditation and yoga (plus healthy organic vegan eating) sounds intriguing but also a little unnerving for someone who doesn’t take either that seriously.
Flippant thoughts go through my head: Will they make me get up at the crack of dawn; will they make me feel bad for my meat-eating ways; will there be showers?
Okay, I’m kidding about the showers, but my preconceived misconceptions of a yoga retreat are just that. Within five minutes of arriving at Billabong Retreat, my sister – my fellow yogi – and I find that this is no hippy commune. No ashram – far from it.
You can waltz in here, read your book, sleep, eat and bugger off – if that’s all you want to do. Or you can take it seriously, attending each class, practicing meditation and so on. Either way, Billabong is the ideal place to seriously tune out.
“We are so busy with our lives, running around, always on the go with all the technology, work… that we’ve lost that connection with our own bodies” says owner and yoga teacher Paul Von Bergen at the introduction class.
He’s right. I’ve not really had a quiet moment for months, what with work and social activities – and I’m sure the other 17 guests feel the exact same way. Paul explains that all classes are optional. “This is your home for the next few days: feel free to get what you want out of this retreat. You’re here for your own reasons.”
I have a quick think about my own reasons. I decide I am here to relieve some stressed-out muscles, catch up on much-needed sleep and, most importantly, quiet my thought-filled mind.
Sounds simple, right? Not so.
“Most people who give meditation a go walk away after the first try. They can’t get their minds to stop thinking and so they think meditation isn’t for them,” Paul says. “Each time your mind wanders, you can acknowledge your thoughts and bring it back to the present,” he instructs.
In the first meditation class, I find my mind wandering every few moments. I’m already halfway through planning how I am going to write this story before I realise and have to consciously stop my thoughts. This happens over and over again. But we are told not to let it frustrate us – meditation is an art. One that I’m yet to perfect.
One thing I certainly don’t have trouble with at Billabong is sleeping. The accommodation is hidden within 12 acres of bush land, surrounded by two billabongs in the rugged and beautiful Wollemi National Park.
My sister and I fall asleep in our Treehouse Pavilion to the sounds of the abundant wildlife – frogs and cicadas provide the most tranquil sleeping soundtrack. In our down-time (not that our schedule is anything but down-time) we take a walk around the billabong to explore the tranquil surroundings, listening to the sound of birdlife and nothing else. The only disruption is the sound of one of the locals as he scurries across the road and up a tree – as we get closer we find a goanna over one metre long basking in the sunlight.
The sound of nature also assists us during our classes, held in the yoga room at the main pavilion. As we practice postures, we look out into the natural bush land and listen to the calls of lorikeets, cockatoos, bell birds and kookaburras.
I find this posture class a lot easier – it’s something I’m used to doing and love a good stretch. The group is a mix of people from beginners through to a very keen student at the Yoga Institute and a host of people with ailments: dislocated knees, broken ankles and – in teacher Janice’s words – one ‘pregnant goddess’.
But this retreat is not just about contorting your body into poses; we also practice deep breathing, mindfulness, positive psychology and deep relaxation (which, by the way, I don’t quite remember as I fall asleep each time – amazing!).
Towards the end of our class with Janice, she senses everyone has something to let go. And I sense something a little out of my comfort zone coming on.
“I want everyone on all fours. Arch your back like a cat, take a deep breath, then invert your spine and release everything,” she says as she demonstrates a hissing sound like a cat, with her tongue fully extended out.
“Don’t worry,” she says, “we will all be laughing at how silly we look, but let’s try.”
We do try. And we do laugh. And that’s the thing about Billabong Retreat, no one is here to judge and you can opt out of anything if you don’t feel comfortable. A little laughter is good for the soul, right?
In fact, Billabong holds a retreat for that too; the Happiness Retreat is all about becoming resilient to anything life throws at you. To live your life with passion, purpose and contentment… sounds ideal – I’ll be back.
Where: Billabong Retreat, 41 McClymonts Road, Maraylya NSW. Around 50 minutes north-west from Sydney’s CBD
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs time out from a busy life. (So, odds are that’s you, reader.) We left the retreat feeling uber relaxed – so much so we miss the turn off home and drove 30 minutes in the wrong direction! We were soon snapped back to reality – bugger.
Packages and costs: There are several different retreat types including Relaxation, Mindfulness, Happiness, ‘Healing for cancer’ and Colo River retreats. We did a two-night mid-week relaxation retreat; from $350 per person including accommodation, classes and food – which is delicious and super healthy. See the website for dates and further prices.
Activities: Apart from the scheduled classes, there is also the option to book a massage or facials (highly recommended!), horse riding at nearby centres, Colo River excursions (on selected retreats), and a host of other activities nearby – though we doubt you will want to do anything else than chill out.
Contact: billabongretreat.com.au; 02 4573 6080