Want to get away from it all? No, I mean really get away from it all. If you’re looking for a complete rest from your normal life – work, decisions, partner, diet, sleep patterns – a regular holiday probably isn’t going to hack it. Do you need some time to yourself, maybe to reassess what direction you’re going in, how you’re living your life? Then take a real step back from the world and go on a yoga retreat.
At Italian Kaliyoga’s lovely masseria (farmhouse) with outcrops of trulli (those quirky round-houses unique to Puglia), you will find not just a welcoming, relaxed environment, but some time to spend on yourself. This comes in many forms. There is around four hours of yoga each day. And no, you don’t have to have done any yoga before you go. There are relaxation and meditation classes. There is deliciously healthy food. There are intuitive massages, custom made to suit your needs. There are animals – a couple of donkeys, two very bouncy dogs who are desperate for you to take them for a walk and cats, including when I was there a nest of three kittens in the roots of one of the olive trees. And there is a pool and lovely gardens where you can while away your time on a hammock slung between the trees and surrounded by the scent of lavender and the humming of the bees.
There are a number of different courses available both here at Kaliyoga’s Italian base and in their other home in Spain. So you can combine yoga (the one constant) with hill-walking, cycling, juice fasting or – the week I was on – raw food. The food at Kaliyoga is always vegetarian but this week is special being both vegan and raw. Raw food has numerous benefits but, above all, it’s very cleansing and alkalinising. So given we all tend to have a diet that makes our bodies more acidic than they should be (and stress and pollution have much the same effect), this week puts things back in balance.
It’s a journey on which you also discover a few things about how your own body works. It turns out I react quite badly to coffee, however much I may crave it. So on the Wednesday excursion to the seaside town of Polignano, we all stopped off for a proper Italian coffee (no coffee at Kaliyoga, obviously). Even after a few days, my body was sending a clear no thank you.
It was a relief to get back to the real food that was under the direction of Alessandra, whose expertise in the kitchen meant that, even if this wasn’t the diet I was used to, I found the food quite delicious. I even learned to make a couple of dishes, too. For instance, raw lasagne with courgettes standing in for the pasta and a nut cheese for the parmesan (and, oh, those nut cheeses were so tasty along with Alessandra’s crackers featuring everything from dates to beetroot). I never once felt hungry.
It’s a journey, too, in the yoga shala. This is the big circular tent surrounded by yet more lovely gardens that’s at the heart of the retreat. It really doesn’t matter how old you are, what shape you’re in or how much yoga, if any, you’ve done before. One of the things you realise by the end of the week is that yoga is entirely uncompetitive and that Tashi, Kaliyoga’s brilliant (and hilarious) teacher will help you to achieve things you never thought you could. With me, it was inversions. I’ve never liked the idea of standing on my head. I don’t even like shoulder stands given the feeling of compression around the neck and throat I’d experienced on the few occasions I’d tried. This week, though, I not only did both of these, I threw in a few handstands as well.
Part of the reason for this is that Tashi goes right back to basics so that everything you do, you do the right way. On that yoga mat, you stay safe and strong and even after just one week you feel quite different (and you know why those headstands never felt right and how to do them properly). So even if you’ve done lots of yoga classes before, this week will put you back on the right track. And if you’ve done none, you’ll get inspired to do plenty more. Tashi’s declared aim is that we all go home and self-practise – we will have established our own yoga practice that we can do for ourselves on a daily basis. “Everyone can find 20 minutes, right?” says Tashi.
So who were we all? On my week there were just 12 (the maximum is 19), comprising six nationalities – American, Dutch, Indian, German, Swedish, with the majority being Brits. You eat together, as well as practise together, and along with the people who run Kaliyoga, you form a pretty relaxed community, pretty quickly. Don’t expect a hotel-style environment here. The person who serves you breakfast will in all likelihood be giving you a massage in the afternoon.
These are no ordinary massages. It becomes clear pretty much from the word go that whatever the name of the massage you book for, it will be tailored to your individual needs. So, Sarit, for instance, gave me an “intuitive massage” that combined a whole range of techniques – reflexology, shiatsu, trigger point therapy, myofascial release and, of course, massage. It was deeply relaxing, too. One woman who’d been very stressed had a “heavenly head and neck massage” with Jo and pronounced its effects little short of miraculous.
And you could say much the same about the whole week. By the end, I felt lighter, more toned and with much more energy. I also felt very calm and relaxed, less likely to be thrown by life’s stresses and strains. So if you’re looking to recharge your batteries, take some time for yourself, get a new perspective on life or even just to learn yoga – look no further.
For a raw food and yoga week, prices start at £945, including all meals, accommodation, yoga and meditation classes, talks, food workshops and a beach trip. Other options include weeks with yoga plus hill walking, cycling, and juicing (only in Spain). For more information, visit www.kaliyoga.com or call 020 8123 6946.
For more on Anna’s travels, visit her blog on www.annaselby.co.uk.