To retreat: to withdraw to a quiet or secluded place
In November I was lucky enough to lead my first yoga retreat outside the U.K. I am so grateful that I had intrepid students who were willing to join me on a yoga adventure in Tanzania. We went to Chole, a small island set within a Marine Park in the Indian Ocean where some friends, Anne and Jean de Villers, have created an ecotourist venture which helps to bring sustainable development to the local village. The rest of the world feels a million miles away and it is the perfect secluded place to withdraw to for a while from the bustle of life. The island is off-grid and relies on solar power and accommodation is in stunning baobab tree houses.
The plan was for yoga to frame the day – beginning with an early morning yoga practice and then a more meditative practice leading up to sunset after a day spent snorkeling, swimming with whale sharks or simply relaxing in a tree house watching the tropical birds flit through the canopy. It’s hard to pick my highlights as there were so many: watching fireflies (Kivulivuli in Swahili) twinkle overhead as we ate dinner under the stars; seeing dhows sail by during the stillness of a dawn practice; swimming alongside whale sharks and watching newly hatched turtles heading out to sea. The yoga participants didn’t know each other before arriving on the island and getting to know the group better was a real pleasure. I am already looking forward to next year’s retreat in January 2020.
Here are some reflections from the students who came on the latest trip:
“To arrive at Chole Island can only fill your heart with pleasure. The atmosphere is one of warmth and charm. ‘Paradise’ is a word that you could happily associate with your surroundings. Palm trees, tree lodges, old ruins, stunning vegetation and the honour of living alongside local people whose laughter floats on the evening air as I write this. Walking through the village you are mindful of local religion and culture and how having less ‘things’ does not bring less happiness. In Chole Mjini the simplicity of no electricity and outdoor living are underpinned by the luxurious care that all the staff bring.
This is however not just a holiday but a time to enjoy yoga and the peace and focus that this brings. Having two sessions wrapping around each day has brought a wonderful discipline. I have loved the dynamics of holidaying with strangers with a shared love of this amazing activity. Beth has been flexible and I have appreciated being part of the decision-making. I would recommend this yoga retreat to anybody who wants an improved balance in their life”. (M.L)
“Being able to practice yoga twice a day in such a beautiful, peaceful place and be warm was divine. I enjoyed every yoga session but I especially loved the early morning practice with the sounds of the place waking up. I prefer morning anyway but this also allowed for space to do whatever we wanted or nothing, during the day.
Walking in to our yoga space, which had been decorated with such kindness and care with beautiful flowers, lifted my spirits every day. The sight of all our shoes lined up outside the entrance made me smile everyday too.
The whole place is very special and calming. The simplicity and slow speed of daily life allows the mind and body to be still.
There were so many special moments: the special morning coffee arrival, the boats coming and going, the sound of the sea, the colourful birds dipping and diving while we had breakfast. Lovely food and smiley people. Our boat trips to the sandbank. Arriving there to be fed fabulous food cooked right there on the beach for us. I felt very well looked after on the island and on the trips we went on. The environment was enchanting!” (J.T.)
“This is the first yoga retreat I have been on and in fact it is the first time that I have practised Viniyoga.I thought the choice of place was perfect for a yoga retreat. To be on a small tropical island with a warm and gentle breeze blowing, without electricity or cars and with little or no access to social media was life restoring. Perfect for yoga.
The mornings were my favourite time surrounded by amazing birdlife, drinking my freshly delivered cup of tea and contemplating the day ahead. The morning yoga sessions were pitched just right. I especially liked the session on the last morning that was an hour earlier, as that time of the morning is so special because of the light and the extra peacefulness.
I also found the meditation sessions really helpful at maintaining a calmness and balance and the evening when we meditated by lantern light was magical. I think the concept of bookending the days with yoga is right as this gives the participants the rest of the day to take part in the activities or just relax.
The accommodation in treehouses was also very special, they are simple but well equipped. And for me being out in the open added to the experience and certainly meant you could really hear the dawn chorus in all its glory.
I liked the combination of yoga and activities particularly the whale sharking and snorkelling.
I was inspired by how the group of yogis, who didn’t know each other, just gelled and found a rhythm very quickly, and it was lovely to get together again in the UK over a meal and a glass of wine.
I would definitely like to go again. The effect of the retreat emotionally, physically and spiritually carried me through a rather difficult time when I returned to the UK for which I am very grateful.” (J.B.)
“Yoga – perfect.
Length – 1-1.5 hour sessions; right level for me.
Gentle, supportive direction & guidance.
So much to learn for the future.
Sense of humour makes it even better.
Island – Unique.
i.e. – Wonderful.
Will never be forgotten.” (R.A.)
“I enjoyed every yoga session. Surprised always by how fast each one passed. My shoulder feels better. My spirit feels rested. Even what I thought might feel like ‘silly’ chanting became a restful way to slow down. The class felt like becoming part of something greater.
Lovely accommodation, well designed and comfortable. Big bed was lovely. Took me three nights to adapt to the sounds of the African night (which is never quiet). Staff all wonderful, kind and gracious and very professional. Just perfect. Food- really excellent. Truly appreciated their subtle gluten free variations.
Snorkelling, walks and whale sharks – great. Thank you.” (J.M.)
“SO MUCH STIMULATION! … interspersed with calming, centering, grounding, focused work. Yoga nidra and lamp-lit meditation especially appreciated after busy active days. So much to do here that yoga became part of the blend of so many things that were on offer.
Everything about Chole and our stay here was fantastic. Staff – everyone FANTASTIC! Loved christening the Boma. The birds were amazing!” (W.H)
Listen to The Dawn Chorus
“Flexible yoga to suit the needs of the group. Fantastic location for yoga and accommodation. Great activities, well organized by staff and flexible. Excellent food and plenty of it. Tree houses were fabulous along with the facilities. All the staff were excellent. Swimming with whale sharks was fantastic and very well organized and safe. Exceeded my expectations”. (V.F.)
“Fab venues – atmospheric. Warmth good for the body and general movement and well being. The staff are fantastic. Boat guys are brilliant. Coral reefs super. Yoga great – best one for me was the Yoga nidra because it helped my body shut up for once so enabling the psyche to do so also!” (P.B.)
“The yoga…was lovely and the area was quite special…. The accommodation was simple but ‘unique’. The bed was very comfortable, I loved the shower and the setting – how lovely to watch a monitor lizard wander through the undergrowth underneath the tree house, and those very amusing land crabs and to wake up in the morning to an amazing bird chorus. The staff were wonderful and everyone was so friendly, welcoming and accommodating. The island was beautiful….” I.W.
As we were preparing to leave the island one of the group was chatting to Anne, our host. She said that the trip had exceeded all her expectations.
“What were you expecting?” Anne asked.
“Paradise” she replied.
If you would like information about the next trip to Chole in January 2020, then please get in touch.
To read more about my earlier trip to Chole follow this link: http://bethanwaltonyogapembrokeshire.co.uk/island-dreams/