Summer stillness

Summer Stillness workshop: Saturday August 10th, 9.30am-12.30pm

Summer tends to be a time when we lose our usual routines due to holidays, visitors, changing work/life patterns and longer days. This can have an ungrounding effect if we don’t act to rebalance our system. The workshop will aim to offer practices, breath work and meditation to help bring a sense of calm and serenity within the hurly-burly of summertime.

The venue is Uzmaston Hall, just outside Haverfordwest.

If you would like to book a place, then please get in touch.

Spring in to summer

Spring in to Summer workshop: Saturday June 29th, 9.30am-12.30pm

A workshop to help steer you towards a healthy routine for the summer. The workshop will include:

  • some detox ideas now the weather is warmer
  • helpful activities to include in your summer routine
  • yoga practices suitable for the season.

The venue is Uzmaston Hall, just outside Haverfordwest.

If you would like to book a place, then please get in touch.

Chole Island Yoga Retreat  – 25 January to 1 February 2020

Details of the next yoga retreat to the Indian Ocean are now available. If you like the idea of staying in a baobab treehouse, waking up to the dawn chorus, practising yoga at the beginning and end of the day, swimming with whale sharks and letting go of the stresses of life  – then please get in touch for more details.

You can read more about Chole Island here:

www.cholemjini.com

http://bethanwaltonyogapembrokeshire.co.uk/an-indian-ocean-retreat/

http://bethanwaltonyogapembrokeshire.co.uk/island-dreams/

 

 

Starting early with the Bajan Marathoners

My first morning in Barbados started early. An alarm set for 5.45am and up before the sun had risen. It was just light, the sky turning blue with a few dark clouds in the east. Palm trees moving gently in the breeze. A quick cup of tea and then into the car to drive to the edge of Carlisle Bay for a rendez-vous with the Bajan Marathoners, a group my friend runs with every weekend.

The runners were already there. The venue was an open-air bandstand with a perfect view of the bay. As I was introduced to the group, they told me that they had already run fifteen miles that morning, setting off in the middle of the night to avoid the heat of the day. Yoga was going to be their cool down.

The group fitted perfectly in the bandstand fanning out in a circle. Luckily there was one place left for Yolande who arrived just after we’d started. She was very apologetic about being late but she’d had to fit in twenty miles that morning as she was in training for the London Marathon!

I was reminded of the word abhyāsa which means ‘perservering practice’ in Chapter I of the Yoga Sutras. Establishing a regular practice can be a continuous struggle but I felt that the runners had already broken through that barrier as they were all clearly dedicated athletes who love running enough to get up in the middle of the night and on a regular basis!

 

Yoga Sutra I:14:

That practice

Is indeed firmly grounded

When it is pursued incessantly,

With reverence.

For a long time.

(Yoga Sutras of Patanjali interpreted by Mukunda Stiles)

 

We started the yoga practice with standing poses and I encouraged people to breathe through their noses, not their mouths and to combine their movements with the length of their breath, lengthening up through the crown as the feet connected to the ground. By the time we got to the floor to work with some leg stretches it was clear that there were some very tight hamstrings in the group but that this was not true of everyone. Some poses could be softened to ease the legs but for others, heels were encouraged to lift to the ceiling to reinforce the stretch.

Waves lapped gently and Carib grackles had noisy conversations in a nearby tree. The turquoise of the sea was deepening in the background as the group had a final rest in Śavāsana. At around 7.30am we said our farewells as people prepared to leave to get on with the rest of their day. Two members of the group – Diana and Shawn were making preparations to fly to Tokyo for the upcoming marathon there. Such an inspiring group of people to work with. We headed home for porridge and more tea. It felt like a first morning in Barbados very well spent.

Yoga in Paradise – an Indian Ocean Retreat

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.
Wonderful setting.
Wonderful climate.
Wonderful hosts.
Wonderful staff.
Wonderful humanity.
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/

Beach workshop

Beach Workshop – Wednesday 8 August, 6–9pm
On Druidstone Beach. £30.
An opportunity to take our practice into the fresh air. My students have loved these workshops over the last couple of years, so fingers crossed for a sunny evening.
If you would like any more information or to book a place, please get in touch.

Island dreams

It all began with a chance comment in one of my yoga classes. We had been discussing the upcoming yoga retreat at St Non’s in Pembrokeshire and I laughingly said that our next retreat should be on a small island called Chole in the Indian Ocean. Some friends of mine run an ecotourism business there and they had been suggesting I should take a group of my students as it would be the perfect place to hold a retreat. I described the turquoise seas, the baobab tree houses and the fact there is no electricity and several people said “So when are we going?”

So early in 2018, I found myself back in Tanzania, after an absence of twenty years, on a planning mission for the yoga retreat. A quick flight from Zanzibar on the aptly named “Tropical Air” brought me to Mafia Island. Then a short drive across the island to Utende, where a boat was waiting to take us across to Chole. I had first visited in the mid 1990s, when Anne and Jean de Villiers were just beginning their venture on the island and I remember looking towards Chole and seeing red flame trees in the distance. Luckily I had returned at the right time of year and there were bright splashes of red visible among the green palms and baobabs.

After a short crossing we landed and waded ashore through the crystal clear shallows. We were greeted with chilled, fresh coconuts to drink and then to get to the lodge, walked past a row of frangipani trees, along a shady forest path lined with ruins. Among the trees there are old warehouses, merchants’ houses and a Shia meeting house whose walls have been taken over by a sculptural maze of fig tree roots. This was once Chole Mjini, built by Arabs and Shirazi who traded and settled along the coast for centuries.

The path branches off to seven tree houses scattered among the forest and in no time at all I was climbing up a wooden stepladder alongside a gigantic baobab trunk. Baobabs are described as vegetable elephants and the trees have a sense of massive, calm solidity. The tree house has two floors and from my king size bed on the first floor, I had an uninterrupted view out to sea over the mangroves. I was surrounded by trees – casuarina, palm, flame and frangipani, as well as the murmured conversations of palm doves.

Chole has its own rhythm – you wake with the dawn and birdsong as the sunlight creeps softly through the canopy. The first morning, I watched the sun spread across the massive baobab trunk that was visible from my bed like a giant sundial. After a cup of tea in bed, the tree house was the perfect spot to do an early morning yoga practice. I put my mat down on wooden floorboards decorated with the flowers that had blown in during the night. It was an interesting challenge trying to contain the mind, whilst looking out to sea and watching the dhows sailing by. Then a breakfast of porridge topped with baobab powder, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit set out under a breathtaking flame tree.

Two mornings involved waking before dawn to travel across to Mafia Island. It was no hardship to be up early, seeing the sun rising behind Chole, a gentle pink spreading across the sky as we sailed across to get to Anne and Jean’s other camp. Kitu Kiblu are involved with whale shark research and conservation. If you are lucky you may have the privilege of swimming alongside whale sharks, which come to the surface to feed on plankton during Kaskazi, the northerly monsoon.

After heading far out to sea, the first whale shark we saw looked enormous to me but I was assured it was just a baby at around 6 metres, as they can grow up to 20 metres in length. Through the morning, far out in the Mafia Channel we saw another 7 or 8 bigger and bigger individuals. As instructed, I swam alongside their pectoral fin – you feel as if you get into their slipstream, close enough to appreciate their unique spot pattern and even look right into their eyes. Our last swim involved two whale sharks swimming in a figure of eight around us as they fed and swam in circles hoovering up plankton. It was an immense privilege to be accepted into their world.

I found the whole experience so amazing that I had to take the opportunity to go again. This time the sharks were often a little deeper, rather than surface feeding. I had one swim with a whale shark whose enormous tail was moving like a pendulum just below me, in sync to the rhythm of my breath. I felt as if I could have just carried on swimming like that forever.

While staying on Chole, other mornings were spent snorkeling in the marine park on coral reefs vivid with fish, reading in a hammock or strolling through the local village to see the boat building yard and the fruit bats roosting. I happened to be visiting on the day that the school students in the village were going to receive their text books at the beginning of the new school year. The books had been funded through the Chole Mjini Trust via a grant from the Waterloo Foundation. There was a large gathering of the village council, as well as teachers and students and speeches were made before the books were handed out.

Chole Mjini lodge was initially set up with development and support of the village as priorities. When the project started in the 1990s there was only one teacher on the island, few resources and no one continued in education beyond primary school. Now both girls and boys continue on to secondary school and several Chole students have also gone on to university on the mainland. Chole Mjini Lodge’s Development Trust has also set up a Health Centre, a kindergarten, a Market and Community Centre, a Women’s Centre and a Learning Centre for adult education.

Afternoons passed paddle boarding around the island, navigating in and out of narrow mangrove channels. We sailed to the ancient ruins at Kua on the neighbouring island described as “the Pompeii of East Africa” and explored the palace, mosques and graveyards. When the tide was low, we sailed to a sandbank that emerged from the sea like a strip of white muslin. This was perfect for walking meditation – making the first footsteps on sand that had been washed clean by the tide. The only inhabitants were crabs who kept popping out of their burrows as I passed. As the sun sank lower, it was the perfect canvas to make giant yoga shadows on.

Later in the afternoons, Anne and I spent time in the Boma, an imposing building near the slipway. This was partly built by the Omani Arabs and then extended and used as the old District Administrative Headquarters during German colonial times. It was a complete ruin the last time I visited but now in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities, Jean and his team have restored it, using mangrove, coral and limestone, traditional Swahili building methods. Anne and I christened the space for yoga and after some sessions I developed an individual practice for her to work with.

This will be the venue for yoga on the retreat. One half of the building is open to the breeze on three sides, keeping it cool even at the hottest time of year. The other side faces the setting sun and is perfect for a later afternoon practice with pranayama and meditation. Yoga will frame the day with an early morning and before sunset practice and then people will be free to do their own thing, relax, read, have a massage, swim, bird-watch, sail or explore. Or just simply have time to be and watch the world go by from a hammock.

After spending five nights on the island I felt as if I had slipped into an entirely different rhythm and pace of life. Up with the dawn and then to bed early, reading a page or two by the light of a solar lantern before enjoying drifting off to sleep watching fireflies bob past the mosquito net. Waking to the sound of the call to prayer from the village and then the voices of individual birds building to a chorus. Living entirely in the fresh air, surrounded by the sea.

Chole is definitely not an easy place to leave. Especially when friends live there. As we sailed towards Mafia, I had a last look at the flame trees. It felt good to know I will be seeing them again soon….

November’s yoga retreat will be during whale shark season. I’m already counting the days.

 

 

 

New Year New Directions

I always enjoy the time between Christmas and New Year as it is gives the space to reflect on the year that has been as well as the one to come. On New Year’s Day I stopped at Newgale, a beach near home to take a photo. It happened to be a lowish tide and miraculously there was a blue sky after days of rain. The beach looked washed clean and there was a solitary figure walking across the sand. It made me think of the old year having washed away with the tide and now the pristine beach offering a blank canvas to make new imprints and new steps.

The beach is always somewhere I am drawn to and for the second year running I held a workshop during the summer on a Pembrokeshire beach. This has started to become an annual event as it has proved to be such a favourite with my students. Once again we were blessed by the weather gods who held back on the summer rain on our chosen evening when the tide was just right. At one stage we were sharing the beach with a ride from Nolton Stables as well as dog walkers but everyone agreed that along with the background sound of the sea, they all seemed to enhance the experience of doing yoga outside.

Then I was lucky enough to have the chance to practice in warmer climes during September on a trip to Barbados. It was a lovely reminder of how easily my body moves when it’s warm and how possible it is to get up with the sunrise! It was wonderful to practice on the beach in the early morning or just as the sun went down.

In November I had the pleasure of working with a retreat group who were staying at East Hook Farm, near Martin’s Haven. The weather was wild and stormy but the retreat space was cosy and warm and it was lovely to batten down the hatches to focus on yoga and Ayurveda themes relevant to balance the cold and windy conditions outside.

As for 2018 – I think it’s going to be an exciting year. I am holding my first weekend retreat at St Non’s Retreat Centre, near St David’s in March and then in November I am taking a group to the Indian Ocean island of Chole for a week’s retreat. Chole is one of my favourite places in the world, where time seems to slip into a different dimension. There will be yoga and meditation at dawn and sunset and in between there are tree houses to view the world from, sandbanks to laze on as well as whale sharks to swim with. It might not be that easy to come back!

These are some of the imprints that I am really looking forward to making over the course of the next year…

Detox and Transform – a Yoga Workshop to start the New Year

In Ayurveda, the concept of healthy agni or fire is one of the most important factors contributing to the overall health of our body. Agni deals with the food we consume and converts it into energy – it is also the element associated with transformation. After Christmas and New Year partying this energy can become depleted.

The workshop will be an opportunity to start the year with some energizing yoga practices. It will offer some practical ways to set a good routine in place as well as clearing out Christmas excess and supporting agni. It is an opportunity to begin that New Year transformation!

Saturday 13 January, 2018 from 10am to 1pm. Cost: £30.00.

Venue: Redhill School, Haverfordwest.

To book your place, please email me.