SACRED SPACE YOGA RETREAT TO PARADISE... SOUTH GOA
In April 2017 seven yogis from Brixton set sail for sunnier climes and found themselves on a beach in South Goa.
The retreat began on a Sunday morning which felt perfectly timed as I had met most of these folk at my Sunday morning sessions at Yoga Point in Brixton. They were all my students from the classes I teach at Yoga Point and while I had got to know their practise I had not got to know them as individuals, or as friends ...yet.
Within a few blissful hours we felt like old friends!
The retreat guests found their mats set out with a small notebook to record their experiences and to journal 10 minutes of whatever came up each day. Journaling is a healing and transformative way to connect with you and to get rid of junk. It can be like learning to really see inside. Especially when away from home and everyday routines and situations. Being nestled in such perfect tranquility, surrounded by nature and having deep nourishing daily yoga practise is the perfect environment for letting go and deeply transforming and shifting.
The Beach huts and the Shala (yoga studio) sat right on the beachfront. Listening to the rhythmic soothing crashing of the waves our breath became calm, focused, synchronised with the rhythm of the ocean. We were energised but calmed by the intense natural power around us. Like a metronome the waves kept time with the beat of our breath, every day, every night. London was washed from our lungs and they were filled up with pure Prana (life force) The sounds of the crickets, the crows, the breeze whispering through the palm trees. Layers and layers of London life dissolved and disintegrated until our bones sunk deep into the red sandy earth and said 'I'm home'.
We swam in the warm ocean, our tired muscles soothed and softened. Aches and pains, tears and stress washed away and hearts opened. This sea here is magical, playful, powerful and soft. So inviting. The beach belonged to us. There was nothing to do but relax.
Hardly surprising, it turned out to be the most perfect place to practise. Long sweaty morning sessions began at 8am and often went on til 11, only stopping because huge plates of fruit arrived and hot ginger tea. The warm temperature and the complete deep relaxation helped our bodies to work hard but to remain soft and supple. Natures soundtrack blended with an epic yoga playlist (follow SACRED SPACE BEATS & BLISS Spotify here) which had everyone flowing in unison, inspired and uplifted.
The practise was deep, open and dynamic; plenty of planks and boat poses to strengthen abs and glutes, wild things and fallen triangles to open the heart, ninja lunges to free up our hips and hamstrings, plenty of handstands to shake it all up and twists of every kind to wring the city toxins out of our bodies. Many of the yogis had yoga breakthroughs...crow poses and headstands for the first time! Corpse pose was a sweet soulful sanctuary where the waves washed the tension away and the spirit sweetly slept.
Brunch was the favourite meal of the day - served in a traditional brass Thali dish and eaten sitting crossed legged. We took trips to the local beaches to feast on fish and find bargains in the bazaars, indulging in sunset swims and refreshing cocktails. We took an early morning trip on the pink flag boat (the very same boat that took me to discover this sacred space last year) As the sun rose a dolphin leaped out of the sea to greet us. We took long walks along deserted beaches holding philosophical debates and laughing until we cried.
Evening practise was meditation with Ramzi Ammouri, our very own meditation teacher from Jordan. Ramzi's practise spans more than 15 years and has taken him to Japan, Thailand and the Himalayas to study with Monks and Masters. He teaches a mixture of Zen, Vipassana and Vedic meditation, Hatha and Kundalini Yoga and has a deep love of Sufism and sound healing. His teaching combines elements from all his study and experience and he tailors a practice to suit each individual dependent on their goals and intentions. The evening meditations were blissful and profound.
On the fifth day of the retreat we were blessed to be visited by my beloved teacher Sudhir Rishi from Sampoorna Yoga. He agreed to lead a Satsang style workshop for my students, speaking to us about self love, acceptance and happiness. He talked about learning to swim while the waters were calm and about the importance of counting our blessings every single day. His humour, his charisma and his enormous depth of knowledge and wisdom made for the most wonderful few hours. I completed the Philosophy, Meditation and Pranayama module of my 200hrs teacher training with Sudhir and it was very special to witness the joy that he inspired in my students, just as he had inspired in me. It was one of the most cherished moments of the entire retreat. As the sun set and we meditated together my heart was bursting with love and gratitude for this incredible yoga journey and for the special souls I am lucky to share it with.
Another wonderful bonus was having Naomi Williams with us on the retreat. Naomi is completing a Masters in Positive Psychology and is also a life coach. She workshopped her recent psychology studies with us, including Awe Meditation, Wheel of Life and 5 minutes of 'My Best Self' journaling. She also gave each student a private one to one life coaching session. She was so much fun to be around, filling everyone with her contagious positive energy. She also supported me in making sure everyone was having the best time at all times.
We laughed, we swam, we cried, we lazed in the heat, we read, we journaled, we watched the ocean, we ate endless amounts of watermelon. We slept soundly under the stars, we healed, we connected, we rekindled our energy reserves, we remembered the joy of just being. And we found new friends. It was as if we all just belonged there together. We never wanted to leave!
When the time came to leave we were refreshed, re-booted, and rejuvenated. My students' bodies were super fit, lean, supple and toned. Their eyes shone and their skin glowed. And oh my gosh - the ABS on them! Seven days of side planks and boat pose had worked wonders. There is nothing better for a yoga teacher to witness than this transformation of students on a retreat that you are leading. This was my first big retreat and the first time I had felt this profound feeling of achievement. Not my own achievement but a collective one. We had all created this sacred space for one another to grow and transform within. That I was able to hold this space for them was an honour, but they brought it to life with their commitment, energy and trust. I felt beyond happy to have shared this experience with these amazing people who began as my students but who are all now my dear friends.
''Emma's assured, creative and beautiful practice has given me a real gift - a lasting love of yoga. It is clear that she poured her heart and soul into crafting a retreat which allowed her students to strengthen as yogis and as people. She gave us the confidence to stretch, balance and breathe in new ways and made space for all the deep reflection that comes with that. There was also time to collaborate, share music, books, laughter, dance, stories and nature. This week spent on retreat with Emma was one of the most special of my life so far and I have no doubt the glow I felt afterwards will last for a long time yet - topped up every time I get back on the mat.'' Hannah Burd
"Emma's retreat was a week of being truly good to yourself. Life-changing sounds a bit over-the-top, but I think it really was! Having a whole week in what can only be described as paradise, with delicious healthy food and a truly beautiful beach felt like the ultimate life detox. And that's before I've even mentioned the yoga! Emma's classes on the shala were fun, thoughtful and completely in tune with the nature that was all around us. She tailored them to each of our needs meaning we could work on areas that we wanted to improve, as well as teaching us lots of new poses and sequences. I looked forward to every class and could feel myself getting stronger every day. I never thought I would be able to do yoga twice a day, every day for a week - but it turns out I can! Opening my eyes to the turquoise sea and glowing sunset after savasana is a moment that I'll never forget. I loved our group of Brixton yogis, it felt so easy to connect with everyone and I made some great new friends. The one on one life coach and meditation sessions were an unexpected bonus and so helpful. I now have my own tailored mediation practice that I follow at home and feel a sense of clarity and enthusiasm about the future from my life coach sessions. The retreat gave me the time and space needed to stop and think about my life, what I want from the future and how grateful I am for the present. When do we ever get a chance to do this in the hustle and bustle of London?! I'm a retreat convert and would recommend it to everyone. Take some time and be good to yourself, you'll wonder why you've never done it before." Jane Dodson