Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Short breaks

At a country house in West Sussex, meditation, yoga and detox come together for a weekend of mindfulness that expands your protective bubble

The taxi driver appraises me with suspicion when I tell him my destination. But youve not got a yoga mat, he says.

Having never been on a meditation retreat before, I was self-conscious of criss-crossing busy train stations with a yoga mat strapped to my back, so Id concealed it inside a Sainsburys bag for life. I point it out now to the driver, and he offers a wry smile as he takes me to the place where, for the next four days, Im to be immersed in an intensive period of me time. Ive never done this before, so have no idea what to expect.

Long-term health conditions can be interesting in all sorts of unexpected ways. You learn about your levels of resilience, and the efforts you are prepared to take to get better. Ive been struggling with low physical energy for almost a decade, my mitochondrial cells malfunctioning after successive flu viruses never quite left my body. Doctors didnt know what to recommend these cells arent easily fixed and so suggested what they suggest to anyone who presents mysteriously: eat better, sleep well. Do yoga, learn to meditate.

Three
Retreat sessions include yoga, nostril breathing and meditation

Ive spent the last five years dipping in and out of meditation apps, YouTube, Ruby Waxs focus on mindfulness through books and interviews but it was vedic meditation (a close cousin of transcendental, which uses a silent mantra or sound repeated over and over) I kept returning to. I liked it but always let it slip. I knew that to establish a habit I would need to immerse myself, under in-person instruction.

And so here I am, near Arundel in West Sussex, at a large, rambling country house with lush gardens, on a weekend vedic retreat run by Beeja. Its strapline suggests: Meditation for Everyone and its founder, Will Williams, has been teaching vedic meditation for more than five years. After a stint in the music business, and falling ill, he recovered through meditation and began to teach what he had learned. He runs introductory courses in London. Will is a convincing communicator: bearded and smiley, dressed not in robes but in jeans, conspicuously one of us.

The
The Beeja Meditation retreat near Arundel

There are 15 in attendance, eight women, seven men, ranging from 24 to 70. Were a cosmopolitan bunch: theres a Saudi, a Lebanese, one from Guadalupe, another from South Korea. Two from Essex. Some, like me, have medical issues, others are struggling with anxiety, depression and such pronounced social media addiction that handing over phones upon arrival proves problematic. Im to share a dorm for four but mercifully theres just two of us this weekend.

After an introductory dinner of nut loaf, Wills co-instructor, Niamh Keane, reminds us of the house rules: up at 6.45am, in bed by 10.30pm; respect one anothers confidentiality. No sex and no solo sex, as Niamh puts it, just unbroken serenity and purity of mind. Were detoxing, so can have neither caffeine nor alcohol. No breakfast either, a fact that horrifies us all initially but becomes curiously unimportant by day two.

On a meditation retreat I find you meditate, and do precious little else. Beejas version comprises a succession of rounding exercises: 15 minutes of yoga, five minutes of alternate nostril breathing, 20 of meditation, and 10 of the flat-on-your-back yoga pose, shavasana. Were all given an individual secret mantra to repeat silently (though whos to say we dont have the same one?!). For three days.

A
A Beeja Meditation retreat guest tries alternate nostril breathing

At first, most of us choose to do our exercises communally, in the living room, but increasingly we drift off in pursuit of solitude. I thought Id struggle, because meditating at home is difficult, but here, with no distractions, I slide into it as if it were a hot bath. Hours pass, then hours more.

Respite comes in the evenings, after simple vegetarian food (rice and dhal, Thai soup), when Will sits, Buddha-like, with us at his feet while he shares his vedic-derived wisdom. Hes a practitioner of many years and is so convinced of his disciplines ability to heal the world that he can tend towards the over-prescriptive. He condemns most diets in favour of an ayurvedic-approved one, and proffers opinion on antidepressants, climate change, and Trump voters. He tells us that the introduction of 5G will kill off the insect world, that we should never cross our legs, and how we must avoid eating onions because the skin contains properties that promote selfishness. Much of what he says is fascinating, plenty else sails far above our heads.

A
Vegetarian food is served during the four-day retreat

He asks how our sessions are going and when I tell him that during one of mine my hands began to levitate and my fingers grew like intertwining tree branches, as if I were morphing into a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, he beams with pleasure and says: Youve shifted some serious energy there, fella.

The more we meditate, the more our protective bubble expands. When we come to leave, Niamh implores we take care upon re-entering the world outside, as we will be newly hypersensitive to light, noise, other people. Be gentle with yourselves, she advises.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/oct/23/peace-positivity-meditation-retreat-west-sussex-yoga-detox