As discussed in more detail within this post, I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for the past year and a half. It’s shocking how much of a stigma remains around these words and I therefore wanted to open up about my personal experience in a bid to dilute the shock factor when they are uttered within our stiff upper lipped British community.
Since addressing my condition, I’ve been working to explore different ways to battle it. Medication, diet, therapy and exercise being the four that have so far made the world of difference. What I hadn’t tried, however, was yoga, and I’d read wonderful things about how the regular practice of this exercise can work wonders for body and mind.
With this in mind, I secured a week at Kaliyoga. With world renowned venues in Spain and Italy to choose from, it was the stunning architecture of Italy’s Puglia that drew me hard into this destination.
In the run-up to my stay I had informed the retreat of my depression and anxiety and they made every effort to make organisation run smoothly and put me at ease to the fact that I was in good hands. I’d never travelled alone before and had a lot of anxiety lingering around this factor, but with regular updates from the retreat as well as pre-arranged transfers, a clear schedule and friendly contact released so much tension. The smallest things can make such a difference to someone in my situation and they were fully aware.
The architecture within the retreat has to be seen to be believed. Puglia is famous for its traditional ‘Truli’ dwellings; circular, domed houses made of natural stone and with striking white markings, and these made up the main square of the venue. The natural brick walls were low, allowing you to see across the whole space which was broken up by olive trees with hammocks and an intimate gazebo which would become our home for post-yoga aperitifs. The pool area was created to reflect a natural, minimalist aesthetic, with plenty of space for lounging, swimming and enjoying a morning cup of mint tea, and the entire retreat had ample space to relax and explore, with picture-perfect corners at every turn.
Our group consisted of thirteen people. To my delight, I was one of three solo travellers and everybody got to know each other quickly over our first spot of lunch (locally sourced vegetarian dished with vegan alternates as with every meal for the week). I’d never found myself in a situation where you’re plonked with twelve total strangers before and simply have to get along. No cliques, no industry niches, no age brackets, just thirteen friendly people looking to enjoy a week in each others company alongside twice daily sessions of yoga and a whole lot of healthy eating. Totally refreshing and so much interesting conversation to be had!
At 5pm on arrival day we commenced our first yoga session (my first yoga session ever!) and was introduced to our mentor for the week, Tashi. With a body of the gods releasing a soothing, soft Australian accent, within five minutes I felt confident in her hands. We were to have two sessions with Tashi per day, a two hour-long session in the morning and one and a half in the evening, also throwing in half an hour’s meditation on two of the mornings. Each retreat holds a slightly different focus. Our group was to experience ‘Mindful Yoga’, or ‘Yoga Vinyasa’, using breathing and spiritual insights from Buddhist inspirations alongside the practice in which to find inner peace and acceptance.
Being new to the yogi world, I absolutely didn’t know what to expect and was dubious, if I’m honest. We quickly adopted a range of movements and postures (progressing to advanced postures very quickly but surprisingly competently) whilst constantly refining with the help of Tashi and more experienced peers and I became very confident after even day one. I learnt to use postures to strengthen my body and open my mind, using these hours to reset and enjoy simply not thinking at all. I taught my body how to rest and sit comfortably, how to explore itself and reset pained areas that had been troubling me for years. Being anxious or lonely as a sole, beginner yogi didn’t cross my mind as Tashi and the group quickly became family, guiding and offering a friendly voice whenever needed. It felt liberating to be anonymous and not have to impress or ‘try’.
Kaliyoga is very rounded in its approach to the strong mental and physical abilities of the retreat, using not only meditation and yoga, but also diet. We were served three meals per day which were produced by two incredible chefs using local, organic, gluten and meat free ingredients. Each meal was different and delicious, full of colours and using ingredients which were sometimes totally new and exciting to me. We didn’t need to sit down at mealtimes, however our particular group took the time to enjoy meals on the outdoor seating area and get to know each other a little bit more every day.
Between yoga sessions we were free to either roam the retreat, spending time with the animals, relaxing by the pool, in the communal indoor areas or leave in our own cars to explore nearby areas. Kaliyoga also organised optional outings for us which was especially welcomed by solo travellers like myself who didn’t want to impose on other guest’s trips or venture further afield by myself. We enjoyed a bike tour around the local area with a visit to a local farm, a visit to a gorgeous beach and also an afternoon in the retreat with one of the chefs to pick up some of her pretty darn amazing cooking skills with a masterclass.
I entered Kaliyoga feeling slightly dubious, unsure and a little bit nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from yoga and meditation and didn’t want to expect a mental ‘epiphany’ and ‘cure’ for my depression and anxiety and leave feeling disappointed. Finishing my week at Kaliyoga I can say hand on heart that it was so much more than I expected. Mentally and physically I feel refreshed and calm in a way I forgot existed. My little nervous tick which I’ve had for about a year has gone (I can’t tell you how huge that is!).
All of the staff were amazing, going above and beyond to make us all feel comfortable without being overbearing. However, it was Tashi that made the experience for me. I’ve never met another person that oozes such goodness, with an honest, open mind and genuine passion and kindness. Her teachings physically were incredible, with clear instruction and soft correction when needed, and mentally she reset me, using deep insights and teachings to take my brain to a contented place that it hasn’t visited in a long time. I don’t want to say my time with her was life changing, but, well….
*My stay at Kaliyoga was complimentary, however all views are my own.