Yoga isn’t my strong point. But what can you say when you’re packed off to review one of The Telegraph’s top ’30 Greatest Yoga Holidays on the Planet’? This is no time for a crisis of confidence.
As the invite is for two, I hide the itinerary from my husband and lure him with the promise of a country spa weekend. At least there would be one person there less flexible than me.
The retreat is based at the beautiful Green Farm in Kent owned by Maryann and Martin, led by the utterly gorgeous London based yoga teacher, Emma Deery.
We arrive late, super stressed after along day at the office, via a casual stopover in Dartford A&E.
After claiming he was coming down with “sepsis”, I find myself describing my husband’s symptoms (of what prove to be an infected tooth) to a mildly embarrassed nurse.
The situation isn’t helped by the enormous sign looming above our heads: “Stress on the NHS – if it’s not an emergency do you need to be here?”.
Unable to bear the shame any longer (after the nurse hands over two pink paracetamol), we leave. He has clearly discovered the bloody schedule!
On arrival we are met with a comfortable, clean and unpretentious room set apart from the barn housing the other guests.
Luxurious fluffy white robes and ESPA products are laid out on the large double bed – but the overall charm of Green Farm is that you feel more like a friend of the family than an impersonal hotel guest.
In the morning the fear sets in as we are joined by a group of lithe, glowing yogis for a 90 minute “Energising Yoga” session. The class is held outside under the sun dappled shade of a willow tree by an idyllic pond.
Emma clearly has a loyal following as many of the guests seem to be regulars at her Crystal Palace classes and most of them seem to have been to the retreat before.
My nerves are only topped by my husband, as he realises that not only have I tricked him into a full blown yoga weekend (complete with bowl burning ceremony) but that he is the only bloke.
Summoned by the sound of a Tibetan bowl, we grit our teeth and reassure ourselves that yoga isn’t a competitive sport. It’s not like it’s the Hunger Games or anything, how bad can it be?
Any fears we had at being first time yogis vanish as soon as the class begins. Emma manages the magical feat of relaxing each one of us, regardless of our prior experience – whilst convincing two cynical, sneering city workers to stretch, meditate and chant without a drop of sarcasm or eye rolling.
One guest sums it up: “Most yoga teachers become lovely people because of yoga but Emma became a yoga teacher because she was always such a lovely person”.
Neither of us had ever done yoga outside which we also learn is another unique feature of Emma’s classes.
Starving and feeling thoroughly deserving of sustenance after exercising at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, we face the next bombshell…
All meals are vegetarian, using home grown or locally sourced whole food ingredients. My husband looks as if he is about to cry.
All the meals are whipped up by talented local JJ who does not disappoint. The food is delicious and filling without any sense of deprivation. From home baked bread, delicious soups, salads, curries, cheesecake to Emma’s famous cacao balls we leave each meal feeling healthy but definitely well fed!
The vast majority of the food comes from the Farm’s community garden run by the indomitable, green fingered Catherine who managed to turn a patch of nettle strewn wasteland into an organic thriving garden using only recycled or donated materials.
As well as feeding chubby yogis and other guests, Catherine runs charitable projects that provide gardening opportunities for disenfranchised inner city kids, the disabled and community service offenders. Seriously inspiring stuff.
After some free time where we are left to explore the Farm and swim in a natural pond, we attend a challenging yin yoga class, where we are expected to hold postures for up to 10 minutes!
It’s near impossible to tell the heavily pregnant Emma to “piss off” as she nestles her baby bump on our backs, driving us deeper into pigeon pose.
After a delicious dinner we join Emma in a candle-lit barn for 30 minutes (feels like 10 seconds) of yoga nidra guided sleep meditation while curled up on our matts, wrapped in blankets.
As a coffee addled stress head and bad sleeper this results in hands down, the best and deepest sleep I have ever had.
The next day after a morning yoga class in the stunning garden and a hearty breakfast, my husband and I treat ourselves to a delicious, full body massage at the on site spa.
This moment of calm is much needed as the afternoon poses more challenging, slightly “out there” activities – starting with Kundalini Active Meditation involving 15 minutes of dance to music to be performed with the eyes closed. Cringe.
Again Emma works her magic, and against every fibre in our beings, we can’t help but give into the experience.
In fact, my husband is so engaged that as he opens his eyes at the end, he finds himself half way across the room. He had been dancing so vigorously that he accidentally hit another guest in the face.
A whole weekend of listening calmly to the mind and body is an alien experience for some and Emma warns us that it might stir up some hidden emotions. It does. Nicknamed “swinging brick” by my family, I find myself having to take myself off for a little weep in the garden without the foggiest idea why!
The last activity is the burning bowl ceremony. It begins with a silent walk through the woods to a camp fire where we’re encouraged burn scraps of paper stating things we wanted to let go off and things we wanted to attract.
Sitting again in a circle chanting, this session has all the hallmarks of an excruciating experience but the way Emma leads it isn’t embarrassing at all.
We sit together with our eyes closed and try to let go of our inhibitions. Each person has a private moment to reflect before we start chanting in unison. Who am I?
At the close of the ceremony my usually shy, now yogi husband pipes up to say just what a great weekend it has been, and how very grateful he was to everyone for making it such a memorable experience.
This is genuinely a retreat for anyone of any yoga level that feels a bit freaked out by the idea of a yoga weekend. Maryann and Martin are incredibly warm and welcoming and the beautiful Farm offers some much needed peace and relaxation without a 4 hour traffic jammed drive back to London.
Emma is also a very special teacher and will totally put you at ease and encourage you to get as much from the experience as possible without you even realising until it’s over.
For those feeling a little beaten up by the crazy pace of urban life, I could not recommend this retreat highly enough.
Address: Green Farm, Church Lane, Shadoxhurst, Kent TN26 1LS
By Becky K.