Nine unexpected discoveries on a yoga retreat

Mentor Tashi kissed by sunset in the shala, built in the mountains of Amieira, Oleiros.     © Gareth Iwan Jones

Where did I go? Vale De Moses, Portugal

1. My favourite yoga class involved no yoga.

I am the most competitive yogi in the room. You think you’re competitive? I’m more competitive, I win. I’ll never reach enlightenment because I want to be the best and enlightened yogis aren’t running constant competitions in their heads. Expecting to learn how to ace some tricky postures (be mine, Crow) to my surprise my favourite class involved no yoga.

Yogi Tashi spent one class giving us words instead of moves. No sun salutations, no tree, no tricks. She talked about how yoga isn’t about self improvement, it’s about self acceptance. It’s about realising we’re already magnificent. It’s about being nice to yourself. I have, after all, somehow managed to survive 34 years pretty much intact (two slipped discs, one broken arm and a head cracked open on a paving slab – not bad, not bad at all).

Tashi observed how society pushes us to never quite feel adequate. If we buy this product and that outfit, then we’ll be happy. This cream will make you younger, this pill will make you thinner. This lotion will make your hair shine and only then will you be happy. (Except we will then move the goalposts, because we’re on a treadmill running towards an unattainable, nonexistent end.) How about being happy right now, with all that you are? Mind. Blown.

Tashi and disciples gather on the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor. © Gareth Iwan Jones

2. It’s okay to love yoga and love wine. And swear.

The tone for a week’s wonderful, often hilarious, always inspirational yoga was set on day one, when Tashi invited us to shake our limbs, saying: ‘Shake out your husbands, your kids, your fucking mortgage!’ This was going to be my kind of yoga, because there will always be a part of me that swears and drinks and swears even more after a drink.

Sober, exercise junkie me is so judgey to coffee-necking, wine-guzzling me. Here, coffee was served every morning and retreat host Andy joyfully announced if anyone needed any contraband, to let him know. Life should be a playful balance of yoga yoga yoga, contraband, yoga, otherwise it all gets a bit unattainable.

3. Sometimes, I don’t have to instagram the shit out of every moment.

I mean, let’s not tear up the wifi code, I’m still an addict. (You can give me the thrill of a new follower if you like. I’m at @lunacyofink) But for the first time in over a decade, I turned my phone off.

Spending a week not scrolling through 14,000 photos of perfect food and skinny women really was lovely.

Tashi explained they wouldn’t fill our time with excursions and activities. There’s not a lot to do here, she said, and that’s the magic. It took a few days to acclimatise, but by day three I was exceedingly blissed out. I lounged in a hammock swaying gently in the wind, I let ideas dance around my mind while the sun replenished my Vitamin D stocks. I smiled at trees and even at my own reflection in the mirror. I usually frown at her.

The setting for my week of being, not doing. Hi trees!

4. You don’t have to be good at yoga to attend a yoga retreat.

You don’t even have to practise yoga while you are there. Come as you are, do what you want. The class was an encouraging mix of beginners, middlings and only a few so expert they could really bend it like Beckham. (And yes, I did compete with them in my head. Namaste.)

5. I have not met all the legends.

I presumed I had met all the soulmates I ever would because I’m old and my mates are bloody legends, but then this happened. An elegant beauty called Mila was sitting across from me, all dazzling smile and ears dripping with the kind of piercings I wish my own stupid ears would tolerate.

She asked me where I’m from. ‘Near Bristol,’ I said. Then she said a sentence which made my heart go boom.

‘I bloody love Bristol!’ she exclaimed.

I say I bloody love things! I bloody love Bristol and saying I bloody love, and now I bloody love Mila!

We spent the rest of the week bonding. Both vegan, both love yoga, sunbathing and coconut oil. We both had a wild decade, both now get our kicks from a healthier way of life. But just like the rest of my legends, she is a ton of things I wish I was. She’s spiritual and eats slowly and has a broad and charming vocabulary and she’s not indecently competitive. She gave up drinking because a hangover made her miss a sunrise and she loves sunrises. I love sunrises but I am always asleep at sunrise.

The world is full of future friends I just haven’t met yet. I haven’t met all the legends! But I have just added one more to my list.

I bloody love this woman. © Gareth Iwan Jones

6. Vegan food is beautiful.

Every dish was a work of art. Delicious, nutritious, colourful, fresh and resplendent. My impulse to Instagram every meal was quelled only by my newfound offline serenity. Here, allow me to dazzle you with evidence photographed by Gareth Iwan Jones, my beloved shutterbug:

Follow Chef Raul on Instagram here.

Slow roasted tomatoes.

Pretty little orange and grapefruit salad

Avo and Mango mash-up

7. There are not a lot of male yogis.

Back in the early days of yoga in India, it was only practised by men. Western appropriation has seen to that. There were no men in our class. Which is their loss, because there were a lot of hot, single, bendy women. See aforementioned Mila for details.

8. I love being naked outdoors.

Fear not, it wasn’t compulsory or communal. There were hot, indoor showers available but there was a fresh water outdoor shower near our tipi and I loved it. My privacy was intact, it faced a rocky cliff. There was something euphoric about washing with a sunbeam on my face. It does not happen enough in my life back in Wiltshire. Note to self: get naked outdoors. Warn neighbours.

9. We all work too damn hard.

Many of my fellow yogis were retreating from hectic careers. How have we got ourselves into this mess? Our brains are wired and tired. We’re seeking out tranquil antidotes to our exhaustion in the form of paradisical Portuguese hideaways.

I came home nourished, I’d met awesome people and achieved the Crow (YES MATE!) I returned to my house affectionately stroking the walls and telling my garden I loved it. Two days later, a flurry of emails lured me back to a frazzled modus operandi while I clung to my holiday happiness.

In times of stress, I channel the gifts this retreat gave me. We only get one life. More retreat vibes, less computer-fed headaches.

Fancy a mighty fine hug of a holiday? Visit www.valedemoses.com

Farmhouse rooms and stone cottages are also available. But we slept like happy babies out here in a double bed. Glasto ’98 this ain’t.

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