At the start of October, I went to a Yoga & Mindfulness Retreat. Just writing that sentence makes me feel a bit uneasy. I get the urge to instantly qualify it with the fact that there was wine tasting at the retreat, too! And an optional cava session that obviously everyone decided was mandatory as evidenced below...

Perhaps a Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat makes me uncomfortable because yoga used to be one of those kooky, fringe activities beloved by hippies. It's obviously incredibly mainstream now, but the connotations of incense and unshaven armpits linger in the names of the various poses - mountain, goddess, cobra, etc. Yoga involves opening up and releasing and reaching out and acceptance and calm and self-discovery. Throw in the "Mindfulness" part of the retreat and the resulting combo makes me feel very self-conscious.

I suppose this is because sometimes things that fall in that arena - meditation, auras, energy, manifestation, blah blah blah - can feel an awful lot like taking yourself way too seriously. I was raised on a steady diet of self-deprecation and in my family, insults are a form of affection. OH MY GOD, DO I NEED THERAPY?!

Regardless of my misgivings about all this "sappy shit", a weekend in the beautiful Spanish countryside doing a bit of stretching and drinking wine with two old friends and seventeen new ones sounded pretty wonderful. I decided I could deal with the touchy-feely stuff and would just try really hard not to giggle during meditation. I overpacked my suitcase and we caught a taxi into town to meet everyone for the bus ride out to the retreat.

As soon as we were in the taxi, I panicked. I started Googling shops near the meeting point where I could dash to buy wine. Because - despite wine-tasting being listed as one of the activities for the weekend - I suddenly realised that I was going to be trapped in a remote location talking about feelings with a bunch of people I didn't know. What if I had to hug them?!

It reminded me of the time a couple of friends and I went backpacking around Australia and were the only ones who thought to bring wine to an overnight stay at a sheep shearing station. We had a brilliant night - the rest of the group, not so much. I still feel somewhat bad about our bonfire didgeridoo session while the others attempted to sleep, but not that bad.

My point is, always bring wine.

We settled into our bus seats, bottles of wine clinking at our ankles, and soon arrived at the most gorgeous mountain home. What ensued was a totally beautiful weekend. It turned out that my worries about wine were unfounded and my back-up bottles went unopened. There was a lot of yoga (yoga is HARD, y'all) and meditation (I didn't giggle!) and some tears (not mine, I apparently have a heart of stone) and laughter (two words - partner yoga) and some really interesting discussions about purpose and joy. I also had the deepest, longest sleep I have had in years, and for that alone, I would discuss feelings with total strangers again anytime.

After the closing ceremonies, my friend commented to me that she just felt very... what was the word... "Vulnerable?" I volunteered. "Exactly." she replied. And I think that's exactly why the "yoga and mindfulness" label made me feel uncomfortable. Those two activities require you to be vulnerable and I'm pretty awful at that.

A friend recently sent me a quote from Rumi:

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

As I told him, I HAVE SPENT YEARS BUIlDING THOSE BARRIERS! Trump would be SO jealous of all these awesome walls I've built. I think most of us construct a fairly excellent fortress within - it shields us from the thoughtlessness of others, from bad bosses, from looking silly, from all the myriad injustices we see in the world every day. The problem is that in our attempts to avoid being hurt or making a fool of ourselves, we block a lot of our chances at real connection and joy.

I KNEW this retreat would make me end up sounding like a hippy.

Regardless, doing something that made me feel uncomfortable worked out this time - I returned home feeling completely zen. I don't know that I had any revelations during the weekend that are worth reporting but I'll share one anyway.

After one of the yoga sessions, we were asked to list fifteen things for which we are grateful. The first fifteen that came to mind were all people. It was a pleasant reminder of what's really important in my life and made me feel incredibly lucky. As my friend and I joked before we arrived at the retreat, "Hashtag blessed".

I'll definitely be going back for more. Next time I might not even pack wine*.

*Bahhahah. Riiiiiight. ALWAYS BRING WINE.

(All pics are nicked from Jennison, the generous-hearted yogi queen who led the retreat.)

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