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The long journey from the head to the heart: Five lessons from my yoga retreat…

Dear reader, here we share with you a beautiful blog article written by a retreat guest who has now become a friend, Luba, a beautiful soul and talented writer - whose blog you can read here.

When was the last time you attended a gathering with people of all different ages, educational backgrounds, origins, professions, social classes, nationalities and religions, where everyone – and I mean everyone – was interested in you as an individual, asking you lots of questions about your life and listening to the answers? Well, that was what happened to me for the first time… ever… last

weekend, at a retreat on a small farm near Hemel Hempstead. Typically, when I go to gatherings I am the person mostly asking the questions and listening to the answers. And that’s generally fine and suits my curiosity, bar the occasional pang I feel for a more reciprocal conversation. Well, I enjoyed ample reciprocity on this retreat.

If you are anything like me, you would probably feel some trepidation and indeed scepticism before embarking on a wellness retreat that you found via google. In fact, you have most likely never been on one (this was only my second ever). It is not easy to summon up the courage. Nor is it cheap. The unknown can be daunting, while putting yourself in a situation where you feel self-conscious is not

fun. Furthermore, my personal impression is that underneath a veneer of enlightened togetherness and wisdom, many yoga/meditation teachers and gurus often nurture enormous egos that wallow in self-absorption and separation. So, I made the deliberate choice to drive to Croft Farm in my car, giving myself the option of jumping back in it and escaping if I felt uncomfortable. I’d return home

500 pounds poorer, but I wouldn’t be burdened by any incongruous time-wasting inauthenticity.

I did indeed jump back into my car, but it was the full 48 hours later, on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon, after a revelatory and transformative experience with 14 strangers whom I fell in love with, felt seen by and made plans to meet again (plans that I realise probably won’t actually materialise). The two yoga teachers who guided the retreat – Melissa and Rachael from Breath Body Earth – were anything but self-absorbed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are a living embodiment of those rare human beings who live out of their values authentically and compassionately.

There is much I discovered about the people I met at the retreat, most of which I cannot divulge due to Chatham House rules, but there are some things I learned about myself and others that I will share, in the hope that they help others move forward with their lives more smoothly.

Smart phone addiction really is a thing…and I have it

Hello. My name is Luba, and I am a phone addict.

One of the first things Melissa and Rachael advised us to do to nourish ourselves was to switch off our phones and, for the two days we had carved out, to experience the world 4D. Most parents, like me, resisted this advice, which is understandable. We wanted to be available for any child-related

emergencies. I personally feel anxious when contact with my family is completely cut off. Somewhat pre-emptively, however, Melissa also gently advised us against checking our work emails, encouraging us to ask ourselves why we would want to do that on this particular weekend. Completely disregarding this sound advice, on the Saturday morning I did the exact opposite – I checked my work email. I did not have an especial reason to do so, just a habitual compulsion. The impact of doing it was noteworthy. The result equated to an intruder yanking my head back by the hair, forcing my mouth open and pouring 10 poison pills into it. Ruminating over the content of one single email left me angry and agitated. I was now also annoyed with myself for having gone against their advice, and so it took me a while to de-stress and settle into the meditation and yoga practice that had been crafted so masterfully to nourish us. While disruptive, this incident exposed my addiction to staying connected 24/7 to everything and everyone on my phone, and how this curtails my ability to stay present in the moment. The two days

with Melissa and Rachael helped me to go back to basics by offering simple activities like listening to the sounds of nature, looking intently into the eyes of another fellow being, drawing and doodling, moving my body to the rhythm of music, and enjoying tech-free conversations, uninterrupted by the repetitive act of reaching out to a screen.

Honour your truth. If you have something to say, say it even when no one is nodding in approval. Two people looking into each other’s eyes sounds pretty trivial, right? Actually, it is not as easy as you think if you do it for a while. One of the most powerful practices that Rachael and Melissa guided us through was to look each other in the eyes for an extended period of time. We were

paired up sitting opposite one another, to spend 5-10 minutes looking at each other in silence. The simple act of seeing and being seen was a beautifully enriching practice that brought an unspoken deep closeness between my practice partner and me for the rest of the retreat or…forever? Being seen was a very vulnerable act. Part of me wanted to hide, to remain invisible. Staying in the practice was courageous and rewarding. I had dived into a pair of millennia-old eyes. I loved. I felt loved. I saw strength. I felt strength. I witnessed beauty. I felt beauty. I witnessed sorrow. I felt sorrow. I saw truth. I felt truth.

The second part of the practice required us to discuss what we had felt while looking into each other’s eyes. Rachael encouraged us to listen actively, which meant just being present without reacting to what was being said in any physical or sensory way, the idea being that the person speaking had the freedom to express themselves unrestricted. I questioned the effectiveness of staring at someone without reacting to what they were saying. I felt that showing attention,

reflecting the emotion that someone feels when they speak, affirming their words with a nod, is an act of caring and validates the speaker. Rachael’s response to my pushback was one that made me sit up straight and think: “Maybe the lesson here is to give you the opportunity to learn to say what you want to say, irrespective of whether anyone approves or reacts to it.” It dawned on me that sometimes it is the act of saying that matters, because when you speak without seeking approval,

you express your true nature. I rewound all the times I had felt unheard and hurt by a lack of response to my articles or blogs. It felt soothing to see these occasions in a different light and to reframe them as acts of expression of my true nature. With that reframing came trust that those who needed to hear what I had to say had heard it, even if I didn’t know about it.

Learn to share even if no one gives you anything back. Honour your truth.

“The longest journey you will ever take is from your head to your heart”.

I went to the Nourish retreat to reconnect with my body. As a writer, researcher, journalist, and strategist I had been residing in my head for so long that my head had started to feel too heavy and disconnected from my body. I have become a walking head doing yoga three times a week. At home we also have head-favouring routines. The older my children get, the less frequently they do

activities anchored in their bodies, like singing, making music, dancing, drawing or painting – things they used to love doing when they were younger. My husband and I read, discuss the news, share interesting articles with each other but we rarely dance or sing together and almost never draw, whether together or separately.

Bearing this context in mind, I was inspired to hear Rachael speak about the false binary separation we have created between the mind/our thoughts and the heart/our feelings, tracing it back to Descartes who declared the supremacy of the mind in his famous insight: “I think, therefore I am”. No one observes that “I feel, therefore I am”, but this statement is as true as Descartes’. Our emotions, our intuition reside in our bodies which we have dissociated from, and do not listen to, to the great detriment of our health and wellbeing. As a somatic therapist, Rachael focuses on helping people reconnect with their bodies as guides to identifying and working through stored traumas. Our minds, thoughts, bodies, and emotions are designed to be in unity and when they are not, we feel dislodged or lost or uneasy in ourselves. “The longest journey you will ever take is from your head to your heart”, Rachael observed gently. As soft as this observation was, it hit me hard with its depth and urgency. I felt a true longing to reside in my heart, to listen to my body, even if aided by a little notebook capturing some thoughts in the process. I understood there and then how critical it is to meditate. In that moment I became determined to turn meditation into a daily routine alongside

drinking water, eating and interacting with loved ones. Sorrow stands in the way of love. Suppressing challenging emotions prevents us from opening our


One of the most revelatory experiences for me was the Cacao ceremony that Melissa and Rachael organised for us, during which we drank cacao to open our hearts, then danced, freestyle, in silence. Cacao is a beautiful plant, grown primarily in South America. Besides being good for the earth and the main ingredient used in chocolate, it positively stimulates our cardiovascular system without being in any way a mind-altering substance. Melissa explained to us that most people feel energised and joyful after they drink cacao, but some feel sad and cry instead. The heart opens to everything that needs to be felt or cleared. Much to my surprise as someone who adores dancing, I found myself in the latter category. I felt all the sorrow that had been stuck in a dam near my heart overflowing into a chaotic wave of tears that I initially tried to suppress for fear of dampening the

jolly mood of those dancing around me. Since Melissa had informed us about all possible reactions to the cacao and, importantly, had given us permission to feel whatever we felt, I decided that my true emotions were worth letting out and sharing with others. I just let my sadness flow. And what followed was almost magical. I felt love flowing from others towards me. Melissa and many of my

fellow retreaters held the space for me. I received hugs, love heart hand gestures, beautiful roses, even a rose quartz, which is often referred to as the heart stone. I exchanged tears, more hugs and by the end, felt joy. Through expressing my sorrow, my tank had been filled with love. The gratitude I feel writing this is immeasurable and immense.

While immersed in that moment, it dawned on me that I had been repressing my sorrow for a very long time for fear of traumatising my children or, more recently, of being judged by them for crying “too much”. During this gentle ceremony I realised two important things. Firstly, that bottled-up sorrow is the cork that stops the flow of joy. While this is perhaps an obvious realisation, it is an

important one nonetheless. I was confronted by the truth that I can only feel as much joy as I can feel sorrow. If you numb yourself to sorrow, you will numb yourself to joy. Darn! This explains my gregariousness being increasingly lost somewhere on the roadside of adulthood.

The second, even more profound realisation I came to during the Cacao ceremony was that by repressing my sorrow, even if it is to protect others, I impair my ability to love them fully and wholeheartedly. Instead of my sorrow, joy and love flowing like a waterfall, they are stuck in a dam, at constant risk of breaking the artificial walls that contain it, threatening unwanted flooding and potential damage to the surrounding area. I was struck by how many of my fellow retreaters expressed how repressed sorrow caused them a similar numbness. Some had moved from joy and dance to tears and stillness, feeling relief at the end at having finally fully connected with their sadness.

Isn’t it ironic that I am researching a book about emotional empowerment, while remaining oblivious to my own repressed emotions that cripple my ability to love fully? This uncovered misalignment makes it that much more urgent for me to solve these emotional puzzles.

Do you want to be able to feel joy and love? Well, let your sorrow cascade out and the joy and love will follow.

You want to feel hope? Look no further than yourself…

We couldn’t have asked for a better autumnal evening to light a campfire, sit around it, share prayers, and sing songs together. The evening was soft, equanimous, honest, and attentive. Sitting around the fire with all these people reminded me of the slightly forgotten joy of the simple analogue things that make us human. Melissa explained that fireside rituals are as old as humanity itself. For millennia people have congregated around fires – often used as symbols of the

omnipresent sun – praying and performing various rituals. We emulated the millennia-old tradition and were invited by Rachael and Melissa to say a prayer and then throw tobacco in the fire. As someone who does not pray often, I found the act of praying in company extremely challenging. There is an intense intimacy about praying that leaves you feeling naked, your soul out in the open for all to see. It took listening to the prayers of most others for me to be able to summon the courage to utter mine. But in hearing these prayers and vocalising mine, I felt fuller, happier and stronger. My previously dwindling hope for a better future for my children was being miraculously rekindled. Like Roald Dahl’s giant peach, gradually my hope just grew and grew. It grew out of the shared humanity of 15 individuals that was on full display that evening, illuminated by the fire that

kept us warm and connected. It fed off the prayers of others which were so splendidly, fundamentally, like my own. When you boiled it all down, we were all ultimately praying for connection, kindness, acceptance, mutual understanding, care for each other and the planet, love, peace, and hope. At the end of everyone’s prayers Melissa made an observation that stuck with me: “We look for hope

externally around us, not realising that hope is inside us. We are the hope we are looking for!”. It suddenly made perfect sense to me that we carry the hope we are craving for, for if we do not have it inside of us, there is nothing to crave.

I went to the Nourish retreat to reconnect with myself, but the healing moments came as much from connecting with others, who reflected back to me the values I so wish to live by, as they did from connecting with myself. I found a new (or old) hope and trust in the future that had been slipping through my fingers like desert sand. I realised that to live joyously and purposefully, we need hope and connection, as much as we need air, water, and food. I took one step from my head on the long journey towards my heart that weekend.

Now I just want to keep walking and asking myself: Am I aware? Am I aware? Am I aware?

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