Billabong Yoga & Meditation Retreat
Sonia Clarke temporarily abandons technology and searches out a yoga retreat:
In my continuing quest to embrace life as a health-conscious Sydneysider it was inevitable that I would, at some point, depart this fair city in search of a yoga retreat.
A steady stream of recommendations led me to Billabong, close to Vineyard and a mere hour from the CBD. Its most popular relaxation-themed retreats last for two days and are packed full of yoga, meditation, healthy food and viewings of inspirational films. They sound self-indulgent and pretentious. I immediately book a trip and pack my bag.
Two weeks later I arrive at Vineyard, one of those stations that isn’t really a station but just a sign next to some rails, and head to Billabong. Despite a head full of city noise and unanswered emails, it’s almost impossible not to relax instantly when you get there. For starters, it’s a truly beautiful spot, with treehouse-like rooms set around a central building which houses the dining room, yoga studio, and (the best bit) lounges around a real log fire.
The next thing is technology. Laptops and phones aren’t forbidden at Billabong, but they are frowned upon. Like most people, I am disgustingly, pathetically reliant on technology, to the point that robots might as well take over the world because I wouldn’t even notice as I gawp mindlessly at my iPhone. I spend an astonishing amount of time doing any combination of the following: Looking at what people I went to school with are doing with their lives (getting drunk, married and having babies, in no particular order), via the medium of facebook, perhaps the greatest paean to vanity ever created; deleting spam e-mails; and sending stupid text messages, many with equally stupid emoticons – a clear signal that a missive has so little point that you might as well go and bang your head repeatedly against a wall instead.
This therefore seemed as good a time as any to escape, so I decide there’s nothing for it but to lock the culprit away before making my way to the orientation and first class.
Our host and yoga teacher bounces (yes, literally bounces) into the room, like a cross between Tigger and a particularly perky member of the Brady Bunch. When she introduces herself as ‘Barsha; like Marsha from the Brady Bunch, only with a B!’ it is clear this is not the first time that comparison has been made.
So, the yoga: The yoga classes I go to in Sydney are at what one might call the macho end of the practice. 90 minutes of sweating and full-on cardio, they’re as much about looking good on the outside as the inside. By contrast, this class is slow. Very slow.
At the very moment when I feel like I can’t bear to keep moving that slowly, dinner time is announced and we all file into a cosy dining room. If (like me) you work on the assumption that food that is good for you generally tastes like old socks, then the food at Billabong will be a genuine revelation.
Meals are vegetarian, macrobiotic and almost entirely raw (words that usually have me reaching for a gun, or at the very least a Mars bar), and inexplicably delicious. In addition to three square meals a day there are extra healthy snacks in addition to, at a conservative estimate, 25 cups of herbal tea per day.
After dinner, I feel a real craving to check my phone but successfully resist before moving onto the evening meditation, which I find almost unbearable. On the outside I (hopefully) appear serene, but on the inside I am screaming to be allowed to move around, talk, check my phone and read – probably the best indicator that I’m very much in need of some quiet mind time. After an hour and a half, I crawl exhausted to my tree house and slip into 10 hours of the deepest sleep I can remember.
The next morning, caffeine withdrawal sets in for a few of us, who stare grimly at each other as we drink yet another cup of herbal tea. Today, the only full day, is packed full of classes but they’re all optional – one of our group decided to just spend the day lying on the lounges reading a book. By about half way through the day, the outside world seems to have completely disappeared; with no phone, no e-mails and absolutely no commitments, I discover I can actually concentrate for more than two minutes and find myself with a lot more time to think. I do still give the inspirational film in the evening a miss however, so I’m clearly not a complete convert to the retreat way of life.
On the last morning, Barsha returns looking even happier than before, if such a thing were possible. Her role today is to teach all retreat attendees a seven minute daily yoga practice, on the basis that every one can commit to seven minutes a day. We learn the practice, some of us painfully slowly (that would be me,) and then there’s just time for a quick round of goodbyes before we make our separate ways.
Was I relaxed? Yes.
Did I immediately switch on my phone when I got on the train and fail to continue my new seven-minute yoga routine for more than a day on my return to the city? Also yes.
Find out more about Billabong at their website.
Billabong Yoga & Meditation Retreat review by Sonia Clarke.