The Heart & Sole Retreat
January sucked, but February needn't mean a complete tumble off the healthy-living wagon. Try this awesome retreat, instead.
Now that January is behind us (raspberries to you, you party pooping month), the urge to slide off whatever wagon you were on and fall right back into naughty old habits is all too real, isn’t it? But if you’ve been putting yourself through some kind of intense exercise programme, or complete abstinence from wine or chocolate, it was never going to be sustainable, was it?
Pardon me for getting all finger-waggy for a moment though, but didn’t you want this to be the year of making some lifestyle changes? How’s that ever going to happen if you slip right back into the 2017 you?
Maybe we should think of February as the real January. Now we’re all back into the rhythm of life, we can finally start the year as we mean to go on and focus on the changes we really want to happen. That’s why I reckon now is the time to tell you about a Heart & Sole wellbeing retreat I took myself off to recently; a retreat that’s designed to transform your outlook on life, it’s challenges and inspire you to make those changes, big or small. These weekend retreats don’t cost a small mortgage, nor are they in some far flung land; because that would be silly when we have the most inspiring landscapes right here, wouldn’t it? They’re held in a cracking spot in South Devon and they’re awesome. Here’s why.
I must admit, I really wasn’t sure how I would respond to a retreat; the idea of one per se immediately had me sweating about everything I probably wouldn’t get to do in my precious weekend. Netflix would be banished, I bet I won’t even be allowed coffee, I thought. It’s hardly going to be enjoyable, is it? So I concluded that, as long as I went in expecting the worst, then I’d probably be fine.
And I was. These retreats, designed by Sandra Watson are put together with an incredibly strong message at the heart, but all quite gently delivered. There’s nothing about the weekend that would make you run and hide in the bushes until you can make your escape under cover of darkness. The retreats are for women who are maybe experiencing a bit of a crisis of confidence, or thinking ‘what the hell now?’ They’re for women who don’t feel they’re reaching their full potential in life and yet believe they’re stuck in such a deep rut, they’ll never get the hell out. They are designed to empower and inspire you and strengthen your mind; to look holistically at your current lifestyle and figure out how and where you can make some meaningful changes.
Let’s just stop and look at Sandra herself, for a minute, shall we? I hope she won’t mind me saying, but this woman has over ten years on me and has more energy and vitality in her baby finger than I do in my whole body. She’s a picture of health, but Sandra experienced her own crisis of confidence, once. With a successful career and four kids raised (four), now fleeing the nest, she felt she’d lost her own identity, while giving so much to others. With small lifestyle changes and a shift in her thinking she was able to pursue a career as a fitness trainer and channel all of her interests in nutrition, juicing and mindfulness to name a few, into helping other women.
At the core of it all, for Sandra, is the miserable fact that around three-quarters of women in the UK crave more ‘me’ time and that 80% don’t feel fulfilled. That’s quite a strong driver for her retreats, then.
I arrived on Friday afternoon in the little seaside village of Challabrough, just along from Bigbury, the sun shining and a few visitors enjoying the rays and sea air on the pub terrace (almost bottled it and joined them). It’s a beautiful spot and the Beach House sits in a new, exclusive development of contemporary houses, just a few minutes’ walk from the beach and the South West Coastal Path.
The house itself is gorgeous, with an open plan living area upstairs and four bedrooms downstairs (a mixture of doubles and twins), sleeping up to 8. Plus, there’s a resident chef throughout the weekend, the amazing Diane, who’ll basically take care of everything in the kitchen. I had a lovely double ensuite room to myself; really, it felt like the kind of place you’d want to book up with your friends for a luxury weekend of catching up, rather than a destination for deprivation.
So here’s the thing about these retreats. When you clock the itinerary you might think it’s all going to be a bit full-on; but there’s something about the way the weekend flows (and being by the sea, which always helps), that makes it feel like quite the opposite. Yes, you cover a lot of ground (physically and metaphorically speaking), which is great because you get to try lots of new things, in bitesize chunks and soak up all of Sandra’s knowledge. But I also feel as though I spent a lot of time eating, lounging and nattering my way through the weekend. Is this normal, I wondered? Oh yes, quite normal, I was assured.
Once the introductions have been made, Friday kicks off with a gentle, late afternoon group walk. And walking is always a nice way to get to know your fellow retreaters, since the conversation tends to flow easier. We did an easy route out to Bigbury, with plenty of time to stop, breathe and take it all in.
Then, you’re back in time for dinner (more about that later), followed by a chat about ‘anchoring’ and how to think strong. This is when you’ll realise that Sandra is as intuitive as she is knowledgeable – she drip-feeds techniques and practical ideas throughout the weekend, picking up on things you’ve said, not in a preachy fashion, but as helpful little thoughts for you to jot down and think about later.
The first evening ends with a DVD in your PJ’s and a footbath (not a chick flick, think something with a strong and inspiring message), before a little gentle guided bedtime meditation. And sle-e-e-e-e-e-p.
Saturday morning, I felt a little nervous about. For a start, it’s up early for juice shots and smoothies (not my normal Saturday morning comfort zone), and then we went up onto the roof for some gentle yoga. After a zingy ginger shot, the bracing air and stretches were strangely invigorating.
After breakfast (hugely enjoyable, since it included coffee, toast and actual butter), we were introduced to the idea of vision boards. Throughout the day, which is mixed with more exercise, eating and meditation, I was encouraged to visualise where I wanted life to take me next and get it all down on my own board. It was an exercise designed to get you thinking and focusing, while mindfully absorbing yourself in the task of painting, snipping and sticking together your own board (haven’t had this much fun since watching Blue Peter). It’s not part of my normal weekend agenda, but that’s the beauty of a retreat: you just go with it and you end up glad you did.
At some point you’ll be encouraged to think about what you have in life right now and what you’d like in time. Then, when darkness falls it’s time to head down to the beach for what’s known as the ‘Gratitude Fire Bowl’. Another chance to quietly reflect as your messages of gratitude go into the flames with the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore.
After dinner, it’s another PJs and DVD session before bed. And then Sunday morning is more juicing, exercise, brunch and meditation before facial aerobics and farewells (here’s the sad footnote – my Mudlet was struck down with a sickness bug at this point, so I had to depart early, missing out on the Sunday fun. Gutted to miss the facial aerobics).
Scoff & Quaff
Now, the food deserves a special mention since it is incredible! Sandra works with a personal chef, Diane, to put together breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that are so much more than just tasty food on a plate. Food and juicing play a big part in the weekend, both to provide energy and to place an emphasis on mindful eating. Sometimes you’re not immediately told what it is you’re served up, to encourage slow, mindful eating, while you work your way through all the flavours.
You’ll get to try juicing, snack on sweet and healthy homemade treats like matcha peppermint slices, full of antioxidants and energy-boosting things. Breakfasts are an indulgent mix of the traditional (toast and tea) and the super-healthy.
While lunches and dinners are a concoction of kaleidoscopic dishes, from soups to veggie curries and criminal-looking pud’s that are actually good for you.
Not one thing passed my lips that was disagreeable. Amazing.
And then some. The thing about this retreat is that what you learn will resonate on some level, no matter where you are in life. One of my retreat buddies was clearly at a bit of an emotional crossroads in hers and I saw a visual difference in her over just a few days. I, on the other hand didn’t have anything specific to hang my focus on, but instead needed the retreat to give my whole lifestyle a shift towards the healthier. I’ve come away with a whole toolkit of ideas and techniques to think about and I feel really lucky to have had the chance to try something like this.
And guess what? I even did something, the wussy me swore I would never in a month of Sunday’s do.
An early-morning ocean plunge. Still can’t believe it, when usually I struggle to get into a swimming pool under the Spanish sun. So how’s that for a transformation (err, excuse the pasty mug!)
The Muddy Verdict:
Good for: women looking to get back into their groove, re-discover themselves, build confidence and gather inner strength. If you’re at a career crossroads, your kids are flying the nest, or you’re just feeling a bit meh and unfulfilled, you’ll get heaps from this retreat.
Not for: those looking for a bootcamp-type experience. These weekends will give you a taster of lots of different exercises and techniques and will give you time to reflect and think. To me, the weekend felt like it mirrored the gentle ebb and flow of the tide; gentle, intense, reflective.
££: A weekend will cost between £295 (course only) and £395, depending on whether you go for a single room or a twin. For the knowledge, quality of food and digs alone, I think it’s incredible value for money. Throw in the invaluable ‘me time’ and the opportunity to spend time with other women going through the same life dilemma’s as you, it’s a total steal.
Retreats take place throughout the year, the next ones are at the end of Feb (23 – 25 & 26 – 28 Feb). For details visit: heartandsolewellbeing.co.uk