If you’re one of those people who promises to take up yoga but somehow never does, then try a yoga retreat. As a way to detoxify from an urban environment, a yoga retreat offers numerous benefits for health, mind and spirit. The intense daily practice helps build a strong foundation that you can maintain when you return home.
This summer I discovered a superb yoga retreat in Southern Italy by Kaliyoga, Vinyasa with Tashi. Away from the madding crowd in the dazzlingly beautiful Puglia region of Southern Italy, this retreat of Mindful Vinyasa Yoga was the perfect remedy to iron out my big city stress and way to rediscover myself.
Vinyasa, a spiritual form of yoga, is taught by the inspiring teacher Tashi to help you become more in touch with yourself, get rid of mental clutter and release tension. The aim is to alter your perception of yourself by synchronizing your breath to movement in order to reach a state of blissful awareness. Tashi is a wonderful guide, offering assistance to suit your level whether you’re an awkward beginner or a more advanced student. The class does not focus on mastering poses as much as inviting you to look more deeply into how you feel, and making your senses more astute to allow you to become more resilient and better able to live “joyfully.” However, novices will learn to do a headstand, a back arch and an arm stand. The class met twice daily from 8 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 6 pm with an added meditation session every morning at 7:30 for early birds.
The retreat is situated on a huge, luscious property that includes authentic trulli stone houses with iconic stone roofs typical of the Alberobello region and a renovated masseria (a 16th century old farm that looks like a small palace). You can book a single room or share one with another attendee for a lesser fee in the masseria or in an individual trullo house. My room in the masseria was spacious with white limestone walls, two large windows and a balcony with a stunning view on wheat fields scorched by the sun. You feel in a totally different world and even if you did not do any yoga your senses would reach a deep level of appeasement merely by the visual wealth of the area.
The quality of the cuisine is equally excellent. Gourmet vegetarian and pescaterian, it aims at detoxifying and purifying your body, an important component in achieving a blissful state. The breakfast included organic grains, cereals, fresh squeezed juices, yogurt and rice or soymilk. You could make coffee in the kitchenette adjacent to your room, though you are invited to refrain from all stimulants, if possible. Lunch usually consisted of fresh crisp salads with local sun-kissed vegetables, Mediterranean dishes without meat such as stuffed tomatoes with Mozzarella and herbs, or one of my favorites, stuffed eggplant with mushroom, cheese, grains and herbs. In the evening a more formal three-course dinner by local chef Gregory was always wonderfully surprising.
You are free to explore the countryside or the two nearby historical cities of Martina Franca or Locorotondo by bike or foot, skinny dip in the outdoor pool, relax in the Jacuzzi in an open field under the moonlight or loll nonchalantly in one of the hammocks in true “dolce vita” mode. Holistic body treatments were available upon appointment such as a deep tissue massage that left everyone’s eyes rolling for hours. On Wednesday an outing to the beach was planned at nearby Capitano beach accompanied by dinner in a local restaurant in Locorotondo where we explored traditional dishes of the Puglia region such as tripe and donkey steak. If you don’t have the heart for those, however, other restaurants with pasta and pizza are also a possibility. Though you are not expected to drink at the retreat, you would be a fool not to taste the local wine. South Italian culture is so rich that it is fascinating to fill your days discovering all it has to offer.
This retreat was also a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded people and form ties with them. The contrast between our tense drawn faces and stiff bodies when we arrived and the sparkling expressions when we left was quite revealing of the release and joy experienced during the initiation. I have kept up my yoga practice since my stay even if only for just a few minutes in the morning — but more importantly I have become aware, thanks to the wonderful instruction, of the way to tune myself up and release tension in the middle of a crazy day by getting in touch with myself. It’s a gift that will keep rewarding me. I have only one thought when I think of this retreat: I want to go back as soon as possible and experience every step of this mesmerizing physical and mental transformation again.
For more information about Kaliyoga, visit http://www.kaliyoga.com