After weeks of disconnection with myself, of being unwell and avoiding my feelings, I finally came home to myself at a yoga retreat at a lovely permaculture farm in Portugal.
I woke up with bright sunshine streaming into my caravan every morning, surrounded by wildnerness, to the sound of the rooster. I did yoga on an open deck with a gorgeous view, following that with some free journaling before I headed to breakfast. I attended sessions in the farm that involved connecting with your food, understanding the interconnectedness of plants, harvesting and prepping food myself. I plucked leaves and flowers and tasted them directly. I ate delicious meals, coming entirely from plants and trees growing around us. I went exploring by myself around the farm/forest. I found shady spots with a hammock to read and write more on.
I had lovely conversations with warm, open people. I painted with them, went exploring with them. We meditated by a bonfire together. We climbed up rocks to view sunsets together. We danced to our own music through our headphones, but together, in an open field. We learnt how to ferment foods together. And we made our own pizza!
I also had the opportunity to do an hour-long workshop with them, on self-connection. It was beautiful to run a session while being so grounded within myself. I got to experience myself in alignment, and how I show up and impact others from that space.
One of the biggest gifts from this retreat was discovering the practice of yoga, in a way that nourishes me. Until now, I’ve always struggled in yoga class. Struggled to keep up with the rest of the class and the teacher’s prompts. Always pushing myself to hold poses a little longer before I can’t take it anymore, or feeling frustrated when I’m unable to do certain poses because of my knee issues. And even when I had a yoga teacher coming home for a while, I found it more focused on the physical poses.
Here, I found a yoga teacher, Anya, who is committed to the philosophy and the opportunity for connection from the practice of yoga. Connecting with yourself, the experience of your body, mind and feelings, and connecting with a greater universal consciousness. Every class, she reminded you that you are enough, that you don’t need to push. That you are already strong, and you can activate the strength you have and work with that, rather than pushing to be stronger. She constantly encouraged you to choose what works for you, to be aware of what your body needs and to honour that.
My most memorable moment was from the first class. I was feeling some fear – we were doing yoga in the open and I was starting to sneeze and get allergies. Anya was prompting us to take deep breaths, to breathe in the input we need right now and to breathe out what we need to let go. I breathed in the thought ‘I am safe’. I breathed out fear. I did that several times. I felt my body relaxing and clearing up.
I didn’t know what permaculture really was before I got there. I had read it was something about sustainable farming and living in nature, and I felt drawn to experience it.
It was an experience of internal and external harmony. The food you eat comes from the farm around you, the water comes from deep wells, the electricity is from solar power. You pee wherever you find a private spot in the field, and poop in compost toilets that are also in the open. You use only organic products since your bath water goes straight to the soil and into your food. There was also a super outdoor shower – only partial privacy for now but I hear there will soon be sunflowers that grow high enough to give you full privacy!
What touched me the most was to see how much the couple who own this farm, Lawrence and Kimberly, love their land, trees, plants, dogs, cats, chickens.
We were helping Lawrence water some of the recently planted trees, and he would refer to each one as the unique living entity it is and say ‘this one is seeming quite parched, she’d love some water’. When he showed us his food forest, where all types of food-bearing plants were growing in interdependence, he talked about how one needs to figure out what each plant needs and then plant neighbors that can meet that need. What if we all lived like that? Kimberly joyously geeked out over her fermented foods, showing us how to prepare and care for these and sharing how they’ve impacted their health.
It was the perfect environment to connect with myself, with other likeminded people, with all types of life, and with the universe. Within a day, all mental struggles seemed to disappear. I had no desire to be online or check my phone. I wrote so much. I felt my own kindness and love.
It was a week of listening to myself and making intentional choices. Being in touch with when I’d had enough of socialising and group time or when I wanted to seek out conversation and join in. During yoga, when I needed to rest between poses or skip doing something, or when I felt energised to try a more challenging version of a pose. During free time, whether I wanted to paint, or read, or write, or explore or do nothing at all. The constant practice of listening and choosing made me feel more and more on my own side, in touch with my spirit.
Yes, there were moments of discomfort, because I’m used to more comfort, convenience and luxury. But the discomfort actually made me become more present and aware. I couldn’t just check out of my mind and be on auto pilot, looking at my phone while sitting on the pot. I was keenly aware of the smells, sounds, buzzing insects and process required for using compost toilets. It wasn’t hard. It just required my attention, and I found I was much more mindful and present in giving it.
This experience re-affirmed for me that self-connection is the foundation for well-being. In order to take care of myself, to understand my needs and what I want, and to listen to my body, I need to first be connected with myself. And I learnt how to do that, in a wonderful, experiential way, at this yoga and permaculture farm.
I’ve returned to the city, curious to see how I might continue to practice what I’ve learnt here. I started a morning yoga and journalling practice today. I intend to get some flowers that I can keep on my dining table every week. I’d like to check out the farmers market nearby this Sunday and continue learning to cook. There’s so much that’s possible.
The last week didn’t only remind or teach me how to connect with myself, but it also motivated me to do so because I saw the impact of doing so everyday on my mind and health. I woke up this morning, looking forward to doing yoga, not because I ‘should’ do it. And for this, I am so grateful.