A Travel and Lifestyle Blog
If you have been with me a while in my little corner of the internet, you know my long term relationship with meditation. It is a fulfilling and rewarding relationship. I credit it for keeping me (almost) sane. It has certainly helped me work through some of the darkest times in my life. It is as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth, or getting dressed. So when I saw a one day meditation retreat not far from where I live, with a little festive twist for December, I was keen to sign up. The Yoga and meditation day, organised by Clare Cockell retreat Days, was being held at a beautiful Manor House near Maidstone in Kent. I went on retreat to France with Clare and her team earlier this year, so I knew I was in safe hands.
I know there can be quite a misconception about spiritual retreats. The assumption that we all sit around om-ing and flinging smudge sticks around is common. They are not like that, (but I do love a bit of incense, not gonna lie)! For me, a meditation retreat is a welcome moment of calm. A little grounding in the chaos. This time of year it is a great way to take a little time to look back with gratitude on all that the year had provided. Good and bad. It is also a way for me to say goodbye to the year. Leaving any of the bad stuff behind in it, yet take the lessons it taught me, forward. A meditation and yoga retreat was the ideal place to do this. So before you perhaps decide that a meditation retreat is not for you, let me tell you all about it…
Barham Court is a beautiful Grade II listed manor house. Set within acres of gorgeous natural beauty, your first glimpse of it is as you emerge from the tree lined driveway leading up to it. The statuesque house, once the home to serving knights of England, has an elegance and softness about it. With the beauty of nature enveloping it from all sides, and its slightly elevated position, the views are plentiful and far reaching.
The room which the meditation retreat is held in, is flooded with light. The entire back wall is glass windows, your view the rolling countryside laid out beyond. Added to this, a stunning chandelier provides more light from the high ceilings. The low winter sunlight floods in, hitting the thousands of crystal droplets. The magic of natures light, meeting the artificial light, results in a cascade of twinkling and dancing rainbows. It was a beautiful welcome into the room.
Sitting down for the official welcome by our hosts, Clare and Alex, the day began. Steaming mugs of hot chocolate, over flowing with marshmallows were served, and our itinerary for the day advised. I was excited to learn that we were also going to be having a “sound therapy” session. I had experienced a gong bath back in the Summer at a wellbeing day, and had found it incredibly relaxing. I am always willing to try any kind of treatment or alternative therapy. It makes my hippy heart sing with joy.
We started with a short meditation, led by Clare to ease us in. Even if you are very new to meditation, you would have enjoyed this. It focused on the breath and was a great way to start the day. In fact, the entire day was geared towards both beginners and those more established in a meditation and yoga practise. The balance was just right.
The yoga class was suitable, whatever your level
The retreats yoga teacher and sound therapy expert was the wonderful Alice from Alice Rose.Space. If you are in or around the Sevenoaks, Kent area, I would strongly recommend you look her up. Her yoga class was amazing and she just radiates positive and beautiful energy. Again, the yoga was suitable for all levels of experience, and concentrated on stretching out the body’s core. Perfect for me with my back problem! Yoga complete, we were given a fluffy blanket to wrap up in, and invited to get comfortable for the sound therapy session.
Ok, so this may be a little more “out there” for the uninitiated! Alice sat on the floor, her alchemic crystal bowls set before her. She then “plays” the bowls and a singing sound emerges from them. It is said that the sound these bowls make are attuned to the body’s own sound frequencies. This matching of sounds balances and restores, bringing healing and relaxation to the body. Wrapped up in my blanket, curled up in my comfiest position, I can very much agree with the relaxation part. I was almost asleep! You can read more about sound therapy just here.
Suitably relaxed and cosy from the session, we broke for a healthy lunch. Lunch is provided, and was served in a gorgeous dining room. I of course picked the table next to the Christmas tree. You ca guarantee if there were crackers I would have had the paper hat on my head faster than you can say namaste…..
It is a well known fact that craft, or being creative, boosts mental wellbeing. It is said to hep with mental health, as well as cognitive behaviour. I have been on many retreats where some kind of craft is part of the agenda. I am sure than none of us have missed the huge rise in mindful colouring books that can be bought these days. It is also known to be a great stress reliever. In fact, crafting of some sort has been used to help soldiers recover from stress for over 100 years! I know many of us can feel like we are in a war zone this time of year, so get your craft on people!
The wonderful Aimee Gracey, the artist behind Gracefully Boho, was our Christmas Wreath workshop teacher. I was so excited to try my hand at this. I have never made a Christmas wreath. Every year my Mum and I say we are going to try our hand at it, but don’t! Everything we needed to create a beautiful, natural wreath was provided. It is also where I learnt how to make the dried oranges that you often see on traditional christmas trees. I love that eco friendly way to decorate a tree. In fact, my orange slices are baking in the oven as I type!
After we had created our Christmas masterpieces, it was time to get out in nature. Wrapping up warm, we got outside to enjoy the beautiful Autumnal day. Not only are the grounds of the manor house beautiful, but there is a Country Park right next door. The river Medway runs through the park, and walking beside it was so calming. Ancient stone bridges, traditional loch’s and the burnished colours of Autumn made for a picture perfect, incredibly restorative walk.
The walk of course is to aid your wellbeing. Exercise, especially outdoors, is known to have so many benefits. Your blood gets pumping, circulation gets going. The crisp cold air makes your fill your lungs a little deeper. The brain benefits from the increase in oxygen, and of course, nature just makes your heart happy anyway! We all came in full of laughter, with red cheeks and glowing skin. It was the perfect pre-requsite to our afternoon mediatation.
To end our day, we had a workshop and meditation. The workshop had a little manifestation, a little visualisation and a little reflection. We were encouraged to write notes, (note book and pen provided in our goodie bags) to carry on with at home. It was good to focus the mind. I personally love manifestation. I loved that the workshop gave me time to reflect on how grateful I was for this year.
This past year has had some horrors within it, no denying that. But, it has also had so much to be thankful for. This time last year we thought we were watching the inevitable sand running through the timer. That life for my family was going to be changed forever when that sand ran out. Despite entering the new year positively, we knew Nik’s fight with cancer was going to be ongoing and brutal. But, the universe had other plans! Once again, it had our backs. It is this gratitude, this absolute thanks and appreciation that I concentrated on. Will always focus on. This total feeling of gratefulness, and the lessons that I learnt about myself in the bad times, will come with me into the new year. This meditation retreat day was a great way to say goodbye to the past year.
I always feel a little more vulnerable when I share my spiritual, hippy side with you on here. I know it can attract judgement. People have misconceptions about it, I am very aware of that. However, it is very much my life, part of my make up, so it feels right that you see that side of me also. (You can read about what meditation means to me in this post, Meditation and Mindfulness) It is in my plans for next year, to show even more of that side of me on my blog. I am going to be talking more about my sustainability and eco journey on here too. I am excited.
Anyway, I would love to know, what you think? Was you expecting something totally different from a retreat day? Have you experienced a meditation retreat, or any sort of spiritual retreat? Or is it a yoga day retreat that appeals to you? I think many people think of a retreat as sitting round in a fluffy dressing gown at a spa! That is lovely too, of course, but working on your mind is just as important, (in my opinion it is more important) as your skin, beauty routine, massage treatment. I urge you to consider one, no smudge stick required…….
Clare and her team run these day retreats throughout the year. They cost from £99 for the all inclusive day. The retreat in France is run a couple of times a year. You can see all of the details just here.