The verb ‘Retreat’ – sounds like backing off doesn’t it? Or then again it can be Re-Treat, and mean another chance to treat yourself. That was definitely the case for me when I took off to the Inner Guidance mini retreat in Suffolk, just outside the picturesque medieval village of Lavenham in Suffolk.
As you enter the 16th century grade 2 listed house, you sense the energy immediately, it feels peaceful. I was later to find out why, it seems the house has a history of hosting peace initiatives, it was owned by the Howard family and Peter Howard was involved in what is now called ‘Initiative of Change International’, a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behavior, starting with their own.
Jo De Rosa and her husband Dominic live there and run their retreat centre, and when you see the huge meditation room / yoga studio, it seems incredible that it was already in place when they moved in; apparently Howard built the extension to facilitate meetings and meditations. Famous guests have stayed there too including Winston Churchill and Gandhi. This isn’t your average ‘basic’ retreat centre, Jo and Dominic host luxury transformational retreats, after removing my shoes, I was shown to my en-suite room, it had stunning views across the 3 acre site and beyond the statues of Buddha in the garden I could see horses in the field. Idyllic, literally.
I arrived feeling a little burnt-out, and very much in need of nurturing and TLC and this is self-care at its finest, because in addition to the yoga and meditation classes and sessions on offer, there are lovely walks, books to read in the library, and the most amazing healthy food. Hill Farm is perfect for unwinding, relaxing and recharging your batteries. But it can be much more than that. If you arrive with an open heart and mind, the chances are you will go away inspired to look a little deeper into yourself.
Our first yoga class as dusk fell was far from strenuous. It was restorative yoga and it did just that, leaving us feeling restored and incredibly relaxed. I was a little nervous of the morning meditation session, worried that I’d be fidgety and find it difficult to clear my mind, but Jo is a very experienced meditation teacher and recognizes that it can seem tricky when you are a novice, but she puts you completely at ease. By the time you are ensconced in gorgeous colourful soft cushions, bolsters and blankets you feel cocooned and able to let go as she delivers a guided meditation. One of the highlights is the pre-meditation Cacao ceremony. They are the UK importers and stockists for Keith’s Cacao, raw 100 per cent ceremonial grade Guatemalan cacao. Keith Wilson is a chocolate Shaman and his cacao is known for its medicinal properties, Jo describes it as a ‘heart opener’ and it’s known as the food of the Gods’ so it’s perfect just before meditation. Dominic blends it with a cashew paste and nut milk and it’s gently warmed. We sat, drank our ‘hot chocolate’ and then moved into a fifteen minute meditation.
Jo believes it’s all about investing in you. ‘Transformation happens at retreats. Just the intention of putting aside 48 hours for yourself gets energy moving, so that even before you arrive change is happening! Going on a retreat is an inspiring opportunity to plan and map the coming months and set some goals to achieve a more content and peaceful environment. Jo loves teaching meditation retreats to allow clients to fully immerse themselves into their practice with no worries of work or family commitments. During the retreat it’s like taking off the outer layer of responsibilities and expectations, which the world and ourselves impose, leaving the participant completely open to be totally themselves and go deeper within themselves. Whether you already have a regular meditation and/or yoga practice, or are a complete beginner, our retreats are ideal for you and will provide a truly in-depth experience. Through your spiritual practice you will learn to accept yourself for who you are and find peace within. As this process unfolds an inner happiness grows, and when you return home your loved ones will really notice the difference, because when you feel happy inside it emanates outwards and touches everyone you come into contact with. It can be a beautiful opportunity to feel truly free for a couple of days, and for real growth and transformation to continue when you get home!
I must admit I was not expecting the food to be as fantastic as it was. Guests regularly say “Who knew that gluten, dairy, alcohol and sugar-free foods could taste so good!” I’ve been on yoga retreats before and the vegan food on offer has been acceptable, functional – fills a hole as it were, (think jacket potatoes, salad and vegan quiches), but this is something else entirely. Dominic is a gourmet raw chef and he loves to recreate scrumptious meals the healthy way.
The menu is preservative free, wheat free, gluten free, sugar free and dairy free. They cook only in coconut oil which has endless health benefits, and they pride themselves in showing their customers how tasty healthy food can be. They offer a full healthy breakfast each morning including speciality smoothies and their infamous ‘Yogi-Breakfast’. They also offer a healthy version of the traditional afternoon cream tea, and dinner each night. The recipes include such delights as raw sushi, healthy vegan pizza, Pad Thai and quinoa, Shepherd-less pie, Thai red curry with tofu and an assortment of green vegetables, served with brown and wild rices. Dominic has published a book ‘Your Healthy Favourites, Cooked the Clean Way’, and wants everyone to join the clean eating revolution!
And despite the fact that the retreat is sugar free that doesn’t mean there are no sweet treats. They offer yummy desserts such as Guatemalan chocolate fudge slice served with chocolate chip banana ice cream, Mango and Orange sorbet and Chocolate mousse. We all sat together to eat around our large table in the old dining room, and it felt incredibly homely. Don’t be expecting a glass of vino though; it’s a strictly sober venue. Jo is a former addict and in addition to the mini retreats they offer Quantum Sobriety five day retreats (which have an amazing success rate).
There are some amazing therapeutic treatments on offer too, I experienced Biodynamic Psychotherapy and massage with Anni Meehan and it was quite something, I wish I could describe it to you, but I only know I felt like I was away with the fairies for a good long time and after a lovely empowering talk with Anni I left feeling energised and positive, yet deeply relaxed.
One of the highlights of the mini retreat was the final evening ‘s ‘Gong Wash’, you may have experienced therapeutic sound healing before, perhaps with someone using vocals or singing bowls but Dominic as a former musician brings another quality to this experience. We lay in the dark in the meditation room covered in blankets and after a short explanation of how sound therapy works, Dominic began the gonging, and man was it loud!! …amazing! Some people slept, some went off into a dream like state, Jo found herself down the yellow brick road and had to click her red heels three times…I felt very serene until towards the end when I felt as though I was on a fast moving train! It sure was a journey and afterwards we helped ourselves to a herb tea in the always well stocked ‘kitchenette’ (where fresh ground coffee is available too) and then headed off to restful sleep.
I can’t wait to go back, I’m dying to sample Dom’s other recipes, and during the summer months there is a small open air pool and hot tub in the garden and an outdoor meditation area. On the last day I walked the Labyrinth, but when I talked to Dom it seems I may have walked around it the wrong way! There IS a science to it! Hey ho, it means I need to go back and walk it again!
Re-treat – ‘To treat yourself again’ I intend to do that soon!
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