Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Relax, Unwind and Breathe...

Awhile back, I was at a point in my life that I was about to crack! Work was so busy and I was struggling to stay afloat, amongst other personal issues, I was left feeling drained and exhausted. I had become a not-so-nice person and I could feel it tumbling down. What had happened to the happy, cheerful, bubbly person I used to be? I had been zapped of all my energy.

Luckily for me I realised what was happening to me and I decided to knock it on the head! After some research I discovered a yoga retreat located at Maraylya (near Windsor) only 45 minutes away from Sydney. I could not wait for my two night stay at Billabong Retreat.

Run by a husband and wife team, Paul and Tory von Bergen, the retreat overlooks a billabong, and is nestled amongst beautiful bushland – it’s a surprise at just how close you really are to civilization.

There is a very warm and homely feel about the retreat. I instantly felt a sense of calm on arrival. The smell of incense brought back memories of Bali. At the front is a gorgeous deck area, with comfortable lounges, hammocks and outdoor seating. This was our home for the next couple of days, where we relaxed in-between classes – reading a book and sipping hot tea – or in most instances taking a little nap.

The rooms are simple, and we opted for the higher end accommodation of ‘The Shed’ – a cute little isolated cabin with 4 beds and basic amenities. There are a variety of other sleeping facilities including tents and cottages with shared toilets and showers.

The food at Billabong Retreat was all vegetarian, and clean, healthy eating – but surprisingly tasty. We spoke to the chef beforehand, and she made sure there were always gluten free options available. Plenty of food was provided daily so there was rarely time to go hungry. However the kitchen was always open if you felt like nibbling on fresh fruit or nuts. And there was always plenty of hot tea (herbal and caffeine varieties) available. My favourite was the ‘sleepytime vanilla’ tea before bed.

On arrival we were greeted with a delicious apple and Chai tea spiced cake. This was gluten free, dairy free and sugar free but extremely tasty!
The yoga and meditation room is a circular structure with a high wooden ceiling, surrounded by full-length glass windows overlooking the bushland. There is nothing quite more relaxing than hearing the trees rustle, birds chirping and the beautiful sounds of nature while practicing yoga.

Yoga mats and blankets are provided, and all levels of yoga are welcome (luckily because it had been years since I had attended a class!). Paul was our teacher during the stay, showing us many different aspects of yoga and taking us on a calming and relaxing journey each time. You do not have to attend all classes, however I made sure I did, as this was the reason I was there right?

We got straight into the yoga on the first day, with an afternoon session – learning different breathing techniques and postures, and learning how to still the mind. This is an extremely important part of yoga – one that we all found quite difficult. There were 2 classes a day and each incorporated different yoga and meditation techniques. We also attended a chanting session, which was quite different.
For dinner on our first night we were served a red bean stew with corn chips and guacamole, steamed vegetables and salad. And for dessert, a raspberry tofu mousse. I was a bit hesitant by the sounds of this, but it was really yummy! And you wouldn’t even know it was made from tofu!

Breakfast each morning consisted of a selection of boiled eggs, gluten free toast (yay!), gluten free muesli, quinoa porridge, yoghurt and fresh fruit.

On our second day, amongst yoga practice, we also got to experience a tea ceremony, where we meditated during the simple process of making tea – something to be incorporated into our everyday lives. We used all our senses in this class – listening to the water be poured into the cups, watching as the tea bud magnificently bloomed into a flower, feeling the heat from the steam in the cups, and tasting the tea.

For lunch we were served a Thai pumpkin soup, served with raw vegetables on top. This gave the soup a whole new dimension, and was really nice to have that crunch factor. We were also served GF garlic bread!

During your free time, it is also optional to book in for a massage (at an additional cost). I just couldn’t go past it. On the other side of the billabong, a small timber room opens up onto the water and again it took me back to my holiday in Bali. It was perfect to add to my relaxing weekend!

For dinner that night we ate a vegetable curry and dahl, served with rice and a green salad. Dessert was a baked apple filled with a fruit and nut crumble.

That night we all gathered in the yoga room and watched a film called ‘Yoga Woman’. It delved into many different aspects of yoga and what it is used for around the world. It was a truly inspiring and uplifting movie and a nice touch to the retreat!

On our last day of the retreat, we had a delicious roasted vegetable stack and green salad. We were also taught some yoga techniques to take home with us. Only 7 minutes of practice a day is all it takes to keep your mind focused.  Then sadly it was time to say goodbye. And although it was such a short retreat, I felt extremely invigorated and tranquil.

Founder, Paul von Bergen has been kind enough to answer a few questions we had regarding Billabong Retreat.

2SS: Why did you start up Billabong Retreat and what inspired you?

Paul: Living in Thailand and seeing the retreats there, plus having a close family member die of alcoholism and wanting to do something to help people deal with the stresses in life.

2SS: How long have you been teaching/practicing yoga?

Paul: I have been practicing 7 years and teaching for 4 years.

2SS: What do you believe are the main benefits of yoga?

Paul: Healthy mind, healthy body.

2SS: How often do you practice yoga when you are not teaching?

Paul: I practice daily.

2SS: The facilities are eco-friendly. Tell us a little more about this and why this came to be.

Paul: Yoga is about connecting not only with your own nature but also with the nature around – being gentle with the nature around us involves using its resources consciously – reduce, reuse and recycle. Much of the retreat is second hand materials plus any new timber is sustainable plantation pine. We have a worm farm waster water system, solar hot water, photovoltaic power and we are fully eco certified.

2SS: What is the philosophy behind the food at Billabong Retreat?

Paul: Whole-foods, locally sourced – foods that our digestive systems have evolved to eat over millions of years – your gran would need to recognise them! Vegetables, fruit and nuts being the key ingredients.

2SS: Have you always been vegetarian and how do you think this helps your lifestyle?

Paul: No we are not vegetarian – we do eat organic meat occasionally but we feel it is good to give guests a taste of how great vegetarian food can be.

Billabong Retreat
41 McClymonts Road, Maraylya NSW
(02) 4573 6080

This made us giggle...

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