Open Hearts

Being pampered at a retreat focused on opening the heart is an unmatchable bliss. By Molly Furzer

Open Hearts

The winding roads and rolling hills draw gasps of awe from the Sydneysiders filling this minibus en route from BodyMindLife’s yoga studio in Surry Hills. Cows huddled under trees for shade, horses roaming paddocks and views of spectacular mountain ranges mark our entrance to Cottan-Bimbang National Park, 79 kilometres inland from Port Macquarie. The “Buddha bus”, as one fellow retreater has named it, is nearing our destination, where we plan to enjoy three days of yoga and relaxation.

Jasper’s, a former motel set in seclusion at the foot of hills and alongside a picture-postcard river, is the setting for this retreat held by BodyMindLife, which has two popular power vinyasa studios in Sydney at Surry Hills and Rozelle. For the next few days, we have three teachers—Nicole Goodwin, Bryony Lancaster and Stella Chambers—guiding us through strong vinyasas and restorative yin poses.

Arriving at dusk on Thursday night, we convene in the cosy open-plan dining and lounge to meet the teachers and other retreat participants who have taken flights to Port Macquarie or made their own way by car. Many are already students of the Sydney studios, while others live in small towns and attend local yoga classes. Conversation is easy, as we all love yoga and are excited about the long weekend’s events—including yoga and meditation workshops, African drumming, a cooking class and optional massages, psychic readings and AcuEnergetics healing sessions.

Wholefood chef Angie Cowen (see page 20) sets a precedent for the rest of our stay with a gourmet vegetarian buffet dinner—it’s delicious, wholesome and healthy food. Over the next few days, her culinary delights command a round of applause as they are placed on the dining buffet. Cowen lets us know that the food served at the retreat is completely gluten free, to give the digestive system a break. Satisfied with our feed, we retire to our rooms for an early night, knowing that our first yoga class is at 7 a.m.

COUNTRY LIFE

Rising early to the glorious sound of birdsong—there are more than 200 species of birds known to live in the National Park—I take the opportunity to walk around the expansive grounds, secretly hoping to spot some wildlife. Pairs of wallabies are easily found behind the main block of accommodation, quietly feeding on the groundcover. But it’s the platypus I am really keen to see—I came to Jasper’s with a school group in the ’80s when it was known as Mount Seaview, and I still have vivid memories of the babbling river and its resident platypus family. Despite assurances that the platypus are still there, they remain well out of sight during my stay.

Our morning session is a two-hour yoga and meditation class led by Bryony Lancaster. The retreat’s focus is on the heart, she says: “Being open and happy is so healing for your body and mind. It’s such an awesome way of boosting your immunity and energy levels.” Lancaster gives us a flowing sequence that includes several heart opening poses such as Cobra, Triangle and a long hold of Pigeon Pose.

As a hatha yoga practitioner, the only vinyasa I regularly practise are Sun Salutations. This style of yoga is strong—moving from one pose to the next and resting in Downward-Facing Dog. And it has its merits—after three days of classes here I am standing tall with a strong core and my nagging hip problem has thankfully disappeared.

IN THE FLOW

While BodyMindLife’s core style is power vinyasa flow, influenced by the teachings of Louisa Sear, Shiva Rea and Baron Baptiste, each of the teachers over the weekend present their own refreshingly individual take.

“Even though we teach the power vinyasa style, within that there is freedom for our teachers to express themselves and their personality in a way that feels authentic to them,” says Nicole Goodwin. “They’re all aware of what our values are as a studio, and that’s infused in the way each of them teach in their own unique way.”

These values are evident in the classes and workshops over the weekend, with community, lightness of heart, fun, laughter and celebration enjoyed by each person on the retreat. “We have enough seriousness in the world,” says Goodwin, “we want to enjoy what we do and the students to enjoy themselves in class.”

Stella Chambers, based at the Rozelle studio, is one such teacher who brings fun and laughter into every class. On Saturday afternoon, she guides us through a yin yoga session that sees retreaters floating out of class on a cloud of relaxation.

After a night of make-your-own Vietnamese rice paper rolls and energetic African drumming, we wake on Sunday feeling on top of the world. And it can only get better…

Goodwin gives one of the most memorable yoga classes I’ve ever attended. Through a flowing vinyasa, she effectively teaches the sometimes hard-to-grasp yogic concept of the vayus, or winds—the five kinds of prana (life force)—and their relationship with the body. It is here that the vinyasa flow style really shines.

In three days we have had a busy yet relaxed schedule, with at least one or two yoga classes a day, a workshop focusing on heart-opening backbends and a contemplative “inner smile” meditation class. Most of the retreat participants have taken advantage of the massage and AcuEnergetic treatments.

But there is one more highly anticipated event before leaving—a special brunch that draws a rapturous applause, and even a hug for chef Cowen.

It’s hard to imagine packing so much fun and relaxation into three days, but we did it with the help of BodyMindLife.

Molly Furzer joined the retreat as a guest of BodyMindLife.

FACT FILE

PACKAGES: BodyMindLife holds retreats and full-time and part-time teacher training programs throughout the year. The three-day retreat package costs from $550 twin-share and includes all meals and yoga classes and workshops. For more information, visit www.bodymindlife.com.

Nearby: BodyMindLife brings therapists to its retreats, offering treatments such as Kahuna (Lomi Lomi) massage and AcuEnergetics, at an extra cost.

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