September 16th 2016
How I learned to love yoga
July 19th 2016 / 1 comment
The last time beauty entrepreneur Anna-Marie Solowij went to Ibiza was in the hedonistic 1980s. Now more than 25 years on, could it convert her to yoga?
I was never much of a yoga fan - classes always seemed so competitive, I didn’t have the right leggings and couldn’t fake the virtuous glow (and excess of enthusiasm) that my yoga mates all seemed to possess. So other than a few random attempts and fairly irregular attendance on several beginners’ courses (no wonder I didn’t have the glow!), I thought that yoga and I would remain passing acquaintances. Until, during the depths of last winter, I committed to a week-long spring yoga break at a new retreat in Ibiza called Yoga Rosa. I figured I’d have several months to work on my asanas, find the right leggings and basically, not be a downward dog duffer.
Having panic-practised in the few weeks leading up to my stay (not very yogic, I know), I arrived at the retreat located in the quiet, (i.e. away from the clubs) south-eastern part of the island near Santa Eularia des Riu, despondent and worried that I wouldn’t get the most from my week away.
But the minute I walked through the gate and was greeted by Hugo (more about him later) I changed my mind. The Rosa behind the yoga is Rosa Klein, a strikingly good-looking Austrian - a tall, strong, ex-fashion and interiors magazine and advertising producer with great style and taste. After a serious car accident (brain damage, broken ribs and one leg left shorter than the other) and the prospect of a life lived in pain, Rosa found yoga and the physical strength and ease it brings. She went on to train in kriya yoga, a meditative form based on therapeutic, holistic Ayurvedic principles.
Rosa's retreat, on a large estate, is more like a rambling garden, set on a pine-clad escarpment, overlooking distant rural views of the northern part of the island. Two swimming pools - one salt, one freshwater - hammocks under the trees, shady areas to relax and lovely pathways through the pine trees, interspersed with sculptures, all make for a sense of space and feeling of quietude.
A cluster of elegantly renovated fincas are furnished with a clever combination of upcycled driftwood furniture (by Roger Salvesberg of Ibiza Grey, a local eco artisan) and mid-century classics. A sitting room and kitchen replenished daily with reverse osmosis filtered rainwater, teas, fresh fruit, seeds, nuts and dried fruit for snacking, make each house feel like home. The bedding - handmade locally from soft, washed linen - deserves special mention, sourced from local interior design store Tanis who also made the soft furnishings for the fincas and pool loungers.
There’s room for up to nine guests which makes for a friendly and supportive group. And if you commit to the holistic colon cleanse to flush the system, which involves a morning practising specific digestion-stimulating yoga poses and drinking two-and-a-half litres of salt water (cue profuse vomiting and diarrhoea), it helps to have sympathetic fellow guests. Knowing that others are gagging on salt water in between dashing to the loo and feeling pretty ropey, is incredibly bonding. And afterwards, when everyone looks so much more energised and glowing, it’s nice to have the mirror of other peoples’ opinions.
The real focus of the retreat is the outdoor whitewashed wooden yoga platform, where the scent of the pine trees mingles with incense during a 90-minute early morning class led by Rosa. The yoga itself is a combination of flow, pranayama (breath control) meditation and quiet reflection (kriya yoga), learned by Rosa from the Indian master Mahedra Pardeshi at the Gayatri Dham ashram in Rishikesh, near the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s a holistic practice, based on the classical Indian tradition which combines wonderfully with pranayama breathing meditation.
Our group was of mixed experience – from me at six months (ish) to 20 years and everything in between with one person a teacher of yoga.
I found it challenging and struggled with many of the asanas, but each day brought improvement in flexibility and by the end of the week I could reach, straighten and hold further, better and longer than I’d have thought possible. What really resonated with me (and any work or life-stressed attendee) was the meditative aspect of Rosa’s particular form of kriya yoga. We began the daily 90-minute practice with a short seated meditation, practising pranayama breathing (in through the nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, out through the nose for eight) to the calming sound of a singing bowl played by Rosa. Then we were gently verbally guided through a warm-up of seated poses followed by a surya namaskar (sun salutation) sequence, before starting on our standing, lying down and inverted postures. We each worked to our own capabilities, with Rosa providing individual guidance where needed. I was way behind on many of the poses that required greater flexibility (I still can’t get my foot above my knee for the tree pose), but turns out I’m pretty good at a head stand.
Each class made for a very centering experience. My head was clearer, focus sharper and energy revived.
One of the many highlights of the day is the post-yoga brunch – a total feast, laid out on the communal table overlooking the pool and kitchen garden. With award-winning Austrian chef Philipp Gandler in charge of the kitchen, the vegetarian/vegan spread was truly exceptional; porridge with chopped dates and goji berries, an unbelievably delicious seed bread, home-made fruit preserves, eggs any style, organic cheeses, sheep’s yogurt, fruit, smoothies and tisanes are all either grown within view in the garden or sourced locally from organic farms.
Afternoons are for relaxing by the pools, heading to the beach for a walk with Rosa’s five friendly dogs (Hugo, a tan hunting cross-breed, the leader of the pack greeted us on our first day and has a passion for chasing pine cones) or booking a treatment with a choice of local practitioners offering Thai massage, deep tissue (amazing for stiff shoulders and backs), reiki and bio-resonance, (a painless form of electronic feedback analysis that registers the body’s energy levels using electrodes to asses and rebalance weaknesses). Or you could zip up your metabolism and join personal trainer Alexandra Pudlik’s Body Balance classes, an upbeat yet challenging hour working with wobble boards and sand-filled balls in an acrobatic, rhythmic way.
As the sun goes down, the mats come out again for the evening meditation, an hour of pranayama breathing followed by savasana (lying down relaxation) listening to Rosa’s mesmeric voice talk you through the meditation. I nearly fell asleep several times but thoughts of the three-course dinner to come kept me awake.
And what dinners: gourmet standard food, eaten on a rustic communal table with unbelievably delicious concoctions such as fragrant pea and mint soup followed by courgette flower tempura, and Crema Catalana (the Spanish version of creme brulee) or beetroot carpaccio, grilled calamari and steamed spinach followed by sheep’s yogurt cream with sweet strawberries from the garden. We all left armed with recipes to try at home as well as a darling little jar of homemade apricot preserve tied with a lavender sprig from the garden.
For the perfect balance of hard work and reward, Rosa’s approach is perfectly tuned. This meditative place is far from the craziness for which Ibiza is known. Even Rosa’s choice of a beach location for our last night’s meditation was perfect: on the rocks, overlooking the water, warmed by the setting sun. The last time I went to Ibiza was in the 1980s at the explosion of the club scene and I have never really wanted to go back. But I do now. Not only that, I have carried on my practice at home, even moving the furniture to create a yoga space. I have also joined a local class to keep up with my new-found enthusiasm.
One of the things that I learned at Yogarosa - and that I now use every day to induce calm and clarity - is a short breathing practice and meditation.
Seated breath meditation for calm and clarity
This alternate nostril breathing involves closing the right nostril with the right thumb, breathing in and then switching so you block the left nostril and breathe out through the right. Here’s how to do it.
- Sitting cross legged or in lotus, with eyes closed, close the right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in through the left nostril for four seconds.
- Hold the breath for four seconds
- Close the left nostril with your right middle finger and breathe out through the right nostril.
- Then breathe in through the right nostril, hold for four, close it, and breathe out through the left.
- Repeat the cycle breathing in through the left nostril inhaling, holding and exhaling for four counts each.
- Do this for one minute.
PRICES: All inclusive, from £200 per person room, per night, deluxe brunch, fruit plates, smoothies, snacks, teas and three-course dinner, yoga therapy, pranayama meditation and optional colon cleanse.
Body Balance classes and massages are extra, around 80 Euros for one hour.
Retreats are for one week, although day-and-half day retreats are available on request.
Airport transfers 40 Euros each way.
For booking email email@example.com or call 0034 608 813 668 www.yogarosaretreats.com
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