Yoga Retreats can be hit or miss, especially when you're a qualified Yoga Teacher yourself. Some are for the instagram-generation, all perfectly lit 'butt shots' and expensive yoga labels but not much substance or genuine yoga philosophy. Others, are too spiritual verging on the cult-ish. Its hard to find one thats just right, that suits the beginner as much as the experienced teacher. Its also hard to find one not priced beyond reach but still offering a little bit of luxury and quality. Well stop searching, i think i found the perfect Yoga Retreat - its the Cliffs of Moher Retreat!
Friday evening starts with a Yoga class at 6pm followed by a short meditation, but first some welcome treats. Its something you learn fast at Cliffs of Moher Retreat, you come for the Yoga but its the food thats plays cupid - you have your first homemade gluten free chocolate brownie expecting it to taste like all those other sugar-free, taste-free, fun-free brownies you've had recently, but instead it is absolutely awesome! You can't eat enought of them! The chefs here are doing some amazing stuff in the kitchen but more of that later ...back to the Yoga
We're all newbies so we sit around in a circle and introduce ourselves to each other. Trepidatious at first about sharing personal stories, the why's and hopes for coming on the retreat, but are soon giggling and sharing. One girl sitting beside me gets a bit emotional when she shares her story and i naturally reach out to comfort her having only met her moments before in the kitchen. Again, it strikes me, this is going to be a very special weekend.
Yoga classes during the retreat were centred around healing - and that word 'healing' could mean anything and everything. Michelle is a seasoned Yogi, with alot of skill, experience and knowledge; not just on Yoga as a physical practice but also a mental and spiritual practice.
Yoga is at a slow, steady pace, nothing too challenging for a beginner but holding a position just long enough and working on alignment for the teachers in the room that want a challenge. The first night was geared toward a wind-down yoga class rather than a wind-up class and Michelle is the perfect teacher to guide us through it. Meditation afterwards set us in the mood for reflection and we make a silent promise to ourselves to leave judgement at the door.
Then its dinner time! The chefs at the retreat specialise in making the most delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner so meal time becomes an adventure every day and a big topic of conversation.
Saturday's Yoga classes start out with a half-hour of meditation, followed by an hour and a half of Yoga guided by Michelle. Again we aim to deepen our asana's, move into them with more agility and focus less on getting into those Instagram-like 'Pretzel-poses'. We break for breakfast and a walk along the stunning Cliffs of Moher, followed by some free time to explore Lahinch and its surrounding attractions.
Evening Yoga is a Yin Yoga class and this is where it gets really interesting. Yin Yoga is all about resisting convention, and releasing any expectations, demands and conformity in both your mindset and your physicality. Although i've practiced and taught Yoga for over 12 years i had never tried a Yin Yoga class - i thought it was kind of a 'makey-uppy' type of Yoga. I was wrong!
In the Yin class Michelle leads us into what would usually be a very normal, conventional pose like a seated forward-bend, supported by bolsters and blankets we're told to just release our bodies down into the pose, not to strive or aim for anything, just to 'relax' for want of a better word. Each pose is held for a length of time that seems like 10 minutes or 10 years, what seemed easy becomes hard, your body tries to tense, you tell it to 'relax' and eventually you release. I suddenly felt tears coming, not from physical pain, but because something had literally been released. After class as we're putting our shoes back on for dinner one of my fellow 'Retreaters' turns to me and softly admits she started to cry. I tell her i did too! And a third lady pipes up that she was overcome with emotion also. We look at each other in wonder - something very strange but wonderfully powerful has happened and we're all delighted! That night i slept like a baby - i felt like something stored deep inside had been let go. I was at peace.
Sunday starts us again with a meditation class followed by a more energetic Yoga class. We're all fully rested and geared up to get stuck into our Yoga. We stretch and reach and bend and end the class feeling full of the joys of a well spent weekend of Yoga.
Friday nights dinner was a choice of Mushroom, Leek and Squash Crumble, Purple Sprouting Broccoli Salad and Slaw with a beautiful Coconut, Blackcurrant and Orange Cake to finish. And it did not disappoint - we all left for bed with happy tummys after a brief informative talk from Michelle.
Saturday's menu included more delicious goodies, and we all particularly went crazy for the Sunflower Sliders and the Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Soup. This isn't your usual veggie fare - there's depth to the flavours and you can tell thought and love have gone into every dish. In fact, the Retreats food is so good, they even do food themed retreats too - click here to see their next Foodie Retreat
Cliffs of Moher Retreat doesn't just offer great Yoga classes and yummy food, there's also an outdoor Sauna (see below) which i enjoyed on the Saturday evening after our fabulous Yin Yoga class. They also have an outdoor hot-tub! 'In April? in Ireland? A month after our horrific snow storm?' i hear you cry; the answer is 'Yes and i'd do it again in a heartbeat'. The fantastic staff at the Retreat will fire up both Hot-tub and Sauna on request for guests and they are a truly spectacular experience. Picture yourself in a toasty-hot hot-tub looking out over the bay as the night floods in and your only light is the stars in the sky.... and your almost there, it's magical!
The Retreats resident Dog also likes a spot of Yoga
This is a Yoga Retreat with a difference and i can't recommend it highly enough. Michelle and Michael have created something truly magical for their guests, that i haven't seen matched yet. The Yoga, the food and the location are all fantastic but theres a bit of stardust or 'secret sauce' thrown in there too, something undefinable but wonderful and powerful. You'll be sad to say goodbye to them, but you've only known them less than 48hours. You'll leave feeling a deep connection to the place and like me you'll want to make it an annual pilgrimage, maybe even bi-annual.
If you're looking for a fantastic Yoga Retreat in Ireland, this is it. Book it, book it now! And i'll see you on the mat
For more information visit www.cliffsofmoherretreat.com