A few weeks ago I was chatting with Emily Deslaurier and Rickilee Alexandra at The Yoga Den in Victoria, following Rickilee's Medicine Making Yoga Herbs workshop. They mentioned an upcoming Island Elements Retreat they were facilitating the last weekend in May, and the more I heard them describe the various elements included (yoga, meditation, delicious food, a nature walk and kayaking) the more motivated I was to attend. I find it a constant challenge to try to find balance in my life; my upcoming birthday was the perfect excuse to carve out the time for myself, and have a girl's weekend together as an experience gift with my Mom. The retreat started last Friday and we lucked out with gorgeous, sunny weather for the drive up to Sooke. The retreat was hosted by Stacey Jones, of iSurfiYoga, and Emily Deslaurier (whom I mentioned above), two warm and welcoming facilitators who went out of their way to make the weekend an incredible experience for everyone.
The retreat took place at the Vancouver Island Lodge, a gorgeous retreat centre that typically facilitates chartered fishing retreats. The owner and operator Ryan Chamberland put so much care into the lodge and surrounding area, it was a beautiful place to spend the weekend. We were definitely not his typical clientele, but he made us feel very welcome and was a gracious host, even going so far as to set up a roaring bonfire for us every night!
There were a few highlights that I took away from this retreat. The first was the ability to practice meditation and yoga with some amazing teachers, multiple times a day, in an absolutely stunning environment. We started each day with a seated meditation on a large bed of sea asparagus down by the water. I had never seen sea asparagus before, is a really strange and lovely hybrid of grass and seaweed, shaped like little mini asparagus shoots. My curiosity got the better of me the first morning, I broke off a little piece to sample and was rewarded with a taste that was a “salty, creamy crunch” in the words of a fellow attendee. I sat in meditation with the sun kissing my face, smelled the salty tang of the ocean and took in the chirping of the purple martins at a nearby sanctuary, grateful for this moment of peace and serenity.
We followed our morning meditations with a yoga practice led by Emily, a very gifted teacher who used all of the tools at her disposal to help us connect with both our surrounding environment and our practice. I appreciated that she switched things up, featuring a gentle stretch before our nighttime meals, and flow style classes in the morning. We experimented with practicing off our mats in the grass, which my inner child fully embraced. On Sunday morning Emily helped us workshop some balancing poses, which was a lot of fun. Katie Thacker came in to do a yin practice followed by Yoga Nidra on Sunday night. Her voice was soothing, the perfect compliment to our gentle movements and deep meditation experience. To say I was relaxed afterwards would be a huge understatement, I can't remember the last time I slept so well.
Another big highlight for me with this retreat was the food. Anyone who knows me knows that food is a pretty high priority, and when I found out that Cindy from Ingredients Market was providing the meals I was very motivated to sign up! I have seen first hand how incredible her food is, both from dining at the Ingredients Cafe multiple times, and through attending Cindy's Food is Medicine Series on Sunday nights at the Market. While it was hard to pick favourites out of all of the amazing meals we had, some of the highlights for me would include a thai kelp noodle salad, Mexican inspired lasagne, a medley of Indian curries, and trying sea asparagus cooked as part of a salad incorporating miners lettuce, “regular” asparagus and red peppers.
I would be remiss in my discussion of this retreat if I did not touch on all of the wonderful activities provided by our lovely facilitators. Our days were full, but I found the level of activity to be well balanced with downtime, where we could rest and relax, take a walk, or soak in the hot tub. Emily hosted a Desire Map workshop, which I absolutely loved. I am a huge fan of Danielle Laporte and love any opportunity to engage with her work. Examining and discussing my core desired feelings with such a supportive group of women (including my Mom) was a pretty amazing experience. We went on a guided hike around Matheson Lake with certified Wilderness Guide Saralyn Deslaurier and Herbalist Rickilee Alexandra. I learned so much from both of them, and thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the gorgeous natural environment surrounding us. A guide from Rush Adventures took us on a kayak tour around the inlet, pointing out lots of sights and sounds as we went. My arms got a good workout, and I enjoyed the peace and tranquility I experienced out on the water. Stacey led us through kombucha and chocolate making workshops, with delicious tastings afterwards.
This retreat taught me so many things. It taught me how important it is to take time to be still, and engage with the present moment. It taught me how important it is to connect with the natural environment, something I plan to take into my day to day life. I was so inspired by the women I spent time with over the weekend, I learned about various healthy living practices, rammed earth houses, and Green City Acres in Kelowna. I love to hear about passionate people who are making the world a better place, it brings me so much inspiration and hope for the future. I challenged and opened myself up in so many beautiful ways. Looking back I fully appreciated what a gift retreat experiences are, as an opportunity to take time away from day to day life to connect with myself and others. I also realized how important it is to make a retreat part of my day to day experience, to find time for peace and tranquility in the midst of the beautiful chaos that often makes up my life. Thank you so much Emily & Stacey, and everyone else who came together to make this beautiful experience possible.
I am curious to know, what daily practices do you find helpful when it comes to slowing down and being present in your life? What are some of the things you do to create a zen, retreat like experience at home?