1 week ago today was my 30th birthday. The 7 days that followed could be aptly described as some of the most tumulus and emotional of my 30 years. 7 days ago I packed my bags and flew to southern Italy, to the Kali Yoga retreat. Booking those flights was a daring thing to do. I really didn’t know how throwing myself into the unknown surroundings of a retreat would fare. But I can tell you now, typing this post out, I am not the person I went into that retreat as and it was just about the best decision I ever made…
A little background
Talking about mental health on my platforms is something I only really started in the last 9 months. Know when reading this that I still feel nervous about talking about MH but realised after reading so many online admissions about other peoples MH that helped me, I decided to practise what I felt strongly about and be silent no more.
It was about 9 months ago that I took the decision to stop taking anti depressants after 8 years of daily medicating. This is something I want to do a video on at a later date so I wont dwell on this here. I officially took my last pill 1 month ago and I was no way prepared for the shit storm that would hit me from the withdrawals. This, coupled with a very difficult period in my relationship at the time and finally deciding to take the steps to end it and then turning 30 the same week sent me into a spiral of anxiety, depression and disillusion of self.
For any one who has been on retreats before you will know that, when done well, these places are sanctuary’s of personal reflection, growth, health and often medicinal for both mind and body. Kali Yoga in Italy promised a week of yoga practise, biking through southern Italy, haute vegan cuisine in luxurious yet rustic surroundings. It delivered on all these fronts but it was the personal healing journey that started here that really made the experience what it was for me.
Arriving in Bari, Italy…
To what can only be described as the most beautiful property; built with a mix of trulli (traditional Italian buildings with conical roofs) and a villa which I stayed in. The grounds are stunning with trees and hammocks swinging in the warm Italian air, a pool area, dogs and donkeys, a beautiful family style dining room and kitchen where all our meals were had and an enormous Yoga Shala – where all our practises took place.
I flew to Bari with Natalie, my friend and blogger and fellow retreat lover and upon arrival we were presented with our downstairs villa/living quarters, which for lack of a better word were BEAUTIFUL, huge and spacious. A true haven.
The itinerary is given to you in a welcome pack and although it doesn’t appear too full there was always something to do with the option of opting out of anything, anytime to do your own thing; relax by the pool, go to the local town, walk the dogs read a book in a hammock etc.
A typical itinerary looks like this
7am – optional meditation
8 am – 2 hours of morning yoga practise – all levels
10 am – breakfast
11/12 – daytime activity: ours was a 5-hour scenic bike ride or then a trip into a pretty local town
5pm – home / spare time / option of a treatment
7pm – dinner at the retreat / there was one day where we had the option to go into Marina Franca for an Italian dinner.
There is also a board in the kitchen with a menu of treatments and therapists you can read up on and book yourself in for. Pricing is: 60 minutes for 50 euros, 90 minutes for 70 euro. Treatment options include; shiatsu massage, healing hands massage, cranial sacral healing, counselling, 1 on 1 yoga, tantric breath work, hot stone massage, Tibetan bowl vibration treatment. I would have had every treatment if I had had the time or money! More on that later.
Yoga practise is an incredibly unique and individual experience for everyone. Retreat yoga is the best yoga in my opinion. Although I do many classes in London I do think it tends to lose its honesty and true purpose when it becomes a workout in a swanky London gym. Head of Yoga at Kali Yoga is an incredible buddist and yogi called Tashi (@tasi_dawa_yoga on insta). This woman breathes the life into Kali Yoga, Italy. There aren’t enough words to even explain how this woman touched my heart and very being in the space of a week. And I know I’m not the first to experience her profound love and wisdom. Being in her classes and presence is a true pleasure.
Side note: she spends 5 months of the year at Kali yoga then the other half in India continuing to evolve her practise and has recruited most of the staff here at the retreat on her travels.
Her approach to yoga is very chilled and fun. There’s the perfect balance of seriousness and respect for the practise as well as a light-hearted and fun attitude where she was encouraging and kind to everyone at every level. You will never feel left out, she handles the room and group perfectly. Tashi also has buckets of wisdom and knowledge and her ability to capture my heart and mind through her teachings was truly special.
Tashi was there for me, and mostly likely everyone, from day 1 but it wasn’t until a few days in when she handed me a quote (that was inexplicably poignant) that she had on her mirror in her room that I truly realised the depths of her understanding for human beings. I referred to this talisman of wisdom and I almost daily throughout my stay and still do today.
Kali Yoga employs the services of a fantastic local bike company run by a very knowledgeable, local man named Danielle. 2 of the days at Kali Yoga Bike retreat consist of 5-hour bike rides. The bikes are good quality with the option of electric ones if you feel you need it. The first bike ride was a local tour and visited a farm where there were native delights to eat as well as many animals to look at. We also learnt a lot about the unique local architecture. The second bike day we cycled down by the sand dunes and coast and ate our beautifully packed lunch at the beach. A few of us even braved a little dip in the sea. It was just the right amount of challenging for everyone’s fitness levels, so interesting and the scenery was absolutely beautiful to take in.
This is always a huge part of any retreat for me. I like to know I will be well fed, especially when food is part of the package and the menu provided omits many of my regular foods.
The menu at kali yoga is vegan, gluten free, alcohol and caffeine free. However there was optional dairy present in the form of cheese and yogurt at a few of the meals times and I personally chose to a meaty pasta dish on the one night we dined out at a restaurant called Garibaldi’s in town. However, I didn’t ever really feel like I was missing these things throughout my stay because the food was impeccable; tasty, filling, interesting.
Breakfast was a daily help yourself spread, no two spreads the same. My favourite day was when we had a vegetable tart, homemade banana bread, salads and fresh mozzarella. Dinner was 3 courses every night with really inventive and flavoursome dishes that everyone enjoyed. Dessert blew my mind; the best one was a vegan Nutella served in a raw date, pastry cup with blood orange caramel. But if you’re worried you will get overfed don’t be. I was never hungry and portions were adequate always.
The retreat will request dietary requirements upfront. I have quite difficult requirements and because I follow a loose Fod-map free diet due to IBS and I can’t eat many vegetables and legumes found in lots of vegan dishes. I had a chat with the head chef on day one and they continually adjusted and catered to my needs throughout my stay without ever feeling like I was missing out.
My personal experience
Unfortunately given my stupor I didn’t really begin to be present and see the beauty in front of me until day 3, when I had the opportunity to have a healing hands massage with one of the therapists. I feel like the term “therapist” totally undermines, Frederica, the woman I met.
I went into the room ready to get oiled up and instead we spent 70 minutes talking. Frederica is not just a masseur she specialises in gestalt counselling (helpful at times of personal difficulty, providing valuable support and a safe space to explore difficult feelings. It can shed light on patterns in relationships and help you to work on making changes in your life at times of personal difficulty and a focus on self awareness). She had the ability to make me confess my deepest fears and truths in a matter of minutes and understood my situation, my sadness, my anxiety. With a series of breath work and eye contact and startling speaking exercises, she made me do with a cushion I was able to understand more about myself and my current situation.
There really is a lot to be said for the way we treat ourselves. We proclaim self-love and confidence because we put nice photos on instagram and get likes, or do a double take in the mirror as we leave for a date because we see that we look cute. But what I discovered this week is that really isn’t an indication of the true level of love and respect we give ourselves. Women are loving creatures naturally, but we really don’t save enough for ourselves and sometimes this can result in all manner of unhealthy situations. (This is something id like to explore in another post more.)
But WOW there really are no words for how I was suddenly able to step over a line and accept a lot of truths I’d been denying. Things that up until that point had stopped me from letting myself be happy. I’m smiling as I write this because the further I get away from that day the more relief comes. Side note: I am currently looking for a Gestalt practitioner in London to start work with.
Tashi said something that stayed with me during a Yoga Nidra session (sleeping yoga) we did one day. Some of us end up in a trance of unworthiness. This was where I was and as a result I’d found myself in a situation where despite success in most areas of my life my self-worth was low.
Who is this retreat for?
It’s always hard prescribing someone a retreat because generally speaking retreats are designed to let you take from it exactly what you need; physically and emotionally. Kali Yoga gets all sorts of people through; whether that’s tired city types needing a break, people wanting to give their health and well-being a boost, travelling couples, tired mums, those suffering bereavement or illness.
I love riding a bike but never would have thought about choosing a retreat that included cycling until now. Yoga gives me a lot of peace and I find the fitness benefits are also plentiful.
Also a big thank you to all the staff at Kali Yoga who really made the experience very special. Everyone who works here bring something special to the experience and each and everyone is a lovely soul. If you go you will be in good hands.
If you are interested in booking Kali Yoga for yourself then I can offer my readers a 10% off code. Email me [email protected]
They also have retreats in Spain and the UK.