My magical, emotional first yoga experience with Hello Happiest at 26 Sunset Villa.
I’ve always wanted to experience a yoga retreat, but I’ve never had the confidence to actually sign up for one. Over the last year, I’ve been taking time to start building my confidence again, practicing more self care and prioritising self love through various activities in my day. As a part of this journey, a short while ago I had the privilege of joining Christi and the team at 26 Sunset Villa in Llandudno, to not only attend my first wellness retreat, but to, in fact, as a thirty year old, take part in my first yoga class. Ever.
Don’t get me wrong. I had previously considered joining a yoga class at the gym many times (I was even meant to go with a colleague one Sunday morning, but I dropped out to have a lie in — don’t judge me), plus there is a yoga studio less than a kilometer from my house, that has called to me in a way since I first saw it, considering that since October I’ve been going to the coffee shop right next to it to work or to write. The thing is, I never “pulled the trigger” so to speak, as I always let my fear get in the way, telling myself the good old negative self talk story of “you’re not flexible enough”, “you’re going to make fun of yourself”, “you’re not going to enjoy it” and “the instructor is going to wonder what the hell you’re doing here”. I think a lot of first timers experience this kind of anxiety, and it stops a lot of people from taking the plunge into yoga bliss.
Having said this, into my life entered what I call a wellness angel, sent by the universe at exactly the right time. While I’ve known Christi from Hello Happiest. for a very long time, she only recently came back into my life with both of us ‘all grown up’ and running our own businesses. I got the opportunity to hear her tell the story of how a few years ago she had decided to quit the rat race to start her own wellness company, which hosts retreats and events and essentially encouraged others to live more mindfully, gently and well, as kindly as possible towards themselves and others. She has a naturally positive, infectious energy, compounded by a fire and passion in her eyes when she speaks about her journey and her events. Christi’s story is really fascinating and I won’t be able to do it justice right now, so I encourage you to have a read about it on her website if you want to learn more about how she got to where she is today (you won’t be sorry you did).
I was thrilled to be invited to attend one of her One Night Wellness Sanctuary’s late last year and I had very little expectations, except that I would be meeting some fabulous people, and with an understanding that I would be taking part in two yoga classes while there (eek!). The first, a sunset session on the deck of the Villa, the second, an early morning session, to kickstart Saturday. So, dressed in a yoga outfit I had bought just the week prior and feeling on top of the world, Christi called myself and the other guests together right when the sun was setting, and we engaged in what I would forever remember as my first yoga experience.
What I enjoyed the most about that first class, which had people from all skill and experience levels, was that Christi did two very important things for a first timer like myself. One, she made you feel comfortable enough to go at your own pace, not rushing you to get each pose. Secondly, she paid individual attention to you. While the retreat was fully booked and she had to give everyone attention, you still felt important enough and “seen” in a way, as she made a point to walk around in the class, giving tips where possible, and generally just checking in that you were doing alright and enjoying yourself.
After the session, and a dinner to die for (seriously), I was feeling overwhelmingly calm for the first time in a very long time, so I decided to excuse myself from the upbeat table conversation and to make an early exit for my king size bed. I decided to record a short video diary from my room, and looking back, I’m always struck by how my voice is in a different tone (a different frequency, even) than in any other videos I filmed that day. It was from what I can only rationalise as serenity overload, so I made myself some tea in the room, meditated for a little bit and got one of the best nights’ rest that I had experienced all year. I had made the smart decision of keeping my phone on flight mode for the entire retreat, wanting to immerse myself in the experience as fully as possible, so this meant that for once I was awoken by the beautiful sunlight streaming gently into the room the following morning, not even aware of the time, alarms, and my life back in the city.
Armed with confidence, I was expecting to cruise through the second yoga session (“I’m a pro now, of course”) and confidently walked onto the deck the following morning, greeting the other guests with almost an air of arrogance, like I’ve got this. Christi encouraged us to move around in the room and to find a space we were comfortable with; a small gesture, but one that made me feel more ‘at home’ in the space. The session started, and we were instructed to go into what yogi’s refer to as ‘child’s pose’ for a short while. This is when everything changed.
As soon as I went into the pose, which I had never done before, I felt an overwhelming sense of release, and I started crying under my sunglasses, releasing emotional energy that had been pent up in my body for, what I can now rationalise from reflecting about it afterwards, over seven years. It was my moment of letting go of a monumental relationship that had gone awry, and one that I didn’t realise I had never mourned. It was an incredible moment; one I will never forget.
I stayed in child’s pose for the entire session, forgiving myself for what I had put myself through all those years ago, and for how much I had sacrificed my own self care over that challenging time. In that hour I could mourn, and better yet, I wasn’t pressurised by Christi or anyone in the class to do anything other than just sit in the pose, sit in the moment, and let it work its way through my system. They carried on, giving me space and freedom to do my thing. It was a magical, emotional experience, that I have since been told is something that can happen in yoga, and clearly, was long overdue for me. Perhaps I was waiting for the right moment and for things to align, in the correct environment, and feeling so comfortable with my surroundings, that I could essentially express intense vulnerability to a group of relative strangers. Naturally, we had connected over the joined wellness experience, but I had never expected to be as profoundly affected by the experience as I was.
I could delve into so many other factors about the retreat that were also incredible, from the magnificent views, the coffee overlooking the ocean at sunrise, the sunset cocktails (which, the Villa team also kindly offered non-alcoholic versions for, a small gesture that other retreats sometimes forget about), the morning hike (brisk walk) across the sea facing rocks, the hugs I shared with the other guests after going through such a beautiful experience together, or just the fact that I had managed to live in the moment for a day, that I had been reminded that life is more than a drive for work success, a drive to achieve and pursue happiness, and a reminder we are responsible for taking care of our bodies, minds, and general health, through these kinds of retreats and other similar experiences.
This is all for you to experience for yourself however, and I don’t want to take away from the experience for you, so you can learn more about the Hello Happiest. March One Night Wellness Sanctuary over here.
What I do want to say, however, is a massive thank you to Christi and the team, for an experience that was truly magical and memorable. Will I go to another yoga retreat anytime soon? Absolutely. Will I be comfortable doing it with someone other than Christi and Hello Happiest? I’m not so sure. What I do know, is that it provided me an opportunity to be myself and for that I will forever be thankful. It also gave me a chance to release what I needed to, to let go, connect with others from all walks of life, and better yet, it gave me a chance to get to know myself a bit better in the process. See you at the next one?
By Conrad Schwellnus