Feature

Relaxing eco yoga retreat

Green Lifestyle magazine

A relaxing yoga retreat not far from the hubof city life can be an effective exercise in slowing down – right down, in fact, to the speed of nature.

Meditation at Billabong Retreat

Meditating at Billabong Retreat

Cabins at Billabong Retreat

A blissful setting for zoning out in the massage yurt

Mandala

Mandalas: colouring-in is encouraged!

Billabong stack

The vegie stack at Billabong Retreat is nutritious and delicious

Billabong soup

The all vegetarian-menu at Billabong retreat includes this very tasty miso soup

Billabong reading

The staff at Billabong are happy to share their library of wellbeing information with guests during their stay

Billaboing listening

Guests have the opportunity to access new information through a variety of mediums, including podcasts

Billabong meditation

Basia takes guests through a gentle guided meditation

Billabong retreat

The roof of the yoga room at Billabong retreat is designed to reflect the colours of the chakras

Billabong couches

There's plenty of options for comfortable reclining at Billabong Retreat

Billabong cabin

The view while lying on the bed in one of the cabins

Billabong view

The view from the massage yurt imparts a little bit of zen wisdom

Billaboing massage

A massage is even more blissful when in a chilled out state at Billabong Retreat

Billabong walking

Stunning native bushland helps guests to connect with nature at Billabong Retreat

picture-perfect

The wood cabins at Billabong Retreat are in a picture perfect setting

Billabong inspiration

Billabong Retreat is truly inspiring

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There’s an old Zen saying that everyone should sit in meditation for at least 20 minutes a day – unless they’re very busy, then they should meditate for an hour. If there’s one thing that going on any relaxing holiday is likely to teach you, it’s that making more ‘me time’ in your everyday life is wise for your wellbeing. And on this particular yoga retreat I learn that ‘me time’ is one of the most important times to schedule in to foster a more productive day, every day.

I walk in to the reception of Billabong Retreat just before the scheduled 2pm arrival time after a 45-minute drive from Sydney, and I’m in a hectic, busy mindset. I’m sure you’re familiar with the headspace; a frantic rush from one meeting to the next, barely being able to keep up with emails or return missed phone calls.

A gentle, soft-spoken woman – probably in her mid-20s but she doesn’t look a day over 17 years old – welcomes me and my friend Courtney the retreat. She introduces herself as Basia in a melodic voice that rises and falls with a sweet cadence. Basia tells us where our cabins are and we walk off a little dazed, feeling as though we’ve just been hypnotised into an instantly slower walking and breathing rate.

I have taken my laptop along with me so that I can squeeze some work into any gaps or ‘spare time’. Before the first session is due to begin I open up the laptop on the deck of the cabin, but I can’t do any work. I end up staring past the screen into the lush trees in this tucked-away little valley between the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury River. I watch ducks sitting calmly on the surface of the billabong for a few minutes, before deciding to be a bit more present at the retreat and make the most of my time here. I close the lid of the laptop.

Our first session that afternoon is a yoga meditation introduction. It takes place in the stunning main circular yoga room overlooking beautiful twisted gum trees. Five minutes into the hour-long session I realise this isn’t so much yoga as meditation, and I start to worry. Paul, who co-owns the retreat with his wife Tory, explains that yoga is more of a teaching about living and that the typical yoga that we’ve probably all tried before for exercise is quite different to what we’ll be learning over the next few days. He says yoga and meditation work hand in hand, and the reason we do yoga poses is to prepare ourselves for meditation.

I do my own personal yoga practice most mornings, but I wasn’t prepared to do meditation here. The panic sets in as I recount the numerous times I’ve tried meditation but given up because I didn’t think I was very good at it. But as Paul guides us first through some gentle yoga poses and then into our first meditation, we manage to sit for a good 15 minutes or so of stillness and silence.

I tell Courtney that it’s some of the deepest and most enjoyable meditation I’ve ever managed. I must have been doing yoga wrong all this time – not making the most of my morning sessions by not tacking a meditation onto the end. It’s the first time Courtney has done meditation. After the initial awkwardness she says she is also surprised by how much she enjoyed it.

At the end of the session we’re rewarded with heightened senses. The smells from the kitchen waft under our noses, making our mouths water. When we finally sit down to our long-anticipated meal I wonder if it really does taste this good. I’m more aware of my tastebuds than I have been in a long time.

Chef Mingon prepared some seriously delicious, healthy meals and snacks – all hearty vegetarian food. The recipes are designed by Tory who is a keen student of food as medicine. I would highly recommend that you check out some of Tory’s recipes on the Billabong blog at http://blog.billabongretreat.com.au. Tory and Mingon really understand that good, nourishing food is crucial to encouraging a healthy body and mind.

The second day we’re treated to a yoga session by the very flexible and extremely chirpy Janice who is very complimentary, making us all feel like we’re yoga gurus. Then, we get some more time with the lovely Basia, who guides us through a fabulous tea ceremony. This was one of the most memorable sessions for me as I drink a lot of tea, and I’ve been able to incorporate the simple, mindful acts into my routine a few times a day. There’s a facial and a massage before lunch – probably the most relaxing beauty treatments I’ve ever had.

At this point, about halfway through the stay, I really start to slow down, right down, to what I’ve learnt in the classes is the pace of nature. I realise I’ve been trying to squeeze too much into each day, resulting in less ‘me time’. Although it’s only a very short stay I feel that I’ve really had time to unwind and re-energise. This retreat hasn’t been strict or heavily scheduled like many yoga retreats; after all, I’m taking the time now to do one of my favourite childhood activities – colouring-in! We’re encouraged to practice meditation while colouring a patterned circle known as a ‘mandala’. My mandala seems to be taking forever, but I don’t mind at all.

For the rest of the stay, I don’t open up the laptop again. Instead, I go for walks. The surrounding bush makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a national park. The stunning billabong is rich in tannins so the trees are reflected in the life-rich water. Just five minutes by the water’s edge allows the eye to experience the true pace of nature. Numerous water boatmen insects balance delicately on the surface of the water and then skid across to hide under the blooming lotus plants as you approach. Dragonflies come to rest and drink before resuming their search for a mate. It’s a place for rest and contemplation.

In keeping with the ‘consciously aware’ theme of the retreat, the eco-credentials at Billabong are inspirational. Rainwater, solar power and solar-hot water keep the retreat running. It hosts up to 18 people in comfortable dorm-style or twin-share cabins made from reclaimed wood and tucked among the twisted trucks in a gum forest. The toilets are composting and work like a giant worm farm, as Paul explains very matter of factly. He’s proud to show me how full both 22,000-litre rainwater tanks are.

On the last day we learn that Paul and Tory used to live busy city lives and decided to make a ‘tree-change’ after a series of bad events led them to realise that something had to give. They managed to turn their difficult situation into a very positive outcome – not just for themselves, but for the others who now come to stay at the retreat. At the end of the retreat I make a commitment to myself to add at least a one-minute meditation to the end of my yoga practices. Despite the fact that it’s been days since I connected with the outside world, I notice that it hasn’t missed me – and I don’t feel guilty about it at all.

More details:

Mid-week stays at Billabong Retreat are between $400 and $700 for two nights. Add $50 for weekend rates. All meals, snacks, drinks a few hours of classes of meditation and yoga, and even train station pick-ups (if requested) are included. It’s $15 for sheet hire (or bring your own), and an optional waterside massage is $95. For more info visit www.billabongretreat.com.au.

Special offer: limited time only!

Get a $100 voucher to visit the relaxing, eco-certified Billabong Retreat Sydney here: tinyurl.com/Billabong-Retreat