When I was a lawyer in the City, yoga was a wonderful escape from corporate life. Now it is my way of life and I am lucky enough to be able to open my family home to a cornucopia of yoga teachers and retreat companies.
Back in 2012 I left behind the greyness of the legal world for the colour of the wellbeing life and returned home to set up the yoga retreats side of Poundon House – our family business – an exclusive private country house venue in Oxfordshire. ‘Poundon’ comes alive as a wedding venue over the summer months but we wanted to make the most of it outside of the wedding season and, having grown up there, I knew it was an ideal location for yoga retreats and well-being events.
Four years on, I like to think that we have turned Poundon into a vibrant destination yoga venue. And last summer, my sister Natalie and I went one step further and established our own retreats company (appropriately called ‘&Sister’) that allows us to put our own special touches on the retreats that we host at the house. We take the passing of the seasons as the focus for the themes of our retreat and tie that in with the bucolic surroundings of Poundon. We are so lucky that our countryside location allows nature to provide the perfect backdrop to each of our events.
As well as the atmosphere and production of our retreats we invest a huge amount of research (and time spent on yoga mats up and down the country!) in discovering teachers that truly match up with our brand. One such teacher is the ethereal Saskia Price, who is hosting our next retreat, Indian Summer (September 30 – 2 October 2 2016). As well as Saskia leading morning and evening meditations and asana practices, together we incorporate barefoot portal walks, blind-folded yoga and fire and sound ceremonies into our unique and experiential retreats.
So, did this happen overnight? Did we wave a magic wand, chant three oms and before you can say the seven chakras we converted a room set up for civil ceremonies and ‘I dos’ into a peaceful, atmospheric shala and retreat venue our guests rave about? In a word, no. It took a little bit more work than that! Below I share all the little tips I have learnt about setting up for a yoga retreat to make your guests feel alive, restored and rejuvenated.
Atmosphere on arrival
We carry this sense of the personal through to the start of the retreat with our meet and greet service. We want the unwinding to start before our guests even step foot in the shala. As a family we have hosted many events and parties over the years and we know a warm welcome is so important. There should always be someone to greet guests with a big welcoming smile. If it is a winter retreat then the house is extra warm and cosy with a roaring fire breathing life everywhere and hot water bottles put in the beds each night. I always ask guests if they would like a cup of tea on arrival and we usually have a special welcome drink or healthy snack like organic gluten-free flapjacks straight from the oven.
I believe that all the senses should be activated so we consider what essentials to put in the diffuser each day and for arrival I put oils in to ground guests such as doTERRA Balance, grounding blend.
All of our retreats are themed and we try to incorporate this into the set-up, for example on our Wild Spring yoga retreat in May with Saskia, we had a creative workshop and made garlands of fresh spring flowers. In everyone’s room we left a small collection of poems that conjured up the spirit of the season, with the guests encouraged to choose their favourite one and talk about why it spoke to them so much at our closing ceremony. I really feel that these little touches made the group even more excited about the Spring and the rebirth of the year.
The shala is definitely the heart centre of a retreat space and needs to be prepared accordingly. We make sure we carry through our seasonal theme through our choice of subtle flowers and diffused scents in the shala. We also take care to limit the number of guests for our retreats: we know that in the long run experience is more important to us than the bottom line. This allows our guests to enjoy bountiful space to practice and ensures they will receive the proper care and attention from our teachers.
More about Poundon House
We are very excited about our third collaboration with our beautiful yogini Saskia Price. For our Indian Summer retreat at Poundon House, guests can expect a peaceful yet dynamic weekend of immersive yoga set in the beautiful surroundings of Poundon House. Saskia is an experienced and dedicated yoga teacher and will guide you expertly through your retreat. Continuing with our theme of working with the seasons at Poundon House, the retreat will aim to extend the summer by being outside as much as possible, provided the weather is fair. We aim to harness energy to prepare for the autumn from four sources – nature, our time with Saskia in the shala, from the open fires and warmth of Poundon House, and healthy nutritious food prepared by our retreat chef.
As well as morning meditation and asana we will be doing a barefoot dusk meditation walk on Saturday and firebowl celebration. Saskia will take us on an immersive journey and a deep exploration of practice and philosophy plus an introduction to new concepts. Saskia’s calm presence, her in-depth knowledge of philosophy and her strictness on alignment make her a truly inspirational teacher to practice with.