Around 2pm each Friday, 18 strangers arrive at Billabong Retreat to participate in a weekend of yoga, meditation and mindfulness. While less than 48 hours passes before they will be backing out of the gravel drive and reconnecting with their individual lives, what takes place in between is profound.
Nestled in natural bush land just an hour out of Sydney, the retreat is surrounded by two billabongs and its design responds to the tranquil stillness of their waters. Cabins and treetop rooms hug the hillside and embrace the sounds and sights of the water below. Spa treatments take place in a waterside pavilion and peaceful walking tracks skirt the water’s edge.
Further up the hill, Harmony Cottage provides additional accommodation for guests in three simple twin bedrooms with a shared bathroom. A world away from the creature comforts of a luxury hotel, its minimalism reinforces the focus of the weekend – a journey into self.
At the heart of the retreat are two yurt-like circular structures that generate positive energy and radiate warmth. With one space dedicated to living and dining and the other devoted to yoga and meditation, most guests’ time is spent in these areas. Divided by a deck with an outdoor fireplace, low couches and a hammock, it’s an inviting space you don’t want to stray far from.
With the weekend retreat focused on yoga, mindfulness and meditation, six classes are held with the yoga space open for additional private practice at any time. The emphasis however is not to pile on the pressure to participate, a point Billabong Retreat’s co-founder Paul makes in his introduction. Setting the tone for the weekend ahead, he acknowledges that everyone has come from a busy place and is here for many different reasons. While there is a schedule of classes, let it only be used as a guide to help you get what you want out of your retreat.
Very knowledgeable and with a warmth and familiarity that instantly engages, Paul guides participants in several of the yoga classes he teaches throughout the weekend. Weaving the wisdom of the ancient origins of yoga with its health benefits validated by modern science, he explains the relevance of the practice and the transformative role it can play in everyone’s life. Breathing meditation, deep relaxation, flow and sound are all part of the weekend’s journey to teach guests how to effectively inhabit the body and mind.
With diet and nutrition a fundamental component of health and wellness, meals are an integral part of the retreat experience. Not only the nutritional aspect, the opportunity to gather, share and enjoy food is a special experience given ample weight over the weekend. Following the ‘SLOW’ food principle – seasonal, local, organic, whole foods – recipes are designed by Tory, Paul’s wife, and prepared by chef Mignon. A Mexican bean stew with natural yoghurt and rainbow salad followed by a dessert of poached Corella pears and a dollop of yoghurt and ricotta crème is the first night’s dinner. Tory holds a nutrition session on the second evening, taking guests through some of the ingredients she uses in her cooking and the literature she bases her menus on.
Basia, another yoga teacher at the retreat, runs the final yoga class on Sunday morning, dedicated to teaching participants a personal practice. Perhaps one of the most important, the session imparts guests with the tools to apply what they have learnt over the weekend in their own lives. Just seven minutes long – the time people said they could realistically devote to a daily practice – it incorporates movement, breathing, chanting and meditation and guests are encouraged to try it each day for three months.
It’s hoped this daily practice will act as a catalyst to learn more about how you can train yourself to tune into your body’s physical sensations – a theme at the very core of the weekend and one that can be an effective strategy for long-term health. As Paul says, “once you’re on that path, you can never get off. It’s a lifelong journey.”