At the start of the month of August I joined Exotic Yoga Retreats on their retreat in Verbier, Switzerland. At the end of my academic year I decided that I wanted to attend some sort of yoga retreat or do a yoga teacher training, not only to deepen my own yoga practice, meet people and travel to a new place, but also to take some time off for myself, rethinking the decisions I made the last year and ground myself for the coming year. At first I was looking for yoga teacher training, but as they often are over 2-3 weeks long and I didn’t have that time, I instead searched online for a more retreat style week of yoga. I had never imagined it would be this difficult to find a good retreat! There are many sites listening all the different retreats, categorised on location and sometimes style, but it is hard to find genuine reviews of named retreats, or even a site comparing different retreats, based on location, teachers (most important), style of yoga, style of retreat (intense or beginner yoga, with or without meditation, only yoga or also other physical activities, etc.) and the likes. Perhaps I should start a platform where one can find and compare different yoga retreats, with real testimonials and links to the teachers – maybe somewhere in the future.
Long story short I ended up on the online page of Exotic Yoga Retreats and the simplicity of the site and it’s interesting retreats caught my attention. From an eleven day mystical trip to the culture-rich Bhutan (number 1 on my bucket list of places to visit! Do you know that they measure their progress by the Gross national happiness) to yoga on a ship along the coast of Croatia. Sadly enough I wasn’t able to join either of these two yoga retreats, but they happen to have a 5 day yoga retreat in Verbier, Switzerland, that perfectly combined with my own travels. After looking up the teacher, Sylvia Ferguson , I booked that very same day.
The retreat started on Monday the 1st of August, however I had to come al the way from Sardinia, which turned out to be a longer journey than expected. Sunday we drove from Baunei (in Sardinia) to Olbia, from where we took the night ferry back to Italy. We arrived at around 7 in the morning and made our way to the airport, there my family and I split up. They headed back to Amsterdam, and I took a flight to Geneva, from where I had a 2 hour train ride to Le Chable, passing Lake Geneva and one of the most beautiful train rides I have ever been on. The public transport in Switzerland is incredibly well organised and comfortable, not to mention the constant view of the beautiful mountains and ice-blue lakes. Arrived in Le Chable I had to take a bus (perfectly timed, just like the train) up to Verbier, where I would stay in the W hotel. You could also take the gondola up, however they closed at 5 and I arrived at around 8 o’clock. When I finally got to the hotel, I was tired, but so happy to be there. Switzerland feels like home to me, everywhere you go in Switzerland it has that same … I don’t know … Swiss feeling, the flowers, the smell, the architecture, it is all so recognisable. That is also when I met the group for the first time and after the initial surprise of having a 19-year-old (20 years younger than most of the group), I felt immediately accepted and had some great conversations.
The view from my room at the W hotel in Verbier.
Exotic Yoga Retreats was founded by Gayle, a yoga teacher with a mediterranean touch, and later on her sister Katherine joined in. In her own words Gayle “designed Mediterranean-style yoga retreats to restore a sense of timelessness, and to remind us that slowing down helps us connect with what is truly important – in our hearts and in our spirits.” I did not have the pleasure of meeting Gayle on this retreat, but her sister, Katharine, joined us for this week. Katharine has an amazing spirit, a true wanderer, and shares the same love I have for the mountains and outdoors.
The setup of the day was simple and there was plenty of room for adjustments or alternative activities. Everyday we started at 07:30 in the morning with a guided meditation by Sylvia, followed by 90 minutes of vinyasa-style yoga. Each day the focus of the practice changed and evolved as the group did, we had a wonderful shoulder sequence one morning and a heart opening practice another. Sylvia not only had a beautiful voice, but also a good way of explaining each pose, how to get into it and what the benefits of this particular pose were. Instead of focusing on the pose, the end result, she brought extra attention to the way one gets into the pose, the flow and movement before the stillness.
This stunning photo was not taken by me, but by John, an incredibly kind and loving man, who was with the retreat as well.
During the day we were completely free to do what we wanted. One could relax by the pool, walk through verbier, go hiking and even try paragliding. On two of the days a hike was planned, but it was up to you if you wanted to go or not. I went along both hikes, enjoining my last few days in the mountains, and having some of the most inspiring conversations with other people on the retreat. We talked about the blue zones, social media, relationships, etc. Real, open conversations without judgement. On one of the hike we passed this beautiful lake on top of the mountain and of course I had to jump in, followed by John, who dived right in as well.
At the end of the day we had another yoga sessions, which were more restorative and less active and rejuvenating than the morning sequences. We worked a lot on opening of the hips and stretching of the legs, especially after the hiking. Sylvia also had us do a yoga nidra session, which is always a very interesting and almost scary experience. As for the last day, we had an extra hour of yoga to do some hand stands and arm balances, just to play around a bit. What really stood out to me was the dedication, the interest of the whole group to start a daily yoga practice of their own, to have a basis for an at home yoga practice. This in particular made that the focus of the retreat stayed with yoga, establishing a good foundation for a routine that one could continue after the retreat had ended. A big compliment to Sylvia on her acceptance of all levels of practice, and adjusting her flows and sequence to suit every individual’s level, giving options and adjustments when needed.
Booking this retreat was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time and I am already looking forward on joining Exotic Yoga Retreats on one of their other inspiring retreats, perhaps even to Bhutan…
During this retreat I received the most beautiful compliment from an amazing woman and her husband, as we were hiking through the Swiss mountains she looked at me and she said “You know Hadewych, I just told Anthony [her husband] this yesterday night, but you give us hope for the next generation” I don’t think she realised how big of a compliment she had given me but I will never forget those words and I will never stop trying to live up to them.
Anthony and I during one of the hikes.