Written by Gabrielle Tourelle

For one retreat participant battling health problems, the power of going on retreat to Byron Yoga Centre crept up on her, resulting in revolutionary decisions and life changes.

The decision to join Byron Yoga Centre’s retreat was a fairly low-key one. I was simply keen to catch-up on some yoga, and hey, I have always loved Byron. What’s not to love about golden beaches, visiting whales, rolling hills and other hippy lifestyle delights?

So, I packed up my little suitcase of Sydney stress and arrived on the doorstep of John’s yoga centre. I wasn’t expecting much – a chance to do some yoga and get up-to-date with my yoga study homework. Or so I thought. Traveling in that suitcase were a few decisions and fears that had been tightly packed away, and as I began to unravel with the yoga, the veil was lifted on why I was really there. Sure, it was a much-needed time of asana, meditation, yoga nidra, kirtan and other healing arts. But it was also a time to rein in fears and develop some new insights and energy. 

I remember sitting in the opening circle and dreading what may pop out of my mouth when I introduced myself. A part of me wanted to scream, “I’m so blessed to be here because the last retreats I have been to were cancer retreats and when you sit in those circles, odds are that the size of the circle is going to shrink,” as not everyone wins their brave battle. Instead I said my name, that I was learning to teach yoga and just very pleased and grateful to be here. Indeed grateful. As now are my ovaries, as it was at the retreat that I decided to postpone the decision to have them removed in order to allow time for some of the wisdom of the week to impact my body.

When we take time out from our daily lives, it is fascinating to see what bubbles up.  And if that taking time out involves a 6am wake up for yoga, followed by a warm coconut porridge, there is a good chance that whatever comes to the surface needs your attention. 

yoga-class-forward-bend.jpgOne of my lessons is to not overdo it, so I did not try to do everything on the program but chose what I thought I needed. Most days, that involved the dawn yoga, a beach walk and the afternoon restorative yoga and one of the evening’s sessions of kirtan, meditation and women’s health, with long pauses in between for eating. I also built into my week an Ayurvedic consultation and a counseling session, both of which delivered profound changes. The Ayurvedic consultation was incredible value for money with a rapid amount of ground covered in an hour that has produced a new breakfast routine including a well balanced protein meal. An improvement in my menstrual cycle has resulted from the doubling of one of my herbs as advised. I also have a new appreciation of the yoga poses ideal for women’s health. 

Over the week I improved my confidence in dealing with my recovery and a decision emerged – to shape my yoga journey around helping others deal with cancer and illness. In a counseling session in the garden, some words landed that helped me regain peace. “Go for quality of life, not just quantity”, and “don’t put things off, act now”. When one decides to do whatever it takes to stay well in the face of cancer, it is easy to focus on length of life rather than the threads of joy and happiness that most of us seek. One could wait a life-time until declared cancer free, so the message of learning to live well now regardless of one’s state of health returned with me from my week in the sun. 

When I returned other people noticed too that a weight had been lifted from me and my face was dotted with new freckles from sunny beach walks. 

Rising at 6am to do yoga was a really big deal for me. I battle fatigue and, if left to sleep, may well join my cat in sleeping till midday. When I returned from the retreat I was able to rise earlier, something I have wanted to do for a long time since my diagnosis. I envy those who can spring out of bed and yet here I was, now one of them.

The friendliness, kindness and attention to detail of the team at Byron Yoga was truly staggering. It takes decades to build a group into a community like John has there and I felt like a welcome part of that wonderful, inspiring community. In one idyllic location you can find a raft of healing modalities and people. 

retreat-lunch.jpgWe were fed abundant nourishing food and even requests for more cake were met with a “yes”. Most lunches and dinners included fresh salads with tasty dressings and a warm vegetable and grain dish. Vegan types like me were in seventh heaven. It is rare to go somewhere that you never have to worry about having the food you want and how about having it served up with a smile? For those who worry about the food on a retreat, there is nothing to worry about here. We so loved the food that we are waiting for the cook book to be released. And if you crave coffee or something else, there are good cafes down the road you can visit. 

The program is totally up to you – opt in and out of what you want. No gold stars given for doing everything and the yoga is very accessible for beginners with the more advanced also catered for. I thoroughly enjoyed the breadth on offer – it is not just yoga asanas, talks on yoga philosophy and a rousing kirtan session make a great night’s entertainment. When you don’t feel like yoga, walk barefoot along the beach to town, or up the lighthouse to peer at whales. Like me, when you return to your normal life, odds are you will want to retrace those footsteps in the sand, back to the community at the Byron Yoga Centre.