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Brooklands yoga studio

...and breathe

Liz Lowe experiences a much-needed break from hectic family life at a Yoga, Pilates & Detox Retreat in West Sussex

I'll be honest. As the mother of two energetic young children, there are days I would take a mini-break in a cupboard to get a little quiet time. So a two-night yoga retreat in a luxurious barn conversion sounded pretty close to heaven.

I'd booked Sally Parkes' Revitalise Detox Retreat several months previously. Promising to restore “vitality, energy and enthusiasm for life,” I hoped it might partially offset four years' sleep deficit.

There are many yoga breaks to choose from, and my decision was based on several factors. The weekend's schedule included six classes (more than some retreats) and incorporated both yoga and pilates. The venue, Brooklands Barn in West Sussex, had an indoor swimming pool and sauna, and was a 20-minute stroll from picturesque Arundel. And the food sounded amazing: vibrant vegetarian meals, fresh juices and smoothies. Basically, my ideal diet if I had more time and fewer leftover fish fingers to eat.

Brooklands pool

Brooklands studio © Rachel Hudson

Brooklands pool © Rachel Hudson

I'm not a huge believer in detoxing, but a few days before the March retreat I prepared by dropping my third daily coffee and shrinking my evening glass of red wine.  And then the snow forecast came. I was due to leave our home in Bath the following day but, with blizzards and heavy snowfall predicted overnight, my dreams of snoozing in the sauna were fading.

“If you're going, you'd better go today,” my husband said.  With a flask, sleeping bag and pillow, a shovel and four bars of chocolate, I set off.

By coincidence the retreat was a 20-minute drive from my father's house and, having made it that far, I settled in for the night and a bonus lie-in. I don't know whether it was the relief of getting there, the freedom from responsibility – or just that my father and step-mother really like wine – but as I fell into bed in a spinning room just after midnight, it was fair to say my detox preparation had been somewhat derailed.

I arrived at Brooklands Barn without having used my shovel, but with one of the worst hangovers of my life. Yoga teacher and retreat leader Sally Parkes was welcoming and sympathetic, showing me to my warm-hued room so I could take a nap. Happily, it was adjacent to the yoga studio, meaning I could pretty much roll out of bed and onto the mat.

Brooklands yoga studio

Brooklands studio © Rachel Hudson

Later, I met my fellow yogis over a detox juice in the open-plan lounge and dining area. The all-female group included three work colleagues, two sets of sisters, two friends and another solo traveller. I hadn't worried about going alone as I planned to spend most of the weekend on a yoga mat, asleep or maybe both. The atmosphere was friendly, and it was as easy to chat and be sociable as it was to disappear to a quiet spot.

Our first class was a gentle Hatha session finishing with Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep). The studio's underfloor heating and candlelit glow delivered instant relaxation, and I was reluctant to peel myself off the warm mat. Fortunately, Sally was an easy-going host, emphasising that we were free to do as much or as little as we liked. That evening I did very little.  

After a nourishing supper of Indian kitchari, sesame roasted carrots and beetroot, spiced cabbage, and coriander and spinach chutney, I went to bed.

The following morning, still a little groggy, I slunk into the studio for Dynamic Yoga. After 20 minutes of energetic movement, coupled with birdsong and a breeze through the windows, I felt great. This is what I'd come here for.

Sally's teaching style was accessible, with variations to accommodate different levels.  I've practised yoga for nine years but discovered new ways of approaching familiar poses. Throughout the session Sally wove in advice on improving posture, and recommendations for stretches to do on waking, while sitting at a desk and after long drives.

Liz Lowe and Sally Parkes

Liz (right) with Sally Parkes

Breakfast was almond rice porridge, poached pears and figs, homemade fruity rye bread and gluten-free muffins. The weekend's menus were designed and prepared by Brighton-based Claire-Louise Paul. Claire's food was plant-based, vegetarian, dairy-free and mostly gluten-free. More importantly, it tasted really good. For some guests it took a little adjusting to, but everyone ate with enthusiasm.  

Concerned about the lack of coffee, I had brought my own with me. As I'm generally unable to start the day without a double shot, I was surprised to find I didn't need it. At this point, I decided to embrace the detox, drinking hot water with fresh lemon and ginger.


Arundel © Rachel Hudson

I'd planned a walk to Arundel but, looking through the schedule, decided I was quite busy. The cost of the retreat included either a 30-minute massage or facial, with the option to add on additional treatments, which I had done. My morning facial was relaxing and included a gentle face and scalp massage. Afterwards, I drifted back past the kitchen and grabbed a green juice on the way to pilates.

Throughout the pilates class, Sally's instruction was precise and we all received individual attention. I enjoyed her thorough but light-hearted approach. Reminding us to breathe, Sally described it as “the cheapest detox”.

Lunch was hearty: winter quinoa, seeded galette topped with roasted veg, celeriac waldorf blitz and green salad. The raw chocolate brownie afterwards was unnecessary, but delicious. I was ready for another nap but headed to the pool for a few lengths before flopping in the sauna, which looked out onto a large patio area and fields beyond.

Green smoothies at Brooklands

Green smoothies © Rachel Hudson

Next, an aromatherapy massage. The therapist helped me select oils before blending a base, middle and top note. We settled on a sandalwood base, with lavender and bergamot for floral and citrus notes. The massage was the right combination of therapeutic and soothing.

Candlelit yoga and a long relaxation was a restful end to the day. After a dinner of miso broccoli pea soup and spicy rice noodles with peanut dressing, accompanied by a lively discussion on the perils of internet dating, we were all ready for bed.

Sunday morning's yoga session built on sequences from the previous day. The snow was melting, and sunshine streamed in through the windows. I felt revived and my energy levels soared as we got into the practice.

After breakfast I read for a couple of hours. At some point I debated a chunk or two of chocolate, but my secret stash had melted due to the underfloor heating. The accidental detox was going well.

Only six of the mats were occupied for the last pilates session, and those of us that made it were spaced out and giggly. Clearly, none of us were used to this amount of relaxation. We all swapped high fives with Sally at the end, before sitting down for a final meal of vegetable curry and dal.

Brooklands Barn

Aside from the yoga, what we'd wanted from our retreat weekend had varied. Some had caught up on sleep, others had caught up with each other and a couple had even popped to the pub. For me the combination of rest, movement and thinking space had left me feeling a bit like Tigger, and off home I bounced to share my new-found energy with the kids, while there was still some snow left to play with.

Brooklands Barn © Rachel Hudson

Have a plan. A weekend slips by quickly – think about what you want to get out of it. Do you want to go tech-free, focus on healthy food choices, learn specific things or just relax?

Ask questions. Make the most of having a yoga teacher on hand to answer questions about technique.

Take layers. Room temperatures and practice intensities vary, so layer up to avoid getting too hot or too cold.  

Take it away. The retreat only lasts so long. Think about how you can incorporate stretches and relaxation techniques into your normal routine to keep those yogic vibes going.

Brooklands studio

Liz attended Sally Parkes' Revitalise Detox Retreat – Yoga, Pilates & Detox at Brooklands Barn, near Arundel, West Sussex. Prices are £377 per person for a shared room, £427 for a single room, and include a 25-minute massage and food by Claire-Louise Paul.

Green Adventures April 2018

Liz Lowe

Liz Lowe is a freelance writer based in Bath, UK. Liz spent many years working in the wine trade, combining some of her favourite pursuits: eating, drinking and travel. After having children, and to give her liver a break, she began journalism training. Liz loves yoga, reading, wine and chocolate, and can currently manage three out of four at the same time.

Twitter: @LizloweUK