What do you get when you put together a group of women who start a day of yoga, woodland walking, wild swimming and supported conversation as strangers? A group of women with powerfully forged connections and the firm foundations of new friendships, that’s what.
I arrived at the beautiful 400 acre Wasing estate in Berkshire for my first Noon retreat, looking forward to the experiences that lay ahead and to meeting the 15 other women I’d be sharing them with. I knew what the day would hold in theory, having not only heard a good deal about the first retreat back in November, but having written various posts about it for the Noon social media platforms as part of my work as Editorial Director. But I couldn’t have understood just how meaningful and memorable the reality would be.
What struck me immediately, as we all gathered in the pavilion where we would be doing our relaxing and restorative yoga session, making ourselves cups of tea and enjoying the welcome start-of-the-day treats that the team had provided, was just how quickly and easily women open up to each other. And how fabulously noisy we can be when we do!
The yoga we were gently and encouragingly guided through by the lovely teacher, Lesley, was a combination of deceptively simple poses, made more challenging by the length of time each one was held, and therapeutic, cleansing and loosening breathing. It was the perfect start to the day, focusing and relaxing our bodies and minds, leaving them, and us, open and ready for what was to come.
What that was next, was a half hour walk across the field adjoining the pavilion then along a path through the ancient woodland that covers sections of the estate, enjoying the abundant canopy of trees that protected us from the tail end of a rainstorm, complete with dramatic thunder, that had accompanied our yoga session, carrying our swimming stuff and continuing the animated conversations we had begun on our arrival.
Our first sight through the trees of the glorious, peaceful, tree-ringed lake where the next part of our day would unfold, was the prompt for a ripple of delight and not a little anxiety-tinged speculation about just how cold the still, dark water would be. Reassured by Eleanor that it really wouldn’t be that chilly – and certainly nothing like as cold as the group who had been on the November retreat had experienced – and reminding us that there was also a welcoming, wood-fired sauna at the head of the jetty that led onto the lake, we stripped off and into our swimwear and one-by-one clambered down the wooden steps into the bracing (and no, really not all that cold) brackish water.
What followed was two magical hours of swimming, sauna-ing (is there such a word? There should be), rinsing off under the ice cold natural shower, tea drinking and eating of burritos heated on a huge circular barbecue by one of the Wasing team, perched on tree stumps and gathered in groups in a small clearing adjacent to the lake. And, of course, yet more spirited conversation.
Returning to the pavilion along the now sun-dappled path, across and past a number of glades and fields where different events and gatherings are held over the year (Eleanor had spent the summer solstice celebrating and then camping in one of them) we decided to settle down with a variety of yoga bolsters and cushions for comfort, under the shade of a huge oak tree on the side of the field for the last part of our day together.
This was where the conversations and connections that had been flowing and flowering between us throughout the day came together in a powerfully open, honest exchange of thoughts and stories. Where, encouraged by the supportive, sympathetic responses of the rest of the group, we shared our reflections and our regrets, our heartaches and our hopes about life in mid-life, and looked ahead to what the future might hold, with all its uncertainty and promise.
It was the perfect end to a day that left me feeling restored, refreshed, renewed (though clearly nor cured of my love of alliteration) and grateful for the chance to have shared it all with such a fabulous, stimulating and supportive group of women.
To be a part of the next Noon retreat in October click HERE
By Diane Kenwood