LAWRENCE PETTENER

Writer, Poet

Event Review:

Beyond Yoga & Walking Retreat, Egglestone Hall, Teesdale.

I didn’t travel up to County Durham without prejudices. The Iyengar Yoga method attracts some driven, hard-pushing teachers (years ago, at one beginners’ class, the tutor told us: stretch the skin of your left buttocks toward the east). It’s the west’s most popular brand of hatha yoga, one could argue, precisely for that reason. Other preconceptions: participants would be rich people looking for a rest & recuperation blast rather than a depth experience.
Comfortable and well-heated, Eggleston House dominates its portion of the valley, Teesdale, and is full of treasures: maps, paintings, objets d’art, foreign artefacts, and a pool table in a book-lined room.
The fact that I was the only vegetarian out of eight yoga retreat participants, was interesting; the menu was revised for me, with fish and egg dishes replacing meat. Food was sumptuous and perfectly cooked; Sera Irvine’s cooking could garner favourable reviews anywhere. Beyond uses local markets and consults a nutritionist. Long food gaps were bridged by late-afternoon tea, perfect fresh-baked cake, and scones.
The wine flowed, surprisingly. Beyond has it right: westerners want to have it all, and preferably at once. If Sufis mix wine and spiritual practice, it’s a good-enough mix for me. This is really doing a retreat – okay, break – as a group, rather than the individual experience of monastic-model retreats. Still, it’s okay for people to take time out from any part of the programme to be alone. Though there was no pressure to dress up for pre-dinner drinks and canapés, I was surprised when everyone wore evening attire.
Participants were thirties to fifties, English and U.S. middle-class professionals: a self employed PR Director; a school head-teacher; a lawyer; wives of professionals. There were no extremes – I overheard one quiet mention of shares; no way-out conversations. One participant said she wanted:
Somewhere where I could do some yoga and some walking, and drink a little wine. I wasn’t looking for some austere purity – I didn’t want to eat straw.
Yoga teacher Gerry Ross holds a middle level expertly, providing for less flexible and advanced participants. Still, Iyengar takes more for granted than do other forms; we were often told to involve the kidneys in stretches. Gerry ensured that we extended maximally without straining (she told one participant who compared herself to others, This is your stretch), limbering us up for walks and chilling us down again. We did three and a half hours of yoga per day, in two sessions.
Walks felt like chatty, one- to two-hour strolls, mostly on level ground. One took us to stunning valley views; open and light, they could have been Mediterranean.
Beyond Co-founder Jacqui Sread nurtures and pampers participants, fetching and arranging tirelessly. There were some excellent touches: serviettes, room-cleaning, and abundant mineral water. Anni Fast’s massage was excellent and thorough; where other practitioners can be reticent, Anni checks with clients.
These breaks would suit those who couldn’t face a more strict retreat, skiers or other sports groups (limber up and calm down properly), and birthday celebrants with rich friends. The high cost of the 3½ -day break (over £575) is perhaps balanced by intimate group sizes.
While men are definitely outnumbered — guys, this is the smart way to keep genuinely fit – not only are you surrounded by women, but why build biceps in gyms when it’s flexibility that today’s multi-tasking women are looking for? It was a blast, and being so spoiled is probably more profound than spending a weekend trying to settle enough to meditate. Beyond combine yoga breaks with climbing, skiing, cookery and nutrition, and they’ll bring workshops to groups or families.