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I went on my first wellness retreat at 69 – here's what happened

Joanne Macleod shares how a retreat, complete with sunrise yoga and a gong bath, changed her long-held opinions on wellness

Split screen of a woman on a wellness break
13 September 2023
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When my daughter asked if I fancied joining her on a wellness weekend, I jumped at the chance. I didn't really know what it would entail, but had visions of salads, nuts and possibly some grains to eat - all things I love and maybe a spa treatment, if I was lucky.

So, when she told me our wellness break at Down Hall in Essex would entail two yoga sessions, my heart sank.

My previous experience of yoga was not great. I had been once before at least five years ago at the local health club and found it very intimidating.

Down Hall in Essex
Down Hall is a dreamy setting for a wellness break

Everybody seemed proficient doing their downward dogs and happy baby poses.

The terms themselves did not inspire me, and it was in a crowded room. The instructor seemed intent on shouting the instructions at everyone, much like we were army cadets.

I was so unimpressed, that I stopped and watched the class after the first 15 minutes, totally disheartened.

My yoga experience at Down Hall was totally different. Camilla, who teaches the yoga sessions at the Essex hotel, was calm, lovely and not at all intimidating.

 READ: How to be happy: 30 expert-approved tips to become your most optimistic self 

What happened on our wellness break?

When we arrived at the hotel, we were shown to a lovely room in a magnificent country house, a chilled bottle of Prosecco and some petit fours awaited our arrival and the view from our window over the garden and lawn was the best.

You might imagine a wellness break is about restriction, but that wasn't the case and dinner was a delicious meal - light but still filling.

I started with a main course of oven-cooked salmon with fine-stemmed broccoli, creamed potatoes and a delicious sauce. My dessert was a fool made from rhubarb from the kitchen garden and ginger, which was absolutely mouth-watering and I didn't walk away feeling hungry still.

My first ever sound bath

After dinner we changed into our yoga attire for the gong bath, I had no idea what to expect but was curious to find out.

Gong bath
Gong baths are sublimely relaxing

The room was decked in candles with soothing music in the background. People of all ages were scattered around, some wrapped in blankets, some in sleeping bags, some just on their yoga mats.

At the front of the class was the gong, surrounded by what looked like pots, but I discovered were crystal bowls which Camilla would play.

Outdoor gong bath
Gong baths cause emotions to rise in people

The gong bath leader turned down the lights, spoke in a soothing tone and encouraged us to lie down and relax. Nothing more, nothing less.

She then started playing the gong and pots to arouse feelings of relaxation and help us release emotions.

Although the gongs were loud, filling the room with intense sound that you could hardly believe was from one gong, they were harmonious and gave you a feeling of peace and tranquillity, as well as awakening the mind.

 DISCOVER: Is sound healing really meditation for lazy people? Here's what I thought 

Camilla moved around us during the session with incense and bells, which was also relaxing and calming.

After around 80 minutes the session ended, but it seemed less as you were so relaxed listening to the gong.

There were very mixed emotions in the room. I was surprised to find one man weeping, but he assured me they were good tears.

Others fell into a deep sleep, not even woken when their friends shook them! There was a sense of peace floating about the room and we left in a comforting daze.

We were told that after the session we might feel our emotions heightened and my personal experience was of an active brain after the session, but a calm mind. Despite my active brain, I had a lovely sleep in a sumptuous bed.

My yoga experience

Next morning we were up bright and early, for a sunrise yoga session on the lawn.

Once more, our instructor spoke to us in a calming voice and advised that we should do as much or as little as we felt able. This was a great relief to me after my first experience.

Down Hall yoga session outside
Down Hall hosts yoga outside

I found I could do most of the positions, though balancing was a challenge. But being outside in the open air I didn't feel anybody was judging my ability and the hour session passed very quickly.

 INSPIRATION: What are the benefits of yoga? From weight loss to mental health, here's why you should try it

Would I try yoga again?

It was a great experience, and I even felt yoga could be something I would take up as a hobby. I admired the teacher and I even thought perhaps yoga could be something I'd like to train in... watch this space!

Find out about Down Hall's next wellness retreat

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