by Katherine Willow ND

The Learning Centre hosted one of what will be regular weekend wellness retreats in July and by all accounts (except Felix’s), it was a success.  Felix is my grandson and he was ill with what turned out to be roseola which hopefully has boosted his immune system as predicted by natural health principles.  All the other participants were extremely patient with me as I facilitated the retreat while nursing a sick baby, supporting the babysitter (his aunt Sarala) who also fell ill, and his mother Coral, who followed suit.  Obviously our family was working out a few issues according to German New Medicine!  My lesson: no more sick babies at retreats–or have a back-up caregiver.

We started out with a delicious meal prepared by Cindy and Dean Fleming where we started to get to know each other.  It was a small retreat, which tends to make people closer.  This bonding was continued in the Friday night session wherein we set out our intentions for the weekend and identified what was happening in different layers of our minds.  Finally, we chose a word which summarized the state which would best balance us.  The favorite word ended up being PATIENCE — thanks Dean!

Saturday morning we had the pleasure of learning and practicing mindfulness meditation with psychologist and meditation teacher Kathy Nathan.  This included a talk and sitting and walking meditation followed by questions and answers.  I asked about a breathing problem that has been bothering me for almost three decades.  Kathy’s answer dissolved it with a short and profound sentence relating to how I was dealing with it after which I burst into tears and felt a deep relief.  This relief has stayed with me since then, which is exactly what retreats are intended to do: help move us forward/inward another step.

We gathered for breakfast, another delicious vegan meal.  You don’t miss animal products when Cindy and Dean cook!  Then Rebecca Word ND gave a fascinating talk on signs of imbalances we can see on our face and tongue according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.  She went around and assessed each of our tongues and we learned much about ourselves and each other as well as how to live in better balance through healthy eating practices–not as much what we ate, but how.

The final morning class was a gentle yoga session with Lia Pirelli where we stretched and balanced and relaxed.  Dean was so taken with this first experience of yoga that he has signed up for two classes a week since the retreat!  In fact, this was Dean’s first retreat ever and his humour and kindness and honesty contributed greatly.

Lunch was mushroom burgers on the BBQ followed by a break where people could chat, relax, nap or walk.  Or tend to sick family members.  That can be very enlightening with the right attitude, I’m sure. . . .

The Saturday afternoon workshop was intended to offer an opportunity for emotional work so that an unresolved issue that has been held and is blocking well-being can be identified and released.  This time we used art, beginning with an inner visualization, moving to a personal painting on a small canvas done in silence and ending with a group painting on a huge canvas–with lots of talking and laughter.  For many people this was the best part of the retreat.  We put up all the pictures with the rule that no one could say anything about anyone else’s work in order to give people a safe context in which to paint rather than worrying about others’ judgements, as some have experienced this negatively in the past.  We discussed our paintings in the final circle on Sunday.

Dinner was a cleansing meal of kitchari, a rice and red lentil dish with cleansing spices, made in such a delicious fashion that no deprivation was felt!  Since summer is not a good time to cleanse deeply, we only had one of this type of meals.  In spring and fall retreats all the meals are cleansing.

Saturday evening we were blessed with the voice and wisdom of Kaia Nightingale who led us through chanting, toning for the different chakras and a deep meditation.  Then we went to bed early for a night of rejuvenation.  Except certain people with sick babies who were up til 5:30am.  One individual happened to remember that studies have shown that one can manage on four hours of sleep in a 24-hour period as long as the sleep is spread out in small segments.  Perfect.  Also, if one eats lightly one doesn’t use up the energy that usually goes toward digestion.  Plus, higher forces must have helped because she held out right through the retreat and into the next week.  She thanks those forces.

Sunday morning we meditated with Kaia accompanied by her harp.  Very beautiful.  A perfect way to start the day and then have wheat-free pancakes with local maple syrup and fresh fruit for breakfast.  After this I gave a class on Ayurvedic body types and how each type needs to balance themselves with life-style and attitude.  Then we worked off our pancakes with a Nia dance/martial arts/healing session with Sandra Collins.  She explained how we were to experiment with our bodies to find our own flow, where it felt ecstatic.  I remarked that this sounded somewhat like what couples do in sex, and since that class have also applied it to how I find the sweet spot in my thinking by waiting for the right words to express what I am feeling or thinking, either to myself or to someone else.  That class had a profound effect on me, much more than a normal dance class.

By this time everyone except me is ready to eat again.  I’m ready for one of those nap segments, but end up holding a fussy baby instead, wondering what final circle will be like when the facilitator is asleep.

I shouldn’t have worried.  As usual, people were raw and deep and honest and much came together in this last session together.  We left the retreat feeling richer, deeper and closer to each other and hopefully ourselves.  And we all vowed to bring some of the skills we had learned out into our normal lives.  Thank you to everyone who was able to stay and help clean up, to all our wonderful teachers and to the life energy that inclines us to naturally open up and grow and heal when we have the opportunity.

If you are interested in experiencing a retreat, the next one is a cleansing retreat, Oct 23-25, 2009, from 6pm Friday to 2:30pm Sunday.  A lot can happen in less than two days, hope to see some of you there.