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Yoga In the House

by Alegria 

Posted: 21 June 2005
Word Count: 1567
Summary: 1st draft of article commissioned by a health/beauty title, they liked 'Talking Dirty' and wanted same lively style. Word count around 1200. Comments appreciated - does it capture my personal experience of this yoga retreat? Or what?

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At Kaliyoga in the Andalucian mountains, posers are out but pudding is in.

The setting sun copper-coats the Contraviesa mountains as I turn off the snaking main road onto the dusty campo track. I off-road past fig, olive and almond trees, whitewashed cortijo cottages and dogs on siesta duty.

I should just make it to Kaliyoga in time for the evening class, but nevertheless I’m a little anxious. Leafing through the yoga glossies, it seems I may not be blonde, slim or athletic enough to be welcome at what Jonathon and Rosie Miles bill their ‘yoga house party’. Even my clothes are second guessing: a brightly-striped swim top layered over a ruthless sports bra to crush my assets into the approved elfin shape, oddly teamed with cropped sky blue workout pants that reveal too much untanned skin.

Too late to change now; I’ve arrived. I haul out my battered basket (so much for the streamlined silk yoga bags I’ve seen advertised) and hurry through the rustic wooden entrance doors into a sunlit terracotta-tiled courtyard with scarlet and gold flowers brimming over painted pots.

A fellow guest even paler than me smiles a welcome and directs me to the class, just beginning on the cane-canopied yoga shala, or platform, a shady island lapped by waves of bleached campo grass on the terraces below the house.

Kaliyoga is situated on a working Andalucian olive farm framed by dramatic mountain scenery, about 45 minutes from Granada. The house, faced with timeworn stones salvaged from the original building, is cool and spacious, built just 15 years ago by a talented local architect who has made great use of space to create five bedrooms for up to 10 guests, all delightful, with white plaster walls and other traditional touches. Guests can choose from long weekends or a six-night stay, with classes tailored to meet the needs of beginners as well as more experienced practitioners.

As I take my place at the shala, Rosie is speaking to the group in a quiet but clear voice that denotes her past as a theatre and television actress. She’s reading from a book by Ashtanga yoga guru Godfrey Devereux. It was at his Windfire teacher training school in Ibiza (in 2001) that she and Jonathon first met, fell in love, and dreamed of starting up the retreat that became Kaliyoga.

Rosie explains that yoga is a tool to focus body, mind and breath, bringing about union or oneness; of body and mind, thought and action, desire and intention. It’s not about competing to be stronger, more flexible or fitter, though physical and mental benefits do result from regular practice. These include greater calmness, confidence, concentration and flexibility.

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic method of teaching classic Hatha yoga. There’s an emphasis on understanding the concepts behind each move, and being very aware of your body’s limitations. Competing to be ‘better’ than your neighbour is gently discouraged. “It’s definitely not ‘look at me’ yoga,” Rosie assures us.

We’re taken through each move in easy stages, with plenty of personal attention. I’m doing fine until in one position, I find my nose close to my big toe for the first time since infancy. The resulting close-up of my hastily applied toenail polish sends me hurtling back to earthly concerns. But overall, the two-hour session leaves me energized yet relaxed.

The feeling continues as I join Rosie, her partner Jonathon and the other guests at the long table by the pool. Over the first of several excellent vegetarian feasts, traditional Andalucian gazpacho and meatless-but-you-won’t-miss-it paella, we exchange stories.

Brenda and Jo* are senior NHS managers taking time out from a high-pressure schedule. Patricia is a Church of England VICAR on the brink of divorce and relocation. Writer and life coach Anna from Germany and elegant Cathy, from New York, are here to think about their next life moves. Everyone seems genuinely friendly. There’s just the one elfin blonde and not a single handmade yoga bag to be seen.

Next morning, the intense Andalucian light makes getting up easy. Herbal mint tea is a pleasant change from the wake-up slap my morning coffee usually provides, and I stroll across the rough grass to the 9.00 am class.

As we twist and stretch, I discover that caffeine isn’t the only way to wake up. We’re learning some of the classic poses of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series, with the emphasis on synchronizing breath and movement. Rosie encourages us to go for each pose, always reminding us to be kind to ourselves, acknowledge where we are right now, and focus on building a firm foundation while keeping our ‘core’ – from forehead to buttocks – relaxed.

The mañana effect at Kaliyoga extends to yoga classes: you don’t have to attend either of the twice-daily sessions if you don’t want to, though Jonathan confirms that they are an important element in the overall experience at Kaliyoga. “We’ve had guests who get big emotional breakthroughs as the yoga sessions build up,” says Jonathon. “Even the deep breathing makes a difference.” Between classes, hammocks slung in the shade of olive trees invite you to read, sleep or dream.

Deep breathing and outdoor exercise have given me a keen appetite, and the food at Kaliyoga lives up to expectations. With the cheerful energy displayed by everyone who works here, talented chefs Katie and Ian produce dish after vegetarian dish of Mediterranean and Turkish-inspired savouries and sweets, using locally grown organic ingredients.

Brunch features a Greek bean salad, another salad of beetroot, walnut and lettuce and a warm sundried tomato and feta tart, alongside a huge bowl of fresh fruit, cool yogurt and cereal. To drink, there are freshly-made banana strawberry smoothies and lemonade, as well as a rainbow of herb teas and good coffee. “We don’t think healthy vegetarian food should mean joyless food,” explains Rosie. “Anyway, we’ve never had complaints about banana ice-cream or chocolate tart on the menu!”

After brunch, we gather round to hear about and book up for the wide range of therapy sessions offered at Kaliyoga. Fortunately Orgiva, the nearest town, is an established holistic lifestyle centre, attracting many excellent practitioners, and the range is wide. I can try a kinesiology analysis, Shiatsu or holistic massage, or even a Thai Yoga massage, based on manipulating the body in classic yoga poses, but with someone else doing all the work – sounds good.

I arrange a gentle massage for later that afternoon. Meanwhile, I spend an hour floating in the pool on a lilo for two with Anna, the life coach. The sun on my back and Anna’s kind listening skills encourage me to share some usually well-hidden hopes and fears. Followed by a deep but gentle massage that unknots newly discovered yoga muscles, I almost float back to bask in the shade of the olive trees by the pool and do very little until dinner.

There’s harmony here, an effortless blending of roles, even languages. In the Mediterranean garden, Michel, the Belgian gardener speaks French with Jonathon. Tiny dreadlocked Danila, the Thai yoga masseuse, who is Italian, talks to chef Katie, who is English, in Spanish. Nearby, Jonathon and Rosie’s two-year old daughter, Lola, is busy watering the plants with a blue plastic can as tall as herself, while four-month old Lucas is getting a warm cuddle from the elegant New Yorker. Later, some of the staff join us for dinner and it feels like family.

Over artichoke hearts in almond sauce, fluffy potato cakes stuffed with spinach and cinnamon, three salads, and a startling hot chocolate tart with a tangy fresh apricot base, guests enthuse about the Kaliyoga experience: “The therapies and yoga in the open air…the mountains cast a spell…it’s like staying with old friends.” Reaching for another slice of tart, I nod agreement.

On my last evening, aching a little, I’m in two minds about attending Jon’s ‘mostly meditation’ afternoon class. But I’m glad I did. Sitting still and quiet on the shady platform, the thyme-scented breeze sweeps over us, carrying the music of distant goat bells and a chatty herd on its way home from work. It is a perfect moment.

The following morning, most of the group is going home. Everyone is noticeably more relaxed even though there are cars to drive and planes to catch. I catch sight of my tousled hair, unmade up face and rumpled dress but hardly give them a thought.

At Kaliyoga, Jonathon and Rosie Miles have created an atmosphere where you feel invited, included and celebrated, no matter what the label says on your yoga gear. Or even if you’re lacking the label and the gear. I feel I’ll be taking the bumpy track to this feelgood retreat again before too long.

To find out more about Kaliyoga Retreat, visit the website at: www.kaliyoga.com

(1400 words)


Ashtanga Yoga’s eight paths to achieving self-knowledge and mind-body harmony include four practical elements:

Yama – improving our relationships with others by practising sensitivity, truthfulness, openness, focus and generosity.

Niyama – improving our relationship with ourselves through commitment, contentment, passion, looking within, finding the true source of action and choice.

Asana – the actual yoga postures. Properly practised, the asanas free the body from conditioned limitations and create mind-body harmony.

Pranayama – breathing exercises that prepare the mind for meditation and deeper levels of awareness.

(78 words)

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 13:57 on 22 June 2005  Report this post
This is suitably celebratory, which I suppose is the idea, and there is enough detail to satisfy queries from those who are looking for a holiday with a focus. Myself, I hate those 'be part of the family' places, and grumpy loners might feel they had to fit in, which could put them off, too. However, you do include some 'getting away from the group' ideas. What about people who don't want to be part of the table scene? Room service? Otherwise, I can see the appeal and it certainly sounds as if you enjoyed yourself. Maybe a good dose of Yama is all one needs to put one in the mood to mingle. It sounds as if it could be expensive, but I think you give a good enough picture of the target clientele so that people can judge for themselves.

An enjoyable read all round, I thought.


scoops at 19:49 on 22 June 2005  Report this post
Alegria this started very well but then became almost as slow in movement as the yoga itself and the pace was lost. I found I was far more interested in the people and the culture of yoga tourism than the moves themselves, which mean little to the reader even when described. I think you should concertina the yoga itself into a handful of descriptive paragrphs and open up on the ambience - I was delighted to know you weren't on mung beans and alfalfa ice cream, for example. That was quite illuminating. I also think your approach to travel writing/journalism is sophisticated enough for you to have a max word count in your head. Tailor it all down to 1200 words. It will work better. That said, it's always a pleasure to read your pieces and there is always something to take away from them:-) Shyama

sue n at 21:10 on 24 June 2005  Report this post
Alegria, a very enjoyable piece, giving a good flavour of the place (and the food).
Your descriptions of the countryside, the house and food are nicely evocative.
I think there are a few bits that could be tightened up or expanded - eg "I’m in two minds about attending Jon’s ‘mostly meditation’ afternoon class. But I’m glad I did." This doesn't really tell us anything.
The paragraph beginning 'Rosie explained and the one after repeat about it not being competitive.
I would like to have known a little about what brought the guests and you to this place and what you were hoping to gain from the experience and whether you got it.
Good luck

Alegria at 15:52 on 27 June 2005  Report this post
Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. I think my emphasis on the moves and philosophy has been partly dictated by the target title, and partly wanting to convey the philosophy of the owners, to differentiate them the way they wanted. But maybe that's too rarefied for general readers.

I'll review the article with these ideas in mind - appreciate your input.

Regards, Arpi

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