A warm breeze is caressing my skin and I’m almost drunk on the sweet heady fragrance of orange blossom and jasmine. Lying in a hammock at Kaliyoga in the foothills of the Alpujarras in Southern Spain is so supremely relaxing that I keep reading the same page of my book over and over again. The soft hum of bees is replaced by a burst of laughter from the pool and I lift my head. More giggles ensue and curiosity wins the day. I slowly stir myself to wander over and, perching on the end of a sun lounger, join the fun.
If I had only one word to describe Kaliyoga I’d say ‘sociable’. Swiftly followed by ‘laughter’ and ‘warmth’. I don’t think I have ever talked or laughed so much as during my week with a bunch of people who started off as complete strangers. Maybe we were just incredibly lucky, maybe our group just happened to gel, but I also reckon it has something to do with the spirit and soul of Kaliyoga itself.
Our hostess Kaliyana gave us the widest smile as we arrived at the mellow Spanish farmhouse set amongst orange and olive trees. And, yes, we all thought she’d been named for the centre at first. ‘Make yourselves at home,’ she said, pouring us tall glasses of fresh lemonade. ‘Think of this as your place while you’re here.’ And we did. Yes, there are staff and all your needs are met but it feels much more like a holiday home than a hotel.
I’d imagined spending lots of time on my own, writing, thinking, meditating. But I ended up mainly chatting and cackling with my fellow guests. However, although the centre and grounds aren’t large you can easily lose yourself if you need some privacy. If you’ve always wanted to ease yourself into a more conscious way of life but don’t fancy anything too strict, scary or hair-shirt, this has to be the perfect place.
As you’d imagine, yoga rules at Kaliyoga with two sessions most days – one around 9am (lasting 2 hours) and one early evening (90 minutes). Dynamic Yoga is the house speciality but teachers bring their own style to the practice.
The yoga shala is set away from the main buildings, down a track edged by herbs, overlooking an orchard. You leave your shoes at the door and walk into another world. The laughter and giggling fall away to be replaced by a quiet calm.
Our yoga teacher, Lelly, sat cross-legged at the front of the class, flanked by a serene Buddha. Behind her the screens had been drawn back so one entire wall was open to the trees and flowers beyond.
We worked quietly and intently, Lelly’s soft melodious voice guiding us throughout. Most classes started with body awakening exercises or pranayama. We then moved into simple vinyasas (flowing sequences of postures), gradually incorporating more poses, more variations, providing us with the basis of a simple self-practice. Classes always ended with deep relaxation and guided visualisation before we moved into seated postures for a short period of meditation. We closed by chanting Omm together, just three times.
Sometimes Lelly decided we needed a session of Yin Yoga for a change (where you hold postures for around five minutes, giving an acupressure effect on the body) and we also played with partner yoga (huge fun).
Most mornings after class, a group of us would head out walking (there are several superb walks right on the centre’s doorstep) while others opted for therapies (at extra cost). Therapists have all been handpicked and were uniformly excellent. Veteran aromatherapy fans claimed Charlotte’s massage was the best they’d ever had and Thai yoga massage therapist Arantza received similar praise. I opted for energy reading and acupuncture with Yair and had an extraordinary experience, descending into possibly the deepest state of meditation I’ve ever experienced and clearing all kinds of deep family patterns. It felt more akin to shamanism than acupuncture and I found tears silently falling down my face as he gently shifted old blocks and hurts.
I also tried Maya abdominal massage with Philippa, another profound experience in which we investigated why I hold onto weight around my abdomen. Philippa then gave me a very deep (but not painful) back and abdominal massage, working deep into the stomach and pelvis.
Afternoons are generally free and, while some people opt for more treatments or extra sun worshipping duty, you can also go on outings (at extra cost). I was keen to ride up into the mountains and so three of us donned exceedingly unflattering helmets and met our mounts. Sarah, the owner of the stables, decided that Pasha and I would be a good match, on the basis of us sharing the same hair colour, and we clip-clopped down the twisting mountain road before going cross-country, splashing through streams, gallomping up gorges and trotting over open tracks with jaw-staggering mountain views. On our return my fellow riders and I bagged the hot-tub and watched the sun go down over the hills we’d ridden earlier. Quite magical.
Food is a big deal at Kaliyoga. The centre is totally vegetarian and alcohol-free (if you prefer a bit of meat and booze, check out their sister site, set in a hilltop hamlet in the South of France). The week I experienced was a raw superfoods retreat and chef Amanda was incredible. My previous experience of raw food had been less than exhilarating (I can still remember the jaw-ache I got from endless cabbage and carrot salad) but this was truly a revelation. Breakfast could involve a superfood smoothie and fruit salad; lunch might be gazpacho followed by nut and seed falafel, humus and salad; while one memorable supper served raw ‘lasagne’ (the ‘pasta’ was made from sliced courgette and the taste was mindblowingly close to the real thing) followed by ‘cheesecake’ made from avocado. Deceptive and delicious. Naturopath Veronika (a glowing earth mother of a wonder-woman) gave workshops on raw food lifestyle and also on superfoods and by the end of the week we all knew our acai from our ashwagandha, our chia from our chorella and went home determined to keep up our healthy eating.
The only sticking point for me was the lack of single rooms for solo travellers. Although my room-mate was absolutely lovely, I really missed having a space of my own. It’s a vital part of the retreat process for me. But it’s very much a case of horses for courses – some guests paid extra to preserve their privacy, others came with friends and some weren’t remotely bothered about sharing quite small spaces (the tipis are very snug for two). I’d also say that the general yoga retreats maybe aren’t ideal if you’re a very experienced yogi. Some guests found the practice didn’t quite stretch them enough. So maybe look at the weeks they run for more experienced people.
Be warned – the plumbing is delicate so nothing can go down the loos except organic waste (but truly there are no iffy smells) and there are also compost loos (again, perfectly fragrant).
Leaving was hard. We’d bonded into the perfect group – considerate, supportive and deeply fond of one another, despite the differences in our ages (20s to late 50s), circumstances and temperaments. As my car trundled down the rocky lane en route for the airport it struck me that the group had taught me and healed me just as much as the yoga, food and meditation.
The Kaliyoga Raw Superfoods yoga programme costs from £730 to £1045 (depending on accommodation). Cost includes accommodation, food (apart from Wednesday evening meal) and yoga but does not include flights, transfers, treatments and excursions.
A version of this review first appeared in Natural Health magazine.
(c) Jane Alexander