As the day’s become longer and Spring is revealing itself in all its erratic glory my thoughts unsurprisingly have turned to holidays. I have been running my own yoga retreats for many years now and I have come to realise what a special part of my year these weeks of yoga and relaxation have become. Of course it is always a joy practicing yoga as a group in any location, everyone working at their own level and pace while developing stamina, flexibility, strength and a deeper understanding of themselves.
However one of the most best parts about planning my retreats is finding the perfect spot. One such find is the little slice of heaven on earth I stumbled upon a number of years ago, the remote village of Kabak in Southern Turkey.
No-one ever fails to be moved by the incredible landscape of the Turquoise Coast viewed from the vantage point of the yoga deck that the owner built for us set high on the Lycian way. The drama of the mountains tumbling into the sea, their colour changing throughout the day and gradually building to a crescendo when the sunlight burnishes them pink and orange hues at dusk. Their vertiginous slopes abundant with lush vegetation and green forests. Beyond, we look out towards the hazy horizon where the sea and the sky seem to blend seamlessly into one another. The sea punctuated by occasional sails and fishing boats while the sky serves as a back-drop for soaring birds of prey, dramatically silhouetted cloud formations and luminous jet trails cross-crossing the canopy above.
Of course there is also the food. This is a region where the locals and visitors alike eat like sultans. After each yoga session we dine morning and night on delicious locally sourced Turkish fare shaded under grapevines and umbrellas or at night bathed in moonlight under a kaleidoscope of stars.
Lazy afternoons are spent enjoying wonderfully healing massage sessions, visits to the local harman and spa or simply lounging with the lizards soaking up the sun and enjoying the panoramic views from the deck around the swimming pool. Meanwhile some in our number, channel their inner mountain goat and trek down to the nearby coves to sunbathe or swim in the clear warm Mediterranean waters. The more adventurous hike to the waterfall or local mountain villages. Other days guests hop on to local buses or drive in open jeeps to the bustling port of Fethiye. A colourful place to trawl for goodies to take home from the friendly traditional souk, or buy fresh organic produce at the weekly farmer’s market followed by a delicious lunch at Reis’s, our favourite restaurant in the bustling fish market.
Another highlight of the Kabak yoga week is when we charter a local boat. Our lovely crew headed by their improbably named skipper ‘Maradona’, pick the group up from our local beach to take us to secluded coves and bays, where we can swim and snorkel and enjoy a barbecue lunch onboard washed down with local chilled rose or Efes beer. Then yet another lazy afternoon is then spent chatting and laughing, reading or snoozing on the upper sun-deck, as we potter along the coast.
New experiences, peace and relaxation and the camaraderie of sharing stories and learning about each other’s often very different lives are an essential ingredient of this kind of group holiday. For me organising them, it is one of the most rewarding feelings of my role to sit and observe the smiles and laughter of our newly formed yogi family as after yoga they sit over breakfast and make their plans between them for the day ahead – where perhaps the hardest choice is whether they should do a little or less.
I also love the evenings on our magical restaurant terrace. Over 20 of us sat together at long tables beneath the vines, lit by candles twinkling in coloured glass lanterns. The sweet natured, hardworking hotel waiters always ready with a smile and countless plates of lovingly cooked food from the kitchen and hot bread from the cavernous wood burning oven. Homemade soups, mezes of grilled aubergine, feta, crostini heaped with plump juicy sweet tomatoes. Fresh fish, steaming vegetable tagine and richly flavoured unctuous pulses and grains. Fragrant rice and bowls of fresh herb salads bejewelled with pomegranates and olives, accompanied by carafes of the owner’s country wine and freshly juiced seasonal fruits.
It is wonderful to listen in on the animated conversations of my yogi guests, now bonded and laughing together like old friends. These mixed groups, all strangers at the beginning of the week now destined to return home with hearts heavy with happiness and memories to sustain them through the winter months until the next time. While each group is quite uniquely different from the holiday group before, it never ceases to amaze me how the dynamics always seem to work so well. Perhaps this is a testimony to the unifying glue that is yoga and a sprinkling of Kabak Valley fairy-dust thrown into the holiday mix!
Many times I have found myself sitting under the inky Turkish sky late at night, all our yogi guests tucked up in their cosy little cabins and found myself thinking… so why do I organise these yoga holidays? They’re a lot of work and can be stressful to get off the ground sometimes – especially for someone who took up teaching yoga to avoid office admin! The answer is simple. They make me a happier person and I guess that’s the best feeling in the world.
About the Author:
Elisa Williams is a West London based yoga teacher with over 27 years of yoga experience. Over the years, she has studied as part of her on-going yoga training with many leading international and UK based Yoga teachers from Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Dynamic Yoga, Structural Yoga Therapy and Restorative Yoga backgrounds.
She runs yoga holidays and yoga retreats in Kerala and in the remote coastal village of Kabak in Turkey.
These holidays are a fantastic, extended opportunity to explore yoga with others – both on and off the mat. If you want to be part of such a magical experience email firstname.lastname@example.org and enjoy your next yoga holiday.