My French Yoga Retreat is run by Charlotte Pye, a personal trainer, Pilates and Yoga instructor with 15 years experience in the fitness industry. After selling her personal training company and leaving the UK for a change to the pace of life, Charlotte began teaching classes in the local area, embracing the change in culture, lifestyle and language. In this Q&A she shares her story of transformation and why she ditched life in the UK for a new life in the French outdoors.
1. Tell me about your personal journey and how you came to move to France and open up a retreat centre?
I’ve been a personal trainer for many years and used to own a gym on the Wirral. We sold the business in 2011 as the long hours were taking their toll and we had two small children. I continued to PT a few private clients from home though. In December of 2014 I suffered a couple of serious injuries to my head, chest and shoulder playing rugby and the following month, instead of healing, I began suffering with headaches and exhaustion. I can’t even remember the month of February!. A very close friend and client took me to hospital for a brain scan (which was thankfully clear) but additional blood tests revealed that my thyroid had stopped functioning properly, hence the tiredness and weight gain (neither of which is conducive to being a personal trainer!). My husband was working away and it was an exhausting and stressful time. I couldn’t get back on my feet and knew I needed a change.
We’d talked about living in France for years and often been there for holidays. So we began looking around the south and stumbled across the Aude valley on a drive around. We fell in love that day! We have always been a very outdoor-led family, lots of hill walking, canoeing, camping, so for us it was perfect. Halfway between the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea, it just ticked all the boxes. Now my kids only need to step outside to go mountain biking or down to the river to kayak instead of driving to north Wales or the Lake District for the day. I do a fair bit of running with my dogs in the hills. For a number of years when we had the gym, we ran mountain events like the national three peaks challenge so being near to mountains was a real bonus!.
2. How has your practice enabled you to work through a particular painful experience or a challenging time in your life?
I did a huge amount of Pilates both times I was pregnant as I suffered with crippling symphysis pubis and could’t run or do as much in the gym. I’ve always loved working with clients who have injuries or illnesses and have worked with people who are going through cancer treatment, are post knee or hip surgery, pregnant or suffering with heart conditions etc, so when I became ill myself, I used Pilates and Yoga to be kinder to my body instead of pushing myself physically (particularly in terms to losing the weight I’d gained). It took my two years to regain my energy and balance my thyroid condition. I didn’t work for the first year I was in France, in part to settle my boys into school here, but also to take time to heal.
3. Tell me about the location of your retreats and why people should visit.
It’s a healing place!. There is no fresh air quite like it as we are surrounded by rivers and forests. Plus the Languedoc gets an average of 300 days of sunshine per year so it’s very uplifting!. I have always loved history and there are an incredible amount of medieval castles around here and all the Cathare history that goes with it. When our friends visit, they always comment on the fact that it is impossible not to relax. We are surrounded by vineyards that make some fabulous wines (some of which we visit on the retreat) and there are lovely markets selling local produce like cheese, saucisson, vegetables. Everything is just so fresh. We know several farmers so it’s pretty good knowing the provenance of your food and the fact that it hasn’t travelled thousands of miles to get to you. We grow some of our own vegetables and even have chickens!.
5. How has your life changed since moving to France and what advice would you give others who have a similar dream?
I’ve learned to work and live at a slower pace since moving here. There is literally no other option!. Nothing happens quickly in France, so despite it being a little frustrating to begin with, we have all adapted to a more tranquil life. I teach lots of classes to both in French and English and coach at our local rugby club, which we have integrated into our lovely little community here and a are very much part of the village. We were lucky to make some fantastic English friends when we arrived who helped us with lots of basic things like schools and medical or legal stuff but we have also made some amazing French friends, really kind, genuine people. Before we moved, a lot of my friends asked what I’d do if I didn’t like it. I said I would just come back. Just because we had sold our house, didn’t mean we couldn’t buy another one! But now, I would never go back.
There were a few yoga classes locally when I arrived but I feel very proud to have introduced Pilates to the area and although it took a while, I have built up a great team that enjoy training with me. I have a few private clients that I work with and offer additional one to one sessions on the retreat. If I can inspire someone to lead a stronger, healthier lifestyle then I know I’ve done my job.
6. What are the theme of your retreats about?
I think the concept of my retreat is quite simply a healthy holiday. I once listened to someone complaining about a yoga retreat making them ill as the detox was too intense. Whenever we go on holiday, we always find time to exercise, whether it’s 20 mins of circuit training on the beach before it gets too hot or a mountain biking session with the kids. So for me, I felt that I wanted to share that healthy attitude to holidays with others. I would love for someone who has never tried yoga or is intimidated by the thought of going hill walking to come and use this as a stepping stone to start something.
”What a fabulous place to get back in touch with your body and mind. Charlotte is a meticulous and very imaginative teacher – working at the pace of and towards the needs of each student. A chance to re-energise and re focus. Who could want anything better? The surrounding countryside is both fascinating and challenging – something for everyone – to complement your programme. Not to be missed.” Jo Hayes.