A familiar blanket of soft mist- so foreign to the majority our parched African landscapes - had nestled over Nottingham Road. Its cool edges slipped under doorways and rested on windowsills as the night closed in. The chime of polite and nervous chatter with strangers in the dinning area of Brookdale Health Hydro was interrupted by the arrival of ‘the returnees’. A mere few hours since checking in and they had already effortlessly shifted into the Brookdale groove. Their adornments of the world ‘out there’ had been shed, and with it their worries. They now wrapped themselves in a hydro glow of white cotton robes, exfoliated cheeks and radiant smiles. The newbies searched for demonstrated tips on hydro etiquette as this beaming flock confidently took their seats around the communal tables.
It was the opening night of the year for Brookdale and the start of the Detox yoga retreat. As the yoga instructor for the week, I was fortunate enough to be staying on site. I had planned two classes daily, each on a different and focused theme to best achieve effective detoxification and rejuvenation. I was excited. I engaged a robed returnee, Suzette, to my left.
‘Yes, well Lance and I have been coming here for 20 years.’
‘Naturally. This is our annual pilgrimage to healthy living. We find Jan to be the time of most benefit.’
I looked to Lance for confirmation. He nodded with a contemplative frown as he sniffed the aroma of tonight’s infused water, lemon balm and cucumber, mockingly served in red wine goblets. Suzette dipped the crust of coconut flour bread in her courgette and chickpea soup and scanned the packed dining area. I was at a loss as to what hydro chat entailed. Suzette's interest wained. She waved regally to another robed wonder on the other side of the room: Kate Turkington, acclaimed South African broadcaster and author. I discovered later that week that Kate - who has the most abundant store of wisdom, vitality and generosity of spirit - is in her 80s, and remembers years gone by at Brookdale of whiskey parties in the jacuzzi late at night. I kept a keen eye on the jacuzzi after discovering that but, alas, no single malts and jolly laughs this time.
For most of those who had signed on to the yoga getaway (Suzette and Lance were ‘detoxed already’ and chose not to join), the first day or two was a haze of caffeine withdrawal headaches and pangs of sugar cravings at unpredictable intervals. I was thrilled to learn that the group was diverse in terms of age, yoga experience and nationality: There was a 40 year gap between youngest and oldest, there were first-time yogis, life-time yogis, and part-time yogis, and there were folk from all over SA and beyond. Some were confronted with specific ailments such as hypertension, or hip-replacement stiffness/pain, and others were focused on starting a weight-loss regime, or managing high stress levels. All of these paths, nevertheless, converged in the beautiful Midlands with the shared goal of detoxing mind and body as a super-booster to the start of 2017.
At Brookdale there is plenty of opportunity to immerse yourself in relaxation and wellness, from extensive hydro facilities, to indulgent spa treatments, walks in the wilderness and award wining health food. It is luxurious and every detail of your stay is provided for, including personalised daily schedules delivered with herbal tea and a knock on your door at dawn. With the gurgle of vital water in the brook below and the call of indigenous bird life in the verdant forest all around, it is the perfect setting for a yoga retreat. On clear mornings we held our classes on an expansive wooden deck. The soft sunlight raised spirits with the rhythm of our sun salutations, and the dappled shade of the ancient oak guarded our relaxation time in savasana.
As I was facilitating the getaway I had the expectation that I would work on my other projects during the day between our morning detox sequences and evening restorative class. I steadfastly attempted work with earphones in and game face on. It did not go well. I became agitated with myself by the third day, just when I could feel everyone else collectively relaxing and leaving the world behind. That night sleep evaded my grasp; I tossed and turned, weighing up my multiplying failures. Eventually I grabbed my jacket and walked out into the brisk night air. It was startlingly clear and a pregnant moon filled the sky. I checked my watch - 2am. I walked down to the brook and sat on a mossy ledge with my feet swept up in the silky dark depths.
This was my moment of letting go, my turning point in realisation. I reminded myself that yoga is a life lesson in diminishing the ego. Our expectations of ourselves are more often than not tied up with vanity and self-serving ambition. When we fail to meet this expectation we are thrown into a state of dissatisfaction and anxiety. We cannot rest - there is always more, more, more we want out of the day and ourselves to meet these ideals. But what are these ideals other than empty caricatures? The reality is that the body disappoints; it is essentially imperfect, susceptible to injury, illness, distraction, inertia, flab and stiffness. Yoga teaches us not to become perfect, but to become accepting of our imperfection. Yoga is about learning to be mindful of, and OK with, what arises day by day. This means acknowledging and accepting when you are on fire and flying high, and having the same sense of ease and satisfaction with life when you are not. The later is of course the hardest lesson, especially in our contemporary hyper-competitive world.
Alone with the steady spiral of water and all-knowing trees, I reflected that this lesson in yoga speaks to the heart of effective detoxification: it is not about becoming ‘pure’ or meeting some ideal of health/weight/beauty, it is about cleansing the body and mind of negative influence, and thereby realigning oneself to what is best for sustainable wellbeing.
This is why January is such a fruitful time to conduct a detox. Suzette was not far off the mark in that respect. We need to shake off those habits and patterns of negativity from the year gone by, consolidate what is good for us and has been working well, and then gain the energy to build on that in the year to come. To plan anew, and then start sustainably working towards these goals, we need to feel our minds and bodies are fresh and restored. By the time the week was over at Brookdale, it seemed as though we had all found that space.