This year Write it Down! are venturing into the quiet countryside of Gascony, where we will be hosting our first Writing and Yoga holiday at Little French Retreat, the home of british yoga teacher and vegetarian cook Tamsin Chubb.
Gascony is the path less-trodden compared to it's neighbour the Dordogne, and as such has an air of unhurried and modest affability, with wide open skies reflecting gently rippling hills and valleys, woodland full of birdsong, bountiful biodynamic vineyards, and lakes and rivers for secluded swims. Ancient abbeys and medieval churches dot the landscape and add to the sense of comforting constancy.
Taking inspiration from the tranquil surroundings, this retreat will be also be a chance to undertake a 'digital detox' – an opportunity to switch off our phones and laptops and appreciate what is front of our eyes, using all of our senses to appreciate our lives fully. The retreats here will be the perfect break to disconnect a little with our fast-moving everyday lives and rediscover what's really going on inside our heads. Spending the day worry-free and without pinging phones or deadlines to attend to, we will give our minds and bodies a chance to stretch, flex and repose. The liberating and centring practice of mindfulness meditation will complement gentle daily yoga sessions, which combined with therapeutic and creative writing workshops and stimulating discussion in the company of a small group of like-minded souls, will leave us all with a sense of self restored through a healthy mind and body and a new belief in our own creative force.
Tamsin teaches traditional yoga based on the Sivananda style, which she has practiced and studied in both the Himalayas and Southern India. This type of yoga can be traced back to the very earliest teachings of yoga, and features a series of postures with variations that are specifically designed to work on all physical and psychic centres of the body. Just like the writing workshops themselves, you don't need to have previous experience or have tried yoga before to join this retreat. For those who know and love yoga, it's an opportunity for a week of uninterrupted practice and enjoyment, and for those who don't, it's a chance to try something that has truly life-changing benefits and is guaranteed to improve the way you feel, both physically and mentally.
In preparation for the coming of spring, the sun appearing, and in anticipation for our retreat in July, Tamsin has devised a simple-to-follow set of positions that are ideal as an energising morning routine that will warm up the spine and prepare you for the day ahead.
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Position 1: Hasta Uttahanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
Separate you hands shoulder width apart by your sides and inhale to raise your arms above your head. As you do so feel the spaces between your ribs open, then slightly push your hips forward, keeping your legs straight and arch backwards with your head placed between your arms to keep your balance.
Benefits: This will open your chest area, expand your lung capacity, stretch and tone your abdomen and provide a gentle back bend to warm the spine.
Position 2: Padahastasana (Hand to Foot Pose)
With your arms raised, inhale to stretch up through your fingertips and exhale as you bend forward from your hips, keeping your back straight until your hands rest either side of your feet. Bring the forehead as close to the knees as possible. If you can't reach the floor, bend your knees and then work to gradually straighten out your legs in time. Draw your belly in to bend a little deeper into the posture.
Benefits: This is very good for heartburn and digestion, and tones and stretches the thighs, quads and glute muscles. Keep yours knees bent if you have back or balance issues.
Position 3: High Lunge Trikonasana
Bend your knees, inhale and step back with your right foot into a high lunge. Then exhale, turn you right foot at a 45 degree angle and turn your hips hips to face forward. Bend your left knee to ensure your ankle is below your knees, rest your left arm on your knee, sink your hips down as you inhale, stretch up with your right arm and keep your leg, side and arm in alignment.
Benefits: Stretches your quads and groin, strengthens your thighs, tones your abdomen, improves digestion and tones and stretches your sides.
Position 4: Plank Pose
Exhale and bring both hands either side of your left foot before steping back with your left foot into position. Push. With your feet together, push down through your palms, as you lift up through your shoulders, keeping your shoulders back away from your ears. With a strong straight back, keep your neck, spine and thighs in line and extend your spine. Draw your navel towards your spine keeping your tummy tucked in and breath.
Benefits: Strengthens the arms, wrists and spine and tones the abdomen. Good for core strength.
Position 5: Bhjangasana (Cobra Pose)
Exhale and drop your knees, chest and forehead onto the floor, then inhale as you slide forward to raise your head up, keeping your stomach flat on the mat. Push down with your hips and raise your upper body with your arms in full extension. Push your palms down, draw your shoulders away from your ears and feel your chest area open. Relax your whole body, keeping your attention on you exhalation.
Benefits: Improves and deepens breathing, improves back ache. Keeps the spine supple and tones the ovaries and uterus, relieving menstrual cramps and other gynaecological disorders. Especially beneficial for the liver and kidneys.
Position 6: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Keep your hands in the same place, tuck your toes under, exhale and raise your hips up. Keep your hands and feet in same place as you lift back with your arms in full extension, drawing your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your back straight, your hips relaxed and high, and draw your thighs back away from your body, bringing your neck in line with your spine while looking towards your knees with head relaxed.
Benefits: Strengthens nerves, back, arms and thighs and stimulates circulation.
Position 7: Parvrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose)
Step your right foot forward between your hands and rest your left knee on the mat. Bring your hands into prayer position at your chest, resting your elbow on your knee as you raise your right shoulder and open your chest to twist your spine. Then, raise your left knee off the mat to come into a high lunge. Draw you left ankle towards the floor, keeping your left leg strong, whilst you push down through your right foot to steady yourself into the position.
Benefits: Strengthens your spine and thighs and massages your intestinal organs, improving digestions and soothing your nervous system, bringing calm and peace.
Position 8: Hasta Uttahanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
Repeat as Position 1.