Aro Ha. It means “In the presence of divine breath”. And it was certainly here, at Aro Ha Wellness Retreat, that I learned how to breathe again. I’m talking about a deep breath that we so often forget to take in the hurried-ness of life.
This spectacular retreat is 40 mins outside Queenstown and like something from a movie. Surrounded by the breath taking and famous snow capped mountains of New Zealand (are there any Lord of the Rings fans with me?!) and overlooking Lake Wakatipu, Aro Ha is truly ahh-mazing. So being the health nerd I am, it was no surprise I would fall in love with everything this place has to offer. The moment we arrived I gushed. Like a kid in a candy store, I gushed over the decor, the view, the yoga room, the view, the herbal tea, the view, our luxurious rooms, the view…you get it. Everything at Aro Ha has been so wonderfully thought out and oozes eco friendly, sustainable and natural.
This was a five day journey to greater health and wellness and nothing I had ever experienced before. Ok pretty easy when a) you’ve never been on a health retreat and b) you’ve never been on a health retreat!! But from reviews and pictures I’ve seen about other retreats, this one seemed to tick a lot more boxes for me. It’s not just a detox, yoga and place to practice meditation, it’s hiking and adventure in New Zealand’s beautiful southern alps too. Plus I had the chance to travel with a beautiful friend of mine. Sold.
Key to my experience was learning the importance of slowing down. Not just for a few minutes or hours. Five. Whole. Days. Releasing tension, built up emotions and really connecting with myself, God and nature. So I learnt how to breathe and how to slow down. Life changing I know. But in all seriousness, I needed this. WE all need this. It’s so easy to get lost in life rushing from one thing to the next, and forgetting to take time out for ourselves.
It’s sort of how my blog came to be. I wanted a place to write about my journey in nourishing oneself in mind, body and spirit as well as share the lessons learnt along the way. I don’t know about you, but I find it really challenging to take time out and just be. Reflection. Meditation. The mind is crazy and it can be difficult to tame the thoughts. Well, that’s where Aro Ha came to the rescue. Catching the negative thought patterns, recognising them and moving on was surprisingly easy to do when given the chance, and now I have the tools to make this happen in the real world. Insert happy dance here.
What I loved most about Aro Ha was the chance to be child-like again. In that, we were free to roam around the gorgeous grounds, as if it was our home. Free to be free. No need for watches or phones (except for those who couldn’t resist the wifi in the rooms…guilty) and completely trusting in our retreat leaders to guide us through each day and it’s varied schedule. We were encouraged to focus on the present moments, not to worry about the future and just let go and be open to change. Not just physically, which comes with any detox, but spiritually and emotionally too. Catching our thoughts, acknowledging them and quietening the mind. Studies have shown that this practice is key to reducing stress, anxiety, and bringing about more clarity and peace of mind. In fact, it can even change the brain!
It was pretty awesome getting back to nature too. It’s been a while since I’ve been camping and I thought I would struggle waking up early each morning. Particularly having lost a couple of hours with the different timezone. But rising with the sun and to the beautiful sound of Tibetan bells (which our retreat leader rang promptly at 6.30am each morning) was not as hard as it seemed. Our schedule consisted of 2 yoga sessions daily (generally a vinyasa flow in the morning and restorative in the late afternoon), 3+ hour hikes along with other physical activities to keep our bodies moving, gorgeously prepared raw vegan meals (no meat, no dairy, no refined sugar, no gluten, no caffeine), massages, and soulful zen sessions.
Speaking of schedule, I thought I would share a sneak peak of what our days consisted of, particularly for those who are thinking of going (do it!):
6.30am – Wake up
As mentioned, one of our retreat leaders walked around each cabin gently waking us with the sound of Tibetan bells. Not as harsh as I thought it might be. We had 30mins to get up and get ready for our first yoga session for the day.
7.00am – Vinyasa Yoga
A beautifully guided vinyasa flow overlooking the gorgeous, crystal clear lake and snow capped mountains. The most magical yoga room on earth!
8.00am – Breakfast
Being a raw vegan foodie fan, it was exciting to see what the wonderful chef Rani and his team prepared for us each day. Always a piece of artwork and so full of flavour!
9.30am – Hike
Quick meet in the hiking room to collect raw vegan handmade snacks, fill up our Aro Ha stainless steel water bottles and grab our backpacks (if you didn’t have one). Then off we went on some of the most amazing, world class hikes. For example, the Routeburn track is listed as one of the top 10 hikes in the world. We also had a chance to practice mindful walking, allowing us to be at one with nature and removing thoughts of the past and of the future.
2.00pm – Lunch
Again we ate beautifully prepared gourmet vegan meals. Warning, the portion sizes are petite, but very healthy and well balanced nutritionally. This is part of their strategy in helping us detox and lose weight, since that is the aim of the game for most people that travel here.
3.30pm – Physical Activity
This is an optional class but highly recommended as we work to move the body which assists in the detoxing process. This is in the form of a functional training class such as metabolic conditioning, or pilates.
4.30pm – Cooking class
Chef Rani teaches us the ins and outs of raw vegan and healthy cooking. Think kimchi, raw chocolate and kombucha!
5.30pm – Massage
I would have to say some of the best massage I have ever had. Relaxing and deeply therapeutic. It came to light just how tight and knotted I am…The result of working in an office job. The best part was the insight and knowing how I can go about fixing this back home.
6.30pm – Restorative Yoga
Perfect, slow, hatha practice to ease our bodies out of the stress from the activities each day. A chance to meditate and look within.
7.30pm – Dinner
Another gorgeously prepared, light but nutrient dense, vegan meal. We practiced mindful eating here too before listening to Damian (co creator of Aro Ha) or Angus (our retreat leader) round up the day and prepare us for the next day ahead.
8.30pm – Free time
After dinner was usually time to hit the amazing spa under the stars and overlooking the silhouettes of the mountains. It was important to take advantage of the hot and cold therapy whereby 15mins in the spa is followed by a quick dip in the ice spa (also part of helping us detox and aid sore muscles). As reluctant as I was, it was surprisingly good. Definitely mind over matter per our teachings through the trip.
9.30pm – Sleep
On our beds at the end of each day were notes prompting us to think and reflect on our day and what we learnt. We were given a journal to write down our thoughts and observations and encouraged to use the time to really connect with ourselves and increase self awareness. Something I know I often overlook in the rush of life!
Overall, and in reflecting on the trip, my mind did feel clearer and I had a sense of excitement of returning to the real world with a positive and new perspective on life. I suppose that is the usual detox feeling as well. It’s been rewarding making the effort to change up my routine in the morning particularly, which now consists of yoga, prayer, making breakfast, and NO news…which is mostly depressing news these days anyway…
Although on the pricey side of the retreat scale, it’s totally worth the investment in your health if this sounds like your cup of almond milk tea. A retreat that leaves you inspired to take on life with a new, healthy and positive, perspective. Well, that’s how I feel anyway.
Oh, and I learnt how to fly! 😉